Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category
Stephen Shapiro from 27-4 Innovation was plugging his latest book Best Practices Are Stupid – 40 ways to Out-Innovate the Competition at an event I attended today. His focus is on how to speed up or accelerate the rate of innovation.
He started with an exercise where he pretended to measure how fast our brains were. He did this by shouting out different numbers in a very quick fashion. We had to capture those numbers. He would then give us assignments in the middle of it. Like “Write down the name of a genius.” Because we were under such time pressure we had remarkable little differentiation in our answers to these challenges.
Shapiro says that this is because “Expertise is the enemy of innovation”. The more you know about something, the more difficult it is to come up with new and interesting perspectives on it. When we find a solution we tend to stop looking.
He then gave us a little mathematical puzzle that showed that the way you phrase a question has a profound impact on how you work towards a solution. One of his favorite quotes is from Einstein:
If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem.. and one minute finding solutions.
Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has far more eloquently stated descriptions of Shapiro’s examples of the biases in our thinking.
According to Shapiro asking better questions is at the heart of doing better innovation. You have to frame the question in a way that makes sense. He calls this the Goldilocks principle: the challenge needs to be defined exactly right, meaning not too abstract/broad, but also not too detailed. Or another way of phrasing it:
Ask the right question…
the right way…
to the right people.
This means that you have to move away from generic idea generation tools towards challenge based innovation. The added advantage of that is that you might avoid a common pitfal of crowd-sourcing, something Stephen names “mob-sourcing”.
A quick way to catalyse your thinking is to find someone who has already solved a similar problem. When members of a team are cut from the same cloth… you don’t see many failures, but you don’t see many extraordinary innovations either. Innovation is not invention: it is taking something that already exists from a different domain and adapting it.
This is now my fourth year in a row that I manage to do a quick visit to the Learning Technologies exhibition in London. Like last year I decided to try and speak to as many luminaries as possible and ask them what they were planning to do in the coming year.
Steve is founder and CEO of Fusion Universal which is going strong as it has just signed the term sheets with an external investor. Steve is on of these people who do what I like to call “push the world”: through a certain shamelessness (bright bright bright pink stand at the entrance of the exhibit) you can push a little bit further than others. So on the volume for the videos being played at the stand: “The right volume is when we get told off.”
Steve is one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met and he has a product to sell (read the next paragraph with that in mind). Our conversations was around his excitement that their video-based social platform Fuse (“amplifying the brilliance of the trainer and making it last longer”) now has the final missing pieces and is putting everything together. If you look at the 70:20:10 model then according to Steve Fuse is leading in the 70%, has been doing well on the 20% and now with personal learning plans in place can even perform the 10%. There is a seamless integration of these three types of elements rather than the traditional Learning Management Systems that often have very clunky features bolted on. This makes it much easier to focus on business outcomes rather than on learning outcomes (and gets rid of the association of learning with compliance training and compliance systems).
Another big development will be the mobile app (for Android, Blackberry and iOS) which will allow for offline playing of the videos, capturing of video/audio directly into the platform and notifications of new videos into the app. Steve mentioned a course where all the participants had to create their own video about what they had learned. They noticed that each of these videos was watched an average of ten times (i.e. people were watching what their peers had done). So not only did the creation of their own videos helped internalize the materials, there was also repetition of those same facts through watching the videos of others.
Ben is the CEO of HT2 and creator of Curatr. At the same time he is pursuing his PhD and has three more months before he has to hand in his thesis. He has just done some research investigating whether gamifying an environments affects the quality of the contributions (so, would gamifying the system make people game the system?). The paper will be out soon.
The big thing for him in 2013 will be the release of Curatr version 3 which will be Tin Can enabled and will integrate Mozilla’s Open Badges. I consider this quite forward thinking, but also a risky bet. Neither of these technologies have proven themselves yet. Ben and I had a short discussion about the Learning Record Store (LRS) component of Tin Can. Ben is convinced that people should own their own learning records and he is curious to see how this will be provisioned going forward. I am convinced of the value of tracking what you have (and in the usefulness of triplets as a format). I’ve written up all my activities in 2012 in the form of categorized triplets and was pleasantly surprised by how useful it is to get feedback about what you have done. I am not sure though that people will be willing to invest any time in “writing up” what they have learned or are now capable of. An “activity stream” of your professional life will only work if it is close to fully automated.
Lawrence still has the audacious goal of being what he calls a “wisdom architect”. He is toying around with the classic trio of quality, speed and cost (“pick two”) and thinks that if you would add wisdom (applied knowledge with experience and empathy) to the mix you could reframe those constraints.
We had a quick talk about open space technology which has four principles and the Law of Two Feet (“if at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing – use your two feet and move to some place more to your liking”):
- Whoever comes is the right people
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
- Whenever it starts is the right time
- When it’s over it’s over
Open space is a truly self-organizing way of running things that allegedly always works as it has a lot more honesty and the people who are engaged are really engaged.
As an “imagineer” for Udutu (“ahead of the pack with a free (as in beer) agile collaborative online authoring environment”) he used open space to host a session titled “Life and Death: Please help me bring theatre into this corporate training project.” and found a way to bring context and story into the e-learning platform. Initially he was very much focused on the pedagogy first and the story second, but he soon realised that he should start with the story and then bring in the pedagogy, a more common-sensical approach.
Lawrence also shared his favourite learning experience that he ever designed: he taught salespeople of NetG networking hardware how the TCP/IP protocol works through dressing them up as IP packets and routers and letting walk over to eachother and communicate within the constraints of the protocol. Wonderful!
Two years back he told me about the wonders of Markdown and this year he has convinced me to find a Linux version of TextExpander functionality (suggestions are welcome). Next we discussed productivity like the Pomodoro Technique (works wonders for me, he will try it again) and the importance of not being distracted. Barry has disabled all notifications for all his apps and is also trying to make sure he doesn’t have to make too many choices to be productive.
He is convinced that the learning industry thrives on what people want to sell, rather than on what organizations want or need. Something like responsive webdesign for example which starts with the mobile experience and then upscales gracefully towards a tablet and desktop is being appropriated by the industry and implemented the wrong way round (starting with a desktop experience that is too rich which loses things when it is displayed on mobile.
The big project for Onlignment this year will be to “fix the conversations between training departments and their business stakeholders”. I think this is a perennial problem (not solvable as long as you have a training/learning department), so I like the ambition!
Charles Jennings has done a lot of work popularizing the 70:20:10 framework. This has now culminated in him starting the 702010forum.com. He has written an extenside whitepaper on the “what” of the framework (“70:20:10 Framework Explained”, soon to come out) and will soon deliver a whole series of papers on the “how”.
We started off by talking about the origins of the framework. He says it is most likely came from some work by Morgan McCall (then at the Center for Creative Leadership) who had been working on experiential learning for years. He got together with Michael Lombardo and Bob Eichinger and did a small survey where they asked high performing managers where they had learned or developed their capability. In 1996 they published the results where the managers said they got 70% from having tough experiences on the job, 20% from other people and 10% from formal learning or reading (another way to say it is 70% experience, 20% exposure and 10% education). In 2001 Charles started working with Reuters to create their learning strategy and he built it on the back of the 70:20:10 framework.
He sees a key role for the manager to enable this 70%. He quoted some research that says that people who are being developed effectively (by their managers) outperform their peers by 25%. That is like adding more than a day of productivity per week. This can only work if you make learning a continuous process. 70:20:10 helps to create this culture of continuous learning. This is where I diverge a little from his thinking: I see less and less relevance for the manager and think people should and will develop themselves, rather than be developed.
Charles sees four learning drivers:
- Conversations (the “best learning technology ever invented” according to Jay Cross) and networks
I usually just say there are two drives for learning: doing things and reflection. I would like Charles to focus a bit more on how more direct feedback can help the reflection process.
All of this should change the focus of workplace learning. According to Charles we will make a shift from “Adding Learning to Work” (with learning metrics) towards “Extracting Learning from Work” (with business metrics).
Annie Buttin Faraut
Annie does HR Information Magement innovation at Philip Morris International, making her effectively my professional twin (especially since Philip Morris has made many of the same HR design decisions as my employer).
Just like me, Annie is trying to get the people in her team to become “Innov-Actors”, emphasizing that to be innovative requires you to do something. I will likely collaborate with Annie on a set of activities (inspired by the Innovator’s DNA that will help people increase their innovative behaviour.
Bert De Coutere
Bert is a solution architect at the Centre for Creative Leadership and writes one of my favourite blogs. He has a few personal plans this year: he will make “an app”, he will continue his investigation into the quantified self movements, will look into personal network analytics (“where do I fit inside the network and what does this mean for my leadership development”) and will look into the work of people like BJ Fogg (Tiny Habits) who work on behavioural change.
He is very excited that he will pilot a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) this year on leadership. He is still full of questions about how to approach it. Do MOOCs work with softs skills and can they actually lead to behavioural change? How do you deal with confidentiality (important when it comes to leadership)?
Other short conversations
I ran into Laura Overton who told me about Towards Maturity‘s Learner’s Survey which will be launched. David Wilson and David Perring from Elearnity told me about their experiments with a new format for their presentation (minimal slide-based content and then conversations on the basis of questions on Twitter) and I shared with them my new “Socratic” approach to teaching classes. With Alex Watson I talked about the mindset of middle management and (off-topic for the conference) about How to be Black.
I love to get book recommendations from people that I know. I asked everybody whether they had read a good book recently. Both Steve and Bert mentioned Insanely Simple and both Ben and Bert mentioned Dan Pink’s latest book To Sell is Human. Steve made The Lean Startup required reading for the staff in his company (this is a reverse recommendation: I remember telling him about the book). Charles mentioned Bounce a very interesting book written by champion table tennis player. Bert is looking forward to reading Yes! about the science of persuasion. Annie liked this book for “beginners” Content Rules and thought Socialnomics was good. Lawrence, finally, managed to get me to commit to reading Image, Music, Text by Barthes before I revisit London in June.
