Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity

Brain Pickings • August 1, 2011

Nothing comes from nothing. Check out this presentation by strategist and social media expert Maria Popova on the building blocks of creativity. Whether they're called mashups, remixes or viral phenomena, great ideas languish in limbo until germinated by just the right blend of complementary creative pizazz. Popova sums up her talk with a nod to the vital role that information curators play in the process: "They are our curiosity sherpas, who lead us to things we didn't know we were interested in until we . . . pay attention to them—because someone whose taste and opinion we trust points us to them, and we integrate them with our existing pool of resources, and they become a part of our networked knowledge and another LEGO piece in our combinatorial creativity."

Nicely written, but far from insightful. Her thesis is that new ideas spring from the combination of old ideas in your head. The more old ideas you have, the more likely you are to be able to combine them in new ways. She compares them to LEGO pieces, but if the comparison was accurate, then I'd be able to put a bunch of LEGO pieces in a bag, shake them up and out would come a new toy. That hasn't happened for me yet. ( LeVan)

Why Innovation Is Really a Four Letter Word

BNet  • August 9, 2011

It's all about pain. Actually it's all about pain avoidance—for your customers. Read this tale of a convenience store owner's experimentation with rearranging her product placement and think about how the same lessons could apply to your physical and online environments.

Small steps to avoid pain? Sure, but don't forget the larger picture. Some businesses are established enough the best things to do are incremental changes, but in a more dynamic environment you had better be working on something really new or you will be replaced altogether. ( Hickey)

Finding Your Next Big (Adjacent) Idea

Harvard Business Review Blog Network  • August 9, 2011

Tighten your focus. Forrester Research analyst James L. McQuivey says many companies try too hard to plan for the Big Picture, thereby losing out on small, adjacent opportunities that carry a greater chance of success. "Have the courage to set aside the ten-year future vision because there is no way you will anticipate all the adjacent possibilities that will have to combine between now and then to accurately predict what products you will sell or how you will sell them that far out."

Planners and strategists are always interested in the "next big idea"—something that will reshape the long-term future of an organization and its products and services. In this short piece, James McQuivey advises organizations to focus more attention on short-term opportunities that emerge from the combination and recombination of existing products, services, and technologies, rather than spending all of their effort trying to imagine a future too far distant to be predicted with any reliability. McQuivey emphasizes the importance of adjacent possibilities—the short-term opportunities that can be seized and acted upon now, with the resources and technologies available today, that will deliver real value to customers. Too much focus on long-term planning often leads organizations to miss valuable opportunities that can be leveraged today. So McQuivey urges planners to "obsess about today's adjacent possibilities, not tomorrow's distant improbabilities." While long-term planning is important, organizations also need to focus on opportunities to innovate in the short-term that will create value for today's customers and stakeholders. ( Lavoie)

There's No Such Thing as Big Data

O'Reilly Radar • August 9, 2011

Use it or lose. Analytics expert Alistair Croll observes that many large organizations with access to scads of customer data fail to leverage it in ways that provide a competitive advantage. Part of the problem is coming up with the right question that could be answered using the data: "Without the right questions, there really is no such thing as big data—and today, it's the upstarts that are asking all the good questions."

Cue the dragon sitting on a pile of gold with no concept of its worth. Business school case studies depend on these stories. Unfortunately, sustainability and insight don't come cheaply or instantaneously. "Big Data" or small, information needs to be intuitive. Is your data intuitive? ( Young)

The 72-Word Door

The Boston Globe • June 19, 2011

The other W3. Ever wonder why dictionary definitions appear so convoluted? The style still used in many cases today was established back in 1961 with the publication of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary Unabridged—read on for an amusing look at why the definition for "aardvark" consists of 29 words, while "door" clocks in at 72 and "hotel" at a particularly verbose 91.

"If dictionaries are tools for clarity, why is their writing so tortured?" The article's subtitle conveys the thrust of this mildly amusing piece. It is certainly true that tradition can be born of good intentions—in this case the "good" of one-phrase statements in dictionary definitions—but lexicographers now find it difficult to escape tradition-bound expectations among peers and readers. Luckily, librarians would never fall into such a trap. Can you imagine if our cataloging rules were, say, about the size of the Bible? Oh, wait . . . ( Childress)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, what is an approach to providing access to resources that are comparementalized in informaitonal silos in universities and other institutions?

Get the answer.