O N N I EN H W TO
IO T A V
E K A M – A Wise Person, 2011
T H I N K Q UA R T E R LY
T H I N K Q UA R T E R LY The Innovation Issue
06 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
Innovation_ Welcome to Think Quarterly. Other eras had Columbus, an industrial revolution, the moon. We have digital. And it’s changing the world at warp speed. In 2003, a total of five exabytes of data existed. Now we generate that every two days. We are, literally, more creative than ever. We’re also more connected (five billion mobile subscriptions, doubling to 10 billion by 2020). This is good news. Ask any scientist, writer or entrepreneur: the best discoveries don’t happen in a vacuum. They come from conversations – lots of them. Think Quarterly aims to eavesdrop on some of today’s most riveting discussions, and start some new ones too. In our inaugural US issue, we focus on Innovation. Where, why and how can you break molds and shape the future? We hope it gives you inspiration, insight – and some conversation starters of your own.
Dennis Woodside President, Americas Sales, Google
08 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
10 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
CONTeNTS Contents pages can be literal, linear things – and where’s the innovation in that? We like to think of this issue as a journey, and every journey worth taking needs a map. So here’s our map – a guide to the content in this issue of Think Quarterly. Use it right and you’ll find multiple routes and surprising shortcuts. We hope you enjoy the trip.
Executive Insight Simon Rogers Interview Sir Martin Sorrell advertising Mobile
Route to 2015
Transgressive Man Cyrus Shahrad Interview Ray Kurzweil Artiﬁcial Intelligence Change entrepreneurialism Future Social Media Singularity Transhumanism
The Pursuit of APIness allison Mooney google aPI Collaboration Data Marketing Open
Dennis Woodside google advertising Future Mobile
Missions That Matter Holly Finn google activism Change Crisis Response Social Media
12 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
graphics Creativity Design environment
The Knowledge Hannah Jones Top 10 graphics Nike
Time for Change
Room to Think
Holly Finn Interview Peter Sachse advertising Marketing Mobile Personal
Kursty groves Strategy Creativity Design environment Process
The Science Fiction Behind Search amit Singhal google Future Movies Personal Search
Favorite Innovations graphics Page 42
The Eight Pillars of Innovation Susan Wojcicki google Strategy advertising Creativity Data Iteration Open Process
Russell Davies ArtiďŹ cial Intelligence Connectivity Data Internet of Things Iteration
Next Gen Innovators activism art Change entrepreneurialism Future Social Media
Patently Creative graphics Patents
PEOPLE DON’T WAN T
EM ERG ING
Think Quarterly represents the collective mindspace of journalists, academics, experts and industry leaders from around the world. Some are Google’s homegrown visionaries. Others lend their outside perspectives. All tell stories that you won’t find anywhere else.
Dennis Woodside is Google’s President of Americas Sales, responsible for Google’s field operations from Buenos Aires in the south to Toronto in the north. He’s also accountable for Google’s global agency relations strategy, and works closely with Google’s product organization as the global sales leader for the AdWords business. An avid cyclist and triathlete, Dennis completed Ironman Canada last year, and lives (and swims, runs and rides) in the Bay Area. He takes on the future of advertising on page 22.
Hannah Jones is Nike, Inc.’s VP of Sustainable Business & Innovation, fueling the company’s sustainable innovation and enabling a rapid transition to a sustainable economy. Hannah is a founding member of the Business Advisory Council to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, chairs the Sustainable Consumption initiative for the World Economic Forum, and was named a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2007. Hannah reveals her most innovative products, trends and ideas on page 28.
14 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
THE RE’S NO
ROOM FOR OFF - THE - SHEL F THIN KING
Susan Wojcicki is Senior Vice President of Advertising at Google, responsible for the design, innovation and engineering of all Google’s advertising and measurement platform products, including AdWords, AdSense, DoubleClick and Google Analytics. Susan joined Google in 1999 as the company’s first marketing manager and worked on the initial viral marketing programs as well as the first Google homepage doodles. Susan provides an insider’s perspective on innovation at Google on page 42.
Russell Davies is a former planning director at Wieden & Kennedy, and is now Head of Planning for Ogilvy EMEA. Outside of hardcore advertising stuff, Russell is a founder of Newspaper Club, which turns online submissions into printed newspapers; a partner at design agency Really Interesting Group, which builds and thinks about things that connect the web and the real world; and the organiser of Interesting, a conference that brings together fascinating people. Russell explains what the Internet of Things looks like on page 46.
Amit Singhal is a Google Fellow, computer scientist, and the engineer responsible for the development of Google search – his team tests thousands of changes to search every year. Before joining Google in 2000, Amit was a senior member of technical staff at AT&T Labs, and while at Cornell (where he got his PhD) he studied Information Retrieval with the late Gerard Salton, one of the founders of the field. Amit has co-authored more than 30 scientific papers and numerous patents, and shares the sci-fi that inspires him on page 54.
An award-winning designer, innovation consultant and author of I Wish I Worked There! A Look Inside the Most Creative Spaces in Business, Kursty Groves is an expert in workplace strategy; helping organizations cultivate the right cultural and physical environments to support innovation. She is currently transforming the HQ of one of the UK’s largest energy companies, and inspiring Banana Republic’s Creative Team in New York. Kursty talks innovation and interior design on page 66.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org The articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinions and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or editorial team. thinkquarterly.com © Google 2011 Edited and designed by The Church of London thechurchoflondon.com 15
Executive Insight WPP Chief Executive Sir Martin Sorrell talks innovation in a time of anarchy, and why he can’t work in a garage. Words by
Simon Rogers Sam Christmas
Great white sharks cannot stop swimming; if they do, they suffocate and die. Similarly, Sir Martin Sorrell finds it hard to stand still. Our meeting in a London pub is squeezed between a visit to Turkey, talks at Downing Street and a flight to Mumbai. The head of the world’s largest advertising corporation also has his eyes on Iran and Cuba. Change and innovation are his lifeblood. Sorrell’s rise would make great material for Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner: our plucky protagonist buys a shopping basket company and uses it to take over the world. Well, some of the world’s bestknown ad firms, anyway. When he’s done, he goes to China and becomes the top man there. Now he’s got his sights set on the Middle East. And all this against three decades of momentous social, political and economic change.
16 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
Such are Sorrell’s dramatic fortunes. The 66-year-old head of WPP oversees operations in over 100 countries and a workforce of thousands. He’s an evangelist for the new technologies shaping our world – not as a geek or a gadget freak, but as the hardest of hardheaded businessmen. Nor can he stay out of the public eye. The day after the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s 2011 budget announced big slashes to corporation tax, Sorrell announced he would take WPP back to the UK, having relocated to Dublin in 2008. As we meet, half a million people have just marched through London, protesting against government spending cuts. A few hundred rioted through the capital, keeping one step ahead of the police via social networks and cell phones. It’s against this backdrop that Sorrell points to the difficulty in maintaining a single message: “While some demonstrators were trying to get their message across in a peaceful and ordered way, it gets inextricably interlinked with the more violent stuff. The two things get confused,” he says. “In the old days, you could segment happily. You could put out one message to one segment of the audience, and one to another. That has now gone. You say something to one community and instantly, literally at a click, it’s available to everybody. What it means is that if you’re trying to craft a message, it’s very difficult.” For Sorrell, that lack of control is symptomatic of the new world. “I’m in a business where there’s complete anarchy. You can’t control it – you can only react to it. The control that people traditionally
“We’re interested in the application of technology – not its origination. We’re not in the garage with Sergey and Larry.”
Americans now consume three times the information they did in 1960.1
18 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
had over their message is gone. Look at Wikileaks: you have to approach everything you write on the basis it’s going to be on the front page of the newspaper.” Stocky and tough-looking (his face bears the legacy of a car accident at 18, which required extensive plastic surgery), Sorrell is a coiled spring – restlessly shifting while we talk. He attributes his drive to “the pressure cooker effect” of Harvard Business School. After graduating, he joined Saatchi & Saatchi, rising to the role of Group Finance Director before striking out on his own. At February’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sorrell gave a talk entitled ‘The Power of Apps’. His business increasingly revolves around mobile communications and what they can offer the client. WPP is encouraging its established brands to invest in mobile talent, and exhorting its online agencies to embrace mobile in a more aggressive way. “Mobile for us is part of the online revolution,” he says. The side effect of all this is that “our willingness to sit down and really dig deep and take time to digest, turn over and develop more is rapidly diminishing because so much stuff is coming at you at such a pace – literally 24/7. “It’s a disadvantage of the revolution,” he continues. “People used to say that information is power but that’s no longer the case. It’s analysis of the data, use of the data, digging into it – that is the power. You get so much of the stuff and everyone has access to it.” His interest in technology isn’t so much personal; he doesn’t innovate for its own sake but as a means to an end. Sorrell cares about what it can do, not what it is. He plunks down a BlackBerry and an ordinary Nokia mobile on the table in front of us. He has two phones because, he says, he hasn’t “got the mental stamina to unite the two.” He doesn’t use Twitter or Facebook (“I suppose I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy”) but his day revolves around breaking news, live business channels and his new iPad 2. He no longer uses his PC. “I don’t like schlepping a laptop around the place so I don’t travel with one.” With its global reach and profile, has WPP become too huge to be innovative? Sorrell’s argument is that Wire and Plastic Products plc was itself a genuine game changer. A British shopping basket manufacturer acquired by Sorrell when he was casting around for a listed corporate shell in 1985, it now owns famous ad brands such as JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam and Grey – as well as media investment giant GroupM. WPP’s first board meeting in China was in 1989; now the country accounts for around $1bn of business, and Sorrell describes its government’s five-year plan as a “charter for WPP”. He retains a tight control, but is quick to point out that WPP is an amorphous agglomeration of 12 different companies. “Clients have the perception that the bigger you are, the worse you get,” he admits. “We try and break that down. Innovation is the ability to differentiate.” For Sorrell, this means working out what technology can do: “We’re interested in the application of technology – not its origination,” he explains. “We’re not in the garage with [Google co-founders] Sergey and Larry coming up with the ideas, or dropping out of Stanford or Harvard to do that. We’re taking those ideas and applying them in a way that differentiates us.” An interesting question is whether an innovator like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg could have flourished at a company like WPP. “Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t have been comfortable working in any company – other than going into the garage and starting his own,” replies Sorrell. “That’s what I did in 1985. My garage was Wire and Plastic Products.” Though a man whose business relies on hard data and evidence, Sorrell isn’t averse to leaving some things to fate. He wears two Brazilian wristbands given to him on a New Year vacation. Each one promises to make three wishes come true when the string rots away. “It’s not for effect,” he insists, “I am a bit superstitious. [The wishes] haven’t come true yet, so I can’t tell you what they are.” Away from the office, one of Sorrell’s big passions is cricket. He tries to play 10 matches a year, but is frustrated by being “a plodder, a grafter, slow but sure… You’re either good or you’re bad,” he muses as our time draws to a close. “It’s black or white, isn’t it? You don’t want to be average.”
â€œClients_have_ the_perception_ that_the_ bigger_you_are, the_worse_you_ get. We_try_ and_break_ that_down.â€? 19
Sir Martin Sorrell Unvital Statistics
What is your earliest memory?
If you had to stay in one place, where would it be?
What do you want that you can’t have?
My mother closing my little finger in the kitchen door, aged five.
100 percent market share.
What’s your signature dish?
When were you last surprised?
Sweet and sour meatballs.
When my wife agreed to marry me.
When was your last moment of clarity?
What is your greatest extravagance?
When I popped out of the womb.
What does success look like to you?
What do you see in the mirror?
‘My Funny Valentine’ by Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan, especially the trumpet.
What is your biggest failure?
How much is enough?
What do you want to be when you’re older?
Opening batsman for the England cricket team.
When did you last let yourself go?
Who is your inspiration?
Tell us a joke…
When I put my head out of the womb.
When did you last feel ashamed?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The last time we failed to win an account.
My BlackBerry alarm.
True story: the new global CEO of a major agency, visiting his Amsterdam company for the first time and anxious to establish his cosmopolitan credentials, begins his address by saying how delighted he is to be with them all in Benelux
What song will play at your funeral? Let others decide. What was your greatest mistake? Agreeing to this interview. Which piece of music alters your state of mind?
20 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
Route to 2015 Google’s President of Americas Sales peers into the future of advertising. Words by
The average CMO is just shy of 50 years old. He or she learned their art two decades ago. Then, the web was still a novelty and advertising was mostly mass-communication. The aim was to ‘raise awareness,’ ‘drive consideration,’ ‘create purchase intent.’ Even the industry terms suggested a one-way relationship: something done to, rather than with, the consumer. That’s changed. Today, we live in a world of engagement. People don’t want to be bludgeoned with broadcasts. They want, and expect, something more sophisticated, more considerate. And they are consuming media everywhere – TV, online, mobile – sometimes simultaneously. This shift has edited the CMO’s job description, forcing him to toss the MBA textbooks and learn on the job. The acceleration of everything is not going to stop, so we need to keep a relentless focus on the future, to be thinking years – not quarters – ahead. That’s what we try to do at Google. Here’s a glimpse of what we’re expecting to see by 2015. The_small_screen_will_be_bigger: 80_ percent_of_all_screen_time_will_be_digital We’ll get the web anywhere and everywhere. There will be over 10 billion mobile subscribers and 300 million internet-enabled televisions. This will increase appetites for non-traditional content, with half our screen time spent on social networks, UGC, citizen journalism and blogs. Dollars will go where the eyeballs are: 40 percent of spend will go to ‘digital’ 22 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
(a $50bn global market today, growing more than 20 percent a year). The funding model for professional content will change: lots of lean, niche professional content will dominate, alongside (much less) blockbuster content. And clients will migrate to a handful of media and creative agencies that invest in differentiating digital capabilities. Mobile_money_will_be_the_norm: devices_will_enable_two_thirds_ of_purchases, and_pay_for_half All retailers will go mobile. Couponing, circular spending and formats will migrate, with offers that are more targeted, personalized, and accountable. New mobile services will spring up that, knowing what store people are in, provide price and availability on inventory without being asked. Pricing transparency will disrupt traditional retailers so much that ‘good service’ will once again become a differentiating retail factor. Wireless payment possibilities will change shopping forever – for buyer and seller. People will be able to search for products and check for local offers on their phone, then visit the store and use their near field communication (NFC)-enabled device to pay (which is potentially more secure and enables automatic collection of store loyalty points). A new class of services will emerge to facilitate offers, payments and payment clearance. Major credit card companies will participate, but are not guaranteed to win. A PayPal of the mobile space may emerge.
From_80_percent_‘push’_to_80_ percent_opt-in, and_two-way One-way participation in content will decline to under 20 percent. The consumer will gain even more control and choice. Technology is already empowering them to skip ads, or micro-pay for content, or opt out altogether. And most media is enabling consumers to contribute and comment on their own terms – and they will. According to Erik Qualman, founder of Socialnomics, 78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations. Far fewer trust advertisements. The consumer will increasingly rely on such ‘social’ branding and friend recommendations. Brands that build web services that foster community and loyalty gain equity; those that rely solely on price and selection fade. The deluge of information could drown the consumer, though. Intermediaries will build business models on curating content and facilitating choices. Tomorrow’s services help answer questions about complex, value-added products and services such as, ‘Which lawyer within 20 miles of my home has expertise on tax issues in living trusts?’ The local and personal becomes more important. Real-time_will_rule: dominating_social_ search_rank, pricing, optimization We will move from just recording data to modifying the system in real time: continuous improvement. Before, you’d run TV ads, analyze, and six-to-ninemonths down the road you could change strategy if needed. Now you can run 1,000 different ad types to 1,000 different demographics, then measure and iterate on the spot. The demand for real-time information and capabilities will continue and increase, as will the desire for improved advertising efficiency. Old, non-optimizable formats will go by the wayside. Display will boom, as real-time bidding becomes possible, making every campaign mutable-bythe-moment, enabling ad buyers to tailor bids and ads, impression by impression, across a wide range of ad space. Half the ads targeted to particular audiences will use real-time bidding
Digital Tipsheet: The Four Bs BE FOUND Search is still the killer app. It’s more locationbased (knows where you are), personalized (offers to you), visual (Google Goggles) and real-time (price, availability, news) than ever. Roy’s Restaurants introduced hyperlocal ads, delivering clickable, down-to-the-block level information about a business at the right place and at the right moment – and got an 800 percent ROI on their advertising investment.
BE ENGAGING You could be dull in another era. Not this one. For creativity, look at American Express mastering the art of the live stream – a newly potent medium. Their live-streamed concerts, ‘Unstaged: An Original Series from American Express,’ created an absorbing environment on the web and in the arena, engaging users with the music of Arcade Fire and John Legend – and with their brand.
BE RELEVANT Real-world, real-time relevance matters more than ever. Progressive Insurance uses click-tocall so that when a potential customer searches their phone for car insurance, Progressive shows them an ad that can immediately connect the customer to a call center, which can then tune the relevant Progressive offer to that particular person and where they are. The consumer, right there on the lot, can get their insurance before they drive away.
BE ACCOUNTABLE Ford has identified five key buying actions based on closely measured online behavior. If someone configures a car online, Ford now knows they are more likely to buy one. The car company uses this information to target digital advertising, generating highvalue leads and test-drive registrations for its dealers. Unlike traditional local media, Ford can measure the exact return on this investment. Accountability pays
Missions That Matter From Haiti to Hyderabad, Googlers are innovating with good reason. Words by
Holly Finn John Moore, Chris McGrath
Maybe you’re looking for the Holy Grail, maybe just a parking space. Either way, your search is important to you. But some searches matter more, like searching for loved ones. Consider this number: 90 minutes. That’s how long it took for Google’s Person Finder – a searchable missing persons database – to go live after the earthquake in Japan on March 11th. In the first 48 hours, there were 36 million page views. Queries-per-second peaked at 1,600. It was translated into 40 languages, and now Google is tracking over 600,000 records. This wasn’t the first time Person Finder had been activated. It launched 72 hours after an earthquake devastated the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2010. Following the Chilean earthquake in February of the same year, the response time was six hours. Twelve months later, after the Christchurch quake, it was 60 minutes. Google, it seems, is as intent on innovating crisis response as any monetizable product. But how? And why? 24 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
The simplest answer may be the right one: Googlers themselves. Other companies screen for intelligence and experience in potential recruits. But Google also looks for ‘Googliness’ – a mashup of passion and drive that’s hard to define but easy to spot. Of the over 26,000 employees worldwide, a surprising percentage have it. While part of a huge organization, they think – and, crucially, act – like entrepreneurs. Such ‘intrapreneurs’ exist in many corporations, of course. But conditions at Google – where creatively benevolent impulses can be backed up by engineering resources and managerial support – seem to produce an unusually large crop of them. Some had an entrepreneurial bent all along. Back in January, venture capitalists and hackers, execs and engineers – all accustomed to their share of ‘revolutions’ out in Silicon Valley – watched in amazement as Egyptians took to the streets. It was a real revolution, in real time. But one Googler did more than watch. In a single weekend, Ujjwal Singh, co-founder of SayNow, a voice communications company Google recently bought, plus a small team of scrappy Googlers, partnered with Twitter to develop and launch a service that allowed Egyptians to communicate even when their government had blacked out most communication systems, including the internet. The team got the call on Saturday, and by Sunday morning at 5.30am had a working model for Speak2Tweet. It relied on the last remaining outlet – telephone – to post messages to Twitter. Egyptians dialled an international phone number to leave a voicemail, which was then translated and tweeted for them instantly. All this before Singh even had his official first day.
Anti-government protesters charge their cell phones for free outside an electronics store on Tahrir Square on February 8th, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.
Residents look through messages posted on the missing persons boards at Kesennuma City Hall on March 17th, 2011 in Kesennuma, Japan, after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake.
Many more intrapreneurs spring up from inside the company. They do good in their core job and, often, way beyond it. To make change – and make change more efficient – they begin by dedicating their ‘20 percent time,’ a chunk that can be taken out of the regular work week for worthy projects. Others work fullor part-time for Google.org (DotOrg), Google’s technologically driven philanthropic organization. One of its program managers, Jennifer Haroon, works on Health Speaks, translating basic health information into Arabic, Hindi and Swahili (there are 266 articles so far). It’s a collaboration between DotOrg and the Translate team. “The point of DotOrg,” she says, “is to leverage every part of Google.” And perhaps the point of Google is to leverage every part of Googlers. Prem Ramaswami was working as a product manager on network infrastructure when he joined The Internet Bus Project. “The thing looks like the Winnebago from Spaceballs,” he says. It was designed to tour second- and third-tier cities in India (with populations 26 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
from 150,000 to three million) to “get people online, on the internet. I truly mean the internet and not Google,” says Ramaswami. “They didn’t realize the web was for the average Indian, not just for the English-speaking, not just for Americans, and not just for porn.” The bus became a roving educator for Indians – over a million people have been on it so far, and the program is expanding to five buses. Ramaswami’s intrapreneurial spirit has since led him to DotOrg’s Crisis Response team, which works to make critical information accessible around natural and humanitarian disasters, from Queensland to Sudan, Brazil to Japan. After the Haiti earthquake, the team helped create a landing page within 24 hours, then flew to the ravaged region to understand how technology could help in the aftermath of natural disasters. “We are data-driven – we really want to make sure that when we respond, our response is useful,” Ramaswami says. Technological coordination, for instance, is an issue in any crisis. Some computer protocols, such as KML and CAP, work
well with maps and are very useful for public alerts. Some aren’t. The key is machine-readable formats. “We need to do a better job communicating with all these governments,” observes Ramaswami. “Stop creating PDFs, start creating something that’s more usable.” In Japan, the importance of consistent and open standards became clear. “We had to take all these government lists and put them online manually,” says Ramaswami. “But working with Honda and Toyota, their cars had GPS tags in them, so we could deduce, for instance, what roads were open. These companies, more than governments, understand how to share geo-based information. And the population wants it, needs it. It greatly improves the ability to get information out there.” Alice Bonhomme-Biais, a software engineer, is involved in Crisis Response as well. She first worked on Google Maps infrastructure and had visited Haiti for years (her husband is Haitian) making most of her contributions independently, but also calling on co-workers for help. “I asked for a few OLPC [One Laptop Per Child]
laptops from Googlers to send to a school there, and I received an OLPC from Vint Cerf [Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist]. These kids don’t realize it but they’re using computers from the father of the internet.” Bonhomme-Biais gives time to Google Women Engineers too, championing women engineers inside the company and out. “Now I see computer science is amazing because it’s not an end; it’s a tool to do things,” she says. ‘Things’ like Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), a series of hackathons held concurrently around the world, with participants from Google and other tech companies. The aim? To create software solutions for disaster risk and response. Last December, RHoK included 21 cities and over 1,400 people (the next is June 2011). Features launched there were put to use in Japan, three months later. One hack built out the ability to auto translate Person Finder messages online. This is cloud computing at its best. Some Googlers create technology, others leverage it. After an old boyfriend was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2007, Learning and Development manager Carrie Laureno founded Google Veterans Network (VetNet), an internal group that works to make the company veteran-friendly (300 Googlers showed up to a recent screening she arranged of Restrepo, the brutally cleareyed documentary about Afghanistan, followed by a discussion with vets and the filmmakers). Laureno’s current job grew out of the work she’s done with VetNet: experimenting with ways to help specific communities of users by introducing them to the products and features that could help them most – starting with veterans. Google is now donating Cr-48 Chrome Notebooks to wounded troops convalescing in US military hospitals, so that they can keep in touch with loved ones while they’re on the mend. And whole sections of the company are trying to figure out how technology can take care not only of tasks but of people – wherever they are. YouTube is working on crisis response annotation – alerts to pop up in videos when a disaster strikes. Ramya Raghavan, a YouTube News and Politics manager, is also focused on new ways of promoting YouTube for Nonprofits, giving them premium perks
“They didn’t realize the web was for the average Indian, not just for the Englishspeaking, not just for Americans, and not just for porn.”
