Inside The Race To Build A Battery That Can Power The 21st Century – Greg Satell

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The garage startup has become as much of an American icon in the twenty first century as the automobile and the drive-in were to earlier generations. The idea that anyone with an idea can change the world is as romantic as democracy itself, but it’s not altogether true. A garage startup only works if there is existing technology to build on top of. The problem is that every technology eventually runs out of steam. When that happens, progress will grind to a halt without a significant breakthrough. As technology becomes more complex, that type of advancement becomes so hard to achieve that it becomes out of reach for any single organization, much less a few guys in a garage. That is essentially where we are with energy storage. Lithium-ion, the 40 year-old technology that powers everything from smartphones to electric cars is nearing its theoretical limits just as the renewable energy revolution is demanding cheaper batteries that can store more energy at lower cost. Solving problems like these requires a massively collaborative approach. A Brief History Of Energy Storage The lithium-ion battery was originally discovered by the American scientist John Goodenough, in 1979, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Over the next decade, the technology steadily improved and by the early 1990s, it became commercially available in Sony Camcorders. Since then, lithium-ion batteries have increased in energy density by a factor of six, while costs have dropped by a factor of 10. That’s made them good enough to power our phones and laptops, but they’re still not powerful enough — or cheap enough — to power electric cars or the electric grid. Experts believe that to create a true transformation, battery costs need be below $100/ Kw/hour and the current technology is unlikely to get us there. So getting where we need to be is not a matter of simply improving efficiency, we have to come up with completely new materials with greater energy density and lower cost. When the Department of Energy began thinking about how to solve such an enormous and seemingly intractable problem, it realized that it needed to take a very different approach. The result is the Joint Center For Energy Storage Research (JCESR), which is currently in the fourth year of its five year mandate to develop next generation batteries. Pooling Scientific Knowledge The basic idea behind JCESR is that the knowledge required to create a breakthrough solution is spread out among a diverse number of scientists working at a wide variety of institutions, such as the national labs and academic institutions. So the first step was to combine their talents and coordinate research through a single hub focused on the energy storage problem. Venkat Srinivasan, Deputy Director, Research and Development at JCESR explains, “National labs tend to have bigger teams of people working on bigger problems, while academic researchers are more specialized in their expertise. Our structure allows us to access stars in the academic world and apply their specific expertise to the problem of next generation storage.” “For example,” he continues, “Matthew Sigman and Shelley Minteer at the University of Utah have done pathbreaking work in chemical stability in the pharmaceutical field, but we recognized that the same technology can help us make better batteries. Their work has really propelled our mission forward, while working on batteries has taken their research into new areas.” So combining the expertise of five national labs along with a number of the country’s top universities gives JCESR an incredible amount of scientific talent. Yet the battery problem is about more than science. The aim is to come up with a solution that not only works, but can win in the marketplace, which is why getting input from private companies is crucial. Bringing In Private Industry Scientists are focused on discovering new phenomena, but have little insight into the practicalities of the marketplace. For example, a researcher that discovers a new material with vastly more energy density than current batteries will have no idea whether it is feasible to procure, manufacture and distribute. That’s a big problem, because by the time a scientist verifies his results, prepares them for publication and goes through peer review, it can take years before he realizes that he wasted his time. So getting input from partners and affiliates in the private sector has been invaluable for focusing research at JCESR on the most promising paths to a better battery. It has also greatly benefitted the companies that have participated. As Brian Cooke, a Group Vice President at Johnson Controls told me, “We saw our involvement as an opportunity to shape the future, so the science coming out of JCESR would have the greatest benefit for our customers, our company and our industry. It has also enabled us to interact with top notch researchers from some of the country’s best labs.” Yet it isn’t just big companies that are benefitting. Through JCESR’s affiliate program even small companies can participate, which gives them a better idea of how to focus their efforts. That’s especially important for firms that can’t afford to go off in the wrong direction and waste limited resources. Mike Wixom of Navitas, a four year old company that focuses on military and industrial applications, told me, “As a small company, we’re fighting for our survival on a daily basis. Becoming JCESR affiliate gives us an early peek at technology and you get to give feedback about what kinds manufacturing issues are likely to come up with any particular chemistry.” Innovating The Discovery Process Historically, the process of making a new battery has been mostly trial and error. Building a battery for use in a car has vastly different requirements than, say, for the grid or a power tool. So, for the most part, battery developers experimented with different combinations until they get the right specifications for the product they were trying to make. One of the major achievements at JCESR has been to build tools to make this process more rational and efficient. The first is a computer model that analyzes the complex interplay between technical and economic factors that a battery will need to achieve. The second is materials and electrolytes “genomes” that known properties of the various possibilities. “Moving to the materials genome is like moving from your local library to the Internet,” says Mike Andrew, a […]

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10 Personal Innovation Lessons – Gijs van Wulfen

