Get Shouty

If not you, then who?
August 15, 2007, 8:43 am
Filed under: Zeitgeist

I was reading Rob Campbell’s post The Difference Between Science Fiction And Fiction Is Time, and, well it made me really quite shouty….

I’m a huge fan of having a rant, standing on imaginary soapboxes and not holding back from either fear or favour from sharing my opinions, so I’m going to jump in with both feet on this one. He says

“creativity seems to have been pigeon holed into the ‘output’ of certain industries or arts – as opposed to being associated with anything  where the aim is to create something new/better thanks to brains and imagination and skill.
……..resulting in a World where dramatic innovation is…becoming less frequent

I call shenanigans! Does ‘the World’ think that, or just ad-wankers?

I am interested in where you would get the data supporting the statement that we live in a ‘World where dramatic innovation is…becoming less frequent’, and that young people are failing to flourish as a result.

What I’ve learned from the recent groups we’ve done with University students is that they are (in the main) exited about the dramatically changing world they live in- they talk about technology as a connecting and equalising force, that social entrepreneurship will save the world where governments can’t and that they are confident that they have the skills to navigate a world that doesn’t exist now but that they will create. They’re not waiting for anyone to facilitate their future.

Watch out. Stand back. It just doesn’t get more innovative or creative than that.

Does the Internet not count as a dramatic change and as a catalyst for dramatic change? Like social networks valued in the billions created by people under 25? Isn’t that an example of engineering , innovation and creativity?

 Today a teacher taught her first lesson in zero gravity, answering questions from school children hundreds of miles above Earth.

Teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan was also asked how being a teacher compared to being an astronaut.:

“Astronauts and teachers actually do the same thing,” she answered. “We explore, we discover and we share. And the great thing about being a teacher is you get to do that with students, and the great thing about being an astronaut is you get to do it in space, and those are absolutely wonderful jobs.”

There are so many amazing things happening. So many wonderful fields of endeavour. Science. Medicine. Policy. Literature. Technology. Social Justice. Awesomeness is happening everywhere under our noses. Check out TED. 

As advertisers and professional storytellers we have so many inspirational stories that we can draw on to inspire, inform and engage. We needn’t be limited to rock stars and rich girls.

We have the power to encourage and inspire. We can be heroes. Not ‘them’. Us.


23 Comments so far
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I think it is a general assumption that creativity is held back in this way. Maybe the problem is that the creative community isnt making it clear that they know better. Hopefully thats because they are using their brains to create something…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Ahh General Assumption…that highly decorated but oh so fascist military official..
Creativity can not held back by governments. Even under the most brutal regimes, in concentration camps, under threat of death the human spirit expresses itself.
I’m disputing your point- innovation is everywhere, the younger generation are making music, creating webpages, contributing vast amounts of opinion and content, playing strategic games that facillitate them being able to progam hundreds of interactions a minute.
What is your definition of creativity? What is your definition of innovation?

Comment by katiechatfield

I think you get me wrong… im not disputing the presence of creativity. Far from it, particularly in terms of music and art.

However, I do agree that creativity is very widely pigeon holed into “creative industries”. Why do most people not see engineering as creativity, science as creativity etc?

I wish we could demote that official. My worry is that people who could do more creative or innovative things are put off by the pigeon holing. In this country the government is considering giving people grants to take up sciences because people arent interested… thats a sad decline in an important part of innovation.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Hi Katie … exuse my laziness, but this is the same post I’ve just written on my blog. It’s a classic philosophical issue where the data to back it up can be contested by both parties regardless of who says it, where they come from and how they interpret the data.

I’m going to be in Oz soon … I don’t fancy a fight [Andy is right, I am a wimp] but I wouldn’t mind a drink?

Katie … thanks for the comment and I’ll try and explain where I am coming from with the caveat that this is a subject which is so open to interpretation that it is unlikely there will ever be a way of coming to a clear conclusion.

The other thing I need to express before I continue is that I was talking purely about technological innovation [The post was about how to encourage more people to become engineers] … I do appreciate social, cultural and economical innovation is continuing to develop at a rapid rate and I appreciate I should have maybe made that abit more obvious, ha!

OK, so what is innovation?

Well that is about as ambigious a question as you can get. What one person thinks is fresh and new, another thinks is an old idea in new clothing.

