The Architect as the Innovator – a webinar review

IASA recently had a webinar entitled “The Architect as the innovator”. In my opinion it should have been entitled “The IT worker as the innovator”.

Here are some points I took from the webinar

  • Definition of innovation – think differently
  • Innovation is not only about technology
    • Processes innovation
    • Management innovation
    • Business modeling innovation.
  • Being risk averse is a hindrance to innovation
    • Innovative path – How much risk can we take and how can we manage it.

  • Challenges to innovation from an Architect (IT) perspective
    • We are more focus on projects and fighting fires
      • No time for strategic thinking
    • Architects work within rules/best practices
      • Best practices is what everyone is doing (innovation = think differently)
  • How to think differently
    • Strategic thinking
    • Creatively thinking
    • Reflective thinking
  • How can architects help in innovation (in my opinion how everyone can help)
    • Become a thought leader
    • Create a market place for ideas
    • Build collaborative partnerships
    • Build a plan/roadmap
    • Leverage other’s innovation
    • Think past technology
  • In the end innovation is about bringing value to your organization.


The “pretendtype”

I came across this terminology after watching a presentation of how Google innovate. Instead of diving headfirst into the creation of product based on an idea it was suggested to build a “pretendtype” (a.k.a “pretotype”).

The prototype for the palm pilot was actually paper wrapped on a piece of board. The palm pilot creator(s) would use this prototype to capture information for meetings.

This method serves the purpose of answering the following questions

  • Would your idea work?
  • Would you or your target audience use your product?

I actually saw the benefit of this approach. My wife proposed the idea for an iPhone app. My pretotype consist of Post-it Notes and pencil. I gave it to hear to pretend that this was the actual app to see if she would use it on a regular basis and what features are missing. So far lots of feedback.

Patterns for good ideas

I just finished Steve Johnson’s Where Good ideas come from. In the book he discusses the history of innovation and spoke about 7 patterns/keys for generation of good ideas. They include:

1. The adjacent possible – the principle that at any given moment, extraordinary change is possible but that only certain changes can occur.
2. Liquid networks – the concept that ideas are network and for ideas to flourish you need networks (ideas) to collide (a group of people meeting increases the chance of generating good ideas)

3. The slow hunch – an idea takes time to develop vs. an instant flash.

4. Serendipity – sometimes you need to be at the right place at the right time

5. Error – Some of the greatest ideas where the result of an error.

6. Expatiation – the seizing of existing components/ideas and using them for something different

7. Platforms – adapting many layers of existing knowledge/components which are not unique but when combined create something that is new or unique

When I read the book I was able to observe some subtle patterns:

  1. Write hunches down. The author talks of a common place book as used by individuals like Charles Darwin, who captured notes while on the Galapagos Islands. This can be applied today where writing ideas/hunches down is better that having them in your head. In a chapter of Andy Hunt’s Pragmatic Thinking & Learning, the author suggested that to generate great ideas one much capture all ideas. So walk around with a pen and notebook or even better use that note app of your mobile device.
  2. Take some time off – Go for a walk, change your environment and ideas may emerge. Taking some time off from the task at hand to refresh your thoughts. Steve Johnson mentioned many ideas emerged in dreams of their creators. Sometimes you need to sleep on it.
  3. Collaboration – Steve Johnson mention that a hunch may need another hunch to generate a new idea (Liquid networks). After observing this pattern I immediate saw the benefits of unLabs, code retreats or just meeting with friends at the local coffee shop. When people come together they generate ideas.
  4. Foster an environment for innovation – Many of Google’s application emerged because of their philosophy of letting employees doing side projects. Google news emerged from a side project. Ensure your organization promotes innovation – why not let your employees take a small percentage (10%) of their time to work on ideas that may benefit the organization.
  5. Cross discipline – Take up multiple hobbies or do something outside your field of expertise. I have read where many developers are also musicians. By taking up multiple hobbies you may be able to apply what you learn from one discipline to another discipline, thus fostering new ideas.