Stories, moments, people and ideas of interest from within the worlds of innovation and design, spotted and written about by Helen Walters, design writer, editor, and ideas editor at TED. Attitude, errors and opinions obviously all the writer's own.
Ask me anything
November 6, 2012
"Most organizations are afraid to show unfinished work. But the real fear should come from making policies and spending money on programs that have been developed in a vacuum with no user feedback. That’s why prototyping speeds innovation, leads to better solutions, and saves money."
As Americans head to the polls on Election Day, Parade runs Attention, Mr. President: No Politics, Just Our Solutions, a piece featuring ideas for the next President from a host of smarties, including the former U.S. comptroller general David M. Walker discussing the fiscal cliff, Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone on education— and Sarah Stein Greenberg, managing director at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (and a Monitor alum) describing some tools for Fostering Innovation. Whoever wins today (and god knows I have my preference), these are smart ideas to heed. I love this, from Sarah:
Each federal agency that reports to the President should pick one thorny problem to tackle. Each week they try a solution and by Friday they owe the President a report on the results: What failed, what was learned, and what’s next.
This should not seem like a crazily impractical idea. This is how innovation actually works. Come on, Mr President. Make it so.
"Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too. We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody - from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business."
Come on. Whatever your politics, you have to admit that President Obama jumping into an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit was pretty cool. The President hung out for half an hour, answering questions from how he feels about Internet freedom (above) to his intentions for space exploration (it’s a priority, apparently.) Ok, so it wasn’t exactly front page stuff, but at least Obama has *heard of* Reddit. I confess too that I rather cruelly enjoyed the Redditors correcting the President’s grammar (to his ‘a asteroid’ s0crates82 quickly corrected him, “*an* asteroid, Mr President.” And some of the Twitterati commentary was equally sharp and insightful. A few favorites:
David Steven: Recommended to a British politician he do a reddit AMA a few years back. He looked as if I’d suggested he crapped live on breakfast TV.
Tim Maly: President makes new media appearance is a story. “We have seen your subculture and recognise it” is a core narrative.
Graham Linehan: Such a brilliant move by Obama and his people. Aligning himself with Reddit while the GOP travels further and further back in time.
Umair Haque: Forgive me for suggesting it, but internet chat is not a substitute for a working civil society, much less a democracy.
"Politicians see the world as blocs of voters living in specific geographies — and they see their job as maximizing the economic benefits for the voters in their geography. Many C.E.O.’s, though, increasingly see the world as a place where their products can be made anywhere through global supply chains (often assembled with nonunion-protected labor) and sold everywhere."
— In a New York Times op ed, Made In The World, Thomas Friedman discusses the gap between the way lawmakers think and the way chief executives approach their business. The issue: while politicians are focusing on one nation, executives are competing in a world where outsourcing is an antiquated idea and where “every product and many services now are imagined, designed, marketed and built through global supply chains that seek to access the best quality talent at the lowest cost, wherever it exists.” Friedman recounts the tale of President Obama asking Steve Jobs about all those workers overseas. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” said the late Apple CEO, bluntly. But, argues Friedman, the United States could learn how to compete effectively, if it could just focus and get its act together. The list of things it needs to change/master is daunting, but really not optional if the nation is to thrive.
Say what you will about Coldplay’s music, but the band is pretty committed to the art of the promo. This one, for the song Paradise, was directed by British collective, Shynola, probably better known for animation but here proving they’re dab hands at shooting live action, too. I can’t get the story from this video out of my head: a reminder that all of us were innocent young things at one time in our lives, and a reminder for the politicians that we all reap what they sow. A society that ignores and fails its needy, its poor, its weak, will pay the consequences when those same folks grow up. Then the video turns into a sweet love story and I realize it’s possible I’m over-thinking, again.
Fortune writer, Adam Lashinsky has a new book on Apple coming up in a week or so, and reviews are beginning to appear. I’m looking forward to reading the book (I am already convinced it’ll be a million times better than Walter Isaacson’s disappointingly overblown biography of Steve Jobs), and I enjoyed Bob Sutton’s take on what struck him. Notably, Lashinsky’s close analysis of the organizational structure within the famed technology company, including its ability to keep teams small and focused. Sutton writes:
The tendency to make teams ever bigger is an awful disease, not so much because it costs more money, but because, as Harvard’s J.Richard Hackman has shown, it slows teams and undermines their performance as members end-up spending more time dealing with coordination issues and coalitional battles and less time doing the work at hand. Apple gets the importance of small teams at all levels (e.g., Adam reports that a 2 person team “wrote the code for converting Apple’s Safari browser for the iPad, a massive undertaking”). They also have an unusually small board of directors — seven members — for a company of that size.
Sutton then continues to explain why this is particularly significant:
This extension of the elegance philosophy beyond their products has huge advantages as the “signal to noise” ratio appears to be quite impressive at all levels and in all functions — people tend to get good information, the information they need (and no more), and aren’t confused or distracted by other things. At senior levels, this means they get the information they need and it means that, although there is discussion and debate at times, when a decision is made, there is less of the usual arguing or undermining. And if there are failures in implementing, you will be forgiven if senior executives believe you acted intelligently enough and hard enough, but you will be shown the door very quickly if they believe you were dumb or lazy.
Good review and a good-looking book. (If you’re pushed for time, do read Lashinsky’s earlier Fortune piece on a similar theme, How Apple Works: Inside The World’s Biggest Startup—another beautifully written and eye-opening look into reality in Cupertino.)
"We’ve witnessed Masters of the Universe in business and politics who have exercised more creativity in evading the law, amassing power, and harming their fellow human beings than in conceiving of solutions to make this world a better place. And millions of people have lost their homes, their jobs, and their hope. MBAs like us have been keenly sensitive to the crisis because we’ve born [sic] at least some share of the blame. But as we graduate tomorrow, the primary question for our class—for our generation—is not “What happened?” but “Where do we go from here?”"
It’s easy to pillory the so-called 1%, and Harvard Business School graduates might seem to fit the bill perfectly. But in Stories of MBAs Who Don’t Want To Be In The 1%, John Coleman, Harvard Business School, class of 2010, lays out the reality of life as a business school grad and gives cheer to those of us who hope that our brightest minds aren’t actually all committed to the downfall of the known universe.
Really strange interview style in this video from Foreign Policy (did the interviewer really need to be in the video too?) but futurist Peter Schwartz, founder of the Global Business Network (a member of Monitor Group, for which I also work) is always good value. Here he talks about his three main concerns for the future: that the world is out of control; that abrupt climate change is not being addressed aggressively enough and that cyber-conflict is only going to get more aggressive.