Good Idea + Hacker Heaven = Ingenuity

Our innovation firm, called Future, uses a discipline called “rapid ingenuity” to help organizations and companies solve big challenges. The definition of ingenuity we use is “a clever, original and practical solution to a big challenge using existing resources.” The key words that distinguish this from mere innovation are “existing resources.” In a rapidly changing world with increasing humans and diminishing resources, this distinction becomes an imperative.

So, I was really interested to recently hear Seena Zandipour tell the story about the development of Helios bicycle handlebars. Helios Bars are the world’s first integrated headlight & blinker system for bicycles. Features include smartphone connectivity (via Bluetooth® Smart), visual speedometer, GPS tracking, and turn-by-turn navigation. They also have a built-in headlight. Check out:

The back story.

Seena, with his buddies Tony Belmontes and Kenneth Gibbs, had an idea while in college to put an integrated headlight in a handlebar. If bicycles are to replace automobiles for everyday transportation, a headlight is a necessary accessory for nighttime riding. Right? But add-on headlights are easily stolen. So, duh, just build it into the handlebar itself. Seemed simple. Why hadn’t anybody done this before?

Fast forward the team to a factory in Shenzhen, China and it turned out to be too simple in fact. The team and factory engineers figured out the handlebar/headlight almost immediately and had some time to kill before returning to the United States. Coincidentally, they happened to be 2 blocks from SEG, the largest electronics mall in the world. Otherwise know as
hacker heaven.

With the help of SEG, it turned out that there were tons of existing resources available to add multiple additional features into the bars. What started out as a good idea morphed quickly into an ingenious product.

Helios is currently taking orders for several different handlebar styles. Buy a pair for your bike and help humans reclaim the urban environment and transform US cities into human-powered meccas.

Disclosure: This post was written as part of Progressive’s Apron Project, helping tell the story of people and their initiatives making progress towards a greater good. I have been compensated as a contributor to this project, but the thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.


Car + Motorcycle + Electricity + Ingenuity = Magic

We’re always on the lookout for people and organizations that are finding ingenious ways to drive positive change. So, recently we had the opportunity to visit a cool little technology start-up in San Francisco. No, not Pinterest, Airbnb or Dropbox. It’s a company that’s “thinking wrong” about the future of urban transportation and making Tesla look conventional and old-school in comparison.

Founded by Daniel Kim, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate from their industrial design program, Lit Motors is trying to figure out how to make a super efficient small and light electric car drive on 2 wheels like a motorcycle, without having to balance it yourself. Wait! What?

First, the back story. Years ago, Daniel was working as a mechanic restoring old Land Rovers in Portland, OR. One night, while working underneath the frame of a Rover, something slipped and the heavy vehicle dropped to the garage floor. Daniel was able to escape getting crushed but it started him thinking that while the Rover was a sturdy and able off-road SUV, it was insane to haul that amount of steel around for everyday transportation.

Fast forward a few years and viola, Lit Motors. A potentially ingenious solution to a big transportation challenge that is looming in front of us. Increasing numbers of drivers in densely populated developing countries, diminishing reserves of fossil fuel, and carbon related climate change to name a few.

At Future, we define ingenuity as “a clever, original and practical solution to a big challenge using existing resources.” It’s a more rigorous standard than innovation because of the focus on using what you have at hand, like Macgyver in the 80’s tv series. Innovative solutions are good. Ingenious solutions are better. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how Lit Motors fits into our 6 ingenuity practices.

1. Be Bold
Take on the existing automobile industry and find a better, more efficient, less polluting, and more fun way to move people around cities.

2. Get Out
Escape the orthodoxies and conventions of the status quo. San Francisco, not Detroit.

3. Think Wrong
4 wheel car? Boring. How about gyroscope flywheels to keep a 2-wheeled vehicle as stabile as a car.

4. Make Stuff
Industrial designers think by making. Prototype, prototype, prototype.

5. Bet Small
Start with smallish projects that reflect an affordable loss.

6. Move Fast
Keep momentum. Learn from successes… and learn even more from failures. 

Best of luck to Dan and his team at Lit Motors and their crazy awesome project.

Disclosure: This post was written as part of Progressive’s Apron Project, helping tell the story of people and their initiatives making progress towards a greater good. I have been compensated as a contributor to this project, but the thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.

8dolhairsThis post is courtesy of Future collaborator Mike Burn.

I recently received an enticing email entitled “Are your meetings memorable?”

I’m a person who goes to quite a few meetings, and indeed many of them are not what I’d call memorable.  In fact, too many just suck. So as you can imagine I read on with great anticipation; having more memorable meetings would considerably improve the quality of my life. As I passed the subject line the email got better and better. They were even offering FREE LUNCH. The opportunity to learn how to make meetings more memorable, AND free lunch—wow! What could this be?

By now, I’m imagining what could make a meeting memorable…something totally unexpected, radically different from the humdrum monotony of dungeonesque hotel conference rooms graced with vomit patterned carpets and the remnants of duct tape from meetings past. I’m imagining light years beyond the bulk-ordered brass wall sconces and the beige assortments of chicken-or-eggplant steamed and served from vats. I’ve almost forgotten the indignity of the $8 cookies. Seriously, some hotels charge 8 whole dollars for cookies at events!

I clicked through to the website—the 50 Best Venues for Events—and clicked on Chicago, a cool city filled with museums, parks, quirky neighborhoods, universities, botanic gardens, galleries, restored industrial spaces and oodles of historic buildings. I’m thinking, “This is going to be awesome, some inspiring and memorable places!”

Nope.  Wrong. A list of truly uninspiring f*&k you hotels—Marriott’s, Hyatt’s, Doubletree By Hilton’s, the big Hilton’s themselves, et cetera, et cetera, blah, blah, blah. Here’s one of the images from the website for a “memorable location.”

*Note*     We have not changed the quality of this image!

That, I’m sure you’ll agree, would make for an extremely memorable meeting; especially for the person who gets to sit with a 9 degree view of the screen, two feet away from a speaker near the door—the definition of receiving the cold shoulder.

I read further, and discovered these event locations were not the promised miracle solution to making events memorable—that would be technology. More precisely, a “robust SaaS platform [that] can help you lower your venue costs, support integrated marketing campaigns, increase attendance, and enhance attendee communication.”

Talk about ingenious—I had no idea that the lack of one of those SaaS platforms was the culprit responsible for merging all my meetings and events into one giant blob of torturous forgetfulness!  Now that I think about it, of course I can see that support for integrated marketing campaigns was the one thing that would have made them more memorable for me. Forget the human experience.

Here’s an alternate approach if you want to have a memorable meeting—GET OUT.


Pick an unexpected location: a park, a museum, even someone’s back yard. Bring a blanket and let people bring their dogs.  When it’s coffee time have a local coffee shop show up with some specialty coffees, get some cupcakes from a nearby bakery and have a taco truck show up for lunchtime, or give people vouchers to local restaurants and let them Get Out from your Get Out.

How will you project your PowerPoint? You won’t. And people will thank you, and remember you for it. It’ll even save you money…no $8 cookies.


Here’s an industry secret worth billions. Consultants like to use the term “best practice” to describe what the rest of us would call a precedent—just a method that has worked, before, somewhere else.

This isn’t to say best practices are useless. Precedence is great when you understand the challenge you’re facing and want to repeat a solution—say, when you want to select brakes for a train (or brakes for anything, really) or when choosing an open heart surgeon. But if you’re trying to outpace competition, solve a long-term problem that doesn’t seem to go away, or tackle a challenge you’ve never seen before…applying precedent is not so helpful. Precedence is not disruption, and is not meant to be.

But too often, consultants dress up plain precedence and offer it as an ingenious driver of organizational change—a glaringly obvious contradiction. Most of the time, there’s nothing better about a “best” practice, and you could say that consultants have found a clever way of selling old rope for new prices.

The truth is, these precedents don’t offer the potential for ingenious ideas. They only replicate the past.  So, if you want to unlock new ideas—stop thinking right, and start thinking wrong.

shelThis post is courtesy of Future collaborator Adam Butler.

Shel Silverstein was definitely a natural wrong thinker. He was never one to play things politically correct. Hell, he wrote the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue”.

If you grew up in the 70s, you likely grew up with his poems. They are infused with an utter lack of appreciation for the status quo and plenty of sardonic truth about human nature—a timeless combo. I read them to my sons now.

We all laugh a lot at the absurdity of his situations and his spunky images. But sometimes my mind drifts, and I end up chasing the depth of Shel’s words. And just when I arrive at the understanding my boys yell “Read another one!”

This poem by Shel is for you.


Goodness, innovation, and creativity always lie off the beaten path, so start there. Anything can be—if you are willing to Be Bold.

Ingenuity begins where the sidewalk ends.

pantsThis post is courtesy of Future collaborator Mike Burn.

When was the last time you thought about how to put on your pants?

Chances are, it wasn’t recently. Once you got through the comedic phase of childhood where you ate facefuls of carpet while learning the one-foot-per-pant-leg rule, you probably stopped having to think about the challenges of clothing yourself. Your grown-up brain takes care of it for you, using hardened synaptic pathways developed over a lifetime of Levi-wearing to guide your legs gracefully into your garments.

Like most adults, I have dressed myself without a thought for the last 38 years or so. And then, 2 weeks ago I underwent a major surgery. Turns out my procedure has resulted in more than a pile of insurance paperwork—it’s also caused serious upheaval for my synaptic pants pathways.

Thinking about how to put on pants is now something I spend an inordinate amount of time doing. Which leg goes on first is a vital question (answer: the bad one). Putting on underwear and trousers at the same time halves the overall effort—and elasticated waistbands, though not suave, are a must. Finding a material that slides on easily helps too. In fact, I’ve been discovering a need to reroute my synaptic responses to many basic tasks that I previously took for granted. Stairs look like honey badger infested mountains, high shelves may as well be the moon, and sitting on the floor is Hades’ underworld. But the challenges aren’t daunting–instead, they excite me.

Facing my physical limitation has brought forth a wellspring of ingenious ideas. My former solutions are painful or physically impossible, and so my dormant ingenuity reignites—the ability to invent and create is there, allowing me to jump the ingenuity gap to reach the new practical solutions I need to overcome daily challenges using what I have. The thought of re-coding my brain to be able to do something today that I couldn’t do yesterday gives me a reason to get up in the morning, not a reason to stay in bed. What’s more, the humble challenge of how to put on pants is no different from the sort of problem-solving we sometimes need in the office.

Work can be like putting on pants—you just don’t think about it anymore, and your brain takes care of it for you leaving no need (or room) to rethink. But sometimes that humdrum needs to be broken. You may be under-serving customers, falling behind competing challengers, or you may face obvious inefficiency, economic difficulties, low staff morale, or even personally find yourself in a rut. But short of getting fired or reassigned, there’s often no work equivalent of having your pelvis sliced in three to kickstart a new ingenious solution.

That’s what the Blitz Cycle is for. The six rapid ingenuity practices enable you to fire up the same parts of the brain that respond when your body needs you to find a new way to get dressed. Future Blitz helps you break the cycle of precedent to start a new cycle of learning and positive change—all without breaking any bones.  Once you start creating ingenious solutions, you won’t want to stop; it will become the reason to go to work—and isn’t that how it should always have been?