"Innovation in the field of innovation"
06 Jan 2009

"Innovation in the field of innovation"

I received feedback from several readers that

06 Jan 2009

I received feedback from several readers that Arthur Harkins’ reasoning for why we need to Leapfrog might seem a bit too Machiavellian — “us versus them.” I therefore hope everybody will enjoy the contrast of perspective in this next video.

In early November, we had an opportunity to interview Jutta Treviranus, director of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the University of Toronto. Her approach to creating sustainable innovation is somewhat different. Instead of relying on competition, we can operate on an assumption of collaboration for innovation, creating win-win scenarios for all.

The “king of the hill, competitive” type of thinking, Treviranus argues, is contributing to the modern world’s problems. To get past this, she declares we need, “innovation in the field of innovation.” Brilliant!

More in the video:

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  1. Carmen Tschofen January 6th, 2009 1:20PM

    OK, I have my suspicions that this is a manufactured controversy :-), but for the record… I’m among those who found Art Harkin’s video views a bit disturbing. Certainly a more complex conversation could come out of this, but in a nutshell: Leapfrogging for the sake of competition isn’t the sustainable and humanitarian vision that seems most compelling right now. Jamais Cascio recently blogged about “legacy futures:” old views of the future that get in the way of new visions. I wonder if viewing Leapfrog through lenses related to the space race and Cold War might fall into that category.
    I also wonder if the reputation and image of Minnesota is really an issue. It sounds a bit like counting Facebook friends, and perhaps unnecessarily distracting. And the idea that innovation can be “easiest, quickest, fastest…” Sometimes yes, and certainly there’s a balance between planning and improvisation in innovation, but Keith Sawyer, for example, suggests that innovation (especially in the improvisational context that a rapidly changing environment would seem to demand), can be messy and inefficient, although ultimately the benefits are greater. Innovation isn’t an easy button or a magic pill—certainly not on the education front — and it seems like an uncertain selling point for Leapfrog work. Finally, I get “human capital development,” but I can’t help feeling like a widget when it refers to me 🙂 And, semantics or not, I’d rather see visions for kids’ education and futures focused on their potential and well-being, rather than this concept.

    Off to duck and cover now…

  2. John Moravec January 7th, 2009 11:52AM

    The controversy isn’t manufactured. 🙂

    I think this highlights a competition-collaboration dimension of innovativeness or innovation style. As co-principles of Leapfrog Institutes, Harkins and I have different perspectives. As you can see, Harkins is driven by competition. I’m more driven to collaboration.

    In my opinion, it’s possible to view Leapfrog through a real politik lens. But, it’s also possible to view it through a lens that transcends Cold War thinking …and get us to thinking, acting and innovating beyond Machiavelli.

    The competition-collaboration dimension is part of my Innovation Inventory, which I will release out to the wild later this year.

  3. Jon Dillow January 7th, 2009 2:17PM

    Collaboration didn’t put us on the moon and I didn’t hear Harkins say one thing about “the expense of others.”

    From a sociological standpoint, truly sustainable, long-view Innovation requires both Collaboration and Competition, Protection and Proliferation, Masculine and Feminine, Yin and Yang, if you will.

    There is a reason why some societies or people might “do things best” in a relative sense, and it is because they are solving problems associated with the competition for scarce resources. Take away the competition amidst scarcity and you take away the driving force for doing things “better.” Take away things being done better and you take away the potential for innovation through collaboration.

    The both purely open and purely closed will drift toward stagnation, and as the environment shifts under them they will die. It is the possibility of collapse, individual, societal, national, or global that necessitates innovation.

  4. Dan Wallace January 7th, 2009 4:40PM

    I believe both competition and collaboration are inherent in human nature, and both can add value to innovation. If the clash of ideas were unnatural, nobody would have posted here. At the same time, the sharing of ideas on this site is collaborative.

    As a product developer, my focus is on creating products people will love. When my products are delightful, I’m raising the quality level in a market. When my products result in savings of time or money, I’m freeing resources for more productive uses. Both of these outcomes are public goods, although as a secondary effect my actions may also create private pain to competitors.

    On a daily basis, business competition is rarely top of mind for innovators. Most work to create great products. That is the central challenge. Money is not even high on the list for most. It’s all about making the world a better place, and being praised for that. Most innovators are competing with themselves first and foremost.

    Competition is more of an issue with product development teams. If consensus rules, products can get unfocused, and you can run out of time and money. If centralized leadership rules, the leader can make bad decisions, and you can run out of time and money. Be it consensus or control, there is always tension at the team level. And the wolf is always at the door. There are no easy answers here.

    To the point of Jutta Treviranus, cooperation and be good for distribution, component parts, or licensing. At the same time joint development can be time consuming, costly, and filled with legal exposure.

    Additionally, products or ideas will never last forever. Birth, struggle, and death are all part of innovation, part of life. Innovation is very messy work with a whole boatload of risk and failure and learning. I can’t see any way around these realities.

    Art’s talk reflects his reality. I know first-hand that he is an excellent collaborator. Art’s idea of looking far ahead and creating a culture that celebrates new ideas is right on. And the Leapfrog Institute is a cool idea. We need more innovation like this in the academic world, and in every sphere of the world.

    Keep on . . .

  5. John Moravec January 12th, 2009 7:56AM

    My above comment looks a bit snarky, which isn’t intended. I should add that one of the reasons it is a joy to work with Harkins on Leapfrog is that we have different perspectives on this … and, by working together, we’re covering a wider spectrum (and ecosystem) of perspectives.

  6. jim April 29th, 2009 9:01PM

    Futurists such as Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling, and Ray Kurzweil believe that the exponential improvement described by Moore’s law will ultimately lead to a technological singularity: a period where progress in technology occurs almost instantly. Moore was a pessimist.
    We are in the future and all a twitter. I cannot remember the last time I thanked my cellphone for allowing me to earn a living interacting with a client 3,000 miles away as I ordered a chi tea latte and checked my e-mail. The educational world is not driven by technology but by people who have been educated by other people standing in front of them and thus the path is shown.

    Technology provides those that choose to embrace its access and reach to become entrepreneur’s of their own interests and thus by eliminating the need for someone to direct their interests. Here in California the first years of Alcatraz were known as the “silent years” and during this period, the rules stated that no prisoners were allowed to speak to one another, sing, hum or whistle. Talking was forbidden in the cells, in the mess hall and even in the showers. The inmates were allowed to talk for three minutes during the morning and afternoon recreation yard periods and for two hours on weekends. Sounds like our rules on our student’s use of cellphones and technology in our elementary through high schools.

    Technology is a means to an end and semantics aside what we all appear to be arguing over is who controls the joy stick.


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