Twitter users helped find a child in Saudi Arabia just three hours after his father tweeted he was missing.2
like custom brand channels. So far there are 10,000 partners in the program. Recently, $35,000 was raised in one weekend by the video World Hunger – A Billion for a Billion. GoogleServe began as an idea to help Google employees connect to their local communities and each other through community service. In year one, it launched a pilot in 45 offices; in the three years since, it has grown to become an annual tradition involving more than 30 percent of the company across more than 60 offices. It was founded by Seth Marbin as a side project while he was working on the Search Quality team. He now works on the Social Responsibility team that focuses on encouraging and enabling Googlers to use their skills, talents and resources to have an extraordinary impact on the world. How do they do that? “The concept is, ‘follow the bright spots,’” he says. “A lot of people are already giving back, and with a little bit of structure they can channel their passions more effectively – that’s what our team does.” “I was compassionate about people but I had never taken any action,” admits Rohit Setia, an engineer in Hyderabad, India, who coordinates GOAL: Google Outreach Action & Leadership, “then I joined Google. Here I found a group of people who spent time in orphanages, helping. And here, besides my full-time work, I have complete resources, which I know if I use properly I can reach more people. You don’t have to do a lot of processing. You can just start, and start giving.” He believes the youth of India are, like those in Egypt, driven by a desire to change and improve their country. “How can Google help? By giving them easy tools to help them connect to the world. By giving them information, or access to it.” Well-meaning ideas don’t work every time, of course. As Prem Ramaswami says, like a true intrapreneur: “It’s a Darwinian method for projects here. You have to evangelize, and sometimes people aren’t interested, which is a natural way to convince yourself that this might not be worth working on.” Some projects do fail. But the good ones, somehow, succeed
url_ japan.person-finder.appspot.com url_ twitter.com/speak2tweet url_ google.org 27
The Pursuit of APIness From dog food to transit data, they’re an online marketer’s new best friend. Words by
Allison Mooney Jessica Wilson
Where do good ideas come from? Other people, mostly. Morse, Bell, Farnsworth, Ford and Gates – none of them invented anything completely from scratch. They all innovated upon existing ideas, then refined them and took them to market at just the right time, in just the right way. The web, too, is an iterative innovation: a massive, layered, collaborative platform built upon open-source code, hacks, memes
and mashups. It belongs to no single, great brain. And, thanks partly to the prolific publishing of APIs (application programming interfaces), it never will. APIs let third-party developers tap into the functionality of an existing web service, and so give everyone the ability to build upon the web’s good ideas. In a sense, APIs can be seen as a springboard for innovation, as opposed to invention. They allow creators to take something that exists and present it in an original, as-yet-unimagined way. But in today’s warp-speed world where every digital marketer wants what’s next, they are often overlooked. The truth is, there can be infinite new uses of any given API. Foursquare has been turned into everything from a matchmaker (the Singles dating app) to a dog food dispenser (see below). There are thousands of applications that tap into Google’s APIs. Ditto for Twitter, which owes much of its success, and traffic, to the diverse ecosystem of apps that grew on top of it, repackaged it, and tailored it for new uses and audiences.
Marketers are realizing they don’t need to reinvent the software wheel. “APIs make developing software faster, cheaper, and easier,” says Rick Webb, whose agency, Barbarian Group, often builds on them for client projects. They plug into large online communities immediately, leveraging proven services and existing behavior. “Plus, someone else has already done all the UX [user experience] testing for you.” Good APIs also provide valuable data and analytics. “Brands can access an amazing wealth of data using APIs correctly, and do it in a seamless way,” says Nick Parish of Contagious magazine. He points to a recent effort by RDTN.org, one of several sites that quickly went live to harness data from Pachube’s API on radioactivity levels in Japan: it aggregates readings from detection devices and visualizes the geographical distribution in a Google Maps mashup. Parish believes “marketers should be able to tap into real-time data sources, as they try to get temporal closeness to people.” It can be a challenge, understanding the vast array of tools out there, and the
Five novel and noteworthy projects built on open APIs ‘CHECK IN, SNACK OUT’
German dog food maker GranataPet created a check-in controlled billboard that dispenses product samples. When you check in to the ad’s location on the Foursquare mobile app, a black box controlled by the servers spits out free dog treats. Way better than a badge.
If photo-sharing app Instagram makes you nostalgic for Polaroids, try Instaprint. The photobooth, created by Breakfast NY, uses the Instagram API to print out photos tagged with a specific place or hashtag. Bonus: the prints use the ZINK technology that made instant film so flattering.
A mashup between Twitter, YouTube and Hunch’s ‘taste graph,’ Forage builds a personalized music playlist for you, based on the people you follow on Twitter. Enter your Twitter username, select a music genre, and the site will generate a playlist of 20 YouTube music videos.
Over the holidays, Samsung and their agency, Barbarian Group, used the Twitter API to go analog and spread a little festive cheer in the process. Their ‘Tweet Wrap’ promotion let people create custom wrapping paper printed with tweets from a specified hashtag or handle.
In keeping with the tagline ‘Nogal vol van zichzelf’ (‘Quite full of himself’), this app for Volkswagen’s Passat in Holland uses the LinkedIn API to measure arrogance. Challenge your network (who has the most connections? Recommendations?) and your avatar’s head swells with each win
30 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
feasibility of using them. What’s vital is for software companies to provide technical counsel and creative inspiration to brands. Google’s ZOO helps brands and agencies to creatively and effectively exploit the potential of the Google/YouTube platform, as well as its technologies and creative resources. Blogs like Programmable Web and Mashable are also a great resource for creative developers. Protectionism can also deter API adopters. Building on someone else’s platform, especially one that traffics in social data, takes some faith. “I think for a lot of marketers, it’s tough to bring in forces you don’t entirely control and use them to help form your messaging,” says Parish. But it’s fast becoming a necessity. In a previous lifetime, a protectionist strategy was lucrative, now it’s stifling. To innovate, brands need to let go. Part of opening up is looking for knowledge in new places. Seniority and experience were traditional table stakes for innovation. You had to have a certain level of experience before you could make
things better. Today, young people have the advantage – they grew up with personal computers and mobile phones; digital is in their DNA. It will be brands courageous enough to look down the ladder for help who will now climb quickest
We_say_ internally weâ€™re_inv the_future Dennis Crowley 32 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
y_that_ venting_ e./36 33
Next Gen Innovators Meet five thought leaders whose world has been fundamentally shaped by the digital revolution. Wired, ambitious and truly global, they are breaking down old barriers and reshaping the worlds of business, media, art and activism with their passion and creative innovation. Matt Bochenski, Andrea Kurland I l l u s t r a t i o n s b y Steve Wilson Interviews by
34 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
What does innovation mean to you? Innovation is the freedom of creativity. It’s about understanding the actual possibilities of what you’re able to do. How has growing up in a digital world aﬀected your approach to innovation? I’m very interested in creating innovation with technology. We innovate with preexisting systems by figuring out how to stretch the limits of what’s possible and make it experiential. New technology gives you new possibilities. What deﬁnes a twenty-ﬁrst-century entrepreneur? They see the possibilities of their time. They realize that it’s moving really fast and they understand what is possible or not. Most of all, they adapt very fast. They have to, because the state we’re in now with technology is just the beginning – that rate of change is only going to get faster and faster. How do you demonstrate innovation on a day-to-day basis? You can create something exciting when you combine old stuﬀ and new stuﬀ in the right way, but we’re trying to work with new technologies. We’re doing stuﬀ that hasn’t been seen before.
Roman Beranek ProJeKtIl
Thirty-two-year-old Roman Beranek studied Interaction Design at Zurich’s University of the Arts before founding Projektil, a dynamic visual arts collective in which design, technology and communication eﬀortlessly coalesce into something both mind-bending and beautiful. Whether they’re draping Eindhoven’s Saint Catherine’s Cathedral in a psychedelic kaleidoscope of colors, or turning Beesenstedt Castle in Germany into a live, 3D concert with mobile interaction, Projektil is responsible for some of the world’s most innovative projection mapping events and has helped to define a uniquely twenty-first-century digital art form.
Is there a technology, trend or idea that’s driving the most exciting innovation in projection mapping? I think it’s the melting together of technologies, like you see in the mobile industry, where mobiles are connected to real places and it’s fading together with reality. That’s why Projektil’s designs are increasingly integrated with the real world. What does the future hold for you? People are going to get used to mapping – it’s like 3D technology in cinemas – but it will develop. Interaction is going to become more important, as is storytelling. And the way in which you integrate media mapping will be crucial. That’s what we’re thinking about now.
Dennis Crowley FoursQuare
New Yorker Dennis Crowley is the co-founder and CEO of Foursquare, a locationbased mobile service that uses game mechanics to encourage users to explore cities and neighborhoods, sharing their favorite places and insider tips with the community.
