Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

23 MAY, 2011

Little Bets: A New Theory of Creativity and Innovation

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What Chris Rock has to do with Steve Jobs, Stanford and the secret of cross-disciplinary creativity.

Innovation theory is great, but the dangerous disconnect there is that no matter how compelling the ideas, theses and arguments, we often fail to make the leap between how this theory both applies to our everyday real-life experience and is a reflection of the everyday experience of real-life innovators. This disconnect is exactly what Peter Sims’ addresses in his excellent new book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries — a fascinating, eloquent and rigorously rooted in reality exploration of the creative process in innovaton. At its heart lies the concept of the “little bet” — a small, low-risk action taken to discover, develop and test an idea, a potent antidote to some of innovation and creativity’s greatest obstacles: perfectionism, risk-aversion, endless rumination.

The seed of this book was planted while I was attending Stanford Business School. One of the most common things I would hear people say was that they would do something new — take an unconventional career path or start a company — but that they needed a great idea first. I had worked before then as a venture capital investor, and in that work, I had learned that most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas — they discover them.” ~ Peter Sims

From how Chris Rock crafts new comedy routines with small audiences to hone his delivery to how Amazon’s Jeff Bezos extracts insights about opportunities from smaller markets, Sims enlists an incredible range of creative, strategic and business innovators to illustrate how “little bets” work — architect Frank Gehry, Twitter founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey, musician John Legend, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, companies like Pixar, Google, General Motors and many, many more — swiftly swaying from psychology to business strategy to neuroscience to theory of mind and just about everything in between.

Lucky people increase their odds of chance encounters or experiences by interacting with a large number of people.

And since we’ve already established how much I love book trailers, it’s worth noting Little Bets gets bonus points for this one:

More than anything, Little Bets is a living testament — the opposite of a fluff-lined “manifesto” — to the power of life experience in innovation, of insights and principles and creative codes developed through years of being intellectually and creatively active, curious, and awake in the world, rather than staring at the PowerPoint slide on the screen of an MBA lecture hall. And what makes the “little bets” approach most noteworthy is that it applies to anything from artistic endeavors to policy to social entrepreneurship to real-time media and beyond.

One of the things that constantly surprised me was how many similar approaches and methods spanned across the vastly different fields. Story developers at Pixar, Army General H.R. McMaster, a counterinsurgency expert, and Frank Gehry use the same basic methods and of course make lots of little bets. They even use similar language and vocabulary – like “using constraints’ or ‘reframing problems’– but they all learned their approaches through their experiences, not in school. General McMaster may have said it best when he said that the parallels between these very different experts were ‘eerie.’” ~ Peter Sims

Part Spark, part Making Ideas Happen, part something else entirely, Little Bets is one of the most compelling journeys into the roots of creativity to come by in a long time. Amazon has a fantastic, revealing Q&A with Sims that will give you a taste of this gourmet meal from the kitchen of true innovation.

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23 MAY, 2011

The Medium Is Not The Message: 3 Handwritten Newspapers

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What Indian calligraphers have to do with disaster relief in Japan and free media in Liberia.

Since their invention in the early 17th century, newspapers have remained one of society’s most important sources of what their name promises — news. Today, we hear various tonal cries of the “print is dying” chorus daily and it’s easy to get caught up in the Marshall McLuhanism that “the medium is the message. Today, let’s consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the medium is not the message, that “print” can mean many different things, and that in the end, the oldest of technologies can be the most innovative. Case in point: Handwritten newspapers.

THE MUSALMAN

Since 1927, The Musalman has been quietly churning out its evening edition of four pages, all of which hand-written by Indian calligraphers in the shadow of the Wallajah Mosque in the city of Chennai. According to Wired, it might just be the last remaining hand-written newspaper in the world. It’s also India’s oldest daily newspaper in Urdu, the Hindustani language typically spoken by Muslims in South Asia. The Musalman: Preservation of a Dream is wonderful short film by Ishani K. Dutta, telling the story of the unusual publication and its writers’ dedication to the ancient art of Urdu calligraphy.

