As Björgvin Tómasson can tell you, what you get is a "gameleste". This combination makes it a hybrid, something new under the sun. It was built to be a part of Björk's intriguing Biophilia project, which looks to be a pretty stunning effort -- I certainly want to make it to one of her concerts!
I find this video very affirming. Here's what it says to me: when trying to bring something new to life, you will be faced with many challenges. Friends will question your vision, lawyers will come up with a million reasons why you shouldn't do what you want to do, and money people will demand the right to dig up your precious little seed of an idea each day to ensure that it's growing (they have to be sure to get their full money's worth, you know).
In response, just start. Plunge in. Create. Excessive talking and planning is a sign that you are stuck in an emotional-intellectual mire of your own making. That mire gets its power from our fear of the unknown. In order to break its grip, you need to start - anywhere. It's hard to break out of, for sure. But we can all do it. How did Björgvin Tómasson manage to figure out what a gameleste would be like when it did not exist? By starting, by making it. And now we all also know what a gameleste is all about, for the person who acts not only brings a new thing to life, but brings all of us along, too.
“You know the old adage that the customer’s always right? Well, I kind of think that the opposite is true. The customer is rarely right. And that is why you must seize the control of the circumstance and dominate every last detail: to guarantee that they’re going to have a far better time than they ever would have had if they tried to control it themselves.”
I've spoken here many times about the power of experiential learning. For many activities, learning by doing is an extremely sticky way to become adept at a new skill. The difference between reading about surfing, watching a video about surfing, and actually taking a class where you get up on the board (and get really wet, too!) is profound. The former two provide you with lots of information about surfing, while the latter earns you true know-how about how to carve your wave through the water. Deep know how is the killer app for folks who want to make an impact in the ring, as opposed to being spectators or pundits watching from outside.
But, what about computer simulations? While they cannot model all aspects of an activity which takes place in the physical world, computers provide us with the opportunity for deep experiential learning, albeit with less fine-grained resolution than one would encounter in real life. However, as they are not in fact real life, simulations can liberate us from the fear one encounters when immersed in difficult real life situations, such as being the leader of a group of people for the first time, or engaging in a dangerous physical activity. Computer simulations can also provide us with access to learning scenarios which otherwise would be out of our reach due to limitations of time, physics, and money.
Joi Ito has spoken extensively about the power of the game World of Warcraft as a training environment for people interested in developing the skills needed to lead diverse groups of people in conditions of great uncertainty. John Seely Brown has also written some persuasive essays on this subject, and here is an excerpt from one of them:
When role-playing gamers team up to undertake a quest, they often need to attempt particularly difficult challenges repeatedly until they find a blend of skills, talents, and actions that allows them to succeed. This process brings about a profound shift in how they perceive and react to the world around them. They become more flexible in their thinking and more sensitive to social cues. The fact that they don't think of gameplay as training is crucial. Once the experience is explicitly educational, it becomes about developing compartmentalized skills and loses its power to permeate the player's behavior patterns and worldview.
In this way, the process of becoming an effective World of Warcraft guild master amounts to a total-immersion course in leadership. A guild is a collection of players who come together to share knowledge, resources, and manpower. To run a large one, a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting new members; creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudicating disputes. Guilds routinely splinter over petty squabbles and other basic failures of management; the master must resolve them without losing valuable members, who can easily quit and join a rival guild. Never mind the virtual surroundings; these conditions provide real-world training a manager can apply directly in the workplace.
I wholeheartedly agree with Ito and Brown, and am of the opinion that many aspiring real-world project leaders would do well to log some hours learning to lead multi-player quests and raids in Warcraft. Polyphony's Gran Turismo is another great computer simulation from a sticky learning perspective, as it allows one to get a sense of what it feels like to drive a variety of cars fast -- very fast -- around a multitude of road courses. For a few hundred bucks, it allows almost anyone to gain elements of experience which heretofore were only available to person blessed with thousands and thousands of dollars in discretionary income -- as well as the willingness to get really hurt if things were to go all pear-shaped.
Enter Lucas Ordoñez, Spanish MBA student and Gran Turiso aficionado. A few years ago, Ordoñez entered the GT Academy competition organized by Polyphone and Sony, which allowed him to pit his virtual driving skills against 25,000 other competitors, each one seeking to win a full scholarship for further real-world training in racing cars, culminating in the acquisition of a license granting entry into the world of professional racing. Ordoñez had gained experience racing go karts as a kid, but picked up his auto racing miles via Gran Turismo. For those of you who aren't familiar with Gran Turismo, here's a quick video of him "racing" around a famous track you'd find in Germany:
Long story short, Ordoñez beat the odds and topped the Academy, beating out 24,499 other aspiring Sennas. Here's a video showing what happened when he entered his first "real" race:
Pretty cool, eh?
But wait, it gets better: after more experiencing more racing success, Ordoñez was offered a ride in the vaunted 24 Hours of Le Mans race -- a truly spectacular opportunity for any racer, let alone one that's been doing it for less than three years. And guess what, he did really well. Not only did he and his team finish the entire 24 hours, an incredible achievement on its own, they took second place in class, earning the right to stand on the champion's podum. Really, really amazing, especially considering that Ordoñez brought much less "experience" to the team than any of the other traditionally-trained racers he competed against. This video gives a wonderful sense of the magnitude of this achievement:
My point here isn't to claim that video games change everything. They don't. Far from it. But I do think that we can all stand to learn more about the world we live in by selectively choosing to spend more time with the high-quality games that really do put us in new learning situations. Curiousity can be stoked and satisfied in myriad ways, so can't we all agree to move beyond the snobbery of the book and the university lecture and the formal training class to see the latent potential embedded in our silicon machines and the software that makes them sing? This is the message of the ballad of Lucas Ordoñez... I can't wait to see where life next takes him.
You may not like cars, or you may like them as much as I do, but I think we can all agree that the storytelling behind this Audi piece called Eliminating Luck is truly masterful.
I admire the way they've taken a complex subject, a subject associated with myriad statistics and difficult to relate to numbers (how fast does 300 km/hr feel, anyhow?), and turned it into something lyrical and quite beautiful. Effective storytelling is indeed an effective countermeasure when it comes to deconstructing complex situations and communicating their essence in an elegant way.
About 18 years ago I dropped out of graduate school at Stanford and took a job as an R&D engineer at Hewlett-Packard Company. Actually, "dropped out" is a bit too strong of a phrase; it was late June, I had just just won my Stanford undergraduate degrees a few weeks before, I was about to start my summer internship at NASA, it was hot out, and my new dorm room (Rains housing, for those of you in the know) was even hotter, and I was already sick of hearing cars downshifting for the stop sign just outside of my window. Classes for my masters program in mechanical engineering wouldn't start for a few more months, but the prospect of yet another math class didn't feel like a Big Idea to me. I forget the the exact chain of events, but I believe I first called Ford to ask (beg) for the job I had turned down a few months earlier, and then coincidentally someone from Hewlett-Packard called me to see if I would be interested in a position with them up in Vancouver, Washington, having passed their grueling phone interview screen a few months earlier.