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Yes, innovation is extremely difficult. That’s why I love it actually. My personal mission is to simplify innovation so you, your colleagues and/or clients will be able to master innovation yourself. “How can I become a successful innovator?” is the most asked question to me offstage, after a keynote on innovation. Most people are well aware that their organisations are not able to stand still in this fast paced business environment. But a lot of people don’t know how to start innovation. Most of them are afraid to fail, ending up by doing nothing, until doing nothing is a bigger risk. That’s why I like to share with you ten personal innovation lessons to inspire you to become a successful innovator. Lesson 1: “Organisations frustrate their most innovative employees.” – Organisations are rules by best practices, procedures and regulations, which is completely understandable as they want to be the best in class in their current product-market combinations. As innovator you are continuously tweaking present offerings and coming up with completely new concepts. The unfortunate thing is that they hardly ever fit present best practices, procedures and regulations. Sometimes you get the impression that everybody within the company tries to stop you, instead of giving you a helping hand. Companies really know how to frustrate their most innovative employees. Innovation is always a struggle. My personal lessons learned was that I just needed ‘to learn to love the struggle’. That helped a lot. Lesson 2: “Most Managers behave like dogs. They bark at what they do not know.” – Or should I say “Most people….”? How do you behave yourself when someone reaches out to you to tell a great new idea? Do you really listen? Do you ask questions to understand what it’s really about? Do you postpone your own judgement? No. Most of us don’t. Something new never fits in our known patterns and routines. When dogs see something they don’t know the get frightened and start to bark. We humans are so alike :-). Lesson 3:”Managers say yes to innovation only if doing nothing is a bigger risk.” – The chance that a front-end innovation project actually becomes a success on the market is one out of seven. Why should a top manager say yes to innovations with a high risk as long as low-risk line/brand extensions will still do the job? He or she won’t. No, most managers say yes to innovation if doing nothing is a bigger risk. Lessons 4: “A manager wants to control innovation and that’s where it ends. A leader leads innovation and that’s where it starts.” – Managing innovation in a controlling way will never work, because per definition real innovation is a high risk venture with many uncertainties. If you manage real innovations like ‘a normal project’, it will never work. Getting an idea to the market takes a long time and the process is full of iterations. Trying to control it, in a conventional PRINCE-like structure will kill it for sure. Lesson 5: “Real innovative leaders give both focus and freedom.” – Leading innovation by giving both focus and freedom works much better. As leader make sure that your teams focus on the right strategic priorities and know what you expect from them. On the other hand, to be effective, you must give them freedom. Freedom to do it in an unorthodox way, with unorthodox partners, which keeps the passion of your innovators high. Lesson 6: Innovation is not a person or a department. It’s a mindset.” – When you outsource innovation to a person or to a department most of the times nothing materialises. Innovation affects the total internal value chain, and everybody involved. It’s all about creating an innovative mindset: an way of thinking open to the world around you, which sparks new ideas and gives you energy to to take action. Lesson 7: “You can invent alone, but you can’t innovate alone.” – How many people do you need in your organization to get a new concept from idea to market launch? Right. A lot of people. You can come up with an idea on your own. but you need a lotto colleagues to develop it, to produce it, to do the logistics, to do the sales and of course do the invoicing for it. So connect your colleagues in your innovation project from the start. We they are co-creators they will be the strongest supporters. Lesson 8: “The best innovators are need seekers.” – Need Seekers, such as Apple and Procter & Gamble, make a point of engaging customers directly to generate new ideas. They develop new products and services based on superior end-user understanding. Studies confirm that following a Need Seekers strategy offers the greatest potential for superior performance in the long term. Need seeking is essential, because a good innovation is a simple solution to a relevant customer need. Lesson 9: “Think outside the box and present your idea inside the box otherwise nothing happens.” – Of course you are expected to break patterns. And originality helps. But when you present your idea it is wise to keep in mind that the rest of the organization is still as conservative as ever. Your senior management might praise you for your creativity. But, will they buy the idea and give you the resources to develop it after seeing a movie, a mock up or a flash mob? I have my doubts. Don’t bring them ideas, bring them business and growth potential! Lesson 10: “If there’s no urgency, innovation is considered as playtime.” – Most people in your organisation focus on the business of today. As, innovation will only pay off tomorrow. A lot of companies consider innovation as ‘nice to have’, although they will hesitate to said this out loud. it’s considered by many executives as playtime, as long as there’s no urgency. That’s why in cost cutting programmes innovation will be one of the first activities to be killed. I wish you lots of success on your personal innovation journey. Please share your own innovation lessons  as a comment. Written by Gijs van Wulfen -Inspiring you to master innovation Also published in Innovation in Australia, BSI Innovation — Do you want to improve your personal innovation skills? Check out this hands-on training April 2017 in the proven FORTH innovation […]

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4 Things You Need To Build An Innovative Culture- Greg Satell

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  In the late 1960’s, Gary Starkweather had a serious spat with his boss.  As an engineer in Xerox’s long-range xerography unit, he saw that laser printing could be a huge business opportunity. His manager, however, was focused on improving the efficiency of the current product line, not looking to start another one. The argument got so heated that Starkweather’s job came to be in jeopardy. Fortunately, his rabble rousing caught the attention of another division within the company, the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which wasn’t interested in efficiency, but inventing a new future and they eagerly welcomed Starkweather into their ranks. Within a decade, Xerox’s copying business declined sharply, but the laser printer took off and soon became the firm’s main source of revenue. In effect, the work that was squelched in one culture, thrived in another and saved the company. We tend to think innovation is about ideas, but it depends on people even more. Here’s how you create an innovative culture. 1. A Focus On Problem Solving When you think about an innovative culture what probably first comes to mind is a bunch of fast moving hipsters guzzling down energy drinks and pulling all-nighters, pausing only to play a quick game of foosball or frisbee. Or maybe Steve Jobs on stage with a devilish grin just before he wows the audience with “one more thing…” Yet in researching my book, Mapping Innovation, I found that very few of the organizations I studied looked like that. Some were fast moving startups, but most of the successful ones were led by executives that were mature and thoughtful, not brash or erratic. Others were large corporations and world class labs that tended to be fairly conservative. The one thing I found in common in every fantastically innovative place I looked at was a disciplined passion for identifying new problems. Unlike most organizations, which are content to struggle with everyday issues, the enterprises I studied had a systematic method of finding new problems to work on that would take them in new directions. The approaches vary considerably. IBM creates grand challenges, like building a computer that can beat humans at Jeopardy. Experian set up a Datalabs division to find out what’s giving its customers “agita” and launch new business off the solutions they build. Google’s “20% time acts as a human-powered search engine for new problems. We tend to think of innovation as fast moving, but the truth is that it usually takes 30 years to go from an initial discovery to a measurable impact. So the “next big thing” is usually about 29 years old. If you want to innovate effectively, don’t chase the latest trend, find a problem your customers will care about and solve it for them. 2. Create Safe Spaces In 2012, Google embarked on an enormous research project. Code-named “Project Aristotle,” the aim was to see what made successful teams tick. They combed through every conceivable aspect of how teams worked together — how they were led, how frequently they met outside of work, the personality types of the team members — no stone was left unturned. However, despite Google’s nearly unparalleled ability to find patterns in complex data, none of the conventional criteria seemed to predict performance. In fact, what they found mattered most to team performance was psychological safety, or the ability of each team member to be able to give voice to their ideas without fear of reprisal or rebuke. Interestingly,  highly innovative teams can be safe for some ideas, but not for others. For example, two of the scientists at PARC, Dick Shoup and Alvy Ray Smith, developed on a revolutionary new graphics technology called SuperPaint. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit in with the PARC’s vision of personal computing, the two were ostracized and eventually both left. Smith would team up with another graphics pioneer, Ed Catmull, at the New York Institute of Technology. Later they joined George Lucas, who saw the potential for computer graphics to create a new paradigm for special effects. Eventually, the operation was spun out and bought by Steve Jobs. That company, Pixar, was sold to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion. Xerox PARC is now a shadow of its former self. As it turned out, anything that didn’t have to do with the researchers’ vision for the future had no home there. So if you want to innovate consistently for the long term, you need to create a “safe space” for all ideas, not just the ones that fit with your initial mission. 3. Foster Informal Networks In 2005, a team of researchers decided to study why some Broadway plays become hits and others flop. They looked at all the usual factors, such as production budget, marketing budget and the track record of the director, but what they found was that what was most important was informal networks of relationships among the cast and crew. If no one had ever worked together before, both financial and creative results tended to be poor. However, if the networks among the cast and crew became too dense, performance also suffered. It was the teams that had elements of both — strong ties and new blood — that had the greatest success. The same effect has been found elsewhere. In studies of star engineers at Bell Labs, the German automotive industry and currency traders it has been shown that tightly clustered groups, combined with long range “weak ties” that allow information to flow freely among disparate clusters of activity results in better innovation. So before you embark on your next reorganization designed to “break down silos” you might want to think about how informal relationships develop within your enterprise. The truth is that innovation is never about nodes. It’s always about networks. 4. Promote Collaboration All too often, we think of innovation as the work of lone geniuses who, in a flash of inspiration, arrive at a eureka moment. Yet the truth is that research shows that the high value work is done in teams, those teams are increasing in size, are far more interdisciplinary than in the past and the work is done at greater distances. Just as importantly, there is growing evidence that it is crucial how these teams function. A study done by the CIA performed after 9/11 to determine what attributes made for the most effective analyst teams found […]

