Nurturing Innovation

Does the government nurture innovation? Most people are polarized on this issue. But amid the noise, a thoughtful op-ed by Joe Nocera sheds some light where there is mostly heat. Here is part of what he said:

“Manzi’s essential point is that American innovation — the key to our prosperity — has always relied, to some extent, on government support. In the early days of the republic, he writes, Alexander Hamilton proposed government help for the developing manufacturing industries — “the high-tech sector of its day.” Hamilton’s basic insight, he adds, was “that the enormous economic value that innovative industries could offer the nation merited public efforts to enable their success.”

And for most of this country’s history, that premise was embraced. In the early 1800s, West Point was founded “in large part to develop a domestic engineering capability.” In 1843, “Congress allocated the money to build a revolutionary telegraph line from Washington D.C. to Baltimore.” In the late 19th century, the government made investments “in biology and health innovation.” Right up until the 1970s, Manzi writes, the free market was paved “with specific interventions to provide infrastructure and to promote incremental, innovation-led growth.” This was The American System.

And then came the age of computers, which, writes Manzi, caused “the center of gravity” for innovation to shift from large institutions — not just the government, but research-centric firms like Bell Labs — toward “newer, more nimble competitors.” Even here, though, government never completely went away. Much of the early Internet, after all, was either funded or developed by a government agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.”

Read more about nurturing innovation.

Design Thinking

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When most people think about innovation they think thing of things, of widgets. But widgets don’t innovate, people do.

Two Stanford professors teach a course that has a unique twist. It’s called “Designing Your Life,” and it’s the most popular course on campus. Why? People want to live more creatively.

Here’s how the New Times article that provides a window on the course, and on their book, “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life”

You’re going to learn how to find a fulfilling career. You’re going to learn how to better navigate life’s big-moment decisions and kill your “wicked problems” dead. How? By training yourself to think like a designer.

After nine years of teaching their secrets to future Google product managers and start-up wunderkinds, Mr. Burnett and Mr. Evans are opening up the curriculum to everyone. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and “Am I living a meaningful life?” aren’t only subjects for late-night pot-fueled dorm hangouts, the men said.

“The question of ‘What do I do with the rest of my one wild and wonderful life?’ is on everyone’s mind,” Mr. Evans said.

Mr. Burnett recalled a conversation with Stanford’s dean of the engineering department, who was about to retire. “He said: ‘Can I take your class? Because I don’t know what I’m going to be now that I’m not the dean anymore.’”

Mr. Burnett added: “One of the meta-narratives out there is that you should figure it out by 25, or maybe it’s 27 now. Then there’s the other thing of failure to launch, that millennials are slackers. Part of the permission we give people is: Reframe this. You’re not supposed to have it figured out.”

Read more about how to think like a designer.

You – Innovator

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Can you be an engine of innovation where you work. If you DON’T work in Silicon Valley, you may think that innovation is something only done there. But wait, read more.

No doubt, Silicon Valley has changed how we work, for better or worse. Our smartphones keep us connected to the office all the time while internet searches bring the world’s information to our fingertips. But people may not realize that it is the subtler aspects of how tech companies operate that often have a more lasting effect on other industries.

The “agile” part of this increasingly popular management concept is simple: Rather than try to do giant projects that take months or even years, create small teams that do a bit at a time. This way, small problems don’t balloon into enormous ones hidden inside a huge bureaucracy. And progress can be measured in small steps — one little project at a time.

Read more about “You, the innovator”

Chaos Monkeys

If there is one “entity” that has fascinated America – and likely the world – it’s Silicon Valley. It’s where we look for innovation, for cutting-edge ideas, and for the products and services that influence our lives. While Silicon Valley is a catch-all phrase for both a region and an industry, to paraphrase the Willie Nelson song, “It is always on our mind.”

