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What is Creativity? (perspectives from the Far East)

June 30th, 2012 by admin 15 comments »

This week, I begin a relationship with University of International Business & Economics (UIBE), a fast-growing university in Beijing, China that is training MBA-level students, primarily in Asia (Russian, China and Far East).  In our class, we’ll have students from Mainland China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Russia,  Uzbek (and Germany thrown in for good luck!).

Our first class together will explore the nature of creativity on an individual level – what makes a person creative? – as well theories on entrepreneurship and relationship to creativity.  I’ve seen this first hand, working with dozens of Silicon Valley start-ups ,but it’s always interesting to tear it apart and try to explain it to students/practioners who are 9525 kilometers away from the Silicon Valley.

I’m anxious to hear the students’ initial thoughts, from their perches in Asia Major and Minor, as to what their views on Creativity and Innovation are.  Coming into our class, what do they think Creativity is? How is it different from Innovation?

I’ve asked them to respond here to this question…let’s see what they have to say.

How Many Ways to Kill Innovation?

February 21st, 2012 by admin 2 comments »

One of my favorite posts on the topic of Innovation-Killers, comes from the innovative blogsite, ThinkJar, created by Ben Weinlick.  Ben attended The Intersection 2012 and has created a great site for convergent and divergent creativity.  Take a look at this post on 21 Ways to Kill Creativity, written by Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques).

I would like to add one or two of my own creativity-killers:

1) don’t ever, ever, listen to your children’s ideas

2) immerse yourself in lots of television (especially sitcoms, game-shows, and reality tv series) and mobile games.

What other innovation-killers are you experience at home or work?

Events fostering Innovation

November 8th, 2011 by admin No comments »

Back at Apple in the 1980′s, we knew how to throw a party – annual developer conferences, beer bashes and new media shindigs…all served to bring together the community around the Macintosh.   Then something funny happened.  Macworld led to Internet World; Internet World led to Always On; Always On led to Web 2.0, and well…here we are today with lots of speakers and lots of events.  All are good, but I long for something innovative, time-saving and useful.

I began attending TED Conferences in the 1990′s and enjoyed it.   What has set TED apart from many other events and made it innovative: the quality of the audience was nearly as good as the quality of the speakers. TED has built up a community of innovators that enjoy seeing each other every year and use the lectures and talks to invigorate the “hallway” and break-time talk.  As TED turns into a bigger production each year, the “organic” conversations become harder and harder, IMHO.

New Models, New Ways of Meeting Up

During the past decade, within the tech world, we’ve witnessed a huge range of innovative new business models, new products, new software, new services.  The innovations have given rise to platforms, such as Apple, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter,  Skype, Webex, Groupon, and Google.  How do members of these innovative companies find out about one another, meet, and create relationships?

As the tech world has become more innovative, the way in which people gather to exchange ideas has also become more innovative. Today there are a wide range of virtual and physical ways to meet up with others – the trick is settling on the ones that have the biggest impact for you.

Virtual Models for small groups

There is no doubt that WebEx/Cisco and teleportation technology have become more sophisticated in the past 10 years. This equipment, still expensive to build out, allows companies to communicate across the world as if they were in the same room.  But is is limited to a small number of people around the table and still inaccessible to the masses.  More accessible, of course is Skype, which is really built on a 1:1 model and is great for 2-4 people communicating but relatively unreliable in quality still and not great for a full “room” full of people.  Advances in large screen monitors (soon to be WALL sized) will likely change the ability of distant groups of people to communicate.

The place where all this is mostly to change is Facebook.  With over 800M people, Facebook now represents the single biggest “meet up” locale in the world.  Live chat features, ability to send video, and applications that  connect like-minded friends.  For example, the FB applet called “Branch Out” ties together people with similar business interests.

A 2010 start-up called Plancast has also hit the Silicon Valley scene recently. Plancast.com allows you to look for events online, but also to let others know which events you plan to go to.  So those on the circuit – Dave McClure, Ron Conway, George Zachary (Charles River Ventures), etc, etc. are all posting their anticipated trips and attendances.  What a tool for an entrepreneur who is trying to “meet up” with (or stalk?) a particular angel or venture investor!