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Innovation is Combination-Greg Satell

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Much has been made about the difference between innovation and invention. One writer went as far as to argue that Steve Jobs development of the iPod wasn’t an innovation because it was dependent on so much that came before it. A real innovation, so the argument goes, must be truly transformational, like the IBM PC, which created an entire industry. The problem with these kind of word games is that they lead us to an infinite regress. The IBM PC can be seen as the logical extension of the microchip, which was the logical extension of the transistor. These, in turn, rose in part through earlier developments, such Turing’s universal computer and the completely irrational science of quantum mechanics. The truth is that innovation is never a single event, but happens when fundamental concepts combine with important problems to create an impact. Traditionally, that’s been done within a particular organization or field, but to come up with breakthrough ideas in the 21st century, we increasingly need to transcend conventional boundaries of company and industry. Transforming Alchemy Into Chemistry Everybody knows the story of Benjamin Franklin and his famous kite, but few have ever heard of John Dalton and his law of multiple proportions. What Dalton noticed was that if you combine two or more elements, the weight resulting compound will be proportional to its components. That may seem vague, but it did more for electricity than Franklin ever did. The reason that Dalton’s obscure law became so important is that it led him to invent the modern concept of atoms and, in doing so, transformed the strange art of alchemy into the hard science of chemistry. Once matter could be reduced down to a single, fundamental concept, it could be combined to make new and wondrous things. Dmitri Mendeleev transformed Dalton’s insight into the periodic table, transforming the lives of high school students and major chemical corporations alike. Michael Faraday’s chemical experiments led to his development of the dynamo and the electric motor, which in turn led to Edison’s electric light, modern home appliances and even IBM’s PC and Apple’s iPod. Which of these are inventions and which are innovations? It’s impossible to tell and silly to argue about. What’s clear is none are the product of a single idea, but are all combinations of ideas built on the foundation that Dalton created. Merging Man and Machine In the early 1960s, IBM made what was perhaps the biggest gamble in corporate history. Although it was already the clear leader in the computer industry, it invested $5 billion — in 1960 dollars, worth more than $30 billion today — on a new line of computers, the 360 series, which would make all of its existing products obsolete. The rest, as the say, is history. The 360 series was more than just a product, it was a whole new way of thinking about computers. Before, computers were highly specialized machines designed to do specific jobs. IBM’s new product line, however, offered a wide range of capabilities, allowing customers to add to their initial purchase as their business grew. It would dominate the industry for decades. When Fred Brooks, who led the project, looked back a half century later, he said that the most important decision he made was to switch from a 6-bit byte to an 8-bit byte, which enabled the use of lowercase letters. Considering the size of the investment and the business it created, that may seem like a minor detail. But consider this: That single decision merged the language of machines with the language of humans into a fundamental unit. In effect, the 8-bit byte transformed computers from obscure calculating machines into a collaboration tool. Learning The Language of Life Much like Dalton came up with the fundamental unit of chemistry, a century later Wilhelm Johannsen developed the fundamental unit of biology in 1909: the gene. This too was a combination — and also a refinement — of earlier ideas from men like Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and others. However, for scientists of the early twentieth century, a gene was little more than a concept. No one knew what a gene was made of or even where they could be found. It was little more of an abstract idea until Watson and Crick discovered the structure and function of DNA. Even then, there was little we could do with genes except know that they were there. That changed when the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003 and unleashed the new field of genomics. Today, genetic treatments for cancer have become common and, with prices for genetic sequencing falling faster than those for computer chips, we can expect gene therapies to be applied to a much wider array of ailments over the next decade. Yet these new developments are not the product of just biologists. The challenges of gene mapping required massive computing power. So researchers working on genes needed to work closely with computer scientists to put supercomputers to work helping to solve the problem. A New Era of Innovation The confusion about innovation and invention reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about how innovation really works. The idea that certain ideas are flashes of divine inspiration while others are merely riffs off of earlier tunes sung long ago fails to recognize that all innovations are combinations. Over the last century, most inventions have been combinations of fundamental units. Many important products, from household goods to miracle cures, have been developed through combining atoms in new and important ways. Learning how to combine bytes of information gave rise to the computer industry and we’re now learning how to combine genes. The 21st century, however, will give rise to a new era of innovation in which we combine not just fundamental elements, but entire fields of endeavor. As Dr. Angel Diaz, IBM’s VP of Cloud Technology & Architecture told me, “We need computer scientists working with cancer scientists, with climate scientists and with experts in many other fields to tackle grand challenges and make large impacts on the world.” Today, it takes more than just a big idea to innovate. Increasingly, collaboration is becoming a key competitive advantage because you need to combine ideas from widely disparate fields. So if you want to innovate, don’t sit around waiting for a great eureka moment — look for what you can combine […]

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Can we all be creative?- Dr Chris DeArmitt

Can we all be creative?

We’re living in a world of political correctness. We’re told that everyone is created equal and innovation articles tell us that everyone can innovate if only we develop the right habits. An industry has grown up to provide us with creativity training. I’ve done some of that and it was rather fun but we must face up to the stark truth. It does not and cannot work. Why? I wanted to know whether people can be taught to be creative, so I checked the latest research. Bad news. In order to have any original ideas at all requires an above average IQ, meaning that 50% of the population are disqualified. To have a high level of creativity requires an IQ of 120 or more, which means that only 10% of us have a chance. Even of those people, high intelligence alone does not guarantee creativity, you also need a quality called “openness” which is the drive to try new experiences. Plus, they have to work really hard. That means creativity training is wasted on over 90% of us. Of those who have potential to be creative, they are probably already creating naturally. If you wanted to have an effective training initiative, you would have to select those with both high IQ and openness. The flip side is that creative types can’t take that much credit for what they are doing. Sure, they still have to put in the work, but they were hardwired with that ability, through no act of their own. We must also remember that creativity is only the first step toward making something worthwhile happen. Creatives are not good at seeing their ideas through to completion and need help from other types to get the job done. We are not created the same but we can all make a contribution using our own unique combination of skills. That’s what teams are for. In Summary Next time you read an article called something like “ten habits of highly creative people” just remember that reading about their habits won’t help. I can read the ten habits of my favorite film star and yet, when I wake up tomorrow, I will be no closer to becoming a star. As long as we cling to falsehoods, progress will remain slow. Only by facing the truth can we build teams around each other’s strengths and take a step forward. If you do want more creativity for your company, then there are other ways to access it including open innovation (external ideas) and making changes to allow your extant innovators to thrive. First published on LinkedIn by Dr Chris DeArmitt About Chris Dr. DeArmitt has been voted #1 plastics expert by his peers. He consults for the Fortune 500 bringing them revolutionary new materials, problem solving and training services. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and has a multitude of patents, articles, book and encyclopedia chapters to his name. Recently, he published the acclaimed book Innovation Abyss which explains the real reasons for corporate innovation failure and gives proven methods to achieve 10x better return on innovation investment. He is an award-winning speaker who enjoys helping companies realize their potential. Contact Chris.

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How to use social media for free publicity

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Australians are generally not the best at self-promotion, likely due to Australia’s renowned tall poppy syndrome. Even business owners who understand the power of PR to build and grow their business tend to shy away from activating PR. With the rise of social media, free publicity has become much more possible to gain exposure quickly.  A few years ago, as Facebook was on the rise, people gravitated toward the platform to spread the word about their business. Recently however Facebook has begun charging users to promote their wares. While thousands of businesses use Facebook today, business owners are now experimenting with other social channels to obtain free publicity. LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter are offering more ways to get free publicity for your business. Dependent on your industry there are many online publishers who could be interested in your story or an article written by you – it’s worthwhile getting in touch with them and offering an article or an interview. Once published it remains online and often the publisher will promote it on their channels as well. Publishers such as Startup Daily, Startup Soda and social platforms such as IdeaSpies and other blogs and media publishers are always on the hunt for newsworthy ideas, stories and events. We’ve all heard that today’s news is tomorrow’s fish’n’chip paper, but that no longer applies, even for cartoonists. This change means more opportunities for free publicity. With today’s massive social media use it’s surprising how many businesses are covered in the media but don’t then share the news via their channels. If you’re lucky enough to be published in either digital or print media, make sure you share the story via both your personal and business social media channels to reach a wider audience and align yourself to the publisher who featured you. You should also feature it on your website in a media listing. One mention in an article or blog can lead to further media opportunities and more business if you share it far and wide. Free publicity is much more valuable than paid advertising. So in summary my three tips on this subject are: Be clear on your elevator pitch- the distinct competitive advantage your business offers customers that is newsworthy. Identify publications and blogs that would be interested in your story and try to share it with them. If you’re lucky enough to get published, share the story via both your personal and business social media channels as well as on your website. Your customers like to know that your products and services are so good that they get publicity. Lynn Wood is Chief Idea Spy at IdeaSpies, a social platform publishing inspiring clever ideas. Simply explained. Categories: artistic, dining, healthcare, NFP and wellbeing, The IdeaSpies post featuring the Oroton personalised handbag idea was widely shared, including by Oroton. Click here to get in touch with Lynn First published at http://www.proquo.net.au/how-to-use-social-media-for-free-publicity/ Share This Story, Choose Your Platform! Facebook Twitter Linkedin Reddit Tumblr Google+ Pinterest Vk Email

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A transparent startup wins- Paul Towers

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What does innovation mean to you? In the year that has been 2016 it seems like the word innovation has been on the tip of everyone’s tongues. From politicians, to startups and  incumbent corporations it seems as though everyone wants to “innovate”. The fact that this has been pushed to the forefront of the national agenda is a massive step in the right direction. While not all companies (or Government departments) will succeed in their attempt to be seen as innovative, at least the challenge has been put out there, and people are trying new things. Coming from a resource rich country however it still seems as though too many of these ideas are product focused in my opinion. We are a national of tinkerers and while we have had many great successes in this area, think Wi-Fi and the cochlear implant, the next great step forward has to be in how we approach business models, communication channels and the way in which we grow our economy beyond what it has traditionally been about. As we look to afar we can see companies such as Uber and AirBnB, who have changed the world of transport and travel by literally taking an age old industry and changing how people pay for a service or access to it. If we can combine this level of disruption, to our success in creating great technology like I have outlined above, then I believe Australia truly can become a dominant technology and startup centric country. That however is only part of the challenge. Turning a business model on its head is great, but if no one is out there talking about it, promoting their success, or even sharing their failures then there is nothing for the next generation to learn from and build upon. As the founder and curator of Startup Soda I am constantly on the lookout for interesting and insightful content from the Australian startup ecosystem to include in the newsletter. I can browse Twitter or Medium any day of the week and see US founders talking about raising a round, or failing to close a big deal or pivoting to great success (or failure) but when I look to the Australian ecosystem I hear crickets. Perhaps it is our culture, perhaps it is the maturity of our ecosystem? But I very rarely come across founders and startups who are open to sharing their story. I understand that it can be scary and easy to suspect that someone may steal your idea or marketing concept. But some transparency, is better than no transparency, so even if you only share what you are happy to is a massive step in the rich direction. I have seen first hand how powerful this innovative model of business communication can be. A few years ago I had no idea what Buffer was. In fact I first heard about them through their blog posts when they were sharing their revenue numbers, successes and failures. It was interesting and insightful content that grabbed my attention. Eventually when the time came to look for a social media tool for my startup, I did no research. I already knew that I would use Buffer, regardless of their price. I had bought into their vision and was happy to support their business. In fact, I do more than, that and would consider myself an advocate. Since then I have gone on to follow the journey of a number of other transparent startups such as Groove HQ and Baremetrics. This has only re-emphasised my belief in the idea of building a transparent startup. What this really shows is that innovation does not have to take place at the product or service level. It can apply to any part of your business. I have embraced this concept wholeheartedly with my own startup, Task Pigeon. I have committed to blogging about the journey of building my startup from day 1. I will share the good, the bad and the ugly. Not because I want to be known as the “open aussie startup” but because I truly believe in this innovative method of business operation and communication. While I accept that it may end up in failure (and be public for the world to see), I believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Having the opportunity to build deep and lasting relationships with customers, to have them buy into what I am building with Task Pigeon and most importantly to help other founders learn from my successes or failures in some small way is hugely valuable to me. I can only hope that I reflect on this post in a year’s time and see that a number of other Aussie startups have chosen to join me on this journey and share their own stories, lessons and opinions. Bio: Paul Towers is a 3 x Entrepreneur and Founder of Task Pigeon, a task management web app which allows you to simply create, assign and manage the tasks your team works on each day. He also founded and curates the Startup Soda newsletter which aims to uncover the best news, blog posts and tactical resources from Australian startups, founders and VC’s each day.

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Taking advantage of free publicity

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When social media was starting to become popular free publicity was freely available. Many online businesses spread awareness by growing followers, particularly on Facebook. More recently Facebook has been taking advantage of its market leading position by charging businesses to reach their followers. This has led to the need to find other ways of getting free publicity. Instagram has become the social media of choice for businesses with visual products such as fashion and dining while Twitter is used to spread ideas as well as information on products and services. More recently LinkedIn has become an effective channel for sharing ideas. Before social media and since then the best way to get free publicity has been to get featured in an article if you can. There are now startup publications such as Startup Daily and Startup Soda, social platforms such as IdeaSpies and established media publications, all interested in publicising newsworthy ideas and events. If you are fortunate enough to be featured in an article or blog post you should leverage it by sharing it on your own social media to get more free publicity. One mention in an article or blog could lead to further media opportunities if you share it. I’m often surprised how few businesses take advantage of this opportunity and wondered whether it’s due to the tall poppy syndrome in Australia or lack of digital experience. There are some however who recognise the opportunity and use it. Taking examples from my own social platform IdeaSpies in the last month, the businesses that have shared the post featuring them to receive a lot of extra free publicity are Mentor Walks Australia, SeeSense, Farmhouse Market, Haventec, Hospital Glamour, PrepDelicious, Wet Leopard and Evolis. Macleay St Bistro also shared their post on IdeaSpies widely to publicise their support for an ideas competition. IdeaSpies only features inspiring clever ideas in the categories of artistic, dining, healthcare, NFP and wellbeing and is very pleased to see these ideas shared as much as possible for community benefit. So if you get free publicity make the most of it by sharing it on your social media. Free publicity is much more valuable than paid advertising. Lynn Wood IdeaSpies

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What do we mean by “innovation”?

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While innovation is now very topical it doesn’t appear to be a well understood term. Some people support innovation, others are frightened of it and many just don’t care- they think it’s someone else’s responsibility. Innovation is interpreted differently in different situations hence some difficulties in communication between different groups such as academia and industry which could impede progress. Some forward-thinking members of the LinkedIn Group Innovation Management (approx 40,000 members around the world)  recently suggested general definitions and  voted on them. There are 33 definitions in the list below. Interestingly some said we shouldn’t have a general definition, that it’s specific to the situation. One member also said “Everyone loves innovation but no one wants to change”. For those of you who are interested in a general definition the 2 favourites are below followed by the definitions proposed. Top definitions 30. The result of a creative process that creates value for society 11.  The process of bringing new, problem-solving ideas into use Definitions proposed. 1. Anything that improves anything 2. Ideas applied successfully 3. New ideas, successfully applied 4. Doing things in a new way, or creating new things, that have a significant impact. 5. The creative development of solutions to real and important problems of customers, which are profitably brought to market 6. The beneficial utilization of knowledge and creativity, in order to discover and realize what does not yet exist. 7. The creation of value from ideas (which are new to you) 8.  A successfully implemented and widely accepted invention, which can be material and non-material, an object, process, phenomenon and/or their combination. 9. Creative thinking that adds value, or in two words, meaningfully unique 10. Creation of a viable new offering 11. The process of bringing new, problem-solving ideas into use. 12. Creating new value or capturing value in new ways 13. The actual use of a nontrivial change and improvement in a process, product or system that is novel to the institution developing the change 14. Profitable change 15. The act of introducing something new in something or in somewhere. 16. An idea that meets its market 17. Activity that brings a new repeatable (scalable) concept to customers.” 18. Research is the transformation of money into knowledge. Innovation is the transfer of knowledge back into money 19. The process of creating a product or service solution that delivers significant new customer value 20. The process of idea realisation 21. The result of: connect ideas from different sectors + current insights + solve a pain point 22. New business with new money 23. Successful commercialisation of an idea which adds value to any stakeholder 24. A change in culture. 25. Creating progress that brings important improvement in our quality of life. 26. The process of taking an idea from a state of Conception to a state of Commercialization (value creation 27. Successful adoption* of value-added change** (novelty) in economic, social and environmental spheres 28. The successful usage of new ideas or ways to fulfill certain needs. 29. Something new or different that provides greater value or benefit. 30. The result of a creative process that creates value for society 31. The use of new ideas, or existing ideas in a new context, to result in change which delivers value 32. Commercializing novel ideas 33. Created value for social change Photo: A new glow in the dark bike path in Canberra Australia. www.ideaspies.com/glow-in-the-dark-bike-paths/

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Australia: Creativity 1 Innovation 19

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Australia is ranked no. 1 on Creativity and no. 19 on Innovation worldwide.  The Creativity score is based on the Global Creativity Index 2015 which ranked Australia as the top country in the world. This result was based on 3 “T”s (technology, talent and tolerance) and connects well with the Australian Ideas Boom.  Many find this result surprising. Taking a positive view it indicates that we have significant potential for innovation The Innovation score is based on the Global Innovation Index 2016 produced by the World Intellectual Property Organisation which ranked Australia 19.  Our challenge is to keep our creativity ranking and to improve our innovation ranking. But why the difference in the first place? We can quickly guess that we’re not good at commercialising ideas in Australia. The 2015 Startup Muster research report said that getting funding is the most reported external challenge for Australian startups (40%). Funding is usually only open to ideas with a profitability model and a track record. There is little investment at the seed level in Australia. The only investors that will take a risk on an idea alone are seed investors, maybe early stage investors if you’re really lucky, and these investors are hard to convince in Australia.  So how do we improve our innovation rating? There are organisations that aim to foster innovation. For example the CSIRO has introduced a program called ON to create stronger connections between sci-tech researchers and commercialisation partners and help ensure the brightest ideas are realised then succeed on the world stage. The next ON Accelerate program commences in January 2017 and you can register interest at ON. An Australian Government Senate enquiry, published in December last year, considered the Australian innovation system, describing innovation as “ideas applied successfully”, and recommended that: -investment in research and development is increased and that funding is predictable and secure -an independent government agency is established with a consistent approach to innovation policy across the whole of government -measures to enhance collaboration and the free flow of knowledge between the university system and the private sector are introduced -the role of local and regional innovation ecosystems is reinforced and -the education system has a central focus in the long-term innovation strategy, thereby acknowledging the central importance of the interplay between the STEM subjects and the humanities, social sciences and creative industries. A further report is being planned which will hopefully progress these recommendations. IdeaSpies is new platform to encourage innovation by encouraging us to see the clever ideas around us. You can see, rate, share and post inspiring clever ideas on this platform which stimulates creativity as a basis for innovation. The ideas that are posted are explained simply. They’re shown by category – artistic, dining, healthcare, NFP and well-being. You can rate them- the site shows the most popular as well as the most recent. You can subscribe to get ideas weekly. You can also register/login to comment on ideas as well as post ideas you see. There’s currently a competition on the site to encourage you to share ideas. Ideas and feedback are very welcome. Lynn Wood Chief Idea Spy IdeaSpies

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Getting real about innovation-Antony Funnell

Getting real about innovation-Antony Funnell

Innovation is for more than just start ups and tech businesses—it can be as simple as adding wheels to a suitcase. But the overuse of the word ‘innovation’ has some businesspeople scratching their head at what successful innovation really is. Antony Funnell searches for an answer. Mark Dodgson has spent a significant chunk of his career studying the concept of innovation. He’s written extensively about it, lectured all over the world on its application and spent many a long hour puzzling over why some organisations are more innovative than others. Innovation affects everybody and it really should be on the agenda for everybody to think about. PROFESSOR MARK DODGSON, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND And at the end of all that effort, he still thinks it’s a pretty crap term. ‘It’s a terribly vague word,’ he says. ‘It’s an act and a fact. It’s a noun and a verb. I’ve heard it described as an “aerosol” word which you spray in the air and everyone smells it and it smells great and lovely but you can’t grab hold of it.’ Dodgson is the director of the Technology and Innovation Centre at the University of Queensland and a visiting professor at Imperial College Business School in London. ‘I go for a simple definition, and that simple definition is new ideas, successfully applied,’ he says. In other words, the secret to successful innovation, Dodgson theorises, is in the application as much as the invention. ‘It’s about putting ideas into practice [and] making them useful,’ he says. Innovation affects everybody The Brookings Institution’s Scott Andes agrees, and he bemoans the term’s overuse. ‘It seems every conference or article about technology or the economy employs the term, and usually to different ends,’ he says. That lack of clarity, says Dodgson, makes it difficult for ordinary people to see the relevance of innovation in their daily lives. Too often, he says, it’s simply associated with ‘start-up’ firms and new gadgets. ‘It’s used very loosely, but it is incredibly important because it really underpins economic growth,’ he says. ‘We live longer and healthier lives as a result of innovation. We have information at our fingertips. Innovation is removing repetitive and dangerous work. ‘Innovation affects everybody and it really should be on the agenda for everybody to think about.’ IMAGE: LUGGAGE AND WHEELS CO-EXISTED SEPARATELY FOR CENTURIES UNTIL AN INNOVATIVE PILOT IN THE 1980S THOUGHT TO COMBINE THEM, INVENTING MODERN SUITCASES AS WE KNOW THEM. (APING VISION/STS/GETTY IMAGES) Crucial to that change, according to Professor Dodgson, is the need for an attitudinal shift on the part of government and business. The corporate sector in Australia talks a lot about innovation, he says, but their record of investment in research and development is low by world standards. Australian managers are not particularly adventurous. Our boards of directors are much more concerned with cost-cutting, efficiencies, rather than investing for the future,’ he says. ‘Often in this whole area of innovation and R&D, it’s not a question of how much you spend, but spending it wisely, astutely.’ That also includes a role for government. Dodgson points to Silicon Valley as a good example of strategic government practice. Contrary to the arguments put forward by economic rationalists, governments in the United States have long played a central role in fostering the phenomenal success of America’s high-end technology sector. ‘The iPhone, which is perceived as being an invention that came out of Apple laboratories and research—if you trace back where those ideas came from, it was government-funded research,’ he says. ‘If you look at the venture capital industry in America, the largest investor in early-stage venture capital in America is the government. The government puts twice as much money into the venture capital industry at early-stage than the private sector.’ Getting government on board Andes argues governments and other funding bodies also need to be far more sophisticated in the way they think about the innovation process. He says most economists and policy makers are focussed on what he calls the ‘formal’ model of innovation—one that starts with a research institute or university at one end of the line, and ends with the commercialisation of their discoveries at the other end. But that linear approach, says Andes, no longer reflects the reality of modern innovation-increasingly industry specific, often not connected to a laboratory, and usually involving a variety of actors. ‘There is a lot of research that shows that companies actually learn from each other, they learn from partnerships, they learn from suppliers, and they learn from customers, through feedback and other mechanisms,’ he says. ‘And this really drives a nontrivial amount of innovation in the economy.’ Added to that, he says there’s often a failure to understand that the process of innovation isn’t always radical, that it can be incremental. ‘Consider a car manufacturer learning from the company that makes wheels for them how to use a lighter metal,’ Andes says. ‘It’s a small, incremental innovation, but it may save a lot of money, it may save energy, it may reduce manufacturing costs. These are the types of things we see through informal and incremental innovation, and often they are just as important or more important.’ Did you know Future Tense is also a podcast? Subscribe on iTunes, the ABC Radio app or your favourite podcasting app and listen later. In that vein, economist Jason Murphy warns against the popular political view that all modern innovation should in some way be digital or have a high-tech component. Murphy nominates the “wheel-a-board” as one of his favourite examples of successful recent innovation. ‘Trunks and suitcases had been invented for millions of years along with the wheel, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the two concepts were brought together,’ he says. ‘Now of course, everyone in the airport is dragging along their luggage on little wheels. It goes to show that yes, you can make an incremental improvement to a product that has been out there for a very long time and make a big, big difference. ‘There is a great deal of really economically important innovation that doesn’t really have anything to do with invention … Innovation is important when it is adopted broadly, not just when it is invented.’ The downside of innovation Dodgson says it’s crucial to acknowledge that the process of change always brings losers as well as winners. As […]

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Australia’s innovation system

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This report was published by the Australian Government, Senate Economic References Committee, December 2015. It’s an excellent study of Australia’s innovation system and useful reading for anyone interested in innovation. In the report innovation is described as “ideas applied successfully”. List of recommendations Recommendation 1 paragraph 2.22 The committee recommends that the Australian Government commits to maintaining stable, coherent and effective administrative arrangements for innovation policies and programs, based on a long-term strategic framework and a target to lift investment in research and development to three per cent of GDP. Recommendation 2 paragraph 2.32 The committee recommends the establishment of an independent government agency with a mandate to administer and coordinate innovation system policies and programs. Such a body would be responsible for maintaining a continuous and consistent approach to innovation policy across the whole of government. Recommendation 3 paragraph 2.48 The committee recommends that the Australian Government, as part of its long-term innovation strategy, includes policy options to address the structural and strategic barriers that inhibit innovation, including: measures to enhance collaboration and the free flow of knowledge between the university system and the private sector; increasing the size of the research and development workforce employed in industry; and ensuring that public funding to support science, research and innovation is long- term, predictable and secure. Recommendation 4 paragraph 2.57 The committee recommends that the Australian Government, working in collaboration with State and Territory governments, adopt a range of measures to support the role of local and regional innovation ecosystems. Recommendation 5 paragraph 2.66 The committee recommends that the education system be accorded a central focus in the Australian Government’s long-term innovation strategy, thereby acknowledging the central importance of the interplay between the STEM subjects and the humanities, social sciences and creative industries. Full report and response to recommendations: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Innovation_System/~/media/Committees/economics_ctte/Innovation_System/Final_Report/report.pdf Lynn Wood www.IdeaSpies.com