Inspired by Tony Haile I have decided to write a yearly post in which I list the books that I have read for the year. This year I managed to read 57 books (still 18 books short on my seemingly unattainable goal of reading 75 books a year. Please note that the categories are quite arbitrary, but mean something for me. Having a Goodreads account really helped me with this exercise.
Some people ask me how I manage to read this much. I’ll give away my secret recipe: don’t have children, do not watch any TV (or use Facebook) and make sure you commute by train (45+ minutes in each direction) every day. That is all there is to it.
Doorley’s book showed me how simple changes in the physical space can change people’s behavior and Dyer showed how being innovative is just a set of behaviour. I will put those two together in the next year. Checklist have stopped me forgetting things after reading Gawande’s book.
- Make Space: How To Set The Stage For Creative Collaboration – Scott Doorley (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators – Jeff Dyer (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Sustainism Is The New Modernism – Michiel Schwarz (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think – Peter H. Diamandis (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right – Atul Gawande (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley – Victor W. Hwang (Goodreads/Amazon)
French has showed me that corporations are the best positioned lifeforms to show sustained moral behaviour. Illich was truly enlightening, I expect to read more of him in 2013 (Deschooling Society!). I will continue to explore McLuhan’s thinking with a reading group on Understanding Media. Sandel’s book on the moral limits of market is chockfull of incredible examples of things that can be gotten with money nowadays (e.g. prison cell upgrades). The three weirdest books I’ve read this year are also in this category: Stone, Burrell and Goertzel, all thanks to Daniel Erasmus. The book which made me think the most per page must have been Eagleman’s.
- Corporate Ethics – Peter A. French (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Tools For Conviviality – Ivan Illich (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
- What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Medium Is the Massage : An Inventory of Effects – Marshall McLuhan (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age – Sandy Stone (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Pandemonium: Towards a Retro-Organization Theory – Gibson Burrell (Goodreads/Amazon)
- A Cosmist Manifesto – Ben Goertzel (Goodreads/Amazon)
- In Praise Of Love – Alain Badiou (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives – David Eagleman (Goodreads/Amazon)
- You Kant Make It Up!: Strange Ideas from History’s Great Philosophers – Gary Hayden (Goodreads/Amazon)
The anthology edited by Zerzan was probably my favourite book of the year and I was amazed to see how relevant the Cluetrain Manifesto is, 12 years after it has been written.
- Questioning Technology: A Critical Anthology – John Zerzan (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual – Rick Levine (Goodreads/Amazon)
- WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency – Micah Sifry (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software – Scott Rosenberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything – C. Gordon Bell (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom – Rebecca MacKinnon (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other – Sherry Turkle (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age – Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Goodreads/Amazon)
Postman’s book was full of provocative thinking. It made me wonder why we don’t seem to have this kind of insight into education nowadays (and are being put up with Ken Robinson).
- Teaching As a Subversive Activity – Neil Postman (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning – Sugata Mitra (Goodreads/Amazon)
I will use Osterwalder’s canvas in an upcoming workshop on business models for learning. Rodgers defies management orthodoxy by showing how we need (mostly informal) conversation to do sensemaking in this complex world.
- Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers – Alexander Osterwalder (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public – Lynn Stout (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Informal Coalitions: Mastering the Hidden Dynamics of Organizational Change – Chris Rodgers (Goodreads/Amazon)
Berkun’s book on speaking is probably the most useful on the topic that I’ve come across. Zinsser is a well deserved classic. The Pomodoro technique has increased my productivity tremendously and has given me an idea of being in control of the work that I do.
- On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction – William Knowlton Zinsser (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: Can You Focus – Really Focus – for 25 Minutes? – Staffan Noteberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Pomodoro Technique – Francesco Cirillo (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Verslaafd aan liefde – Jan Geurtz (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun (Goodreads/Amazon)
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Together with four other nerds I started a book club where we will read technology related books. Holiday’s book was irritating as hell but did lead to a great discusion. Expect ten books or so in this category next year.
I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year. Thompson was long overdue (and didn’t disappoint). Stephenson was a bit disappointing (although also mindblowing at times). I thought Scott Card was morally despicable.
- Berevaar – Terry Pratchett (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Diamond Age. Neal Stephenson – Neal Stephenson (Goodreads/Amazon)
- De kaart en het gebied – Michel Houellebecq (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Heldere hemel – Tom Lanoye (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga, #1) – Orson Scott Card (Goodreads/Amazon)
Some great books don’t fit in the above categories. DeKoven wrote down how I intuitively taught physical education a few years back. I had a wonderful few days with MacGregor. The picture in MacArthur’s book are the opposite of Doorley’s book in the innovation category. Laties made me want to quit my job and start a book store.