MeetUp is an approach the blends the virtual and the physical – anyone can start or sponsor a meeting or gathering, post it and attract like-minded local people to the gathering.

 

Physical Models

For all practical purposes, still the only way to interact with hundreds of people to meet up  is to shuffle off to an event and join the party.   The good old-fashioned event (conference, seminar, gathering) still exists and has wandered into some new intriguing spaces.  Events and gatherings, after all, can often be the catalyst to new relationships, new ideas and new connections in the mind. And, some of these events are taking on interesting twists.

Facebook, Apple, Google, GigaOm, and TechCrunch all hold interesting events for programmers (sometimes called “hackathons”) – Techcrunch has its Disrupt Hackathon, Facebook calls its event the “Garage” .  Tim O’Reilly’s Foo Conferences have also been called UnConferences. There is no agenda set prior to the meet-up, but once people arrive they determine what topics and seminars are most important to those assembled.

On the non-technical side, a host of conferences around start-ups, innovation and technology have blossomed in the past few years…many of them featuring scores of speakers and panels on a variety of today’s topics; examples include Web 2.0, Always On, and TechCrunch Disrupt and Demo.  Each region of the country typically has speaker-series hosted by a regional player – in the Bay Area, the best known is The Churchill Club (features top speakers from technology, innovation on single evening topic).

A good listing of global conferences on technology can be found here.

Social and Impact Get their Turn

One of my new favorite events is SoCap (Social Capital Markets) event, held each year in SF.  I’m a newbie to this, but the conference itself has been around for many years, bringing together leaders in social/impact space, entrepreneurs and   The event head-quarters are located in The Hub, in downtown SF, which today is a hot-bed of social/impact start-ups.  Social entrepreneurship is a hot topic these days on college campuses, at events, and in mid-life crises.

Another event for social/impact space is the Take Action! Impact Investment event – held annually in SF, and bringing together investors interested in the impact/social investment space.

A relatively complete list of events in the Social/Impact space can be found on Socialbrite’s blog.

A missing gap in all this is Application of innovation to helping others.  While events like TechCrunch Disrupt and  might explore technology, innovation and trends, they do not talk about how these new tools, services and platforms can be used to help the bottom of the pyramid or those who most need it.  In fact, trickle-down theory tells us that it will be many many years before today’s innovations reach those most in need .

 

Where Innovation Meets Social/Impact

A new model for exploring how today’s innovations can make an impact on the less fortunate in the world will be explored at  The Intersection, a unique one-day extravaganza  supported by Pixar, WorldVision and the Gratitude Network .

The Intersection is bringing together some of the country’s leaders in innovative thinking from a variety of sections and looking at the INTERSECTION of ideas as a means of finding solutions to large social issues.  Susan Sarandon (actress)  & Greg Brandeau (Disney) with perspectives from Hollywood; Steve Case sharing insights from government and entrepreneurship;  Linda Hill, John Hagel III and Frans Johnasson (all respected authors) on their perspective on leadership and innovation; Ed Catmull (Pixar) and Tim Brown (IDEO) with their perspectives on creativity; and Chris Pitt (World Vision) and Guru Singh with examples from around the world of social innovation.

I’ll be moderating this event on January 14, 2012. The event will be intimate with only 350 in attendance.  We have been fortunate enough to be invited to hold the event at Pixar’s world headquarters and studios.  So, it’s not only a great collection of activities and speakers on the topic of innovation and social change but it will be held in a unique venue (complete with surprised throughout the event).  Click here for Information about applying to the Intersection.

 

The Economist “Ideas Economy” Conference at UC Berkeley

March 25th, 2011 by admin No comments »

This week the Economist sponsored The IDEAS ECONOMY Conference at the Haas School of Business on the Berkeley campus.  I attended both days and enjoyed meeting many innovation experts from around the world.

A  look at Twitter:#ideaseconomy provides some short insights from the conference and here are a few of my favorite tweets:

  • H Chesbrough – Opening up processes to include the customer is even more important with services #ideaseconomy
  • Paul Kedrosky (Kauffman Foundation): We think of ourselves as economic virus hunters #ideaseconomy
  • Elon Musk: Success = talent x drive x opportunity. If any of those goes to zero, success is impossible #ideaseconomy
  • RT @govlab: Aneesh Chopra on stage showing that govt, innovation, and entrepreneurship can go together. #ideaseconomy
  • Fun at Economist Innovation Summit! IRS asking question of Scott Cook (Intuit) then NASA asking Elon Musk (SpaceX) #ideaseconom

What were the “big ideas” from the event?  Here are my top four:

1) The World is turning into an Idea Economy- we have entered a period where the Democratization of Ideas seems more potent in many ways than technology, leadership, and geography.  In this new economy, one’s location (Silicon Valley, New York City,  Cambridge UK, Beijing, or Finland) is not so important as the way in which ideas are shared and collaborated on.  The concept of  Open Service Innovation is taking hold (see my Haas colleague, Henry Chesbrough’s new book on this topic,) – and innovative companies are getting their ideas, as well as their execution from all corners of the world.

2) Education will be radically transformed in the next 10 years – lots of examples were presented at this conference that indicate that the global education system is about to be transformed by technologies such as cloud computing, virtual classrooms, video conferencing, and distance learning tools.  This transformation will bring affordable teaching to third world and developing countries, but also represents an opportunity for major “brands” like Harvard, Brown, Cal, Stanford to take a leadership in creating the “virtual” campus to extend their brand.

3) Government programs for entrepreneurship seem to be a priority of the current administration – for example, entrepreneurs have a tax break and angel investors have a break as well (through the end of 2012) for angel investing (perhaps partially explains the rush of angel capital investments moving into start-ups these days). Other programs like Start-up America (this is a good video – done YouTube style)…. Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States was interviewed at this conference.  He was praised for how worn out his shoes seem to be. Point of fact, he seems to intimately know many of the entrepreneurs, angels and VCs here in the Silicon Valley.  A good sign.

4) Think nimbly, make mistakes, fail often – this theme was stressed at the conference in many different forms and seems to capture the mindset of today’s most successful entrepreneurs.  Marc Zuckerberg , CEO of Facebook has been said (in an interview in 2010) “move fast and break things”.   This is a radical departure from 15 years ago, when companies carefully thought out and planned software development.  Given costs associated with cloud computing, open source programming, and other technologies, companies can afford to experiment and fail often – as long as they are tracking the results on their customers and changing course to reflect customer needs quickly

In contrast to TED, The Economist conference is smaller and more intimate.  So, it’s easier to talk with leading experts. Unlike TED, the conference was attended largely by a group of corporate executives and writers who are all intrigued by notions of

I’ve enjoyed attending both TED and The Economist events this Spring, but I still miss the intimacy and power of the early TED events in Monterey, when only 400 people attended and one could more easily kibitz with founders from Yahoo, Google, Amazon, MIT Media Labs, Microsoft and more.

The serendipity of TED

March 4th, 2011 by admin 4 comments »

I’m at the last day of the TED ’11 conference in Long Beach, CA.  Many friends have asked me about TED over the years: what’s it like? who goes? how do you get in?. This is my fifth – and there are many “TEDsters” here that have come far more times than me.  I find the Serendipity of TED to be an interesting topic…

Gratitude for Wurman and Anderson

I’m grateful for what Richard Saul Wurman created in 1984 – the early TEDs took place in Monterey, in a fairly intimate setting, with just a few hundred people…and equally as grateful to Chris Anderson, who’s non-profit entity acquired TED in 2001 and has turned it into a global media brand.  Grateful for amazing connections, great content, and vibe.  TED now has conferences throughout the year:  the big event in Long Beach (from which I am posting), the TEDGlobal in summer – now moving to Scotland, and over a THOUSAND TEDx events throughout the world – in every imaginable country – over the past few years.  The website is one of the best video content sites on the web, boasting hundreds of high-quality videos of “Ideas Worth Spreading”…

Ideas Worth Spreading

Ideas are just ideas, unless they do spread to the right minds, hearts and activists. And that’s where the magic of TED seems to work and continue to grow.

