Saturday, December 11, 2004

Collaborative E-learning & Generative Conversation

In recent posts Paul observed that "conversation, as a generative process, is the prerequisite for all creativity" and "to create new realities, we must create new contexts, new domains of consensus." These ideas resonate with the work I am doing in the area of collaborative e-learning. I am looking at ways online courses and/or learning activities can be designed and facilitated to promote generative conversation in the virtual domain. I am interested in ways the online class itself can serve as a new context for learning by doing-- learning to converse, communicate, solve problems and generate new ideas and solutions.

If others in the Innovation Commons are interested in this approach, I hope you will join me for a real-time dialogue on the ICT Literacy Community (

December 14, at 10-11 AM Pacific Time OR

December 16, at 5-6 PM Pacific Time.

We'll use the Taxonomy for Collaborative E-Learning as a conceptual framework for our discussion.

See for more info.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Internet as an Innovation Commons

The Internet is often referred to as an innovation commons. Does it function as an innovation commons? Why or why not?

Internet and Artistic Creativity

From Renee Hopkins at IdeaFlow:

"This past Monday the Pew Center for the Internet and American Life released the study Artists, Musicians and the Internet. Media coverage of the study was focused primarily on one finding: Most artists don't view unauthorized swapping of music and movies as a threat to their livelihood, even if many think it should be illegal."

"...artists and musicians have embraced the Internet as a tool that helps them create, as well as helps them promote and sell what they’ve created."

"And, 'artists and musicians are more likely to say that the Internet has made it possible for them to make more money from their art than they are to say it has made it harder to protect their work from piracy or unlawful use.'

Half of the artists and musicians said that copyright regulations benefit purveyors of creative work more than they benefit the original creators."

Read Her Comments

Download the Report

Thursday, December 9, 2004


A consortium is a speacial kind of innovation commons. It has limited memebership and there are strict agreements about how the intellectual property can be used and who owns it. Some like Sematech have been very sucessful. What are the principles that result in a sucessful consortium?

Monday, December 6, 2004

Individual Characteristics

What role does the type of brain functioning, personality or temperament play in an innovation commons?

Open Source

I'm looking for comment here about how Open Source works and why.


Communication between and among people is very complex. There are many channels and nuances. However, for the purpose of innovation, I have found the following simple model useful. It is based on knowledge and values.
If people seeking to communicate have the same knowledge and the same values, communication is very easy. This is what happens between friends. It's comfortable. However, if you really have exactly the same knowledge and values, the transactions carry no real meaning. Nothing new can be created.
If the people have the same knowledge but different values, when communication is attempted, an argument usually results. Operating on the same knowledge with different values results in different interpretation and prioritization of the knowledge. This quite often happens in politics and religion. (And, it may be going on in America right now.)
If people have different knowledge and values, not much communication can take place. If an attempt at communication is made, a lack of understanding results, or at best a misunderstanding occurs.
If people have different knowledge but the same values, a conversation can result. In a conversation, innovation can occur.

The key strategy in any communication endeavor is to try to move toward a conversation. In the real world, the situation is not as black and white as I have depicted it. People almost always have some shared values or knowledge. The key to creating a conversation is to find some shared values and use these to build a conversation based on the different knowledge.
The more different the knowledge and values are, the higher the potential is for breakthrough innovations. The less different the knowledge and values are, the more likely incremental innovation will result.
For a copy of a presentation on these principles as well as MBTI in communication, click here.


A market is a type of commons as well, and in some cases may even be considered an "innovation commons".

I have read about mythology, anthropology and history, but I am by no means expert. Over the years I've developed a sense of the development of markets that I want to share. Much of this has been developed through conversations with people, especially my partner, Donna Prestwood. It is not rigorous research, but I do want to share the story I've developed. I've put this Italics, because it is a story, not a history.

During times when our ancient ancestors were hunter/gatherers and lived in tribes, the concept of territory was developed (See I told you it was a story. I started with "once upon a time".) Knowledge of what existed outside the territory was limited. The "other" who lived outside your territory was either enemies or strangers. Both were feared. An incursion into your territory was almost surely to provoke an attack, even if the incursion was not an attack itself.

As the boundaries of the territory became established and known or even marked, the "other" avoided incursion unless intent upon an attack. Paths of travel began to be developed along the boundaries of the territories. The first paths bypassed the territories of the tribes.

Sometime during this development people got the idea of bringing gifts to the boundary of their own territory, to the edge of the known. The gifts were left a s a peace offering. Among some tribes this led to the development of concept of potlatch. The tribes brought gifts to the boundary in a type of asynchronous exchange. Potlatch cultures developed when winning meant giving the better gift. Either as peace offerings or potlatch, the practice did reduce the amount of physical conflicts.

Since strangers passed along these boundaries in transit around the territories, it was only natural that somehow they began to enter into the mix. The resulting development led to the creation of markets along these boundary/paths. And, eventually this led to the concentration of villages around the markets, especially at crossroads.

Early in our development, humans developed the sense of having to bring gifts to the edge of the known. In some cultures this ended up as sacrifices. In others, it was food or precious goods. We carry that tradition on now in the form of gifts brought to the altar of our religion. The altar representing symbolically the boundary between what is known and the unknowable.

As a result, the original concept of a market was that it was held on "sacred" ground; it was safe. The boundary was not a place for war. It was a place of peace. Markets today should be "sacred" in that sense. This may be why we are so incensed when someone violates the trust of the market and cheats, lies, or steals.

In some cultures the concept of exchanging gifts at the borders, (Still celebrated by the way every Friday evening in the fall at Texas high school football games with the students of the two schools exchanging gifts at the 50 yard line before the start of the game. Apparently the gifts don't work to bring peace and hostilities have to be undertaken however ritual the hostilities are.) led to the development of a bartering system. From that came the concept of the development of value for different types of goods. Note that adding strangers into the mix brought different types of goods into the market not indigenous to the tribes.

In what sense is a market an innovation commons? Goods produced or manufactured are the embodiment of knowledge. In the ancient market, an individual skilled in making axes could teach the "other" how to make the ax. But, it's more efficient and rewarding to exchange the ax for other things needed or money. Even if the goods are grown, harvested, hunted or extracted, their presence at the market embodies the application of knowledge. Information was also exchanged at a market as well, in a loose bartering sense.

One of the things that makes a market work is the mechanism of valuing goods and services. Another is the trust and safety. Others? I welcome comments.

Are we now at a point in the development of civilization where an innovation commons would work? If so, what are conditions or principles that would assure its success? What can we learn from successful markets?

What can we learn from e-Bay? I don't know enough about it to comment, so I would welcome other comments. One element of e-Bay I do know about is the rating system. Buyers and sellers rate each other after the transaction. A bad reputation prevents you from further participation in the market.


"You never feel safe when you have to navigate in waters which are completely blank." Lieutenant Maxwell Member, Bering's Second Polar Expedition

"Rae obtained from the Eskimo spoons and other articles that were found to have belonged to Franklin's expedition." This cryptic note in Encyclopedia Americana regarding the fate of the infamous Franklin Arctic expedition demands explanation. Several years after the Rae search, McClintock, leading the last search party, found that they had carried more than spoons. They had a great deal of silverware-place settings. If I were in the Arctic trying to survive by walking out from a shipwreck, what would I want with spoons? What would possess men - hungry, ship crushed by ice, senses numbed by the cold, 1,000 miles from nearest help, and sick - to drag ornate silverware over the jagged ice on their futile attempt to walk out? The answer, although taken from the history of the 1800's, is relevant to you, and to us collectively, today.

Sir John Franklin, born in England in 1786, was a naval officer, an explorer, and a hero, of sorts. He entered the Navy at 14 as a midshipman and fought in the battles of Trafalgar and New Orleans. He was promoted to Captain after three explorations. A member of a class of British naval officers - rich, war-tested, sporting, restless, seeking excitement - he was thoroughly imbedded in the British cultural tradition of duty, honor, and dogged persistence.

Sir John became a public figure after his Arctic expeditions, publishing a book each time describing his adventures. He was knighted in 1829 and became Lieutenant Governor of the penal colony in Van Dieman's Land, now known as Tasmania. After seven year; he returned to England to find that the British Navy was preparing what was hoped to be the last exploration of the Arctic for a Northwest Passage.

