A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 6 July 2004
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on
Creativity, ideas, innovation and invention. My apologies if you have received
two copies of this week's issue. I have been having a little trouble with my
As always, if you have news about creativity, idea innovation or invention
please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your
comments and feedback are also always welcome.
THE UNIVERSE OF YOUR MIND
I have always been keen on astronomy, particularly cosmology. So, when I envision
the mind (not the brain, the mind), I envision it as a universe of its own.
This is how I see it...
The mind is a vast space filled with spheres. Each sphere represents a bit
of knowledge. For example: the planet Mercury's year lasts 88 earth days, Report
103 comes out every Tuesday, The Roman numeral for 100 is C, etc.
Spheres cannot do much on their own. And so they are attracted to one another
and form clusters of spheres which represent knowledge. My knowledge of the
planet Mercury might include the length of its year, that it is the closest
planet to the Sun, that it is named after the messenger God Mercury and so on.
Knowledge clusters also are attracted to each other and come together to form
larger clusters. For example, my knowledge cluster of the solar system would
include my knowledge cluster of Mercury. And, on a grander scale, my knowledge
of Astronomy would include the knowledge cluster of the solar system.
While clusters of stars are held together by gravity, clusters of information
bits are held together by logic. The knowledge cluster of the solar system is
held together by the logic that every bit of information is relevant to the
Unlike in cosmology, however, bits of knowledge can exist in many different
knowledge clusters. That 2x2=4 is clearly relevant to all kinds of knowledge
clusters. Likewise, the flavour of 1990 Sorelli Montepulciano is useful to many
knowledge clusters as it enables me to determine which foods go best with this
truly magnificent wine.
Creativity comes from bringing unusual bits of information or clusters of knowledge
together and defining a new logic that will hold the bits and clusters together.
So, for example, new knowledge from the Cassini space probe which is currently
orbiting Saturn will readily fit into the solar system cluster. I hardly need
consider the logic that permits the fit.
On the other hand, while I could bring my knowledge of the flavour of Montepulciano
into my Solar system knowledge cluster, it would be more than a little challenging
to define a logic that would hold the two clusters together.
I could perhaps bring the two concepts together to write a poem about seeing
the night sky through a glass of Montepulciano. But I am not much of a poet
and the results would not be pleasant.
I could also create a picture, with charcoal or with an imaging programme on
my computer, of a glass of Montepulciano fading into the night sky and create
a scientifically accurate star map in the sky and wine.
Likewise, I could use the two concepts to illustrate my vision of how the mind
operates for an article in Report 103.
Clearly, if you are looking for creative ideas, it is worth trying to bring
new information spheres and knowledge clusters into an existing knowledge cluster.
Doing so, as I have noted, is remarkably easy. Defining the logic that will
keep the bits and clusters together is more challenging – sometimes. Sometimes,
in fact, the logic is so painfully obvious you cannot help but to wonder why
no one has thought of it before.
For example consider the latest innovation in computer operating systems. Computer
operating systems have organised files in directory trees for decades. If you
have a Windows computer, you have a hard drive (probably “C”) with
lots of directories. One of those directories, “My Documents” probably
contains numerous other directories. As you complete documents (such as letters
and spreadsheets) you save them to the most appropriate directory. You likely
have similarly structured e-mail directories for saving e-mails and bookmark
systems for saving bookmarks of your favourite web pages. Unless you are very
well organised, you probably often run into problems finding old documents or
e-mails which do not neatly fit into a category, or which could neatly fit into
any of several categories.
Meanwhile, in recent years search engines have become very good at finding
documents – thanks, in particular, to Google. As a result, it is sometimes
easier to find a document on the web than it is to find one on your own computer.
Microsoft and Apple have both realised that bringing the web search knowledge
cluster to their operating system knowledge cluster is a good idea. So good,
in fact, most computer professionals are now asking why it has taken the two
companies so long to have this idea. (But, did these professionals ever suggest
the idea themselves?) So, the next operating system to come from both companies
will feature a powerful search tool that will allow you to search for documents,
e-mails, messages and anything else on your computer. The search feature will
probably also allow you to run integrated searches that include your own hard
drive, your network and the web.
Bicycle helmets for children is another painfully obvious idea; one that brings
together the concept of a motorcycle helmet and the danger of bicycling. Indeed,
I insist my boys wear helmets when they cycle. Yet bicycle helmets were unheard
of when I was a child.
Other ideas require a further stretch of knowledge, but make sense with a good
argument. A Japanese company, for example, brought together knowledge of wireless
Internet connections and knowledge of kettles in order to create a kettle that
is connected to the Internet.
Sounds daft, doesn't it? It's not. The logic is that adult children buy these
kettles as gifts for their elderly parents and grandparents. Old people in Japan
are generally habitual about taking tea at particular times during the day.
