Recent shifts in technology have fundamentally changed the way we live. Consumer technology is now so pervasive that much more than communication that has been effected by it. It has changed our perceptions and what we think is possible. It has had important cultural and physical implications on consumer culture. New ideas change our physical surrounds and reality. It enables the re-birth of activities that got lost in the industrialised, world. A couple of simple examples include lomography, growing vegetables and slow food.
But all this technology has clouded our vision too. It has created some perceptions which aren’t based in reality. It has made us cluster around specific technologies, to the point that they become the archetypal definition of innovation. The place that innovation must revolve around. The app, geolocating or other technology de jour.
The truth about innovation is that it is not about tech wizardry – it never has been. Innovation is about finding solutions. And solutions don’t necessarily involve, technology or even products. It might be a simple new way of doing something.
Innovation is really about good thinking being put into practice.
It doesn’t have to be leading edge, driven by industry or assisted by technology. It can be simple and human. And sometimes the best innovations come from ideas that got lost along the way. The re-invention or a reminder of a certain way to do things. Maybe it’s devolution? Or maybe it isn’t the ‘thing’ or ‘product’ itself that the innovation comes from, maybe it’s the things around it or the people using it. What we want to hear from people is “That’s a good idea”, rather than “Gee, I wonder how they did that?”
Innovation is all about what it provides to the end user. The truth about innovation is that it lies in the process that gets us to a better result, something that makes us happier for whatever reason.
At the end of 2011 I sat down diligently to plan my goals for the coming year. I had a list of around 10. Some of which were big, and some small but important. We are now more than half way through 2012 and I am ashamed to admit that I have only completed 1 of these tasks.
While I have done some things which were not on the list. I sent a Lego Space Shuttle into Space and got global news coverage, and started the Super Awesome Micro Project which is a new crowd funded world first project that raised $20k via twitter alone… I’m pretty down that I have achieved so little this year. The ironic thing is the only thing on the list that I have actually completed was fixing my Galaga Arcade machine as seen below….
Maybe the lesson from the only thing I have done in 2012 is this – start having more fun?
I’m starting to believe that the ultimate requirement for innovation is ignoring barriers. Not inventing rules that are not there. The second part of this thought is that we are trained over time to ‘assume the rule’ – when in actuality there is no rule.
I’ve been watching my daughter recently do little the things that I’m sure all kids do.
I play a game with my daughter where I show her how to stand on one leg. I don’t tell her what to do, I just stand on one leg…. and of course she wants to do it too because it looks like fun. And she copies me immediately. But because she has only recently learned to walk, she can’t quite manage it the way I do. So she without hesitation runs to the nearest wall, puts one hand against it to gain balance, and successfully stands on one leg. At this point she is very pleased with herself that she has managed to do it. Big smile ensues as she looks to me for approval…
And here’s the kicker… I am pleased with her too. But not in a kid like condescending way. I am seriously happy with her approach. And here’s why:
At no point was any rule given that you can’t lean against the wall. She hacked the system and got it done. I clap her and encourage her. In this instance it’s all about the objective, not the method. And the one thing I will never do is start to reduce her mind with rules that just aren’t there.
What we should do with our startup is innovate like kids do. Ignore how the bigger, more resource laden and older incumbents do things, and just hack for a result.
Taylorism defined our world for the best part of the past 100 years. Even in marketing realms. During the mass media era, we could use tested methods to go to market with predictable success – so long as we had access to the right resources.
Rapid change and fragmentation is the new normal. While we are half way through planning, someone else will arrive and do it different, cheaper, better and in a way we never quite expected. Both in terms of what they build and how they spread the word.
Our mindset when it comes to startups and business (isn’t everyone in business a startup now?) should be fluid and philosophical. It’s time to drop the template and best practice six sigma bull crap.
It is very hard for a best practice to exist when something has never been done before.
In the early years we had ‘customers’.
Then we invented demographics and started using that horrible word ‘consumers’.
