Power Laws Of Innovation

I’m at a Cursos De Verano (summer school) near Madrid. Just down the corridor, a bunch of senior generals are discussing the “army of the 21st century”. Next to them, a some egg-head priests are discussing “the church of the 21st century”. Our lot is doing innovation of the 21st century and I promised to post the following Power Laws before the Church and State guys leave town.
Power Law 1: Don’t think “new product” – think social value.
Power Law 2: Think social value before “tech”.
Power Law 3: Enable human agency. Design people into situations, not out of them.
Power Law 4: Use, not own. Possession is old paradigm.
Power Law 5: Think P2P, not point-to-mass.
Power Law 6: Don’t think faster, think closer.
Power Law 7: Don’t start from zero. Re-mix what’s already out there.
Power Law 8: Connect the big and the small.
Power Law 9: Think whole systems (and new business models, too).
Power Law 10: Think open systems, not closed ones.

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Sonic allotments

The avant garde of music and sound art is a good early indicator of social change; sound is a fluid and rapidly changing medium. That’s why this year’s Futuresonic looks well worth a visit. In three days of talks, demos and chat, an international crowd will explore how mobile, locative and mapping technologies, often created by independent developers working collaboratively with open source tools, are opening up new cultural possibilities. A project called Tactical Sound Garden, for example, enables people to cultivate “sound gardens” within cities that are inspired by traditions of urban community gardening. The project uses mobile audio devices like the iPod to explore gradations of privacy in public space. In a session on Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID), Rob van Kranenburg is on a panel that explores strange alliances between fundamentalist Christians and left leaning artist-activists. There’s a session on how models of behaviour derived from games, anthropology, sensors and mobile devices, can feed back into the design of buildings – real and virtual. The programme also asserts that an activity called scrobbling is “the basis of everything we do”. Futuresonic runs Thursday 20 July to Saturday 22 July, Manchester, UK.

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The $100k house

In this new book Karrie Jacobs travels America in a “quest for a house to call home in the modern world”. It’s not a conventional architecture book; rather, it’s an account of a road trip Jacobs took in 2003 — over 14,000 miles — to meet with architects and builders who might be able to build a nice, modern house in her price range. It’s not a picture book, although it is illustrated by artist Gary Panter. “I’m hoping the book will appeal to readers interested in architecture, design, real estate, and absurdly long drives” Jacobs tells me, “and also to a more general readership. I aspire to be the Rosanne Cash of architecture writing, a successful crossover act”. For me, she has succeeded: the book is beautifully-written, poetic, and inspiring. For an instant spirits uplift, go and buy The $100k house.

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Doors 9 call for projects

Food continuously circulates through the landscape into our homes and Bodies. It thereby organizes our calorific, symbolic and social energies. Juice, the essence of food, can also mean credit, electricity, access, flavor and love. The topic of food, as product as well as service, as metaphor as well as material, as energy as well as connectedness, will preoccupy us at Doors of Perception 9. The encounter will be held in New Delhi from 28 February to 4 March 2007.
Doors 9 begins with a two-day Project Leaders Round Table. This might involve you if your project is concerned with:
– Innovative ways to share, prepare, cook and eat food;
– Urban farming, new links between producer and consumer;
– Practices that transform urban-countryside interactions;
– Sustainable packaging and distribution scenarios;
– Effective uses of new technologies in relation to food.
The deadline for receipt of proposals is Friday 8 September 2006. Projects should be informed by a real location or situation and engage multiple disciplines and dimensions. Hypothetical, conceptual, and unrealizable proposals will not be favoured.
Proposals will be reviewed in September based on a concise project description. Send us an email (Subject header: “juice project”) on these five points:
a) title of your project;
b) 10 word description;
c) 100 word description;
d) name(s) of author(s);
e) URL
Your proposals will be reviewed by:
Aditya Dev Sood, Centre for Knowledge Societies (CKS);
Debra Solomon, culiblog.org;
Juha Huuskonen, PixelAche;
Amy Franseschini, futurefarmers;
John Thackara, Doors of Perception.
Notification of finalists will be by Friday 22 September. If invited, you will need to pay for your travel to India, but we will cover your accommodation, food, and basic event costs, as well as your registration fees for Doors 9. Send your project description to: editor@doorsofperception.com

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Doors 9: design and architecture schools

If you are a design or architecture student, or recently so, we have teamed up with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and Designs of the time (Dott07) to offer travel-included scholarships to Doors 9 for the winners of this year’s RSA Design Directions competition. The two themes we have set are on Food Info Systems and on Sustainable Tourism. These documents are previews of the official Call which comes later in July at the RSA site.

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To sit or not to sit?

Allan Chochinov, editor of Core77, drew my attention to a remarkably cheap – in fact, free – way to increase patient satisfaction in hospitals. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, patients perceive that health providers (their term) who sit during an evaluation “are their bedside for longer than those who stand – – for the same amount of time”. This correlates with numerous studies demonstrating that time is a key indicator of patient satisfaction in health contexts around the world. Having someone just listen to you for five minutes makes most people that I know feel better. Some clinicians get very worked up on this topic: they argue that perceptions of care quality do not always correspond with actual care care quality. This may be true, but I’m confused: does it matter?

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Fuel cells to Newcastle?

