Monday, December 30, 2013

Innovation - Catching the Mystery

When in late August at the 26th International Cartographic Conference hundreds of experts on mapping flocked over the course of five days the conference rooms even an outsider of this "narrow", though in our connected times more than relevant, field could attach to the various sessions. The reason for that: everyone of us has had a map in his or her hand for sure (if not in paper, or computer screen then on a mobile device).

The theme of the conference was "From Pole to Pole" and Prof. Manfred Buchroithner laid out in a radio interview the specific aim was to bring regions outside the scope of easy reach into awareness. The use of latest laser technology, data transformation, and latest display technology (e.g. Plastic Logic) were the focus.

Could there come out real new and value creating innovation out of such a conference, which by definition is often bounded to experts only? (Creative Commons)
In a WIRED article dated back in 2011 author Mark Brown laid out what the Robust Robotics Lab at MIT was working on in the field of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), "Kinect-carrying drone automatically builds 3D maps of rooms". The project Archaecopter (filming archeological sites) jointly done together by the HTW Dresden and the Freie Universität Berlin shows a more recent application also for "indoor" use.

Singularity University Spin-offs Matternet and ARIA Logistics that focus more on the transportation side of this new technology innovation. However there is lots in common between the different application fields, especially in terms of technology (behind it).

Too often is technology best to be used in our close vicinity, and personal needs (nitty gritty things we encounter every day, or several times in our lifetime that we wish to faster and easier to happen), and yet it often seems to need the detour via some special purpose field from which the technology may come into general public use, and become a true innovation (other than just an invention). What one often encounters (as myself this morning proposing to an employee of a kitchen shop using autonomous UAVs for 3D indoor mapping for flats or houses) is an instant of fear that comes of the listener to new ideas. The instant reaction was, "Honestly I am not in technology. Actually we are using the traditional methods, that is sufficient. We don't need nothing new!"

That got me more than thinking (once again) in which way innovation can be brought into the world without triggering fear in the people's minds who will be in one or the other way effected by technology?

Edgar H. Schein's paper on "Kurt Lewin's Change Theory in the Field and in the Classroom: Notes Toward a Model of Managed Learning 1"may shed some light on why innovation is so difficult to achieve.

My personal TAKE AWAY:
It often comes to real breakthrough innovations when least expected (but the underlying forces, including timing and needs of stakeholders have come together in the suitable way). Most often what made the innovation become reality was a need, and a direct connection to the real-life experiences of the people who then make it possible.

Share your experience in the comments if you like.

Cheers, Ralf

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Engineering Reversed - Decision-Making Revisited

Following a lecture on social systems and the deeper forces behind it in an engineering context Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman once again came into sight.

In a world where exactness, concrete, plan, and measurable results are the essentials of the work ethics, it makes wonder how his thoughts, as it is touched on in "Abundance - The Future is Better Than You Think" in chapter three, come into play.

Decisions of engineers (not just the mechanical and electrical, but also the software and other subfields that are driven by hard facts, which also touch on doctors, architects, chemists, and physicists) tend to depend on clear facts, and the processes these generate.

Why can it then be that all too often decisions in these contexts are not as expected?

A recent example is the new Leipzig City Tunnel which has gone into operation today, December 14, 2013, should have been opened four years ago, and it overarched the projected expenses by almost two-thirds. So there is evidence for improvement on how we make decisions.

Kahneman's advice for strengthening decision-making capabilities applies in many fields, including our own personal terrain.

All too often we are bound in our learned mental models which make it impossible to even question the most obvious (that could go wrong), and in the end we suffer by "unexpected" failure. Or put the other way round, even the most promising opportunities in the future are denied, as we (individually or as a group) are bound.

The advice for everyone out of the lecture first mentioned is to reflect on our own thinking (and the inherent mental models we carry on with our mind), and whether our assumptions about the world around us are "set in stone" (or just a mental model in our heads).

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Improvement Kata Handbook - by Mike Rother EtAl

Taken from: The Kata Improvement Handbook

Currently, I am attending a design thinking course #DTActionLab (current assignment challenge due today), the International Conference on Engineering Design in Seoul #ICED13 just having been started today, it came to mind there is a more that Toyota has brought to the "world table".

"Lean" may be the buzzword, lots of consultants, and marketeers build their business on, selling standard solutions to clients who are urgently in need to solve their present pressing problems.

However, the wisdom is right inside our organizations we often see struggling, especially when we are the customer.

Can we as individuals, and groups harness this gold around us? Certainly, we only have to learn to see and take the choices wisely.

