"You couldn't have even thought of it"


Design will continue to be driven by technology…It’s been like that since the existence of design.

Ultimately we want to do work that is by human beings, for other human beings. Because of the event of modernism 100 years ago people at the time decided that the machine-made should be brought to the forefront of design and architecture. Having that became the status quo of world wide anything - - architecture, design, and graphics: We actively work against that.

There is some distraction in technology. For one thing I think it brought in an incredible increase in boredom. All tools are available within the same machine, and you can do them while sitting in the same position in front of the same screen. When I went to art school it was silk-screening over here and lithography there and painting there and and you needed to change rooms and sometimes buildings to do them all. 

But we benefit from technology in so many other ways…We have a piece in our exhibition, The Happy Show, that can detect if the viewer is smiling and react to that smile by becoming a colorful piece from a black-and-white piece. Not only couldn’t you have done it 10 years ago, you couldn’t even have thought of it. You would have never come up with the idea.

Designer and typographer Stefan Sagmeister, from The Creative Class #5

But I speak to many people whose organisations have not even considered what digital transformation looks like. Not considered a world where customers will always have better technology and communication abilities than they do.
— Paul Taylor, from The Battle Against Digital Disruption

Paul Taylor describes the disconnect between the abilities of a tenant with a new smartphone and the capabilities of the property managers.

Welcome to a new breed of resident. Residents who live digital lifestyles that are completely out of sync with the operating system of the landlord.

Paul is the 'innovation coach' at The Bromford Group, which supports innovation for a British housing association. @PaulBromford

Forget innovation

Forget innovation: focus on being good. Most products out in the world are not very good. You rarely need a breakthrough to improve things, beat the competition, or help people suffering from a problem. If you carefully study the problem you’re trying to solve, you will discover many clear ways to make it better. That’s the best place to start. If you solve a problem for customers that makes them happy and earns you money, do you really think they will care whether it’s innovative? They just want their problems solved. If you cured cancer conventionally, would patients refuse, saying, “But it’s not innovative!” Of course not, so don’t worry. Use the workman-like language of people who are later called innovators: problem, prototype, experiment, design, and solution, instead of the jargon of breakthrough, radical, game-changing, and innovative. This keeps you low to the ground, and prevents your ego from distracting you away from simply making good things.

Forget Innovation

From Scott Berkun’s The Myths of Innovation, p. 163

Open data badass


Exchange between me, @arkland_swe, and @jacob_wang about Swedish open data/open heritage work

Lars: Well, we try to *do* thing. And surprisingly often you become a badass by just trying to do things

Jacob: Blablabla. You DO stuff some of us are merely talking about. Soon though, we’ll join the ranks.

Mike: Jacob - - tell us one specific badass-y thing our Swedish Humanities brothers and sisters have done that you admire.

Jacob: They have aggregated 4.2 million objects from 40 ors, content that is available through their open API - - BOOM!

Jacob: Lars, tell him how many objects you have delivered to Europeana - it’s like 100 times more than DK [Denmark] have.

Jacob: And Lars, tell Michael how many views you’ve had on Flickr…

You could write the entire history of science in the last 50 years in terms of papers rejected by Science of Nature.
— Paul C. Lauterbur, Nobel prize winner for his original research on magnetic resonance imaging. His seminal paper was rejected by the journal Nature in 1973.  Quoted in  Kevin Davies article “Public Library of Science Opens Its Doors.” (Found via Scott Berkun's The Myths of Innovation , p.54.)
Every fact of science was once damned. Every invention was considered impossible. Every discovery was a nervous shock to some orthodoxy. Every artistic innovation was denounced as fraud and folly. The entire web of culture and ‘progress,’ everything on earth that is man-made and not given to us by nature, is the concrete manifestation of some man’s refusal to bow to Authority. We would own no more, know no more, and be no more than the first apelike hominids if it were not for the rebellious, the recalcitrant, and the intransigent. As Oscar Wilde truly said, ‘Disobedience was man’s Original Virtue.’
— Robert Anton Wilson, 1991, from a letter to Mark Frauenfelder, via Boing Boing 

Teams with healthy idea life cycles are easy to spot

Teams with healthy idea life cycles are easy to spot: ideas flow
between people easily and in large volumes. Conversations are
vibrant with questions and suggestions; prototypes and demos
happen regularly; and people commit to finding and fighting for
good ideas. Often, this is fun—people are happy to learn from
failures, debates, and bizarre ideas. Teams that innovate are great
places for ideas to live; like happy pets, they’re treated well, get
lots of attention, and are shared among people who care deeply
about them.