The search for the Northwest Passage began in the 1500's. Searches were made numerous times for a sea route north of continental Canada and Alaska which was to link the Atlantic and the Pacific. By the 19th century, the search had largely become a project of the Royal Navy. Various expeditions had charted all but a few hundred miles of what was believed would prove to be the passage. The search had become academic. There was no commercial value. Britain had the resources and wanted to be credited with the discovery to provide glory to the nation and display the power and expertise of the Navy. One final massive effort was planned to provide the last pieces of the puzzle.

Sir Franklin had become a hero, not because of his brilliance but because of his courage and endurance of incredible hardships. In his previous exploits he had been wounded in battle, shipwrecked on Australia's Barrier Reef, and, on his Arctic expedition, abandoned on the frozen waters without supplies. All but three died on that journey. He was only a few days from death when rescued.

In those days it was common practice for an exploration of the Arctic to last for three years. Two winters were spent locked in by the ice. Sailing could only be done during the few weeks that the water was navigable. During the winter, land explorations were made.

The last Franklin expedition began in May 1845. Two 300-ton plus bark-rigged sailing ships, with the formidable names of Erebus and Terror, were outfitted for the journey. With the sporting interests of the British Navy, staffing the ships with 129 volunteer officers and men was easy. The ships were even outfitted with an innovation to help with the ice. Coal fueled locomotive steam engines delivering 20 hp were provided. The ships also had an unheard of luxury - heated cabins. They sailed and were last seen on July 26 by a Scottish whaler. All men and equipment were lost - the greatest single disaster in the annals of Arctic exploration.

What happened? John Rae, Hudson's Bay Company, discovered some clues 12 years later. While very little is known of the actual events, McClintock later found some of the bodies and notes. The ships were never located. They survived the first winter but the end of the second winter found them permanently beset by ice. Many died on the ship. The survivors left the ship after the third winter and tried to reach safety overland, a trip of over 1,000 miles. None made it.

The key to the disaster lies in the preparation for the expedition. Although the ships had two auxiliary steam engines, they only had a 12-day supply of coal. Instead, each ship had a 1,200 volume library, a hand organ playing 50 tunes, china place settings for officers and men, cut glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware.

The flatware deserves more attention because it was found with the bodies of the men who tried to walk out over 1,000 miles of wilderness. The silverware was of an ornate Victorian design, with richly patterned heavy handles, each bearing the officer's initials and family crest.

They had no special clothing, only the standard uniforms of the Navy. A skeleton of one of the officers later found was described wearing a uniform, trousers and jacket, of fine blue cloth edged with silk braid. The sleeves of the jacket were slashed and decorated with five covered buttons each. Over the uniforms he wore a blue great coat and a black silk neckerchief.

This is a tragic example of a paradigm. A paradigm is a pattern of rules, values, experiences, and beliefs that govern behavior. Franklin was deeply embedded in the "good old boy" British Navy paradigm that made exploration a sporting event, but one in which he didn't want to miss the amenities of his life. It cost all their lives.

Kuhn, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first introduced the concept of paradigms in relation to creative breakthroughs in science. Since then, the concept has been usefully applied to engineering, the arts, and normal problem solving. Breaking with the old paradigm and establishing a new one is a creative act. It allows new problems to be solved. Solving problems within the old paradigm is puzzle solving-using the rules in established ways. When problems cannot be solved using the rules of the old paradigm, they are set aside. When enough have collected or a destructive anomaly has surfaced, someone's attention is attracted. A new paradigm is developed which solves the open problems and provides future problem solving capability.

The study of the currently accepted paradigm is what prepares someone for acceptance into the community being joined. Since members of the community learn the same values, they will seldom disagree on fundamentals. This acculturation process applies to many areas of life. But what happens when the world around you changes? If you cannot change your paradigm, you may not survive.

We are in a period of rapid social and technological change. Are we, like Franklin, driven by improper forces? Have repeated excursions into danger inured us, as they did Franklin, from those dangers because we were lucky? Do we have the equivalent of the Franklin paradigm in the business world? Are we ready to survive the rigors of the Arctic winter equivalent? Will we take new technology and innovations along with us but not utilize their full potential? Or will we carry our initialed, crested silver spoons to our demise in an environment for which there is no need for spoons?


Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 2, 1971

Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia. Vol. IV, 1974

"A Frozen Sailor Summons Up a Tale of Heroism" by Bit

Gilbert, Smithsonian, 6/85, p.116

Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard, Harper Colophon

Books, 1983

The Structure of Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn,

University of Chicago Press, 1970

The Poles, Willy Ley Time-Life Books, 1971

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


We all love to stay with tradition. The more we experience in life, the more likely we are to fall back on tried and true methods to accomplish our goals in our business or personal life. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" has become our motto. Children who have no history of success or failure are much more likely to experiment with the new. They may even play with what the experienced people call fire.

"Tradition!" exclaimed Tevea in "Fiddler On the Roof" as he fought to hold onto what he knew worked, what provided him with a sense of purpose in life. His three girls were bent on change, and the environment around the family was crumbling due to other forces at work. In the end, he changed up to a point in order to accommodate his daughters. Beyond that point, he was afraid that he would break. The environment changed and swept him and his family up in it. How much can we change before we break? How do you know when things need changing even if they don't appear "broke?"

It's amazing how easily traditions get started in a family. All you have to do is do something the same way a few times, and it becomes the accepted way, especially if it is a pleasurable experience. You may even have a hard time remembering how they got started.

My mother used to cook pork roast and potato dumplings. The dumplings were big, heavy like cannon balls, with a flavor and consistency I admired. They were cooked with the pork roast in the gravy. Can you imagine the calories and cholesterol? As a big, fast-growing, athletic teenager, I relished the meal when it was infrequently prepared. The recipe had been handed down for several generations. The dumplings each had a small piece of the crust of bread in the center. I asked mom once why the crust was there. She said that she didn't know. That was just what Grandma Schumann said had to be there.

I was struck by an article I read about a tradition that defies explanation. The small town of Pandhurna, India, population 45,000, has an annual event called the Gotmaar Festival. No one really knows why the festival exists; some older members of the community say that it goes back at least three centuries. All the Pandhurnans know is that once per year, on the day of the new moon in the Hindu month of Sharawan, the drums begin beating along the river Jam, and the time has come for another time of madness.

Within minutes, thousands of males divide into two groups, gather huge piles of stones on opposite sides of the river, and for the next 6-1/2 hours, try to kill, maim or mangle as many of their fellow townsfolk as they can. A tree is positioned in the center of the river and the object is to chop down the tree with an axe without getting stoned to death in the process. In one event, four young boys were killed and 612 people injured. Explains one of the residents, "We all know it is barbaric. It is a kind of madness. And it has no reason at all. But it has been with us since day one, and, on that day every year, we just cannot help ourselves."

It's been over a hundred years since the Hatfield and McCoy feud ended when a jury sentenced eight Hatfield clan members to life in prison and ordered a ninth hanged for the slaying of five McCoys. The trial ended the blood feud that killed 10 to 20 people. We no longer even know the cause of the feud, yet the names Hatfield and McCoy represent traditional views carried to the extreme.

A woman was once asked why she had just cut off the end of a ham she was preparing to roast. "It's because my mother told me to," she explained. When the mother was asked, she said it was because her mother told her to. The grandmother, who was still alive, told them that it was because the hams had always been too big for her roaster, so she had to cut a piece off.

Tradition is not limited to people. Animals can exhibit the same type of behavior. Processionary caterpillars follow each other in a line. In an experiment, a ring of the caterpillars was formed. Each marched around, following the one ahead of it. But, since they were in a ring, no progress was made. Food was placed in the center of the ring, but the caterpillars continued to follow each other, ignoring the environment around them.

People who follow only tradition are like the caterpillars. They are unaware of the opportunities around them. They cannot see the environment, changes in the environment, or opportunities such changes might afford them.

Milnes' books about Winnie the Pooh were some of my favorites as a child and some of my favorites as an adult that I read to my children. In one episode Piglet comes upon Winnie the Pooh walking with his head down as he follows tracks. Piglet asks what he is doing. Pooh explains that he is hunting a Woozle whose tracks he is following. Piglet joins with Pooh and they continue to walk. Soon they notice that the Woozle has been joined by other Woozles. As they continue to walk, they become more and more concerned as the number of tracks continues to grow. Frightened, they call off the hunt. Christopher Robin has been watching this in amazement from a perch high above in a tree. Pooh and Piglet have been walking in a circle. They were following their own tracks and became frightened by their own activity.

Not only can we get into ruts following someone else but we also can get into ruts following ourselves, and then confusing our tracks for sure signs that we are on to something big.

Escher in some of his prints catches the humor in this. In his design for the impossible building, where monks walk a square path up and down steps that are really all at the same level, an observer like Christopher Robin watches in amazement. It is difficult for someone to observe the predicament inside the tradition. It is rare that someone can. It is best observed from the outside. Yet if we don't communicate with the outside, how will we ever know? It's hard to read the label when you're inside the jar.

We cannot blame those that went before us whom we follow, or even blame ourselves for previous decisions we have made. We, and those whom we have followed, in all likelihood made good decisions based on the environment of the time. Now, the environment has changed. It requires different actions. Some of the leaders in Eastern Europe understood this point well. Va'clav Havel, when he was the new President of Czechoslovakia, stated in a New Year's Day address, "We cannot lay all the blame on those who ruled us before, not only because this would not be true but also because it would detract from the responsibility each of us now faces - the

responsibility to act on our own initiatives, freely, sensibly, quickly."

We must be fiddlers on the roof. From that vantage point we can have a different view of what is really happening. And, like a fiddler on the roof, we must carefully balance so that we don't fall off. We must balance between tradition and change. Like fiddlers on the roof, we are just trying to scratch out a simple tune without breaking our necks.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Idea Journal

I recently read up on this interesting concept of saving ideas in a journal or other storage method. Presently, I have been writing my inspirational ideas on a note card and tossing it in a box for review at a later date. (The trouble is there never seems to be that future date to do the review!)

I'm interested in hearing how others store their ideas and if anyone has a systematic method to review them. Charles Cave had some interesting ideas on his blog.

I also am wondering if possibly this is the place to begin when trying to introduce innovation to a business where it is not systematically practiced.

Scenario Planning

An area of specific interest to me is scenario planning -- that is, the methodologies used for brainstorming and developing forecasts. It would be my hope that the Commons would engage in some "big thinking" scenario planning to guide us in our later thinking.

If this is also of interest to the group, I can post further information on the research I've done, as well as general scenario planning resources.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Twelve Step Programs

A friend of mine mentioned this morning that I might want to look at the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, an Alcoholics Anonymous book. His comment after listening to my discussion of what an innovation commons was that AA meetings are an innovation commons where the innovation is change in participants. If so this is a very successful example of a specifically focused innovation commons. He said to look at the Traditions to find keys to how it works, so here they are:

The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

They do seem to look like some of the principles we're developing. You can find a good review of the book at

The Failure of the Commons

"The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, "What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?" This utility has one negative and one positive component:

  1. The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.
  2. The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effect of overgrazing is shared by all the herdsmen, while the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another.... But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all (Hardin, 1968).

The lessons of the Tragedy of the Commons have been learnt many times over the millennia, but apparently have been forgotten as often. According to Hardin (1968), such tragedies have been repeated over the course of the human history. This is because human beings had suffered from a natural tendency of psychological denial as individuals continued to try to gain the maximum individual benefits at the cost to the society, whose sufferings extended to the individuals concerned. One of the solutions for Hardin is through education whereby such awareness and knowledge about the Tragedy of the Commons gets refreshed by generation after generation so that such wrong doings are to be avoided (Hardin, 1968). In conclusion, Hardin stresses that freedom in the commons brings ruin to all and the only solution is "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon."(Hardin, 1968; 1992).

Interestingly (from a research point of view), for Hardin, the notion of the Tragedy of the Commons can be generalised and applied in a wide range of spheres in our life. Where he has suggested that such a notion may be used to enlighten a class of human problems which can be called "no technical solution problems"(Hardin, 1968). One member of this class of problems is the pollution problem. As Hardin puts it:

'In a reverse way, the Tragedy of the Commons reappears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in—sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. The calculations of utility are much the same as before. The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of "fouling our own nest," so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free-enterprisers.'

The Tragedy of the Commons as a food basket is averted by private property, or something formally like it. But the air and waters surrounding us cannot readily be fenced, and so the Tragedy of the Commons as a cesspool must be prevented by different means, by coercive laws or taxing devices that make it cheaper for the polluter to treat his pollutants than to discharge them untreated. We have not progressed as far with the solution of this problem as we have with the first. Indeed, our particular concept of private property, which deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth, favours pollution. The owner of a factory on the bank of a stream—whose property extends to the middle of the stream—often has difficulty seeing why it is not his natural right to muddy the waters flowing past his door. The law, always behind the times, requires elaborate stitching and fitting to adapt it to this newly perceived aspect of the commons (Hardin, 1968). "

A selection from Dr. Jin's thesis. Complete document found at

Thursday, November 18, 2004


"The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."

Abraham Lincoln

The first written argument in England for a patent was provided by Jacobus Acountius, a citizen of Trent, in 1559 in a petition to Queen Elizabeth:

"Jacobus Acountius to the Queen. Nothing is more honest than that those who, by searching, have found out things useful to the public should have some fruits of their rights and labors as meanwhile they abandon all other modes of gain, are at much expense in experiments and often sustain much loss as has happened to me. I have discovered most useful things, new kinds of wheel machines, and of furnaces for dyers and brewers when known will be used without my consent except there be a penalty and I poor with expenses and labor, shall have no returns. Therefore, I beg a prohibition against using any wheel machines, either for grinding or bruising, or any furnaces like mine without my consent."

This argument, although 445 years old, still provides insight into why we have patents. Examine the argument carefully. What Jacobus Acountius says is that he has invested time, money, and creativity into devising something new. He also implies that his machines are novel because he had to discover them, not obvious because he had to search, and useful.

Is it not right, he states that I should be given protection for my work, because of my investigation? The answer, still found in our patent system, is yes - if you agree to teach others what you have learned. This unique arrangement of exchanging a temporary monopoly on the use of an invention for revealing the concept has stood the test of time and is a valuable ingredient to our economic system.

In antiquity, the patent concept was very broad. It was granted by monarchy to establish rank, precedence, land conveyance, monopoly, and invention. The earliest known monopolies were granted to cooks in about 500 BC in Sybaris, Greece for unique dishes.

The patent concept, as we know it, evolved from this through Greece, Rome, Germany, France, and England. There was much abuse of patents as they were handed out to friends of the ruling monarch even if they did not do the work on the invention. Patent law precedents for the current system were most influenced by Queen Elizabeth in England.

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States, includes this statement:

"The Congress shall have Power...To Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

A "patent" protects an "invention." Every year there are more than 100,000 people who have ideas that they feel should be rewarded with a patent. That is where the patent system plays a vital role in today's economy. As Dr. Chester Carlson (the inventor of xerography) said:

"It takes patience to stay with an idea. In my case, I am sure I would not have done so if it were not for the hope of eventual reward."

To read the whole article, click here.

Patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets are all essential ingredients in our economy. The idea of an innovation commons flies against tradition and expectations. To expect someone or the organization that person represents to contribute intellectual property without being able to secure that as property through patents, trademarks and copyrights or to hold it as a trade secret, is difficult. The concept that my organization or I will benefit more from the synergy that results from an innovation commons, that my individual contribution seems almost un-American. For once something is in the commons, it can't be protected.

Clearly there are concerns related to an innovation commons where intellectual property issues exist. How do we overcome those concerns?

I see at least four different types of commons:

  • Open. In a sense science commons and the Internet are open innovation commons

    Organizational. All the participants are within an organization or team.
  • Membership. We are a membership commons. Anyone can join who will contribute.
  • Cooperative. In a cooperative commons, there are legal structures to control and protect intellectual property. (Like Mike Warren's Co-Innovation posting).


"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants" -- Isaac Newton in: Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675/1676*

Science has more or less successfully had an innovation commons for years. The development of the "scientific method" is credited to Roger Bacon. At times the commons has been limited to specific countries, or regions or alliances. And, at various times threats like trade imbalances, wars, the Cold War, military threats or terrorism have placed limitations upon who can participate and what types of sharing can occur. However, the trend seems to be to expand the science commons to the whole earth.

