Month: June 2012

Why is Desktop Manufacturing Important for the Osmotic Innovator?

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MakerBot 3D Printer (source: Hack N Mod)

In recent months there have been increasing mentions of the concept of “desktop manufacturing” in both technical and lay press. “Desktop manufacturing” refers to the use of 3D Printing technologies to generate products using designs developed on or delivered to a user’s computer. This revolution has been coming for some time; with Fast Company stating that “the end of the  current production- manufacturing economic model may be on the horizon” back in 2009. In a keynote at the FEI 2012 conference Chris Anderson of Wired magazine spoke on the new business models that these technologies are enabling –enthralling the audience with stories of successful application of the technology. Anderson went so far as to say we are only at the dot-matrix stage of this technology, with massive growth and development poised to occur.

Indeed, increasingly advanced 3D printers and the computer-aided design (CAD) programs that support them are being made available at lower and lower prices to small companies that rent time and capacity to other companies and to individual consumers with the interest.

But why should this topic be important to the Osmotic Innovator?

–         Rapid Prototyping: the ability to quickly turn-around prototype products should not be underestimated. Only 10 years ago prototypes were used sparingly due to cost and time to manufacture, limiting consumer interactions with test concept designs to 2D images and descriptions. Even today many large companies have their own 3D printing capacity to churn out test designs quickly. The 3D printers of tomorrow may be simple enough to allow product developers with no design experience to create and modify innovative new solutions early in the process. It appears inevitable that the 3D printers of tomorrow will be capable of handling multiple materials to create complex mechanical objects. Making efficient use of these systems has the potential to transform the product development process even further.

–         Do-It-Yourself Mentality: the students of today (as well as many of the tinkerers) are beginning to see this technology as a normal part of doing business. Whereas teams that want to have the capability to model and create products on the fly currently need to staff individuals with design competency and engineering backgrounds the skills needed to use these tools are increasingly part of a basic technical education. Workshops that allow creative people to access these tools in their free time are also democratizing the product development process, making it possible that competition (or opportunity) for your company is going to come from unanticipated sources in the future. Your best customers might become your worst competition as they are able to harness this technology to make their own product improvements. Having a strategy to harness this technology and those with the skills appropriately will part of doing business in the future.

–         Future Technologies / Business Models: just as desktop publishing transformed the creation and distribution of printed content innovators should be ready for desktop manufacturing to have a similar impact on the creation, manufacturing, and distribution of new products. How your company will respond to, or position itself within these changes will go far to determining its future.

Regardless of your experiences with desktop manufacturing in the past, it is clear it is a concept that is poised to transform a multitude of industries. As an Osmotic Innovator there are a number of opportunities that can be leveraged to boost your teams’ effectiveness. Are you ready to seize the chance before your competitors do?

Osmotic Innovation is About the Office

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Action Office image from

Break Out of the Cube

CNN has an in-depth look at what drives (and limits) creativity in an office design, tracking through a who’s who of innovation to tell the story. If you’ve never heard of the Action Office its well-worth the time to find out how things went so wrong.

Eight Ways Goofing Off Can Make You More Productive

Have you taken a break today? Forbes describes how mundane activities like talking with a coworker, going for a walk, or even brushing your teeth can give you a fresh perspective and help you work more efficiently.

How Innovation Works: Travel Edition

Not only are these innovations that will change the way you travel from Big Think interesting, it’s a great example of the myriad ways innovation can take form; including radical (maglev trains), disruptive (bike share), incremental (electric cars), and process (air traffic control).

The Day After Tomorrow

The New York Times recently compiled a list of new and unique innovations that will “change your tomorrow”. Take a look and see what they are

Innovative or Not? Reality TV

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Every so often we take a look at a new or iconic product to evaluate the innovation (or lack thereof) behind it. One of us will argue for good, one for bad, and the third will make a final judgement.

Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.

This week Reality Television comes under our microscope:

Innovative: Turn on your TV to a random channel any night and you’re likely to be watching reality television – a format that allows the viewer to watch real people go about their daily lives, overcome challenges, and showcase talents. Because reality television has been around since the 1940’s in various formats it would be easy to assume that shows like Around the World in 80 Plates or The Real World are the television equivalent of a new flavours of ice cream, just new riffs on an old idea. That thinking would be to miss the point entirely. The magic of successful reality television is that it is culturally relevant and utterly unpredictable.

Most entertainment, be it a drama, comedy, or thriller, has a set of conventions that the viewer can expect to see play out. Reality television tosses these conventions out. Shows like What Would You Do continue to thrill viewers because they offer raw and real emotion and behaviour through an ever changing lens. It is a format that by nature requires endless innovation. Producers constantly reframe what reality television is: who are the stars, what are the situations, what is the story. They must innovate to find new insights that connect deeply with the viewing audience. In an ever changing world this is no easy feat. Reality television is innovative because it is an ever evolving mirror of our culture and our norms with real people as the stars, allowing each frame to connect deeply with us as viewers.

