Category Archives: Social Innovation

Growing Shoes for Growing Children

Shoe That Grows

I love elegant design solutions for problems that are more important than some of the silly things that we think of as problems in the first world.

Their mission is simple, make shoes that will last longer for the kids that need them most and then work to find people who can distribute them to groups of children in need, while also helping those groups raise the money to fund the shoes to take with them and distribute.

Today I came across a video for the shoes that grow highlighted in this video:

The design challenge was pretty simple, how can you design a children’s shoe with a reasonable cost that:

  • Lasts for several years
  • Changes shape so that it continues to fit as the child grows (in this case it is designed to grow up to five sizes)
  • Breathes as the majority of children in need live in warmer climates

What do you think? Innovation or not?

For more information, please visit http://theshoethatgrows.org


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Get Social with Your Innovation

Get Social with Your InnovationIf your organization is struggling to sustain its innovation efforts, then I hope you will do the following things.

  • Find the purpose and passion that everyone can rally around.
  • Create the flexibility necessary to deal with the constant change that a focus on innovation requires for both customers and the organization.
  • Make innovation the social activity it truly must be for you to become successful.

If your organization has lost the courage to move innovation to its center and has gotten stuck in a project – focused, reactive innovation approach, then now is your chance to regain the higher ground and to refocus, not on having an innovation success but on building an innovation capability. Are you up to the challenge?

There is a great article “ Passion versus Obsession ” by John Hagel that explores the differences between passion and obsession. This is an important distinction to understand in order to make sure you are hiring people to power your innovation efforts who are passionate and not obsessive. Here are a few key quotes from the article:

“The first significant difference between passion and obsession is the role free will plays in each disposition: passionate people fight their way willingly to the edge to find places where they can pursue their passions more freely, while obsessive people (at best) passively drift there or (at worst) are exiled there.”

“It’s not an accident that we speak of an “object of obsession,” but the “subject of passion.” That’s because obsession tends towards highly specific focal points or goals, whereas passion is oriented toward networked, diversified spaces.”

More quotes from the John Hagel article:

“The subjects of passion invite and even demand connections with others who share the passion.”

“Because passionate people are driven to create as a way to grow and achieve their potential, they are constantly seeking out others who share their passion in a quest for collaboration, friction and inspiration . . . . The key difference between passion and obsession is fundamentally social: passion helps build relationships and obsession inhibits them.”

“It has been a long journey and it is far from over, but it has taught me that obsession confines while passion liberates.”

These quotes from John Hagel’s article are important because they reinforce the notion that innovation is a social activity. While many people give Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the modern-day equivalent, Dean Kamen, credit for being lone inventors, the fact is that the lone inventor myth is just that — a myth, one which caused me to create The Nine Innovation Roles.

The fact is that all of these gentlemen had labs full of people who shared their passion for creative pursuits. Innovation requires collaboration, either publicly or privately, and is realized as an outcome of three social activities.

1. Social Inputs

From the very beginning when an organization is seeking to identify key insights to base an innovation strategy or project on, organizations often use ethnographic research, focus groups, or other very social methods to get at the insights. Great innovators also make connections to other industries and other disciplines to help create the great in sights that inspire great solutions.

2. Social Evolution

We usually have innovation teams in organizations, not sole inventors, and so the activity of transforming the seeds of useful invention into a solution valued above every existing alternative is very social. It takes a village of passionate villagers to transform an idea into an innovation in the marketplace. Great innovators make connections inside the organization to the people who can ask the right questions, uncover the most important weaknesses, help solve the most difficult challenges, and help break down internal barriers within the organization — all in support of creating a better solution.

3. Social Execution

The same customer group that you may have spent time with, seeking to understand, now requires education to show them that they really need the solution that all of their actions and behaviors indicated they needed at the beginning of the process. This social execution includes social outputs like trials, beta programs, trade show booths, and more. Great innovators have the patience to allow a new market space to mature, and they know how to grow the demand while also identifying the key shortcomings with customers who are holding the solution back from mass acceptance.

Conclusion

When it comes to insights, these three activities are not completely discrete. Insights do not expose themselves only in the social inputs phase, but can also expose themselves in other phases — if you’re paying attention.

Flickr famously started out as a company producing a video game in the social inputs phase, but was astute enough during the social execution phase to recognize that the most used feature was one that allowed people to share photos. Recognizing that there was an unmet market need amongst customers for easy sharing of photos, Flickr reoriented its market solution from video game to photo sharing site and reaped millions of dollars in the process when they ultimately sold their site to Yahoo!.