What does innovation mean to you? I think it’s taking the ideas that you have in your head and finding a way to make it reality. I spent a big part of my career with people telling me, ‘The stuﬀ that you’re thinking about is never going to work.’ At some point you have to be just try it. I feel like having an idea and running into a wall, reinventing it and running into a wall, then reinventing it again, is what innovation is. How has growing up in a digital world aﬀected your approach to innovation? Cycles of innovation are much faster and everyone merges oﬀ everyone else. When our company runs into a problem, we show everyone our solution. There’s a diﬀerent mindset for a lot of people now that’s, like, ‘If you know something other people don’t, it’s your job to teach people and give back to the community.’ How do you demonstrate innovation on a day-to-day basis? We say internally that we’re inventing the future. The hardest part of this is balancing how the company gets invented at the same time the product gets invented. We get 52 people sitting around a desk to figure out what we do, not two people behind a closed door. I’ve been taught that’s a bad idea, but it makes people feel excited and gets them involved. It’s like you’re on a roller coaster and you go down the big dip and put your hands in the air. At a certain point, you just have to let go. Is there a technology, trend or idea that’s driving the most exciting innovation in social apps? The iPhone. I’ve been doing mobile stuﬀ for a long time and it’s been diﬃcult because there are so many diﬀerent platforms, so many diﬀerent screen sizes, carriers controlled everything. Just like that, the iPhone has reset that whole industry. It’s enabled us to do the things we wanted to do. What does the future hold for you? Five years ago there was no such thing as an iPhone – if back then you tried to guess the future, you would have been totally wrong. I think there’s some productive value in not looking too far ahead because if you look too far ahead, you’re going to miss what’s right in front of you.
url_foursquare.com 36 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
Half of ﬁrm founders in Silicon Valley are foreign-born.3
What does innovation mean to you? I think it means re-booting your brain. It’s kind of a skill – or an attitude maybe – to constantly question and redesign the truth about the things you know, because with innovation, by definition, you have to leave something behind. What deﬁnes a twenty-ﬁrst-century entrepreneur? Today, it’s not only about what you do – it’s about why you do it. People no longer want to join just because you’re a start-up and you might become big; they want to start up because they believe in why they’re doing it and the end result. How do you demonstrate innovation on a day-to-day basis? We make sure that we tap into the discussion that’s going on because that sparks innovation – almost like fostering coﬀee shop culture within and outside the company. We also work very cross-functionally with journalists and tech people. They’re never separate; we’re always on the same team. Is there a technology, trend or idea that’s driving the most exciting innovation in digital media? Data aggregation. Once you’re able to track how people move, what people think, how people sleep – all the things they do – that creates a whole new world of media ideas. That information can be used to improve your daily life and improve the world around you. For example, if you know more about the impact your behavior has on the environment, people will change their behavior. It’s also a bit scary, so you have to be careful about it.
Sara Öhrvall bonnIer r&D
Swedish-born Sara Öhrvall heads up Bonnier R&D, the innovation arm of multichannel media company Bonnier. Following stints at Toyota and Volvo, where she helped develop environmental concept cars, and a decade of experience in brand consultancy, Sara was recruited in 2008 with a mandate to take publishing into the digital future. Mag+, a tablet-based digi-mag project that predated the launch of the iPad, does just that.
What does the future hold for you? Within the art of publishing there are some core benefits that will always be valid and that we have to protect. Every honest and democratic society will need journalists that are not paid by advertisers, but instead are working on finding out the truth. But media companies have to redefine the use. They need to curate the conversation, and not just be loudspeakers.
Bright Simons MPeDIGree
Bright Simons is the founder of mPedigree, a unique system pioneered in Ghana that allows consumers to check whether the medicine they’re about to purchase is counterfeit or safe via a free text message. Through his work at Accra-based think tank IMANI, Simons challenges the systems that stiﬂe development by advocating fundamental institutional reform.
What does innovation mean to you? A lot of innovation is about persuasion; people tend to focus less on the actual invention or solution they are proposing, and more on trying to change the way people perceive it. It’s about social binds. How have developments in technology aﬀected your approach to innovation? It allows for resource maximization; how we do more with less. Coming from Africa, that is much more poignant. It’s obvious when you look around that you’re not going to get all the resources you need. But one of the few ways in which you can maximize resources is via mobile telecoms. In Ghana today, one in two people has access to telecom services. That’s a major boost, which only technology can achieve. How do you demonstrate innovation on a day-to-day basis? By persuading vested interests to change. We do that by going to the pharmaceutical industry and convincing them that instead of keeping fake products confidential, they should make it a public-engagement issue. We advocate for change in institutions, changes in the way we expect outcomes to be delivered, and we are seeing the eﬀects. Is there a technology, trend or idea that’s driving the most exciting innovation in social entrepreneurship? Cloud-based computing is definitely a transforming inﬂuence. It allows you to maximize resources, and it also allows you to change institutions. This whole notion of the company as a fortress, where all information is kept away from prying eyes, is changing. Open architecture – open ways of thinking about how we solve our problems – is being driven by a cloud-based mentality.
Nearly half of the world’s population is under the age of 25.4
38 T HHII NK N K I N N O VA T I O N
What does the future hold for you? Mobility and clouds are going to provide the bedrock for change because progressive institutions will use them to make changes in their own companies, changing the social dynamics. It will make things more accessible and that will have a radical impact on every institution and organization in every industry around the world.
What does innovation mean to you? For me, innovation is taking what’s existing and creating a new and eﬀective use for it. How has growing up in a digital world aﬀected your approach to innovation? Growing up, I had a lot of diﬀerent ideas about how to address free speech and human rights, but I had no idea how to make these projects a reality until I was exposed to the internet. Just a couple of applications have transformed the way that people communicate, and this really allowed me to overcome a lot of my barriers and to realize that what you can achieve on the web is absolutely limitless. What deﬁnes a twenty-ﬁrst-century entrepreneur? The main thing is courage, creativity and persistence. There are so many ideas out there and the only way to make sure that your message is heard is by being creative and unique in your approach. How do you demonstrate innovation on a day-to-day basis? Some friends of mine have built innovative tools that have helped bypass censored content on the web. And we focus on new techniques that will help reach young people – like animation. If technology for a project doesn’t exist, we create it right away, like we did with CrowdVoice. That kind of crowdsourcing platform didn’t exist before in activism, but we were in a position to create it.
Esra’a Al Shafei DIGItal aCtIvIst
Esra’a Al Shafei is the 24-year-old activist behind MideastYouth.com, an online watering hole where dissident voices can find direction, purpose and support. But her work doesn’t stop there. FreeKareem.org is the campaign she spearheaded to protest the imprisonment of a young Egyptian blogger; MidEastTunes.com helps political musicians break through the silence; and CrowdVoice.org is a user-powered service that tracks voices of protest around the world. From her home in Bahrain, she works tirelessly every day to lift the veil on prejudice, oppression and censorship.
Is there a technology, trend or idea that’s driving the most exciting innovation in activism? Definitely crowdsourcing, which is a big part of recent activist tools and applications. The most exciting projects in the field are the ones that rely on lots of information and input from the masses, especially those that are visual. What does the future hold for you? I love not knowing what the future holds for us, because we’re always coming up with new plans and new ideas, and these things change on a day-to-day basis. My job every day is to wake up with a refreshed perspective on the projects we deal with and do something diﬀerent
In a recent six-month period, half of Googleâ€™s core initiatives started as projects during employeesâ€™ 20 percent innovation time.5
42 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
The Eight Pillars of Innovation Susan Wojcicki, Senior Vice President of Advertising, offers a Google-eye view on how to stay creative. Words by
Susan Wojcicki Robert Samuel Hanson
he greatest innovations are the ones we take for granted, like light bulbs, refrigeration and penicillin. But in a world where the miraculous very quickly becomes commonplace, how can a company, especially one as big as Google, maintain a spirit of innovation year after year? Nurturing a culture that allows for innovation is the key. As we’ve grown to over 26,000 employees in more than 60 offices, we’ve worked hard to maintain the unique spirit that characterized Google way back when I joined as employee #16. At that time I was Head of Marketing (a group of one), and over the past decade I’ve been lucky enough to work on a wide range of products. Some were big wins, others weren’t. Although much has changed through the years, I believe our commitment to innovation and risk has remained constant. What’s different is that, even as we dream up what’s next, we face the classic
innovator’s dilemma: should we invest in brand new products, or should we improve existing ones? We believe in doing both, and learning while we do it. Here are eight principles of innovation we’ve picked up along the way to guide us as we go.
Have_a_mission_that_matters Work can be more than a job when it stands for something you care about.
Google’s mission is to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ We use this simple statement to guide all of our decisions. When we start work in a new area, it’s often because we see an important issue that hasn’t been solved and we’re confident that technology can make a difference. For example, Gmail was created to address the need for more web email functionality, great search and more storage. Our mission is one that has the potential to touch many lives, and we make sure that all our employees feel connected to it and empowered to help achieve it. In times of crisis, they have helped by organizing life-saving information and making it readily available. The dedicated Googlers who launched our Person Finder tool (see page 24) within two hours of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan this March are a wonderful recent example of that commitment.
Strive_for_continual_ innovation, not_instant_ perfection
Think_big_but_start_small No matter how ambitious the plan, you have to roll up your sleeves and start somewhere. Google Books, which has brought the content of millions of books online, was an idea that our founder, Larry Page, had for a long time. People thought it was too crazy even to try, but he went ahead and bought a scanner and hooked it up in his office. He began scanning pages, timed how long it took with a metronome, ran the numbers and realized it would be possible to bring the world’s books online. Today, our Book Search index contains over 10 million books. Similarly, AdSense, which delivers contextual ads to websites, started when one engineer put ads in Gmail. We realized that with more sophisticated technology we could do an even better job by devoting additional resources to this tiny project. Today, AdSense ads reach 80 percent of global internet users – it is the world’s largest ad network – and we have hundreds of thousands of publishers worldwide.
The best part of working on the web? We get do-overs. Lots of them. The first version of AdWords, released in 1999, wasn’t very successful – almost no one clicked on the ads. Not many people remember that because we kept iterating and eventually reached the model we have today. And we’re still improving it; every year we run tens of thousands of search and ads quality experiments, and over the past year we’ve launched over a dozen new formats. Some products we update every day. Our iterative process often teaches us invaluable lessons. Watching users ‘in the wild’ as they use our products is the best way to find out what works, then we can act on that feedback. It’s much better to learn these things early and be able to respond than to go too far down the wrong path. Iterating has served us well. We weren’t first to Search, but we were able to make progress in the market by working quickly, learning faster and taking our next steps based on data.
Look_for_ideas_ everywhere As the leader of our Ads products, I want to hear ideas from everyone – and that includes our partners, advertisers and all of the people on my team. I also want to be a part of the conversations Googlers are having in the hallways. Several years ago, we took this quite
44 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
literally and posted an ideas board on a wall at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. On a Friday night, an engineer went to the board and wrote down the details of a convoluted problem we had with our ads system. A group of Googlers lacking exciting plans for the evening began rewriting the algorithm within hours and had solved the problem by Tuesday. Some of the best ideas at Google are sparked just like that – when small groups of Googlers take a break on a random afternoon and start talking about things that excite them. The Google Art Project, which brought thousands of museum works online, and successful AdWords features like Automated Rules, are great examples of projects that started out in our ‘microkitchens.’ This is why we make sure Google is stocked with plenty of snacks at all times.
