On being an intrapreneur

The heroic figure of the entrepreneur/founder is very similar of the heroic artist, pitting their vision against the world. The persistent romanticization of the sole innovator still has incredible cultural interest but there are plenty of other paths to innovation.

In the past couple of years with interest I have notice the increasing frequency of the term intrapreneur in the pages of business and tech publications such as Forbes, Wired and TechCrunch.  Defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “a person who while remaining within a larger organization uses entrepreneurial skills to develop a new product or line of business as a subsidiary of the organization”(1).  The term’s first usage can be traced back to a paper written by Gifford III and Elizabeth Pinchot in 1978, and has been kicking around in mainstream business publications since the mid eighties TIME feature “Here come the Intrapreneurs”.  The article featured the creation of Apple and internal innovations in corporate giants General Motors, AT&T and DuPont.  With renewed interest in everything innovation and tech, large companies are more than ever looking to bring new ideas from start-ups, which themselves have built on processes from agile software development and design.

Design Thinking: human centered innovation

Design Thinking: human centered innovation

Perhaps you fancy yourself as a future entrepreneur or you are returning to being an employee after an entrepreneurial venture or just enjoy being a specialist – despite the hype around tech company founders – there is no need to let having a boss stop you from flexing some innovation muscle. Continue reading

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Hacks for creative habits or how to solve an existentialist crisis

Artists and creative sorts have a unique set of skills that they need to develop for a successful practice. Not only do we need to realise novel and innovative concepts, but also intensely manage time and resources. Unfortunately just the same intense creativity that emerges at the ‘edge of chaos’ is also capable of sabotaging this process.


The term ‘edge of chaos’ has a number of usages, in this case I use Stuart Kauffman’s*, a theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher, ‘mathematical models of evolving systems in which the rate of evolution is maximised near the edge of chaos’.  As many artists will have experienced, this dance at the edge of chaos produces the most vivid results – but how do you know that you have reached the edge of chaos and stability, if you don’t occasionally go over it? Continue reading

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Activating your organization’s Social Graph

Activating your Social Graph can be an effective strategy for any company that has the organizational desire to make an impact in the social web. But start-ups and arts organizations (or anyone with a $0 marketing budget) this post is for you!

Nodus Labs: Facebook volunteer group network visualization in Gephi

As part of an in-bound marketing strategy, that is, the marketing channels you don’t have to directly ‘pay’ for, activation of your Social Graph is just one possibility.  With some time, skills and social smarts you can generate a fantastic level of new interest and engagement for your organization.

Definition time: the Social Graph of an organization is the network of relationships in your community,  in this context, online.  Users, customers, investors, employees, board members, founders, suppliers, supporters, their social influence and connections all contribute.  The activation bit, is creating dialogues and narratives, encouraging connections and genuine engagement, that expand the breadth and depth of your community.

When you are small and trying to make a big splash your biggest enemy is indifference.  In my experience, curiously, it is always the most interesting people, working on interesting projects that spend the most time hand-wringing about being judged / blowing their own trumpet / agonising over every sentence in a blog post.  Stop it!  Want to know what is more embarrassing?  When your funding runs out and no one cares! Continue reading

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Lean Startup for artists: rethinking funding opportunities in the arts

I am fascinated by the intersection of disruptive and creative innovation.  The potential of impossible things, link and draw interesting similarities between disruptive innovation and artistic production.  Whether disrupting markets, technology, social or cultural contexts, both seek to bring into material reality the previously un-imaginable.

Make Test Learn: The Lean Startup

Made by Many: Make, Test, Learn

One of the other less glamorous similarities is that for both artists and innovation start-ups the constant pursuit of funding to continue their practice.   Even when funding is acquired it is often limited, so it is imperative to find methods for creating quickly and efficiently.  Now I know a whole bunch of artists who approach their practice with incredible entrepreneurial skill, and plenty who don’t and are happy with their choice. But what I often hear from artists is dissatisfaction with the lack of funding and opportunities, but not much in a further discourse.  Why are artists (as creative sorts) not creatively reimaging the paradigm of the business end of art to get a better deal? Continue reading