Mike Rother, Professor at the University of Ann Arbor, has recently shared - in creative commons terms - his book called:

The Improvement Kata Handbook

PS.: Thanks a lot, Mike & TEAM!!!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Unconnected Moves Smartly Joined Together May Lead to Great Future

In mid summer 2012 the Technical University Dresden (TUD) obtained the prestigious title „Excellence University“ out of a years-long process in competition with other German universities. It happens to be the only one in the East-Germany countries (besides Berlin) and with good reasons so it seems.

The region around Dresden, Chemnitz, Freiberg, and in more general terms Saxony has a long lasting legacy of technical invention, technology-driven innovation, research stemming from a time when the early ore reserves were found, and new materials were starting to be used in the energy producing fields.

Rudolf Sigismund Blochmann who not only was one of the founding fathers of the TUD but had brought the German-version of the gaslighting to wide use in Germany as an efficient energy usage for street lighting (which can also nowadays be seen in Dresden in action; info via StadtWiki). Around Chemnitz and Freital there had been intensive coal deep-ground digging with all ajacent innovation which spread to new transport infrastructures, and other innovations that last till today on which to build on for the future.

DRESDEN-concept, the future concept of TUD around a synergetic university combining different diverse, and not always obviously connecting, fields like material science, semiconductors, arts, entrepreneurship, libraries, life sciences, and not least, nor last energy creation. The intent of this partnership of these institutions is to not only draw out the best of all involved partners ranging from Fraunhofer, Helmholtz, Leibniz and Max-Planck Institutes but to facilitate the power of arts, and sozio-science fields for tackling the „grand challenges“ ahead of us with effective, and efficient for education, and making use of this knowledge across boundaries of disciplines, generations, gender, and cultures.

One of these „grand challenges“, energy, which also is one of the main fields of a university of a quite contrary kind, as its curriculum changes every six months which holds it back to be acknowledged as a „real“ university, yet called Singularity University, drew in 250 researchers, scientists, and executives to two days on the River Elbe last week to discuss new ways to create energy in sustainable, and new ways.

Fraunhofer IWS, one of several Fraunhofer institutes based here in Dresden due to the strong technology-based community, and future-orientated wise moves of a handful of institute leaders, and politicians after the reunification to make effective use of the available resources in the region, was host of this conference.

The pulling force of the conference has been the Dresden-based „Dresden Innovation Center Energy Efficiency DIZE“, funded by the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and the Free State of Saxony. Apart from scientific research, and economic aspects the center focuses on the creation of future scientists, and engineers in the broad field of energy across disciplinary boundaries.

More on the conference can be found at the conference website "Energy in Future" and on Twitter.

The topics of the threads reached from thermoelectrics, solar energy, photovoltaics, energy storage, mobility, fuel cells and energy efficiency, and offered a wide range of insight into an amazing field for „outsiders“, as well as sparking ground for future collaboration, and creation of projects on bringing technologies into practical use for the "insiders".

Besides providing direct benefit for members of the research institutes as well as their direct project partners in the form of meeting and exchanging ideas in condensed matter, coffee breaks enabled the conversation across boundaries. It could be learned that public transportation companies with tram networks, such as the Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AG that is currently testing hybrid-electric busses, can offer electrical energy storage of a kind that has been not yet really tapped in. For providing the electric energy for the tramways continuous current at high voltage is provided by transformer substations (spread around the network within the city). These transformer substations can be further used in the future as electric storage stations for electric cars, e-bikes, and alike – the infrastructure is there, now it is time for innovation, and business model creation to set this potential to effective work for society.

As the just announced stop of operations of Better Place (which filed for bankruptcy in Israel), a company focusing on battery swapping technologies for electrical cars with headquarters in Palo Alto, and first prototype markets in Denmark and Israel showed once more the difficulty that "good technologies"despite good intent, and visions in a world of "normal energy providing" can eventually take. It takes bold visions, and smart moves alongside when technology innovation is going to become striving business models that last for decades, or centuries into the future. For sure is only that the future is unclear, full of surprises, and that new ways to tackle the great challenges of humanity (energy, food, health, housing, education, etc.) of which energy is amongst the most fundamental ones, it takes courageous steps out of the research, and prototype world to make a fertile business out of it, and generate the money to further fuel the future research in these fields, and create lasting economic wealth.

What could demonstrate this challenge better than the (rather surprising) announcement of closing of the Collaborative Research Center 804 at TUD due to not relieved funding for this cross-disciplinary spanning project that reaches also on the impacts of technology implementation in society. Dresden, and its citizens have the ability not only to power up economic wealth, and understanding the dynamics behind it by using its technology-based engine, but combine it with its legacy in social sciences as well.

The newly put into operation of UNU-Flores (part of the United Nations University) at WTC Dresden in joint cooperation with TUD is focusing on the education around integrated resources management, and doesn't the described situation provide a chance of the future that could be no better?

Integrating the technology, engineering approach with entrepreneurial visionaries, and glueing both by learning to see, perceive and understand the underlying dynamics by establishing a new institution at the TUD that not only generates its "own funding" by enabling entrepreneurs (these can be very well be former PhD students, or graduate students as well as university personnel) to build their (even though small in the beginning) companies.

The VISION is there to set to work, and Dresden could not be a better place for what the founder of the field system dynamics, Jay W. Forrester, envisioned in his "System dynamics - the next fifty years" talk at the ISDC 2007 in Boston.

If a new cross-disciplinary institute focusing on system dynamics here in Dresden could be outcome from these rather unconnected looking events then a "small step today may lead to bold moves into the future" soon.

The Team of HTxA

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Light Shapes the Path of our Future

"Ancient people seem to have understood perfectly well the economic life is a matter of adding new goods and services. But instead of seeing the logic and order by which this happens, they saw magic." (Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities)

Light is almost magic. In form of the electric light bulb just being banned lately in Europe by law, and the Energiewende (due to the events in Japan in the earthquake, and tsunami in spring 2011) it has become an issue that drives innovation around new technologies - sometimes, even by magic.

Here in Dresden not only a governement-funded large-scale project, called #CoolSilicon in order to lower the energy use of future mobile applications, going down to the processor itself, but other "edgy" fields around technology inventions, and the adjacent innovations from it emerge. Still at a small scale one has to admit, however growing at exponential rate.

Fraunhofer COMEDD at #ipd2013
The field in question is #OrganicElectronics, and especially #OLED lighting which is still in an infant stage compared to traditional lighting.

What may be so special about OLED lighting, that even whole conferences, or at least major parts of such are covering on the underlying technologies, research, and pilot projects?

OLED (organic light emitting diods) is mainly a flat, scalable lighting based on organic material free of hazardos  material like HG which can be adapted, and shaped in forms only you can imagine. About a year ago Angela Incampo proposed the concept of #OLEDine during the 7th Silicon Saxony Day here in Dresden to bring this to performing arts, namely ballet in order to combine the beauty of dance with the engineering genius of OLED, and the design spirit of fashion makers [LINK].

Fraunhofer Gesellschaft one of the world's largest industry-driven research commuities, on the edge to academics, is not only well-established in Dresden due to a long history in microelectronics, and machinery but holds a major part of the activities in this new lighting field. Favorable conditions like GLOBALFOUNDRIES Fab1, DRESDEN-concept, SEMICONEuropa (especially with the panels at Plastic Electronics 2013, on Twitter more via #PlasticElectronics2013 soon) are the drivers for what emerged last week:

Fraunhofer COMEDD's official opening as an independant industry research institute (especially in the field of OLED and bi-directional microdisplays [mentioned in WIREDUK magazine, p. 51]

Taking the chance to make the opening not just a small dot on the event calendar the following day the 1st Industry Partners Day of Fraunhofer COMEDD pulled in almost 100 partners of ongoing projects from close and far to learn more about what can be achieved for society with these new technologies. The program was overwhelming, and diverse - from organic solar cells, to sensors in medical use, use cases of interactive bi-directional microdisplays such as for #GoogleGlass [GoogleGlass specs for the serious geek]. Even though this one day was certainly not enough to capture and digest all the input, and see the vastly broad (currently) loose connections to future use fields it pulled the interest by the participants who had come not only from Germany, but from Europe as well. #SEMICONEuropa, 8-10 October 2013 in Dresden will certainly bring the next, and longer opportunity to learn more about the research, and industry chances that are connected with Dresden.

During the talks one thing became quite clear: from single pilot product to small-scale, and scalable projects to bring this new energy efficient OLED lighting technology into public awareness, and then use is the main challenge. The OLED substrate from NOVALED, another Dresden-based technology startup is in the newest smartphones made by SAMSUNG, and is one of many small steps on the #SiliconSaxony road towards success, to learn, and build on. And it needs more than just establishing new tech tools to do the early production. The interweaving of technology, (unaware) customers, and innovative business models is the challenge of today's exponentially accelerating technology arenas. Too often the "Just think big"-attitude, only acting as a potential buyer/ industry partner when the concrete outcome in financial terms is the one and only key driver that keeps technology innovations too often "in the basement" or early stage scaling.

What is the global grand challenge that OLED in specific could be of help? It certainly has to do with energy (because these use a "drop of it" compared to normal lighting facilities), and the beauty, and natural light temperature they give in comparison to ultra-bright LED spots, or "heating ovens" that we still call light bulbs.

TRILUX at #ipd2013
We are certainly in the very early stage of a rippling shift in the adjacent industry, especially around lighting, and energy infrastructure, and just thinking a step further can disrupt the current business fabric fully. When your OLED is powered by your organic PV panels wrapped around your house, or sealed in the doubling of your house's windows what else will be different?

