This program is all about  innovation.  We will interview Tom Koulopoulos, author of a new book called The Innovation Zone.  He is interested in the process of innovation. We ask him about how we can use our understanding of innovation to create a more sustainable world in the future.

Global News on Innovation
Globally, innovation is a hot topic, especially as it involves giving countries a competitive edge:

From the Chinese News Agency, Xinhua (Bejing, March 22):  

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao [One jah-bow] has called on enterprises and officials to place priority on industrial upgrading and innovation, urging them to move “early rather than late” to ride through the global financial crisis.  Chinese companies should focus on adjusting product structure, improving quality and upgrading technologies in the face of economic woes, said Wen during a visit to enterprises in the northeastern Liaoning Province from Friday to Sunday. 

From McKinsey Digital, a think tank on global innovation is a“heat map” of he world’s innovation hot spots, reported in   “Building an innovation nation” by André Andonian, Christoph Loos, and Luiz Pires” 26 February 2009:

The report analyzed 700 variables, including:  ”business environment, government and regulation, human capital, infrastructure, and local demand […plus indicators like] patent applications to identify trends among the success stories to come up with three metaphoric categories:

    • Dynamic oceans: large and vibrant innovation ecosystems …
    • Silent lakes: slow-growing innovation ecosystems  …
    • Shrinking pools: innovation hubs that are unable to broaden their areas of activity or increase their lists of innovators and so find themselves slowly migrating down the value chain…. 

From a company called Terrafugia, located in Boston’s famous Route 128 innovation corridor recently had  successful test flight of a flying car, the Transition.  Terrafugia writes in its promotional literature:

Every pilot faces uncertain weather, rising costs, and ground transportation hassles on each end of the flight. The Transition® combines the unique convenience of being able to fold its wings with the ability to drive on any surface road in a modern personal airplane platform. Stowing the wings for road use and deploying them for flight at the airport is activated from inside the cockpit. This unique functionality addresses head-on the issues faced by today’s Private and Sport Pilots.
But  Bill Schweber, writing in Environmental Engineering times, has reservations about the flying car, and asks, “Does innovation need a reality check?”  He writes:

My first thought [about the flying car]was “this is awesome!” The recurring dream we’ve all been told about–and have probably read about as “coming soon” in antique copies of Popular Mechanics from the 1950s–may be closer to becoming reality. New materials, improved electronics and innovative techniques have made possible the achievement of that dream

But then the rest of my brain got engaged and said, “Get real, what are you thinking?” Do we want the typical driver, who barely pays attention to the two-dimensional roadway, piloting a small plane? […]

Our ability to innovate needs a reality check: What is really worth doing, rather than what is possible? It’s hard enough to anticipate the impact of our innovations since the Law of Unintended Consequences is as firm as the laws of physics.

Our Questions for Tom Koulopolous:

Part I: Getting to Understand Innovation

  • Please tell us about the concept of the “Innovation Zone.”
  • You note in the book that “We often aggrandize innovation . . . We ascribe to it a mystical quality.”  So how do we move innovation from the realm of magic to something people can do routinely?
  • Thomas Kuhn, in The Nature of Scientific Revolutions, says that paradigm shifts take place only when the old ideas break down—then new thinking emerges. So what’s wrong with riding with the status quo until it no longer works?
  • You write a good deal about what we might call faux innovation, the creation of products that nobody really needs or wants, but we buy anyway. Could you give us some examples of those kinds of products? (We’re thinking, too, of Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World, where he argues that we spend too much money engineering for pizazz, and too little for actual functionality.)
  • You say that innovators need to be tough skinned, to accept failure early and stick with the project.  But when and how do you know whether your project is just something crackpot or merely an idea whose time will come? (Please tell us the story of the Edsel).
  • We remember seeing John Harrison’s amazing clock in the Greenwich Naval Museum in London, the clock used to establish precise mapping of longitude in the 18th century. Please tell us that story.
  • You also talk about the killers of innovations, things like bureaucracies, lawyers, and accountants.  And we are constantly reminded that the bottom line is everything.  So how can one innovate in a dog-eat-dog capitalist world? (Maybe the story of the Post-It.)
  • Many of your examples come from large corporations—GM, IBM, Procter & Gamble, Oracle.  Can you give us an example or two from the mom-and-pop level? 