- The Well-Played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness – Bernie DeKoven (Goodreads/Amazon)
- A History of the World in 100 Objects – Neil MacGregor (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Soccer War – Ryszard Kapuściński (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Richard Ross: Architecture of Authority – John F. MacArthur (Goodreads/Amazon)
- A General Theory of Love – Thomas Lewis (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want To Fight For From Free Speech To Buying Local To Building Communities – Andrew Laties (Goodreads/Amazon)
- A Life with Books – Julian Barnes (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Bezeten: Ton Boot, de winnaar & het laatste seizoen – Igor Wijnker (Goodreads/Amazon)
- the Science of Love and Betrayal – Robin Dunbar (Goodreads/Amazon)
- How to Be Black – Baratunde R. Thurston (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory? – Paolo Soleri (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Radical Evolution – Joel Garreau (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media – Mizuko Ito (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs: (She Thinks I’m A Piano Player In A Whorehouse) – Paul Carter (Goodreads/Amazon)
Today I am at the Future of Work Lab (FoWlab) in London attending a masterclass on Organizational Agility. The goal is to get acquainted with cutting edge academic thinking on the topic while sharing cross-sector knowledge. I will write a few blog posts on the basis of the day.
The need for agility
Lynda Gratton opened the day by talking about three external trends that make it harder to manage your organization. They are:
- Exponential change
- Increasing complexity
- Multiple stakeholders
All of these require increase the level of ambiguity and thus require you to become more agile. She advices that there are three things you can do:
1. Learn to experiment
Companies should go into a mode of continuous experimentation. This copes with ambiguity through a rapid feedback mechanism. The experimentation should be based on a test and learn approach and the knowledge about and from these experiments should be stored, tagged and searchable.
Designing experiments is a five-step process (nothing new here):
- Developing a hypothesis
- Identifying sites
- Selecting a control group
- Defining the test and control situations
- Creating measurable metrics
Another post from the FoWlab will address experimentation further.
2. Harness the crowd
You have to increase the diversity of the mindsets involved (see the work of Scott Page). Three ways:
- Internal: social strategy
- External: open innovation, example of Innocentive
- External: social media
This term did not get a lot of definition. You can say that when situations become ambiguous, you have to create a narrative that helps people to know what they need to do.
This afternoon I attended a session at info.nl in Amsterdam with Brewster Kahle who wants to create “Universal Access to All Knowledge”. He has founded The Internet Archive, a non-profit library with about 150 people. It is best known for its Wayback Machine (collecting about 5 billion web pages a month, amazingly still fitting in a container).
They are convinced that it is feasible to store all the world’s knowledge. Texts are being digitized (i.e. scanned) for representation on the screen (see Open Library for examples) and are openly available. The Internet Archive have made their own scanners pushing the costs per scanned page (mostly labour) down to about 10 cents per page. Their scanning centers now have 3,000,000 free ebooks available online (incl. 500,000 for the blind/dyslexic and 250,000 modern books available for lending) and they have about 8 million more to go. They have made a book mobile that can download and print a book for about one dollar.
They are also focusing on archiving all audio, offering unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth for free and for ever to bands who want to store their tapes online. They have over 1 million audio items in over 100 collections. They are doing similar things to moving images, making permanent archives of video sites that have gone out of business, home movies and even television (do check that one out, it makes TV news quotable and even includes a lending model for physical DVDs of TV news).
They store their 10 Petabytes of data in a redundant fashion and also store 600,000 books in a physical archive (growing fast of course).
Brewster also talked a little bit about his case against the US government when he received a national security letter from the FBI which was deemed unconstitutional with a bit of help from the EFF and from the fact that he is a library.
Daniel Erasmus from Digital Thinking Network (DTN) did a short presentation on NewsConsole which uses a big data approach and aims to collect all the world’s news and put it in an interface that allows for easy interacting with it. I’ve been using it for a while to find news in the field of learning technology. I particularly liked his key lessons from working with big data, like:
- SQL won’t cut it
- Big data is messy, a lot of effort goes into cleaning it up
- Moving a petabyte of data is very expensive and difficult, store it correctly the first time
- Testing on small subsets doesn’t work, because you get unexpected bottlenecks when you scale
- It is a humbling problem
All of their hackathons are two-day long events. They have now organized four different ones for their developers, each focusing on a different API. One of their hackathons was focused on a product I hadn’t heard of before: the Learning Registry. The Learning Registry is:
creating a set of technical protocols as a platform for innovation by content authors and aggregators. Applications built to harness the power of harvesting and analyzing the Learning Registry data will allow educators to quickly find content specific to their unique needs. The Learning Registry will store more than traditional descriptive data (metadata)–it will also allow sharing of ratings, comments, downloads, standards alignment, etc.
