Random finds (2016, week 33 and 34) — On innovation, how to see (and create) the future, and design

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Mirenburg House in Tel Aviv, a classic example of modernist architecture.

Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.

On innovation

As always, many posts, articles, and other ‘stuff’ on innovation. A collection from the past two weeks…

When Innovation Meets the Language of the Corner Office is about the difference in language used by innovators and functional C-suite executives, who are often baffled by what they see and hear from their innovation teams.

“As with other business disciplines, innovation experts have their own language. Innovation processes now include journey mapping, need-finding, technology-scouting, business model canvasing, prototyping, design sprints, and more. While these processes and terms are becoming more widely used across organizations, they are not always fully embraced at the executive level. At the same time, executives have their own unique language and tools, often derived from the strategy consulting firms embedded on the ‘executive floor’ of organizations.”

“The language of customer need is one that everyone speaks. But the structure and language of the story should match the audience. When speaking to executives, innovation leaders should make sure they are not only heard, but understood.”

In A New Era Of Innovation, Greg Satell argues that “for the past 20 or 30 years, innovation, especially in the digital space, has been fairly straightforward. We could rely on technology to improve at a foreseeable pace and that allowed us to predict, with a high degree of certainty, what would be possible in the years to come.” Yet in the years to come, we won’t be able to rely on trusty old paradigms as we’ll largely be operating in the realm of the unknown. In many ways, we’ll be starting over again and innovation will look more like it did in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

“As we enter this new era of innovation, collaboration will become a key competitive attribute. It will no longer be enough to be agile and disrupt, we will have to discover and build.”

In The Problem with the Pivot, Bill Barnett writes: “Big changes, the breakthroughs that transform industries, make things worse before they make things better. In hindsight, we dismiss those troubles as ‘short run.’ But when you are living through them, when you are leading a team charged with getting to success, you face what seems to be an unsolvable problem. Quality research shows that firms commonly fail to make these transitions. These are not fast, cheap failures, but disastrous ones that render cynical those who put their faith in the promise of a smooth pivot.”

“To lead others through change requires a steadfast vision, one that holds even after the cynics have moved on in search of an easy pivot.” — Bill Barnett

“Walkabouts are needed for learning and testing ourselves, for discovering. I often feel I am a journey man and I’m certainly comfortable with that,” says Paul Hobcraft in The value of the innovation journeyman.

“We lack a space where we can explore thoughtful analysis, deepen our personal knowledge and make all the right connections we would ideally like. We lack time and insights that can give greater direction or answers.”

In another excellent post, Exploring the Intrapreneurial Way in Large Organizations, Hobcraft writes about the mountains that need to be climbed to unleash that intrapreneur spirit within large organizations.

“It all starts with belief, pure and simple. A belief that having Intrapreneurs working within organisations will make a difference in the innovation work needed, and then identifying and encouraging those able to take this task on. Somewhere in this conviction, you can see ideas that can be translated into successful outcomes by unleashing this intrapreneurial spirit. These ideas need to be bigger ideas, perhaps radically different, not the everyday stuff where the organisation should have already set up an innovation process to ‘grind’ these through to successful outcomes. This needs to send a powerful signal that the official licence to change has been granted, and better support for innovation and growth can partly come from deploying Intrapreneurs. It announces this as a parting of the ways from just the ‘busyness of business as usual’ by exploring new ways to seek out the innovation that can be different but clearly, needs to be managed differently.”

Hobcraft is, like Ralph-Christian Ohr and myself, an ardent believer in the value of the three horizon framework. In Exploring the Rich Tapestry within the Three Horizon Framework, he writes:

“The three horizon framework needs to become the innovation space for dialogues, planning, portfolio debates, differentiating the distinctions between the three time line perspectives and generally arguing for inclusion, the value and importance of the thinking and then applying the appropriate resources needed in the management of innovation across these three different timelines. The 3H framework is a powerful enabler.”

In Silicon Valley’s Role in the Re-Invention of the Disruptive Corporate Innovation Model, Evangelos Simoudis argues why it is important to understand and utilize the best experiences and practices offered by Silicon Valley’s ecosystem as we define and refine the new corporate innovation model. To increase the probability of successfully applying this model to their innovation initiatives corporations must, amongst others, nature intrapreneurs. “Support intrapreneurs,” he says, “and help them develop their internal startup ideas, rather than paying attention only to external startups and their teams.”

Ash Maurya advises to Love the Problem, Not Your Solution: “Starting with a solution is like building a key without knowing what door it will open. You can try testing your key on lots of doors or you can start with a door you want to open. When you fall in love with the problem, versus your solution, you start building keys to doors that actually take you places.”

