how i innovate

while i'm no rich genius, i wanted to discuss how i try and innovate, or at least try and anticipate the future. in addition, i keep my eye on a variety of RSS feeds in my 'must read' catalog which include things like materials science and a couple of future blogs. i also try and keep my eye on large emerging market trend blogs (china, india, etc). so far so good. what i don't do - and should do more of - is have a circle of friends in so many different fields, like the arts, sciences, medicine, etc. friends like these enrich your life and your creative processes so much, and just make life more fun, anyhow. this is where i'm weakest, and something i should address.

innovation, however, requires some skill of thought. it's fun, challenging, and honestly one of the best ways i can spend some time. i like to do it removed from technology distractions, maybe while driving, drifting off to sleep, on vacation, etc. i have three innovation strategies, and two both rely on removal of things and then following what happens, while the third looks at second order possibilities.

the first method involves mapping systems or processes into their few critical elements, and then removing one. for example: military aircraft. a plane, a pilot, and weapons. remove the pilot and you have drone aircraft, UAVs. remove the weapons and you have passenger aircraft. remove the plane and you have iron man. "simple" as that, basically the challenge is to reduce common things to their most basic principle components - but not too many - and then remove one of them.

the second is to remove barriers, maybe temporary ones or even fundamental barriers. the temporary ones are things like the costs of PCs, which dropped dramatically in the past few decades, or the amount of time it takes to do something, which is also decreasing. these are artificial, in that they're consequences of the current state of things (manufacturing processes and cost recovery mechanisms, or materials limitations) but most of them eventually disappear. map out the barriers to things happening, remove the biggest one, and then go from there. fundamental barriers are tougher. imagine "see through walls", now imagine you're a cave man. step one basically lead to the development of glass, a wall that you can see through. or x-ray vision, or thermal scopes, etc. once you are convinced that these sorts of barriers can be overcome, all sorts of fun can happen.

the final one is to take the above two methods and carry them to their next steps. you imagine a world where there are autonomous cars, ok. now what? what would that require? what would that enable? same with low cost PCs, what would that enable the world to look like? once you do that, you can see what requirements must be met - for example tons of training on the use of PCs, user-friendly systems, etc - and what that enables - diversions and games, chat and communications, etc. then you can map out how to get there, and start to envision the future.

i'll be honest, i don't do this and make a huge smashing success in the tech industry, for example. i'm no larry page or anyone of consequence. also, the above is hard, it requires really hard thinking to reduce systems to their critical elements, and creative thinking to imagine those changes. but once you do, you can imagine a world of the future, and with that flexibility comes great fun.

you can also use these techniques to analyze a possible disruptive technology for true disruption. the internet? yes, people want to connect with each other and the net - with the right applications - enables that. the segway? neat but not disruptive, it requires too many changes to the world to utilize effectively on a mass scale.

if i ever seem to be drifting off, assume i'm innovating, ok?
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