Initially the hackathons were organized as a recruitment effort, but they found out that they are great learning events too: people can break out of their normal walls, they can learn from eachother and they can actually do something. It was a challenge to sell to management that developers could take two days out of their schedule to work on this, so the first one was on a (rainy) weekend. After the success it became easier to get the time. Outside of the opportunity costs these events are very cheap to run (about $75 per person for the two days).
The first hackathon was just for their own employees. Later on they opened up to the rest of the world with the code hosted on Github. They fill them up on a first- come-first-serve basis with developers, business leaders, designers and marketeers. Each of these types get their own colour, so that they are recognizable and can come together as mixed teams. The teams build something of their own choice and they present it at the end of the two days. During the two days the people are well cared for with nice food and usually some swag (e.g. a T-shirt with a logo).
There is a lot of return on investment for these events. Melodi literally said: “There isn’t any amount of money we could have paid to get the same level of learning as these events delivered”.
I think this is an interesting model to play with. Can this work in domains that aren’t about programming? Could we do a “hackathon” for developing a learning experience? I want to find out (and will start by reading this Wired article on the topic)!
The Dutch Instituut voor Toekomstontwikkeling (IVTO, Institute for Development of the Future) kindly sent me a set of their Foresight Cards for review. The IVTO considers this edition a macro/contextual analysis tool.
The core of this multilingual (English, Dutch, German and Spanish) box set contains 125 cards with “external forces” from the larger environment. These forces are divided into five different categories:
- Social, with cards like: crime(rate), family formation and conscious consumer
- Technology, with cards like: logistics, space technology and
- Economic, with cards like: competetition, wages and unemployment
- Environment, with cards like: water quality, wind and nature
- Politic, with cards like: influence government, political stability and culture
Each of these cards is well designed with a good-looking photo, the cateogory as a color and the force in four languages.
The pack also contains a few pointers on how to use the cards for different analysis activities. Each of these have a QR code pointing to a website with a nice mobile theme. This enables you to quickly find pointers on how to use the cards for things like: Awareness, Business models, Energizers, Porter, Scenario planning, Storytelling, SWOT or System thinking. I am assuming the list of activities and how they’ve been written will get larger and improve over time.
To test out the cards I brought together a group of five people in the field of learning technology and let them “play” with the cards in an exercize to find the driving forces and key uncertainties for the future of corporate. We only took an hour but still managed to discuss quite a few macro-development that might have an impact on that topic in the future.
These cards seem to be a very nice addition for most strategy work trying to look at the external environment. I would have loved to have these cards around when we did the Learning Scenarios work last year. You can order them here.
If you are interested in these kind of tools and speak Dutch, you could also check out their Handboek Scenarioplanning (I haven’t done that yet).
Doc Searls – How the Old Bottom is the New Top
Searls spoke at at SxSW earlier this year. I caught him there already and made some notes. His talk today was very similar and still relates to the new book he has written: The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge.
Andy Hood – The Unselfish Gene
Hood is from AKQA a (marketing? branding? ad?) agency and sponsor of the festival that helps brands “improve business performance through innovation”. He talked about how in our current times it is incredibly necessary to try things and to make sure you learn from whatever it is that you try. According to Hood whenever you learn you can consider yourself to be successful. He quoted Wayne Gretzky who said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Having learned something you have to act on it and follow it through.
His reference to The Selfish Gene was a bit thin: “evolve or die” (meaning you need to keep learning) and “the genepool needs to be diverse” (meaning you need to have an ecosystem of partners).
Finally he referenced an interesting Disney project around gesture recognition on normal surfaces (like a door knob):
Rupert Turnbull – An Inside Job: Tales from a Corporate Startup
Turnbull is the publisher of Wired UK. He talked about intrapeneurship (although I am not sure what he meant to say other than that we should cherish intrapeneurs). He beliefs we are all born with an entrepeneurial spirit, but that we don’t all use this spirit when we grow up. Turnbull is a good storyteller and shared his own forays into the world of starting businesses. He also discussed how disruption can be an opportunity: Wired UK has an incredibly diverse sets of business outlets: website, magazine (print and tablet), podcast, consulting, events, hospitality, retail, etc.
Louisa Heinrich – I am Superman
Heinrich works for Fjord and has no slides (brave!). She talked about how the extended Quantified Self movement and its thinking can make us better human beings. Our lives are made of thousands of decisions every day without us even being conscious about many of those decisions. Our brains process massive amounts of data and it is an illusion to think that computers can just take over that task.
We are inherently narrative creatures. We think of our own lives as a set of very rich stories and we cannot help but see patterns in these stories. She loves the ideas of technology helping us creating stories about ourselves on the basis of the data that is in our lives. When this happens we should all have the power to decide who gets to look at our data though.
Ross Ashcroft – No More Business As Usual
His talk was also mainly about storytelling. He showed the Hollywood formula:
On the basis of these plot elements Ashcroft told a story about a new way of doing business and “new ownership” (the theme of PICNIC). Similarly to the talks of Turnbull and Hood this seemed to be more about how you say something than what you say. I’m left with barely any content… Yes, the world is changing. Now what?