But what do we really know about Silicon Valley? The answer is: Not much. Now, Antonio Garcia Martinez has written and insider’s account: Chaos Monkeys. Here is part of what David Streitfeld offers in his review of Martinez’s book that really does take you deep inside Silicon Valley:

“The literature of Silicon Valley is exceedingly thin. The tech overlords keep clear of writers who are not on their payrolls or at least in their thrall. Many in the valley feel that bringing the digital future to the masses is God’s work. Question this, and they tend to get touchy. Anger them, and they might seek revenge. The billionaire investor Peter Thiel, outed by the local arm of the Gawker media empire, secretly financed a lawsuit to destroy it. Silicon Valley did not rise en masse and say this was seriously beyond the pale. No surprise, then, that there are so few books investigating what it really takes to succeed in tech (duplicity often trumps innovation) or that critically examine such omnipresent, comforting fables as “We’re not in it for the money.””

“Antonio García Martínez’s Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, a book whose bland all-purpose title belies the fact that this is a valley account like no other. The first hint that something is different here comes with the dedication: “To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you.” This is autobiography as revenge, naming names and sparing few, certainly not the author. “I was wholly devoid of most human boundaries or morality,” he notes in passing. In other words, he was a start-up chief executive.”

“The heart of the book is the period García Martínez spent at his start-up, which was intended to allow small businesses to efficiently advertise on Google. It was an auspicious moment. While the rest of the world was struggling to recover from the recession, the office parks of the valley were full of aggressive young men who had made pots of money by being early employees of Google. To prove they were not merely lucky, they needed to score again. Everyone was terrified of missing the next Facebook or, a little later, the next Airbnb or Uber. Smart entrepreneurs capitalized on these fears.”

A thought provoking insider’s view? You can read the full article here

Is Innovation Still Pumping?

We’re living in an age of innovation. We’ve witnessed more change since the turn of the century than in any previous fifteen years. These new innovations seem to come faster every year.

Because of this we expect revolutionary new technology to spring up out of nowhere. And when it doesn’t, we predict “an end of innovation. Here is what Farhad Manjoo, the Wall Street Journal’s technology shared regarding “bounding our expectations.”

First, stop clamoring for the “next big thing.” Were you disappointed, once again, that Apple didn’t release something amazing and new this year—a TV or a smartwatch, say? Were you bummed that there were few revolutionary features on the latest smartphones? Have you concluded that the tech business is boring, that there isn’t any more innovation, that we live in uninteresting times? If so, I’ve got two words for you: Grow up.

I, too, constantly yearn for mind-blowing new tech. But I’ve been getting tired of the claim that just because we haven’t seen something on the order of the smartphone or tablet in the last few years, the tech industry can no longer innovate. The problem with this argument is that the touchscreen smartphone (and its cousin the tablet) was a singularly novel, industry-shattering device, and we’re unlikely to see anything as groundbreaking in a generation.

Read more about what we can expect from innovation here.

Harness Your Creativity

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Are you waiting for that “genius moment” to harness your creativity? Or perhaps you’ve latched on to that shaman who portrays himself or herself as the lone genius. Get over it.

Joshua Wolf Shenk explodes the myth of the lone genius as the single paragon of creativity. Here’s part of what he says:

Where does creativity come from? For centuries, we’ve had a clear answer: the lone genius. The idea of the solitary creator is such a common feature of our cultural landscape (as with Newton and the falling apple) that we easily forget it’s an idea in the first place.

But the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network, as with the crowd-sourced Wikipedia or the writer’s room at “The Daily Show” or — the real heart of creativity — the intimate exchange of the creative pair, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney and myriad other examples with which we’ve yet to fully reckon.

Today, the Romantic genius can be seen everywhere. Consider some typical dorm room posters — Freud with his cigar, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the pulpit, Picasso looking wide-eyed at the camera, Einstein sticking out his tongue. These posters often carry a poignant epigraph — “Imagination is more important than knowledge” — but the real message lies in the solitary pose.

In fact, none of these men were alone in the garrets of their minds. Freud developed psychoanalysis in a heated exchange with the physician Wilhelm Fliess, whom Freud called the “godfather” of “The Interpretation of Dreams”; King co-led the civil rights movement with Ralph Abernathy (“My dearest friend and cellmate,” King said). Picasso had an overt collaboration with Georges Braque — they made Cubism together — and a rivalry with Henri Matisse so influential that we can fairly call it an adversarial collaboration. Even Einstein, for all his solitude, worked out the theory of relativity in conversation with the engineer Michele Besso, whom he praised as “the best sounding board in Europe.”

Read more about this here…and stop waiting for that genius moment – find a partner to collaborate with!

Chief Innovator

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Many people are innovative. Some people drive innovation. Google’s Larry Page is one of them who is an icon for us all.

Larry Page is not a typical chief executive, and in many of the most visible ways, he is not a C.E.O. at all. Corporate leaders tend to spend a good deal of time talking at investor conferences or introducing new products on auditorium stages. Mr. Page, who is 42, has not been on an earnings call since 2013, and the best way to find him at Google I/O — an annual gathering where the company unveils new products — is to ignore the main stage and follow the scrum of fans and autograph seekers who mob him in the moments he steps outside closed doors.

Many former Google employees who have worked directly with Mr. Page said his managerial modus operandi was to take new technologies or product ideas and generalize them to as many areas as possible. Why can’t Google Now, Google’s predictive search tool, be used to predict everything about a person’s life? Why create a portal to shop for insurance when you can create a portal to shop for every product in the world?

You can read more here

 

Wired to Create

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How can we be more creative? There is a cottage industry of seminar, books, videos, online courses and TED talks on the subject. Sadly, there is usually more heat than light. A new book on creativity offers some help:

 

Research into the nature of creativity has exploded the past 50 years, and scientists are finding that it’s rarely a well-defined, step-by-step process. Picasso drew 45 numbered sketches, each in multiple versions, while working on his famous painting “Guernica.”

 

Contrary to the well-worn notion that creativity resides in the right side of the brain, research shows that creativity is a product of the whole brain, relying especially on what the authors call the “imagination network” — circuits devoted to tasks like making personal meaning, creating mental simulations and taking perspective.

Once the idea is found, alas, the creative process begins to resemble something more like grinding execution. It’s still creative, but it requires more focus and less daydreaming — one reason highly creative people tend to exhibit mindfulness and mental wandering.

Creativity is a process that reflects our fundamentally chaotic and multifaceted nature. It is both deliberate and uncontrollable, mindful and mindless, work and play.

Read more in this New York Times article here

 

Innovation Takes Us Only So Far

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As Steve Jobs famously said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Innovation not only distinguishes individuals, it differentiates peoples and nations.

“Thought leaders” hold forth on innovation, tech industry leaders talk about it constantly. If you haven’t read a hundred quotes about innovation you’re likely leading a sheltered life.

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. As the writer J.K. Rowling puts it, “Innovation is arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power to that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

When one speaks of innovation, our thoughts immediately go to the icons of Silicon Valley, the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg’s of this world. We look to the tech industry to be our innovative engine.

But new theories are challenging this assumption. Increasingly, however, economists and social thinkers are challenging the conventional wisdom on innovation. Speaking at the Institute for New Economic Thinking conference in Toronto, Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University of Sussex, described the most notable technology innovations as coming from the government, not the private sector.

Read more about this controversial new theory in this New York Times article here:

Curious Mind

How do we humans “do” innovation?  It is a question that intrigues most of us. I’ve written about this in previous blogs on this website and many others have too (for example, Walter Isaacson in his best-selling book, The Innovators, discussed in detail on my blog here: http://www.georgegaldorisi.com/a-digital-tomorrow)

Isaacson’s book focuses on the kind of technology innovation that led to what Silicon Valley delivers to us today. But most know there is another deep pocket of innovation. It comes from those who specialize in “Life Imitating Art.” It comes from Hollywood

In his review of Brian Glazer and Charles Fishman’s book, A Curious Mind, Philip Delves Broughton takes us deep inside that world. Here is just a snippet of what he says:

For the past 30 years, the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer has been holding what he calls “curiosity conversations.” Twice a month (on average), he meets with scientists, politicians, writers, athletes and all sorts of other people to pick their brains, sometimes to inform a particular project but usually just to fill up the reserves of information, stories and relationships that any great producer needs.

Mr. Grazer, who amply credits his co-author, the journalist Charles Fishman, writes with a well-earned swagger. He doesn’t try to hang his case for curiosity on some dimly grasped shard of neuroscience or psychological research. The main proof of its value is his own success. Yet having an interest in the people and world beyond our experience, he argues, is worth far more than the business world’s barren spins on innovation and creativity.

More on this book here:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-a-curious-mind-by-brian-grazer-and-charles-fishman-1429051612