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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine


by ~ December 9, 2008.
Permalink | Filed under: 21st Century Risk, Collaboration and Sensemaking, Hybrid Vigor.

I’m racing off to Stanford University for a conference honoring the 40th anniversary of Douglas Engelbart’s ‘Mother of All Demos.”

Called Program for the Future, the conference aims to explore ways to “enhance our capacity for problem solving, decision making knowledge organization and planning in every field of human endeavor.”

When I interviewed Engelbart on The Site (in 1996 I think it was, and also probably was my favorite interview of all time, he is such a tremendously humble and lovely man), this is how I introduced him:

The very act you are engaged in at this moment-reading and clicking through information on a computer screen-would not be possible if not for Douglas Engelbart. While working at Stanford Research Institute in the late 1960s, Engelbart invented or envisioned almost everything that makes personal computing possible today:  the computer mouse, hypertext links, groupware, on-screen editing and much more. But almost 30 years ago, few if any of his peers shared his vision.

That vision (which I also explored in an NYT column back then) was about the power of technology to enable what Engelbart calls “collaborative intelligence.” And while we are kind of banging our way toward it, his ideas for how technology could serve as the connective tissue between people and information was more methodical and directed than our haphazard efforts today.

I spoke at the 30th anniversary celebration, so it was nice to get a call on Friday from Etan Ayalon (CEO, GlobalTech Research) to join a last-minute panel he was asked to put together and moderate for the conference. We’ll be discussing collective intelligence in the context of one of my favorite subjects:  how to be innovative about innovating.

I’ll be joining Phil McKinney (VP and CTO of the Personal Systems Group at Hewlett-Packard and Dr. Larry Leifer (founder and director of the Stanford Center for Design Research, and founding director of the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning).

I thought I’d post the questions that Etan sent us to riff off during the panel, and my brief thoughts in response.

How do we best realize Doug Engelbart’s vision of combining people and technology to nurture innovation and better humanity, by addressing major challenges as well as creating new industries, products and jobs?

1. One problem at a time, using the right processes.
2. Need to improve the improvement/innovation process — the C-work, in Doug’s parlance.

•    Today we have pursuit of innovation without considering context. Often ‘solutions in search of a problem,’ instead of the other way around.
•    Pursuit of innovation in a solo inventor (or product development department, whatever) model leads to applying collective intelligence post facto; i.e., marketing department and customers aren’t part of the process
•    Context is also provided post facto, and selectively — usually by people with a specific and often narrow point of view
•    Context can only be accurately provided by others.

Is innovation a gift or a skill?

1. Both, and neither. Depends. Some people are natural outside-the-box thinkers. But the organization has to be designed to encourage exploration. And organizational design is a skill.
2. Why do you ask? The thoughts behind the question are as interesting as the question itself.

Is innovation an outcome or a process?

Personally I think it’s an outcome, but if it’s being done in an organization it’s more likely to happen if there are processes to support it. Again, what’s the motive behind the question?

Sharing the Benefits of Innovation for All, Not Just Lucky Digital Few - With an ever widening digital divide, how do we ensure that innovation benefits all segments of society in both developing and developed countries?

Process innovations can benefit everyone, I think. But with products, it’s more than a digital divide. Biotechnologies have this issue as well — expensive drugs, expensive seeds, etc. And we can’t ensure this without government intervention, at least not at first. I don’t think that’s how it works. But we can be thoughtful about how to stage innovations so they eventually get there.

Balancing Innovation Risks and Rewards – How? Who Should Participate in the Dialogue?

Who? All the relevant experts and stakeholders

How? By having the risk-reward conversation very early in the product development cycle. And by having a process that respects the question, which requires changing the R&D culture.

Also, we need to acknowledge that product innovation today in particular is more about driving profit than solving problems. This may need to be rethought if we are serious about creating a sustainable economy that isn’t wholly based on getting people to endlessly buy more stuff. It’s a very different risk-reward conversation when it’s framed that way.

Does innovation emerge from/require ambiguity and uncertainty?

Life is ambiguous and uncertain, which causes problems that need to be solved. So, yes. Also it emerges from the drive to improve, which some people have innately.

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