Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Internet as Creativity Driver

In the April issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, a group of authors published a paper (link to PDF) with some interesting scientific evidence supporting what a lot of us have known anecdotally -- as a city grows, its creative output also grows at a faster and faster rate. Or as Deborah Byrd writes in her EarthSky blog:
They found that the creative output of cities grows in a way that is superlinear, meaning as the city grew its creative output grew faster and faster.
Deborah also points to a longer popular article on the topic at

I started thinking about the dynamics underlying the increased creative output from people living in cities and how they might apply to understanding the Internet. In cities communications time is reduced, practitioners in like fields can more easily find each other and collaborate, and there is a regular introduction of diverse thinking into city dwellers activities. The Internet is even more effective at shortening communications and helping connect like minds. But does it provide the serendipitous introduction and exposure to new ideas and different ways of thinking? Or maybe another way to ask this is, how can our use of the Internet replicate the best aspects of living in cities so that it can be a super-enhancer of this "city-effect" on creativity?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wharton West Bandwidth

wharton bandwidth
Originally uploaded by Ted Shelton
Here I am at Supernova2007, along with hundreds of other highly connected colleagues, all beating on the Wharton West network as hard as we can... And it is crumbling under the load. Maybe it isn't this bad when students are here trying to learn, but Internet Frog ( tells me that network reliability is down to 19% and bandwidth... sucks. Hopefully Wharton West will get this problem fixed before Supernova2008!

A Second Life For All

I was privileged to be interviewed yesterday by Annette Moser-Wellman for a project she is doing for Northwestern University’s Media Management Center on innovation. She was very kind to put up with my rambling thoughts for an hour - I bet the audio is edited down to about 10 minutes! How much more efficient would I be if I could self edit down to the interesting 10 minutes ;-) But here I am rambling again and what I really wanted to write about this morning is Second Life.

One of the things that Annette asked me about was how to lead an organization to be innovative. In answering this question I observed that there are people that are more likely to be innovative and people that are less likely to be innovative -- so you can't just lead any given group of people to be innovative. As an example of this I went on a tangent (yes, too many tangents is why my 10 minutes took 60+ minutes...). The tangent was about how people deal with innovation. I mangled a quote from Douglas Adams which with the help of Google I can now bring you from the Douglas Adams website:
1) everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you're thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it's been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
Then I went on a further tangent to reminisce about how I would argue with people when the fax machine first appeared in general business circles (only 30 years ago) about whether or not every business would ultimately have a fax machine. And then in the early 1990s I tried to convince people that eventually everyone would have an email address on their business cards ("just like we now have fax numbers"). And websites, and etc. At each step of the way, there were a set of people that said "no way, don't need 'em" -- my argument was that a sense of curiosity and imagination about the future is a key component to innovative people and some people have that and some people don't. You might be more likely to find this characteristic in younger people (Douglas Adams' point) although some young people are close minded and some older people are open minded.

This tangent of course led me to another tangent -- what is the example of something now that most of the business community rejects but, like fax machines and email addresses and websites, will be an accepted part of our business environment in 5-10 years? The example I came up with was virtual worlds, like Second Life.

Yep, a whole bunch of you out there are saying, huh? Second Life? That "game" thing? Yes, Second Life or something that looks like it is going to be an important part of your business life in the future. Don't believe me? I just saw my first business card two weeks ago with a second life ID on it. That made me start thinking about why this is going to become an important business tool. That made me go start spending time "in world" as the locals say, trying to understand what it is today and what it is going to become in the future.

Here is a really simple formula -- there are mediums to which people willingly give their attention. TV, Radio, the Internet, now Second Life. Anywhere people are willing to give their attention is a place that marketers will want to be with their marketing messages. Where marketers go, a whole service chain will follow. And when all of these parts of the service chain get involved, new market opportunities are created that go well beyond the initial impulse to participate in the medium.

Second Life creates a virtual space that facilitates interactions between physically distributed teams and introduces a set of tools that encourage innovation, creativity, and engaged collaboration. Already there are classes, press conferences, parties, financial transactions and a lot of entertainment (from G to XXX rated) going on all over the virtual space of Second Life. Just like in your first life, there are different times and places for different kinds of activities.

Go ahead, pooh-pooh the idea that you will be doing business in a virtual world. After all, its against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization.