The Magic Bike Company

Where do good ideas come from?

Oliver Sacks, a scientist and a storyteller, “Why is it that of every hundred gifted young musicians who study at Juilliard or every hundred brilliant young scientists who go to work in major labs under illustrious mentors, only a handful will write memorable musical compositions or make scientific discoveries of major importance? Are the majority, despite their gifts, lacking in some further creative spark? Are they missing characteristics other than creativity that may be essential for creative achievement — such as boldness, confidence, independence of mind? It takes a special energy, over and above one’s creative potential, a special audacity or subversiveness, to strike out in a new direction once one is settled. It is a gamble as all creative projects must be, for the new direction may not turn out to be productive at all. Creativity involves not only years of conscious preparation and training but unconscious preparation as well. This incubation period is essential to allow the subconscious assimilation and incorporation of one’s influences and sources, to reorganize and synthesize them into something of one’s own…. The essential element in these realms of retaining and appropriating versus assimilating and incorporating is one of depth, of meaning, of active and personal involvement.”

Environments that breed Innovation

In his book “ Where Good Ideas Come From - The Natural History of Innovation ” Steven Johnson presents seven patterns that recur again and again in unusually fertile environments for idea generation.

The Adjacent Possible

“In our work lives, in our creative pursuits, in the organizations that employ us, in the communities we inhabit — in all these different environments we are surrounded by potential new configurations, new ways of breaking out of our standard routines. The trick is to figure out ways to explore the edges of possibility that surround you.”
What if a hearing aid could be replaced with a pair of wireless earbuds and a smartphone app? A Swiss startup is trying to make this reality with an app called Fennex, recently released for the iPhone, that works with Apple’s $159 AirPods wireless earbuds. Alex Mari, CEO of the startup of the same name says today’s version functions like a “cheap hearing aid”: it simply tests your hearing in each ear and uses those results to act as a personalized, adjustable amplifier. If you’re having trouble hearing in a class, for instance, you could place your phone near the lectern while you’re sitting a few rows back and listening in on a pair of AirPods. A new use of the iPhone and the AirPods made possible by Apples wireless earbuds, the iPhone and the app store.
After discussing WhatsApp’s present and future with co-founder of WhatsApp Jan Koum, Harry McCracken the technology editor for Fast Company wrapped up by asking him about its early days. “ 'In Hollywood films, they always make it look like there’s that epiphany you have, that you come up with an idea and you run to the patent office with music playing in the background,' he laughs. But he believes that he and co-founder Acton found a winning formula over time because they experimented, leveraged the technologies available to them (such as iOS notifications, which Apple introduced in 2009), and watched how people used their app. Not only is this approach repeatable, he adds, it’s become even more doable as smartphones have reached even more people and matured as a platform.” retrieved from: Fast Company

Liquid Networks

“To make your mind more innovative, you have to place it inside environments that share that same network signature: networks of ideas or people that mimic the neural networks of a mind exploring the boundaries of the adjacent possible. They create an enviroment where partial ideas can connect and they help complete ideas.”
station F start up incubator
The central part of the building is kept as a walkway and will also be furnished with large sofas. On the lower level, there’s access to showers and lockers. Credit Patrick Tourneboeuf and Wired UK
Recently towns, communities, businesses and individuals have created ecosystems or campuses with the purpose of encouraging cooperation and collaboration with the hope that their place will spur the growth on innovation. The world's biggest startup campus is opening this summer in Paris's 13th arrondissement. Based on a former railway depot known as la Halle Freyssinet, the 34,000m2 space will accommodate more than 1,000 startups and counts as founding partners companies such as Facebook and Microsoft.

The Slow Hunch

“Hunches start with a vague, hard-to-describe sense that there's an interesting solution to a problem that hasn't yet been proposed, and they longer in the shadows of the mind, sometimes for decades, assembling new connections and gaining strength. ” To help facilitate the process of turning hunches into problem solutions keep a diary of your discoveries and thoughts.
Kripa Varanasi and his wife, Manasa, were at home, and she was trying to make a snack for their young son. She was struggling to spoon out some honey, frustrated by how hard it was to get the last bits of sticky sweetness from the bottom of the container. Finally, she turned to her husband. “You work on slippery things,” she said. “Why can’t you make a slippery bottle?” Varanasi says he knew instantly that was just the idea he had been looking for: “I was like, that’s brilliant!” Kripa and one of his students had developed an invention to make slippery surfaces and were seeking a real-world application. Five years later, that company, called LiquiGlide, closed its second round of venture capital—for a total of more than $24 million in funding. And already LiquiGlide has contracts with more than 70 companies to bring various versions of its slippery coatings, some of them food-grade, into the marketplace by way of ketchup and glue bottles, cosmetics jars, paint cans, mixing vats for agrochemicals, and more. The concept behind that initial slippery invention, which led up to that “Aha!” moment, had been years in the making. retrieved from MIT Technology Review

Serendipity

Serendipity needs unlikely collisions and discoveries, but it also needs something to anchor those discoveries. The challenge is how to create environments that foster these serendipitous connections. On the web Product Hunt, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Tech Crunch and FastCompany provide opportunities to collide with innovative ideas. My favorite method of percolating ideas; late evening reading and early morning walks.

Error

Error is not simply a phase you have to suffer through on the way to genius. Errors often create a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions. Being wrong forces one to persistent and to continue to explore. In Silicon Valley the mantra is 'fail fast, fail often' which hopefully leads to a successful business plan. They have coined the term 'pivot' which means, when the first business model isn’t working (and this happens more often than not), the CEO and team pivot to plan B.

Exaptation

The idea that the function of a trait might shift during its evolutionary history. Morphing the function found in one product into another product creating a new function. Chrysler under Lee Iacocca created platform teams to develop new vehicles. The first platform developed and launched the LH model. All the disciplines Engineering, Manufacturing, Marketing, Purchasing were brought together at one location on Featherstone Road in Auburn Hills. Weekly meetings of all the disciplines presented their issues. As future vehicle platforms formed their teams to develop new a vehicle line they joined the meetings to learn and to apply the lessons to their team's job to be done.

 

pressing cider
Pressing cider using a car jack!

Platforms

Beavers by felling poplars and willows to build dams, single-handedly transform tempered forests into wetlands, which then attract and support a remarkable array of neighbors: pileated woodpeckers drilling nesting cavities into dead trees; wood ducks and Canada geese setting in abandoned beaver lodges; heron and kingfishers and swallows enjoying the benefits of the 'artifical' pond, along with frogs, lizards, and other slow-water species. The beaver creates a platform that sustains an amazingly diverse assemblage of life. In a similar fashion so does Apple, Facebook, Amazon and GitHub.
pressing cider
Temporary home on the pond.
A new study by the University of Pennsylvania, provides the first comprehensive look at how the Kickstarter community impacts the creative economy. The study finds that Kickstarter projects have employed 283,000 part-time collaborators in bringing creative projects to life. Created 8,800 new companies and nonprofits, and 29,600 full-time jobs. Generated more than $5.3 billion in direct economic impact for those creators and their communities.
Creators reported that Kickstarter afforded them the creative independence they would not have been able to achieve through other funding avenues, and allowed them to bring their project to life without compromising their vision. These are conditions that empower creators to aim high and take the creative risks needed to fuel innovation.
Backers reported more than 50% of Kickstarter projects to be innovative. An estimated 4,200 patents tied to projects have been filed. More than 10% of creators reported winning major awards for their work, including a MacArthur Genius grant, National Design Awards from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, a James Dyson Award, IDSA’s International Design Excellence Award, CES Innovation Awards, the Sikorsky Prize, Independent Games Festival Awards, Grammys, an Oscar, and many more.
Probably the best explanation for why companies decline is that they fall prey to organizational rigidities. Companies must balance exploiting profitable markets with exploring new markets. Exploiting known markets requires optimizing processes and executing effectively, and leads to reliable, near-term successes. Exploring unknown markets requires search and experimentation and offers none of the immediate benefits of exploitation. creators to aim high and take the creative risks needed to fuel innovation.
Finding the best balance between exploration and exploitation depends on the rate of change in the environment. When change comes slowly, the balance can tilt toward exploitation. When it comes quickly, an organization must dedicate more resources to exploration, since profits are quickly exhausted. In general, companies tend to lean more on exploitation, which increases efficiency and profits in the short run but makes the company rigid, a state of affairs that only grows worse with age. Similar to aging individuals, companies rely on methods and rules of thumb that worked well in the past rather than embrace novelty. Companies, too, follow an arc of skill. Michael Mauboussin quoted in the Farnam Street Blog Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing published 1/2/2013.
