#infocampSEA: Beth Kolko Plenary Speaker

Beth Kolko gave a fantastic presentation on innovation, particularly on non expert innovation. Melding the concepts of equity and justice in product design and observing that expertise is often merely the difference between great ideas and crazy ideas (and the crazy ideas are sometimes genius), Kolko recommended The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. She cited multiple examples of so-called disruptive thinkers (non experts) begetting truly innovative ideas.

  • A 13-year old African boy invented a lion proof fence using lights to keep cattle safe.
  • A car mechanic watching a YouTube video on removing a cork from an empty wine bottle invented a low cost device for delivering babies (the Odon device) in developing countries.
  • A Detroit metal worker invented a method of flash heating steel to save energy and increase strength.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Albert Einstein

The remainder of the presentation was about making things and making connections through shared vocabulary, hands on learning and collaboration. Kolko developed the Hackedemia site (where you don’t have to be an expert to be an innovator) where projects come to life. Another site mentioned was instructables – a DIY online place to share what you invent or make.

Not surprisingly, Beth Kolko, besides being a UW professor, also has a company called Shift Labs. Simplicity can be the impetus to some pretty cool products.


#infocampSEA: InfoCamp Seattle Keynote

The theme of 2013 InfoCamp Seattle is that of mad scientists. Information people are like mad scientists. They take metadata and programming languages and taxonomies and user experience and experiment with virtual tubes and chemicals.

The keynote speaker was Joan Vermette of Mad*Pow, all the way from Maine. Many amazing takeaways from this talk which focused on UX and people. There can sometimes be a disconnect between the information experts and information users. Parkour, which is a sport based on the idea of getting from place to place most efficiently, can be paralleled to organizations and design thinking.

The best advice, which I could have used earlier in the week due to a huge client meeting, was to look at barriers or obstacles as useful and not as problems. Attitude can make an enormous difference.

But it takes practice. Strength training, by developing observational skills and mindfulness as well as empathy, can help you. Keeping logs on projects to identify and separate your feelings and reactions from the work itself can assist you to reframe your approach.

Joan mentioned the Stroop Test and Braintest as tools to flex your thinking. Above all, negotiation skills are paramount in this world of experts and consumers. The best resource on negotiation is still Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher. Steps include separating the people (who you may like or hate) from the problem, focusing on interests not positions, inventing multiple options for mutual gains and insisting that the results of any project be based on an objective standard.

In closing, Joan spoke about the game she developed called Organizational Parkour and revealed that conflict and communication issues are not interfering with our jobs, that understanding them IS our job.