The life of ideas is the responsibility of whoever is in charge.
— From Scott Berkun’s The Myths of Innovation, page 103. Sharing with my new friend Jacob Wang.


Quick release cycles and quick failure

Notes to self:

The Value of Failure (?)
I’m never quite satisfied when I participate in discussions about the value of failure. I’m not sure why, but I think we’re missing something here. Not sure what it is. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fail quickly. You’ve got to fail to learn.” What does that really mean in practical terms?

Failure and quick release cycles
I think these people (in the video, above) are approaching quick/early failure in a very (literally) constructive way. They walk out onto a field with an airplane made out of foam core, toothpicks, and packing tape; they fly it and crash it and adjust it five or six times; and they leave the field with a much better plane than what they started with.

a) Their plane is built to be hackable. It’s made out of foam core. At 4:00 the pilot says "maybe we should try getting rid of this forward sweep" of the wings and he gets out his knife and he cuts off the front of the wings and tapes them to the back. Earlier in the video he decides he needs a bigger vertical stabilizer on the back so he cuts a rough square of foam core, tapes it to the side of the old stabilizer, and pinches the leading edge to make it more aerodynamic. Then he launches it to see how it worked. 

Says the pilot/engineer/hacker (at about 5:45): 

“So, we came out and it was too tail heavy. so two crashes later we figured that out. Then we put a bigger battery on it. And then we figured out there wasn’t enough vertical stabilizer, and we fixed that. Then there was too much ‘magic carpet’ going on–too much flex–so we put some tape on it and fixed that. Then cut the front of the wing off and put it on the back of the wing, which got rid of the wing rock. Now, with model #1, we got probably five airplanes worth of test flights.

b) This brings to mind Stuart Brand’s book “How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built” which (among other things) describes the benefits of building things in a way that makes them easier to improve and modify over time.

c) Another thought: the people in the model airplane video are able to fail/improve quickly because their platform supports rapid releases and quick fixes. (Does my web publishing platform, writ large, allow/support this? Not really.) If their plane were “better” - -  if it were made out of fancier materials and looked more polished - - i’m guessing it would be a lot harder to modify and hack.

d) Years ago I saw an article somewhere about designing high performance sailboats. The author said that phenomenal things could be done in the design phase with computer modeling, but that the models were never perfect. For $100k you could design a cutting edge boat with advanced hydrodynamic modeling, or for about the same amount of money you could skip all the hydrodynamic predictions and just build the actual boat and see how it sailed (which, after all, is the ultimate point of the exercise) - - if it wasn’t particularly fast (usually the case) you could sell the boat for cost and try again. 

Faster, NASA, Faster, a 2009 NY Times Op-Ed by former astronaut and Google program manager Edward Lu, encourages NASA to adopt a space vehicle strategy that emphasizes smaller but more frequent launches- - as many as one a week, for reasons similar to those used by the model airplane enthusiasts in the video.

The Russian Soyuz rocket demonstrates the value of frequent launching. Variants of this rocket have flown more than 1,700 times, averaging more than 30 launchings a year. As a result, the Soyuz is among the most reliable of all existing rockets. In fact, I flew into space aboard a Soyuz rocket in 2003 when NASA space shuttles had been grounded after the Columbia disaster.

To meet its new goals for human spaceflight, NASA must be able to be creative and take risks, or else it will be unable to adapt to new technology and changing political realities. Grand plans stretching over decades will become irrelevant and eventually collapse.


(Lu’s NY Times op-ed is also useful for .gov employees trying to understand how to operate with greater agility in a highly bureaucratic environment.)

I’m also remembering a conversation I had with the CEO of a New Media/Technology design agency: he said that the big trick isn’t failing, that’s all too easy to do. The trick is building the skills you need to learn from those mistakes, and to recognize breakthroughs and progress when and where they do occur (which is usually when and where you’re not looking).

Another good reference on the “failure” question is We Tried To Warn You, Part 2: Failure is a matter of timing by Peter Jones in Boxes and Arrows, 2008. 

There’s also a Harvard Business Review article I’m looking for about how top performing businesses are better at exposing, discussing, and sharing lessons-learned from past failures than the also ran’s are.

My paper Good Projects Gone Bad, an Introduction to Process Maturity from the American Association of Museums conference in 2008 might be helpful too. 

And a search on Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog for articles relating to “failure” yields some gems.


How Web Video Powers Global Innovation

Chris Anderson: How web video powers global innovation, recorded July 2010.

There are a few ideas in this talk by TED founder Chris Anderson (not Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson) that are, as the conference says, worth spreading.

