Out of the Box Thinking

[via Veer and Anish] Ubiquity has an interview with Andrew Hargadon, the author of “How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth about How Companies Innovate”. Andrew has some interesting things to say about how innovation happens:

Innovation is the practical exploitation of any novel idea. Novel ideas can be inventions in the strict definition of the term, which means they didn’t exist before, but most often they’re not. Instead, they’re based on taking an idea that’s been developed somewhere else — or combining a number of existing ideas — and introducing them to a market that hasn’t seen those combinations before.

By focusing on recombining existing ideas — rather than inventing new ones — we can better exploit the sources of innovation and, at the same time, increase the likelihood of their impact. It’s much easier to think of things that have already been done and, when you introduce those ideas into new markets, they are already well developed. The trick is putting yourself or your firm into position to be the first to see these opportunities. Highly successful firms have developed a set of innovation strategies, called Technology Brokering strategies, that enable them to move between different worlds, to see how ideas from one market’s past can be used in new ways in another market.

[There are two critical two roles of brokering.] The first is to bridge different worlds by moving between industries, markets and knowledge domains and seeing the range of existing ideas that are already out there. The second role is to build a new community around the ideas to attract not only customers but also competitors and suppliers. Don’t focus on inventing and hoarding the rewards of that invention but instead on creating a community that wasn’t there before.

It’s much easier to recognize the similarities between two things (analogy) rather than come up with something that you’ve never thought of (invention). Solving problems with analogies means having an open mind, it means having seen many different things, and it means admitting that, whatever problem you’re attempting to tackle right now, you’re likely neither the first to try nor the most qualified. Somebody somewhere else has already solved this problem. Find out what they did and build on what they created.

Wiki to Annotate Book

Why hasn’t someone thought about this before (or perhaps someone has)? A Wiki to complement – and annotate – a book. BoingBoing points to the Wiki for Quicksilver. Another example of how social software is helping enrich the web.

From the author Neal Stephenson’s introduction:

My own view of the Metaweb is pretty straightforward: I don’t think that the Internet, as it currently exists, does a very good job of explaining things to people. It is great for selling stuff, distributing news and dirty pictures, and a few other things. But when you need to get a good explanation of something, whether it is a scientific principle, a bit of gardening advice, or how to change a tire, you have to sift through a vast number of pages to find the one that gives you the explanation that is right for you. Generally this is not a problem with the explanations themselves. On the contrary, it seems as though a lot of people like to explain things on the Internet, and some of them are quite good at it. The problem lies in how these explanations are organized.

We have been looking for a way to get an explanation system seeded for a long time, and it occurred to us that a set of annotations to my book might be one way to get it started. At first, the explanations here will be strongly tied to characters and situations in QUICKSILVER and so may be of only limited interest to those who have not read the book. However, with a few clicks we might move on to more general explanations. For example, Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle appear as characters in QUICKSILVER, and so early on we might see annotations concerning specific things that they are shown doing in the book. But later these might link to explanations of Boyle’s Law. Such an explanation need not refer to QUICKSILVER in any way, and so it could be useful to, say, a high school student who has never heard of me or my book but who needs to understand Boyle’s Law and why it is important.

What it boils down to is this: if you have come here hoping to get an explanation of something that puzzles you about QUICKSILVER, then this site should serve that purpose. If you don’t find an existing annotation that answers your question, you can request that I or someone else write one and post it.

India’s Growth

[via Reuben] WSJ writes that India is posied for faster growth and “economists expect it to join China as a powerful Asian engine.”

Government officials are predicting that India’s inflation-adjusted growth for the current fiscal year, which ends March 31, may “significantly exceed” New Delhi’s earlier forecast of 6% growth and could approach 8%. Private investment firms concur, estimating growth of as much as 7.5% and citing the potential for even faster expansion down the road.

Indians increasingly feel that their country has chosen the right balance of growing its domestic economy and its export economy at the same time. And no country, many Indians feel, is better positioned to profit from the global boom in information-technology services than their own.

Economists cite several cyclical factors as contributors to India’s growth this year. The country is enjoying an excellent monsoon season after last year’s drought, providing hundreds of millions of farmers with more cash to buy everything from cellular phones to motorcycles. Meanwhile, companies are again investing significantly in their new production facilities, after many suffered from overcapacity following an anticipated boom in the mid-1990s that never materialized. A July survey of business confidence by a leading Indian institute showed the most optimistic outlook since mid-1995.

Important structural changes in the Indian economy are also driving consumption and investment patterns. Construction of everything from ports to telecommunications networks has accelerated and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s support for a $10 billion nationwide road-construction program is expected to be a boon for cement and steel companies. Banks are reporting a 30% rise in loans to consumers and a 30%-35% increase in home mortgages, as they shift from focusing on corporate loans to the country’s growing middle class, an estimated 250 million Indians.

As Indian companies reduce costs and focus on competing with foreign firms in India’s increasingly open economy, their earnings are also improving. Investment banks such as Citigroup’s Smith Barney are projecting earnings growth of 25% to 30% among top-tier Indian companies, as they benefit from cheaper credit and growing demand for their services and products from foreign companies. In addition to operating call-centers and back-office operations, Indian companies also are increasingly being tapped to produce high-end products such as auto components and pharmaceuticals.

“In our opinion, the frontline Indian companies have never been in better shape since liberalization began in 1991,” declares a September report on the India economy by Smith Barney.