Not: Reality TV is not innovative in any way.  Reality TV is simply society’s latest version of a very common and human activity, voyeurism. If we can agree that voyeurism existed before television (it did) then the argument for the affirmative has to be that putting it on TV is somehow innovative.

Reality TV; real people doing real things while the rest of us watch.  How new is this idea?  Can you remember Candid Camera?  Maybe not the original but it was the granddaddy of reality TV back in 1947.  Oh how our grandparents laughed at the confused faces of real people in real (albeit staged) situations (hum Big Brother theme tune here).  At least they would have if they had a TV,  which they didn’t,  because back in 1947 total television production was only 178,000 units.1

In 1947 the majority of Americans were actually listening to Candid Microphone2 on their radio set (yes, you heard me) and only wishing they had access to a TV. So here is the thing, reality shows were part of the original programming as television became popular in the 20th century and they built off the success of reality radio that had enjoyed many decades of success before that.  While reality shows currently seem to be ubiquitous they are no more an invention of the television age than sports, news reporting or game shows. Reality TV is today enjoying its moment in the sun but we cannot confuse popularity with innovation.

Judgement: Innovative! Although reality TV has been around for some time, it is the way in which it is currently delivered that differentiates it from its predecessors. Candid Camera was simply people doing staged stunts with a camera hidden somewhere. If you think about it, there was still some sort of script that was followed by the people who were “in” on the joke. A scene was set and actors were sometimes still needed to ensure events happen to trigger the response. However, in todays format, we have the camera simply follow people around while we sit back and watch the resulting social and emotional interactions develop (or fall apart). Another aspect of reality TV is the judging shows like Americas Got Talent and American Idol. Here we get to watch people place themselves completely out there and they either make complete fools of themselves, or we get new stars (think Susan Boyle and Kelly Clarkson). In both examples, no actors or script is followed and it is a complete deviation from hat was done since the beginning of TV. Therefore for that reason, I judge reality TV to be innovative.


2.  Beth Rowan.


The Amen Break & Musical Innovation

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Take a listen to the clip below.

Whether you recognize it or not, you have heard it before. The six-second long break beat, known as the “Amen Break,” is claimed to be one of the most sampled loops in music history. It has appeared in such diverse settings as Oasis’ D’You Know What I Mean, car commercials, and the NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. Some claim its inherent popularity is due to the loop’s waveform aligning with the mathematical Golden Ratio. Regardless of why it is so ubiquitous, the history behind it is a valuable lesson for the innovator.

The Amen Break originally appeared in the song Amen Brother by the Winstons in 1969. The track itself was the B-side to their single Color Me Father, recorded more out of necessity than anything else.  Though the Winstons won a Grammy for Color Me Father, the band had already split up and the record faded from the public eye. It wasn’t until almost twenty years later, with the advent of the sampler and hip-hop, that the Amen Break rose to prominence. The sampler allowed producers to record and loop music to provide backing for a rapper’s performance.  Amen Brother appeared on a compilation album of break beats for easy sampling, and took off from there.

However, while the Amen Break was used considerably in early hip-hop, its influence was even larger in the UK. Producers began to experiment with the break sample; rather than simply looping it, they chopped and layered it to create an entirely new sound. The genres of jungle and drum-and-bass were essentially born of this manipulation, with producers participating in an “arms race” [1] of sorts to see who could do the most with the sample. Sometimes they pushed the envelope too far and made tracks that were impossible to dance to. Though the popularity of these genres waned, the Amen Break continued to live on in countless productions, and has become such an integral part of the modern audio landscape that it’s often taken for granted.

So what can we learn from the Amen Break? I’d say the first thing is never to throw out something just because it isn’t immediately useful. Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective, or new technology, to truly make the most of an idea. Hip-hop artists looking through old funk tracks rediscovered it, and along with the sampler, utilized it to meet their needs. Furthermore, innovation isn’t necessarily coming up with new ideas, but adapting existing ones. Using the same building blocks, producers were able to create completely different tracks. Though there is an entire debate over copyright law pertaining to this sample (that I won’t get into here), the fact is that sampling created entire genres of music through a mere six second loop. And if that’s possible, think of what you can do with even more time and resources.


Does Mathematics Enhance Creativity? (Part II)

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In the first post in this series, I explored how despite the common tendency to categorize mathematics as a subject concerned with rules and complexity, it can actually provide ways to lead one to think creatively. Instead of getting lost in the specific complexity of Calculus and Differential Equations, we took a step laterally and showed how these areas manifest themselves in the creative beauty around us.

