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?

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