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Hack, execute, scale: Company building in a disrupted market

My Berlin Web Week started appropriately at the Pub Summit with Tech Crunch Editor Mike Butcher posing the question, well shouted from a table top, “Berlin, is it all hype?”  For those outside the self-referential Berlin bubble, this is the ongoing question whether Berlin is/becoming the Silicon Valley of Europe.  But what defines a replication of Silicon Valley anyway?  (And does it even matter?)  The heart of this question is relevant for any tech eco-system that has aspirations to emulate the consistent technology innovation (and wealth) of the Valley.

hack, scale, execute: Alice Mrongovius

Berlin while home to hundreds of different types of start-ups is still defined by execution-focused incubators such as Rocket and newer players, Team Europe and Project A (amongst others).  All these companies do very well from bringing low risk products with proven business models to market.  So as you can imagine at Web Week conferences such as Heureka and NEXT, there was a lot of talk about company building, raising capital, the methods and value of execution.  The message was loud and clear – you can’t have a functioning business with out great execution.

As a creative sort I know that ideas are cheap (there is no shock value left in that for me!), you have loads of them all of the time and most of them, while very entertaining aren’t that good for more than a giggle.  Choosing which ideas to execute and the execution itself are of course the main features of any business decision, in any industry.  But during the course of Gründerszene’s Heureka conference I was surprised to hear Luckasz Gadowski, Team Europe founding partner proclaim, “if you want innovation, be an artist” (I don’t think he meant it in a good way either.)  In the showmanship of the moment I think there was an exaggerated flippancy to this comment, but it does demonstrate the prevalent ideology of process innovation in German companies.  But when did tech business become just about execution rather than getting excited by disruptive innovation and great products?  Surely these properties of enterprise should work harmoniously (with many other factors).  So why put innovation at the opposite end of the scale to execution? Continue reading

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Creating Collaborative Environments

Through all of my experiences as an artist I am still in awe of the collective intelligence of collaboration and the unexpected results it can bring.  Working collaboratively is a standard artistic practice and artists have a deep wealth of knowledge in this field, navigating project deadlines while remaining open to the potential, risk and inspiration that collaboration can bring.  As companies seek creative innovation (and profits), this knowledge can be applied to innovate and creatively solve problems not only in product and marketing, but also in traditional business departments such as finance and operations.  The growing conversation around the future of work techniques such as developing an organisation’s internal collective intelligence and collaborative practices to include the input of customers, suppliers and even competitors are now vital to remain competitive.

collaborative environment

One strategy towards nurturing a collaborative culture is the creation of collaborative work environments.  Beyond assisting adoption of new work practices, as the new environment is a constant reminder of the culture change, collaborative environments also have unique and measurable benefits for organisational problems such as crippling communication overheads, managing large-scale collaboration and staff ownership of tasks and workflows.

In an early stage of developing his PhD, ‘Stigmergic Collaboration: A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration’, Mark Elliot founder of collabforge, poses the question: “Could a collective creative process become a medium in its own right, subject to the design interests of a ‘composer’?”[1]   From his wealth of knowledge in artistic collaboration, Elliot develops this exploration into the mechanics of the collaborative process and how it scales.  As opposed to the traditional form of collaboration (that we have all experienced) which involves social negotiation to reach consensus, the core concept explored is stigmergic collaboration.  That is, the “indirect communication between agents which is coordinated through interactions with their local environment”[2]; originally observed in termite mounds among other swarm phenomena as the method of collaboration. Continue reading

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If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” Kurt Vonnegut

Simple pleasures have always been an important feature of my life.  My dad, also a particular Vonnegut fan too I must add, instilled this joy through his pleasure of a ripe banana that is just so; or the ritual of having breakfast watching the birds in the garden; or a sudden break into a skip; or discussing with me the joy of eating raw broccoli, for the record it because it tastes like the colour green more than anything else.

If this isn't nice I don't know what is: positive rituals

It seems so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and hustle, constantly fixated on the things we are yet to acquire.  Constantly moving the bar of success and the happiness we assume that comes with it just beyond our grasp.  For artists added to this it that there is no set way to create a successful outcome, in fact making it all the more unlikely if it has already been done.