In his classic article, “The Capitalist’s Dilemma,” (HBR, June 2014) Clayton Christensen distinguished three kinds of innovation: Performance-improving innovations that replace old products with new and better models. Efficiency innovations that help companies make and sell mature, established products or services to the same customers at lower prices. Market-creating innovations that “transform complicated or costly products so radically that they create a new class of consumers, or a new market.” Company leadership can be focused on the short-term, tangible results that come from sustainable and efficiency innovation like cost-cutting programs or the replacement of old products and services with new ones. They also tend to be ideas that can be implemented quickly and are judged by the time to pay back the investment.
Contrast this with the results from the Bell Labs. For a long stretch of the 20th century, it was the most innovative scientific organization in the world. On any list of its inventions, the most notable is probably the transistor, invented in 1947, which is now the building block of all digital products and contemporary life. What can we learn from the Bell Labs?
The central figure in that tale is Mervin Kelly, who envisioned an “institute of creative technology,” where, thanks in part to long corridors and a mandatory open-door policy, research scientists would inevitably interact with engineers, physicists with chemists, materials scientists with mathematicians. He fostered an open, cooperative, and interdisciplinary environment. He took the long view, recognizing that the breakthroughs necessary to keep Ma Bell viable would not come from any single individual. He also never presumed to know the shape of the future, giving his researchers plenty of latitude to pursue whatever they believed might prove beneficial. And he had a broad view of what he considered beneficial, often championing pure science even when the immediate payoff wasn't obvious.
Bell Labs housed thinkers and doers under one roof. Purposefully mixed together on the transistor project were physicists, metallurgists and electrical engineers; side by side were specialists in theory, experimentation and manufacturing. Everyone would interact with one another. Some of the hallways in the building were designed to be so long that to look down their length was to see the end disappear at a vanishing point. Traveling the hall’s length without encountering a number of acquaintances, problems, diversions and ideas was almost impossible. A physicist on his way to lunch in the cafeteria was like a magnet rolling past iron filings. Bell Labs’ satellite facilities were set in the phone company’s manufacturing plants, so as to help transfer all these new ideas into things. But the exchange was supposed to go both ways, with the engineers learning from the plant workers, too. Mervin Kelly, Bell labs chairman of the board in sum trusted people to create. And he trusted them to help one another create. For more read True Innovation published in the NY Times.
Collaboration is a powerful tool for speeding up innovation, because innovation is all about ideas. If you have an idea and I have an idea, then if we’re collaborating we can develop the better idea and ignore the worse idea. But if we’re working alone, then the worse idea doesn’t get discarded, and that slows down innovation. Company organization and culture has a large influence on innovation.
Collaborative workspace at Menlo

The ingredients for Innovation

    Ideo is a global design company committed to creating positive impact. This Ideo study retrieved from Fast CoDesign presents the results of their study on how to measure innovation. Ideo found that the most important element is the organization’s ability to adapt and respond to change. In the end, Ideo identified six basic vectors that it says are instrumental to an innovative, adaptive company.

     

  • Purposefulness – a clear, inspiring reason for the company to exist.
  • Experimentation – trying out new ideas, and making evidence based decisions about how to move forward.
  • Empowerment – providing a clear path to create change in all corners of the company by reducing unnecessary constraints.
  • Looking Out – looking beyond the company's walls to understand customers, technologies and cultural shifts.
  • Collaboration – working together across business functions to approach opportunities and challenges from all angles.
  • Refinement – elegantly bridging vision and execution.
What prevents us from offering up ideas. Steven Pressfield in “Do the Work” suggests; “The enemy is Resistance. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.”

The IDEO creative difference

“The best way to encourage (or to have) new ideas isn't to fetishize the spark of genius, to retreat to a mountain cabin in order to be creative, or to blabber interminably about blue-sky, out-of-the-box thinking. Rather, it's to expand the range of your possible next moves – the perimeter of your potential – by exposing yourself to as much serendipity, as much argument and conversation, as many rival and related ideas as possible; to borrow, to repurpose, to recombine. This is one way of explaining the creativity generated by cities, by Europe's 17th-century coffee-houses, and by the internet. Good ideas happen in networks; in one rather brain-bending sense, you could even say that good ideas are networks. Or as Johnson also puts it: 'Chance favours the connected mind and that collaboration is key.'” Steven Johnson: 'Eureka moments are very, very rare' retrieved from theguardian