I've been thinking about this while working on the idea of an innovation commons. I have not researched this issue, I'm just drawing on past knowledge and experience, but there seems to be several principles that one can derive from science:

  • The very strong culture of referencing and footnoting contributions.
  • A strong culture against plagiarism
  • Mechanisms for contributions to exist for a very long time.
  • Mechanisms to index and file contributions
  • Libraries with low barriers to entry that provide access
  • Cultures and enablers that incent participation
  • Reputation systems
  • An inherent belief in the system not only by participants but by those who administer participants as well
  • Institutions that foster the creation of knowledge
  • Professional associations that facilitate the commons and help participants to develop
  • In some cases, government funding

* See for more information. This quote, which I've used before, is not nearly as impressive when you understand the context. But, out of context, it makes a good point.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Innovation Commons Network

Perhaps some definitions would help to put collaborative innovation in context. Here's my suggestion:



Co-innovation refers to extending the scale and scope of external partnerships and alliances to access and exploit new technologies, knowledge, and markets.

Concepts such as ‘supply chain management’, ‘partnerships’, and ‘networking’ are established best practice in many industry sectors. These techniques show how companies can manage their operations by collaborating within the supply chain, but they are also important to the way in which companies innovate; concepts such as ‘early supplier involvement in product development’ and ‘innovation networks’ are becoming increasingly important.


Not all companies possess a full range of capabilities necessary for commercialising their innovations, and research indicates that firms with an intensive network of linkages to external sources of expertise are more successful than those without it. The capability of organisations to co-innovate with other organisations can be critical in sustaining their competitive position.

In many industries, firms are looking for ways to cut concept-to-customer development time, improve quality, and reduce the cost of new products. The benefits of accessing external expertise are particularly important to small firms with limited internal resources.

• In the game of competing technologies, co-innovation facilitates the formation of compatibility among technologies, which results in faster market acceptance.

• Co-innovation is one of the best means of targeting new markets – especially where trade barriers are high.

• Co-innovation with suppliers results in greater cross-fertilisation, reduced costs and improved efficiency.

• Collaborating with customers for innovation helps in the generation of product ideas, gathering information about user requirements, feedback on new product concepts, and assistance with the development and testing of prototypes.


Co-innovation inside the value chain allows companies to supplement their internal design and development activities by accessing the technical and managerial skills of customers and suppliers. Horizontal linkages, with competitors and other firms may result in cost and risk sharing, as well as accessing new markets, but this is less common in practice. Co-innovation promotes shorter product lead times due to effective collaboration among developers, customers, manufacturers and suppliers. In addition, higher customer satisfaction levels are achieved due to active customer and design chain involvement in the product development process.


• Customer/supplier co-innovation requires a detailed formal evaluation and selection of potential partners prior to consideration for involvement. Only trusted partners with a proven track record should be approached.

• Project outcome objectives should be shared and explicitly understood by all parties involved.

• Suppliers can be asked to contribute to the design and development of new products and processes.

• Customers involved in the design and development processes can help to establish the optimum price/performance combination, and therefore, the optimum specification.

• University research can be a source of significant innovation-generating knowledge.

• Government can play a network management role in brokering greater collaboration between firms.

• Technology and knowledge intensive industries have a greater need for intra- and inter-regional cooperation than industries operating on a low technological scale.


Subcontracting out processes that add considerable value to the firm’s profitability, or those that are key to the development to the company’s core competence, may reduce the innovative capability of the buyer firm.

Firms are faced with the dilemma that on the one hand they wish to learn from their partners, however, on the other hand they want to retain their own core proprietary assets and thus prevent leakage of critical know-how.

Many firms are reluctant to enter horizontal collaborative agreements because of concerns over the ownership of project outcomes.

Entrepreneurs do not invest time and money in the development of networks unless they can expect clear profits for their business.

Further information available at

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Commons Definition

I always find it useful to look at the roots of words when starting a discussion. The first pace I usually look is in Joseph Shipley's The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. The entire entry is quoted below. The net of it is, as I understand it, is that a commons is something that is used together, always changes but remains one. A plurality that is also unitary. The first word listed is the fundamental Indo-European root word. The II means that there were two words spelled mei that had slightly different meanings.

mei II, expanded as meig, mein, melt: change, move away; exchange, arrange for services (hence applied to public office). Gk, amoeba (a negative): changes but remains one. am(o)ebean: alternately answering, as amoebean verses. The Saturday Review (London), 25 May 1861, spoke of an "amoebean exchange of witticism between the Bench and the Bar." In March, "Spring and Winter sing an amoebean song." amoebiform: like the Old Man of the Sea, protean. (The prophetic sea god who could change his shape at will, Proteus, is from Gk protos: first; see per 1. Proteus is also a genus of bacteria.) L, meatus; and via commeatus, Fr, conge, congee.

L mutare, mutatum: change. mutation. commute, commutations and permutations. permeate. irremeable. transmute; mutable, immutable. mutual. mew, mews, mo(u)lt. The verb mew was used of birds moulting: changing feathers. Then the plural form mews (now treated as a singular) was used of the buildings where the royal hunting hawks were kept; then of the royal and noble stables on such grounds. Many short lanes and London streets today are thus called mews.

Also, common: used together. The Common: ground owned by the community, usually a central square of grass, in early days used for grazing. The Commons: British Lower House of Parliament, representatives of the "common people." communicate, excommunicate. communism, coined in 1840 by Goodwyn Barmby, who in 1841 founded the London Communist Propaganda Society. Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto in 1847; in 1849 he came to London to study in the Museum Library, publishing the first volume of Das Kapital in 1867.

Hence, too, community and commune. municipal, municipality: first, a Roman town with its own regulations (munia capere: to hold [its own] services). munificent. remuneration. immune; immunity, immunology. Also migrate, emigrate, immigration; transmigration. remuda, on the western ranch. Gc gamaidans: badly changed; wounded. mad, maim, mayhem; mean. bemean, virtually supplanted by demean; see men II.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch . . .

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds worth of distance run,

Yours is the earth, and everything that's in it,

And-which is more-you'll be a man, my son.

-Kipling, If

"Adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense!" - Rev. Sydney Smith (d. 1845)

"Common sense is most uncommon sense."


I have a family story which illustrates how important honesty is to the idea of an Innovation Commons. My husband (when he was working) made an important innovation in the plant he was heading. His boss took a visitor through the plant and showed the visitor my husband's un-patented invention. The visitor promptly went home and patented Harold's idea. So Harold had to pay to use his own "brain child". You might use this as the first assignment for the Innovation Commons ... how to keep this kind of thing from happening or from ruining the value of the basic idea. Annie

Monday, November 15, 2004

Smart Mobs

This is a must read book! It’s well written, exciting and scary. The technologies that the book is about have many potentially positive and negative outcomes. If you believe that society will still be dominated in the future by "zero sum" philosophies, at the individual, corporate and governmental level, then the outcome looks very scary. If you believe that society is ready to adopt "non-zero sum" games then the outlook is exciting and enormous changes will result that are positive. Non-zero sum games are behaviors that include "the unique human power and pleasure that comes from doing something that enriches everyone, a game where nobody has to lose for everyone to win." Zero sum games are best typified by our sports. There is a winner and there is a loser. When the rules are bent or broken, then tragic results can occur, i.e. Enron, which is zero-sum corporate behavior personified. Or, a present nemesis, spam. Spam is where one person wins and everyone else looses.

Smart Mobs

Creating an Innovation Commons

To make the next step in our organizations and societies, we need to develop cooperation within ever widening systems. And, if we are ever to develop "innovation commons", we must master cooperation and trust. An "innovation commons", calling on the old idea of a common pasture for a town where all the residents could graze their animals, is a place where ideas can exist, like the early molecules in the primeval sea, free to combine and reproduce to create even more complex ideas. A place where the stability of the complex ideas can be tested and their survival gauged. "Innovation commons" will be required to foster the trans-disciplinary innovation necessary for the merging of information, biological and nanometric technologies on our horizon. "Innovation commons" are needed now to handle the sociopolitical, economic and demographic problems we face amidst growing partisanship and yes, even hatreds. And, we must assure that we don’t fall prey to the "failure of the commons" where an individual or entity exploits the commons to the detriment of all others, and eventually themselves.

