Beyond The Box

Framed WorldI read a lot about what people have to write about innovation, particularly here in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the larger Caribbean. It’s a global issue, of course, where Silicon Valley faces increased criticism for being divorced from reality. In Trinidad and Tobago, I’ve seen talk of innovation with a prominent and ubiquitous software logo prominent in the background, I’ve heard people talking about the need for innovation.

And I see people doing largely the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, something Albert Einstein once defined as insanity. Arguments are made about how things have changed, how with this new product and this new knowledge unspecified innovation will arise.

It’s an old story told before I started in the software industry, and it will likely continue after I’m long gone. Under the surface, it’s the reinvention of language by marketing departments, much like ‘smart mobs’ was a novelty rebranding of ‘collective intelligence’. Reinventing the same thing is not inventing. 

“We trained hard—but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

– Charlton Ogburn

In the end, one cannot force innovation as one would a bowel movement or you get the same result, hemorrhoids and all.

Beyond The Box.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, ‘thinking outside the box’, or used it, it might be worth knowing the history of the phrase. It’s about being creative with what is available and using it beyond what most others would because they’re limited to a framework – a framework of 9 dots.

We like frameworks. They make things easy for us, but they also create framing – where we do not think beyond the frame, much as we acknowledge anything outside of a frame has nothing to do with a painting or picture. This is false, of course, as what is outside the frame of that art affects how the art is seen – the context within which the art exists, and part of the frame’s job is to make that boundary visible and aesthetically pleasing.

Everything is framed, and framing is a powerful thing because it implicitly frames our expectations. It also leads to what is known as ‘availability’, where if something keeps getting pushed as a solution we reach for that hammer even when we’re dealing with a phillip-head screw.

To think outside the box, we have to think outside the frameworks. To think beyond the frameworks, we have to explore beyond those frameworks and see what’s outside the scope of the issue. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most prodigious innovators, would go outside and stare at the sky, wondering why it was blue and actually figuring it out. Thus the phrase, “blue sky thinking”.

Framing works against innovation in so many ways, and only helps in one: It defines what is inside the frame, and in that way, defines what is outside of it. A shift in focus is needed beyond the frame, and that requires knowledge well outside of that frame. It requires the context. If everyone is reading the same books, seeing the same shows, seeing the same news, it falls to the individual to look at things differently.

This is why I’ve often disagreed with people who say that money needs to be spent on innovation. Moaning for money is a tragic attempt at a solution when someone has what they think is a great idea. If that innovation doesn’t have an audience willing to listen, it simply doesn’t matter.

Beyond that innovative spark, those eureka moments, comes the hard work of making something that makes money, that saves money, or that otherwise contributes value. There’s a tendency to forget the latter because the world is presented to us in dollar signs. The amount of money spent on a problem is a poor indicator on whether a problem will be resolved. We humans, for example, will say that a flooded area had millions of dollars of damage, but that says nothing about how much it affects lives.

In the end, innovation isn’t what you get from following the same paths or playing within frameworks. New paths aren’t created by traveling the same roads, innovative solutions don’t come from someone else’s framework, and doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result remains insanity.

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Apples and Orangutans.

There was a discussion on Facebook about whether Apple products were worthy of the Enterprise, and there was some CTO of some company that processes data (just like everyone else) who put her title in front of her arguments – a nasty habit that diminishes a point – saying that Apple products are.

When it comes to processing and ability, Apple products are often superior to Windows products – but typically not within the same price range, so it’s an odd comparison of Apples and… well, you get the drift. But ability of a single machine wasn’t at issue, it was whether it could work within the Enterprise. At this time, I contend that Apple isn’t Enterprise-friendly because it’s not as cost effective – and let’s be serious, that’s not the market that Apple has really been going after. Yet? Historically, it never has.

But in this discussion, I was trying to tease out the importance of cost effectiveness and cross-compatibility between Apples and other machines on a network by pointing out that the developing world simply can’t afford the Apple-esque thought of the Enterprise, and that in turn got us into the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD)’discussion’ – where our opinions were drastically different. Her contention was not to worry about the LCD, she doesn’t care about them. Well, really, of course she doesn’t because the company she worked for at the time (and maybe now) doesn’t deal with users, and it hordes the processing. That’s their business model. But she couldn’t seem to make that distinction.

That’s a problem for the Enterprise, more so than the cost of Apples. The Enterprise, whether companies like it or not, extends beyond their infrastructure to other infrastructures – which are largely Windows and Linux hybrids. Why? Cost. And where does cost come to be a factor?

Oh. The Enterprise and the Developing world. And – excuse me, I need to twist this into a ending you didn’t expect  – it’s really about mobile devices (thin clients) and access to data.