Ultimately, action is more important than intent, and so as an innovator you must always be listening and watching to see what people do and not just what they say. Build your solution on the wrong insight and nobody will be beating a path to your door.

NOTE: This article is an adaptation of some of the great content in my five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire (available in many local libraries and fine booksellers everywhere).

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Powering Monday Night Football with Feet?

Shell Kinetic Soccer Field in BrazilElectricity.

It’s not exactly cheap, and in rapidly modernizing countries (or even U.S. municipalities with budget woes) the idea of illuminating a neighborhood soccer field so kids and adults can play at night (especially in a poorer neighborhood), might seem like an impossibility.

But a couple of weeks ago Pelé (the Brazilian soccer player) and Shell (the global oil – ahem energy company) this week showed off a soccer revolution, a field located in the heart of Morro da Mineira, a Rio de Janeiro favela, capable of capturing the kinetic energy created by the movement of players around the field and combining it with nearby solar power to provide a source of renewable electricity for lighting the field.

The field uses two hundred high-tech, underground tiles to capture the energy created by players running around the field, along with energy created by solar panels next to the field and stores it in batteries next to the field. These new floodlights provides the players with a lit field and everyone else in the favela a safe and secure community area at night.

Until it was redeveloped by Shell, the soccer field was largely unusable and many young people were forced to play in the streets. The Morro da Mineira project shows how creative ideas delivered through committed partnerships can shape neighborhoods and transform communities.

The effort is a component of the Shell #makethefuture program, which endeavors to inspire entrepreneurs and young people to see science and engineering as potential career choices, and hopes to inspire both to use their minds to develop energy solutions for our planet’s future. The kinetic technology used at the soccer field was developed by a UK Shell LiveWIRE grant, which is designed to be a catalyst for young students and entrepreneurs seeking to grow promising ideas into viable and sustainable businesses.

Could we someday see a World Cup match lit by the players or maybe even a Monday Night Football game?

Only time, and a continued commitment to advancements in renewable energy generation and storage, will tell.

For other interesting kinetic energy inventions (and potential innovations), continue reading here (link broken).

Image Source: Treehugger


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The Challenge of Autonomous Teaching Methods

The Challenge of Autonomous Teaching Methods

An estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write, or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills. Many of these children are in developing countries without regular access to quality schools or teachers. While programs exist to build schools and train teachers, traditional models of education are not able to scale fast enough to meet demand. We simply cannot build enough schools or train enough teachers to meet the need. We are at a pivotal moment where an innovative approach is necessary to eliminate existing barriers to learning, enabling the seeds of innovation to be imparted to every child, regardless of geographic location or economic status.

XPRIZE Chairman and CEO, Dr. Peter H. Diamandis announced the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE today to help solve these challenges. The Global Learning XPRIZE is a five-year competition challenging teams to develop an open source solution that can be iterated upon, scaled and deployed around the world, bringing quality learning experiences to children no matter where they live. Enabling children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

At the same time, XPRIZE will launch an online crowdfunding campaign to mobilize a global street team of supporters to get involved with the Global Learning XPRIZE. Every dollar pledged will go towards optimizing the success of the prize, specifically focusing on supporting team recruitment globally and expanding field testing.

The Global Learning XPRIZE will launch with a six-month team registration period followed by 18 months of solution development. A panel of third-party expert judges will then evaluate and select the top five teams to proceed in the competition, and award each of them a $1M award. Solutions will be tested in the field with thousands of children in the developing world, over an 18-month period. The $10M top prize will ultimately be awarded to the team that develops a technology solution demonstrating the greatest levels of proficiency gains in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The learning solutions developed by this prize will enable a child to learn autonomously. And, those created by the finalists will be open-sourced for all to access, iterate and share. This technology could be deployed around the world, bringing learning experiences to children otherwise thought unreachable, who do not have access to quality education, and supplementing the learning experiences of children who do.

The impact will be exponential. Children with basic literacy skills have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty. And that’s not all. By enabling a child to learn how to learn, that child has opportunity – to live a healthy and productive life, to provide for their family and their community, as well as to contribute toward a peaceful, prosperous and abundant world.

XPRIZE believes that innovation can come from anywhere and that many of the greatest minds remain untapped.

What might the future look like with hundreds of millions of additional young minds unleashed to tackle the world’s Grand Challenges?

The Global Learning XPRIZE is funded by a group of donors, including the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Anthony Robbins Foundation, the Econet Foundation, the Merkin Family Foundation, Scott Hassan, John Raymonds and Suzanne West.

