Sunday, June 15, 2014

Creativity crisis?

In this month's HBR, Richard Florida makes his case for "America's Looming Creativity Crisis". (His article also provides a nice basis for a follow-up book to The Rise of the Creative Class.)

It's great to see Florida bringing more attention to those who create new ideas. However, he skirts some hard questions:

  • Who is part of the Creative Class really?

    Florida uses professions most of the time -- the obvious clumping of scientists, artists, professors, etc. In this article, Florida is undecided about where technicians fit in, but these individuals do help him expand his data set. Additional confusion stems from the belief that the creative ones follow lifestyle more than career (which fits my observations), but then this raises the question about the accuracy of Florida's categories that are based on standard career choices.

  • What is the overlap between the Creative Class and foreigners?

    Florida states that 30% of the US workforce (38 million) constitute the Creative Class, and 11% of the US population is foreign-born (30 million). He also cites Saxenian's data that measures foreign nationality in Silicon Valley, which makes a convincing case for foreign talent. I wonder how Florida gauges the creative potential of foreigners; are immigrants more likely to be creators? As an interesting example, when I completed my study of startups in Switzerland, the numbers showed that nearly 1/3 were created by foreigners.

  • What if creators don't use location to define themselves?

    Florida defines creative brain drain (or gain) in terms of location -- for example, Ireland and Belgium have the greatest percentage of creative workers (in terms of overall workforce) than other cities. I suspect that the leading Creative Class members create their own spaces anywhere -- like Florida, who just moved from Pittsburgh, Penn., to Fairfax, VA (both rated low on his Creative Class Index). In addition, nearly all of the individuals Florida mentions could have created new ideas anywhere in the world, and the US just happened to provide the best opportunity. The better question may be to understand how countries can support mobile creators, who move themselves (and their ideas) freely, versus identifying the biggest "creative" cities. For instance, which country owns Tyler Brule? He works in London, lives in Zurich, summers in Scandinavian, and owns a Canadian passport.
Overall, Florida raises some provocative questions about how we support those who create new ideas. Might this lead to a resurgence in Gifted and Talented programs in the U.S.?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

New ideas for America

It is said too often than only a new idea can displace an idea that is already strongly held. And new ideas come from creative thinking, from the imagination.

So imagine my surprise tonight as I read a "dated" book on ideas, Applied Imagination... by Alex Osborn.

I was re-reading the book to help me think through how our clients can better use the Imagination! Network when I stumbled upon something wholly unexpected.

Very near the beginning of the book Osborn talks about how America needs new ideas in "International Salesmanship" and "International Statesmanship" to "cut our international knot." He contends that American ingenuity has been badly applied to the fight for peace (as opposed to vast amounts of ingenuity applied to actual fighting).

He then recounts, very briefly, bottom-up ideas such as the Frienship Train, the Miracle of Dunkirk, and the Italian letter clubs. And he takes the U.S. government to task for failing to respond to such compelling "ideas of our enemies" as Tractors-for-Prisoners and the public challenge we received to "initiate some concrete ideas to blunt the threat of war."

Which led me to ask, "where are the creative ideas to address the current global crises that the U.S. faces?"

Where are the bottom-up ideas that will help people in the middle east to learn about the U.S., both good and bad? Who has a good idea for a way to help the U.N. become an organization that more Americans can respect and support? Who has an idea for a movement that will help the world respond to the seemingly never-ending Darfurs?

I must believe that the huge amount of passion about America being expended in cafes, bars, universities, newspapers, and blogs is somehow being mis-spent.

Why is American ingenuity being applied so strongly to domestic arguing, lies, delusions, and pure animosity when it could be put to such more enjoyable uses?

∗ ∗ ∗
ps - Since most readers may fail to recognize the ideas which Osborn describes, let me point out that this book was written in 1953 and my revision dates from 1963. Each of these ideas was put in place to blunt the fallout from the second world war. For example, the Italian-American letter-writing campaign was aimed at a 1948 election in Italy, wherein recent immigrants to the U.S. described what life was really like to their relatives and friends in the old country in an attempt to counter the lies being spread by the Soviet Union and the Italian Communist Party. While tractors-for-prisoners was a Castro program and the challenge to the U.S. was thrown by Kruschev.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Radiologic Procedures, Ultrasound and Modern Medicine

 There are many technologies that have revolutionized the field of diagnostic medicine.  Two that I would like to go over briefly are radiography, commonly know as x-rays, and ultrasound.  Both of these procedures have changed the face of health care as we know it. 

For the past hundred years radiography has played a major role in diagnostic medicine.  The use of x-rays allowed doctors to have a clear view of the skeletal system making it possible to give precise descriptions of broken or fractured bones. The site amazonblu has some good resource articles about the subject.