Desire and ambition are incredible forces that can muster huge amounts of energy to generate projects, ideas and outcomes, but life is not so simple as to will something to be.  Obstacles are also a set feature and the pressures of limited resources such as time, energy and money, can make us feel completely out-of-control and off-course of where we ‘ought to be’.   Actually the more capable and ambitious we are, the more destructive this force can become. Continue reading

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Disruption and the in/compatible

Accustoming people to seek out the unexpected is not only a challenge in developing audiences for art but in developing innovation adoption. It is in this space beyond our ‘comfort zone’ where the source of disruptive innovation and social change exists.comfort zoneA disruptive innovation is defined by wikipedia (the open source and collaborative definition) as an innovation “that creates a new market by applying a different set of values, which ultimately (and unexpectedly) overtakes an existing market”.  Disruptive innovations beyond creating new markets propose new modes of social interaction with technology innovation. I am particularly fascinated with this method when it used to generate the experience of discomfort to elicit critique. Our transformation of behaviours in relation to especially communication technology has been so rapid and so deeply personal, it makes this a ripe area to question models of interaction and possible manipulations.

Art and technology have an interesting bond in this field, creating a ‘sandbox’, a site of experimentation that allows for a suspension of reality to participate in ‘impossible things‘. When employed in this context disruptive innovations create friction that questions our shared constructs, societal norms and expectations of behaviour, making us often painfully aware of the systems we use.  As an actual disruption to our experience these methods create the exact reactions that commercial software/communication platforms with their extensive UX testing, do everything in their power to eliminate. Continue reading

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Innovation and impossible things

I recently re-named my blog – ‘Six impossible things before breakfast”.  This is from a quote in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where Alice exasperatedly states that “one can’t believe impossible things”, to which the Queen replies “I dare say you haven’t had much practice” (see full quote below).   It is a quote that has followed me around for quite a few years now and sums up my practice of innovation and the process of developing that initial vision, these “impossible things”.

6 impossible thingsLewis Carroll’s stories played a big role in my life, not only due to my namesake, but his playfulness and skill in manipulating language, logic and challenging the constructs of what ought to be.  Later I connected Carroll’s suspense of ‘reality’ with Richard Feynman’s famous quote, “… I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”.  I couldn’t help but think that perhaps this was another example of the constraints of our language and thought limiting our ability to describe these phenomena*.  As Shimon Malin describes in his book Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum Physics and Reality, a Western Perspective, “language pulls us toward the current paradigm by forces that are as strong as they are unconscious”.

*my sister had a ongoing argument with one of her Physics lecturers, as I recall she described to me that she understood quantum mechanics in a fuzzy/out-of-focus way.  Which now I would describe as haptic knowledge.

Quantum physics has been one of the most compelling developments over the last hundred years, not only in the experimental accuracy achieved but also the philosophical implications of the results.  But to ‘understand’ this quantum ‘reality’ we need to reconstruct our perception of the universe and our ideas on how things ought to be. Continue reading

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Talking about listening – innovations in true dialogue

Still holding onto my childhood change-the-world spirit, I am fascinated by the role of conversation in developing innovation. A separate yet complimentary practice from invention, Peter Denning and Robert Dunham define innovation in The Innovator’s Way as “the art of getting people to adopt change”. This change can be social and personal (values, practices or the adoption of a new technology), organisational or institutional.

Successful innovators have the ability to sense opportunities for innovation, create a vision, offer that vision to a community, then refine the offer, and suggest paths to adoption. By offering possibilities in conversations and listening to responses, an innovator can navigate their vision to a sustained practice (that is, the change the world bit!)

talking listening

We’re all aware of the basic construct of conversation as a two way street based on talking and listening.  Everyone has their own path to finding a balance between these two main dimensions of conversation.  For me it was learning the art of listening.  I was one of those smart-arse kids who always had something to say, so much so that in my early twenties I developed chronic Laringitis.  I was sent to a throat specialist and diagnosed with polyps on my vocal chords. Instead of surgery I was assigned a speech therapist. Continue reading

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