For more information, visit http://learning.xprize.org.

COMMENTARY

I am very excited about this new effort, as I am a big believer that we should live in a world where the next Einstein could come from anywhere, but I have a few of concerns:

  • It seems to be focused on the use of technology
  • Five years is a long time (will they get a five-year-old solution?)
  • It doesn’t engage the target users in co-creation throughout the whole process (it’s outside in)
  • It seems to ignore the infrastructure in place in areas of the greatest need (where students don’t even have desks)
  • The most capable solutions may be too expensive to implement in the target areas
  • The goal should be to build an autonomous learning system that can be used for reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also extended to do much more
  • Teaching students skills autonomously is fine as long as there is social practice as part of the curriculum
  • An over-reliance on autonomous teaching will lead to less innovation not more
  • We are already seeing negative effects in first-world society from too much reliance on technology
  • If we want more innovation, we need to be teaching our kids ICE skills not just STEM, ICE being Invention, Collaboration, and Entrepreneurship – these are all social skills that don’t need technology (but can use it)

For more on my views on improving education (which doesn’t require education reform or new technology), please see my article Stop Praying for Education Reform.

For those of you who are going to enter a team, I look forward to seeing what you come up with and I hope that you’ll keep some of the above in mind!


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Speeding Innovation to Africa

I came across an interesting crowdfunding site called The 1% Club. What makes it interesting it that is designed to help launch improvement projects in Africa that will make it cleaner, safer, and/or friendlier through a partnership between charity (Dutch National Postcode Lottery) and the general public. Here is a video that describes itself:

The way that it works is that if the general public contributes the first 30% to back an idea (crowdfunding) in 30 days, then the Cheetah Fund will contribute the rest to fully fund the idea and launch it in Africa.

For an example of one of the projects, check out:

The Maternal Portal Project

The Maternal Portal project is a mobile health technology intervention that seeks to reduce maternal deaths, by using localized voice technology to reach out to expectant mothers in their local languages with relevant information pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth. The localized voice messages will educate women on basic malaria prevention, proper nutrition routines, and how, when and where to seek for medical assistance.


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Improving Education for 20 Cents a Student

I love examples of simple, inexpensive solutions that solve important problems. Solutions like the water bottle light, the gravity light, etc., and Mike Freeston was kind enough to send this most recent example that I will share with you today. Thank you Mike!

The video details the work of a Non-Governmental Organization (aka NGO), that was created as a Community Service Center for marginalized families in rural areas an urban slums. It’s called Aarambh, and they wanted to help students who don’t even have the basic facilities, to be more comfortable and productive at school.

Most schools in rural India have two basic problems:

  1. Schools don’t have proper desks, which leads to poor eyesight, bad posture and bad writing.
  2. Students don’t have school bags.

Aarambh came up with a solution which tackled both these problems with a single, thoughtful design.

Aarambh came up with a design for portable desks made using discarded cardboard boxes (aka cartons). This choice for raw materials is both economical, and easily available. The stencil design, when cut and folded, creates a desk suitable for use by students whom must sit on the floor AND it also can serve as a school bag.

Brilliant!


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Using Gravity to Save and Improve Lives

Using Gravity to Save and Improve Lives

I came across an IndieGogo project that is focused on building and trialing a gravity-powered power station that can serve either as a lantern or as a flexible power source that can be used to power a task light, recharge batteries, or potentially other things that users might dream up that the designers can’t yet imagine.

Check out their video from IndieGogo:

They have already raised FIVE TIMES the money they set out to raise on IndieGogo.

I found it interesting in their promotional video that initially they started with a design challenge of designing a system that would charge a light for indoor use using a solar panel, but that they decided to abandon the approach specified from the outset and pursue alternate power sources.

Also interesting from the IndieGogo project page are the following facts:

The World Bank estimates that, as a result, 780 million women and children inhale smoke which is equivalent to smoking 2 packets of cigarettes every day. 60% of adult, female lung-cancer victims in developing nations are non-smokers. The fumes also cause eye infections and cataracts, but burning kerosene is also more immediately dangerous: 2.5 million people a year, in India alone, suffer severe burns from overturned kerosene lamps. Burning Kerosene also comes with a financial burden: kerosene for lighting ALONE can consume 10 to 20% of a household’s income. This burden traps people in a permanent state of subsistence living, buying cupfuls of fuel for their daily needs, as and when they can.

The burning of Kerosene for lighting also produces 244 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide annually.

So, what do you think, a meaningful innovation or an interesting but impractical invention?