Fahrenheit212, an innovation strategy and design firm, and part of Gapgemini Consulting, on How to hire innovators:

“Taking a class at Harvard Business School on Innovation Best Practice is not the same as having a genuine capability for creating and understanding the new. Intellectual firepower certainly helps solve thorny problems, but an ability to dazzle at exams doesn’t predict how someone will respond to an innovation challenge, a blank page or a team of expectant peers.”

‘Think Different’ is Bad Advice, says Nir Eyal. “Being different, the notion goes, is the route to success. Think different was even Apple’s motto for a period. And Apple is often held up as a poster child of the benefits of this ethos. Conventional wisdom suggests that products like the iPhone and Macintosh succeeded because they were different from the rest. Steve Jobs was a visionary because he thought different from everyone else.”

But according to Eyal, there’s only one problem with this advice. It’s wrong. “Too different and it’s unfamiliar, risky, and overly complex. Too similar and its boring, played out, and yesterday’s news. But in between and it’s just right. Optimally distinct. Maybe we could all learn a thing or two from Goldilocks.”

“Turns out that being different doesn’t drive success, being optimally distinct does. Offering the right blend of similarity and difference.”

And finally, in Riding with Heidegger: A New Perspective on the Premium Vehicle, a more philosophical take on innovation by ReD Associates’ Benjamin Ahnert.

“In the explosively growing emerging market metropolis, long distances and intense congestion mean people spend several hours each day in their vehicles — hours taken away from family, exercise or work. This is particularly true for drivers of premium vehicles, often entrepreneurs and senior managers who do not just go in and out of the office in the mornings and evenings, but frequently drive to meet clients or inspect sites during the day, or to attend professional and social functions in restaurants and bars in the evenings. To understand what happens when people are stuck in their cars, we looked to Heidegger’s concept of ‘dwelling.’”

“Dwellings are ‘places’ in the sense that they are spaces that have connections with and are defined by a physical geography surrounding them. From the dwellers’ perspective, this makes them connected to aspects of their lives outside the dwelling. Even more important, dwellings are meaningful to their dwellers because they are part of the way they make sense of their worlds. They reflect the structures that inform their inhabitants’ place in the world and shape how those manifest themselves in daily actions.”

“Yet it struck us how this notion of a place to ‘dwell’ stands in such stark contrast to people’s experience of the vehicle space. Despite spending so much time in this space — in different social constellations, in the context of different routines, joys, and pressures — once the initial excitement of the purchase wears off, the vehicle is experienced as space extension. One involuntarily spends time in that space and tries to pass it as best as one can. Yet when people, for example, try to do work in their vehicle, today there is no natural link between the vehicle and what they are trying to do, on a practical or emotional level. In a certain sense each ride is a hack where people are trying to do something in a space that doesn’t naturally lend itself to it, that is not by itself a meaningful part of this part of one’s life.”

So just imagine how, through vehicles that support our experiential needs, journeys could become meaningful parts of people’s lives, great experiences that empower people to do more of what they want to do in their daily lives. “Instead of just being space to take things in and out of, the vehicle can then allow people to be a place that before, during, and after a journey is an integral productive, enjoyable, relaxing part of their lives, a place to dwell in.”

On how to see (and create) the future

“When we talk about the future, we often aren’t talking about the future at all but about the problems of today,” Tim Harford, senior columnist at the Financial Times and author os, among others, The Undercover Economist, writes in How to see into the future (2014). “A newspaper columnist who offers a view on the future of North Korea, or the European Union, is trying to catch the eye, support an argument, or convey in a couple of sentences a worldview that would otherwise be impossibly unwieldy to explain. A talking head in a TV studio offers predictions by way of making conversation. A government analyst or corporate planner may be trying to justify earlier decisions, engaging in bureaucratic defensiveness. And many election forecasts are simple acts of cheerleading for one side or the other.”

“It’s foolish to ask for predictions about the fundamentally unpredictable.”

“So what is the secret of looking into the future?,” Hartford asks. Initial results from the Good Judgment Project, a project co-created by Philip E. Tetlock, the author of Superforecasting that tries to “harness the wisdom of the crowd to forecast world events,” suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.

“Successful forecasters aren’t afraid to change their minds and are comfortable with the notion that fresh evidence might mean abandoning an old view.”

“But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness — although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t. This is because our predictions are about the future only in the most superficial way. They are really advertisements, conversation pieces, declarations of tribal loyalty — […] statements of profound conviction about the logical structure of the world.”

