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
October 9, 2012
"How can we best prepare for change? My advice based on the experience that I have accumulated over the years: decide what isn’t going to change, especially in three key domains: principles, purpose and people."
The Paradox of Preparing for Change is a lovely, personal piece by Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation co-chairman, John Hagel, who goes on to outline the three questions we all need to ask ourselves as change roils around us:
What principles or values will I hold constant?
What purpose or direction will I hold constant? (or why am I here and where do I want to contribute?)
Who are the people that I’m going to take on the journey and who I am going to stay with, no matter what?
Check this out. My colleague Erik Kiaer presented recently at the Design Management Institute-organized conference, “Balancing Extremes,” held in Portland. In his presentation, entitled “Powers of Ten: Building Transformational Capital,” he ran through the history of navigation, all in the name of his broader point: that innovation requires the reframing of a problem, as well as thoughtful, systemic disciplined efforts. Video to follow shortly.
"With mobile devices, we are today where automobiles were when the Model T was the hottest thing on wheels. We will see vastly more change than most of us can possibly imagine. Through our mobile devices, we will find new advances in learning, security, community, interaction, understanding, commerce, communication, and exploration."
— The Mobile Frontier is a new book by Rachel Hinman, published by Rosenfeld Media. In it, Hinman promises to help readers navigate the fast-changing landscape of mobile design. I confess, I haven’t read the book yet, but I did read the foreword penned by my boss, Larry Keeley. It’s an inspirational paean which gives some useful context to the field as a whole. Check out the whole essay on the Doblin site.
Thoughtful piece by Timothy Egan about e-books and the threat of Amazon on the livelihood of publishers and independent book store owners, pointing out that despite the howls of “o me miserum” and fraught hand-wringing, "we have more books, more readers, a bigger audience for words, on pixels or paper.”
I’ve wondered before about those consumers who are less focused on bargain basement prices and who might want to know that a percentage of their money is going towards those actually producing the content (so I’m a writer, color me biased.) But the fear of innovation and transformation from those who wish things could just stay as they used to be is potent, dangerous and, ultimately, irrelevant. It’s useful to remind ourselves that markets shift, worlds change, whether we like it or not. Or, as Egan puts it:
Publishers need to reinvent their own future. They could offer packages. They could partner more with communities of interest, from environmentalists to religious conservatives. And, most important, they could start believing in tomorrow, instead of being afraid of it.
"Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car."
Great story on how General Motors is attempting to face up to the shifting tastes of car buyers who, it turns out, aren’t really interested in owning a car at all. In As Young Lose Interest In Cars, GM Turns To MTV For Help, writer Amy Chozick details a survey of 3,000 consumers born from 1981 to 2000 that asked which of 31 brands they preferred. Not one car brand ranked in the top 10. So GM has hired MTV’s brand consultancy, Scratch to help them wise up. But note: transformation doesn’t happen just by jazzing up a part of company HQ with a few beanbags. As Chozick details, the car industry moves like molasses, and the culture is deeply entrenched. If dealers don’t deeply understand the needs of the demographic, and instead simply try to fist bump their potential customers, they’ll raise eyebrows and laughs, not sales.
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
The Problem With “Innovation” is a great, great post by Bryce Roberts in which he cites the above quote from Buckminster Fuller and points out that what looks silly, superficial, inconsequential and downright distracting when they’re first proposed can “suddenly” have fundamental consequences for society as a whole. Or, as he puts it:
New models create new markets, but they’re often misunderstood at the outset. Stupid checkins reshape how we explore and experience the real world. Prepaying for tick tock watches reshapes financial markets. Silly status updates spark revolutions. And grainy glitchy video calls cut into the commercial air travel.
"The biggest resistance was an investment in the way things are done today. But I don’t think it’s going to be difficult going forward to dye textiles using zero water."
Eric Sprunk is the vice president of Merchandising and Product at Nike, and I was really taken with this comment, in a piece looking at the sportswear giant’s recent announcement of a bid to remove water from its apparel dying process. Color It Green: Nike To Adopt Waterless Textile Dying details a new partnership between Nike and the Dutch company, DyeCoo Textile Systems, and is clearly a huge deal for environmentalists. Water is already a focal point in our collective fight for survival, and any initiative that can either remove its use upstream (as it were) in the product development cycle, or prevent rampant pollution of it downstream is significant. As this article notes, up to 150 liters of water are needed to process just one kilogram of textile materials; 39 million tons of polyester will be dyed annually by 2015. That’s an awful lot of water, and the pollution levels in China are already horrible: this piece refers to the “countless billions of gallons of polluted discharges into waterways near manufacturing plants in Asia.”
But look at the quote again. The open admission of the internal resistance to change is really interesting, and an excellent reminder that innovation is never easy, even within those companies such as Nike that are constantly lauded for their innovation prowess. It’s important to remember that every single executive in every single firm meets the same forces, the ones that deliberately—and for the most rational reasons possible—attempt to prevent change. Acknowledging and dealing with these forces consciously and deliberately is the only way to have an impact—both within an organization, and in the world at large.
"Changes need to be system wide, and that is where governments will really matter. Given that governments have concentrated on getting elected by creating fear, shifting to showing vision will be an enormous challenge. But in the end, investing in the post-industrial world is the only way to go."
Innovate or Die is a worthwhile read by Yves Smith on the mess we’re in, the reason that government needs to step up to fix things—and why it won’t. He writes:
The problem is about a lack of creating the new, something governments have little or no influence over. About four fifths of so called “new products” are refinements of old products… Yes, there is growth in areas like health care, but that hardly parallels the invention of the car, or fridges or any of the other big changes of the first half of the twentieth century. Most things that are new are just refinements – a mobile phone is just a phone made mobile, a microwave oven is just a quicker oven — or an enablement of something old: the digital revolution is mostly an enabler of existing, non digital forms of commerce or functions.
It’s not all doom and gloom, Smith assures, but it will take strong leaders to step up and take bold risks on attaining some far-off vision. No word on who these leaders might be, but let’s hope they’re poised and ready.
Xerox PARC alum, John Seely Brown, teeters on the edge of sounding somewhat curmudgeonly towards the end of this video, when he bemoans the idea that technology keeps us “above the situation as opposed to in the situation.” Mainly because this rather contradicts his earlier description of the magical world of learning that modern technology can provide. Then again, it’s perfectly reasonable to sound a note of caution amid the techno-optimism. And Seely Brown’s point that in retaining a sense of curiosity, we can see change as an opportunity to learn, not a reason to panic, is well taken.
British economist Tim Harford has a new book out: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. In this short, nicely designed promotional video, he talks about three things you need to know about learning from failure. Along with a look at Google (though honestly, all writers everywhere need to pinky swear they’ll stop talking about Google’s 20% time), he also analyzes the failure in the Iraq War and explains how Twyla Tharp was able to transform the potential disaster of the musical Movin’ Out into a Tony Award-winning success.