Our employees know pretty much everything that’s going on and why decisions are made. Every quarter, we share the entire Board Letter with all 26,000 employees, and we present the same slides presented to the Board of Directors in a company-wide meeting. By sharing everything, you encourage the discussion, exchange and reinterpretation of ideas, which can lead to unexpected and innovative outcomes. We try to facilitate this by working in small, crowded teams in open cube arrangements, rather than individual offices. When someone has an idea or needs input on a decision, they can just look
up and say, ‘Hey…’ to the person sitting next to them. Maybe that cube-mate will have something to contribute as well. The idea for language translation in Google Talk (our Gmail chat client) came out of conversations between the Google Talk and Google Translate teams when they happened to be working near one another.
test, asking users, ‘Would you like 10, 20 or 30 search results on one page?’ They unanimously said they wanted 30. But 10 results did far better in actual user tests, because the page loaded faster. It turns out that providing 30 results was 20 percent slower than providing 10, and what users really wanted was speed. That’s the beautiful thing about data – it can either back up your instincts or prove them totally wrong.
Spark_with_imagination, fuel_with_data In our fast-evolving market, it’s hard for people to know, or even imagine, what they want. That’s why we recruit people who believe the impossible can become a reality. One example is Sebastian Thrun who, along with his team, is building technology for driverless cars to reduce the number of lives lost to roadside accidents each year. These cars, still in development, have logged 140,000 hands-free miles driving down San Francisco’s famously twisty Lombard Street, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up the Pacific Coast Highway without a single accident. We try to encourage this type of bluesky thinking through ‘20 percent time’ – a full day a week during which engineers can work on whatever they want. Looking back at our launch calendar over a recent six-month period, we found that many products started life in employees’ 20 percent time. What begins with intuition is fueled by insights. If you’re lucky, these reinforce one another. For a while the number of Google search results displayed on a page was 10 simply because our founders thought that was the best number. We eventually did a
Be_a_platform There is so much awe-inspiring innovation being driven by people all over the globe. That’s why we believe so strongly in the power of open technologies. They enable anyone, anywhere, to apply their unique skills, perspectives and passions to the creation of new products and features on top of our platforms. This openness helps to move the needle forward for everyone involved. Google Earth, for example, allows developers to build ‘layers’ on top of our maps and share them with the world. One user created a layer that uses animations of real-time sensor data to illustrate what might happen if sea levels rose from one to 100 meters. Another famous example of open technology is our mobile platform, Android. There are currently over 310 devices on the market built on the Android OS, and close to half a million Android developers outside the company who enjoy the support of Google’s extensive resources. These independent developers are responsible for most of the 200,000 apps in the Android marketplace.
Google is known for YouTube, not Google Video Player. The thing is, people remember your hits more than your misses. It’s okay to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes and correct them fast. Trust me, we’ve failed plenty of times. Knowing that it’s okay to fail can free you up to take risks. And the tech industry is so dynamic that the moment you stop taking risks is the moment you get left behind. Two of the first projects I worked on at Google, AdSense and Google Answers, were both uncharted territory for the company. While AdSense grew to be a multi-billion-dollar business, Google Answers (which let users post questions and pay an expert for the answer) was retired after four years. We learned a lot in that time, and we were able to apply the knowledge we had gathered to the development of future products. If we’d been afraid to fail, we never would have tried Google Answers or AdSense, and missed an opportunity with each one. Our growing Google workforce comes to us from all over the world, bringing with them vastly different experiences and backgrounds. A set of strong common principles for a company makes it possible for all its employees to work as one and move forward together. We just need to continue to say ‘yes’ and resist a culture of ‘no’, accept the inevitability of failures, and continue iterating until we get things right. As it says on our homepage, ‘I’m feeling lucky.’ That’s certainly how I feel coming to work every day, and something I never want to take for granted
You _woul that_butto wouldnâ€™t_ Russell Davies 46 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
ld_press on, _you?/49 47
Practical Magic Russell Davies may be Head of Planning at Ogilvy & Mather, but he believes that when it comes to the Internet of Things, innovation comes from ‘mucking about’ rather than thinking hard. Words by
Russell Davies Noma Bar
There are three times as many smartphones being activated every minute than there are babies being born.6
Do you remember Big Mouth Billy Bass – the strange animated fish that became a popular novelty a few years back? It looked like a regular fisherman’s trophy but when you hit a button on the frame it would suddenly come to life and start singing ‘Take Me to the River’ or some other amusing aquatically themed song. Now imagine that Billy had the intelligence of your average smart phone. He’d know where he was in the world. What the time was. What the weather was like. Who’d won the football. Whether the trains were running late. And, assuming
you’d programmed a little bit of profile information into him, he’d know which of your Foursquare friends were nearby, and which of your favorite bands were playing in the area. He’d know a lot. With some simple text-to-speech stuff in his head and a bit of ingenuity, he’d be able to tell you all sorts of interesting and useful things when you pressed that button. And you would press that button, wouldn’t you? Well, something like Billy will get made. It’s bound to. Cheap electronics, cheap plastics and cheap intelligence are going to get welded together with free, ubiquitous data feeds to make hundreds of products just like him. It’s the warped magic you’ll get when two waves of innovation crash together – the flood of data from the internet and the sea of stuff from Chinese factories. That right there is your Internet of Things. Of course, that’s not the Internet of Things we normally hear about, just as when we talk about apps we don’t usually acknowledge the mighty phenomenon that is iFart. But it’s the one that seems most interesting to me. The next technological leap – whether we call it the Internet of Things, Web 3.0 or Ubicomp (that’s ‘ubiquitous computing’ to you and me) – will be about getting the web off the screen and embedded in the things of your everyday life. That’ll be most exciting when it’s not the expected stuff like consumer electronics, air quality monitoring or the dreaded internet fridge. It’ll be bottom-up innovation, when we stick some intelligence and connectivity in our saltcellars, our picture frames and our hats. Not because we have an overwhelming reason to do so but because we might as well, because it’s getting easier. 49
The most original innovations spring from mucking about, not from thinking hard. Perhaps that’s really why all this is happening now – components are getting smaller and cheaper, computing is becoming disposable, networking is getting easier – but I don’t think this is driven just by technology. It’s driven by a generation of inventors who’ve learned the power of fast, cheap ‘making’ on the web and want to try it in the world. This, to me, is as exciting as the day I downloaded a browser. We’re seeing the connectivity and power of the web seeping from our devices and into our objects. Everyday objects, yes, but also new generations of extraordinary objects – flying robot penguin balloons, quadrocopters that can play tennis, Wi-Fi rabbits that tell you the weather. They’re different because they don’t exist behind a screen; they’re in our world, built from real physics, not simulations, they have mass and velocity and smell. There are disturbing aspects to all this and things we should be cautious about (whether enabling greater surveillance, vast misuse of public monies or abuse of public spaces), but it’s also going to be a great public adventure. Matt Webb, CEO of London-based design consultancy BERG, has a great phrase to describe the root of these innovations. He calls it ‘fractional AI’, echoing the idea of fractional horsepower. He tells the story like this: when powered machines first came along to relieve humans of labor, they were huge, factory-sized things, doing big, important work that changed industries and commerce. As power units got smaller and cheaper, they started to be embedded in our homes, doing things like cleaning, washing, cooking. That was fractional horsepower – and that didn’t just change our industries; that changed our lives. Matt contends that we’re seeing the same thing with artificial intelligence. It used to be a serious, important, computer-science affair – big machines, significant tasks, PhDs. But if you look for evidence of AI in the world now, you most frequently see it in toyshops, in the boring toys of yesterday brought to irresistible life by tiny amounts of artificial intelligence and some cheap servos. Tickle Me Elmo is the ENIAC of fractional AI. Toys are coming to life, 50 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
In the October 1909 issue of Popular Mechanics, Nikola Tesla predicted the wireless internet phenomenon.7
“It’s a new generation of extraordinary objects – flying robot penguin balloons, quadrocopters that can play tennis, Wi-Fi rabbits that tell you the weather.”
they’re behaving like they know us, and we’re instantly charmed and convinced. The average digital camera can recognize about 20 different faces. How long before that intelligence is embedded in your Barbie so she can address you by name? That’s just the intelligence bit. To make an Internet of Things you need to add some connectivity. And when you do that – when these slightly smart things can talk to each other and to much smarter things on the network – then we’ll get even more magic. Here’s a live example. GlowCaps – pill bottles that know when you’re supposed to take your medication – are on sale in the US. Fail to take a pill and they’ll glow, then beep, then beep louder, then they’ll call you on the phone. They’ll even issue you and your doctor a weekly update on your progress. Continue to mess up and they may very well escalate things all the way to the President. These are just pill bottles – each one only costs a few bucks – but they’re knitted together in a network of things with intelligence and connectivity, creating something we couldn’t have done before. Or think about the new Ford Mustang. It comes with two keys – stick one in and the car behaves normally; use the other and it becomes a racing beast. Each key animates the car differently. But add some connectivity and the car could tune itself in response to road conditions or the price of fuel or whatever some crazy racetuning specialist mechanic has shared on the unofficial networks. Because if something’s got software in it, it’s going to get cracked. The hackers have already racetuned iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaners – Mustangs can’t be far behind. The only problem with this world; it’s a little harder to play in. The web was a joy because you could teach yourself HTML and instantly create anything you imagined. You might be trapped behind a screen, but while you were in there you could do anything. The Internet of Things isn’t so easy. Real mass means real friction; if you share something in the real world then you no longer have it. The upside of that – it feels that much more magical when you make something happen. Get yourself an Arduino, read Mike Kuniavsky’s brilliant book Smart Things, and start to bring your world to life
54 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
The Science Fiction Behind Search Exploring the innovations that are making Star Trek dreams come true. Words by
Amit Singhal Roderick Mills
As a boy in India, I dreamed of space. Watching episodes of Star Trek, I was transported to the final frontier. I remember watching in wonder as Spock and company beamed themselves to a mythical planet, used scanners to identify their surroundings, and struck up conversations with aliens. Now it’s my job to help make that science fiction come true – and we’re not doing too badly. When search first captured my imagination two decades ago, the web was sparsely populated with text, and data was achingly slow. But despite these limitations, ‘surfing the web’ still felt like exploring space; discovering vast, uncharted territories. Today we can voyage to the surface of Mars or the depths of the ocean without ever leaving our couches, identify landmarks around the world just by snapping a photo on our mobile phones, and have conversations with people on the other side of the world, in dozens of languages we’ve never even studied. And this is all thanks to incredible – you might even call them science fiction-like – advancements in web and search technologies. So where is search going? Let us first consider how our early science fiction search dreams came to fruition.