Overall this intense #ipd2013 (Industry Partners Day) on April 10, 2013 was a future talk on the edge of a hot innovation hub, waiting to erupt into economic local growth opportunities once the focus of public, and business organizations rescope, and broaden the focus away from solely bringing technology into being, but build on the value-creation chain from there. For this small bold actions, changes in innovation funding, and working on effective innovation funding approaches, and its acceleration appreciating the truly new will open up the "Opportunity Space" towards #Abundance.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Good and the Bad - what can be learned from both.

German education system is getting under the microscope. A few weeks ago The New York Times brought an article about the excellence title of TU Dresden (one of 11 universities that gathered this title last year, with the prestigious title is coming along a massive public funding for some years to go for them). It is not often that the German education system makes its way into the North Americas despite the fact that the origins of the the education system there is based in large part by the public upper education (university) initiated by Wilhelm von Humboldt.
Back in mid-January news spread via Twitter, and by the yearly "Unternehmerfrühstück" at Messe Dresden GmbH organized by the City of Dresden (cc Dresden News) where the Rector of the TU Dresden, Prof. Hans Müller-Steinhagen gave a speech (more about it, though in German, here)

Yesterday's notice about the resignation of former Minister of Education Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan spread again, and made it into The New York Times. The story that has been ongoing for about a year now over her dissertation and possible misquoting in large part of it has hit a high yesterday.

However, leaving all deeper inquiries into the matter to others at this point, it is an interesting point that news are spreading nowadays across continents in almost no time, and yet there is a big difference in both.

1. TU Dresden: it got the title back in mid-2012, and made its way into the New York Times about six months later
2. Resignation of Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan happened yesterday, 2013-02-09, and made it into New York Times (online) a day later

1. happened on the edge in Dresden
2. happened in the center of political gravity in Berlin

A major question that arises from that:

Information technology, and the ability to spread news across continents is somewhat lacking an essential ingredient to make stories move across the globe. What could it possibly be?

Sidenote: to my knowledge there are no Dresden-based journalists writing about the ongoings in the region in English. Or should I be wrong at this point? Lot's is happening here on the "edge" of the country especially in research, innovation, and working on shifting the education context to run at similar top level with the hotspots of the world and to a certain point this knowledge tends to be staying locally. Back 80 years and more Dresden has been acknowledged as one of the innovation centers of Europe, and the world alike, and then suddenly the social fabric changed, and made flow of knowledge somewhat dark. Still in some sort of recover time information technology, and English as a first boundary object to accelerate the knowledge flows could spark extraordinary changes we might not have considered yet as a society.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Design for the 21st Century Management & Education Institution

Back in 1989, "The Wall" had not yet come down yet, and first tectonic shifts of the social fabric in Europe were already under way, Jay W. Forrester gave a Banquet Talk at the international meeting of the System Dynamics Society. It was July 13, 1989, in Stuttgart.
As Jay W. Forrester pointed out on how he had become to create the field of system dynamics over the course of his life, on how he and his team managed the development of the first automate air-defense system, and how his work on Urban Dynamics led to the contact with Aurelio Peccei, founder of the Club of Rome  from which Limits to Growth later came up.

At the end of his talk he points out "A rather small number of relatively simple structures will be found repeatedly in different businesses, professions, and real-life settings. One of Draper's junior high school students, working with bacteria in a culture and in computer simulation, looked up and observed, "This is the world population problem, isn't it?" Such transfer of insights from one setting to another will help to break down the barriers between disciplines. It means that learning in one field becomes applicable to to other fields. There is now a promise of reversing the trend of the last century that has been moving away from the "Renaissance man" toward fragmented specialization. We can now work toward an integrated, systemic, educational process that is more efficient, more appropriate to a world increasing complexity, and more compatible with a unity in life."

Almost 24 years later, what is the evidence that this is true? Personally I very well remember a job interview in Stuttgart for a position as a lean consultant (which when filled out properly goes very much in tune with the words above) back in early 2008. I still recall the drop of my heart beat when the CEO of the company told me, "You are the right person we are looking for at the moment. Your knowledge and expertise in the field is exactly what we need. - Yet, we can't hire you: you would be the first non-engineer (note: economist) in the team of 14!"

If such behavior of business leader is still the prevalent mode of action, where shall we establish the spaces, and institutions that build on Jay W. Forrester's vision of 1989?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Evolutionary Process ... Humans in the Middle

Reese Jones, trustee of Singularity University, at a recent TEDxSF, on the role of microbiome on not just our individual health but the larger system.

11:18 min - "It's an evolutionary process we are in the middle of. And it is hard to see things when you are in the middle of them"

These two sentences taken in your context of work, or what you try to achieve - what are you currently in, could need an outside, on the edge, observer telling you something you can't possibly see?