Elizabeth Stark – The Democratization of Knowledge and Innovation
Stark talked about the largest online protest in history: against SOPA. She described how the media portrayed the demonstrations as a top down approach from a set of Silicon Valley executives, whereas in reality it very much was a bottom-up, decentralized and chaotic movement. Stark sees this as a way of working and innovating in the future: harnessing the creativity of millions of people who realise that you can learn anything you want, that experts are made (rather than born) and you don’t need a PhD to innovate.
Farid Tabarki – Burdened with Radical Freedom
Tabarki (a trendwatcher with his own company Studio Zeitgeist) started his talk by looking back at the rise of Lady Gaga who rose to the position of most influential woman in media in only two to three years. She was able to do this because of three things:
- In the past you needed MTV to become well known. Lady Gaga uses a platform where anybody can tune in anytime (2 billion views on her YouTube channel)
- Before you could only communicate with your fans through magazines. She has around 30 million followers on Twitter.
- In the past you had to make sure your records were in physical stores, now you have global instant delivery with things like iTunes.
We are all little Lady Gagas: we are also liberated from the constraints of the past and we live in the age of digital decentralization. The next part of his talk focused on education (the usual Coursera-like examples). These new ways of doing education are based on the fact that one size no longer fits all. Other fundamental changes are related to sharing, transparency (check out this Norwegian website showing the income of all Norwegians for an example of true radical transparency). Finally, we will also have a much more hybrid approach to things.
How will we go from the old centralized system to the new system? Will it be a revolution or a transformation? One thing is for sure: we need take some risks.
Cathal Garvey – Enter Bio-Hacking!
Garvey is a biohacker and an academic (his slides actualy have content, unique in PICNIC):
His wish is for this “most fundamental technology of them all” to be democratized. Garvey showed quotes from Bill Gates and Freeman Dyson saying how important biotechnology will be in the future (“the machine language of life”). Biotechnology as the original open source technology, it is there for anyone to hack on.
Why biohacking? Basically because it is about the ownership of self. 20% of the Human genome is currently patented (WTF?!). So there is a rich community of hackers (in hackspaces and dedicated biolabs) and biopunkers using things like the OpenPCR (for thermocycling) trying to democratize access to this type of technology and genetic information.
Jon Lombardo – HealthyShare: Because Friends are Good for Your Health
Lombardo leads social media for GE and talked about their new app: HealthyShare, a way to let your friends help you with your health challenges. GE sees health as a social thing. There are four things you do to or with others when it comes to health:
The app transfers these pre-existing things to the online domain (unfortunaty this is another app that is heavily based on Facebook). Right now the app is mainly focused on what he calls “casual health”. They want to move it to the more serious health concerns.
Tim O’Reilly – The Clothesline Paradox and the Sharing Economy
I saw O’Reilly being interviewed on the same topic at SxSW and wrote a blogpost about it. His truly excellent talk today (refreshingly full of content compared to the morning) was mainly a rehashing of what was discussed there.
O’Reilly has published a case study documenting the economic impact of open source on small business.
Finally O’Reilly talked about skateboarder Rodney Mullen talking about innovation and creativity:
Clash of Systems: A Socratic Conversation
Humberto Schwab, the “innovation philosopher for business” who used to be my philosophy teacher at the Montessori Lyceum and was called Huib then, led a Socratic conversation with a few of the speakers of the day.
Schwab started by outlining the basic rules for the Socratic method (as one way of battling the intellectual fallacy and putting the practical knowledge and practical intelligence in the center of our acting):
- You can only get the floor when you ask for it by raising your hand, and only then when the chair gives you the floor
- There is no discussion, you are in a process of thinking together and trying to answer a question
- Before you can speak, you have to be capable of repeating what the person before you said and you have to be able to summarize the previous 15 minutes of dialogue
- You are not allowed to refer to books, investigations or other smart people
- You have to use simple and concrete language
- The chair will be a philosopher, who will not provide any content but will make sure that all dimensions of the question are explored by creating the space for that
- If the rules madden you then you can ask for a timeout
He then asked the four speakers to come up with one philosophic question each. The speakers asked the following questions:
- Why do people do things for eachother without necessarily getting something in return?
- Do we own ourselves?
- What am I willing to share as a human being?
- Are we losing leadership?
I focused more on the methodology than on the contents of the discussion, very interesting!
Today was the first day of the seventh edition of the PICNIC festival in Amsterdam (hashtag #picnic12. The festival’s goal is “to discover opportunities for transformation: processes, cultures, products, services, models and experiences”. The theme for the year is New Ownership: the shift from top down to bottom up. This is my first time attending the festival. I am on the lookout for interesting insights and connections around the topic of how to innovate at scale. Below some of my general notes and thoughts on the day.