Anyone who has ever been to a doctor or dentist has most likely had an x ray.  There are in fact dangers involved with the procedure.  Too much exposure to the x rays can cause harm to biological entities.  It is common for the x-ray technician performing the test to operate the equipment from another room for their own safety.  Often times a heavy lead vest is place on the patient to protect other areas from exposure. 

Radiologist use the developed pictures to diagnose a variety of conditions.  Often times the radiology tech will give a preliminary diagnosis before the main doctor exams the film.

Another common diagnostic procedure performed in modern medicine is the ultra sound.  Ultrasound also known as sonogram works by broadcasting sound vibration into the patients body.  The machine records the sound waves as they bounce of of the internal structures, thus creating an image.  The principle is the same as modern sonar.

Ultrasounds are used to diagnose a great variety of conditions, though most are familiar with the procedure for looking at a baby inside of a pregnant mothers womb.  Ultrasounds are also used to look at internal organs in order to diagnose medical conditions.

The results of the ultrasound must be interpreted by a technician or doctor, the same as an x ray.  There is really no risk involved with an ultrasound.  Patients are only exposed to sound waves the post no rick to the patients overall health.

Adopting the napkin metaphor, and failing

Tamara found a book full of napkin sketches at the National Building Museum in DC a few months ago, Dinner for Architects: A Collection of Napkin Sketches by Winfried Nerdinger, Ingrid Li, and Philip K. Howard. The book has an interesting premise, that of the napkin sketch as a early capture device for architects.
    The sketches themselves range from quick scribbles to more elaborate works of art; they are striking enough to carry the book on their own, with the wattage of the collective reputations behind them.
The book doesn't really satisfy the implicit promise -- that the napkin drawings are actually early idea sketches and offer insight into an achitect's design / mind at an early / informal point. These napkins simply don't seem spontaneous or driven by much passion.

They are more akin to a staged napkin sketch, such as I stumbled upon in The New Everyday View on Ambient Intelligence (by Stefano Marzano & Emile Aarts from the Philips Design group in the Netherlands). This book is full of ideas that Philips Design worked on, one of which shows a gentleman writing a little love note on a napkin (a overly pristine napkin) which transmitted (magically, or so it seems) to a remote display device that projects said love note on the ceiling of a bedroom, hopefully his sweeties' room. The image is contrived and artificial (the idea itself isn't bad, but the presentation kills it).

Both books are predicated on the culturally grounded idea that napkins have something to do with ideas (the architecture book), spontaineity / informality (short love notes written is haste), and communication.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Napkins & Ideas (Part 1)

This week the New Scientist (18 Sept 2004) published two article which make reference to napking. In a description of Burt Rutan's work on Space Ship One, Greg Klerkz writes in Beyond the X Prize:
    You get the sense the clock in his mind is always ticking, the hours and days barely able to contain a seemingly endless gallery of ideas and projects, some of which have yet to be sketched onto the famous numbered napkins on which all Rutan projects are born (SS1 was napkin number 316).
While in Masters of the deep by Caire Ainsworth, James Cameron explains his work in the creating a new deep sea exploration vehicle with a team of other explorers,:
    We started thinking what would a vehicle be like that could explore the inside of a shipwreck? What would it need? ... After a few months of doing a log of napking drawings, w came up with the idea of a firbre-spooling vehicle that has its on on-board batteries. It was very, very tiny, and there was probably four of five brand-new ideas in the design of the vehicle. Three years and $ million later, we had two of these guys build and we were ready to go to the Titanic to film Ghosts of the Abyss.
Even a corporate giant pays homage to the napkin.

While in the last year Yahoo! inserted the napkin into its innovation process as seen below.
Yahoo! napkin

The lead-colored "What's possible?" is part of the napkin. This napkin was one of a million that I saw scattered around the Yahoo! cafeteria in Sunnyvale and on placards throughout the office spaces. While I don't know who came up with this internal campaign or the outcome, it certainly plays on the concept of napkins as idea enabler.

&lowast &lowast &lowast

In reading these articles (I have a shoe box full) one can't help but realize that the lowely napkin plays a seminal role in the creation of new innovation ideas.

But what is the role?

Simply, innovation ideas often emerge from little more than scribbles on a napkin as the stories tell you. But the napkin is simply a well-understood metaphor for a form of serendipitous collaboration wherein two or more people begin exploring a new thought and which, in the best of circumstances (framed napkins if you believe the Amazon story) results in an entirely novel idea.

Napkins help the shared idea to become more real to the creators -- as a capture device, as a shared space, as an artifact -- allowing them to further advance the dialogue and idea.

So what might this process of napkin-ing, or, shall we say, napkining entail?