I flew up to Portland, Oregon to interview with Hewlett-Packard, partly because I was desperate to get out of my room at Stanford and partly because I had never been to a CART race, and there was one happening the coming weekend, which was June 27 (what -- you think I've changed? This one-track mind has taken years to develop). The job interviews went well, and the race was pretty cool (the good folks at Hewlett-Packard allowed me to keep the rental car for the weekend), if I must say so:
The visit went well, I took the job, and in doing so became a very proud member of the Hewlett-Packard family, starting as a R&D Engineer working on ink-jet printing systems. I enjoyed what in retrospect was an amazing two years, though I probably didn't fully appreciate everything at the time because I was relatively impatient from a career standpoint. All things being equal, over my two years there, I was able to do foundational R&D work on what became HP's "off-axis" ink system (which you can stilll find in any large-format printer today), got to help take a new printer up the manufacturing ramp, was allowed to redesign a bunch of parts for another new printer, and was also asked to do some cool user research in the field, including one home visit in Wisconsin where I ended up helping some kids with their homework.
The best thing about working at Hewlett-Packard was its culture, which was very "adult" in the sense that it was built on a sense of deep trust and respect between individuals and groups within the company. One day I was using spray-mount glue in my cubicle (bad idea) and my manager stopped by, poked his head in, and said something to the effect of "You can pretty much do anything you want here unless you're endangering yourself or others, and right now you're endangering yourself or others," and then he walked away. Lesson learned. Working at Hewlett-Packard meant that I had the good fortune of working for some truly spectacular managers and mentors, such as Eric Ahlvin, Alan Shibata, David Gast, and Rick Berriman. Looking back on my time there, I realize now the degree to which I imprinted on these people and on Hewett-Packard's culture. In my approach to work and working with people, I think I've tried hard to live up to the examples they set for me, as well as the ethos that informed the culture of Hewlett-Packard.
The best summary of the culture I experienced at Hewlett-Packard is summed up in the 11 Simple Rules drawn up by David Packard himself. These are:
1. Think first of the other fellow. This is THE foundation — the first requisite — for getting along with others. And it is the one truly difficult accomplishment you must make. Gaining this, the rest will be "a breeze."
2. Build up the other person's sense of importance. When we make the other person seem less important, we frustrate one of his deepest urges. Allow him to feel equality or superiority, and we can easily get along with him.
3. Respect the other man's personality rights. Respect as something sacred the other fellow's right to be different from you. No two personalities are ever molded by precisely the same forces.
4. Give sincere appreciation. If we think someone has done a thing well, we should never hesitate to let him know it. WARNING: This does not mean promiscuous use of obvious flattery. Flattery with most intelligent people gets exactly the reaction it deserves — contempt for the egotistical "phony" who stoops to it.
5. Eliminate the negative. Criticism seldom does what its user intends, for it invariably causes resentment. The tiniest bit of disapproval can sometimes cause a resentment which will rankle — to your disadvantage — for years.
6. Avoid openly trying to reform people. Every man knows he is imperfect, but he doesn't want someone else trying to correct his faults. If you want to improve a person, help him to embrace a higher working goal — a standard, an ideal — and he will do his own "making over" far more effectively than you can do it for him.
7. Try to understand the other person. How would you react to similar circumstances? When you begin to see the "whys" of him you can't help but get along better with him.
8. Check first impressions. We are especially prone to dislike some people on first sight because of some vague resemblance (of which we are usually unaware) to someone else whom we have had reason to dislike. Follow Abraham Lincoln's famous self-instruction: "I do not like that man; therefore I shall get to know him better."
9. Take care with the little details. Watch your smile, your tone of voice, how you use your eyes, the way you greet people, the use of nicknames and remembering faces, names and dates. Little things add polish to your skill in dealing with people. Constantly, deliberately think of them until they become a natural part of your personality.
10. Develop genuine interest in people. You cannot successfully apply the foregoing suggestions unless you have a sincere desire to like, respect and be helpful to others. Conversely, you cannot build genuine interest in people until you have experienced the pleasure of working with them in an atmosphere characterized by mutual liking and respect.
11. Keep it up. That's all — just keep it up!
Wow. These 11 principles are simultaneously super inspirational and super humbling. Truth be told, on my bad days I fail to live up to all of these. But I try, and I keep trying to improve myself vis a vis this list, and I think that was the magic of Hewlett-Packard's culture, which allowed you -- even encouraged you -- to improve yourself just as you were always trying to improve the stuff sitting on your test bench. And it encouraged you to help the folks around you, too. What I find interesting about Packard's points is that, starting with No.1, they're all focused on the people around you, not on your inner dialog or whatever. If you're seeking to establish and maintain a collaborative, innovative culture, you could do a lot worse than to follow these 11 points.
I wrote this post this evening because earlier today I learned that David Kelley modeled much of IDEO's culture on that of Hewlett-Packard. I left Hewlett-Packard to join IDEO, and in many ways I regard IDEO as a logical extension of Packard's cultural vision. Trust and respect for your fellow colleagues are indeed the pillars of cultures which routinely create high-impact innovations.
Many thanks to my friend Bob Sutton for telling me about David Packard's Simple Rules.
My original working title for Innovation Principle 20 was "Don't settle". This principle was inspired by one of my colleagues at IDEO, who has showed me again and again the value created by not giving up on an idea until the quality of its expression matches the magnitude of its potential.
I evolved the messaging of Principle 20 to "Be remarkable" because I wanted it to feel more aspirational and open-ended, but it some ways I always go back to the phrasing "don't settle" in my head. To be honest, I've been struggling with the wording on this one. Is it about being remarkable? Or is about sticking to your guns, never letting anything go? While I'm a firm believer in embracing mediocrity in order to get the ball rolling, I'm also a stickler for doing amazing stuff. Are these two at all compatible?
When I read this article about chef Daniel Boulud a couple of years ago, I filed it away under the heading "don't settle". I just took another look at it, and noted this passage:
But during Round 8 of recipe tests, on Tuesday, he refuses to grade on the curve. He stoically appraises entrees and appetizers in what feels like a marathon episode of “Top Chef” — except that this judge has helped conceive the dishes and never seems very pleased by the results.
The lamb ribs confit with roasted lamb leg and spring beans? “Maybe a little more herbs in it,” he suggests. The Maryland lump crab cake with a curry sauce and pickled radish? “More crab, less garnish.” The passion fruit crepe with mango slices? “We’re still not there.”