George Dyson – There is Plenty of Room at the Top
Dyson‘s title is of course a reference to Feynman’s 1959 talk There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. He talked a bit about Feynman’s role at Los Alamos. The digital world we live in today is the result of a “deal with the devil”: if scientist would help the government get nuclear weapons then they would get the computers.
There is room at the bottom, but there is also room at the top: a development of a global intelligence through networked machines and computation at all levels. We are starting to make machines that can think, machines that can replicate themselves and evolve. The founders of the computing age already saw this coming and questioned what this would mean and where it would take us (e.g. Norbert Wiener in Cybernetics).
His whole talk was looking back at what people have said 50-100 years ago and how those statements translate to current times. I can see why the festival programmers decided to open with him, but his talk was all description and very little prescription which made it less than interesting for me.
Byron Reese – The Great Disconnect
Reese started talking about how it used to be that most of the basic elements of life where decided for you at birth. A lot of aspects of your life came from where you were born and in what type of family. These things did not change, there was very little mobility. Today, if there is something about your life you don’t like, you have the ability to change it: you are unthethered. Who you are is no longer a set of circumstances, instead it is a set of choices. There is self-determination. If we combine that with the freedom of conscience then we can have a set of beliefs that can actually underpin a nation.
These changes are driven by the enormous amounts of technological developments that are happening around us. He thinks we are on the cusp of eliminating poverty, hunger and disease by solving them as technological problems (this reminds me of the book Abundance I recently read). I guess Reese is a true techno-optimist (unfortunately without the sense to talk about how many people in the word aren’t “unthethered” yet). He beliefs that even though we are unthethered, we aren’t used to that yet and still behave as if we are thethered in many ways. His advice: “make the most of it”.
Rich Pell – Strategies in Genetic Copy-Protection
Pell is director of the Center for PostNatural History, basically a museum dedicated to living things that were altered by people.
PostNatural is an adjective defined as biological life that has been intentionally and heritably altered by humans. This usually requires human mediated and controlled production. This leads to ethical questions, mainly around the ownership of life. There are now patents on life forms (Pasteur actually had the first patent on a life form: on yeast for beer) and a few strategies for genetic copy prevention are emerging:
- Security through obscurity: not giving any information about what your organism is or does.
- Genetic control: built-in reproductive control in the genes, initially a way to make sure that it was possible to contain the genetically engineered organism.
- Contractual agreement: a contract that prohibits breeding (standard in pure-bred lines for dogs for example).
Pell then showed Monsanto’s terms of agreement for farmers wanting to use their seeds. A legal text scrolled by for a long time of which the main point is that the seed is single-use and that the farmer doesn’t own the seed. You agree to the terms by opening the bag of seeds. Pell had to do some smart legal and physical “hacking” to be able to put Monsanto corn legally in their museum.
Dale Stephens – The Empowered Learner
Stephens didn’t enjoy school when he was twelve. He found a group of unschoolers and quit school with the reluctant permission of his parents.
Unschooling is a set of ideas that try to solve the current failings of education (cost are going up, while value of the education is going down (see here), no equality of opportunity, academic rigour disappearing). The term was coined by John Holt who wrote two books titled How Children Learn and How Children Fail. Holt was inspired by theSummerhill school (the school as a democratic community). Growing without schooling was a magazine that came out of this movement. I am surprised Stephens did not quote Illich’ Deschooling Society which will become a very important text in the next few years I believe (it is listed on the uncollege reading list I now see).
Unschooling is not the same as homeschooling. It isn’t isolating, Stephens learned in a group of 30 unschoolers who created their own learning experiences (“collaborative learning groups”). The basic idea is to trust people’s innate capacity to be curious.
When he didn’t go to college he was asked: “But what about beer and the girls?”. His standard answer to that question is now “I actually prefer guys and champagne”. Stephens has founded Uncollege (read the manifesto here) with the goal of decentralising education and has written the book Hacking Your Education through interviewing fifty people who have done something interesting with their lives without taking part in the traditional educational system.
Mike Lee- Macrometaengineering
Mike Lee talked about the creation of Appsterdam. Appsterdam is now 18 months old and Lee is the “mayor”. It is his attempt to create a tech ecosystem. In his talked he answered a few questions that I guess you could term macrometaengineering.
How do you attract entrepreneurs? You just have to better than the default (which Silicon Valley) and then you have to be easy to get to. One thing that is nice about Europe is the patent law. He quickly took a jab at patent law in the United States and how ridiculous it is to own ideas. Ideas come from zeitgeist, it is all about implementation.
How to create jobs? By making talented people and creating a technical labour surplus.
How to fund your company? It is incrediby easy to find money in the Netherlands. Check out le.mu.rs to see what he’ll be doing with his funding soon.
How to promote diversity? Very easy: stop discriminating and make sure that everybody is welcome.
How to open your data? How to keep your subsidies? How to resolve the crisis? Share the information with everyone in the world, please don’t care about borders.