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Innovation as “anything that improves anything”

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People often think that innovation is someone else’s responsibility. They don’t recognise that they can contribute to innovation by observing what’s going on around them. In our fast moving world, businesses need to be innovative to stay relevant to customers. This means having a culture that encourages innovation- looking at what customers need in the future to keep them happy, not just now. Having a marketing background I’ve always been interested in innovation. One of my favourite quotes is by Peter Drucker, considered the father of business consulting, who said many years ago: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs”. Innovation has recently become a buzz word that few understand and that can even frighten some people. I like to define innovation as “anything that improves anything” to emphasise that we can all contribute to it when we see a problem that’s easy to solve or an opportunity that’s easy to implement. And when we work in a culture that encourages innovation we feel more valued and want to contribute more. We can even have fun at work! Getting the views of frontline people serving customers has always been important. Now people in the backroom also need to be vigilant. Are the current technologies you’re using fast enough? Are the competitors using something better? Businesses trying to be successful need to encourage their people to see the changes around them and report back how services and products can be improved, and this message has to come from the top. There are much better tools to do this now than a few years ago when businesses were more authoritarian and only suggestion boxes were used. A recent development has been to appoint a Chief Innovation OfFicer and to engage innovation coaches. Another recent development has been the technology for creating platforms, on which many startups are based. Because of my belief that innovation starts with us all being more observant, I’ve created an innovation platform called IdeaSpies which encourages innovation by focusing on noticing the clever ideas around us. Lynn Wood-Chief Idea Spy IdeaSpies

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Is clever the new sexy?

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Most of us are drawn to people who improve our lives. Humans are different from animals in that sexy to us is in the mind as much as in reacting instinctively. Clever is a compelling trait, and more than intelligence – it’s being able to use your smarts to see how to improve yourself, another person, or a situation. Clever is being quick to get the point or to see a problem or issue from a different vantage point. Clever is a component of intelligence that’s positive. Not all the gifts of intelligence are positive ones. A troubled Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” You may not be able to learn how to be more intelligent, but you can learn how to be cleverer. Practice is one tool. The more you look for the positive and search for clever ideas around you, the cleverer you become. For example, the person who thought of making this ugly carrot look sexy is clever. There is a new trend in making ugly fruit and vegetables look good so they are sold rather than discarded. And the person who dressed up this carrot is clever in recognizing and promoting this trend. And what’s the current wisdom about how to manage clever people? Dr. Goffee from the London School of Economics says it’s simply by being a low-key orchestrator who recognizes them and allows them independence. By Dr. Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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How to Talk with a Robot

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Robots are a very clever idea. Talking with one helps you sharpen your perception. If you can’t access the robot hotel pictured at Japan’s Henn Na Hotel, try CleverBot (www.cleverbot.com). It’s an interactive website that allows you to converse with a robot. Most of us communicate with artificial intelligences many times a day – in our phones, cars, and an increasing number of devices. Being extra observant of the reactions you get can help you sharpen your perceptions of the world around you. Talking with a robot you notice: 1. Every word is parsed and usually taken literally. 2. Robots make connections to their programming that often don’t make sense to humans. 3. Where the programming of responses is limited such as warnings that your car needs attention, the communication is valuable. Given this, it’s a chance to see how you are perceived at the most basic linguistic level. So now it’s fun to watch the world around you as if they’re reacting at the most basic level. Do you ever try to monitor if the person you’re speaking with actually relates what he or she says to what you’ve just said? Next time you’re in a meeting, notice how many comments follow on the prior one. Research shows that fewer than half do. Many times we’re just waiting for the person speaking to stop so we can get our point in. So, when you talk with a robot, be direct in your language and listen carefully to responses. It’s a bit like talking with a child. Validate answers against the other information you have. For example, if your dashboard tells you the right front tire needs air, also have a gauge handy to test the pressure. And, not bad advice when you’re talking with humans – think about what you’re saying and how it will be received, and listen carefully to the response. Just another place to be more observant. by Dr Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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Let’s Play I Spy

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Do you remember the children’s game called “I Spy”? Or did you play it with your children on interminable car trips? It’s sometimes called “I Spy with my little eye.” The idea is that one person gives clues about what he or she has spied until the partner guesses the object. It’s entertaining and teaches the power of observation. Some ways to begin are to say, “I spy something that begins with an ‘m,’ or hear something that sounds like a bell, or I spy something purple.” The “spy” can’t change the object once started. Once the object is guessed, the person with the correct answer becomes the spy. The next time you’re our of your usual environment, think about what you’d choose to “spy.” What would confound your listeners at least for a while, and what clues would you use for the game? Being able to assume the “naïve eye” is key to successful field observation in anthropology. When a scholar goes into a new culture to observe, this is the stance that’s recommended. And not easy to drop all vestiges of your own culture. Another way to think about powers of observation is the “beginner’s eye,” again related to looking anew at what’s around you. The bagel sculptures that showed up recently all around New York are giving us a whole new way to look at that popular New York treat. By Dr. Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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How Being More Observant Makes You More Creative

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Creative people notice more. Curiosity is such an important human trait. It helps us as a species survive. While dinosaurs were looking for more to eat, human beings were banding together to forming hunting parties, grinding grains to make them more digestible, and experimenting with fire. I’m not sure if it was a man or a woman who first observed that the ground grain tasted better after being a fire, but it was a very clever idea. Have you ever noticed how curious babies are? As most of us get older, that sense of wonderment with the world diminishes. It’s because to be more efficient, we form habits and then don’t really observe what’s around us. How many different kinds of trees do you pass in a single walk around the block? Unless you are an arborist or on a nature walk, it’s probably none. I suggest that at least once a week you take an observation walk. Pick a category to observe – it could be trees, or flowers, or building materials. It’s a great game to play with a child. You can teach yourself to be more observant. This increases your flexibility and capacity for creativity. Being observant is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. By Dr. Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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Observing and Appreciating the Everyday