Search_beyond_text At Google, when we talk about organizing the world’s information, we don’t mean only text; images and videos contain a wealth of information. In the early days, this type of content simply didn’t exist online. Now, through efforts like Google Earth and Street View, we can provide something incredibly valuable: images of your physical world. However, in many ways, getting visual information online is the easy part. What’s hard is understanding that information. Unlike text, we cannot simply read an image or video. We have to look inside them, dig out the pixels and translate them into something meaningful. For a long time, we considered this a pipe dream, but by combining search methodology and technological breakthroughs in computer vision, today we can match pictures at a visual level. Search for ‘Mount Rushmore’ on Google and our algorithms will analyze many factors, such as the shape and texture that produces a good image of Mount Rushmore, then return those images to you in striking full-color. Better yet, take a picture of Mount Rushmore and Google
Goggles will recognize it and show relevant query results – no need to type at all. (And if you don’t want to head to South Dakota, you can always recreate the monument yourself – just search YouTube for ‘Google Mount Rushmore’ to see how.)
Search_beyond_language Breaking down language barriers can unlock whole new worlds. Unfortunately, engineers working on translation technologies quickly discovered that teaching a computer to translate language is even more difficult than teaching a person. Humans learn language by combining vocabulary with grammatical rules. But as we all know, languages are complicated. There are exceptions to the rules, exceptions to the exceptions, and exceptions to those exceptions. These exceptions, though beautiful to humans, seem ‘illogical’ to computers and result in poor translation quality, making computer translations unusable. Plus, trying to teach these exceptions to computers doesn’t scale well. To translate between every possible language pair, whether it’s
Japanese to Chinese, Hindi to Korean, or Urdu to Swahili, your computer would have to learn a lot of exceptions. So rather than trying to code lots of rules, we fed our translation engine thousands of professionally translated documents and used statistical models to identify patterns across them. These patterns helped us identify countless correlations, and from those correlations, we can start predicting the best translation for a given word, phrase or document. Today, Google Translate can help you read search results, web pages, emails, YouTube video captions and more, in over 50 languages. And that’s just for starters. Thanks to emerging voice technology on mobile, you can even have a multilingual conversation with someone face-to-face, in real-time, using speak-to-translate.
Search_that_knows_me One of the most iconic science fiction images is the robotic butler who brings your slippers, knows what temperature you like your tea, and anticipates your needs. We’re certainly not there yet, but providing more personalized experiences is a first step. Everyone today has his or her very own version of Google. Your Google is different from my Google, which is different from my neighbor’s version, and so on. This makes a lot of sense, because we all have unique, distinct interests. But building a tailored search engine for millions of users is no simple task, and many factors influence which results will be most relevant to you at a given time. For example, Google is localized across over 150 geographical domains, so when you search for ‘pizza’ in Tokyo, you’ll see pizza restaurants in your area. Sounds simple, right? But things get exponentially more complicated with more sophisticated users’ models. Take the search query ‘lords’ for instance. This simple word means different things to everyone – parliamentary houses, castles and swords, even a multiplayer online game. However, as a fan of Indian
56 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
cricket, I search for and click on cricketrelated things all the time. So when I search for ‘lords’ on Google, I see results about the Lord’s Cricket Ground, the most famous cricket field in London. Results have also gotten a lot more personal and relevant thanks to Social Search, which incorporates signals from people I’m connected to online. So, for example, I might see a tweet from my friend about a recent game.
Search_the_ present_moment Just a short time ago, the vast majority of electronic information was locked away in highly specialized databases with limited, often for-pay, access for research purposes. From the time an article was written, it took months to index that information in these specialized databases so that researchers could search for it. The power of accessing data within seconds of when it was produced has transformed us all, but for early search scientists, the concept of real-time search seemed truly impossible. Google launched Realtime Search – one of the most complicated projects I have ever worked on – in December 2009. We developed a dozen new technologies to near-instantly determine the relevance of these updates, from extracting information from shortened URLs, to drawing meaning from shorthand conventions like ‘#obama,’ to evaluating changes in query volume to identify hot topics. The result: when AT&T announced that it was interested in buying T-Mobile on March 20th, 2011, Google’s Realtime Search started displaying tweets about the news several minutes before major news organizations started reporting on the story. Search with real-time results gets people information faster, and it’s not a stretch to say that this can save lives. Take Flu Trends – we use aggregated search data to estimate flu activity, providing the information two weeks faster than CDC [Centers for Disease Control] data. The implications of this are enormous.
Search_that_ understands_me We’ve started teaching computers how to translate languages, but teaching a computer to actually understand language remains one of our biggest challenges. Google knows that ‘GM’ refers to General Motors in the context of cars, but ‘genetically modified’ in the context of food, for example. But what about words with multiple meanings? How does Google know that when you’re looking to change the brightness of your laptop screen, you actually want to ‘adjust’ it? By contrast, if you want to change a PDF file into a Word document, Google can help you learn how to ‘convert’ that file. These may sound like straightforward substitutions, but remember: computers don’t think like humans. Programming a computer to derive meaning from words and context was barely imaginable some 20 years ago. And back then, what if we’d said that we wanted to do this across all the world’s languages? We would have been called crazy.
The_future_of_search Every day, billions of documents get added to the web. People’s expectations are changing. We want information delivered in all formats, in every language, tailored to our personal preferences, and we want it NOW. Clearly, there is plenty of work to be done to take search into the future, but in truth, we’ve come a long way in a short time. Just last year, we made over 500 improvements to search. But when you’re chasing perfection, no matter how far you’ve come, no matter how many seemingly impossible problems you solve, there is always more work to be done. In my mind, the holy grail of search is to understand what the user wants, not just matching words, but actually trying to match meaning. Doing this before the user ever types in a search query would be even better. Google Instant takes us down this road. Instant takes what you have typed already, predicts the most likely completion and provides search results
“Today_we_can_ voyage_to_the_ surface_of_Mars_ without_ever_ leaving_our_ couches – all_thanks_ to_science_fictionlike_advances_ in_search.” 57
Researchers in California have created a way to place a call on a cell phone using just your thoughts.8
58 T H I N K I N N O V A T I O N
as you type – yielding a smarter, faster search that is interactive, predictive and powerful. Just ask Clay Shirky what we can do with all that extra time – his book Cognitive Surplus explores a world in which technology has caught up with human potential. My dream search engine of the future
guides me throughout the day. It knows my next meeting is downtown, but the streets are closed, so I should take the subway. It reminds me that my wife’s birthday is in two weeks, tells me she wants an iPad and suggests I talk to my friend, Matt, who has done research on its Wi-Fi capabilities. Then it sends me directions to the closest store.
It could even suggest a romantic restaurant nearby, search our schedules, and book a candlelit table for two. If we can learn anything from history, it’s that science fiction doesn’t have to stay that way. We haven’t quite figured out how to beam you into space yet, but then again, it’s still only 2011
Sci-fi that foretold the future They seemed far-fetched on screen, but these movie moments fast became non-fiction. Words by Allison Mooney The lightbulb moment came during the movie I, Robot. In it, the robot says – thoughtfully – to an angry Bridget Moynahan: “Is everything alright, Ma’am? I detected elevated stress patterns in your voice.” Watching that, two Portland, OR, teens asked themselves a simple, profound question: is it really possible for machines to detect feelings? I mean, could that really happen? A year later, their emotion-detecting algorithm won the team grand prize in the Siemens Competition. The Portland pair – Matthew Fernandez and Akash Krishnan, who are both still in high school – were transfixed by imagined technologies that Hollywood made real. They saw them and didn’t just applaud – they went on to translate them into hard science. But, long-term, can entertainment actually, accurately, be prophetic? Or does life inevitably imitate art? Both. Filmmakers start with a kernel of truth, perhaps even consult with leading scientists and technologists, then take it to cinematic scale. They tell stories. The audience makes an emotional
connection. And, inspired, they work to fulfill the prophecy. So it turns out we’re already living in the future. Here are five movies that prove it.
Minority Report “John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now.” The ads calling out to Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report are actually based on existing technology, namely retinal scanners and real-time advertising, and mass personalized ads are already here. Check out Immersive Labs – their digital signage technology tailors ads to customers in realtime. Play Xbox Kinect with your housemates? Not only does it let users gesture to control the screen, just like John Anderton, but it could one day recognize who you are – and ask if you want a beer.
Terminator Wearable computing pioneer Thad Starner looks nothing like Arnold Schwarzenegger – except for the shades. Starner’s home-hacked frames let him do web searches and see results right in front of his eyes, just like Arnold’s cyborg character. Now, the real world has done Tinseltown one better: the University of Washington is working on LED lenses – more like
contacts than glasses – that render digital images right in front of you. Or you could just turn to your smartphone: augmented reality apps like Layar and Wikitude act like annotated viewfinders on the world. This is the next generation, with no bodily alterations required.
Total Recall Been to the airport lately? You may have had flashbacks to Total Recall. In the 1990 film, Marsbound passengers walked through a security scanner that showed X-ray images of their skeletons. In 2010, the Transportation Security Administration installed total-body scanners in many US airports. The ‘millimeter wave’ and ‘backscatter’ machines are meant to reveal any concealed objects, namely weapons, on a passenger’s body. While movie Martians might have taken this in their stride, many US citizens bristled and protested.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Spotting an ex at a party. Realizing your fly is down. Spying on Draco Malfoy. We’ve all had moments when a ‘Cloak of Invisibility’ (like the one Dumbledore gave Harry) would come in handy. Such cloaks are sci-fi cliché, but recently, they’ve passed into the realm of
the possible – even for Muggles. In his new book, Physics of the Future, quantum physicist Michio Kaku describes ‘metamaterials,’ which allow light to wrap around the body and re-form at the other end, as if you don’t exist. Scientists at Duke have shown the effect in action, and a new material called Meta-flex shows industrial promise. “Every physics textbook on the planet is now being rewritten,” says Kaku.
2001: A Space Odyssey When it comes to technological prophecy, few movies are more prescient than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick’s visions fixed a gleaming future in our minds, and while the real 2001 wasn’t quite as sexy as the cinematic version, we did have space stations and space shuttles. Beyond that, the iconic film even presaged eBooks and tablets: “He would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers... In a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased.” Then, there’s HAL, the malicious talking computer. Today’s artificial intelligence isn’t nearly as humanoid, but IBM’s Jeopardy champion computer, Watson, did make us all feel a little stupid
All_of_us trying_to this_runa train/62 Peter Sachse
60 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
s_are_ o_chase_ away_ 61
Time for Change Peter Sachse, CMO of Macy’s and CEO of macys.com, explains how the retail giant is developing a profile of Customer 2.0 while preparing to tame the mobile frontier.
Plug ‘Macy’s advertising’ into YouTube’s search bar and one of the first things that pops up is a crackly black-and-white television ad with Howard Reig, a veteran NBC political reporter, “presenting one of the most important personages of our modern time.” Then the camera pans to a chimp in a three-piece suit. Even half a century later, watching this snappily-dressed simian – dubbed J. Fred Muggs, “the Mayor of Macy’s Toy City” – surrounded by heaps of stuffed toy monkeys makes you laugh and, somehow, want to shop. Back then, Macy’s saw the selling power of a chimpanzee (who was also the audience-wooing mascot of the 1950s Today Show). These days they’re harnessing the power of digital, not animal, but the aim is the same: to drive as many people as possible through their doors. “Four years ago, I challenged Google,” says Peter Sachse, CMO of Macy’s and CEO of macy’s.com. “When we met, it was all about ‘buy some search ads and let’s see about online.’ And I said, ‘No. When I run online search ads, let’s see how I do in stores.’” Macy’s has since been relentlessly innovative with its online marketing – it was an early partner with Google in local ads and is now active in a range of formats, from contextual ads to mobile search. But although it was pursuing clicks, Macy’s never ignored its bricks. “Digital marketing was originally started just to drive people to a website,” says Sachse. “It wasn’t there to drive people to the store. We do ‘x’ business in stores and ‘x’-minus-a-lot online. We don’t forget the bricks. You can buy a shirt online, then go to the mall to return it. You can browse online, and go to the mall to try it on. We look at our stores as a big advantage.” That’s why there are so many of them – 850 in 45 cities. Macy’s has found that every dollar spent online influences $5.77 spent in the store over the next 10 days, with online sales bringing in around $1bn annually.
Holly Finn Kristine Larsen
62 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
Sachse pulls out a book: History of Macy’s of New York 1858-1919. When you really go back to the roots of the company, he says, “RH Macy was, at heart, an incredible marketer. He took the red star and used it as a branding element. It just always appeared. Obviously we didn’t have color newspapers, but it always appeared. Red Star hams... It was always ‘Red Star’ something.” From the beginning, he adds, “Macy’s marketing had a distinctive character, which made it stand out from the surrounding mass of print.” Now, of course, the competition isn’t just print. “No,” says Sachse, “it’s masses of digital; search.” So Macy’s is doing three things. First, the company prioritized its website – not just to increase sales but to bolster the brand for all customers, whether or not they buy online. “We said a long time ago that the website is the hub of all activity for the brand,” explains Sachse. Customers can go there to browse, buy or just pay their bill. The website is Macy’s front, side and back doors. Second, Macy’s moves quickly towards the new – like mobile. “I don’t know that there are a lot of people that are ahead of us with mobile. All of us are trying to chase this runaway train. You try, you test, you innovate. You don’t shy away from making a mistake.” Especially not when folks like Kleiner Perkins analyst Mary Meeker, speaking at Google’s Think Mobile event in New York this year, says that the mobile revolution’s “pace and force is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” She predicts the tipping point will come when over 50 percent of the population has a smartphone. That’s due to happen in the US by the end of this year.
“You always wish you could have gone faster,” admits Sachse, “but you have to temper that with what you really want the organization to focus on. I’m not the guy coding the website, coding the app, installing. So as a leader, you always have to prioritize.” He pauses. “And push.” Finally, Macy’s is intent on developing a full 360-degree view of each customer – a single, accurate record for every individual. So when a customer reaches a call center, for instance, they know her shopping history and preferences – not her household’s or her husband’s, but hers. Sachse, a native of Sheboygan, Wisconsin (he’s the only member of his family who’s moved), calls this ‘Customer 2.0’. And he knows it will take some time to build.
Eighty percent of consumer transactions occur at the top 200 merchants.9
Holy_Grail, Holy_Cow Sachse was a merchant his entire career at Macy’s before becoming an executive. He understands the data challenge underlying the service challenge, particularly for his business. “Department stores built all these systems in silos – customer databases, payment databases. So you’ve got to merge them. And the ultimate holy grail is realtime location-based marketing that is relevant and personal,” he explains. “Kroger has gotten very good at it, as a grocer,” he continues. “I know Tesco in the UK is quite good at it.” And Macy’s aims to be. In the past three years, the company has invested $300m in online infrastructure. So will the Customer 2.0 database come to life soon? “Define ‘soon,’” says Sachse. This year? “Nope.” But soon. “There’s the difficulty of building the 360-degree view, what goes in and what stays out. You can become completely paralyzed. So you’ve got to decide what to focus on.” Location-based services, the promise of instant price comparisons, discounted offers, immediate gratification – this is powerful new stuff. “A very important strategy is My Macy’s,” notes Sachse. “Our goal would be when you walk into [Macy’s] Stanford you say, ‘This is my Macy’s.’ How? By providing the right styles, right sizes, because we understand our customers so infinitely, so locally. And, if you’re in Macy’s today, and you were looking at shoes yesterday,
and now I send you an offer for 25 percent off women’s shoes, you’d go, ‘Holy cow!’” Macy’s ‘omni-channel’ approach – online and off, mobile and web, wherever the customer is – also includes social media. “We get to play with it and watch it and see what happens with it,” says Sachse. What about measuring it? “I do know that people who read reviews online buy more than those who don’t. It’s one of the oldest forms of social – peer-to-peer review. This isn’t Macy’s saying, ‘These are the greatest sheets you ever slept on!’ Reviewing is the earliest and most powerful form of social marketing.”
“You always wish you could have gone faster, but you have to temper that with what you want the organization to focus on.”
So, have any recent digital developments surprised him? “The adoption rate of tablets,” he says. “I don’t think anyone would have said in May of last year that by now there would be 18 million sold, and that because of that, CES [the Consumer Electronics Show] would be loaded with tablets.” This is both boon and bane for Sachse. According to a recent study by Google and Compuware, Macy’s is among only 21 percent of Google’s top advertisers to have a mobile-optimized site, but he knows there’s more work to be done. “A difficulty for us is how to optimize a web experience on all these different devices with different operating systems and different sizes,” says Sachse. “You’re going to need that experience to be as well received on a 56-inch TV as on a seven-inch tablet or Android phone.” But isn’t that the nature of the frontier? Mobile is often called the Wild West, and before you put the church up on the prairie, you’ve got to survive the shoot-outs and saloon brawls. The toughest hombre wins. Perhaps, says Sachse, but if you let the landscape develop with no forethought whatsoever, mayhem may rule in the longterm as well as the short. “In the frontier today, it’s hard to chase all the horses and corral them.” If the industry began to standardize requirements, one leader would definitely be thrilled: the marketing sheriff at Macy’s, brandishing his company’s legendary Red Star 65
People received about 110 messages a day during work last year.10
Room to Think Innovation consultant Kursty Groves offers a practical guide to transforming your office space into a place that wears its heart on the wall. Kursty Groves P H O T O G R A P H Y b y Edward Denison Words by
66 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
“We_shape_our_buildings; thereafter_ they_shape_us.” Winston_Churchill
In an increasingly virtual
world, does the office space still have a role to play in spurring innovation? Or are lavish lobbies and designer desks just distractions from real work? It all boils down to what you want to achieve. Is innovation for your business about inventing the next big thing? Or is it about creating a climate in which people feel compelled to work together to do their best every day? The bottom line is this: intention leads; interior design follows. Take Procter & Gamble’s Clay Street Project – a renovated brewery in a rundown part of Cincinnati where small groups spend 12 weeks focusing on challenges in an environment that encourages risk-taking and creative thinking. The open ‘session spaces’ are initially quite bare, allowing them to grow and change with the project
and people. You won’t find any off-the-shelf furniture here because there’s no room for off-the-shelf thinking. Instead, there are workstations made from recycled sunflower seed husks, curtained-off flexible meeting areas and ‘nap pod’ stations. Don’t be fooled, though: P&G hasn’t gone hippie. It maintains its more staid headquarters just a few miles away in downtown Cincinnati. These different working environments set different innovation agendas (radical breakthrough versus day-to-day collaboration), and are accompanied by different codes of conduct in order to make them work. Context is crucial: lava lamps and beanbags may work in one environment, but not in another.
Consider that environment
a conversation starter that develops a dialogue between a company and its employees. Oakley Inc., the sports performance eyewear manufacturer,
ideas are shared and built; and play, where experimentation occurs – reveal themselves in different types of work. The physical environment should support them all. Beware blanket standardization; it can create a multitude of performance and engagement issues. A lack of privacy, no space to think and nowhere to call home are just a few of the common complaints. Decipher the appropriate profile of working activities that your people need to undertake to do their jobs well and you’ll find that the spaces come alive with inspired – and productive – people.
What about the future of
investing in bricks and mortar? Many businesses are re-assessing their corporate property portfolio given changing workforce needs, but we’ll still be seeing the head office for some time yet – even if its role changes. It’s likely to morph from an institutional monolith, where a static workforce clocks in
Oakley’s California HQ; Procter & Gamble’s Clay Street Project; playful spaces at LEGO HQ, Denmark.
provokes a bold conversation with its postapocalyptic ‘design bunker’ HQ. Dare to enter the cavernous lobby and you are confronted by B-52 ejector seats, bombproof lighting and fixing-bolts the size of your head. This conversation tells us that Oakley is a place for tough people who push the limits. It echoes the design ethos of the brand, speaking ‘to the front row… because the people at the back won’t get it anyway’. When it comes to the conversation you start with your employees, remember to leave space for them to respond. Give them the opportunity to contribute to the growing dialogue around how the environment should look and provide opportunities for them to change the space to suit their needs. The innovation process itself requires many different modes of thinking. These thinking modes – stimulation, where the mind is inspired or a thought process is triggered; reflection, a period of uninterrupted focus; collaboration, where
nine-to-five, to a learning and creation hub where a dynamic stream of people connect to the business, and each other, as the Na’vi connect to the Tree of Souls in James Cameron’s Avatar. It will become a place where they can refuel with the spirit of the company. Get that spirit right and you can create a place that resonates with the sound of people enjoying the work they do. LEGO’s fun, playful spaces with larger-than-life play bricks and oversized chairs make you feel as if you’re six again. T-Mobile’s Creation Center in Seattle features a floorto-ceiling display of spoof magazine covers showing colleagues’ hobbies – it’s both space divider and ‘who’s who’ map. What works for one company won’t work for all. Take time to understand the essence of your culture and use it as inspiration to wear your heart on the walls. Whatever you do; do something, do it yourself, and involve your people in the process 67
Innovation Spaces Three creative companies share their workplace innovation secrets. Max Hamilton, Bryan Derballa, This Ain’t No Disco
P H O T O G R A P H Y b y
68 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
MOTHER LONDON Mother is an award-winning creative agency famous for its irreverent approach to advertising. Based in Shoreditch, East London, its clients include Schweppes, IKEA, Stella Artois and Powerade. ‘All architecture is shelter, all great architecture, is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.’ By [American architect] Philip Johnson we abide. Mother as a space is part-church, part-factory floor, part-living room. A space that has the ability to settle and unsettle in the same breath. It is a restless space that demands that one be present, as we believe that true creativity resides in the present. Stephen Butler, Partner/Creative Director
TERREFORM ONE NY
davison international PA
Terreform ONE is a non-profit design group that promotes green design in cities. It is based in Brooklyn, New York.
The Pittsburgh, PA, headquarters of development firm Davison International is known as ‘Inventionland,’ and turns out more than 2,000 new products each year.
