Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why don't Artists use Teams?

When we think of creative people, we often think of artists. I was recently thinking about art and artists (Cezanne is a favorite, and Winslow Homer, too). And I was also thinking about teams and creativity. And I realized something weird/different about artists (compared to entrepreneurs).

The great artists are wonderfully creative, and have great execution skills as well (to be convinced, just look at Picaso's pencil drawings, or the many drafts Matisse did of his "spontaneous" paintings).

I love to see the work of the "Masters," those geniuses that integrate both creativity and execution so well. But they are so rare. How much more great art could be created if there were a different, or multiple, systems for creating it?

What about the "not so good" artists? Those who have great vision and creativity, but aren't so world class with line, color, or perspective. Or those who are great technical painters, skilled with the use of color, but don't have an inspired view of the world. Why do they toil away, often, without recognition. [Of course, unfortunately, some of these get more recognition than I think they deserve, but that's another matter.] Going to fairs and shows, being good, but not great artists. Why not team up? Why not collaborate... thinking more of creating art as a play or movie, instead of a life's work? Why can talented musicians have bands, but not artists?

As entrepreneurs, we are lucky. If we have a gap in our abilities, and the sense to realize it, we have the opportunity to find someone who can help out. Team efforts are acceptable and encouraged. Maybe that is why entrepreneurs aren't stereotyped as lonely and alienated... and artists are.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hackers and Entrepreneurs

One of my former students, Dawn, under the duress of a graded assignment, referred to Envirofit as "a perfect hack." I wasn't sure whether this was a good or bad thing.

The popular view of hackers is that they are semi-alienated, clever people, toiling away to bring down a system. They wear black, rarely go outside, play fantasy games and, once in a while, end up on the cover of Newsweek or in court. Right? So a perfect hack would be a bad thing... and certainly not something of which I would wish to be a part, being a professor and all.

But "perfect" is such an intriguing and attractive word...(a bit like a flame to a moth)... and Dawn is such a pleasant person. What's more, she's Canadian! It just didn't seem possible that she was calling me a borderline sociopath.

So why is Envirofit a hack? For Dawn, it is both the way our retrofits are grafted on to the existing technology (a dirty old motorcycle engine) and the way our company is trying to effect systemic change.

Paul Graham seems to know quite a bit more about Hacking than I- probably because he writes software, lives in California, and went to Stanford (all clues indicating that he probably is, indeed, a hacker). He writes:

"To add to the confusion, the noun "hack" also has two senses. It can be either a compliment or an insult. It's called a hack when you do something in an ugly way. But when you do something so clever that you somehow beat the system, that's also called a hack. The word is used more often in the former than the latter sense, probably because ugly solutions are more common than brilliant ones.

Believe it or not, the two senses of 'hack' are also connected. Ugly and imaginative solutions have something in common: they both break the rules. And there is a gradual continuum between rule breaking that's merely ugly (using duct tape to attach something to your bike) and rule breaking that is brilliantly imaginative (discarding Euclidean space)."

Joseph Schumpeter said entrepreneurs play a role in the "creative destruction" necessary for economic and social advancement. Building on this, I often refer to entrepreneurs as "revolutionaries with a business model". But I think Dawn and Paul have provided me with a more positive view of hacking. Both hackers and revolutionaries seek to change a system, but hackers try to tweak the system to change itself. They rewire the system, then utilize the resources of the system to change itself. So maybe entrepreneurs are more like "hackers with a business model".

Anyway, Dawn, I'll take it as a compliment!

Friday, August 03, 2007

A New Summit?

As I have written before in this blog, I think many entrepreneurial endeavors start with asking two questions... "What Sucks?" and "How can we fix it?"

It sounds pretty simple, and yesterday I had a chance to propose it to some students at the International Development Design Summit at MIT. In fact, this summit can be used to examine this approach to design.

There are a number of meetings/conferences/summits on international/sustainable development. Lots of bright, energetic people talk about the problems of the developing world. Many of them fly in on airplanes, stay at nice hotels, and fly home. Everyone feels good- they talked about the issues, they had panels, they networked. They helped make a difference... maybe.

Well, someone might say "That sucks" because all that happened was talk. And they might then say, "what if we had a conference that had as a goal that the participants wouldn't just talk, but they would actually design a new product or service to fix a problem? Oh, and what if we actually invited lots of different types of people- engineers, designers, health workers, business people- from around the world. And had them live/eat/work/play together for a few weeks."

This is happening at MIT this month, through a summit organized by several folks at Caltech, Olin and MIT. And it is a cool experiment. Some interesting ideas are kicking around, and it remains to be seen what happens, but it is very cool that the conference is designed around a useful output besides "conferring." If this group is successful, we may need to rename these events (I hope).

UPDATE 9/11/07: Article on IDDS in NY Times.

Do you want your Sustainable to be local or global?

An interesting article in today's Grist. Seems like the UK organic certifcation board may decide that items that are flown in are not organic enough. The imbedded energy of jets and all. This presents a bit of a problem for the farmers in Kenya who have changed their practices to access the UK markets. As the Economist reported earlier this year, the whole local food thing needs more rigor. As the Kenyans point out, if one of their organic customers flies on a jet, this has a much larger footprint than their supply of organic food. In many cases, more fuel is used by the consumer driving to the store than is used to get the actual food they buy to that store. So, who's "right"? I don't know, but think it is an interesting debate, and would rather it not be solved by a certification board. Let the consumers decide. Personally, I'd buy Kenyan.