Archives For innovation

Have you ever wanted to browse through the things one person cares about? Now you can.

For the past 17 years, pretty much every day, I’ve taken the things that flow by that are worth remembering and woven them into a giant concept map, using an app called TheBrain. I happen to have been a stop on the company’s first press tour 17 years ago. The moment I saw it, I realized that the way it looked on-screen was the way thoughts looked in my head — more or less.

So I started using TheBrain then, not knowing that this many years later I would be happily weaving more things into that same Brain file. At this point, there are more than a quarter million nodes in my Brain (called Thoughts), linked by more than 440,000 links. All entered by hand, the same way you would add a bookmark to your browser.

ipad-2048x1536-v04Now my Brain data is available as an iOS app, which means it’s portable and convenient. You can find it in the Apple Store here (link will launch iTunes; Android is a couple months away).

It’s an absolute hoot to see your face on an icon on someone’s home screen. It made me reflect also on how the rest of the app icons are inert and abstract: you never get the sense of a person behind them. Here you do, and I love it.

I’ve created a Facebook group for conversations about this Brain; you can read this post for more background. And please be in touch with your reactions and wishes. This is the start of a collaborative web of ideas and relationships that should just get better over time.

At a recent workshop, I gave a talk titled “Other Kinds of Innovation,” based on this Prezi:

In it, I described three sources of innovation that tend to get short schrift in the whirlwind of books, talks and seminars abot innovation: social innovation, dark innovation and innovations by (not for) the poor.

The first of these, social innovation, is getting more attention thanks to books like The Wisdom of Crowds and Crowdsourcing, even though our culture seems to idolize the lone inventor. Fortunately, recent books like Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From are tackling the myth of the lone inventor, but in our individualistic society, it’s a hard myth to shake. (In the Prezi above, this section is intentionally the least developed.)

The second kind of innovation that we often ignore is the category of innovations that are a net negative to society, which I’m calling dark innovations. These include defensive innovations by incumbents trying to postpone their doom, the unintended negative consequences of innovations created with good intent, and general overconfidence.

The third category is a subtle one in several ways. First, it’s not innovations for the poor, but rather by. Second, these innovations don’t always occur at the frenetic modern pace of innovation, so their pace can hide them. And third, some of these innovations are actually old, excellent ideas that have been buried for a few centuries and are now being rediscovered or reinvented, such as the methods of natural farming.

I intend to do a screencast of this Prezi, or perhaps several, but I’m posting now for a different reason.

Among the attendees as I presented was Peter Denning, who besides writing about innovation is the editor of the ACM‘s Ubiquity Magazine. Peter liked the perspective on dark innovation in particular, so we proceded to do an email interview, the results of which you can read here.

What do you think?

One of my highlights at the Economist’s recent Ideas Economy conference in Berkeley was Martin Giles’ interview of Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder and president. I was struck by how deep and deft Catmull’s understanding of personal and group dynamics is, as well as how unobtrusive his ego is.

Pixar has had a phenomenal run of movies, but it might not have gone that way as early as Toy Story 2. How Catmull managed that process is a fascinating story.

You can see some of this expertise in this talk Catmull gave in 2007. Fortunately, The Economist has published the more recent interview on its site (albeit without a permalink yet), so I’ll share it with you here: