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).