How to build the future? Let’s figure it out if we are all fingers on the same hand. The future is ours to create.
I will have to take a closer look at Appsterdam as it seems like Lee has created a force for change out of nowhere.
Michael Schwarz – Re-Design for the Era of Sustainism
According to Schwarz we are in a new cultural era. To bring new culture into existence we first have to rename the world. So they came up with the word Sustainism (the new modernism: “less is more” is modernist, “do more with less” is sustainist) which is a lens to think about the world. Sustainist design is where connectivity (technology), sustainibility (nature) and community (people) meet. Everything is seen as interconnected and interdependent. Global goals are connected to local initiatives. Local is an ethical, aesthetic quality. Sustainism is not just the name for an era, it also is a movement and even an ethos. This makes sustainibility and social good the new drivers for innovation and design. Open source is the cultural operating system for this time. You are what you share (rather than what you have).
How can we design for sustainist qualities? And redesign the world? To summarize, you need to start with the following sustainist values in your design briefs and use them as key drivers for innovation:
- Connectedness – everything is connected
- Localism – Local as a quality
- Sharing – You are what you share
Also check out Open Sustainist Design.
Bas van Abel – If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It
Van Abel started his talk with a picture from Occupy Wallstreet of a guy holding up a board saying: “Shit is fucked up and bullshit”. He is convinced that it is important to open up stuff because that allows you to understand the systems behind the stuff and that will enable you to take action.
Companies don’t like you to open up their things. Nintendo uses proprietary screws so that you can’t open their DS devices. Our “Electronic Anorexia” is a driver for thinner and thinner devices. These devices (e.g. the latest generation of Macbooks) are nearly impossible to fix yourself.
Van Abel then showed the problem with mobile phones and how they are produced. To solve this problem he is working on Fairphone an effort to bring a fairly produced smartphone to the market.
Anne Shongwe – Empowering Bottom Up
Shongwe from Afroes is working on a process that tries to inspire young Africans to re-imagine Africa. How do you move the mindset of young people from hopelessness to entrepreneurial and progressive? Mobile is the fastest growing media platform in Africa and has surpassed even radio in its usage. 73% of Africans have a mobile phone and this will be 85% by 2015. 450 young people in Africa have access to a mobile phone. Many organisations in Africa already use mobile technology to their advantage.
The mobile revolution is a social revolution for young people. Young people love playing games, so they’ve decided to create educational games. Their first game is Moraba a mobile game on the topic of gender based violence. They’ve put quite a lot of thought into how this works pedagogically.
Bonnie Shaw – Playful Communities and Urban Experiments
Shaw is dean of a chapter of the Awesome Foundation in Washington DC. She described herself through a Venn-diagram (a nexus between people, place and technology). The first few minutes of her presentation was completely conceptual and used words like collective individualism, aggregated, scale, disruptive, networks, local, etc. She completely lost me as she did not relate these themes or words to anything concrete. She then went on to talk about Snap-Shot-City as her introduction to social technology.
The Awesome Foundation chapters fund projects through $1000 grants that are scraped together by the chapter members. An example of a funded project is Petworth Jazz Project (Why is EVERYTHING called a project nowadays? Why isn’t this called a festival or a concert? I am starting a crusade with The New Vocabuary against the use of the word). I guess this is basically a localised version of crowdfunding.
Cesar Harada – Open Hardware for the Environment
Cesar asks the question of whether open source technology can help clean up or ameliorate our man-made natural disasters. He was in Kenya working at the iHub when the BP Oil Spill happened. Ushahidi was used to map the oil spill. He was then invited to MIT to work on oil spill clean up technology. They were working on long term, expensive and patented technology. Even though this was his dream job he decided to quit, because he wanted to make more impact on the short term. He connected to the public laboratory which was mapping the oil spill with balloons. He then focused on trying to clean up the oil spill with robotic sailboats.
He started Protei in which already a couple of engineering problems that came from trying to drag something heavy and still sail into the wind seem to have been solved. They created a robot boat with two steering rudders (front and back) and the ability to articulate itself. The boat is actually creating a whole new set of physics for sailing. This is community-generated technology: people from all over the world help to iterate this open hardware design.
He calls this way of producing “using an innovation network”.
Daan Roosegaarde – The Business of Soft and Hard Capital
Daan Roosegaarde runs an international design laboratory for interactive projects. He thinks artist nowadays have to be half priest (ideology, the vision to go somewhere) and half entrepreneur (the ability to make it happen). He showed some interesting projects humanising technology.
Things like Dune which is a set of fibers reacting to their environment:
Or Intimacy a dress that changes transparency based on how intimate you are with somebody (as measured by your heartbeat):
And a few other of their projects. This was easily the best talk of the day.
The designers of the festival created a small game to get people talking to each other: playing scrabble with the letters on your badge. See some of the results here. If any team needs an “E” (worth five points) tomorrow, just ping me.