In this second part, I would like to introduce another area of study within mathematics that is commonly viewed with dread when one decides to either major or minor in the subject – mathematical logic and proofs.  Many (if not all) math textbooks contain a section proving how and why different theorems work. Although ignored by many students due to their high complexity, they are the reason why the theorems work and are rather important to the field of study. So why does a course in something like mathematical logic help enhance creativity? Put simply, it forces you to think differently. In mathematics, the goal is to find truth and proofs are the explanation we use to convince ourselves and others. I am not going to now go into any further discussion on how to write mathematical proofs, but instead focus on some of the simplistic components. In writing a proof, you have a few options:

  1. Simply find an example of something that works
  2. Contrapositive – which simply means negating both sides of the statement
  3. Induction – try using a low number and then if it works, prove that it will work for when that number is increased by 1
  4. Contradiction

There are many other ways, but I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. So knowing this, you may now wonder how it could be applied in your next innovation session. As a starting point, it is important to note that each of these techniques enhances reasoning and enables you think creatively by forcing you to look logically and break things down, analyze them, and build them back up. Therefore, you may want to try a few of the following:

  1. Break the challenge statement down into its components
  2. Ask questions assuming the opposite situation is occurring
  3. Use contradiction – find examples of things that didn’t work and ask why. Then add something incremental to it (e.g. a motor, magnet, sensors, etc) and ask if that works
  4. Examine a new product idea that really resonates with consumers. Ask why as many times as possible to get to the core as to its success
  5. Take something from a completely different industry and try to apply it to your challenge

Lastly, allow me to provide you one more example of a problem found in the book Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics that is solved using techniques from Mathematical proofs

Three prisoners have been sentenced to long terms in prison, but due to overcrowding, one must be released. The warden devises a scheme to determine which prisoner is to be released. He tells the prisoners that he will blindfold them and paint a red or blue line on each forehead. After this is done, he will remove the blindfolds and a prisoner should raise his hand if he sees a red line on at least one of the other two prisoners. The first prisoner to identify the color of the line on his own forehead will be released. Of course the prisoners agree to this. The warden blindfolds them and then proceeds to paint a red line on all three prisoners. He removes the blindfolds and, since each prisoner sees a red line, each prisoner raises his hand. Some time passes when one of the prisoners exclaims: “I know what color my line is! It’s red!” This prisoner is then released. Now, we must ask: How did this prisoner correctly identify the color of the line painted on his forehead?

I will let you think about that and have some fun with it. Hopefully by now in reading the two blogs about mathematics, you have some better appreciation and understanding how such a subject can indeed enhance creativity and exercise the mind.

Mathematical techniques like proofs challenge the practitioner to become adept at understanding the process by which you reach a conclusion. Having all that skill can improve innovation and creativity by allowing a person to inherently examine the truth in a problem and solution – not to just take it for granted. That level of analysis can manifest itself in recognizing new solutions or incorrect assumptions to create better innovations

Creativity, as we all know, comes in many forms and is a huge part of Mathematics. Allow me to end with the quote from well-known writer J.K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter novels).

“Sometimes ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works.”

Project Management and the Art of Storytelling

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Innovation projects within corporations can take a long time, a really long time.  These projects often involve lots of people and even numerous ownership changes along the way as different specialist groups contribute their skills.  Managers are very much aware of this however and have any number of great modern inventions to manage the risks associated with long project leads, knowledge transfer and project ownership.  Just think of the highly detailed Gantt charts, the agile management tools, the strategy meeting minutes and risk analysis reports that reside on your corporate servers, all testament to the pinnacle of project management that we have reached in the early 21st century.  Because of all these modern tools it is now impossible for a project to deviate off course, to lose its way and end up in a place that was not intended.  Modern project management techniques ensure that we always deliver what we started out to deliver and the economy and the world is a better place for this. Wait…what?

So, I expect that you agreed with most of the above paragraph until maybe the last few sentences.  Most of us have experienced a project deviating from its goal, maybe through a slow erosion of the understanding of the original intention, claim creep over time or a simple loss of way due to personnel change at a key juncture.  In our arsenal of modern project management tools is there something missing that might help us eliminate this issue?  If not, should we be developing something?  I suggest that there is a tool that can be used to help corporations but that it won’t be found in Silicon Valley. The tool is as old as humanity and within us all to develop.  It is the art of storytelling.

Throughout history humans have managed projects.  Our earliest projects may have been something like relocation of tribal groups or the exploitation of newly found food sources.  During this time the project management tool most often used was storytelling (Note: This is an assumption the author has made based on the lack of Neolithic cave paintings depicting Gantt charts).  Storytelling allowed complex themes with numerous important yet discrete facets to be remembered because it provided context and a relationship between the discrete elements of the theme.  If Timmy isn’t stuck down the well, Lassie is just a dog running around barking and doesn’t make sense.

So how can we incorporate storytelling into our project management programs?  The solution is to first think about what modern storytelling looks like.  In the context of a consumer product, the story might take the form of an advertisement, maybe in video or billboard form.  It could take the form of a written consumer concept or a cartoon describing the experience of the consumer.  A service story might be told through the written diary of a satisfied client or mock interview.  In many cases our companies are quite adept at making these stories; we just tend to make them once a project is nearing completion which renders the use of the story as project management tool redundant.  The key thing that any storytelling tool should do is allow for a simple, understandable way to communicate project goals and underpinnings to new team members or management reviewers.  It should enthrall and energize the project and ensure that throughout the various personnel transitions each new member champions and rallies around the common and original goal.  Next time you kick off a big project consider developing some story media early on in the process, you will be surprised at the effect it can have.