Every time they have tea, the kettle makes a connection to the Internet and
a private web site notes at what time the kettle was used to boil water. If
children see that their parents have not made afternoon tea, they can casually
telephone their parents to make sure they are doing well.
Is that not a brilliant idea?
The best time to try mixing clusters of knowledge together is when you learn
something new, in other words when your pick up new spheres of information.
At this time, those spheres of information are looking for other spheres of
information in order to create knowledge clusters.
Don't be afraid to experiment. When you learn something new about one subject,
see how it connects with other subjects. When you find a fit, do not stop. Continue
trying out the new information with other clusters of knowledge. You may find
many more fits.
Likewise, if you are looking for solutions to a problem, bring in unrelated
knowledge clusters and see if you can make logical connections between them.
That is how you will discover the most creative solutions.
INNOVATION NEEDED IN THAILAND
For years Thailand did very well in the outsourcing business. Thanks to a low
cost of labour and a good work force the country was able to produce textiles,
footwear, electronic goods and other labour intensive products to order for
companies in Europe, North America and Japan. Until recently, Thailand also
had the advantage of having no regional competition. China and Vietnam were
tied up in Communist systems that discouraged international trade. Burma (now
called Myanmar by the Military Junta running the country, but I have sympathies
with the National League for Democracy, who still call their country Burma;
so I will do the same), Cambodia and Laos were – and still are –
a mess and offer no threat.
Over the years, Thailand's economy grew as did wages. Sadly, the government
did not see fit to use the country's new found wealth to improve the educational
system (something that other growing countries in the region, such as South
Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, did do). As a result, labour costs increased
considerably, but the quality and capability of the labourers hardly increased
That would not have mattered much were it not for big changes in China and
India. China began shedding its Soviet style closed communist economy and started
moving towards a more capitalist driven economy. It allowed entrepreneurs to
open their own businesses and positively encouraged international trade. Suddenly,
a country with more than a billion people offered similar skills to Thailand's
– and at a lower cost. Likewise, India's economy, which had focused more
on self-sufficiency, opened up to international trade. It too boasted a massive
workforce with similar skills and lower costs. Even Vietnam has opened its doors
somewhat and is attracting international investment.
Thailand is not totally lost. Japan has invested billions of dollars on building
factories in Thailand as have many European and North American companies. And
these companies are not going to walk away from their investments in Thailand
– not for the time being, anyway.
But more and more companies wanting to establish new factories in low cost
Asian countries are looking to China first. Companies seeking to outsource services
are looking to India first, largely for language issues. Thailand is rarely
considered these days.
Where does this leave Thailand? It cannot expect to see strong growth selling
the same old textile, footwear and electronics outsourcing. Because it has not
boosted its education system, it cannot move up to higher value added goods
which demand better educated people, a route followed by countries like South
Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Indeed, if Thailand wants to continue its strong growth, its only option is
to innovate. It must devise new products and services and new ways of making
its existing products unique. It must show the world that China and India are
fine for outsourcing, but if you want truly innovative products and services,
Thailand is the place to go.
Thailand has done this in the past. Its marketing campaign to promote tourism
brought together two different concepts about Thailand: exotic culture + friendly
people. The resulting campaign was highly successful and for some time, Thailand
was the exotic travel location of choice for international travellers.
But, Thailand needs to devise and deploy such creative ideas on a regular basis
if it wants to continue to grow.
I have used Thailand as an example here because it is a country I know well,
having lived and worked companies there from 1988 to 1998. But many other countries
face similar dilemmas. As their economies grow and as India and China pick up
much of the labour intensive manufacturing and service outsourcing, many developing
countries need to find innovative new products and services to offer the world.
Even India and China will need to begin innovating. As their economies grow,
they will need to do much more than accept outsourced work from the rest of
the world. They will need to produce their own innovative products and services
to sell to their own people as well as the rest of the world.
To some extent, this is already happening. In India, a number of innovative
new companies are building their own software – and marketing it to the
world – rather than making someone else's programmes.
In China, local entrepreneurs are creating their own brands and marketing products
under those brand names, rather than making products which will eventually carry
some Japanese company's logo.
However, this just increases the need for countries like Thailand to innovate
now. Or else!
GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?
If you've got something to say about one of these articles, or if you want
to talk about creativity and innovation with a global circle of professionals
in the field, join ValpoCella. ValpoCella is an e-mail based forum for discussion
applied creativity and innovation in business (although discussion sometimes
moves away from business and into the realm of general innovation and creativity).
You can join ValpoCella by sending a blank e-mail to ValpoCellafirstname.lastname@example.org
or learn more by going to http://www.jpb.com/valpocella/.
While researching a point in this newsletter, I came across yet another word
for word copy of my “10
Steps for Boosting Your Creativity”. It is annoying because we have
always allowed people to reproduce content from the web site provided they include
a copyright notice and give us credit.
But I really have to wonder about someone so lacking in imagination that they
plagiarise an article advising people on how to be more creative!