We sit across from Mr. Boulud, shamelessly pillaging the leftovers and thinking: huh? Each dish seems head-spinningly yummy, but Mr. Boulud summons enthusiasm only when he tries a sausage called the Vermonter, and he cracks a smile only after a forkful of beer-battered haddock beignets.
“I think it’s good,” he says, like a man enjoying a guilty pleasure.
This excerpt hints at the relationship between "don't settle" and "be remarkable". When it comes to the lamb and the crab cake and the fruit crepe, he's saying "keep working on it -- not remarkable enough yet". Not settling. But when he tastes something over the bar, such as the beer-battered fish beignets, he celebrates the outcome. I think that's the key: if you don't have the honesty to recognize something remarkable when it happens, people around you will think nothing will ever make you happy, and from that point forward you'll always be operating in a climate of fear. And a working climate infused with fear never ever never ever takes us to a happy place:
This principle is about a stepwise journey toward a remarkable endpoint. It is fueled by trust, a trust that none of us will settle for anything less than being remarkable. But it also requires a shared trust that it is okay to deliver an interim step that is less than perfect. In other words, we need to be okay with each of us failing as individuals if we're ever going to reach somewhere remarkable together. I can't imagine that perfect fish-flavored beignets could ever happen right on the first shot, you know?
Stanford's alumni magazine, titled -- you guessed it! -- Stanford Magazine, ran a great story on the d.school a few weeks ago. The article speaks with my teacher/mentor/colleague/friend/hero David Kelley and others about not only the d.school, but on living your life well, and on the notion of achieving creative confidence (here's a secret: those last two items are deeply related).
It's definitely worth your time to read through the article. I really liked this quote from Stanford President John Hennessy:
Creativity represents an important characteristic that we would seek to inculcate in our students, and obviously one that's harder to put a firm framework around. It's unlike teaching some analytical method. Will a bridge stay up? Well, we know what to teach. You teach physics, you teach some mathematics and you can do the analysis.
It's much harder to teach creativity. [It involves] multiple routes, multiple approaches and, obviously, it's virtually impossible to test whether or not you've succeeded. The measure of success is likely to come long after, not unlike many of the other things we try to teach: To prepare students to be educated citizens, to prepare them for dealing with people from diverse and different walks of life. Those are things that play out over a long time, whether or not we've done a good job.
During my time as an undergraduate at Stanford, I was very fortunate to be able to pursue two degrees, obtaining both a bachelor of science in engineering and a bachelor of arts in a multidisciplinary program called Values, Technology, Science and Society [VTSS] (it is now called STS and is one of the biggest programs on campus, though when I was there it was quite small). I spent a lot of time in the library. Though VTSS sounds like something very technical in nature, it was actually an incredibly rich humanities experience, with a focus on topics which, if you've spent any time around this blog, you know that I love. For example, my honors thesis was on the origins and development of the Ferrari aesthetic, looking at how meaning was created in Maranello via the mechanisms of storytelling, racing, and panel beating. My VTSS teachers were an incredible group of people, really inspirational, and they helped me build up my creative confidence in myriad ways. VTSS also gave me a way to take all of the product design classes with David Kelley which I otherwise would not have been able to do had I just pursued my engineering degree alone.
I bring all of this up because I do feel that Professor Kelley helped, in Hennessy's words, to prepare me to be an educated citizen, to prepare me for dealing with people from diverse and different walk of life. If the d.school had been around while I was there, I wouldn't have had to get the two degrees (though I would have anyway, as I'm always "doing both"). For me, as someone who was part of the founding team at the d.school, and who remains extremely passionate and optimistic about its mission and potential in the world -- it is an experiment still in its very early days -- it's very gratifying to see that mission be couched in these terms. Ultimately, we are not teaching folks to be designers, we are helping them realize their potential as citizens and as happy, productive human beings. Awesome.
I'll leave you with this recent d.school video which has students telling it all in their own words:
Thanks to my friend R. Michael Hendrix for this awesome photo.
Get out there and hustle!
I learned something significant today from this wonderful 99% interview of Francis Ford Coppola at the 99%.
As you know, for the past year or so I've been playing around with the notion that an essential -- even critical -- element in any successful creative endeavor is the existence of a crisp point of view to guide decision making along the way. A point of view is statement of what something must be, and in that declaration lies an exhaustive list of everything which it cannot be. A point of view allows for consistent choices to be made, which lead to coherent, strong end results. When something is criticized for feeling like it was created by a committee, it's not so much the committee per se which is at fault, so much as the absence of any unifying principle to guide the actions of individuals in the name of creating a sum total which is truly remarkable. In terms of outcomes, having a strong point of view is the difference between the music of an ensemble led by Charlie Hunter and the stuff you'd hear in an elevator. There's nothing wrong with group creativity, but it needs to have a point of reference for goodness navigation.
Which brings me back to the Coppola interview. While I've never made a motion picture, I always watch the credits, and I'm always amazed at how even a film with a modest production budget can employ so many people. How can they all know what to do? What good looks like? How to make the myriad brilliant decisions that lead to something being truly remarkable? Here's what Coppola says, and it's totally about point of view:
When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.
The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.
"I suddenly understood with great clarity that nothing in life—except death itself—was ever going to kill me. No meeting could ever go that badly. No client would ever be that angry. No business error would ever bring me as close to the brink as I had already been."
- David E. Davis, Jr., on the liberating effects of the automobile accident which almost claimed his life
David E. Davis passed away today.
I began reading his writing in December 1979, and it's not hyperbole to say that his influence changed my life for the better. An amazing writer and raconteur, his magazines informed and inflamed my passion for automobiles, and provided me with a view into a fascinating world of colorful personalities, fantastic road trips, and his own singular point of view on what made for a quality life. Everything I learned from his writing and editorial direction has informed my professional work. As a consummate storyteller, he was truly a great American treasure.
I began corresponding with him via email a few years ago. We exchanged views on a variety of topics, including the marketing of Suburbans as Cadillacs and the proper shade of metallic blue required to bring out the personality of a Ferrari 550 Maranello. We tried to meet up at a running of the California Mille, but our schedules didn't overlap in the way we hoped, something I truly regret. I left a copy of his book Thus Spake David E. with a mutual friend, and David wrote me a wonderful, humorous inscription with an offer of dinner sometime. Though I took the time to thank him for his influence on me via email, I dearly wish I could have had that dinner and looked him in the eyes and told him so. In life you've got to seize the day and make the most of things, and I didn't in this case, with regret.