At Terreform ONE we need ‘messy’ spaces to create a massive outpouring of projects and models. We have a collection of materials and artifacts found throughout the city of New York that add to the environment. These seemingly random objects are essential to helping us formulate complex morphologies into tangible suppositions. Design is seeing new qualities in everyday objects. We surround ourselves with these seemingly random items to be inspired just so. Our working studio is similar to the toymaker’s shop in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – a physical narrative of possibilities ready to be animated. Mitchell Joachim, Co-founder
Hidden talents and creativity overflow inside Creation Cavern. Remaining close to nature, creationeers are nestled behind a mountain of imagination and cascading waterfalls, where workstations are chiseled into cavern walls and outdoor creations spring to life, just as Mother Nature intended. Meanwhile, inside Inventalot Castle, new ideas are brought forward at The Round Table. Much like King Arthur’s Knights, royal creators and designers from all across Inventionland gather to brainstorm and create the latest innovations for tomorrow. george davison, founder/ceo
Transgressive Man Prophet, futurist, or catalyst of chaos? Ray Kurzweil believes that innovations in biogenetics and nanotechnology are creating a new future for humanity, but could they just as easily destroy us all? Words by
Cyrus Shahrad Kate Flock
There’s a scene near the opening of Transcendent Man, the 2009 documentary on futurist Ray Kurzweil, showing archive footage of the then-17-year-old’s appearance on panel show I’ve Got a Secret. Suited and smiling, exuding the awkward confidence of someone becoming slowly aware of a great gift, Kurzweil sits at a piano and rattles off an unusual piece of music. The panel is surprisingly quick to guess his secret: the composition was written by a computer – a computer, it transpires, that Kurzweil also built and programmed. The host, Steve Allen, congratulates young Raymond and predicts a bright future for him.
It’s an auspicious introduction to a man for whom computers are arguably as valuable as human life itself, a man for whom predicting the future is very much part of the present. Kurzweil made his name as an inventor in the ’70s and ’80s, patenting everything from the flatbed scanner and text-to-speech synthesizer (both preemptively created to enable the completion of the Kurzweil Reading Machine for the blind), to the Kurzweil K250, a piano synthesizer constructed following a conversation with Stevie Wonder. Yet it wasn’t until 1990 that Kurzweil’s first book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, put his decades of research and development into a wider context. His arbitrary inventions now seemed part of a wider effort to nudge humanity towards the age of electronic enlightenment described in those pages: an age in which man and machine coexisted, but in which machines were the superior being, blessed with artificial intelligence that allowed them to take on many of the tasks formerly falling to human hands. Then in 1998, the year that Kurzweil had predicted would see a computer defeat a human at chess (he was 12 months out – IBM’s Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997), he released his follow up, The Age of Spiritual Machines. Kurzweil used the opportunity to extend his earlier predictions of a future in which man and machines coexisted to a point at which they would become, essentially, one and the same. By 2029, he wrote, man would be able to prolong his lifespan indefinitely through advances in biogenetics and nanotechnology, and would ultimately become all but indistinguishable from the robots he had created. Computers would no longer be rectangular objects sitting in our offices, palms or pockets, but integrated in our very beings; virtual reality worlds and internet applications would be accessed via implants, and robots would be petitioning for recognition of their rights as conscious beings. This dawn of a new
age became known as the ‘Singularity’ – a sort of Rapture for technophiles – and it turned Ray Kurzweil from an eccentric modern-day Edison into a different sort of figure altogether; one feared by some, revered by others, ridiculed by many. The subsequent decade has seen a rise in the number of Kurzweil’s critics and the volume of their complaints. He is regularly attacked for what some see as his pseudo-religious reverence for robotics, and the cult status he holds among more fanatical followers. His promise of technology-enhanced immortality has riled the religious right, while traditional scientists raise issue with everything from his understanding of human biology to his timeline for the Singularity. In Transcendent Man, Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly notes how ‘convenient’ it is that the Singularity will come to pass just in time for Kurzweil himself to benefit. It’s a criticism he answers with obvious frustration, but without breaking his stride, his
computers are everywhere, including the poorest nations of the world, and the law of accelerating returns means they get cheaper as they become more ubiquitous. The computer you just called me on is a billion times more powerful per unit currency than the one I used when I was a student, and it will be a billion times more powerful again in another 25 years.” There is, however, a great deal of mystery surrounding the exact nature of life after the Singularity. Kurzweil notes that this is unavoidable: that beyond a certain number of exponential increases in technology, and the associated effects on our lives, we can know nothing for certain except that humanity will be very different to how we understand it now. Therein lies a problem he has faced for decades: asking people to open their minds to ideas that set every fiber of conventional wisdom ringing with alarm never gets easier. There’s a scene in Transcendent Man, for example, in which Kurzweil explains his theories on solar
“The computer you just called me on is a billion times more powerful per unit currency than the one I used when I was a student.” voice never losing the monotone timbre that suggests he may already have begun merging with his software. “Kevin is thinking linearly,” he argues. “He assumes that the necessary precursors just aren’t there, and I agree with that: the precursors aren’t there, but that would only be a problem if progress were linear, and it’s not. Halfway through the Genome Project, people started panicking because it had taken seven years to complete one percent of the genome, and they believed that therefore it would take 700 years to complete the whole thing. But they were ignoring the fact that progress was exponential, not linear. The whole project was finished seven years later.” The law of accelerating returns underpins many of Kurzweil’s beliefs – the exponential rate of development, he claims, means that we’ll see 200,000 years of advancement in the twenty-first century alone. “When I came to MIT [in 1967] it had one computer; you needed influence to get inside the building and you had to be an engineer to use it,” he recalls. “Now
72 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
energy to Colin Powell. Solar energy technology, says Kurzweil, is doubling in efficiency every two years, and is only eight doublings away from being capable of filling 100 percent of America’s energy needs. Powell regards him with a look of cautious optimism steadily subsumed by skepticism, but Kurzweil persists, knowing that deep-rooted notions are the hardest to displace. “This is another of these myopic views: that we’re running out of energy, that we’re running out of food and water. That’s nonsense: we could have 10,000 times more energy than we need from the sun, all of it free, if only we could convert it, and our ability to do that is increasing as we approach the point where we can apply nanotechnology to solar panels. Same with water: 98 percent of the world’s water is salinated or dirty, but we’re increasingly capable of cleaning it thanks to emerging technologies.” Kurzweil blames the prevailing notion of a world going to hell in a handbasket on increased visibility.
A computer that fits on a pen tip can monitor eye pressure for glaucoma patients and send data to a computer. It consumes 5.3 nanowatts of energy and stores up to a weekâ€™s worth of information.11
If there’s a battle in Fallujah or Tripoli, we’re there, he says, on our laptops or PalmPads, facing the human tragedy of the situation in ways we never could before. In reality, the number of deaths in wartime has plummeted since the mechanized wars of the twentieth century; he also cites strong evidence to support the idea that democratic nations don’t go to war with each other, and has watched the recent revolutions in the Middle East with great optimism, not least because of the role played by social networking technology in destabilizing former dictatorships. “In The Age of Intelligent Machines, I predicted that the Soviet Union would be swept away by the thenemerging decentralized communication network. People didn’t believe that a superpower could be overcome by a few Teletype machines. The battle was won by a clandestine network of hackers that kept everyone in the know. The old paradigm of the authorities grabbing a central TV or radio station and plunging everyone
envisages a ‘Terminator scenario’: intelligent machines calling the shots, humans reduced to the role of slaves or exterminated altogether. Hugo de Garis, former head of Xiamen University’s Artificial Brain Laboratory, has written at great length on what he calls the ‘Artilect War’: a worldwide conflict between those resisting and those submitting to the new AI. It’s a war that Kurzweil quips would resemble the American military fighting the Amish, yet some are already spearheading pockets of resistance – including Bill McKibben, author of Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, and advocate of the anti-technology ‘relinquishment’ movement. “I think relinquishment is a bad idea for three reasons,” says Kurzweil. “Firstly, it would deprive us of profound benefits. I think we have a moral imperative to try to cure cancer, for example, and overcome the suffering that still exists in the world. Secondly, it would require a totalitarian government to implement a ban on technology. And thirdly, it would force these technologies underground,
“You have to be an optimist to be an inventor or entrepreneur. I’m not oblivious to the dangers, but I’m optimistic that we’ll make it through without destroying civilization.” into the dark just didn’t work anymore. And now, with the rise of social networking and young people being able to compare their own ways and standards of living with others, everybody wants the same thing. It’s a powerful democratizing force, and it’s bringing the nations of the world closer together all the time.” Set against these faintly utopian scenarios are some increasingly audible voices of warning. There’s the philosophical question of how much man can merge with machine before the essence of humanity itself is lost (Kurzweil counters that transgressing limitations is what defines humanity), but there are more pressing concerns from critics who offer convincing reasons why the Singularity could well bring about the end of human life altogether. Kevin Warwick, a cybernetics professor at the UK’s Reading University made famous by Project Cyborg (in which a series of electrodes inserted under the skin allowed him to remotely control everything from lights and heaters to a robotic hand that mimicked his own),
where they would actually be more dangerous.” Kurzweil is remarkably sure of himself when it comes to accelerating humanity’s race toward the Singularity. He simply has no interest in the suggestion that what should be done ought to be given the same consideration as what could be done. His boundless belief has brought him under fire from those, including Wired’s Kelly, who liken his single-mindedness to that of a modern-day prophet, and raise the possibility that it may be Kurzweil’s own certainty that the Singularity is inevitable that causes it to become so. In turn, Kurzweil advocates the implementation of ethical standards like the 1975 Asilomar guidelines for biotechnology, or online defenses against software viruses, which have an excellent success rate against those looking to turn technology against its users. “You have to be an optimist to be an inventor or entrepreneur,” he concludes. “I’m not oblivious to the dangers, but I’m optimistic that we’ll make it through without destroying civilization.”
Quick Share To access the articles in the book on your cell phone, or to share them, use these QR codes. Open up a QR reader on your phone, snap a picture of the code, and technical magic will do the rest. (If you donâ€™t already have a QR reader installed, you can grab one from your phoneâ€™s app market.) title / executive_insight
title / the_knowledge
title / the_pursuit_ of_apiness
title / next_gen_innovators
title / the_eight_pillars_ of_innovation
title / the_science_fiction_ behind_ search
title / sci-fi_that_foretold_ the_future
title / time_for_change
title / room_to_think
76 T HI N K I N N O VA T I O N
Quantify: Innovation Index Where we found our facts.
title / route_to_2015
title / missions_that_matter
title / practical_magic
title / favorite_innovations
title / innovation_spaces
title / transgressive_man
1. Social Media Users Grapple with Information Overload. USA Today, 2/1/11 2. Spain Pioneers QR Codes to Track Ancient Artifacts. RWW, 1/24/11 3. Importing Job Growth. Economist, 9/17/10 4. Reproductive Rights. World Population Foundation 5. Marissa Mayer at DLD, 1/24/11 6. Hans Vestberg, CEO of Ericsson, 3/23/11 7. Wireless of the Future. Popular Mechanics via Google Books, 10/1909 8. Dialing with Your Thoughts. MIT Technology Review, 4/12/11 9. Swiping Is the Easy Part. NYT, 3/24/11 10. Social Media Users Grapple with Information Overload. USA Today, 2/1/11 11. Toward Computers That Fit on a Pen Tip: New Technologies Usher in the Millimeter-Scale Computing Era. University of Michigan, 2/2011
title / quantify_innovation
IS INNO VATIO N THINK QUARTERLY WHE N AND MAKE – A Wise Person, 2011 Welcome to the InnovatIon Issue 06 THINK INNOVATION