1) The concept of Crowd Accelerated Innovation (at 5:50)

[QUOTE] And there are just three things you need for this [crowd accelerated innovation] thing to kick into gear. You can think of them as three dials on a giant wheel. You turn up the dials, the wheel starts to turn. And the first thing you need is … a crowd, a group of people who share a common interest. The bigger the crowd, the more potential innovators there are. That’s important, but actually most people in the crowd occupy these other roles. They’re creating the ecosystem from which innovation emerges. The second thing you need is light. You need clear, open visibility of what the best people in that crowd are capable of, because that is how you will learn how you will be empowered to participate. And third, you need desire. You know, innovation’s hard work. It’s based on hundreds of hours of research, of practice. Absent desire, not going to happen.

2) Openness (6:55)

This is how TED survives and thrives by GIVING EVERYTHING AWAY:

[QUOTE] So, at TED, we’ve become a little obsessed with this idea of openness. In fact, my colleague, June Cohen, has taken to calling it “radical openness,” because it works for us each time. We opened up our talks to the world, and suddenly there are millions of people out there helping spread our speakers’ ideas, and thereby making it easier for us to recruit and motivate the next generation of speakers. By opening up our translation program, thousands of heroic volunteers – some of them watching online right now, and thank you! – have translated our talks into more than 70 languages, thereby tripling our viewership in non-English-speaking countries. By giving away our TEDx brand, we suddenly have a thousand-plus live experiments in the art of spreading ideas. And these organizers, they’re seeing each other, they’re learning from each other. We are learning from them. We’re getting great talks back from them. The wheel is turning.

3) “Jove” (10:32) a video scientific journal to increase speed/efficiency of knowledge transfer between scientist

This need/idea was entirely new to me and it knocked me off my feet:

[QUOTE] Jove [http://www.jove.com/About.php?sectionid=1] is a website that was founded to encourage scientists to publish their peer-reviewed research on video. There’s a problem with a traditional scientific paper. It can take months for a scientist in another lab to figure out how to replicate the experiments that are described in print. Here’s one such frustrated scientist, Moshe Pritsker, the founder of Jove. He told me that the world is wasting billions of dollars on this. But look at this video. I mean, look: if you can show instead of just describing, that problem goes away. So it’s not far-fetched to say that, at some point, online video is going to dramatically accelerate scientific advance.

4) Global, mobile, video-driven education (15:01)

If you’re like me you’ll suffer, grinding your teeth through a bit of hyperbole at 15:01 - - but be patient, it’s a setup. You’ll be wowed by the Pakistan and Kenya example that follow:

[QUOTE] Here’s a group of kids in a village in Pakistan near where I grew up. Within five years, each of these kids is going to have access to a cellphone capable of full-on web video and capable of uploading video to the web. I mean, is it crazy to think that this girl, in the back, at the right, in 15 years, might be sharing the idea that keeps the world beautiful for your grandchildren? It’s not crazy; it’s actually happening right now.

I want to introduce you to a good friend of TED who just happens to live in Africa’s biggest shantytown.

(Video) Christopher Makau: Hi. My name is Christopher Makau. I’m one of the organizers of TEDx Kibera. There are so many good things which are happening right here in Kibera. There’s a self-help group. They turned a trash place into a garden. The same spot, it was a crime spot where people were being robbed. They used the same trash to form green manure. The same trash site is feeding more than 30 families. We have our own film school. They are using Flip cameras to record, edit, and reporting to their own channel, Kibera TV. Because of a scarcity of land, we are using the sacks to grow vegetables, and also [we’re] able to save on the cost of living. Change happens when we see things in a different way. Today, I see Kibera in a different way. My message to TEDGlobal and the entire world is: Kibera is a hotbed of innovation and ideas.


I think TED has been walking the talk with crowd accelerated innovation for years now and I’ve been fascinated watching its website evolve towards a sharing and collaboration platform even though its core product is video that you consume. I intend to steal the design patterns for embedding, favoriting, sharing, downloading, transcripts (including crowd created transcripts and translations), and rating for the Smithsonian Commons. These features didn’t appear overnight though, they seem to have accrued gradually over time. 

Innovator's Dilemma

…Leading firms’ most profitable customers generally don’t want, and indeed initially can’t use, products based on disruptive technologies. By and large, a disruptive technology is initially embraced by the least profitable customers in a market. Hence, most companies with a practiced discipline of listening to their best customers and identifying new products that promise greater profitability and growth are rarely able to build a case for investing in disruptive technologies until it is too late.
— p. 134,  Christensen, Clayton M, The Inventor’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1997.