To be an Innovation Legend, do you have to be an A**hole?

Elon on Stage My View of Musk As the Crowd Goes Crazy at SXSW 2018

If you’ve ever been to the SXSW Conference, you know it’s full of many surprises. This year none was bigger than the announcement that Elon Musk would be speaking. As soon as the email went out, I knew I would wake up as early as I had to in order to get tickets to see him talk. It didn’t matter if it meant waiting in line for hours or that I would miss the Melinda Gates’s keynote (that was poorly scheduled right after his). And I wasn’t the only one that felt this way.

The Evolution of Elon Musk: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Elon Musk2Photo by Web Summit via Flickr CC

As someone who considers themselves up-to-date with the latest news and trends on everything design and innovation, I was taken aback when I saw a Facebook post back in December. My friend was calling out Elon Musk for being a jerk (and no it wasn’t one of the those Facebook friends that rants about everything). He was referring to a Twitter battle between Musk and Jarrett Walker, a public transit policy consultant with a PhD in humanities.  

Their Twitter feud began because of Elon’s comments at an AI Conference. Musk had called out public transportation for being a “pain in the ass” and that you could end up sharing a ride with someone “who might be a serial killer.” This led to a series of tweets by Walker aimed at Musk, saying that Musk wanted to create a public transportation system designed for the protection of the elite. To which Musk simply responded, “You’re an idiot.”

How to Think Like an Idealist

Idealist.pngPhoto by Tim Gouw via Unsplash

Feedback is absolutely essential to producing a successful innovation. Innovators and designers probably subject themselves to more feedback than just about anyone else. And while feedback is good for the product they’re creating, feedback can take a toll on the creator. Sure it’s truly great to discover what kinda sucks about what you’ve made. But hearing over and over again that what you’ve made isn’t all that great can wear on you. This is why innovators need to be resilient. They need to embrace the mindset of an idealist.

Idealists are strange folks. They’re relentlessly optimistic, but they’re not blind. Far from it. They’re keenly aware of all the imperfections in the world. Seeing so much wrong doesn’t get them down, though. Idealists are the kind of people that believe all problems are solvable. They’re both rationally unsatisfied and emotionally optimistic.

Maintaining this balance takes work, but there are three habits you can practice to help bolster your idealist mindset.

Why Innovators Need to Become Chief Communication Officers (Part 2)

The innovation process requires a lot of communication. It begins by discussing the problem, then talking through potential solutions, followed by clearly articulating how to implement the selected solution, and finally it involves telling (and selling) the innovation’s story. These different stages of communication involve not just the core design team but also every department of the organization (oh yeah, and the people we’re designing for as well). Because of this, designers and innovators need to be elite communicators. We have to think of ourselves as the Chief Communication Officers (CCO) of our organizations.

What Hollywood’s Best Directors Can Teach Us About Innovation

Director.pngPhoto by Jakob Owens via Unsplash

One of my favorite movie series of all time is Back to the Future. Back to the Future gets everything right. On a macro level, the story is about an ordinary kid that gets thrown into an extraordinary situation stuck 30 years in the past. He spends the rest of the movie trying to get home and along the way learns that “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” But it’s not just the overall plot that makes Back to the Future great; it’s the thousand small details. During the opening scene as the camera pans across Doc Brown’s empty lab, you can hear the faint sound of a TV commercial in the background proclaiming that “October is inventory time at Statler Toyota.” Two movies later, as our hero finds himself in the Old West, he rides past a sign for “Honest” Joe Statler’s horse and buggy business, suggesting that the Statler family has been in the transportation industry for generations. These blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments demonstrate the filmmaker’s attention to detail and inspire the loyalty of countless fans like myself who watch these movies year after year.

Our Education System Is Preparing Us for Disappearing Jobs

Education SystemPhoto by NeONBRAND via Unsplash

With headlines like “Yes, the robots will steal our jobs” gracing the news almost every day, it’s time we face the facts: Our education system is preparing us for jobs that won’t exist in 10 years. Teachers, traders, and truck drivers are all in serious danger of seeing their jobs replaced with software from companies like Khan Academy, Robinhood, and Tesla. The world’s economy is undergoing its most radical shift since the Industrial Revolution. Our education system needs to keep up. Luckily, there is some hope. In the past, radical technological and economic changes were what drove changes in education. In fact, it was the Industrial Revolution that produced the system of education that we have today. But we have to keep changing; otherwise we’ll be stuck with a system perfect for the 1800s but woefully unequipped to prepare us for the 21st century.

Stop Staring at a Blank Canvas. Instead, Start Innovating like You’re SpaceX.

For most people, the beginning of a design problem is thrilling. It’s full of excitement and anticipation. You get to start with a completely blank canvas, imagining all of the wonderful things to come. The sky’s the limit. There’s just one problem — a world of infinite possibilities is actually pretty bad for creativity. We know, we know; this might sound like sacrilege to some of you. How can you possibly be creative if your wings are clipped? Shouldn’t we try to ‘think outside the box’, not shove ourselves into one? In short, the answer is no.

In my last article, I wrote about why ‘thinking outside the box’ is bad, because it implies you should forget about the constraints of your design problem. These boundaries shouldn’t be ignored; they should be embraced. They act as guardrails, preventing your designs from crashing and burning and instead keeping you on track throughout the creative process.

The best example of an innovative company embracing constraints is SpaceX. After looking over how they were able to do this, I realized that there are actually 3 superpowers that come with embracing constraints: 1) getting off to the races right away, 2) making better decisions, and 3) optimizing your time. If you’re interested in more information on these three superpowers, feel free to head back to my previous article. But if like me, you’re convinced that embracing constraints can help us be more innovative then you’re most likely asking yourself: how do I do that??

4 Ways to Find The Next Big Idea

ObservationsPhoto by Tim Bogdanov via Unsplash

Uber, the iPhone, Google Docs. All of these are brilliant ideas that have changed the world and become an integral part of so many people’s everyday lives. But how did the people behind those innovations come up with them? How did they see a need that no one else saw?

Jeff Bezos says he can solve healthcare with a beginner’s mind – what the heck is that?!?

healthcarePhoto by RawPixel via Unsplash

When news broke that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase were teaming up to tackle the problems facing America’s healthcare system, reactions ranged from excited to skeptical to scared. Healthcare incumbents from Anthem to Express Scripts saw their stock prices drop 3-5%.

But how could three companies with absolutely no experience in healthcare succeed where so many others failed? In announcing the partnership, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos proclaimed that the key to success is to approach the problem with “a beginner’s mind.” So what is a beginner’s mind? And can it really unlock the kind of innovation the healthcare industry to badly needs?