In How to see the future, futurist and founder of futurist.com Glen Hiemstra, explains what he looks at when spotting trends and how to see the future. In this 30-minute podcast interview with futurist and innovation strategist Rudy de Waele, Hiemstra discusses the the three basic tests or filters to judge the future likelihood of a particular development.

First, is the potential future technologically feasible?

Take, for example, teleportation. Physicists have determined that Star Trek-style teleportation is impossible. Not just “we can’t do it now,” but “it will never be something that is doable, at least in this universe.” That makes teleportation a really risky and downright ridiculous prediction. For more reasonable technologies, this question is still worth asking if they will need to drastically scale up from small demonstrations for use with the larger population. For this reason, it’s fair to be dubious we’ll see large-scale space colonies or the Hyperloop anytime soon.

Second, is it economically viable?

This is about economics: even great technologies have to be affordable to catch on. Solar power is another interesting case. In previous decades it wasn’t considered a viable alternative energy option, mostly because units were so expensive to install and took years to pay for themselves. But fossil fuels are becoming more expensive and solar panels are getting cheaper and cheaper, so some futurists think it is poised to become the next dominant energy source.

And finally, is it socially and politically acceptable?

Hiemstra also considers other barriers to a technology’s adoption, like whether people will actually want to use it, and whether regulatory agencies will allow it. He thinks this is often the most important criterion.

A prime example is self-driving vehicles. In other parts of the world — like Europe — self-driving, autonomous freight trucks have already been deployed, proving their technological and economic viability. But for them to be adopted in the United States, regulators will have to deem them safe, and companies will have to decide if they are worth the war with trucking unions they’d be sure to instigate. Then there are passenger cars. Will people be happy to hand control over to a computer? Will those in standard cars be ok with robot cars on their roads? Questions like these could take decades to resolve — unless someone like Elon Musk comes along and accelerates the process. That’s what makes prediction impossible, but always so compelling.

Apart from John Willshire’s highly recommended keynote Strategy is Dead — Long Live Meta-Strategy at The Conference in Malmö, Sweden, futures consultant Angela Oguntala gave an excellent talk on how to explore alternative futures.

“The future is a place where we store all of our baggage — our anxieties, our frustrations, our hopes, our excitements and fears.”

Oguntala gives a great example of what Glen Hiemstra, in his interview with De Waele, called the ‘preferred future’ — the future we want to happen, as opposed to the probable or possible futures. “Pop culture has told us over and over again that talking into your watch is something you should want,” Oguntala says. “It is futuristic, it is sexy; so we have constantly tried to produce it, and reproduce it, as if using your watch as a telephone is some major milestone in human advancement, or some great unfulfilled need that is finally being met. […] The thing about visions of tomorrow is that, if we believe this is the thing that is going to happen in the future, than this is how we will behave in the present. These are the decisions and actions that we will make today, in order to make that future come to live. And that is exact why visions are powerful. Because the creep in, and we collect them, and then they inspire us and give us something to work towards.”

“But in the same ways that our visions can inspire us, they can also start to severely limit us. Because if we hear the same narratives all the time, and we see the same visuals all the time, then that becomes our scope of possibility. Then that becomes our benchmark for what we believe is good, and what’s not. And ultimately what that means is that you’re left with a narrower set of choices and imaginations about what the future could, or should be like.”

Oguntala’s answer is to start building a collective mindset that is open and flexible to explore the many alternative futures and different realties that are out there. These are extremely important because, as we all know, there is not such thing as the future. “There is no such thing that sits around here on a timeline and then shows up one day. Instead, there are many possible futures, and each one has some likelihood of coming to live. Our collective job is to imagine those alternative futures for us to pick apart and inspect, for us to get a good understanding of the kind of outcomes that we want. And the kind of outcomes that we don’t want.”

A bit more …

“Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by bad design — from airplane seats that distort our posture to aesthetically inelegant cars. Landscapes that were once green and blue are now paved over. Our surroundings are full of missed opportunities to introduce delight and joy into people’s lives,” writes Irene Au in Design and the Self. “We may not always be consciously aware or able to describe how objects make us feel, but we do sense a spirit or an energy that emanates from the objects we use and the experiences we engage with.”

“A well designed object or space can bring out the best in us. Conversely, a poorly designed object can represent the worst sides of human nature — greed, insensitivity, the desire to prevail no matter what the cost. As much as beauty promises goodness, ugliness evokes despair, suffering, and immorality.”

Read on Medium: https://medium.com/design-your-life/design-and-the-self-a5670a000fee#.m8g6cr6d0.

