Day 1 of the World Innovation Forum in New York City has been a whirlwind. Very much like drinking from a fire hose.
First up: Paul Saffo, technology forecaster from Stanford, provided an engaging start to the day with his insight into why now is an ideal time for innovation. The economic outlook is uncertain. According to Saffo, uncertainty is good. If everything was certain, he reasons, there would be no opportunity.
And I learned a new word: biomimetrics. That’s the practice of taking ideas from nature and turning them into new products. Saffo was talking about a new compound for glue-less adhesives derived from researching the feet of wall-climbing geckos. Makes me think about what other ideas nature might have to share with us!
Photo courtesy of Dov Friedmann
He also talked a lot about the importance of being willing to fail. He mentioned that Silicon Valley was founded not on many entrepreneurial successes, but originally based on many failures. We teach the entrepreneurs in our ACTiVATE class to celebrate failure and to “Fail Fast”. Progress is built upon the rubble of failure. Initiatives that have been failing for 20 years or more, Saffo argues, are ideal places to find opportunities for innovation.
Some other great tips for entrepreneurial companies and ventures:
- Don’t mistake a clear view (from your vision) for a short distance. Everything takes longer than you think it will.
- Look for things that are the exact opposite of what they should be – could be an innovation opportunity. Keep a journal of these things you notice.
- You must look to the past to find trends moving forward. Look for rhythms and patterns, not repetition.
- His guess on the next technology “big ideas”: robots and sensors
Finally, I was able to really connect with him when he started talking about how to make people more comfortable with change. He said that the more we can make the strange seem like something we know and make what we know seem strange, the more open we’ll be to change. Hmmmm. Could relating unknown entrepreneurial business challenges to the more “known” family dynamics help more people start and succeed in business? Someone should write a book about that! Oh, yea. I already did.