The quote above is from a graduation speech he gave a few years ago. Whenever I feel like life is kicking me in the teeth, I think about his points above. The ability to pick oneself up from adversity, in the end, may be as important -- or more important -- as the instinct to go forth boldly in the first place. For me, the lesson of David E. Davis is to live your life out loud, to keep on engaging with new adventures no matter what life hands you in return, and to do it all with as much vigor and chutzpah as you can muster.
What if all of the big intitatives -- both public and private -- put into place over the past decade to computerize learning were trumped by a smart, funny, personable guy who, acting largely alone and on a shoestring budget, used a human-centered approach to creating a simple, cost-effective way to reach thousands and thousands of students over the web? And what if it all happened simply because he started teaching kids?
Let's look at some of the innovations brought to market by the Khan Academy. Among others:
What do all of these have in common? Well, aside from being truly amazing outcomes for students, teachers, and parents, none of them were captured in a business plan slide deck, nor were they necessarily premediated goals for his venture. In other words, Salman didn't start out with the goal to flip the learning paradigm. He worked his way up to that point by doing something he loved. To push that point even further, Sallman wasn't looking to start a venture at all, just to tutor his cousins more effectively. He designed for them, saw the value he created, and then went from there.
Embracing the primacy of doing, getting started, saying "what the hell, why don't I try this!" is a way to open yourself up to powerful forces of serendipity, luck, and good fortune. In technical terms, doing gives you access to a real option, which is defined as:
the right — but not the obligation — to undertake some business decision; typically the option to make, abandon, expand, or contract a capital investment.
Think about it: if you could create the right to give yourself an expanded range of opportunities in the future, wouldn't you give that gift to yourself? Of course you would. So what Salman teaches us is that we need to act -- we have to act -- because inside of that action is a gift of a better future, both for ourselves and for others. Accessing the gift requires some courage, so tell yourself you can do it, and help your friends and family to embrace their own potential to get out there and make it happen. For me, that's the ultimate lesson of the Khan Academy.
I returned this morning from the TED conference in Long Beach. This year I found it exceptionally inspiring. And also draining: the content on stage, the people you meet, the people you don't meet,the locale, all of the activites -- it's a jam-packed five days that leaves you feeling simultaneously energized yet also a bit like a spent tube of toothpaste. Wow.
I logged on this evening to write a summary of the week, but in the course of seeing what my friends wrote about their experience there, I came across John's amazing story of his experience in Long Beach, and decided that all I'm going to do is quote him here. What he wrote is just beautiful, and it captures the essence of what happens there:
... Every time I go, there are at least a couple of experiences that I have that change the way that I look at the world, the way that I want to be when I go home. TED makes you want to be better, smarter, more present, more thoughtful, more impactful, more human. To be a better citizen and a better professional and a better dad and a better husband and a better friend. That type of inspiration doesn’t happen all that much, and it’s worth the price of admission every time.
And that’s why June Cohen and Tom Rielly, on the TED team are two of my true heroes. They both have chosen to spend their lives working on building up TED outside of just the week of the conference every year. Tom has built the TED Fellows program, which started out pretty damn great and at this point is starting to move into basically ass-kicking-terrifyingly-awesome territory. And June, who put TED Talks online for everyone to see, including subtitling into 80+ languages.
That, my friends, is how you change the world.
That’s how you take this beautiful, wonderful experience for a few people in California each year and turn it into something that anyone — anyone! — can use to make themselves, their community, their world better themselves.
Well said, John. I can't wait to post some of my favorite speaker videos. I had tears streaming down my face in just about every session of the conference.
TED is something different from what it was half a decade ago. If you can ever go in person to one of their events, or to a TEDx event, I heartily recommend you do so, but I do agree with John that the essence of the TED brand experience is by no means limited to those who hear it in person. If you can take the time to watch and absorb the videos which appeal to you -- and many of those which won't at first glance -- you can have the same kind of transformational experience. Perhaps even better.
Tears optional, but highly recommended.
It is so important to have a strong point of view. Let me repeat: it is so important to have a strong point of view. It needn't be as extreme as the one voiced in this ad, but you've got to stand for something.
If you don't have a point of view, you won't know what you don't stand for, and so you'll be tempted to try and do everything, because "no" won't be in your vocabulary. Trying to appeal to everyone by playing in the mushy middle not only will make you less appealing over the long haul (because being boring is not attractive), it also makes it very difficult to get started (because the enormity of the task makes everything too daunting to tackle), and makes it really tough to ship (because you have to do so much in order to meet the needs of so many people).
Having a point of view is incredibly liberating. It takes more energy and more time to get to an honest understanding of what you believe in, what you need to do, and what you won't do, but it is well and truly worth it.
For more on this subject, read Principle 19: Have a point of view
Do you remember Wonder Woman's Invisible Jetplane? If you don't, you can read about it over here, and it looked something like this (because it's invisble, there aren't that many images of it floating around):
It strikes me that her Invisible Jetplane is a good metaphor for a well-equipped journey through the world of the possible. As you embrace the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, you're going to have moments where you are going to have to stare into nothingness. Literally, there will be nothing there, and as a generative creator of future options, it is up to you to create something. If you're floating out above an abyss, it's good to be packing something to help ensure that you can get through the tough spots.
People who make it through the rough parts of a creative journey have an Invisble Jetplane of their own making, and it's called creative confidence. It's a set of tools you build for yourself, a personally tailored version of whatever design process you subscribe to, a way of working which you know will deliver results. It's certainly not about bravado or pumping yourself up. Not at all. Rather, it's about have the confidence to stop when the going is good, to celebrate when things break, to be able to listen and learn and test over and over in order to create a strong point of view about how things should be going forward -- at least for now. And, as with Wonder Woman's jet, creative confidence is invisible, but it'll get you places, and people around you will notice what it can do, too. You can't see it, but you certainly can feel it when someone has it.
So where do you go to get your jetplane? If it were as easy as getting a degree or reading a book, everyone could do it. You certainly can't buy it, and it is not about credentials. The good news -- at least for those of us who can't help but apply ourselves toward bringing cool stuff to life -- is that it builds in strength with practice. As my friend Jon Winsor says, you have to ride a thousand waves before you truly get what it means to surf. It's the same for creative confidence, too: it's about practice and cycles. To grok it, do it. It's about getting miles under your belt.
Have fun with your jet!
While it is important to keep in mind that most new ideas aren't likely to be new, sometimes something really is new. And thank goodness. Life would be a dull, grey affair if we couldn't bring truly new things into the world. Today marks the birth of just this sort of thing: according to metacool's research and development partner Telstar Logistics, today marks the 100th anniversary of naval aviation:
Naval aviation was invented one hundred years ago today, on January 18, 1911, when a 24 year-old barnstormer pilot named Eugene B. Ely completed the world's first successful landing on a ship. It happened in San Francisco Bay, aboard the crusier USS Pennsylvania, which had a temporary, 133-foot wooden landing strip built above her afterdeck and gun turret as part of the experiment.
I love the context of this historical event, for several reasons. First, it happened in San Francisco. It's cool to think that remarkable mashups were happening out here back when "web" meant something that came out of a spider. Second, that this innovation really is a mashup: it slams together several new technologies -- an airplane and a modern warship -- in a way which produced a genuine first. Perhaps the very nature of mashups makes them more likely to disprove the rule of nothing being new under the sun? Take two common things, put them together, and that interaction may be genuinely new and a great source of value creation. Finally, innovation doesn't just happen. Close your eyes and imagine the human drama of this day one hundred years ago, and the importance of measured risk taking becomes readily apparent.
Hats off to Eugen B. Ely, who had guts to get out and do it.
"Above all, think of life as a prototype. We can conduct experiments, make discoveries, and change our perspectives. We can look for opportunities to turn processes into projects that have tangible outcomes. We can learn how to take joy in the things we create whether they take the form of a fleeting experience or an heirloom that will last for generations. We can learn that reward comes in creation and re-creation, not just in the consumption of the world around us. Active participation in the process of creation is our right and our privilege. We can learn to measure the sucess of our ideas not by our bank accounts but by their impact in the world."
Original. Creative. Breathtaking. Daring. Singular. Brilliant. Artistic. Practiced. Considered. Inspiring. Flabbergasting. Elegant. Ingenious. Astonishing.
Do you want to achieve something amazing, or are you just here to phone in an acceptable, if ultimately forgettable, solution? Remarkable successes are born of affirmative answers to the former. Be remarkable.
Great things come from a total, unwavering commitment to being remarkable.
This 20th principle is foundational in the sense that it is an enabler of the desirable behaviors called out in all the other principles. For example:
Being remarkable is the source of the grease we need to keep the process innovating moving along. A broad commitment to being remarkable reduces the friction, smooths out the bumps, and turbocharges the chuzpah we all need to bring cool thingsto life.
How you are guides how things willl be.
"I spent weeks thinking about and composing this. It’s very important to me, to the company, and I hope to all of you. This is a statement of the philosophy by which we are building Clover. We’re not coming to you with a product that is complete. Instead we’re hoping to engage you. We have big things we want to achieve and we’ll only be able to get there with your help.
Third, like most things Clover this wall is going to change. The white paint comes out in 3 weeks."
I'm a big fan of what Ayr Muir-Harmony has been doing with his startup Clover Food Lab over the past two years. I'm jealous, even. Ayr is incredibly gutsy, but also deeply thoughtful about how we goes about failing his way to success. His venture is all about learning by getting out there and engaging with customers in an authentic, honest, and open way.
Ayr lives Principle 5 better than just about any other person I've met.
My last post on Shinya Kimura created some great discussions, both in email, on forums across the internets, and around my workplace. That video certainly struck a deep chord with me, as it has with many other folks. Kimura combines an extremely strong point of view with a strong bias for doing, and the combination is entrancing. As I watched it again over the weekend, it made me think of two commercials which aired earlier this year, one for Jeep, the other for Corvette.
Here's the Jeep spot, which, if you listen carefully, sounds more like the manifesto for a social movement than it does an ad trying to hawk sheetmetal (and that's a Good Thing):
And then there's these amazing 45 seconds of brand building from Chevrolet:
Warning: rant approaching.
For me, the cultural zeitgeist of life in 2010 America is clearly saying "We need to start thinking with our hands again", and that we need at least to have confidence in our decision making as we seek to create things of intrinsic value -- be they forged in metal, hacked in bits, or whipped out of the air via meticulous planning and rigorous execution. It's not difficult to get to a strong, compelling point of view. That's what design thinking can do for you. But in each of these videos I sense our society expressing a strong yearning for something beyond process, the courage to make decisions and to act. Talking and thinking is easy, shipping is tough.
I think that courage comes from foundational experiences messing with stuff. We're still in hard times, undergoing a structural shift away from the economic flows which underpinned the 20th century. The imagery expressed in the Jeep and Chevy videos is from that receding economic period, which still exists here in places, but which will continue to drain away unless we can grasp the essence of what those images are saying to us. We need to start thinking with our hands again. The Corvette piece pines wistfully for Apollo rockets and the like... and implies that we can't make them anymore. Which is probably true.
However, we are indeed still creating Apollo-like icons for the future -- for example, Facebook, Google, and even the Chevy Volt -- but we certainly need more people who, like Kimura, can't keep themselves from hacking away at stuff. Tinkering, hacking, experimenting, they're all ways of experiencing the world which are more apt than not to lead to generative, highly creative outcomes. I firmly believe that kids and young adults who are allowed to hack, break, tear apart, and generally probe the world around them develop an innate sense of courage when it comes time to make a decision to actually do something. I see this all the time at Stanford: people build their creative confidence by doing things which are difficult, rather than by mastering theoretical concepts, which, though complex and difficult in and of themselves, are not transformative in a personal sense. In my training as an engineer, I took years of complex math, and it was incredibly useful to me as I applied it to thermodynamic and fluid mechanics issues I encountered as a design engineer, but nothing gave me the courage to act as the experience I had creating a casting pattern on a lathe and milling machine and then pouring molten aluminum in the negative space left by the handiwork of my mind. It was my I can do this moment. If we want more people to fall in love with the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, we need to help them have that moment, wherever and however it may come.
Brian W. Jones left a wonderful comment under my Kimura post, one which I think sums it all up really well:
“The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.” - Jacob Bronowski
How will you grasp the world? What can your hands tell you? We need to start thinking with our hands again.
What can you ship today?
Take a minute to scan the montage of images I've collected above. What emotions do they evoke, and what thoughts do they bring to mind for you?
As I look at them, here are the adjectives bouncing around my head: alive, vibrant, crisp, beautiful, engaged, dynamic, iconoclastic, memorable, deep, intriguing, ingenious, timeless.
To pull this montage together, I made quick list of the people, ideas, and objects which have made an impression on me over the years, and then I selected a subset which represented the whole of the list. If you ask me about any of them, I could spend the better part of an hour explaining how they've created meaning for me, how they've influenced the course of my life, how they represent what's good in the world. Your list is undoubtedly different -- it should be different -- and you may question my taste (yes, I do have an abiding fascination with cars shaped like an Air Jordan shoe), but I'd encourage you to take five minutes now (yes, now!) and jot down your own list.
Are you done?
I'd love to hear about your list. Even without being able to see it, I'd argue the following: every choice on your list represents a person who made choices. A person who knew what they wanted and what they did not, what mattered and what did not, a person who was able to listen to everyone but then do what they thought was right. In other words, a person with a point of view.
