Archive for October, 2011

Connecting the Dots for Innovation: What does beekeeping and architecture have in common?

There was once an architect attempting to design a commercial office building that would provide a comfortable year-round work environment without the need for a traditional HVAC system.  In his quest he met with the best minds the world of architecture had to offer.  He also embarked on a seemingly endless journey through architectural journals and reference materials.   After exhausting all possible industry resources, he decided to look elsewhere.

He remembered a conversation he once had at a social event with a beekeeper, and decided to seek him out.  He learned that there is a species of bees that requires the hive to maintain a constant temperature in order for the queen bee to be productive.  In order for the hive to maintain a constant temperature at the center of the hive–the queen’s residence–the worker bees go through a process of constructing and deconstructing cell walls throughout the hive at different times of the day.  These changes in the cell walls change the flow of air such that the air temperature in the queen’s residence stays constant.  Upon learning this the architect hypothesized, “I can design a commercial building with retractable walls, that open and close at different times, in order to maintain a constant temperature?”

Psychologist argue that creativity often comes at the intersection of two or more different domains of knowledge.  In an interview with Wired Magazine in February of 1996,Steve Jobs had this to say:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

Being a successful innovator requires hard work in two areas.  First, you have to become expert in the industry in which your product or service plays.  Secondly, you have to open the aperture of of your mind enough to learn as much as possible about the world in which we live.  It is not a coincidence that inventors and innovators are “naturally” curious people.

© Mark Loschiavo

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