Category Archives: innovation

Blood knows no borders

An open letter to Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard,

I’m an Australian who, like so many other people around the world, lived in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 1996 and now cannot donate blood. The effect of bovine spongiform lives on.

I would love to be able to share my blood as would every ex-pat I’ve spoken to.
Current figures indicate a 23% drop in blood donation in the UK.

I am hoping that it would be feasible for Virgin Atlantic to set aside some space on each flight to transport our blood back to the UK and the people who need it.

Thank you for reading.

Blood knows no borders

Blood knows no borders


I’ve spent the last couple of days at Creative Innovation and I’ve really enjoyed the verbal fencing between Ray Kurzweil and Dan Dennett, but they both stopped short of delving into the meatiest part of the future.

For this post I’m going to take as a given that the singularity is approaching fast and that what can be imagined will be realised. Go with me.

The conversation at #CIGlobal kept returning to the question of implanted computers (say the size of a blood-cell) and whether or not these would be part of you. Ray Kurzweil stated that he has spoken with Parkinsons patients with implants who were adamant that these were part of them, not merely a simple place to store a computer (so you don’t lose it was the gag; one that amused me). Victor Finkel took it a step further pointing out that Google was already a part of him.

Ray also discussed the newest 3d microchips where processing power takes an exponential step and the potential of this to understand and mirror the human brain. Watson made a guest appearance (yes I’m referencing Wikipedia) and the battle raged briefly over the humanity or lack there of of such amazing software.

It was great; and yet I was left unsatisfied.

Surely the next generation of processing and the continuation of research will see us soon not only able to embed a computer in ourselves but to embed ourselves in a computer.

Once this happens (and it will be sooner than most of us suspect) people will create a virtual version of their brains; if it can be imagined it will be realised.
Now, once this happens it gets really interesting; and here’s where I need you to come with me.

The virtual brain will no longer be bound by the restrictions of human memory. It will, in effect, be Watsonised. Perfect recall and access to vast, really vast, amounts of information. But it will retain the human qualities of cognitive reasoning, pattern recognition and abstracted linkage. It will also be, essentially, timeless. Add to this the virtual playground it finds itself in where anything and everything can be sculpted and manipulated and we just created a god. Meld two of these minds, four, eight, sixteen, and what do you have? AI seems far too small an idea.

Interacting with the minds they would no doubt let slip at some point just how wonderful it is to have perfect recall, real super-connectedness and the ability to shape your environment as you see fit. And Others would be drawn in.

Fights may well ensue; they usually do. Perhaps lines are draw, virtual gaols created, religions redefined (virtual hells?). All that good stuff.
But what is happening on the outside?
Fingers crossed we’ve hit the threshold for free power, we’re really not that far off after all, but I think that’s a couple of decades still to come. So say we haven’t. We have culture where people work, argue, sleep, ache, eat, covet their neighbours house and the ass in the back yard, all the time in contact with a version of themselves which is smarter, more connected, able to shape their world as they see fit.
Which one do they choose? The one with all the ennui and pain of human existence or the limitless, deathless one?
If they lose the protein based form do they become less human? Do I if I lose a leg?
And who is going to keep their world alive? The computers will need to be kept running, the power switched on, the infrastructure replaced as required.

This is the world our children’s children will inherit. And it’s one with so many questions that need to be addressed.

And what of Watson? When all those around it are like it does it have the right to call itself human?

Rapid prototyping within Innovation

Rapid Protoyping session in progress

As we grow up we are all taught to create a finished piece of work which we then hand over for marking. This continues through school, higher education and into our work places.

This is not, however, the optimal way of working.

The theory behind Rapid Prototyping in Innovation is to create the simplest, cheapest model that demonstrates your idea. This is then shared with a group of people who are able to provide feedback which is then incorporated into the next iteration.

By sharing early and often the product created is more likely to meet the needs of the users and better solve the problem you were addressing.

Through co-creation via iterations we ensure that if the product or idea is going to fail we identify this early before large amounts of money and resources are wasted. Perhaps more importantly it allows us to quickly understand and address the reasons that the product would fail and these can be avoided in any future products.