What is a point of view? Simply put, it is a crisp accounting of what matters which allows one to say no. In the process of trying to bring cool stuff to life, it is so easy to say yes to everything. It's much harder to say no to the things that don't matter in the end, and that's where the art part of the equation plays out. But I can say one thing definitively: if you don't have a firm point of view about what matters, your chances of doing something remarkable drop to zero. Great things happen when we make choices, and we make good choices when we know what we want.
Above all else, you must have a point of view. Don't leave home without it.
This is number nineteen in a series of evolving principles of innovation. As always, I humbly seek your feedback, critique, and better ideas.
Some only dream of flying
They say you need wings to fly
I say, I have wings
But they can’t hear me
I am already there
And the wind is screaming words with me
But I am not dreaming
They say I wish I had wings
I say, you do have wings
The question is:
Where are you hiding them?
I'm always looking for feedback on my evolving list of innovation principles. What works? What doesn't? What's missing?
Last year Esquire ran this list of aphorisms from the mind of J Mays. I've been holding on to this list since then, and this afternoon I took another look at it. Seeing them afresh made me feel that a few fell naturally into some of my framework of innovation principles. Is it narcissistic to take the thoughts of another person and put them into buckets of your own making? Yeah, probably.
Anyway, here I go... thinking by Mays, buckets by Rodriguez:
"A designer is only as good as what he or she knows. If all you know is what you've garnered from fifteen years of living in Detroit, it's going to limit what you can lay down. If you've had experiences around the world, you'll be able to design a much richer story for people to enjoy."
Principle 2: See and hear with the mind of a child
"I'll be the first to admit that there were times when I was wrong, but it didn't change the fact that I was going to keep trying. On the other side, if you're just going by the herd rule, that's where you end up--with the herd."
"Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life -- the life you author from scratch on your own -- begins.
How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you're wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it's tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?"
If nothing else, working on metacool over the past half decade has helped me meet a ton of people I would never have encountered otherwise. And thanks to another friend I met via metacool, I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Jörg Bergmeister, one of the most talent racing drivers working today.
Those of you out there whose eyes roll back in your head whenever I talk about cars can rest easy (relaaaxxx -- let those eyes roll baaackkk), because when Jörg and I met, we didn't talk about automobiles so much as about human-machine interface design and how new technologies may reshape the dominant paradigms of automotive design surrounding us today. Our specific topic of discussion was the amazing new Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid, and yes we did geek out a bit on gearhead stuff at the beginning of our interview, but on the whole I think we ventured in to some very interesting territory. In fact, we touched on many of the themes I surfaced in this post I wrote a while back about making green red.
By the way, have I mentioned how totally gnarly Jörg's 911 looks?
My favorite part of our conversation came when I asked Jörg about how he stays inspired, and his answer was just wonderful:
Racing is the one thing I love -- well, not the only thing, but I've done it my entire life and it has been my hobby and I made it my profession. I'm very fortunate to make my hobby my profession. I think that's enough inspiration. I just love, love racing.
Words of wisdom. Can you make your hobby your profession, and achieve a "cold fusion" state of permanent personal inspiration. What a way to remain always inspired! I love it.
By the way, have you ever noticed how much the nose of a modern 911 looks like the skull of the ur-land animal Tiktaalik?
Yeah, me too.
If the process of bringing new things to life were a living, breathing organism, it would be a nasty beast! It would be unpredictable. It would consume as much as you dared to feed it. Some days, it would really stink. Yucko! And it would have a tendency to chew up people and spit them out. Most of all, though, it would hairy. Really hairy -- think dense forests of tangly, greasy, matted, hair, the likes of which make people run for shampoo, scissors, clippers, straight razors, and a blow dryer.
However, if you shave a hairball, there's nothing left. You know, it's just a ball of hair, right? But in that fuzziness is an unpredictable wellspring of creativity, which -- if left to do what it will in in its own nonlinear way -- is the source of the new and the wonderful. Consequently, one must never give in to the temptation to shave the fuzzy hairball that is innovation. As institutions and individuals, we have to learn how to live with the hairball and respect it. If we get enough mileage under our belt, we may even come to relish being in situations of great ambiguity and fuzziness. I know that I can't get enough of being there, which is why I do what I do.
Organizations need to find a way to let the hairball be a hairy mess. The fuzziness of the innovation hairball makes its very presence uncomfortable for mature organizations. Successful organizations have gotten to where they are by being able to sell, ship, and support things on a regular basis. If the honest answer to the question "When will this be done?" is "We have no idea!" (which is what the hairball always says), a mature organization will be sorely tempted to lend clarity and structure to the hairball. "Let's put you on a firm schedule with staged checkpoints!", it says. "Here, let me clean up that mess of hair." Instead, we have to be able to let the hairball be greasy and stinky, and learn how to celebrate it. This is a hard thing to do, as leaving a pool of ambiguity unmopped rarely not squares well with meeting your quarterly numbers. As to where and how to do that, well there are many books written around those subjects, so let's just leave it that we need to let the hair be fuzzy. Don't shave it. Find a place for it to grow.
To that point, my friend Bob Sutton wrote a wonderful post about his own experience of learning to respect the fuzzy front end. In it he quotes Bill Coyne, who led innovation efforts at 3M for many years:
Finally, don't try to control or make safe the fumbling, panicky, glorious adventure of discovery. Occasionally, one sees articles that describe how to rationalize this process, how to take the fuzzy front end and give it a nice haircut. This is self-defeating. We should allow the fuzzy front end to be as unkempt and as fuzzy as we can. Long-- term growth depends on innovation, and innovation isn't neat. We stumble on many of our best discoveries. If you want to follow the rapidly moving leading edge, you must learn to live on your feet. And you must be willing to make necessary, healthy stumble.
I really like Bob's post because of the way he relates the need for organizations to build up muscles around grappling with fuzziness with his own personal journey as a design thinker.
As I've said earlier, at a personal level, being comfortable with the innovation process is largely a matter of learning by doing. The more you're in hairy, fuzzy situations, and the more you find your way out of them, the more your confidence in your own creative process will grow. At an individual level, if you want to be able to live in more innovative ways, you need to learn how to orbit the hairball. That phrase, of course, is the title of Gordon McKenzie's masterpiece Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace, which occupies a hallowed spot on my bookshelf. For me, McKenzie's masterpiece is a valuable personal "owner's manual", as it helps you find your own ways to avoid the temptation to shave the hairball. It teaches you instead to find ways orbit it when necessary (which may be almost all the time for some folks).
Know thyself. Understanding how to deal with ambiguity at a personal level is the key to unlocking one's creative confidence. An organization which understands how to resist shaving the hairball, populated by people who know how to orbit the hairball, will be capable of bringing amazing things to life.
This is number 18 in a series of principles of innovation. It is an evolving work. Please give me your thoughts, suggestions, and good ideas.
