Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category
As we plow in to the New Year with an uncertain economy, and troubling world events I am reminded of an excerpt from Earl Nightingale’s Lead the Field. I find it inspirational and thought I would pass it along to you. I hope you are finding the New Year prosperous.
In 1843, a man was born who was to have a profound effect upon the lives of millions of people. His name was Russell Herman Conwell. He became a lawyer, then a newspaper editor and, finally, a clergyman. During his church career, an incident occurred that was to change his life and the life of countless others.
One day, a group of young people came to Dr. Conwell at his church and asked him if he would be willing to instruct them in college courses. They all wanted a college education but lacked the money to pay for it. He told them to let him think about it and to come back in a few days.
After they left, an idea began to form in Dr. Conwell’s mind. He asked himself, “Why couldn’t there be a fine college for poor but deserving young people?” Before long, the idea consumed him. Why not, indeed? It was a project worthy of 100 percent dedication—complete commitment.
Almost single-handedly, Dr. Conwell raised several million dollars with which he founded Temple University, today one of the country’s leading schools. He raised the money by giving more than 6,000 lectures all over the country, and in each one of them, he told a story called “Acres of Diamonds.”
The story is the true account of an African farmer who had heard tales about other farmers who had made millions by discovering diamond mines. These tales so excited the farmer that he could hardly wait to sell his farm and go prospecting for diamonds himself. So he sold his farm and spent the rest of his life wandering the African continent searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems that brought such high prices on the markets of the world. Finally, the story goes, worn-out and in a fit of despondency, he threw himself into a river and drowned.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or farm, in this case, the man who had bought the farm happened to be crossing the small stream on the property. Suddenly, there was a bright flash of blue and red light from the stream’s bottom. He bent down, picked up the stone—it was a good-sized stone—and, admiring it, later put it on his fireplace mantel, as an interesting curiosity.
Several weeks later, a visitor to his home picked up the stone, looked at it, hefted it in his hand—and nearly fainted. He asked the farmer if he knew what he’d found.When the farmer said no, that he’d thought it was a piece of crystal, the visitor told him he’d found one of the largest diamonds ever discovered. The farmer had trouble believing that. He told the man that his creek was full of such stones—not as large, perhaps, as the one on the mantel, but they were sprinkled generously throughout the creek bottom.
Needless to say, the farm that the first farmer had sold so that he might find a diamond mine turned out to be the most productive diamond mine on the entire African continent. The first farmer had owned, free and clear, acres of diamonds, but he sold them for practically nothing in order to look for them elsewhere.
The moral is clear: If only the first farmer had taken the time to study and prepare himself—to learn what diamonds looked like in their rough state—and, since he had already owned a piece of the African continent, to thoroughly explore the property he had before looking elsewhere, all of his wildest dreams would have come true.
Each of us, at this moment, is standing in the middle of his or her own acres of diamonds. If only we will have the wisdom and patience to intelligently and effectively explore the work in which we are now engaged, to explore ourselves, we’ll usually find the riches we seek.
©Mark P. Loschiavo
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
In an interview with Ted Koppel, Dave Kelley, founder and CEO of the Palo Alto, California product design firm, Ideo, said, “Look around. The only thing that is not designed by someone is nature.” While this has been true since the beginning of time, the importance of design for the products and services we consume has not always been paramount.
Prior to the 21st Century the demand for one product over another was largely driven by utility and price. Terms like “price performance” were coined to indicate the importance of the price/utility relationship. Typically, the product with the most functionality at an affordable price carried the highest competitive advantage. Recognizable slogans like, “the quicker picker-upper”, “the ultimate driving machine”, “we bring good things to life”, “like a rock”, and “don’t leave home without it”, speak to the importance consumers and advertising firms assigned to function and utility.
As developed countries become more affluent—particularly the U.S.—consumers are demanding more than just utility in the products they purchase. They want beauty, elegance and significance. In short, they want good design.
Author Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind, writes, “While Harvard’s MBA program admits about 10 percent of its applicants, UCLA’s fine arts graduate school admits only 3 percent. Why? A master of fine arts, an MFA, is now one of the hottest credentials in the world where even General Motors is in the art business.” Pink argues that product design has become a vital ingredient for competitive advantage, creating the need for a whole new mind in business. Business leaders, who have traditionally valued left-brain thinking, need to embrace the importance the right hemisphere of the brain plays in building competitive advantage.
Think for a moment about the hottest new products of the last decade. What were they, and what distinguished them from their competitors? What role did design play in the product’s success, and what do we know about the companies that designed them? They are usually viewed as innovative, but are they also viewed as entrepreneurial? This begs the question. As we move into the creative economy, will entrepreneurial firms have an advantage over established corporate giants and why?
©Mark P. Loschiavo
Throughout modern history the movers and shakers of developed countries have celebrated left-brain thinking. Success is pre-ordained based on the mastery of standardized tests (PSAT, SAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT) that measure an individual’s aptitude for analytical, logical and linear thought. The ability to acquire and disseminate knowledge is valued. After all, mastery of analytics, logic and linear thought put a man on the moon and returned him safely in the 1960s, and launched us headlong into the high technology world of the knowledge era. Knowledge is power.
In 1997 left-brain engineers and scientists from IBM developed a computer program powerful enough to beat world champion Garry Kasparov in the quintessential left-brain competition, chess. In so doing, is it possible they marked the beginning of the end of the knowledge era? If technology can beat a world champion chess master at his game, what’s to keep technology from rendering a world-class disease diagnostician—think Dr. Gregory House—obsolete? Isn’t a diagnostician’s skill derived from a comprehensive knowledge of known diseases, and the possible combination of related symptoms: knowledge that can be stored in databases, and retrieved and processed at speeds far greater than the capability of the human mind.
While computers have the ability to handle left-brain activity with ease, they have difficulty with context. Discerning joy, fear, anger or anxiety from the expression on someone’s face requires the ability to instantaneously see individual parts of the face in the context of the whole. In order for innovators and entrepreneurs to develop solutions for today’s complex needs, they need to understand those needs within the context of people’s lives, and/or the whole of society. This ability to understand context comes from the right hemisphere of the human brain.
In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink suggests that we are moving from a knowledge economy to a creative economy, requiring a renaissance of right brain thinking. Is it time to re-engage the often-maligned right hemisphere of the brain? Are we in an era where competitive advantage will be determined more by creativity, design and context than by knowledge, analytics and logic?
I welcome your thoughts,
©Mark P. Loschiavo