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SFIP enjoyed some very favorable local press coverage last week, in the Santa Fe New Mexican and  Albuquerque Business First (summarized below). This is especially gratifying because SFIP, while global in its outlook and desired impact, works at the community scale; and we find that northern New Mexico and Santa Fe are often great test-beds for developing community-centric solutions.

In addition, SFIP has an economic development role to play in the local economy. Indeed, its genesis was as an economic development strategy for Santa Fe, posing the question:  Can a city do technology-based economic development without a research university to draw on?  And posing the answer:  let’s position Santa Fe as a globally recognized center for creative problem solving.  The original plan called for an ambitious physical facility, that would host leading organizations in residence for extended periods to assist them with their innovation challenges.  Then came the recession… Read the rest of this entry »

An excellent post over at frog’s design mind blog (“Adapt, Jugaad, Hacking, Shanzhai or the Merits of Seeing the World As It Is Not”) makes a number of crucial points, many relevant to SFIP. Among them are the idea that innovation fads come and go (remember Design Thinking?); the insight that “wrong is right,” since true innovators always “see the world as it is not”; and the corollary observation that innovation is a mindset, rather than a process that can be administered or learned, for which serendipity is key. Author Tim Leberecht focuses in on the Indian practice called Jugaad: 

“Jugaad is a remote sibling of the Western-style hacking, the manipulation of existing products and services, and with the Chinese Shanzhai phenomenon (innovation through fast imitation) it has in common the utter disrespect for any kind of brand or management ideology. Adaptation, improvisation, rapid experimentation, fast failing, a high tolerance for ambiguity, super-flexibility… together these principles are perhaps marking the beginning of a new era of doing business, a new economy.”

It’s enough to make you think that innovation is a case of emergent behavior in a complex system (which to some extent it is), beyond influence. But I would also argue that there is room for adding structure, context, and what I’ll call method (as opposed to a process) to accelerate and diffuse innovation. As one example, SFIP’s method, based on its overall problem-solving approach, features five main themes: Read the rest of this entry »

The value of  trans-disciplinary work has been demonstrated in a number of areas, proving its capacity for driving innovation. In fact, one good definition of “creativity” is simply putting together two or more things that would ordinarily remain apart. Numerous academic centers are explicitly inter- or trans-disciplinary. Stanford, for example, is attempting to incentivize such research with a dedicated grant program; Bio-X (interdisciplinary research related to biology and medicine, including engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry, and other fields); and the d.school (for multidisciplinary innovation); note that normal academic incentives and pressures serve to compartmentalize disciplines into hyperspecialized silos. While SFIP is in the vanguard of applying trans-disciplinary techniques to practical problem solving, it is certainly not alone.

Several recent and unusual pairings bring this idea, and the general necessity of cross-sector collaboration, into sharp relief. Especially within the context of the massive and urgent changes that must be accomplished on a global scale, we may all have to learn to work with the unexpected (and even “unsuitable”) partner in order to get the job done.

For example, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate recently published Renergizing America’s Defense, which “…details steps the armed forces are taking to address their energy use and carbon emissions. Read the rest of this entry »

The recently concluded Aspen Design Summit (November 11-14) was, at least conceptually, an important trans-disciplinary event. Growing out of a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio conference on  how design can help inform and improve  social sector delivery, the hands-on workshop (sponsored by Rockefeller and the Winterhouse  Institute in collaboration with AIGA) brought together public, private, and design sector experts to work on five well-defined (and very challenging) projects with as many client organizations. Read more about the Summit, the results, and the overall problem-solving space at Change Observer here and the Winterhouse Institute here.

As the entire “design for social change” movement gathers momentum and matures, we hope to see more organizational infrastructure emerge (and this is an area of keen interest to SFIP). One of the outcomes of the Aspen event was a proposal for New Design, a soft structure linking interested design firms to philanthropic funders and  social challenges, which may be a step in the right direction. As one summit participant oberserved: “…there’s only so much you can accomplish in three days….” What if this was one part of an “Appropriate Solutions Laboratory” @ SFIP?

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