We went on line and started talking about ‘users’. (Sound like drug addicts to me)
I rather prefer the word people….
But if we do really well we might even develop some fans. And fans are what we should be aiming for. This doco below on fan culture looks interesting. I’d be keen to know if anyone has seen it. I even hear Sean the Sports Geek might even be in it…
And before you watch this trailer it’s worth having think about the things, people, ideas and brands that you are a fan of and why. There are some nice clues in this thought experiment.
Secrets kills us. They eat at our souls and disrupt our emotions in a negative way. We very rarely feel good about secrets because by nature we are social creatures that rely and need each other to survive. Collaboration is what put us atop of the food chain and that means we must share. I’m certain the feeling we often get when we hold secrets is our genetic code telling us that secrets are not cool and generally don’t lead to ideal outcomes.
So it got me thinking about the nature of secrets and the different types of them.
There are many types of secrets, but these 2 are interesting:
- Secrets that hide things we have done for fear of judgement or persecution.
- Secrets that hide things which are ideas we want to benefit from at the exclusion of others.
These are 2 types of secrets we should avoid.
The first one should be avoided because we shouldn’t do anything dodgy, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of anything that is out of our control.
The second is counter intuitive. Our emotional need to share secrets is our DNA telling us it will create more for everyone. A shared idea can often be improved, a shared idea creates a team to build it, a shared idea increases access to resources, a shared idea creates a market place and a bigger pie for all. Stealing ideas is not the same as stealing chestnuts. If we exchange ideas, we both end up with more ideas than we started with.
Startup blog maths:
Sharing > Secrets
We are trained to look for and focus on everything that is new. What technologies are emerging and how are we using them? What we are not so good at doing, is observing the things which are only noticeable by their increasing absence.
Very often it’s the most important trend because it is less product oriented and more human oriented. Which means that well before we know who or what the new winner is, we will know who or what is no longer fulfilling our needs and is being made obsolete. In a rapidly changing world of near disposable technology the list of dying technologies is already long and growing. Life cycles are in decline and it’s sometimes hard to see a future for even relatively new technologies.
- The remote control (being usurped by smart phones & gesturing),
- Local hard drives (being usurped by the cloud),
- iPod (being usurped by it’s big brother the smart phone),
Then there’s the changing retail landscape. Closing down signs will be the new normal for department & clothing stores. In fact, any product that is sold at a price and is available on-line, cannot and will not be for sale in bricks and mortar retail soon. They simply do not have a cost infrastructure that will allow them to exist. Add to this our changing eating habits (instant coffee anyone?) and the impending transport revolution (when we work from home 4/5 days a week owning a car may become an historical relic) and the changes we are facing are more far reaching than we currently think.
As Marc Andreessen said, software is eating everything… and a great way to see this in action is to drive around well healed suburbs and see what is out for hard rubbish collection these days. A cacophony of previous hardware and technology darlings, not limited to Plasma TV’s, DVD players, laptops, iPods – you name it.
It’s not just about technology, it’s all about human movement, the new solutions we seek and our dissatisfaction with the solutions of today. Good entrepreneurs know what’s hot and what’s next. Great entrepreneurs notice what is evaporating before the replacement emerges for all to see.
There are many business models that are under attack. The landscape is changing and their future is dim. If we face this reality, the most important thing we can do is not pretend it is just a phase.
And if we are the disruptor, then we must continue even if the movement is slower than we expect.
I think Winston Churchill said it best with this quote:
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame has to be one of the sharpest startup minds on this humble planet. His essays on the topics of business, culture and startups are nothing short of genius. I was catchup up on his work recently I found his essay on Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas simply gripping.
If you haven’t happened upon his writings yet, I suggest you log out some time to do it. You’ll be so inspired you might just start to get amped up and take some serious action. They are another reminder of how lucky we are in this day and age to have free and omnipresent access to the worlds greatest thinkers who share their philosophy and ideas for free.