Creating an Innovation Commons

Friday, November 12, 2004

Innovation Commons Network

Why do some collaborative efforts succeed and others fail? What's required to create successful efforts time and time again? What role does software play? If these questions interest you then you may want to participate in a collaborative effort to develop some of the principles of a successful "innovation commons".

This group of people is developing a set of principles for a successful "innovation commons". Below is an introduction to an article I wrote on some of the principles, but I know that this is not complete and a group of people are engaged in online conversations on the topic. If this interests you, please click on this link or send me an e-mail ( and I will send you a copy of the article and include you in the discussion.

Paul Schumann

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Innovation Commons Collaboration

Why do some collaborative efforts succeed and others fail? What's required to create successful efforts time and time again? What role does software play? If these questions interest you then you may want to participate in a collaborative effort to develop some of the principles of a successful "innovation commons".

I am gathering a group of people together to develop a set of principles for a successful "innovation commons". I wrote an article on some of the principles, but I know that this is not complete and would like to engage a group of people together to hold online conversations on the topic. If this interests you, please click here or send me an e-mail ( and I will send you a copy of the article and include you in the discussion as soon as I have enough people to make it work.

Thank you!

Paul Schumann

Editor & Publisher

The Innovation Road Map Magazine

PO Box 26947

Austin, TX 78755


Creative Productivity

The future will be even more full of change than the present. And the present is change filled. This is not just a truism. We have entered a time period wherein technological, economic, and social conditions, together and separately, are driving change at an accelerating rate.

Creativity is one of the keys to the future! The discoveries, inventions, innovations, and improvements that will fuel the next economic expansion will require creativity. Creativity will be needed to overcome our social, political and economic problems, to face ever increasing worldwide competition, and to meet the challenge of a time of rapid innovation.

Creativity, the basis for all innovations. Creativity will also be needed to respond competitively to the innovation of others. And, creativity will be required of you to cope at all levels, personal or professional, with the changes about to be thrust upon you.

To be creative requires a positive future orientation. You must become students of the future so that you may plan to meet the creative challenges.

You must be sensitive to the present so that you may be able to detect those factors that will have a bearing on your future. And, you must be willing to change; to move your interest to that which gives you the highest return for you investment, keeping in mind at all times the broadest definition of your business, career, or self. This is imperative in a time of change for it is only within broad concepts that you can adapt to change.

Von Fange wrote in Professional Creativity, "to make creative contribution, as Einstein indicated, requires that one always search for what is fundamental. Or, to phrase it another way, if buggy whip people had realized that they were not in the business of making high quality buggy whips, but rather in the business, fundamentally, of stimulating further output from the prime mover of the family conveyance, their factories would not now be gaunt skeletons upon the American industrial scene." History does not treat favorably individuals, companies, or industries which do not react to change.

Creativity is inherent in our nature. You are created creative. Unknowingly, you choose to not exercise all of your creative talents because of the limits imposed by the processes of communication, socialization, and education. To be creative requires that you break through these limitations. Anyone can be creative. To profess that you cannot create is to set a goal you will certainly achieve. You are in control. But the very processes of communication, socialization, and education that limit creative ability, enable progress to be made. Humans require a purpose, a goal, and a paradigm for their life and career. Their establishment enables rapid progress to be made. But, as soon as they are established, they limit what can be accomplished. Progress, technical or social, is made by the establishment of a purpose and a paradigm. When maximum utilization has been-made of these, a revolution in thought occurs, and a new paradigm or purpose is established. This is creativity.

Creativity results in something new being brought into being; an attempt at immortality for that new creative may live beyond the creator. Rollo May in his book The Courage to Create captured the thought this way: "Creativity is a yearning for immortality. We human beings know that we must die. We have, strangely enough, a word for death. We know that each of us must develop the courage to confront death. Yet we also must rebel and struggle against it. Creativity comes from this struggle-out of the rebellion the creative act is born. Creativity is not merely the innocent spontaneity of our youth and childhood; it must also be married to the passion of the adult human being, which is a passion to live beyond one's death." Yet immortality through creativity does not come easy. Edgar Lee Masters has one of the characters in Spoon River Anthology say "Immortality is not a gift. Immortality must be earned."

Creativity requires courage. Picasso stated, "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Creativity implies change and change implies abandonment of the old. It requires courage to face the new. "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster" observed Jonathan Swift. You must be courageous to face the critics of change. You must be courageous to face the anxiety produced by changes in our own thoughts. You must be courageous to face the struggle which is a part of the creative act. Von Oech in A Kick in the Seat of the Pants defines four roles of a creative person-explorer, artist, judge, warrior. A good metaphor, all of these roles require courage.

Creativity also requires thinking. T. J. Watson, in his collection of essays, As A Man Thinks, stated it this way; "Thought begets the will to create." All thinking is mentally directed creativeness. You think only when you wish to achieve a conclusion that, by implication, did not exist before.

You have two facets to your brain, two different ways of perceiving the world. L-mode thinking, characterized by linear temporal, analytical, logical processes, dominates American culture. R-mode thinking is typified by holistic, non-temporal, spatial processes. Creativity is a product of R-mode thinking. Purpose is a product of L-mode thinking. Balanced thinking skills, allowing the sub-dominant R-mode style of thought to surface, fully awaken your creative and cognitive abilities.

Creative productivity is working, or living, smarter, not harder. Repeatedly performing the same operation faster is not the key to improving productivity; creativity is.

Creative productivity in your professional or personal life can be accomplished through an understanding of the mental and physical processes that are in response to real or perceived demands made upon you. Creativity is a state of mind over which you have control.

Paul Schumann

Monday, October 18, 2004

An Innovation Commons

To make the next step in our organizations and societies, we need to develop cooperation within ever widening systems. And, if we are ever to develop "innovation commons", we must master cooperation and trust. An "innovation commons", calling on the old idea of a common pasture for a town where all the residents could graze their animals, is a place where ideas can exist, like the early molecules in the primeval sea, free to combine and reproduce to create even more complex ideas. A place where the stability of the complex ideas can be tested and their survival gauged. "Innovation commons" will be required to foster the trans-disciplinary innovation necessary for the merging of information, biological and nanometric technologies on our horizon. "Innovation commons" are needed now to handle the sociopolitical, economic and demographic problems we face amidst growing partisanship and yes, even hatreds. And, we must assure that we don’t fall prey to the "failure of the commons" where an individual or entity exploits the commons to the detriment of all others, and eventually themselves.

An article describing some of the principles of an innovation "commons" is available now in the current edition of The Innovation Road Map Magazine. These principles are based on recent findings about our social behavior. You can obtain a copy of the article by subscribing to the magazine ($29.95 per year) or by purchasing the individual article ($4.95 ). Or, if you are interested in participating in some online dialogue about the concept, you can get it for free by sending me an e-mail requesting the article and agreeing to participate in the discussions.

Paul Schumann

Friday, September 17, 2004

Time Horizons

Time is money. Don't waste time. Time is a source of competitive advantage. Learn how to succeed through speed. Time management is productivity management. Succeed by being a one minute "whatever". Live in the fast lane. He or she is on the fast track.

The pace of our lives and work has speeded up. We are being driven by the very technology that we helped develop. Computers and communications technology that operates at nanosecond speeds are influencing the way we perceive and think.

Machines and timekeeping apparatus worked at human speeds in the past. Humans could experience a year, a month, a week, a day, one hour, one minute, and even one second, the interval between ticks of a clock. I remember as a child using a stopwatch to time how fast I could start and stop it. On long bus rides, as a member of a track team, we would compete to see who could be fastest. You can physically experience a few tenths of a second that way. Now, clocks that time athletic events run to hundredths of a second, even in basketball games. Slow motion video and instant replay capability spread a few tenths of a second over tens of seconds and human judgments are called into question. More than a second's response time from a computer seems an eternity. For the first time in history, our machines run at speeds we can never experience. This is having a profound effect on us and our culture.