TED 2011 Main Lobby

Here at the TED conference, I survey the outside hall:  to my left Al Gore is standing and conversing with a group of repeat TEDsters, behind him Vinod Khosla holding court, with daughter (who presented this year at TED) next to him, and behind me Jason Mraz, musician (who was incredible last night on stage) walking by with his friend/partner in trademark fedora.  Beyond them, scores of venture capitalists that I recognize from the Silicon Valley mingle with 20ish looking young men in jeans and sneakers.  Sitting on the stairs, the founder of Amazon, with family in tote.  Chris Anderson, holding hands with wife, Jacqueline Novogratz (CEO of Acumend Funds).  Off in far corners of the room, scores of creative people mingle, talk excitedly about art, science, music, mother-in-laws and raising kids.   This is a typical scene for TED.

This year’s TedEd talks, held on Mon, Tues and Thurs mornings were short 5 min talks – and many were fascinating. The topics went from How to MindMap a TED talk (by Nina Khosla) to genomes on the Internet (by friend, Jim Hornthal) to the Hoax of State Budgets (Bill Gates).  This short-form talks are a great way for a wide variety of TEDsters to show off another unique aspect of TED:  the diversity of participants from teens to baby-boomers, from scientists to musicians.

The scene not only creates viral spread of ideas, but so does the website, which is available for free to anyone in the world? Missed a session? Look it up on TED within 3 months and you’ll likely find it.  In the future, TED will be broadcast in many companies (their latest endeavor) around the world simultaneously to the live event – so thousands of viewers can watch live, even though at a distance.  That creates more spread.

Sweet Serendipity

What makes this all worthwhile for these folks to shell out $7500 (plus hotel, flights, food) each year?  Serendipity, most likely. At TED, one sets oneself up for that serendipitous moment…a “TEDEd lecture earlier this week by author John Hagel emphasized that serendipity can actually be encouraged, planned for and enhanced.  TED is the ultimate example of this.  The serendipitous moments come when you sit down in the 2000-person auditorium next to the founder of Twitter (as I did yesterday),  or grab coffee and run into someone you’ve followed on Twitter (@aplusk) for a pleasant conversation on the state of Angel Investing…

But, here at TED, serendipity doesn’t seem to be simple luck.  Although the event has reaching proportions that sometimes make you feel like you are at a large trade show party (last night’s party for example, featured a 30-foot puppet and hanging gymnists), the event is set up to allow for interactions, exchanges, and lots of causual “bumping into”.  The five days quickly blend into a blur of great conversations with highly creative people, people who are here to learn and to meet others, many who come with open minds.

At the Intersection

I think what TED represents best is an “intersection” of creative thinking from around the world.  Movie stars, venture capitalists, engineers, singers, adventurers, scientists, mathematicians, CEOs – all in one place – all with expertise in some area, but open  mind to BLEND their expertise with other “ideas worth spreading”.  This is very much like the

Musician & friend, Jason Mraz on stage, Thurs

experience that the Medici Family created in 15th century Florence when they brought together groups of this nature.  So, think of TED as the traveling/virtual equivalent of Firenze.

TED has been a great experience for me over the years…nearly each time I have come, I’ve developed relationships that have been long-lasting, career-changing.  Two of my greatest triumphs and failures have come from relationships with well-known TED speakers that were made here at the conference:  one led to the biggest return in the history of my venture work, another led to less-than-successful (nonetheless interesting) start-up which caused me to question who I really am.  That’s the thing about TED, the serendipitous moments that are created by the intersection of so many wonder-filled people,