Thanks, GMSV

ISHINOMAKI HIBI SHIMBUN

Last month, I mentioned a fascinating reversal of the-medium-is-the-message as one Japanese newspaper reverted to hand-written editions once the earthquake-and-tsunami disaster destroyed all power in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. For the next six days, the editors of the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun “printed” the daily newspaper’s disaster coverage the only way possible: By hand, in pen and paper. Using flashlights and marker pens, the reporters wrote the stories on poster-size paper and pinned the dailies to the entrance doors of relief centers around the city. Six staffers collected stories, which another three digested, spending an hour and a half per day composing the newspapers by hand.

This handwritten newspaper joins a running log of historical instances in which journalists have adapted to disaster situations. During the Civil War’s Union siege of 1863, a scarcity of newsprint in Vicksburg, Miss., led editors of The Daily Citizen to print on wallpaper. Its final issue, now part of the News Corporation News History Gallery, declared: “This is the last wall-paper edition. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.”

Japan’s incidental project has since been acquired by Newseum, the museum of journalism in Washington, D.C.

THE DAILY TALK

Minuscule literacy rates and prevailing poverty may not be conditions particularly conducive to publishing entrepreneurship, but they were no hindrance for Monrovia’s The Daily Talk, a clever concept by Alfred Sirleaf that reaches thousands of Liberians every day by printing just once copy. That copy just happens to reside on a large blackboard on the side of one of the capital’s busiest roads. Sirleaf started the project in 2000, at the peak of Liberia’s civil war, but its cultural resonance and open access sustained it long after the war was over. To this day, he runs this remarkable one-man show as the editor, reporter, production manager, designer, fact-checker and publicist of The Daily Talk. For an added layer of thoughtfulness and sophistication, Sirleaf uses symbols to indicate specific topics for those who struggle to read.

The common man in society can’t afford a newspaper, can’t afford to buy a generator to get on the internet — you know, power shortage — and people are caught up in a city where they have no access to information. And all of these things motivated me to come up with a kind of free media system for people to get informed.” ~ Alfred Sirleaf

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

In related news, don’t forget the fantastic Newspaper Map, which I raved about the other day — an amazing tool for exploring and translating over 10,000 of the world’s newspapers.

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13 MAY, 2011

Happy Birthday, Velcro: From Nature to NASA, Animated

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Innovation that sticks, or how to turn nature’s aggravations into universal usefulness.

This year, Velcro — one of the world’s most beloved multipurpose inventions — celebrates its 60th birthday, and today marks the 53rd anniversary of Velcro’s US patent. The miracle adhesive was the brainchild of Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. One afternoon, as he was taking a walk in the forest, he noticed the that burrs — the seeds of burdock thistle — stuck to his clothes and wondered how they did that. So he excitedly rushed home, stuck one under the microscope, and spent the next ten years perfecting nature’s brilliant hook-and-loop adhesion mechanism, eventually producing one of history’s smartest applications of biomimetic design.

To celebrate Velcro’s birthday, here are three different animated short films that tell the same great story of ingenuity and perseverance in just over a minute each.

From HowStuffWorks, here’s a characteristically short-and-sweet evaluation of the invention. Though I have to disagree with their 2/5 on the benefits-to-humanity scale — anything that’s good enough for NASA should be good enough for at least a 4.

From Pan-African media portal ABN Digital, a beat-by-beat recap on the chronology of Velcro’s invention and its impact as a zipper alternative.

And my favorite, from designer Antonio Alarcón Román, a delightfully fuzzy motion graphics narrative:

And a big “THANK YOU” to my wonderful intern, Adam Rubin, who is doing an admirable job of cataloging notable birthdays, deaths and historical anniversaries for me to find interesting content around.

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