Everything is an opportunity to experiment, learn and grow—#BIF9

2013-09-18 17.07.07One of the true pleasures of BIF-9 was seeing the range of experimentation on display. Straight out of the gate we were dazzled by the wise beyond his years, Easton LaChapelle. This young man, with the earnestness of someone out to change the world took us through the development of his robotic prosthetic are and bio-feedback remote-manipulation glove (designed using an old Nintendo PowerGlove no less!). What was most remarkable about LaChapelle’s projects was how quickly he was iterating them, how much knowledge he had to acquire to make them work, and how much he is driving cost out of the equation.

This is someone for whom the pursuit of knowledge is not only valuable act in itself, this is the engine that fuels his ability to innovate.

LaChapelle’s most compelling tale arose out of a time when he was at a science fair and met a girl with a prosthetic whose single servo, single sensor, arm cost $80,000. He responded with a completely 3D printed prosthetic arm that can be produced in a week for $400, is approximately 10 lbs today (planned to be 4-5 lbs), and can be controlled using your brain. The resulting arm shook the hand of the President.

Underachiever. [Not]

Also demonstrating the power of experimentation was the the delightful Ping Fu, CEO of Geomagic. She started Geomagic as a result of the work of Chuck Hull who created the world’s largest 3D printing company. Ping Fu is creating a platform for connecting the real world with the virtual world. She demonstrated her enthusiasm for pushing he envelop of 3D printing by dressing in fashion accessories produced by 3D printing, including rocking some fantastic and other-worldly hot pink platform shoes.

2013-09-18 14.56.39She was not the only person to bring props. Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, also brought props—spacesuits, but these were not your father’s spacesuits. As an engineering professor she studies motion on earth and in space. She brought three spacesuit versions to illustrate the evolution of extravehicular space wear and to discuss the experiments conducted to produce them. Building a suit that doesn’t require the astronaut to overcome the pressure of the suit is the chief concern now that environmental considerations are fully understood. Today she and her team are considering electro-spun designer materials. Spraying asymmetry into the functional membranes layer-by-layer gives them more of the multi-directional movement they are seeking

BIF-9 was not only about experimenting in physical space, it also revealed the opportunities for learning through experimentation between physical and mental spaces

Through the work of his performance art collective, Big Nazo, Erminio Pinque demonstrated the power of changing up reality. He presented mask work and street theatre and delved into the chaos that occurs on a controlled level through that ground-level interaction.

What I’m doing is absurd on a number of levels. There was no business plan. Instead I moved forward with intensity and love of transforming spaces and moments.

The delight in seeing the Big Nazo characters next to children become children was contagious in the room. Seeing the world differently in order to shift the context launched us into whole other directions.

Paul LeBlanc, the President of Southern New Hampshire University, shared his university’s major initiative—College for America that is disaggregating the tertiary education experience. By unbundling college education, College for America is making higher education accessible to a much broader range of student participants.

The USA is behind much of EU and Canada, as LeBlanc clearly identified. He also emphatically made the case that education remains the difference-maker for intergenerational mobility. LeBlanc shared the story of Zac Sherman working making Slim Jims on the midnight shift who earned his Associates Degree for $1250 in 100 days. An exceptional example certainly but one that illustrated the power of will when the economic imbalance is addressed.

Education and a degree changes the trajectory of people’s lives.

In order to recapture that mobility something needs to change: we need to be clear about what needs fixing; we need to consider the power of disaggregation; and, we need to be clearer about how technology can be deployed.

With his pop-up Jazz trio who had not played together before hitting the stage, Carl Störmer, shared the incredibly personal story of his wife’s stroke and the power of giving over to the inspiration of improvisation. He noted that small groups mean solos for everyone – moments to shine, take individual risks—the same can be said in organization life.

Here is a little of the improvised music that Carl shared (forgive the recording, it was captured on a whim and at a distance)

Carl Störmer Jazz Trio 1

Carl Störmer Jazz Trio 2

Create a network and share. Being personal without being private. They built a network of people who could provide just-in-time support. By sharing, people know when and how to help you give you the things you really need.

Control is for beginners – Carl Stormer’s wife

Let go of the notion of where we want to go. And be open to what is going on. True of jazz and true of life. Be open to the implicit and opening order of things.

Mary Flanagan added to the mix by exploring the role of games and game play in helping people understand their world and improve it. She is exploring how people might be moved to be come an effective force for change and presented a game she worked on engage people in considering vaccination—POX.

New technology is boundless but our greatest achievements lie not so much in our breakthroughs but in how these breakthroughs are used to better the world around us.

Her card game, Buffalo, was a fantastic low-tech demonstration of how a game might address stereotypes in sciences.  It directly tackled, Social Identity Complexity. The purpose of the game was to open receptivity to learning about complex social identities. Flanagan believes we can change, even without the desire to want to change. This game helps people recognize their own prejudices based on availability bias. In recognizing that we can begin to change it.

The most surprising storyteller who revealed the power of experimentation as a learning opportunity was the Chief Marketing Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, David Butler. Butler showed how even the largest of enterprises can learn how to experiment and capitalize on their size as a platform for innovation.

Start-ups know how to start but not how to scale. Big companies know how to scale but not how to start.

Butler illustrated the differences between start-ups and larger enterprises…

Start-ups know how to start:

  • Developing assets
  • Rapid learning
  • Exploration
  • Pivoting
  • Lean

Enterprises know how to scale:

  • Leveraging assets
  • Network effects
  • Execution
  • Planning
  • Big

 

To demonstrate how serious Coke is about tackling the start-up mindset, Butler shared the wealth of experiments that they have launched or are about to:

Coke is the first non-tech company that has joined the Start-up Weekend events and sponsoring 10 Maker-focused weekends. They are sponsoring the first start-up weekend in Myanmar. They have created a co-working space inside Coke and are hosting a series of in house unconferences. On top of that they are hosting their first failure conference and first Hackathons inside Coke.

If a company like Coke, founded in 1886, has developed this mindful approach to experimentation and learning, there is no excuse for any other large enterprise not to reinvent itself.

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