New Creativity for Renewed Prosperity
The era we are entering will be one of enormous social, political and economic change…
…things will have to change around here, and fast.
Thomas L. Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded
a recent flight to Orlando, home of Disney World and fantasy, I sat
next to a really bright young entrepreneur. Working in the automobile
parts supply business, he learned who the buyers are and who the sellers
are, pricing, key trade shows to meet important contacts and so forth.
He coupled this knowledge and his boundless inquisitiveness and energy
with the new marketing medium of the Internet to start an “aftermarket”
automobile accessories supplier mainly to the world of Toyota.
has about 20 employees, is totally self-financed with no debt or
government aid, has an adoring wife and great kids, and is generally
enjoying the American Dream. He is less than half my age and, I thought,
an ideal observer of the enterprise world coming upon us.
asked him, “Are you developing any of your own products? Will you have
some cool addition to the standard stuff everybody is making and
selling?” He thought for a minute and replied, “There are extremely few,
if any, new inventions anymore.”
might think we will turn into the Internet marketing capital of the
world and leave it to the rising class of Asian engineers who have found
stimulating opportunities in their home discovery.
For the last few decades, the mantra in business schools and corporate
training prcountries to generate the products the whole world will need
for today and tomorrow. Creativity will be reduced to thinking up new
Corporate Goals statements and new luncheon theme ideas.
Bette Nesmith Graham didn’t know this. A single mother and secretary in
Dallas, she thought there would be a better way to cover up mistakes
made in typing. She recalled her long ago artistic experience and looked
for a liquid mixture to paint over the typing errors. The first
formulations were made up in her kitchen blender.
In 1956 Ms. Graham founded the Mistake Out company, later well-known as Liquid Paper (figure 1a)
or “white out,” starting on the proverbial shoe string and working
nights and weekends. By 1968 she had her own plant and 19 employees. She
sold her company for $47.5 million. Even if taxes and transaction
expenses took over half of that, she cleared about $1 million a year.
is still possible at all levels from the kitchen chemistry lab to the
killer app corporate development project or to the multinational
research initiative. In 1993, I started my last company on the dining
room table soldering parts together mostly purchased at the local Radio
Shack. It grew into a small but leading gas detection instrument company
which I sold in 2007 at many times my investment.
are in new times and uncharted territory in the saga of enterprise. The
United States and the rest of the western world are facing the
possibility of no growth or at best very controlled growth for decades
or longer. Major product ideas and resources are harder to find. The
dollar is getting weaker, so we can’t buy or outsource everything we
need. We must create new solutions, products and services as a major
component of future sales.
Entrepreneurs and managers must rediscover ograms
has been marketing. This was the way to the top. Information technology
has also become an important fast track for rising managers. In most
cases, product development and intellectual property accumulation has
been a discretionary activity, seriously pursued when extra cash was in
This book focuses on the mindset and creative process involved to imagine, create and invent in the 21st
century. This subject is not generally taught in schools and colleges,
and it doesn’t lend itself to a few simple rules for success, but we
must tackle it if we’re going to enjoy renewed prosperity any time soon.
management of innovation has been a popular management development
subject, the creative process itself is often not meaningfully
addressed. This book will help you identify creative innovators, help
you know what is a good creative environment, and help you understand
what knowledge resources innovators need to carry out the creative
process. This information is equally valuable for the self-guided
creator and entrepreneur. I will combine observations of historically
creative and inventive people, new findings from cognitive science about
the creative process, and ways to use the Internet and computer clouds
to greatly enhance success in a creative project.
the era or product, the successful project or company starts with a
creative visionary--somebody who is imaginative and persistent and who
has a multifaceted mind.
an American corporation in the early 1800’s (or now) hire as their
chief designer a financially failing artist with radical political views
and an itchy foot for world travel? There was such a person. He did not
have a comfortable job, but he had a vision to develop a communication
system that could send messages faster than the best steam trains and
ships and unhindered by rain, sleet or snow. He was Samuel Finley Breese
Morse, a distant relative, who invented the telegraph.
1832, while on a sea voyage back to America, Morse began to think about
the concept of a telegraph system. He knew the basic principles of
electro-magnetism, but not the practical aspect of engineering products
and systems. Several European inventors were also working on telegraph
systems, but apparently their efforts were unknown to him.
used his creative abilities to see relationships and possibilities. His
breakthrough was coding letters and numbers as groupings of binary
digits. This allowed the simplicity of sending messages over one wire
(the return circuit being ground) instead of several wires that would be
required for simple or no coding schemes. The competing European
designs required as many as 35 wires.