More information available on their web site here.


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Stop Praying for Education Reform

Stop Praying for Education ReformWhen it comes to education, we should adopt Nike’s famous motto and ‘Just Do It’.

In the United States (and probably many other countries around the world), it has become a popular pastime to complain about the state of the public schools. People complain about school funding, teacher performance, curriculum, class sizes, and more things than I care to remember right now.

And while the Gates Foundation and many other great organizations are trying to come up with new ways to make education delivery and administration better, the fact remains that education funding is likely to get worse (not better) and any reform is likely to take a long time to implement in the face of stiff resistance.

So what are parents to do?

Well, in my interview with Seth Godin at the World Innovation Forum (2010), he suggested that parents are going to have to take increasing responsibility for educating their own children at home AFTER they get home from school. The interview is one of many innovation interviews I’ve done, and is below for your reference:

But, I’ve been thinking lately that while parents may be interested in supplementing the education their children receive at school in order to help them succeed in the innovation economy (a topic for another day), they may NOT possess the knowledge, skills, abilities (or maybe even the desire) to succeed at this admirable task.

I have another idea.

It is time for us as parents and community members to stop praying for education reform, and instead take action. I’ve given you the WHY, now let’s look at the WHO, WHAT, and WHERE.

The WHO

You! Many people have knowledge and skills that they can share with kids. Skills and knowledge that will help prepare the next generation for the realities of a workplace that demands more flexible thinking, creativity, problem solving, and entrepreneurial skills.

The WHAT

Let’s face facts. Today’s schools are designed to mass-produce trivia experts and basic competency in reading, writing, and arithmetic (and maybe some history, science, and other important subjects).

But, to succeed in the innovation economy, the next generation is going to need to be proficient in at least these ten things:

  1. Creativity
  2. Lateral Thinking
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Innovation (of course!)
  5. Interpersonal Skills
  6. Collaboration
  7. Negotiation
  8. Partnerships
  9. Entrepreneurship
  10. And much, much more…

The WHERE

Our workplaces and our schools may be the most common places for citizens in our societies to congregate, but there is another place where we could come together to supplement our childrens’ educations…

Congregations: (a definition)
1. The act of assembling.
2. A body of assembled people or things; a gathering.

Now, the word is often used in a religious context, but not all people are religious (or even belong to a religious congregation). But, we have buildings all over the world that are designed for people to come together to study or pray together – or that belong to the government and can be used by the general public. We can use these buildings as gathering places to educate our children for the innovation economy.

Conclusion

We need to come together as societies and communities and fill the gaps in our educational systems that are unlikely to go away any time soon. We need to stop waiting for others to fix the problems and instead do what we can as individuals by coming together to solve this key challenge for continued prosperity. We must do this now.

Who’s with me?

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Innovating for Fun and Social Good

I came across this a while back on sitsite.com’s blog, use it in some of my innovation speaker engagements, and had to share it. After all, we could all use a little more fun in our lives, and if some social good can be achieved in the process, all the better!

It is from a Swedish site advertising a contest that was designed to award a 2,500 Euro prize for the idea that best exemplifies the premise that:

“something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”

To see more examples or to enter the contest, please visit The Fun Theory site. The campaign and competition are sponsored by Volkswagen – Smart move!

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Is Crowdsourcing a Fad or a Foundational Element?

Much has been written about ‘crowdsourcing’ and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ over the past several years, including “Crowdsourcing” by Jeff Howe – a contributing editor at Wired magazine, and “Wisdom of the Crowd” by James Surowiecki – a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Crowdsourcing – “The act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” – Jeff Howe

‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ – “Refers to the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question.” – Wikipedia

For those of you not familiar with crowdsourcing, here is a good video from Jeff Howe:

So, what will happen to ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ as more and more companies start to employ these techniques.

Will the crowd remain wise or lose its predictive powers?

One thing is certain. Organizations will continue to use ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ together to help them find ideas that will resonate with their targets.

Organizations will, however, have to work harder to market their initiatives as the competition increases for people’s time, if they are to maximize the value they accrue from the effort.

What do you think?

I recently used crowdsourcing to source the design for my upcoming Nine Innovation Roles interactive card game and received several good designs and one awesome one. Now I am using crowdfunding on IndieGoGo to raise the money to make it a reality and will be bringing sample cards with me to the Front End of Innovation 2012 in Orlando next week (Save 20% with discount code FEI12BRADEN).

Oh, and I will also be looking to crowdsource a software application for people to use on their iPad, iPhone, Android, or other mobile device too, so stay tuned!

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