What would it mean, in practical design terms, to make one household carbon neutral? We’ll discuss this at the next Dott 07 (Designs of the Time) Explorers Club meeting on 11 July. The event takes place at the Robert Stephenson Centre in Newcastle, UK. Many of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from residential households could be reduced if we made our houses more efficient, generated our own energy, switched suppliers, or simply switched off devices. But cumulative energy use is invisible, and alternative insulation and energy solutions are offered by multiple, fragmented suppliers and are therefore hard to procure. The evening will explore the design components of a whole systems approach to the challenge. Leading the discussion will be Chris Vanstone from RED at the Design Council, and Stephen Dormer from the Eaga Group. Tickets are free but you need to reserve by emailing Beckie Darlington beckie.darlington@dott07.com by the end of this week.

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Media war

Apropos doing it, vs making media about it: Yesterday’s Sunday Times in London contained an extraordinary account of fighting and near-death encounters in Afghanistan. The narrative concludes with the following surreal event: “Tribal elders are shown into a room where a projector has been set up. Someone in London has come up with the idea of making a film to show locals. It comprises five minutes of the underwater BBC series, Blue Planet, followed by a message from the Governor of Helmand, followed by five more minutes of Blue Planet. The tribal leaders sit in utter bafflement as images of whales and dolphins are projected on the wall”. (Sunday Times, 2 July 2006 page 4).

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How to be good

At last week’s Aspen Design Summit 150 concerned designer-citizens explored ways that they might contribute to sustainable community development, education innovation, and social entrepreneurship. (Other reports are at Core77 and at unBeige.There are many images at Flickr
(Humbug check: I was an enthusiastic participant – and paid to be the moderator – of the Summit).
The stated aim of the event was to “launch a design revolution to put an end to poverty in developing countries by conceiving new extreme-affordability products”. The Summit was challenged to “create a road map to focus the design, engineering, business and education expertise, represented by Summit participants, to address the needs of the poor”.
Real-world projects were the focus of the Summit. Project leaders told us of their work at a grass roots level in Myanmar and Nepal, St Louis and Detoit, New Orleans and the South Bronx.
As previously stated the word ‘development’ too often implies that we advanced people in the North have an obligation to help backward people in the South to ‘catch up’ with our own advanced condition. The problem with this approach is that broader measures of sustainability and well-being tend to be ignored. Or, worse, they are viewed as impediments to progress and modernisation.
The participation in Aspen of people from rooted, real-world projects helped ensure a degree of sensitivity to context, and to existing social relationships, in our discussions.
A degree, but not a lot. At the end of the day, we were high on altitude – but low on context. We discussed ideas and plans for and about people located hundreds or thousands of miles away. As someone remarked, “you can pretend to care, but not pretend to be there”. Second hand representations, however well-crafted, are not the same as direct experience.
This confronts the design world with a substantial dilemma. Eighty percent of professional designers are in the representation business. But designing a poster about an issue, or launching a media campaign about it, is not the same as helping real people, in real places, change an aspect of their everyday material reality.
This dilemma is especially pointed for the American Institute of Graphic Arts, which organised the Summit in Aspen. Full credit to them, then, for organising an initiative that benefits such a small part of its membership directly.
And one especially positive outcome of the Summit is that it forces us to address some tricky questions.
For example: When we talk about design and social innovation, how confident can we be that we are not searching for personal salvation by “doing good”?
And: If we are genuinely to exchange value – ather than donate it, unasked – what do we have to offer that people want, and need?
And what about the matter of agency? When designers in the North (or rockstars, or NGOs) sally forth to help “the poor” – who is acting for, or on, whom?
Reflecting on these questions, I conclude that we need some Rules of Engagement to govern design-aid expeditions. So – with the caveat that rules are there to be broken, or at least argued about – I propose:
Rule one: Look near as well as far. There’s a lot of work to be done nearby as well as far away. It’s easier to enhance the human resources, culture, heritage, traditions, know-how and skills of a local culture than that of a distant one.
Rule two: work for actual people, not for categories. Be on your guard whenever you read the words “the poor” (or “the elderly” or “the blind” or “the disabled”). These casual (and widespread) habits of language disembody and dehumanise people. (If you don’t believe me, ask a blind person).
Rule three: Respect what’s already there. Designers are trained to to change things for the better – not to leave well alone. The good news is that visiting designers can act like mirrors, reflecting positive things about a situation that local people no longer notice or value.
Rule four: empower local people. Any design action that rearranges places and relationships is an exercise of power. A good test for the sensitivity of Incoming designers is whether they enable people to increase control over their own territory and resources.
Rule five: commit long-term. When Sergio Palleroni offered the support of design students to communities in New Orleans, he commited to a minimum of three years’ engagement. It takes time to understand a situation, time to listen to local people and gain their trust, time for appropriate solutions to emerge.
Rule six: Small is not small. Small design actions can have big consequences, many of them positive ones. If someone builds a bus stop in an urban slum, a vibrant community can sprout and grow around it. Such is the power of small interventions into complex urban situations. Read Small Change, by Nabeel Hamdi for more inspiring examples of thre power of thinking small.
Rule seven: Think whole systems. Aspen project leader Paul Polak reckons the design and technology of a device, such as a pump, or sprinkler system, is not much more than ten percent of the complete solution. The other ninety percent involves distribution, training, maintenance and service arrangements, partnership and business models. He and Jim Pattel at Stanford Business School get students to plan whole business solutikons to development opportiunities.
Rule eight: hands-on or hands-off. Hungry people need posters and campaigns less than they need food to eat.
We prepared a briefing on design-related social innovation for Doors 8.

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