Tag Archives: innovation

Johnson on How Innovation Happens

Interesting video from Steven Johnson on innovation (one of the TED talks)

Specifically, within the video it’s worth looking at the example of the baby incubator and the Sputnik to GPS innovations within the video (the links should take you to the right places within the video). Or if you want to watch the full video it’s below:

Scarcity, the primary of driver of innovation?

Interesting post from the Harvard Business Review, arguing that the presence of constraints is what really determines quality innovation. For example, the author argues that the rising cost of 30 second advertising spots prompted innovation in different forms of advertising. On one level, this may sound like economic theory, but it’s a does suggest a counter intuitive idea.

If you really want to come up with breakthrough idea, perhaps you will do better with less resources, not more?

And fans of Fred Brooks and Mythical Man Month will recall the same argument being made for different reasons – if the team gets too large, then communications get too complex. Also, Fred Brooks also has an interesting point about how scarcity changes depending on the project in question.

Top Five Innovations of 2010

I don’t actually know if this was launched in 2010 or not, but I love the idea of the Brownie Edge Pan. If you’re the sort of person who likes the brownies that have edges, this gives you more of them. Genius.

The Third Generation Amazon Kindle is also one of my favorites. As the New York Times recently pointed out, the iPad has not killed the Kindle. And optimization for reading, together with incremental improvements and and the addition of games continues to drive the Kindle forward.

XBox Kinect is impressive technology. It’s now possible to play video games just by moving your body. For example, you can throw a discus, drive a car or jump over a log. It’s not just fun technology, it also shows that gesture recognition has a lot of potential as a means of interacting with software in many fields beyond gaming.

NFL RedZone is a new concept in showing sport on television. Rather than showing a single game, the channel flicks between all the current games showing all the scoring as it happens. It’s a fairly intense way to watch sport, but undeniably innovative.

Finally, though the client version launched in 2006, the Google Reader for Android application just launched this month, and it’s the perfect way to read blogs on the go. Simple design, very well executed.

PopSci also have their top 100 innovations of the year here, PopSop’s brand oriented list is here and Time’s list is here.

Innovation – Mobile Phone Boarding Passes

With mobile phone based boarding passes, it feels like part of the future is finally here. Rather than printing out a boarding pass you can simply download it on your phone and display it during the boarding process. Having now used it a few times now, here are my observations.

  1. This seems to have potential to delay the boarding process. Often when you come up to check in your phone is either locked or doing something else, and navigating back to the relevant email and downloading the image all takes quite a while, especially when you have a long line of people behind you.
  2. Because of the potential for social embarrassment from point 1. above you try to ensure that your phone is clearly displaying the pass well before you need it, but this makes it impossible to do other things on your phone while you’re waiting in line for airport security, so that wait becomes more tedious.
  3. The barcode on the pass is supposed to be electronically scanned, this is hard to get right and requires a few attempts each time I’ve seen it done, again slowing the boarding process.
  4. Finally, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do when your phone battery dies.

So though I was excited about this idea, I’m not sure I’ll use it much.

source: Simon Aughton (via Flickr)

Eight Innovations For Project Managers

Many aspects of project management are tried and tested. For example, Gantt charting is the most obvious example. Below are more innovative concepts that are not so broadly used by all and might be useful to you. These aren’t changes you should introduce wholesale, but rather a list of ideas to experiment with on more of an ad hoc basis, depending on the needs of the project you’re involved with. Each idea links to the relevant blog post.

  1. Reference class forecasting – looking at similar past performance as the basis for estimates
  2. Pre-mortems – assessing what could cause problems before they happen
  3. Avoiding the Fred Brooks fallacy – adding more people to a project may actually slow down progress in the short term
  4. Aiming for more ideas rather than better ideas – great ideas come from culling and refining a large idea list, not from waiting for a single perfect shot of inspiration
  5. Setting ambitious goals – setting goals high leads to better performance
  6. Focus on the hard conversations – communication is key to any project, and the hard conversations are where the value is
  7. Consider outsourcing tasks – there is no reason that employees of your organization are the best people to execute all the tasks on a project plan
  8. Use burndown charting – a way to predict finish dates on certain projects with greater accuracy

Killing Good Ideas

Provocative post on innovation by Robert Sutton. Experts in innovation such as IDEO look to implement about 0.3% of the ideas they come up with, and ultimately they cull not just bad ideas, but also good ones, to ensure that the ideas that get implemented are truly excellent.

It’s an interesting observation, if the ideas that you are killing are strong, then the bar for the projects that you do implement is likely sufficiently high that you can have confidence in their success.

Innovation – Seed Bombs

Often when gardening you want specific seeds. Tomatoes, sunflowers or some other specific plant, but sometimes you just want generic plants to cover an area of land. That’s where seed bombs come in, throw one at a patch of dirt where you’d rather see plants and voila.

Innovation – Parking in Manhattan

Parking in midtown Manhattan can run to over $750 a month. The cost of parking space for a year, can exceed the value of many cars. Because of this it’s not surprising that in New York cars are stacked on top of each other to more effectively use space.

Innovation – Japanese Vending Machines


One of the amazing things about Japan is how much can be purchased from vending machines. Below are some examples from a recent trip, which I didn’t have to try to hard to find – cigarettes, drinks, newspapers, more drinks and underwear and other assorted products.

Innovation – Molecular Gastronomy and Miracle Fruit

All cooking requires some understanding of chemistry, but molecular gastronomy takes it to the level by creating new flavors, textures and experiences by applying science to food. The pictures below are from the Molecular Tapas Bar in Japan and show (from top to bottom) a cocktail created in a test tube, olives made into a foam, ratatouille made from small balls of the constituent ingredients and the final photo is avocado, eel and pineapple, which when combined recreate the flavor of miso.

If you are keen to try molecular gastronomy and don’t have your own advanced chemistry set, another part of meal (not shown in the photos) can be done at home miracle fruit changes the taste of food for about 30 minutes to 2 hours after taking the tablet. Try tasting orange, lemon and lime pieces before and after chewing on a tablet, the effect is pretty amazing.

If you want to try molecular gastronomy at a restaurant, it isn’t cheap – examples of this style of cuisine include Alinea in Chicago, WD-50 in New York, The Fat Duck in the UK and El Bulli in Spain.