demonstrations of telegraphy happened about 12 years after Morse’s
first vision of it. What carried him through those wrenching times was
perseverance, the ability to tinker and improvise, thinking about all
aspects of the design such as the need for coding as well as
transmission, and his ability to bring other people to help when design,
manufacturing and other challenges required additional talents and
Bette Nesmith Graham and Samuel F. B. Morse were iconic American
inventors who illustrate traits in common that will be valuable to
anyone interested in creating new designs and products:
· Unleash your curiosity, quest for knowledge, and propensity for noticing things. No
lesser minds than Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein were noted for
being passionately curious, using their imagination as their prime lens
to see ahead and their creativity to solve problems. Einstein wrote: “The
important thing is not to stop questioning.” You should also notice all
kinds of things, however unrelated to your quest they may seem. When
Willis Carrier noticed the apparently odd behavior of water droplets in
fog, he had stumbled into the basics of the novel technology of the
Carrier Corporation, world leader in air conditioning.
· Project your mind into imagination space, focusing on all the interrelated aspects of what you are creating or inventing.To
create your Eureka moment, you must forcefully move your mind beyond
the existing thinking about the subject. You must move out of your
conscious world and focus your mind in a new place occupied only by the
new creation. This is your glorious imagination space. Some
people, very few, keep this imaginative ability through adulthood.
Their imaginings lead to inventions, art, designs and explorations of
many frontiers never seen before. To start, try to be a child with the
almost naïve capability of unfettered imagination. Emotion is part of
this creative formula, and that has not been replicated in any advanced
· Bring in experts and specialists whenever and wherever appropriate. A
common mistake is to be overly protective about your novel idea. At the
earliest possible time you should have your design or composition
reviewed by an associate, faculty member, consultant or other
trustworthy knowledgeable advisor. Usually you do not have to disclose
important details to protect from copying, and very often a reviewer can
give you surprisingly good guidance on design or composition
· Focus on the practical, useful, needed and beautiful. Very
often inventions and other creations start out answering to a major
need or a broad interest. Then the project morphs into a personal
passion with little or no market value. Whether you’re a garage tinkerer
or Thomas Edison, ultimately your commercial success depends on
developing something which economically fills a real need and which
looks attractive to potential buyers. As you develop prototypes,
theories or compositions, show them to people in the market for overall
· Be persistent. Don’t give up! In
one famous incident, an associate found Thomas Edison at his lab bench
surrounded by a sea of experimental storage battery test cells. 9,000
experiments had been carried out with no promising developments. His
associate offered condolence, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous
amount of work you have done, you haven’t been able to get any
results?” “Results!” Edison replied. “Why, man, I have gotten a lot of
results. I know several thousand things that won’t work!” For a major
invention like the light bulb, this is what’s involved. Even minor
inventions seem to take more time than imagined to get to the production
These key parts of creative thinking will be explored in part I of this book.
the telegraph initiated the era of wired communications, the iPhone has
started the era of the computer clouds (almost infinitely large bundles
of data and services available by Internet) in the palm of your hand.
The telephone is not obsolete, music radio won’t go away, computers of
all sizes will always be here, video games will always have their
consoles, and data transmission will always be available through
specialty equipment; but now all of these modalities are available
together through a personal portable device.
Fast forward to 2005. Steve Jobs, the legendary leader at Apple®, is initiating a great leap forward (figure 1b).
He has directed about 200 of his best engineers to create what we now
know as the iPhone TM. Like Morse, he is not the first with some version
of his product. And like Morse, Jobs can focus on a product vision that
combines needs satisfaction, functionality, apparent simplicity, and,
in addition, design beauty. The resultant product is a
combination of invention, engineering, and aesthetic appeal. In short,
it is a bold act of creativity.
iPhones and similar smart phones are forever changing the way we use
computers and communications. There are many competitors to the iPhone,
but the design led by Jobs crystallized that this new communications and
computing package was not a flash in the pan. It is a basic paradigm
shift with benefits for everyone.
In retrospect, the design requirements seem obvious enough:
- Use a powerful operating system that doesn’t hog memory (easier said than done).
- Develop reliable touch screen controls instead of typing keys (also no design job for amateurs).
- Enchant the prospective buyer with a beautiful design with no keys, shiny aluminum instead of black plastic and colorful icons.
- Offer a huge music and apps library.
sales of the iPhone have skyrocketed from nothing in early 2007 to 17%
of the world market in late 2009. Steve Jobs commented in November,
2009, “We’re making our most innovative products ever, and our customers
are responding. We’re thrilled to have sold of 5.2 million iPhones
during the quarter, and users have downloaded more than 1.5 billion
applications from our App Store in its first year.”
F. B. Morse of course did not have the technology and resources
available to Jobs for his design project. Most important for Apple is
the role of computers in complex design. The several hundred engineers
assigned to the project could not integrate all the subsystems of the
iPhone such as the radio circuits, internal power supply,
microprocessor, software, touch screen display and mechanical packaging
without computerized integration of the subsystem designs. The search
for components and design solutions would require intense use of the
even in the Age of Google, a visionary leader is required, and Steve
Jobs is reported to have mercilessly driven his design group, never
taking “no” for an answer. There were screaming matches in the hallways,
doors slamming and completely burned out engineers.
iPhone and many other recent developments from tiny pills to giant
airlines call for the new tools for creativity, invention and design
which we will explore in parts II and III of this book. A common thread
among these tools is computer clouds and computer networks. They show up
- Use of large research teams in virtual labs defined by computer networks.
- Artificial intelligence (AI).
- Novel methods of analysis of massive data sets or “big data” including, notably, systems biology.
- Collective intelligence involving communities larger than research teams sharing private computer network wikis.
- Designing and inventing with Google and search engines using six basic steps.
creative tools are required because the most creative challenges are
much more complex compared to a century ago. The development of the
iPhone requires thinking in a much more complex space than did the
development of telegraphy even though both were hugely important in
their time. The six steps for inventing and innovating that leverage
Google’s comprehensiveness and speed can be found and will be discussed
in detail in chapter 10 (figure 1c).
will illustrate my story by references to thinkers and creators ranging
from Leonardo de Vinci to Thomas Edison. We’ll see what Mozart and
Einstein had in common. We’ll see what ordinary people can do to enjoy a
more creative and prosperous life. There are many examples ranging from
Bette Nesmith Graham to various enterprises in my own family to draw
will go back to basics by reinventing the wheel; see how to design the
world’s most successful bird feeder; discover that computers can design
electronic circuits; see how Pfizer’s scientists collaborate on online
shared research ideas; examine Boeing’s new design approach for the 787
Dreamliner; learn that an oil spill challenge was solved by a concrete
expert found by an inventor’s outreach on the Internet; and see how MIT
is approaching the climate change analysis problem by using an online
“collaboratorium” of collective intelligence from many researchers in
hundreds of fields.
somewhere in this stream of stories you will find something to enhance
your creative life—maybe even make you insanely rich. Maybe there will
be ideas here to help your children get launched in creative and
remunerative careers. At the organization level the ideas in this book
could benefit employees in order to achieve greater profitability for
the company or productivity for the organization. There will also be a
greater sense of purpose, feeling of satisfaction and improved
self-esteem for the employees and other stakeholders.
book is about the creative process, and how creativity and invention is
enhanced by the availability and accessibility of information in the
Internet age. This book will help you achieve your creative maximum
using all of the Internet and other data resources available. Its
observations apply to lone individuals, teams large enough to put a man
on the moon, and everything in-between.
book should also help you think about the education of today’s kids and
their kids. The Web mirrors life itself—it can be an opiate, trash
pile, candy store or inexhaustible resource. An increasing amount of
education should be teaching the new generations how to use it with
discernment and how to question its results.
will explore creativity and invention in this emerging era of Web-based
collective intelligence with its almost infinite ability to connect to
others and help us imagine and create in new ways. With limitless memory
capacity, plain language instant communication, and software that
parallels the natural thinking process, computer based systems including
the Web, enable humanity to transcend each person’s own educational and
years have seen an explosion in new understanding about the human
brain. New reports are appearing weekly in scientific and lay media.
Consequently, how the brain predicts and imagines is becoming clearer.
At the same time, more sophisticated technologies are being developed to
approximate human thought. Quite likely, any discoveries will have ramifications in cyberspace and for our creativity and invention strategies.
This book will explore the key attributes of the creative mind. What specialattributes
did Mozart, Einstein and others have? What can we learn from them that
can produce exciting thinking today? This takes us to a space apparently
off-limits to computers: projecting the mind out of most all of its
frame of references and rethinking a problem in the frame of reference
of the problem itself. The mind is projected to a frame of reference
most suitable for visualizing the invention or creation. This requires a
bright mind, but also essential for outstanding performance are years
of practice in conditioning the mind for this mode of thinking and
aggressively gathering information for areas of continuing interest.
gorilla in the room is the computer, and it may appear in many forms.
Of particular concern, there are computers that think in a science
fiction-like area called Artificial Intelligence (AI). Visions are
revealed where AI will leapfrog human intelligence, and then little
seems to happen. Still, progress lurches forward, and we examine AI as a
threat or partner as the case may be.
pervasive still—at least right now—are the almost infinitely large
groupings of computers called computer clouds with libraries of
trillions of pieces of data all of which are accessible by the click of a
mouse. The clouds are everywhere. They are behind everything from
online weather forecasts to harboring Facebook, Amazon and Google.
Advanced use of the computer clouds is for collective intelligence and data search for online inventing. The
clouds support the research and creativity required for solving some of
our greatest mysteries and problems, all of which seemed to be too
complex to deal with before. This book will review these developments
and help you develop your techniques for online creativity.