“To achieve an effective solution to his problem, the designer must necessarily go through some sort of mental process. Conscious or not, he analyzes, interprets, formulates. He is aware of the scientific and technological developments in his own and kindred fields. He improvises, invents, or discovers new techniques and combinations. He co-ordinates and integrates his material so that he may restate his problem in terms of ideas, signs, symbols, pictures. He unifies, simplifies, and eliminates superfluities. He symbolizes — abstracts from his material by association and analogy. He intensifies and reinforces his symbol with appropriate accessories to achieve clarity and interest. He draws upon instinct and intuition. He considers the spectator, his feelings and predilections.” — Paul Rand

Read on Brainpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/08/19/paul-rand-thoughts-on-designhttps://www.brainpickings.org/2014/08/19/paul-rand-thoughts-on-design.

More Paul Rand on Creative Leadership: http://creativeleadership.com/cl/the-language-of-art-by-paul-rand.html.

And, of course, on Paul-Rand.com: http://www.paul-rand.com/foundation/thoughts_designAndthePlayInstinct/#.V8BQDGVSjgJ.

“We don’t teach design as cause and effect. We think about our primary objectives: solving a problem, reaching an audience, understanding a brief. We live in a time when we’re all tethered to our feeds, news doesn’t stay news for very long, and we’re not encouraged to think about the long-term consequences of anything. Add to that the fact that design is practiced and understood by the public as a topical thing, about packaging, sales. You design a better thing, there’s a jump in the market. You’ve satisfied your customer. But is that really all design is?,” Jessica Helfand, founding editor of Design Observer and author of, amongst others, the magnificent Design: The Invention of Desire, asks in an interview with Heleo.

“Anything that is going to be original — it’s hard to imagine that it comes from any kind of step-by-step process. I know it can, and I know I’m being hard on these people. I know that if you’re somebody who works in a factory and you’re looking at design thinking to open up and brainstorm a better process, that’s great for you. My argument is that you cannot take the name of design in vain and say that that’s what it is. I’m having some kind of moral realization about this.”

Read on Heleo: https://heleo.com/conversation-jessica-helfand-on-the-intersecting-ethics-of-business-design-and-creating-with-purpose/10718.

“They’re boring. They’re useless. Everyone hates them. So why can’t we stop having meetings?,” Virginia Heffernan asks in Meet is Murder. The very word, ‘meetings,’ is enervating, Heffernan writes. “With the freedom to peaceably assemble so high up on America’s founding priority list, you’d think that the workers of the free world would gather with more patriotic vigor, just as we speak, bear arms and pursue trials by jury. Instead, the spirit in which we come together, almost hourly in some professions, is something closer to despondency.”

“Naturally, the sneakered overclass — whose signature sport is to disrupt everything, from Ikea furniture to courtship — has tried its hand at hacking meetings. One such meeting hacker is […] Paul Graham, a British essayist and programmer and a founder of Y Combinator, the storied Mountain View, California, firm that invests in and counsels start-ups. ‘Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all?,’ Graham asks in his influential 2009 essay, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. ‘Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t.’ Correspondingly depressed: an apt description of most faces in the meetings I’ve been to lately.”

Read on New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/meet-is-murder.html?referer=&_r=1.

“Our civilization runs on synchronization: the expectation that certain things will happen in fixed places and times relative to other fixed places and times,” Ribbonfarm’s Venkatesh Rao writes in Premature Synchronization is the Root of All Evil. “For thousands of years, human life was attuned to the rhythms of nature. Then for a few hundred years it became attuned to the rhythms of industrial technology. But now that we’ve invented post-industrial technology, whose fundamental nature is to drive desynchronization, we’ve come to appreciate a profound point: premature synchronization is the root of all evil (with apologies to Donald Knuth).”

Read on breakingsmart.com: http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=78cbbb7f2882629a5157fa593&id=6018c6315f&e=[UNIQID].

Tel Aviv is home to one of the best-preserved collections of Bauhaus and International Style architecture in the world. Micha Gross from the Israeli city’s Bauhaus Center has selected ten of the most important examples, including Avraham Soskin House by Zeev Rechter (1899–1960), a pioneering architect who designed many of Israel’s iconic buildings. He is considered one of the three founding fathers of Israeli architecture, along with Dov Karmi and Arieh Sharon.

Avraham Soskin House, by Zeev Rechter (1933).

See all ten on dezeen: http://www.dezeen.com/2016/08/24/10-tel-aviv-best-examples-bauhaus-residential-architecture.

And for a complete list of Tel Aviv’s modernist architecture: http://www.bauhaus.co.il/bauhauses.tmpl.

“Values don’t pre-exist. Their behaviours do. Then values are born.” — Leandro E. Herrero

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