Archive for July, 2010

10 Take-Aways From Overlap 2010

July 26th, 2010

overlapdesign052I spent an amazing weekend in NYC immersed with 50 warm, passionate, talented, and crazy designers from around the world.  It was a think and do tank brought to a constant boil by the high heat of a Bunsen Burner applied literally by the 100 plus degree heat outside.  This was the fifth annual convening of Overlap, a self-organizing group of designers sprinkled with a few innovation junkies like me who like to hang around designers in the hope that some of their coolness will rub off.  Overlap is an intense peer-to-peer connection experience limited to 50 invitees per year. I had been asked to attend previous Overlap events but this was the first I was able to swing it.  I am very glad I did.  It stretched my thinking, strengthened some existing connections, and enabled many refreshing new ones.

Each year volunteers from the group agree to plan and host the next Overlap in a different city.  Kudos to this year’s organizers, Marcel Botha with Mutopo, a cool social production colaboratorie, and Debera Johnson from the Pratt Institute of Design. Urban retreats are a logistical nightmare, Marcel and Debera, pulled it off with grace and competence. Well done. Our working sessions were held at Pratt providing great space and a welcoming design vibe to enable the magic.  A wonderful mix of Overlap veterans and rookies took it from there.  The theme for Overlap 2010 was Scalable Actions.  How do we get our passionate ideas off of the white-board and in to the world where they can solve real problems and provide value to real people.  I think a lot about scale and have been riffing about innovation @ scale for many years.  The chance to immerse myself among so many brilliant design thinkers to ruminate about scale and how to advance our scalable ideas was most welcome. Read more

Innovation, Blessing or Curse?

July 19th, 2010

downloadBeing an innovator is both a blessing and a curse.  Innovators are constantly seeking to improve things by finding a better way.  A questing personality is a blessing providing innovators with a source of personal pride, accomplishment, and exhilaration.  At the same time an innovator’s job is never done.  There is always a better way.  A sense of perpetual incompleteness and never being satisfied torments most innovators I know.  I think this blessing and curse dichotomy is the secret sauce that makes innovators tick.  It motivates innovators to take personal risks, collaborate with unusual suspects to find a missing piece, and jump through incredible hoops seeking a better way.   Innovators wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is always a better way.  It doesn’t matter how innocuous or small a thing from everyday life it is.  You can always tell an innovator because they fixate on addressing small things with the same child-like enthusiasm they readily deploy to large complex societal problems. It’s the little things that often get innovators the most riled up.  I learned this lesson the hard way and share one of many personal examples.  After a long career as a road warrior strategy consultant I found myself at home trying to figure out what I was going to do next in my career. One morning I came downstairs and opened the cupboard that housed breakfast cereal for our three children and found it filled with twelve half-opened cereal boxes. You know the one I am talking about.  Tell me you can’t relate to this important dilemma. I fell into the trap and loudly proclaimed, isn’t there a better way to organize this cereal.  The response was immediate and resounding, thanks for the input, now go find something else to do, preferably out of the house!  I know my wife is groaning reading this thinking, no, not the cereal box story again.  Can’t you come up with a new story for heaven’s sake?  P.S. regarding the cereal box story, the children and the cereal boxes have left home and I miss them both terribly.   Innovators can’t help themselves, no matter how small the challenge, there is always a better way and they are driven to find it. Read more

Unleash The Animal Spirits

July 8th, 2010

images-7A friend asked me this week, what is the single most important thing holding our economy back?  Without hesitation I said our psychology is bad and negativism is getting in the way.  We have allowed cynicism to slow progress, growth, and innovation.  I am as cynical as anyone.  Here in New England we are born with a well-developed cynical streak.  In my home state of Rhode Island we have taken the art of cynicism to entire new heights.  I am convinced we won’t climb out of this economic mess until we become more confident in our selves, our communities, and our opportunities.  Psychology matters.  A strong innovation economy creating higher wage jobs result from the decisions made every day by organization leaders and entrepreneurs.  It is the sum total of these decisions on the margin to hire one additional employee or to invest one additional dollar which determine the trajectory of our economy.  While many factors influence these choices in the end it comes down to psychology or confidence.  We must find a way to move beyond our cynicism.

The imperative is to unleash the animal spirits.  John Maynard Keynes had it right in his book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, when he described animal spirits as the emotion which influences human behavior measured in terms of consumer confidence.  Keynes got the math right. Positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations. Our decisions to do something positive can only be taken as the result of animal spirits, a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities.  Amen. Read more

Vacation By Design

July 1st, 2010

gaudi-casa-batllo-06_jpgI tried.  I really did try to take a break from all the design and innovation buzz while on vacation last week in Spain.  It didn’t work. Throughout an incredible ten-day sojourn across northern Spain design and innovation reminders were everywhere.  It wasn’t premeditated.  I am sure the lens through which I view the world has a lot to do with it but I also credit Spain, which has a clear case of the design and innovation bug.  Then again maybe my perspective was colored by all of the great Rioja wine.  Here are the design highlights from this innovation junkie’s summer vacation.

We started our Iberian adventure in the great city of Barcelona.  On our first day we set out to see Casa Battlo and La Sagrada Familia designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Both were on our must do list and unanimous recommendations from many Twitter friends who had been to Barcelona. Goodbye jet lag.  Wow.  I wasn’t familiar with Gaudi before our trip but will never forget his work after seeing it.  Gaudi was ahead of his time.  He was more modern than the Modernist Art Nouveau period in the late 19th early 20th century he lived and designed in. Throughout Gaudi’s life, he studied nature’s angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs.  His works are iconic and seem to flow directly from nature. Gaudi said, “The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of nature”.  Amen. Read more