Part II:  Innovation and the Global-to-Local Economy

  • What are some of the ways that you think the innovation zone concept should be put to use in today’s staggering economy?  Is this the worst of times or the best of times for entrepreneurship and innovation?
  • President Obama seems to be a one-person innovation zone (supported of course, by a large staff and a landslide vote). How do you rate Obama’s performance as an innovator?  What advice might you give him (or maybe you have, please tell us)?
  • You see India and China as the major competitors with the U.S. over the coming decades, but you see ways in which the country can innovate without being protectionist or overly nationalistic.  What are the innovative options?
  • On this program, we are particularly interest in the movement toward local production and consumption—buy local if you can.  How can innovators take advantage of this movement?  Can the locals, in the long run, find a sustainable niche next to, say WalMart or Target or Home Depot?  Is this movement limited to farmer’s markets?
  • Please talk a bit about how one might create an innovation zone for, say, for one’s personal life. Can we use your techniques to, say, engage in self renewal or family happiness?
  • On this program, we’re always interested in finding out who are the role models of our guests.  Peter Drucker is obviously one for you. What was his impact?  Who else inspires you?

 The Innovation Zone  is published by Davies-Black Publications of Moutain View, and you can find it on Amazon.  You can also learn more about Tom’s work at the Delphi Group website, 

Do-It-Yourself Innovation

Wiki How has some really cool stuff on innovative thinking starting with “How to Think Outside of the Box.”

 Indications that it might be time to change your way of thinking if:

·         You are in a rut, you know you are in a rut, and no matter what you try, you fall back into the rut.

·         You can’t come up with a solution to a nagging problem. Finally, someone else does and the answer was an incredibly obvious one…and it happens a lot.

Wiki How suggests:

·         studying creative thinking strategies such as reframing or lateral thinking.

·         not assuming that creativity is just a matter of IQ

·         overcoming limiters: negative attitude, fear of failure, stress, .following rules, accepting as the status quo.

·         Asking lots of questions

 Equally interesting, WikiHow also recognizes reality and has some ways to :Think Inside the Box 

 In most real life situations, you are given specific hard parameters that cannot be changed. Creative thinking must involve inclusion of these boundaries.

Solutions that are created “outside of the box” cannot be implemented “inside of the box”. [We disagree, actually.] Thinking outside of the box is a powerful mental exercise, but it is not practical for solving actual problems.

·         Define parameters that frame your goal. This is the “box” in which you must work your solution. If you are drawing these boundaries, be careful where you draw it, and be aware of what can and cannot be moved, if necessary, about them. 

·         Make a list of solutions that have been tried unsuccessfully in the past. Ask yourself why each of these solutions failed.

·         Start a list of solutions that have not been tried. Write down every idea regardless of merit and filter them later.

·         Work backwards. Consider resources or solutions open to you and ask whether and how they could move you toward your goal

 And lastly, Wiki How has a wonderful set of suggestions on: How to Look Like You Are Thinking:

·         Squint your eyes and look down. Have your mouth open enough to show your teeth. This is how most people look while they’re thinking. You can also breathe in through your teeth as if you were lost in thought. Bite your lower lip, and tap your hand on the desk or your leg like you were trying to remember something. This will make it look like you’re thinking deeply, and people will be afraid to disturb you.

·         Look up while tapping your hand. Occasionally close your eyes for a few seconds. After a minute of this, write, (or pretend to write), something down on a piece of paper. Once you’ve written something, look back up and repeat. Make sure you never stop, not even for a few moments, because someone will try as hard as they can to ask what you’re doing as soon as you show signs of stopping.

·         Rest your head in your hand. Make sure you do this correctly, or it could look like you’re bored instead. Hum in monotone, and look upwards. If this isn’t convincing enough, write something down after doing this for a few minutes. Squint one eye while looking up as if trying to envision something.

·         Go on a computer. Just owning a computer makes you appear as if you think a lot. Type on the computer constantly so it looks like you’re doing something important. You can also wear headphones so it looks like you’re listening to something. Nod your head often while listening to your headphones to make it look like you’re listening to an information CD.

·         Read a book. Reading a book automatically makes you look like you’re thinking. Consider reading a book that is very difficult to read, so people will think you must be working very hard to understand it. If you don’t want to read, stick your iPod in the page and watch a music video. 

Playlist for Ecotopia #25:

1. The Future Freaks Me Out (Album Version)        3:37    Motion City   Soundtrack        I Am The Movie       

2. Opening:  The New World         5:05      Jason Robert Brown        Songs For A New World       

3. Innovator (DBS Remix)        8:19      Dynamik Bass System        The Mighty Machine       

4.     Somasonic         Future                       

5. kiew mission (LP Version)      9:19        Tangerine Dream           Exit                       

6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary       The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary