Tuesday, May 4, 2010

FEI2010 Keynote – Scenario Planning: Authoring the Future

C. Engdahl reporting from FEI2010

Scenario Planning: Authoring the Future
Presented by Steven B. Johnson, author of the books The Invention of Air, and The Ghost Map

The overarching theme, and in fact actual theme, of FEI2010 is about collaboration – A New Front End: The Era of Collaboration. And one of the interesting subtexts of this theme during the conference has been the idea of Open Systems. After listening to Steven B. Johnson’s keynote presentation "Authoring the Future", I couldn’t help wonder “fifty years ago, who would have thought the Soviets would create one of the first truly modern day open systems?”

Excited for the opportunity to use notes from his new iPad, author Steven B. Johnson drew upon ideas from his forthcoming book Where Good Ideas Come From (due out this fall) to highlight the importance of “cultivating hunches” to create innovation and how to go about doing so effectively. Some of the most interesting examples during his presentation involved ideas that were initially cultivated for one purpose, and ultimately used for something else. The technology and techniques used for instance by students at the Advanced Physics Lab within Johns Hopkins after Sputnik launched in 1957, ultimately became what we now know as Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Who would have imagined that a technique and the technologies used to first pinpoint the location of Sputnik in 1957, then used to locate nuclear submarines, would one day be used to help caffeine-deprived individuals secure a large mocha by locating the nearest Starbucks?

“Ideas are networks,” says Mr. Johnson. “They are not a single thing.” They are connected and built upon other ideas. And rarely do they originate from true epiphany, but rather through what Johnson calls “the slow hunch” – the long process where a kernel of an idea is developed over time with the help of supportive environments and social clusters.

So where do good ideas come from? And what can you do to create them?

1. Cultivate Hunches – create environments that support the develop over time of creative ideas. Tim Berners-Lee for instance, credited with creating the World Wide Web, actually began cultivating the idea of such a platform about ten years before he actually developed it. He (fortunately for all of us) was in an environment that allowed and even encouraged the exploration of these ideas.

2. Recognize that Clusters, not necessarily Corporations are the social environments in which innovative ideas are developed. Clusters, usually informal and spontaneous in nature, can sometimes form within organizations. But more often than not are created outside formal organizational structures and are based on geographic location or basic common interests. Think Silicon Valley. Why are tech start-ups so often found in close geographic proximity? It's because face-to-face encounters, even with competitors, allow people to “riff” on ideas.

3. Remain open to Exaptation – the idea that something created for one purpose could be applied and become useful for something completely different. Think GPS.

When the PhD students at John Hopkins started tracking Sputnik in late 1957, they were able to do so because of the clarity and strength of the signal emitted by the satellite. The Soviets wanted the world to hear its innovation, and thus kept its signal open. Innovation depends on open systems.

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