A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 24 February 2004
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on
Creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
A reminder, if you have news about creativity, please feel free to forward
it to me for potential inclusion in Report103.
SPACE TRAVEL INNOVATION
Anyone who grew up in America or Russia in 60s must find the present state
of space travel to be a bitter disappointment. I was a child when Niel Armstrong
set foot on the moon and, like others of my generation, I fully expected there
to have been massive space stations orbiting the earth and colonies on the moon
What a rush the space race was. Using German world-war II rocket technology,
both the Americans and the Russians innovated like mad to launch the first satellite
in 1959 (Russia's Sputnik); to put the first person in orbit (Russia's Yuri
Gagarin in 1961); and finally the first person on the moon (Armstrong in 1969).
Clearly lunar bases and spaceships zipping around the solar system could be
expected by the new millennium.
Of course the space race was fuelled by cold-war national pride and both sides
could probably have put the money to better use. I am not going to argue those
points. My only point is that there was a tremendous amount of space innovation
for the quarter century following World War II. But since then, the world's
space-faring governments have been sadly lacking in innovative space vision.
Sure, there have been some impressive unmanned space probes over the past few
decades. Who cannot but fail to be impressed by pictures, taken by space probes,
of Martian landscapes or Saturnian? However, aside from more sophisticated computer
technology, those probes are no great advance on the probes launched in the
1970s. The space shuttle, designed in the 70s and less efficient than the Saturn
V rocket can hardly be considered innovative. Only the Hubble Space telescope
has been the exception to the lack of innovation.
The big problem is that space remains in the hands of government, an institution
that is generally recognised for lack of any real innovative vision. Even George
Bush's space vision is a re-hash of his father's vision, which was a logical
progression of America's space exploration to date. Moreover, it was a vision
with no obvious pay-back.
One of the big reasons that space remains a government funded activity is that
the costs of space travel are so huge, that few companies can afford to risk
the investment required to get into space. But companies are now showing interest
in space. NASA (and the European Space Organisation, et al) should work with
The present structure of government funded space exploration is wrong. As it
stands, NASA makes the plans then invites business to bid on supplying the necessary
bits and pieces. Because NASA has stacks of money and no need to turn a profit,
their plans are often very big; but seldom very innovative or demonstrating
any real pay-back.
In view of NASA's big budget and know-how combined with the usual traps of
being a government run agency, a far better approach would be to turn NASA into
more of a space innovation research funding organisation. Businesses –
alone or in consortia – could submit proposals to do things in space,
such as build space stations, mine the moon, create space robots, and so on.
Proposals would also have to include a business plan for exploiting the research
carried out. A space station might eventually become an orbiting hotel. A robot
controlled mining tool would be expected to extract enough ore to eventually
Proposals would be submitted to NASA, who would use their expertise to evaluate
potential and their money to partially fund good proposals. Participating businesses
would also have to fund part of their projects. However, they would expect to
eventually earn an income from the results of their project and could look forward
to profitability in the future. In addition to sharing the risk, NASA would
also provide expert advice, training and other services to projects.
As business begins to exploit space, economies of scale will occur, efficiencies
will be found and competition will bring down costs dramatically; all of which
will open space to more innovation.
DISAPPOINTING NEW TOYS
Upon reading about the toys on display at the American International Toy Fair
[now there's a misnomer for you], I could not help but feel disappointed. Compared
to the highly interactive toys of my childhood (in the 60s and early 70s), these
toys seemed awfully limited.
One of the more innovative concepts at the show was VEIL (Video Encoded Invisible
Light), basically an invisible light beam broadcast from your TV to a toy. Mattel
will be using VEIL to allow Batman toys interact with a new Batman cartoon series
on TV. This is indeed innovative. In my day, TVs did not have toys to play with.
Apparently, TVs will soon be able to play with Barbie dolls and other toys as
Other toys will attempt to interpret how children are feeling and respond accordingly;
learn to speak better based on experience; move by themselves; play by themselves
and more. Not bad, but interactive technology has a long way to go to achieve
that which my childhood toys could achieve.
When I was a child, I had an interactive spaceship in our cellar. It had a
highly sophisticated control panel with zillions of dials and switches; airlocks;
hyper-space rocket engines; cool sound effects and more. It would fly my friends
and I across the galaxy to wondrous new worlds that it would recreate in the
cellar. We would explore those worlds, occasionally engage in exciting fights
with evil aliens. And somehow, it always flew us back home in time for dinner.
Looking through my parents' photo album, I see the old spaceship looks rather
like a ratty old sofa. But I assure you, it provided the most realistic space
adventures a child could dream of.
Then there were the interactive racing cars in my brother's and my bedroom.
We could sit in them and participate in incredibly realistic races across all
sorts of environments. They also often had fiery crashes that flung us from
the cars. And while we had visions of flames and blood, these interactive cars
were in fact very gentle. Aside from the occasional bump on the head, we were
never hurt even in the most spectacular crashes. In my parents' photo album,
those interactive race cars look quite a lot like beds with car-like bedspreads
upon them. But I know those cars created realistic scenarios of everything we
Then there were the thriving cities of wooden building blocks, with matchbox
cars that raced through them. And I couldn't even begin to tell you all the
exciting and tremendously realistic adventures my action figures (boys in the
60s and 70s NEVER played with dolls!) gave us.
Nowadays, when I look through the toy shops for Christmas and birthday gifts
for my boys, I cannot help but be disappointed by all the limits technology
places upon most toys.
Sadly even construction toys, like Legos, have changed. They used to be sold
in big kits with godzillions of pieces ideally suited to children with godzillions
of ideas. Today, they are mostly sold in kits that build a specific model, such
as a space ship or truck.
I cannot help but wonder when technology will once again provide toys as interactive
as an 8-year old child's imagination. Worse, I worry what affect today's imagination
limiting toys will have on the next generation of children.
A classic method for coming up with creative solutions to a problem is to open
a dictionary to a random page, select a word and then try and devise solutions
using that word or somehow associated with that word.
Google allows us to take that idea one step further. Next time you need some
creative ideas, open a dictionary, select a word at random, go to you local
language version of Google (www.google.com), enter the word in the field and
click the “I'm feeling lucky” button. This will take you to a web
site strongly associated with that word. See what happens. See what ideas it
inspires. Let me know how it works.
NEWS FROM JPB.COM: IDEA MANAGEMENT
In marketing Jenni enterprise
idea management software to smaller companies or smaller divisions of medium
sized companies (environments where there would be about 100 users), we find
that prospective clients have often set up their own ad-hoc system. Typically,
such a system is based on one person taking responsibility for ideas. Whenever
people in the organisation have an idea, they send it to the person responsible,
usually in the form of an e-mail or memo.
The person responsible then holds a meeting, usually once a month, to discuss
ideas with colleagues. Ideas that are approved by the committee are taken to
the next step – usually drawing up a business case.
These companies feel that because they are small, have such a system in use,
and have good communication, they have no need for idea management software.
While we appreciate that more and more companies are developing some kind of
internal idea management process and we can certainly understand business's
current desire to avoid additional software expenditure where possible, we do
point out to such reluctant clients that a software solution like Jenni provides
several advantages over an ad hoc system:
1) Most importantly: Jenni offers enterprise-wide collaboration. Often an initial
idea is but a spark of a great idea. If other people in the enterprise can collaborate
on an idea, a fair idea can grow into a brilliant one.
2) Jenni allows users to submit an idea anonymously. There are many scenarios
where someone in an enterprise will want to submit an idea anonymously. The
boss may want honest feedback on her idea; a shy person with a radical idea
may want to hide her identity. Jenni allows these people to submit ideas anonymously,
but secretly associates an idea with its owner. As a result, if the idea is
implemented, the owner will get credit and may be rewarded for her idea. An
ad-hoc system does not facilitate the submission of anonymous ideas. And if
an idea is submitted anonymously, it is difficult for the owner to gain credit
for it later when it is implemented.
3) The ad-hoc approach to idea management lacks a consistent, scientific evaluation
process. Unless the committee has a specific evaluation procedure – and
in our experience they do not – ideas will be evaluated differently each
time. Moreover, evaluation will be much more based on subjective opinion than
objective criteria. Jenni provides a simple to use, but scientific evaluation
tool that allows objective evaluation of ideas according to a weighted criteria
4) The ad-hoc approach to idea management lacks transparent implementation
and archiving of ideas and the results of their implementation. Demonstrating
the implementation of ideas demonstrates to your people that you take their
ideas seriously, allows them to monitor idea development and makes them think
about how their ideas would be implemented. Archives provide a history of successful
and unsuccessful ideas which can be used not only to see which ideas succeed,
but what kind of implementations are most effective.
If you are implementing idea management in a small or medium sized organisation,
it is important to bear these issues in mind. If you have taken another approach,
we'd love to hear about it.
What People Say About Jeffrey
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of not-so-useful info about innovation, you manage to get the perls on a regular
basis." EO (Technology manufacturer)
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energy with all us creative folks round the world." JS (US state government)
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Boost the creativity of your team and the innovativeness of your company by hiring Jeffrey to facilitate an ACT, innovation implementation plan or other workshop with you!
Jeffrey's Book: The Way of the Innovation Master
If you've enjoyed reading Report 103, you will enjoy Jeffrey's book,
The Way of the Innovation Master even more!