Was iPOD an innovation or a modern take on the Walkman?

Was SKYPE an innovation or a modern take on the telephone?

Was Harry Potter an innovation or a modern take on the classic archetype story?

Now you might think I am being pedantic [and I probably am 🙂 ] but these are questions that are part of the cause of the ambiguity you are calling me on.

Sure China is supplying its energy usage through the use of Wind Farms but is that really an innovation?

OK, it is societal / cultural /economic innovation – but given the technology has been there for centuries, is that something we can really claim as new?

And yes, the internet is allowing people to connect, combine and act like never before – but that’s a technology that has been around in one guise or another for a couple of decades, so is that more about cultural innovation or technological? [And then I could argue that for all the talk of us being able to now instigate massive change on a global level, there’s not been too many examples of it]

The issue I have is that much of what we PERCEIVE as innovative is more about evolution – both interms of the technology and/or the impact it has on society and/or the economy.

Sure I am basing this comment on innovation that achieves a certain level of ‘mass acceptance/acknowledgement/acclaim’ [which is where there is a massive flaw in my argument, ha] however putting medicine, the internet and the arts aside [medicine: because I acknowledge their pioneering success / internet: because I do think its impact has been nothing short of revolutionary / art: because it is too amigious to disect properly] can you really say our lives [not just our lifestyles] have been dramatically and undeniably impacted like say … the period of the last century?

I do appreciate where you are coming from and I do acknowledge I was being rather ‘dramatic’ in my statement but much of the examples you use I can counter as being evolutionary change – and while you could then counter by saying the ‘effect’ they had was societal / cultural / economic innovation, we’ll just be going round and round in circles, ha!

For what its worth, I’ve been talking about this issue with three clients of mine who all have a vested interest in this area – DISCOVERY Channel, Apple and NASA – and it always causes a massive debate mainly because invention, innovation and creativity are all open to interpretation and counter comment.

As I said, my view was based purely on technological innovation – and yes, there are more patents being registered than ever before [though we can’t forget that doesn’t mean they ever make it to production] – however interms of products that fundamentally shape the way we live [barring the elements I’ve already highlighted] people like economist Jorge Niosi, US Government Physisist Jonathan Huebner and strategic business analyst/physicist, Theodore Modis [plus a bunch of people at New Scientist] to name but a few, agree that we are not experieincing as dramatic change than that of previous centuries – even though to be fair, we’re only 7 years into this one so maybe we should all come back later and have a look then, ha!

Saying all this, I do agree with you wholeheartedly on one thing … alot of the ‘innovation’ spouted by adwankers [thanks for that] is about as innovative as an Andrew Llyod Weber musical – and surely you won’t disagree with that ‘claim’, ha!

Comment by Rob

Okay, I only got through about half of Rob’s semantic debate before my eyes started to hurt from too much strenuous rolling. Isn’t the walkman an evolution of the radio? Isn’t the telephone an evolution of the telegraph? And really, by that logic a cell phone wasn’t an innovation either. I’m quite sure that the classical archetype is just a twist on something else, too.

Innovation is in the eyes of the beholder, end of story. But, things don’t often spring from nothing. There are very few gods, but just a lot of people finding new ways to solve old problems.

So no, I’m not sure what my point is. But I do know that I could live without my walkman, and I can’t without my ipod, skype is pretty cool, and harry potter would make a damn good magician.

Comment by Paul McEnany

Hello Paul … yes, you’re right that innovation is in the eye of the beholder but to me that is one of the critical issues because too many companies spout NEW when it is anything but and consumers are growing in their cynicism of ‘hype’.

The truly sad part is that many companies are not listening to the people, so they continue to do marginal technological innovation rather than focus on something fundamentally ‘next level’ – which [as some of the commentators I mentioned in my previous comment – which you probably didn’t get to as you were bored] is leading into a technological downturn rather than progression.

Infact, the best examples of true innovation [in a technical sense] is coming from Korean companies but that is more to do with a Government mandate [all homes to have Robots by 2012] than any corporate vision.

You are absolutely entitles to your view I am basing everything on ‘semantic’s’ … but life is like that and your view you can’t live with an iPOD versus a 1980’s Walkman is pretty weak given if I was to take you back to those shoulder-pad times, you would of absolutely said the same thing about the World’s first portable music player.

Comment by Rob

And Paul … I do agree that most innovation has to be influenced from/by something – it is very rare to create the totally new – however too many companies ‘create situational problems’ to justify their miniscule alterations whereas my definition of ‘innovation’ is when a fundamental problem is overcome …

Photocopier – to stop having to re-write patent forms

QWERTY Keyboard – to slow typists down so the keys stopped getting jammed

iTunes – the first legitamate home to manage digital music

You probably haven’t read this far – or its hard to see with your eyes rolling – but I thought I’d try and show you how being semantic can often be the difference between something people want and something people couldn’t give a damn about. 🙂

Comment by Rob

While you’re right that most companies are taking the easy way out instead of pushing the envelope of innovation, you still can’t make some blanket statement that we’re less technologically innovative than we were some time ago.

Everything is derivative, and by your logic, no longer innovative. That’s just nonsense. Usually innovation means making something that worked before work better, or maybe taking two differing things and putting them together to their mutual benefit.

It really just seems as though you’re making an argument based on what you feel like rather than what as real. Or at least, you’re making an argument with no real example for us to go on. it’s great that Korea is getting mandated robots and all, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some major technological shifts happening here as we speak. Yeah, they’re mostly incremental, but as I said, all innovation is.

And this statement…
“… but life is like that and your view you can’t live with an iPOD versus a 1980’s Walkman is pretty weak given if I was to take you back to those shoulder-pad times, you would of absolutely said the same thing about the World’s first portable music player.”
…is ridiculous. Maybe I would have said that back in the 80’s (although I was alive back then and didn’t, but I’m sure someone did), but that particular device was innovative back then, so I’m a little baffled at what you’re getting at. All things that were new become not new. So what? Does my IPod need to be holographic to be innovative, or can it just totally rearrange the way I organize my music?

I feel like I’m rambling and not making much sense. I hope you guys forgive me.

Comment by Paul McEnany

I guess maybe that’s why it’s sort of a personal debate, Rob. Is the photocopier necessarily innovative to me? No, but I’m sure it changed the way a lot of people worked in a very fundamental way. QWERTY was a way to make the typewriter work better, at least to some people. Is that an innovation? I don’t know, maybe it was to someone.

ITunes, okay, maybe it wasn’t a new concept, but it totally changed the way I listen to and find new music. To me, it’s definitely an innovation. It completely changed my music listening and buying behavior. Sure it’s derivative, but to me, it’s also innovative. Especially in conjunction with the ipod, and maybe apple tv in the future.

Will a working electric car just be another evolution, even though it could possibly go a long way to preserving our planet, or is that just an evolution? Where’s the threshold?

Comment by Paul McEnany

As I said in my initial debate with Katie, this is a classic philosophical issue because there can never be a clear cut answer because ‘what is innovation’ is so open to interpretation.

I do understand and agree that to do something totally new is incredibly difficult – however interms of technological innovation that is fundamentally shaping the way we live [which is what my initial post was about given I was commenting on how to attract more people to become engineers] I and many others [who I detailed in my first post and include clients at NASA, Apple and Discovery to name but a few] believe we are in a period of fundamental technological decline, not growth.

Of course you will have an alternate view to all this … and you will have information to back it up … but while I am an opinionated sod, you need to know I don’t just spout for the sake of spouting so while you may not agree, please don’t say I am just expressing how I feel with no substance to back it up.

Anyway enough of all that, if you think this is an ambigious area, we should talk about law – now that is really scary!

PS: Finally – absolutely there is technological innovation going on throughout the World, but if you think Asia isn’t the dominant force, you are in for a nasty shock.

Comment by Rob

I don’t know about you Paul, but I’ve got a headache with all this. Beer? Ha

Comment by Rob

Wow guys- I go away for a day to a conference, come back and there’s a top notch debate going on!

@Rob: Can I make the assumption that you have a location based notion of innovation? That the decline in the rate of innovation that you’re talking about is in the UK? I’ve just come back to Australia from a global role and am back in an APAC role- so the Asian region is one I’m championing but I think that innovation is a gift to the world and a result of zeitgeist or the world mind.

I’m happy with your definition “innovation is when a fundamental problem is overcome” and on that premise alone I cannot agree with your statement that we are in a state of technological decline- (perhaps you meant that the rate of innovation is decreasing but surely not that we are undergoing a period where our technology or ability to sove problemsis getting more crap?).

