Talk about the need for innovation – in all of its various forms – is hard to escape these days. It comes from the President of the US, nearly every other politician and, of course, most of the CEOs of the Fortune 100.
In response, there have been a number of grand announcements about the building of innovation centers. Often these innovation centers are combined with attempts to build some kind of business cluster in a narrow field of technology.
Usually, the word “building” is quite literal. All over the world, major edifices and “parks” are being built to employ people who will somehow manufacture innovation in these specialized clusters. [Please excuse a bit of sarcasm about manufacturing innovation, but to read some of the press releases that accompany these building plans, you would think indeed that turning out new ideas is like turning out widgets.]
Some of the interest in innovation is due to the publication, in the last couple of years, of popular books on the subject. There is, of course, Steven Johnson’s valuable book, “Where Good Ideas Come From”. More recently, Jon Gertner’s book “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” has been a best seller as has “Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer, among others.
The books are good, but I wonder how much policy makers have read them.
An important part of all this study of innovation is that it is not like industrial-era manufacturing. The process is more organic and unpredictable. It is social – as Johnson writes:
"That is how innovation happens … chance favors the connected mind.”
Or, in a more jaundiced view, attributed to Einstein:
“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
Innovation arises not so much as narrow specialists talking to others in their field and delving deeper into their narrow specialties, but in people who can and do talk across disciplines.
While the city government has been pursuing its own copy of the “building innovation center” approach, the New York metropolitan area is filled with creative people who understand how innovation happens. Too often they are working for institutions that are anything but innovative.
With all of this in mind, several of us have come together in what is initially a virtual experiment in innovation called the Gotham Innovation Greeenhouse – or G.I.G. The use of “gig” is intentional as that expresses better the impromptu, perhaps not long term, combination of creative people that may lead to innovation.
Imagine re-creating in 21st century, Internet-enabled New York, the 17th century Royal Society of scientists in London.
The initial instigators of this idea, aside from myself include Carl Skelton, director of the Experimental Media Center of Polytechnic Institute at New York University and Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Arts Society. But the group is larger now and growing.
We are in the very embryonic stages now, but I’ll be posting more information as things develop. For a look at the concept document, see
© 2012 Norman Jacknis