Category Archives: Innovation

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.

Advertisements

mcwrongs

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.

toxicThe problem-solving orthodoxies they teach you in business school kill ingenuity.

Greg Galle explains why at TEDxGrandRapids.

underwear

Innovationmania obsesses over the next new thing—products, services, business models and processes—not people. But people are where ingenious, market creating, top-line growing, bottom-line shrinking, daunting-challenge overcoming solutions come from.

When Yvon Chouinard directed his team at Patagonia to eliminate the plastic their underwear was sold in, he didn’t ask for packaging innovations. He didn’t need to. His seemingly impossible challenge required them to rethink their assumptions about how customers bought underwear, how customers used it, and how they discovered it in stores.

As a result, Patagonia didn’t invent a new packaging material—which would have meant significant research, development, and production costs for the business. Instead, Chouinard’s team came up with a practical answer that eliminated 12 tons of landfill choking materials, drove costs down by hundreds of thousands of dollars—and raised underwear sales at Patagonia by 30%. What was their ingenious solution? The rubber band.

patagonia_rubberband

This solution not only resonated with Patagonia’s deep environmental roots, but also gave customers the chance to handle the underwear and discover its quality.

What does Chouinard get that other CEOs don’t? He believes that with every paycheck, he is renting his people’s ingenuity. So he’s built a company where he not only encourages every employee to come up with ingenious solutions—he expects them to. In return, he benefits from everyone’s ability to solve business and environmental challenges with what’s at hand—in clever, new, and useful ways.