Yesterday I wrote about serendipity, purpose, and some words of wisdom from Joi Ito. It just came to my attention that my friend John Lilly wrote a great blog post a while back dealing with many of the same themes, plus he ties them to the importance of living within a strong network. Or in a less techie way of putting it, by surrounding yourself with great people and opportunities.
Here's an excerpt -- I just love this stuff:
..for most of the important turning points in my life, I treated them with a little less seriousness than, you know, buying my next iPod. Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t recognize that sometimes decisions would have effects, or that I didn’t take them seriously. What I’m saying is that a bunch of decisions that I thought were really important turned out to be not important at all, and some things I decided to do just for fun changed everything (like when I went to visit an old high school friend in Jamaica who would eventually become my wife.)
Here’s a quick story to illustrate a turning point that I didn’t realize until much later. When I was a junior in college, I had decided to major in computer science, and was starting to get interested in something called Human Computer Interaction — designing systems for people to be able to use them effectively. I went to a lunchtime seminar by a guy named Robert Cailliau — a physicist from Switzerland of all places — and he brought with him a giant black computer called a NeXT — Steve Jobs’ creation that would eventually turn into the Macintosh that we know today. He started giving a demo of a program where you could bring up a page full of text and pictures, and click on blue underlined text to get to other pages full of text and pictures. And I remember saying to myself, “Huh, I guess that’s sort of neat — text & pictures, click click click.” And the next thing I remember was waking up when everyone was gathering up all their stuff to leave — I had fallen asleep — and missed, of course, the first demonstration I’d ever seen (or most people had ever seen) of the World Wide Web. So there you go — one of those powerful inflection points in my life — and I slept through it.
...you never know when a decision you make is going to have a profound effect in your life. At least, I’ve never been able to tell. So my coping strategy — what I do to make everything work for me — is try to put myself into situations where there are tons of great choices, tons of great people, tons of great outcomes possible — so that it makes the odds that I make some really important & good choices that much better.
Of course, it also helps to be smart, well-educated (formally and informally), and willing to work hard. But obviously context and what you make of it really matters.
Focus on everything!
photo credit: Joi Ito
Joi Ito has taught me so much since I started reading his writing around seven years ago. More recently I've been able to collaborate with Joi on some stuff, and I can now safely say that the only thing better than Joi on the web is Joi in real life!
Recently at IDEO we've been talking about the difference between having a vision and having a purpose. A vision is something you shoot for, a point in the future, while a purpose is a point of origin, something that guides you. We're of a belief that visions are tough to go after when you desire innovative outcomes because they tend to reduce emergent behavior and serendipity. A single, defined point in the future may be better suited to a top-down, variance-eliminating organization trying to reach a single goal, rather than for one trying to exist in certain way, believing that a guiding purpose will ensure that the outcomes that do arise will be not only appropriate, but likely extraordinary.
Against that context, I just read Joi's latest blog post, Focusing on Everything, which is just wonderful. Here's an excerpt:
One of the great thoughts in the book is the idea that you should set a general trajectory of where you want to go, but that you must embrace serendipity and allow your network to provide the resources necessary to turn random events into a highly valuable one and that developing that network comes from sharing and connecting by helping others solve their problems and build things.
I heartily recommend reading the rest of Joi's post -- it is powerful stuff. As someone who took John Maeda's advice to "do both" to heart a few years ago, I find Joi's philosophy of life very reassuring.
Focus on everything. Yes, I think I will.
photo credit: Mizuka
Bill combines an effortless writing style with a keen eye for details and a warm sense of humor. I particularly like his post A Car in the House (but then, I would, eh?). Here's a charming video vignette about what it takes to put a Nano in the Cooper:
What a wonderful opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a truly great designer!
I found truth in a cup of yogurt today.
I was fortunate to have breakfast with my friend and collaborator Ryan Jacoby today, and he reminded me that, at the end of the day, it's all about making good stuff. Yes, everything else in your business ecosystem has to be in place, but you need to sell good stuff. An Apple Store without Apple products would be... not so good.
Back to the cup. Having intended to purchase a cheap(er) lunch, I just walked out of Whole Foods with a more expensive lunch, natch. Actually, at around six bucks for a frozen burrito and a couple of yogurts, it is not bank-breaker meal, but I am a semi-Mid Westerner and have a kids to send to college and I'm living in the land of massive taxation... but I digress. Back to the cup: while wandering the isles, I fell prey to a pricing promotion, and though I can never justify a container of Siggi's yogurt at $2.49 per unit, I certainly was up for two of them being promoted at $2.00 a lid. Yes, it would seem that I need to turn in my MBA, but I am not a perfect person nor do I want to go through life making rational purchase decisions.
And how very happy I am right now with spoon in mouth and a wallet $4.00 lighter. Siggi's, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of sampling yet, has exquisite mouth feel. It is thick without being clompy, smooth without feeling excessively processed. It comes in some of the standard yogurt flavors -- vanilla, blueberry, etc -- but also in some unexpected ones, like grapefruit. Love that grapefruit. And none of the flavors feel like they feel off the back of a truck destined for IHOP; they are light and complex, not syrupy and bright. There's a wonderful backstory to Siggi's, too: the company is led by a passionate, entrepreneurial Icelander named Siggi who is crazy about his native skyr yogurt and so found a bunch of wholesome cows in New York and started cranking out skyr. The packaging is eco-friendly and the graphic design meets my psychographic needs. With all of this, $2.49 starts to feel reasonable.
There's no big punchline to this post. Just do good stuff. Just do good stuff. When in doubt, repeat that under your breath: Just do good stuff.
Earlier this year I was very fortunate to have a conversation with Michael Mauer, Porsche's head of design. You can read the complete interview here at Aol Autos.
I thought this thought from Mauer about creative leadership was particularly interesting vis a vis Innovation Principle 12, Instead of Managing, try Cultivating:
... at the end of the day, I do not tell them to move a line exactly 50 mils lower or higher or more to the left or more to the right, because if the boundaries are too narrow you really kill all the creativity. I try to motivate people to think for themselves about the solution and how they could achieve the goal... Even if I have a solution in my mind, it is just one possible solution. There might be ten other possible solutions that are maybe much better, but by giving a direction that is too detailed or showing a solution, a way to the solution that is too detailed, I kill all the creativity. One of my major goals is to give the team freedom in order to have a maximum of creativity.
This feels very much to me like a "cultivation mindset". Instead of trying to push his ideas through the system at Porsche, Mauer is trying to develop the ideas of others. He is a curator, a director, a cultivator. As you can see from the stunning new Porsche 918 Spyder pictured above, his approach speaks for itself.
The equation he presents is extremely powerful in the way it structures the conversation around energy and society. Simply put, something has to go to zero, but only one thing can realistically go to zero.
I also found fascinating his discussion of a nuclear power plant which burns depleted uranium as a fuel. Audacious and of a level of complexity which is hard to fathom, this "nuclear Yule log" could offer the kind of radical step-function we need to meet the needs of the equation he presents.
This is twenty minutes well-spent. My hat is off to Bill Gates for helping all us become more informed citizens, and for equipping us with a formidable tool for critical thinking. This was TED at its best.
There were a couple of other talks which also knocked my hat in the creek, so I'll post those as soon as they go up.
"Ship early, ship often, iterate and listen to all of the feedback. I think that if you have the courage to listen and the ability to take the feedback and iterate on your product, you will better off than waiting and trying to deliver something perfect. Imagining your product or project as a way of communicating with people and thinking of product development as a conversation might be one way to think about it."
- Joi Ito
This is the key to the future for all of us. It’s not how we deal with success but how we embrace and learn from failure that will define all of us during the Great Inflection...
Instead, dare to fail. Fail fast. Learn from failure. Build on failure. Share failure. Understand failure.
Most of all, enjoy failure. Life is so short. Hold nothing back."
I hereby propose a new (un)holiday. I'm calling it an (un)holiday because it won't be an occasion for grilling meats and drinking spirits (though that could happen, I suppose). It's not a day of vacation, for it is meant to remind of us to be mindful of our approach to working through certain types of problems. It is not a day for celebrations, but it is celebratory in nature: it celebrates not just an event, but an entire way of being.
I hereby declare December 17 to be Innovating Day.
Innovate. Take action. It's about the verb -- innovating -- and not the noun. Personally, I'm tired of talking about the noun innovation and reading books about that noun, and only want to help people and organizations get in better touch with their creative confidence so that they can go out and innovate. Trying to understand how to get to innovative outcomes via a process analyzing the inputs and outputs of innovation is akin to trying to understand love by reading textbooks on biology and genomics. I'd wager that the best lovers in history didn't read books on the subject. Much better, methinks, to go out and do it in order to understand it. Love, innovate, do, live: you'll come to understand your own self and process in due time. Which is the whole point.
Today is Innovating Day because December 17 marks the anniversary of Wilbur and Orville Wright completing the first controlled flight of a heavier-than-air machine. The Wrights were nothing if not intuitive innovators, deeply in touch with a personal design process which allowed them to go where no man had gone before. I won't pretend that the Wrights followed any of the principles of innovating which I've been discussing here over the past year, but I will declare that those principles are largely inspired by the lives of the Wrights. In particular, the events of December 17 helped inspire these specific principles:
I'd like to ask you to do one thing today: as you work your way through a situation that's new within the context of your own life experience, be it big or small, try to mindful of your approach to the situation. Try to see of you can apply any of the principles of innovating to your task at hand. If you're stuck, I highly recommend proceeding with Principle 3 as a starting point.
So, please spread the news and let your friends and loved ones know that December 17 is Innovating Day.
One final thought: as the great Gordon MacKenzie wrote, "Orville Wright didn't have a pilot license". You don't need a degree from a fancy program in design thinking or engineering to start being innovative.
Just try it.
"The future of the planet is becoming less about being efficient, producing more stuff and protecting our turf and more about working together, embracing change and being creative.
We live in an age where people are starving in the midst of abundance and our greatest enemy is our own testosterone driven urge to control our territory and our environments.
It's time we listen to children and allow neoteny to guide us beyond the rigid frameworks and dogma created by adults."
- Joi Ito
As is her way, Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written an essay which not only hits the the nail on the head, but then knocks it clear though to the other side. Talking about leadership and power in our connected world, she crisply articulates what it means to exert gravitational pull as opposed to hierarchical power. Here's an excerpt:
Today, people with power and influence derive their power from their centrality within self-organizing networks that might or might not correspond to any plan on the part of designated leaders. Organization structure in vanguard companies involves multi-directional responsibilities, with an increasing emphasis on horizontal relationships rather than vertical reporting as the center of action that shapes daily tasks and one's portfolio of projects, in order to focus on serving customers and society. Circles of influence replace chains of command, as in the councils and boards at Cisco which draw from many levels to drive new strategies. Distributed leadership — consisting of many ears to the ground in many places — is more effective than centralized or concentrated leadership. Fewer people act as power-holders monopolizing information or decision-making, and more people serve as integrators using relationships and persuasion to get things done.
This changes the nature of career success. It is not enough to be technically adept or even to be interpersonally pleasant. Power goes to the "connectors": those people who actively seek relationships and then serve as bridges between and among groups. Their personal contacts are often as important as their formal assignment. In essence, "She who has the best network wins."
This is more than a style of leadership, it is about a fundamental shift in the structure of power and influence, and I believe it is quite representative of an approach that has existed in our more innovative institutions through time. According influence to those who are able to get things done by bringing diverse groups of people together sounds like the job description for leadership in an organization full of T-shaped people. And as far as that goes, I like her essay a lot more than what I wrote in my articulation of Principle 12, so I'm going to have to appropriate some of these ideas.
And by the way, I'd love to connect with you on Twitter, too. You can find me there @metacool
Here's her article: On Twitter and in the Workplace, It's Power to the Connectors
"I'm not sure what a fairy tale is. In terms of the fact that taking something which was on its knees and almost finished, and arriving where we have today is for me an exceptional experience. Just seeing the resolve of people who didn't give up. They were facing being put out on the street and we said 'we don't know what's going to happen but we need your support because if it can happen, without your support, we won't be in a position to do it. And they just did."
I'm really happy to be able to point you to Living Climate Change, a conversation that we're hosting at IDEO.
Our goal with this new site is to expand and enhance the debate about climate change, and also to show what might be done about it using design thinking. While I didn't have a direct role in producing any of the video scenarios on the site, I did a modicum of work to support them coming to fruition (Principle 12), and I'm really happy with where we are with this rollout.
There's a lot more to come. Believe me, there's a lot of interesting stories and visions coming to the sight over the next few months! Most important, though, will be your contributions. If you're interested, please take a minute to subscribe to updates from the site, and contribute your thoughts and feelings here.
Earlier this year I wrote up a preliminary version of the sixteenth principle of innovation, Grok the gestalt of teams. In the spirit of Principle 16, my colleague John Foster just posted a great blog post about teams, called Another kind of team. Do give it a read.
Here are the four principles he outlines:
It's a really good post, as you would expect from an subject expert like John! In the spirit of Principles 4, 6 and 8, I'm going to borrow and steal more of his thinking in order to push Principle 16 to a better place. Stay tuned for a revamped version.
As always, your comments, feedback, and ideas are not only welcome, but extremely valuable as I wade through this space.