The way in which we kept track of time has always affected us and our culture. Learning about the seasons structured farming, and those with the best timekeeping methods had a competitive advantage. Precise mobile timekeeping enabled explorers to roam farther. Structuring the week structured work. Pervasive clocks made daily work schedules possible, enabled central offices and factories to function, and ultimately facilitated the structure of cities.

We are right in the midst of this time change which will probably take many years to complete. It is a stressful time, as all the other fundamental changes were.

The roads leading from Austin west can go many miles through desert or semi-desert. Driving requires a focus on the horizon with peripheral vision alert to movement along the sides of the road. I hurtled along at high speeds in over 2000 pounds of metal, glass, and plastic, essentially out of control. Calmly I talked and sped along.

If a curve appeared on the horizon, I decided long before reaching it whether to slow down or if it was safe to continue at my current speed. I had learned years ago that you never try to brake after entering a curve. As race car drivers know, it is more stable to be accelerating through a curve. So it is essential to slow down before entering a curve.

I noted something as I drove. As long as I kept my vision on the horizon, driving at a high speed was easy, even if the road had many curves. As I brought my focus closer and closer to the car, driving became very difficult. If I tried to focus on the space just in front of the car, I couldn't drive at all. In that condition, I would have to slow the car down to only a few miles per hour.

I noticed that, if I tried to drive by focusing on the road just in front of the car, even if only for a few seconds, I became very anxious. Stress built up quickly.

This is an analogy for what we are experiencing in our lives and work. Things have sped up. Our response has been to shorten our horizon. We look only to the immediate future, what's on the road right in front of us. Then, we have tried to structure the feedback and action loops. Trapped in our perceptions by the technology, we try to use the technology in a brute force way to enable us to survive.

All we really have to do is look up. Look at the horizon for our lives, our work. Have a vision of where we are going, and living becomes easier again.

Paul Schumann

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Puzzles and Paradigms

The jigsaw puzzle lay on the dark wooden card table partially completed. Previous puzzle solvers had established the borders. Some of the interior portions had been completed. But, by and large, the puzzle was incomplete. I stared at the puzzle intrigued by two aspects. I was bemused by the fact that an unfinished puzzle existed to be worked on by a passerby. And, I wanted to try to solve it. It was a challenge.

The table on which the puzzle lay sat in one of the five rooms that constitute the lobby of the Cloister, a hotel on the seacoast of Georgia on Sea Island. Each of the five rooms has its own distinct character.

The jigsaw puzzle is a feature of this hotel. I sat down to work awhile on the puzzle. It was very difficult. The picture represented by the puzzle was a Monet, "The Artist's Garden at Vetheuil," an impressionistic painting. There was little distinction between colors in adjacent areas of the painting. In addition, the puzzle parts seemed to be all the same shape. They were not. But, the shapes were similar. Above and to the left lay a completed puzzle finished by previous guests. I thought as I looked at the completed puzzle, "How easy they had it!" It was a Currier and Ives type of painting, very bold colors, distinct boundaries, and sharply defined pieces.

Kuhn first used paradigms in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, to describe how science and technology advances. Operating within a paradigm, scientists, technologists and engineers use a pattern of rules, theories, and beliefs to solve problems. Problem solving within the paradigm becomes puzzle solving, the application of known rules to a problem whose solution is assumed to exist. Motivation for progress of this type is derived from the clever, logical application of the rules.

As in the example of the jigsaw puzzle, a solution is assumed to exist. The parts scattered on the table are assumed to belong to the puzzle. If you cannot find the place for individual puzzle part, you set it aside, saying to yourself, "I will find the place for this later."

The case is similar for technological progress. Pieces of the puzzle that don't fit are set aside awaiting clearer understanding or improved capability through better equipment.

If however, there were two or more jigsaw puzzles mixed together, at some point it will become obvious that all the pieces do not fit into the puzzle being worked out. At this point in technological progress, when anomalies have accumulated, a crisis occurs. It becomes clear that the paradigm in use cannot be used to solve all the problems. If other people have been working on the same puzzle, a clear solution exists and a revolution occurs. The paradigm has been changed.

Revolution is a very creative act. Problem solving is not particularly creative. But recognition that two or more puzzles are involved requires a leap of insight. Puzzle solving is a left brain activity. A revolution, a paradigm change, is a right brain activity.

Failure, a destructive anomaly, can bring progress. The Franklin (Sir John Franklin, 1845) expedition to find a Northwest Passage was the largest single disaster in the annals of arctic exploration with the loss of 128 men. Yet because Franklin was a national hero and because of his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, his failure resulted in progress.

Jane Franklin, an interesting public figure her own right, was rich, beautiful, impressively articulate and assertive. She was a mountain climber who ran wild rivers and penetrated strange cultures and courts. She was the force behind a 10-year search to find her husband. Thirty expeditions were sent to find clues. The last, financed by Lady Jane herself, proved to be successful. She sent them to where she thought her husband would have gone.

In the process of the search for Sir Franklin, both the southern and northern transarctic passages were found. In addition, the British developed technologies adapted to Arctic explorations. It was 60 years later, however, before Roald Amnudsen took a ship from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Failure can lead to success. We forget that all too often in business. We don't learn from our mistakes. It is culturally improper to diagnose failures. Even worse, our failures are buried in unmarked graves. We need to tolerate our failures. A failure may point to a flaw in our Paradigm. It can be more valuable in the long run than a success.

There is a paradox in all of this. Progress cannot be made without a paradigm. Bacon understood this 300 years ago when he wrote, "Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion." Without a set of rules to measure progress, you don't know if you've made progress. Like a river, the banks define the river and allow it to flow. But the banks prohibit the river's course. The more comprehensive the paradigm, the better a measure of activities, yet the more difficult it is to change. The better the paradigm, the better it is at problem solving and the harder to change.

The puzzle was still there the next day. A few more pieces had been put into place. The completed puzzle still glared at any potential problem-solver, the example that proved that puzzles could be solved, that the reward for completion is a beautiful painting. I placed a few more pieces in place.

How like technological progress, or for that matter, any human progress! Our role as we pass by is to put in place the few pieces of the puzzle we can and leave. Progress depends upon many people placing pieces in place until the puzzle is solved or anomalies uncovered and a flash of insight brings a step change in progress.

Paul Schumann

Thursday, September 2, 2004


The stone walls soared upwards all around me. The shuffle of feet on the dusty stone floor, combined with the low murmur of the steadily moving crowd of visitors, was punctuated by the raised voices of the tour guides leading tourists through the cathedral. Sunlight pierced the dusky interior from windows high in the dome. The vertical lines repeated in the architecture of the walls forced my eyes to move continuously upward to the arches forming the dome and the vaulted ceiling. Smoke from incense being burned near the altar drifted upward, occasionally being snaked by the air currents. The walls, the vertical lines, the vaulted ceiling, the dome, the drifting smoke of the incense, the decorative ceiling were all designed to force me to look upward. Form and function were in agreement in this Gothic cathedral.

I remember being taught somewhere, sometime in my childhood, the details now lost to the inevitable rush of time, that the arch was the true sign of civilization, that modern civilization really began when the arch was invented.

What is an arch? The arch is mechanical invention that transforms a tensile force into a compressive force. Why is that important? It is important because most construction materials, particularly cement, have poor tensile properties, but excellent compressive properties. Most construction materials can stand a lot more force pushing than pulling. Bricks or stones with mortar, or in ancient times without mortar, cannot span any large distance unless an arch is used. The arch transforms the vertical pull of gravity to thrust in the pillars. These thrusts can be transmitted through a series of arches that help hold each other up, but must eventually be relieved on the ends. The flying buttress was the solution used for the Gothic cathedrals.

"The arch never sleeps!" The Egyptians who used the arch in utilitarian buildings coined this phrase. They understood that the balanced forces were always at work within the arch. The arch has been used in some of man's most impressive architectural achievements throughout time. Cathedrals and buildings in both Western and Eastern cultures have made impressive use of the arch. Functional structures such as the Roman aqueduct and bridges are arches.

Implemented in high-technology materials, the arch has beauty of form and function.

Monuments have also displayed arches prominently - The Arch Of Constantine, The Arc de Triumpe, among many others, and most recently the Gateway to the West monument in St. Louis, designed by Saarinen. The Saarinen arch in St. Louis is the most impressive monument I've ever seen. Its simplicity of form and gleaming beauty of execution in stainless steel is awe-inspiring. My eyes were swept upward constantly. The arch hangs in mid-air, defying gravity.