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Being alert to clever ideas is fairly easy when you’re on vacation. Isn’t experiencing the new a reason most of us endure many hours in airports and planes? That curiosity is a very human characteristic and one of our secrets of survival as a species. Training yourself to watch and listen for everyday clever ideas can make life so much richer. After all, vacation time is less than 10% of a life. As I watched the ticker tape parade for the American Women’s Soccer Team, I was intrigued by the important part that the New York Sanitation Department played in the parade. Not only were their trucks decorated to “march” in the parade, but also dozens of workers stood ready with brushes, brooms, and blowers. Cleaning up tons of paper from a busy urban street is time consuming; and the quicker it’s done, the faster the major artery is open for business. Being alert everyday serves the dual purpose of creating a safer personal environment as well. You can practice everyday alertness to improve your skill. It’s fun. Take a minute to observe the details of your everyday commute so that you could describe them. How many people in your subway car? What is the proportion of men and women, young and old? I like to image the story of each of their lives. What’s the cleverest idea he or she has had? Or if you’re stuck in traffic, read the license plates of neighboring cars. These are great games to teach your children. What’s the cleverest idea you’ve seen or heard in the last hour? By Dr. Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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Raising Your Mindfulness Quotient

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It’s a clever idea to be aware of where you are from moment to moment, not just your immediate environment but also how you’re thinking and feeling about it. The focus can be as simple as tasting, really tasting the food you’re having for lunch. I once went through an exercise where students were asked to spend 60 seconds eating a raisin, a single raisin. Amazing how much there is to absorb first, just in looking at the raisin, the subtle variations in color and texture of the surface. And most raisins look different as you rotate from back to front (if a raisin can be considered to have a front and a back). If you use your imagination, you can imagine the grape the raisin once was, where it grew, how many siblings on clump. There’s even more to experience as you slowly taste the raisin and chew it. Differences from the front to the back of your tongue. I could go on, but the whole exercise is meant to illustrate a mindful approach to an everyday experience. The art of mindfulness goes back to early civilization and it’s the subject of a number of serious research studies. The net, net is that as you increase your number of mindful moments, your experience of life deepens. Most of us won’t be mindful every moment, but raising your mindfulness quotient can make fewer of your moments ones that you miss. I think of this when I see art representing the major tragedies we experience.   I pass this Tree Root Art every day. Its story is particularly poignant because the tree’s uprooting was the only damage to St. Paul’s Chapel in the 9/11 attacks even though the church is immediately across the street from where the World Trade Center Towers stood   By Dr. Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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The Honest Eye

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On the occasion of Gay Pride Day even banks encourage to just be you. The nearly 50 years of often painful struggle for the LGBT movement underscores how it’s not always easy – for the individual or the society preferring to keep with the old ways. Even today the New York City parade took over my neighborhood requiring an hour to cross the street to get home. Yes, it’s a clever idea to focus an honest eye to who you are at your most basic and express that even when it’s difficult. Different makes many uncomfortable so often you have to time the revelations of your honest eye so others can hear. And see the benefit on acknowledging differences. This Is true for females as they’ve risen to power in organizations and for those of minority religions working in intolerant organizations. It’s a clever idea to use the “Do – Pause” model when you’re acting on your honest eye. Try expressing what you see softly, then pause a second and consciously gauge reactions. Should you continue or is that enough for now?   By Dr. Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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Being There Where and When Wanted

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It’s one thing to have a clever idea, but the world probably won’t notice unless it’s at the right place at the right time. The ultimate cleverness is being there where and when wanted. One example is the umbrella street vendors in Manhattan who appear only when it’s raining. I spied this display of car deodorizers was only 10% of the variants on this clever idea in the waiting lobby of the Riverhead car wash. Every car owner has to wait there while the car is vacuumed, hooked up to go through the line where spraying, soaping, and polishing occur. The people who spend the $25+ for a car wash are self-selected to be people who have pride in keeping a car clean and have a car where that’s worthwhile. They are the ones most likely to also want a sweet-smelling interior. So whether you want vanilla, springtime freshness, or just simple deodorizing, it’s there when you also have your wallet out. by Dr Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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The importance of noticing the new

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Our brains are designed to be efficient. Once a habit is formed, then we don’t really notice much outside what’s necessary to do those ordinary things. Think of your customary path to work; you probably pass hundreds of signs, but just don’t notice. On the other hand, you jump out of that rut if there’s a change. But the more you can train yourself to be flexible, the better you can react to change in a positive manner. It just like your body – stretching regularly builds flexibility. Watching for the new is great practice for brain flexibility. If, every day, you try something new, you’ll be less stressed when you’re forced to change. Celebrate the variety around you. It’s usually something small, such as a new flavor of soda. Or it could be trying a new recipe, a new way to get to work, or a restaurant where you’ve never been. by Dr Sabra Brock

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Listen to the Music of your Life

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Watching for clever ideas as you move around your world is important, but so is listening for clever ideas. At least a third of us learn best through hearing, but everyone can attend to sounds. To quote the entertainer I hear on the subway today, “Our lives are songs, so enjoy the music.” Western education doesn’t emphasize listening skills. It’s “Reading, Writing, and ‘Ritmatic,” but nothing about how to be attentive to what you hear. The appreciation for oral transmission of knowledge is fading. Calling students to learn with a bell permeates many cultures from the Confucian times when teachers rang an ornate bell to summon their students to the school bell that teachers rang outside the little red school house on the American prairie in pioneer times. So, when you travel, when you walk around, even when you on in a car, train, plane, or bus, listen for clever ideas. I heard them in the Zurich airport when the cow bells were ringing as I transited between terminals and in the Vancouver airport with sounds of the Northwest Indians ringing out as I exited the international terminal. By Dr Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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Customer friendly signs

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How many different signs does the average person get exposed to every day? At least hundreds. There are over 1000 different variants of highway signs, not even thinking about signs in parks. And how many attempt to engage the viewer? The posting of signs posted in Sydney parks are pretty special in that they engage dog walkers while bring a smile to our faces. What a clever idea! The message is serious (dogs must be on leash), but the art is fanciful and engaging, especially to dog owners. Wouldn’t it be great if more signs made an attempt to engage the viewer? Manhattan has a problem with dog walkers allowing their pets to urinate on the flower we lovingly cultivate at the base of trees. Each block tries to convince dog owners to STOP THAT. Almost always, these are pleading or punitive. Perhaps it would work better to follow the Australian lead. Highway sign designers could also be encourage to test their signs with visitors. Too many signs are only for those who already know where they are going. My pet peeve is the Long Island Expressway. Signs are 3-letter acronyms, e.g. GMT 15 minutes. CIE 10 minutes. No, GMT doesn’t mean Greenwich Mean Time, it means Queens Midtown Tunnel and CIE equals Cross Island Expressway. Especially tourist areas need signs that viewers can understand, and even better, signs that engage and bring a smile. by Dr Sabra Brock, co-founder of Idea Spies

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