Fuzzy ideas in a spaghetti bowl
Dean Kamen’s “Thought Leaders” interview in Forbes magazine provides a delightful and motivational influence in a simple, single question – “What are we going to do about that?” In the context, it is also a call to service, a challenge to find the right and valuable problems to solve, and the importance of trading your time for something more important than money.
I learned a long time ago that the most important part of ending up with a great solution to a problem that maybe is not one that other people would come up with, isn’t in the process of accomplishing the goal. It’s in the process of really understanding the question. The answer is almost always, pretty much after the fact when you look back at it. The answer is almost sort of defined by the question. And I think a lot of invention comes when somebody looks at the same problem everybody else looks at and sees it differently.
Along the way there are also some interesting insights on the elimination of the arbitrary, choosing to be judged by what you make and by history rather than managers, the social environment of creation, and focus on the societal benefits of your success.
In a startling contrast to the Kamen studio approach is this corporate approach.
For an idea to be considered for development, it has to meet Whirlpool’s three-pronged definition of innovation: It must meet a consumer need in a fresh way; it must have the breadth to become a platform for related products; and it must lift earnings. (Add-on innovations are expected to deliver results within months, while new-to-the-world ones are given three to five years.)
Without making judgments, it is simply very interesting to note the difference in what innovation is called when the question of “need” is so vastly different.
The Design Observer
The always delightful Design Observer blog launched its version 3.0 this week and its fresh look and organization was another reminded me of the importance of context. Its “Change Observer” tab brings thoughts about the role of design in a larger societal context.
This is what we aim to provide: thought-provoking reports, essays, reviews and dialogues about social innovation, presented through the lens of design. Debates rather than cheerleading rallies. Questions rather than sentiment.
Detroit as the first city to produce all of its own food within its borders
I’ve had a great concern rattling around in the back of my mind for quite a while about the proliferation of post-apocalyptic views of Detroit and proposals for balancing its now condition. A term used somewhere else – “apocalypse chic” – and referring to the aesthetics of the return to the primitive, evoked the question of why it is that places like Detroit are treated to visions bred of resignation and despair, rather than motivations to a greatness. For too long, notions of “recovery” have bred a futility of nostalgia.
Perhaps my anxiety comes from inability to see a different vision in these abandonment proposals and, in the mode of Kamen’s explorations, uncover value in the expansion rather than critical diminution of the proposal. In other words, i tended to scoff at the AIA proposal to turn Detroit into a cluster of “English villages” (scenographic, sentimental, unaware of cultural and economic histories fo settlement patterns, etc., and this from the NRDC). But this exploration of the potential of achieving leadership through urban agriculture has enough power in the presentation that I’ll have to look further.
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