The word "arch" may have had its roots in the Indo-European word arkh that meant "the beginning" or "leader." Incorporated into the word "architecture," the meaning of "arch" is clearly integral to that field. The technological development of the innovation of the arch may have marked the beginning of modem civilization. It is certainly woven throughout it.

I think, though, that I was taught wrong. Termites build arches. Now I know that termites, like ants and bees, have a form of civilization. But is that really equivalent to what we know as our modem civilization? I think not.

Communication among termites is not completely understood. Since they live and work in darkness, they are blind, as we know the term. Smell and touch seem to be the preferred form of communication. Termites build nests from a material that they make with body chemicals and cellulose, wood fiber. Big termite nests, like those found in Africa or Australia, can be several feet high and last decades. A nest may contain millions of individuals. Termites require carefully controlled humidity and temperature conditions inside the nest. The structure and material provide this function. Function and form are in consonance.

Construction of a nest follows a simple procedure. At some point for reasons unknown, and by mechanisms unknown, upon sensing a "signal" of some sort, termite workers start producing the pellets of material they use to construct nests. The termites begin to pile these pellets, each working individually, cementing them together with an adhesive they produce.

At some later time, sensing another "signal," the workers "look" around them. If they see a pile of pellets larger than theirs in the immediate vicinity, they abandon their project and go work on the higher pile. Through this process they select those piles they will work on.

A little while later, sensing still another "signal," the workers "look" around to see if there is a pile of nearly the same height within a specified distance of the pile they are working upon. If not, they abandon their pile and search for two piles that are close together. Again, after time has elapsed, termite workers begin to form the arch at the top. This process is repeated many times until an interlocking web of randomly constructed arches is completed.

In this process there are no high-performing termites. The entire process can be written in the form of a set of simple logical instructions - a program. There is no plan. Randomness plays an important role. The instructions and the responses seem to be genetically programmed into the termite worker. Signals do not seem to be given by anyone. Environmental conditions dictate the start of the process. When it is time to build a nest, a nest is built. The processes can be defined logically, analytically. Time may even play a role in the behavior changes once the building has begun. No one has a vision of the outcome. Everyone follows the rules and the result is functionally correct, but not elegant.

How many instructions like the ones used to build termite nests would it take to build a Gothic cathedral? More than is possible to count! How long would it take for a set of termites to accidentally build a Gothic cathedral? More time than there is in the universe! To build the Gothic cathedral required vision. Vision was required for the St. Louis monument. Yet vision itself is not enough. It is necessary but not sufficient. The vision must be converted into a plan. The vision must be communicated to others to get them to support and work on the vision. The plan must be implemented- follow the plan and holistically, intuitively follow progress and be alert to potential problems.

Arches did not mark the beginning of modem civilization. Whole-brained individuals who saw in the technological innovation of the arch a vision of heretofore unimagined structures began our modem civilization. Social structures run logically, analytically, and rule bound do not produce revolutionary innovation.

Gary Hamel in Leading the Revolution writes, "…how many times have you heard a CEO or divisional vice president say, ’Our real problem is execution’? Or worse, tell people that ‘strategy is the easy part, implementation is the hard part.’ What rubbish! These worthless aphorisms are favored by executives afraid to admit that their strategies are seriously out of date, executive’s who’d prefer their people stop asking awkward questions and get back to work. Strategy is easy if you’re content to have a strategy that is a derivative of someone else’s strategy. Strategy is anything but easy if your goal is to be the author of industry transformation – again and again." How many organizations have you seen that employ the termite approach to creating value? How many people employ the termite approach to their lives?

Do you see a paradox here? We've been busily stripping out levels of management and rule bound bureaucracies in order to let people be free to work individually and in teams. Individuals are left to make choices based on what they perceive is best for themselves with money as the only currency of evaluation. We're rapidly creating "termite mounds". The rules individuals follow in this type of environment may be more complex then termites, but they are nevertheless still rules.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to articulate the vision that captures the full range of capability of your innovation, or an innovation you know of, catalyzing yourself and a group into action. Establish the shared vision! It is not a mission impossible. It is a mission that is both essential and possible.

Paul Schumann

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Creativity and the Future

It has been said that mankind is the only specie that can contemplate its future. If that is so, then the study of the future is one of the highest forms of study that one can undertake.

Today, never has the future seemed more threatening. Arthur Clark has observed a number of year's ago talking about nuclear holocaust, "This is the first age that has paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we may not have one." Now nuclear holocaust doesn't cause fear as it once did, but terrorism, globalization and the battle for god does.

We all are interested in the future and have a view of the future whether we admit it or not. As Charles Kettering, one of America's greatest inventors said, "My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." Every decision we make is based upon a personal view of the future.

What does the future hold in store for us? A lot of change. Economists and futurists who have studied economic and innovation have been able to-discern trends. From these trends they have been able to develop models that can be used to predict future events. These models predict that we are entering a period of the most profound social and technological change in modern history. The surge of innovative activity will provide us with significant opportunity and challenge.

Creativity will provide the discoveries, inventions, innovations, and improvements that will fuel global economic growth. Creativity will be needed by us to overcome the national economic problems that we find ourselves in, to face ever increasing worldwide competition, and to meet the challenge of a time of rapid innovation. We must become students of the future so that we may plan to meet these challenges. We must be sensitive to the present so that we may be able to detect those factors that will have a bearing on our future. And we must be willing to change; to move our interests to that which gives us the highest return for our investment, keeping in mind at all times the broadest definition of ourselves. This is imperative in a time of change for it is only within broad concepts that we can adapt to change.

Von Fange wrote in Professional Creativity, "to make creative contributions, as Einstein indicated, requires that one always search for what is fundamental. Or, to phrase it another way, if buggy-whip people had realized that they were not in the business of making high quality buggy whips, but rather in the business, fundamentally, of stimulating further output from the prime mover of the family conveyance, their factories would not now be gaunt skeletons upon the American industrial scene." History is full of examples of companies and industries, which did not react to change. No stage coach company became a railroad company. No buggy producer succeeded in the auto business. No railroad or bus company entered the airline business.

Creativity seems to be inherent in our nature. We are created creative. We lose some of our creative talents as we age due to the boundaries that society puts around us or that we put around ourselves. To be creative sometimes requires that we breakdown these boundaries. Anyone can be creative. To profess that you cannot create is to set a goal you will certainly achieve. Creativity is elemental to all change whether it be discovery, invention, innovation, or improvement.

Creativity is bringing something new into being; an attempt at immortality for that new creation may live beyond the creator. Rollo May in The Courage to Create captured the thought this way: "Creativity is a yearning for immortality. We human beings know that we must die. We have strangely enough, a word for death. We know that each of us must develop the courage to confront death. Yet we also must rebel and struggle against it. Creativity comes from this struggle - out of the rebellion the creative act is born. Creativity is not merely the innocent spontaneity of our youth and childhood; it must also be married to the passion of the adult human being, which is a passion to live beyond one's death." Yet immortality through creativity does not come easy. Edgar Lee Masters has one of the characters in Spoon River Anthology say, "Immortality is not a gift. Immortality must be earned."

Creativity requires courage. Picasso stated, "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Creativity implies change and change implies abandonment of the old. It requires courage to break barriers. It requires courage to face the new. Jonathan Swift observed, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster." It requires courage to face the critics of change. It requires courage to face the anxiety produced by changes in our own thoughts. It requires courage to face the struggle, which is a part of the creative act.

In one of the Greek myths of the creation of mankind, Epimetheus, whose name means afterthought, a scatterbrained Titan who invariably followed his first impulse and then changed his mind, was given the job of populating earth. Before making men he gave all the best gifts to the animals, strength, swiftness, fur, feathers, wings, shells, claws, etc. until nothing good was left for man. At this point Prometheus, whose name means forethought, took over the job and he fashioned men upright, and went to the sun where he lit a torch and brought fire to man. And from fire, man learned many things that separated him from the animals. However, Zeus became angry with Prometheus, for giving man too much, and for having too much wisdom. Zeus had Prometheus bound to a rock where each day an eagle came and ate out his liver only to have it grow again the next day.