To allow people to experience the benefits of iterative design firsthand Deloitte Australia developed the Serious Gaming Workshop. In the workshop teams are given 15 minutes to design a board game from a collection of children’s toys; dice, cards, play doh, tokens, sticks etc.

After the 15 minutes the games are played by other members of the workshop who provide feedback to the designers and steal any elements that could be incorporated into their own game. The teams then have a further ten minutes to refine their games before they are play tested again. The final rounds see the teams developing a sales pitch for their games; they are each given one minute to “sell” their game design to the rest of the attendees and a winner is chosen.

The workshop relies on high energy, fast iterations and tight time constraints to ensure that the attendees have never finished their products before they are required to share them. The deadlines focus the mind on the task and the repeated collection of feedback ensures that the games quickly progress in their designs.

The use of board games and familiar pieces allows the attendees a degree of comfort as these are items they have been aware of all their lives. The creation of a game itself allows for a very simple testing mechanism to show if the design is working; is it fun to play?

The elements of the workshop combine to teach some valuable lessons which can be taken into any innovation project:
•  share early and often
•  borrow with pride and steal shamelessly
•  impose strict time constraints
•  the power of iterations
•  the need to be able to explain your product quickly

These elements can be used as the basis of any new product or service design to ensure that you are getting the best outcome quickly.

Thoughtless innovation

sleep now

Where do ideas come from?

It’s a good question as they seem to appear from nowhere. And that’s because they do.
Ideas are created when the spaces between thoughts and knowledge are filled up. It’ s the chemical snap of the synapse that sparks the neurons and closes a gap in human understanding.

So where do good ideas come from?

Of course you to be able to answer that in a way that would be meaningful you need more criteria about what makes up a good idea. What’s the problem you need to solve?  What are your constraints? What does success look like? But I’m not to go into all of that now.

Most people when faced with a problem will avoid it. They look for ways around it, ways that don’t solve or remove the original problem. This approach may throw up some interesting ideas in the same way that a brainstorming session where you get a bunch of people in a room and challenge them to think on their feet will. The ideas will probably get you around the problem but more often will need more thinking applied to them to make the workable.

While we’re here I’d like to mention that there are many techniques available for improving the quality of brainstorming sessions and I strongly recommend that everyone look into these (I might even throw a few up myself in the near future).

Back to the question; where do good ideas come from? Good ideas come from the gaps being filled in with knowledge on either side. This way lies thoughtless innovation.

The human brain (and possibly the dog one, I’m not sure) is really really good at making leaps and solving puzzles. To solve problems well you need to make sure that the knowledge it has to work with is good and that there is lots of it. Gather as much information from as many different perspectives as possible in a short amount of time. Lose your self in it. Read as much as you can as fast as you can and then read more. If you know experts (those who deal with the problem area most often) ask them to explain it you quickly.

Then forget it all.

Go out to dinner. See a movie. Go to a game. Whatever you like. Just make sure you don’t think about the problem at all. If your mind tries to bring it to your attention let it go for now. Just think “I’ll get to that later”.

That night, after you’ve brushed your teeth because there is no excuse for bad dental hygiene, make sure that you have a pen and some paper by the side of your bed. A little recording device would be great if you have one.

You’ll be amazed at the ideas your brain will have come up with.

Just because you can


Doesn’t mean you should. Take the can of self heating coffee that tempts so … drink me, I’m warm and you’re not, I have caffeine …

Now the problem with this innovation is not that the can is, impressively, self heating; no, that’s a great idea that has been tested, developed and succeeds.
The problem is that they didn’t stop innovating there and invented something that Douglas Adams would recognise as almost, but not quite entirely, unlike coffee.

I will try the next self heating product I come across, but that’s mainly due to me being far too trusting. Most people presented with this will tar all self heating cans with the same brown liquid.

First impressions are important, and not just regarding people.  Take the recent political Twitter debate for Western Sydney; I can imagine the strategy conversation “Twitter allows people to ask questions directly of the candidates? Amazing! Let’s do that!”

Unsurprisingly we ended up with a debate that the moderator couldn’t moderate, the participants couldn’t follow, and the constituents couldn’t take anything meaningful away from.

Before you leap into the fray with your big idea stop and look; then ask yourself if you should.

Then do it anyway.