Innovation as a Laboratory Experiment


Duncan Watts at the MIT Technology Review, recently posted an article called ‘The Scientific Method in Business.’

He argues that business is frequently run on existing data or on the instincts of its leaders, both of which have drawbacks.

Replicating the conditions of a controlled experiment is often difficult or impossible in business or policy settings, but increasingly it is being done in “field experiments,” where treatments are randomly assigned to different individuals or communities. For example, MIT’s Poverty Action Lab has conducted over 400 field experiments to better understand aid delivery, while economists have used such experiments to measure the impact of online advertising.

One application he does not mention is in the development of products and services. 

The approach designers take to their work has a lot of the scientific method in it.  A designer might not tell that they go about creating a hypothesis and testing that hypothesis against other conditions, controlling for all variables except the one in which you are interested.  They do, however, conduct a great many experiments.

We do gather understanding about a space.  We also build a set of rules or an understanding of that space.  Then we start to make guesses about what would happen if we introduced something new to that space.

We build prototypes and test them.  We make models and put them in people’s hands.  We walk through a process or a job in a new way to see how it turns out.  Then, we act on what we learn—frequently by creating new models and trying again.

Learn.  Conceive.  Create.  Test.  Go back to step one.

This is the same king of thinking Eric Reis argues for in the Lean Startup.

As Duncan Watts points out, many other kinds of business decisions do not allow the luxury of that kind of experimentation.

Maybe that is why some companies avoid it in product development as well.

Our Stuff Will Tell Us Stories

Over at Flip the Media, Cynthia Andrews has a story on Josh Coulson, a data-based story teller at LinkedIn.

His focus is on the interface between big data and stories.   Companies are already using our activity on the web to send us targeted marketing.  He thinks we’re just getting started:

“The internet of things will bring about a whole new level of data that will enable companies to offer new products and services to each consumer based on their needs. We will continue to tell stories driving the level of intelligence in common decision-making further.”

So our stuff will know our habits and needs and we will get marketing messages that are tailored accordingly.  Not sure if I want my toaster sending me adds about whole grain bread.

Still, that worries me less than messages from my toilet.

Is Software Outrunning Hardware?

Are software algorithm inventors making Moore’s Law look slow?

Steve Lohr argues it is in Software’s Progress beats Moore’s Law, over at the New York Times.

Lohr cites…

research, including a study of progress over a 15-year span on a benchmark production-planning task. Over that time, the speed of completing the calculations improved by a factor of 43 million. Of the total, a factor of roughly 1,000 was attributable to faster processor speeds, according to the research by Martin Grotschel, a German scientist and mathematician. Yet a factor of 43,000 was due to improvements in the efficiency of software algorithms.

So software is gaining speed 43 times faster than hardware?

Of course, how much of this translates into the kind of software you and I use is a completely different question.  Still, I’m pretty surprised.

Shop for Tranlucent Wood at Inventables

Translucent Wood

They call themselves as the Innovator’s Hardware Store.  They are Inventables.

They got a recent mention in Fast Company.

You can buy translucent wood, multi-directional wheels or oil absorbing fabric.

There have great descriptions that detail properties and existing uses.  This is a great source for material ideas for solving design problems.

Actually, I’d just like to have a few of things from the website to try out.

Green + Innovation Festival – Review by On the Vine Creative

This past weekend I attended the Green + Innovation Festival at Hartwood Acres.  This festival had everything I loved: Llamas, chickens, rain gardens, autonomous vehicles, solar panels, and DIY crafts! I left the festival with a ton of useful information, a few free books from the library, and a couple of fantastic new contacts.

Stephanie Rexroth, writer for On the Vine Blog, wrote a fantastic review on the Green + Innovation Festival that goes into detail about the vendors and groups who were there. The review is thorough, so if you missed the festival you’ll get all your information here:

Ramblings, ravings & reveries | On The Vine: Green + Innovation = Awesome