How many times have you felt the drain of creative energy thinking that it is gone, only to find it renewed after a day's rest? Creativity requires courage. Creativity also requires thinking. T. J, Watson in his collection of essays, As A Man Thinks stated it this way. "Thought begets the will to create." All thinking is mentally directed creativeness. We think only when we wish to achieve a conclusion that, by implication, did not exist before.

We do not do enough thinking. In a study of American businessmen it was found that they spent less than 3 percent of their time thinking. George Bernard Shaw observed, "Few people think more than two or three times a year. I've made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week."

What is thinking? To think is to exercise the powers of judgment, conception, or inference; to reflect for the purpose of reaching a conclusion. We must learn to exercise these mental powers. We must also learn use the right side of our brain. Researchers have found that while the left side is used for logic and speech, it is the right side that is connected with the insight associated with the creative act. Unfortunately the left side dominates our thinking and communication, and its methods dominate social convention and business.

In the final analysis, the ability to create is in each of us. We must find the way to unlock that creativeness. Quoting Krishnamurti, "In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, then the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself."

Paul Schumann

Friday, August 6, 2004

Fear of Failure

I was tired. It was night, and I was driving back from the airport after my third successive week of travel to teach and lecture. The classes had been particularly draining. The students had been demanding in the positive sense; they were hungry for knowledge that could provide them. I was drained and anxious to get home.

As I drove, I remember that the street I was on - and that very stretch of road - was where (less than a year ago) I had gotten my only speeding ticket in more than 30 years.

I looked down at my speedometer. The speed limit is 35 MPH on this section of road. In a few blocks, it became a more reasonable 45 MPH. I couldn't see the speedometer. Inadvertently, I must have dimmed the dash lights. I reached down to turn up the lights so I could see, but I couldn't find the light switch. Angered by my ineptness, I looked down through my wonderfully new bifocals and still couldn't find it.

I glanced back at the road only to find I was heading directly for a sign in the road median as I neared an intersection. I jerked the wheel and swerved to the left. The car hit the curb with the two right wheels. As the car rebounded to the left, I pulled to the right, taking note of a car in the left-hand lane coming up behind me. I careened back to the right into my lane. Sometime during this process, I had put on the brakes, because I realized that I had slowed down.

The tires on the right side of the car were flat. I drove slowly, bumping along, trying to get to a place to pull off the road. Consciously I starting thinking about the event that had just transpired, all the rest of the actions had been beneath the conscious level, at a speed far faster than that of logical thought.

That little excursion, that lack of conscious attention to direction, that attempt to avoid failing as I had when I got the speeding ticket cost me two hours of time waiting for a wrecker and a taxi ride home, and it cost me money, too.

Focusing on previous failures increases the possibility of future failures. It has been said that a cat, once burned by sitting on a hot skillet, will never sit on a hot skillet again. This is true, but the cat also will never sit on a cold skillet!

Our organizational cultures dictate that once we have failed, we will never fail that way again. We put in place tests, procedures, and practices to prevent that particular failure from recurring. This tendency to set up preventive measures often leads to a burgeoning complex of bureaucracy that is easy to add to, but hard to subtract from.

Karl Wallenda, one of the greatest tightrope walkers of all time, fell to his death two weeks after discussing with his wife, for the first time, his fear of falling. After the discussion, he became preoccupied with safety precautions, something he had never worried about before. Fear of failure leads to failure. We should focus our energies on success assurance rather than failure avoidance.

Eleanor McCulley pointed out to me that it is impossible for a person to visualize a negative. That's why, for example, when you tell a child, "Don't jump on the sofa!" that the child jumps on the sofa. Mentioning what not to do draws subconscious attention to the very behavior you don't want.

John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, had a wonderfully funny and insightful talk on the power of making mistakes. He pointed out that a self guided missile makes thousands of small mistakes along its path to delivering its payload. Small mistakes are made and corrected in order to not make the big mistake of missing its target.

Isn't that what you try to do in raising children? Don't you let them have a little rope and learn from small mistakes rather than controlling them so tightly that when they do get free, which they always will, they make a big mistake that is life altering? And, isn't that they way that you mentor leaders? Give them assignments with ever increasing risks and complexity?

We're all working hard. I sense that we're tired and that some are at the point of despair. We are reminded constantly of things we shouldn't or can't do, and we are taught that failure is unacceptable. Our attention to failure avoidance commands much of our energies.

Where is the positive vision of success that enables us and that admits that learning through failure is an acceptable outcome? What are you doing to help establish that vision? What is your vision for yourself and your organization?

Paul Schumann

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Anticipating and Integrating Change

My great grandfather traveled from Germany to Galveston, Texas as a teenager. Alone, but with the skills of a carpenter, he found his niche in Galveston. As you know, Galveston is an island and any water wells driven into the island always produce at best, brackish water. In the late 1800's Galveston was growing fast. People needed water. He used his skills and applied them to the production of cisterns. Cisterns are like large barrels, in this case made out of cypress wood. Residents collected rainwater in them from their roofs. Making cisterns was a growth business. My grandfather also made cisterns. But eventually technology developed that allowed a water well to be drilled inland and a pipe laid under the bay that brought fresh water to homes. No longer any need for cisterns. However, I still remember as a kid that cistern water was preferred and my grandfather's house had a cistern until it finally rotted out.

The business created by my great grandfather and carried on by my grandfather died. Change forced him to change himself and he joined a fast growing industry - trains. He became an engineer for the Santa Fe and drove passenger trains for awhile. When I knew him, he was working only in the switch yards, no longer on the long runs.

My father entered the railroad industry as well. He went to work for the Pullman Company as an electrician and mechanic. The Pullman car was the premier way to travel during the golden age of the railroads. It was high quality, first class all the way. We moved to Houston and he climbed up in the company as far as an uneducated man could in those days.

He had a midlife crisis, one brought on by technological change. Airplanes starting substituting for trains. The decline was relentless. He was out of work and no longer had a career. It crushed him and he started a gradual decline until illness disabled him for the rest of his life.

As a teenager, I was aware of this history and cognizant of what was happening to my father. I vowed that I would never let anything like that happen to me. So I joined IBM and went into the semiconductor industry. Guess what happened?

Well, I anticipated that change and after spending about ten years in the field I moved off into another field - the integration of computers, instrumentation, application knowledge and software to create the first independent business unit in IBM. But after about ten years in this field, I anticipated change again and moved to another field. Actually, it wasn't change I anticipated but the lack thereof within IBM. We were trying to do things differently in our innovative endeavor. I could see that the types of changes we were promoting were actually needed by the whole company. However, the culture was too strong and the changes weren't sticking, much less diffusing.

So I spent the next ten years working on cultural change. I had a successful cultural change program, but the change process was too slow. The world was changing faster than the change inside IBM. So I took retirement to try another path. I became a consultant.

Many others, as well as I, anticipated the profound change we're experiencing now some ten to fifteen years ago. It was called the "post (or trans-) industrial" age by many, the "information age" by some and we called it the "interactive age".

However, it is one thing to anticipate the change and quite another thing to integrate that change into the way one lives and works. This change is seismic. It is rattling the foundations of everything and it is affecting everything and will affect everyone.

Some jobs are gone forever - no longer needed or outsourced to other countries. Many skills are obsolete (some would say most). Knowledge is transitory. Social contracts have changed. The very nature of work is changing. The calculus of "pay" and "work" is shifting beneath our feet.

Change can be ignored, but it's not a pleasant path to follow. It's a path of decline and obsolescence. There are three ways to integrate change into our lives and work - adapt, exploit or deflect. To adapt to change is to go with the flow. To exploit change is to search for the undiscovered opportunities that are always present in change and find ways to take advantage of them through innovation. To deflect change means to not like the future you see and to try to stop that future from happening. This is not advised and will be unsuccessful unless you are sure that the driving forces for change support your preferred future. Present day fundamentalists are tying to prevent the change that is occurring through a wide array of political, military, religious and violent tools.

Ah love, could you and I with fate conspire and remake the future nearer to the hearts desire, might be the modern lament of Omar Khayyam

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." This advice has been attributed to Yogi Berra, but I'm not sure he actually said that. Regardless, it is good advice. We are at a fork in the road, and we must take it.

Paul Schumann