I do not believe that we are losing our abilities to solve problems. I find it difficult to believe that Apple isn’t excited about it’s recent Ipod and Itunes innovations, or disappointed in their uptake. I’m amazed that an organisation like NASA who has recently put a teacher in space (and supporting programs) to inspire kids to take up engineering and science doesn’t believe that this will work. And as to Discovery- surely more people are watching documentatries thatn ever before? Isn’t the fact that documentatries have recently been nominated in the Best Film category at the Oscars an indication of their growing popularity?

@Paul: Hell yeah! Innovation isn’t about newness- it’s about solving problems, sometimes that people didn’t even know were problems (see the post Ice and Invention)

Comment by katiechatfield

Hi Katie …

No, you cannot take my view on a location basis [though I do think that is something worth acknowledging] – I too have a global role and I live in Asia and work alongside many companies who are directly involved in the area of R&D. [Which is why I mentioned on Paul’s blog that much of the technological advancement is coming from Asia, not the West – though he didn’t seem to like that]

Of course Apple, NASA and Discovery are excited about the possibilities and potential in the World – aren’t we all – however some of the people in that company [certainly not all and certainly not all I deal with] have the view that TECHNOLOGICAL innovation is actually slowing down and currently, we are going through a period where many of the advancements we celebrate are more based on evolutional change or inventiveness than something truly innovative.

I am going to steal a quote my friend Pete has just written about this on my blog.

For the record, Pete was one of Apple’s global planning guys and was inherently involved in the development of iTunes, iPOD and iMac so I think he has validity in his opinion …

“I’ve been following this debate and feel people are mixing up the definitions of innovative, inventive and evolution.

Innovation is when you discover a totally new way to achieve something. iPod was a new invention; well more precisely the scroll wheel and the intergration with iTunes was, however all subsequent iPod’s (excluding iPod Video and iPhone) were/are an evolution because fundamentally the product is performing the same task as the one before. Of course there are certain elements within it’s circuitry that are innovative, but the product as a whole is not.

When a child learns to spell is that an innovation? Of course not it’s evolutionary and the standardizion of international freight containers wasn’t an innovation either; it was a moment of inventiveness as nothing fundamentally changed in terms of solving the problem, they were just clever in how they approached the issue.”

We’re not going to agree on this and that’s fine but you can’t change the definition of innovation to suit your argument because much of what you describe [from a technological point of view – I absolutely agree we are going through a period of unprecedented innovation interms of social/cultural and economic areas] is either evolution or inventiveness.

Hopefully we can have a beer in Oz and then we can debate this more – it’s always better face-to-face because the bad part of blogging is the emotional ambiguity and the last thing I’d want to do is appear angry when I find this alot of fun

Comment by Rob

And yes, I did mean that the rate of innovation is decreasing – I never said anything about it being more ‘crap’.

I’ve just re-read your comment and I do believe you are confusing my definition of technological innovation with that of cultural and economic change.

Just because NASA put a teacher into space is not an innovation … it’s fantastic and brilliant and could be an innovative way to encourage people to take up engineering, but interms of TECHNOLOGICAL innovation, it’s not new.

And how can the Oscars now having a ‘BEST DOCUMENTARY’ award be classed as a technological innovation or any innovation for that matter?

Don’t get me wrong … I love docos [not the Oscars 🙂 ] but that is more evolution of the category surely? [again, acknowledging that the effect it may have on society interms of getting them to see a film other than a Bruce Willis blockbuster could be positive and maybe even innovative 🙂 ]

Apple … well yes, they do innovate but when I see you, I’ll tell you about a paper Pete and I wrote for them a few years ago which detailed how innovation [in the truest sense of the word] was costing them far more money than the products they evolve or ‘master’ from another category.

I appreciate this is all a grey area and [as Paul said] semantics … and its not a case of YOU’RE RIGHT/I’M WRONG [or vice versa] but I don’t just say things for any reason, any more than you would.

Looking forward to catching up – I really have to get on with some work now, ha!

Comment by Rob

Ignore my Oscar point – just realised you were talking about doco’s being nominated in the ‘Best Film’ category … not the fact they have a category of their own.

Comment by Rob

[…] does that word mean, who is good at it and when does innovation happen? You can find them here at Get Shouty, HeeHaw Marketing, Future Visions, Chaos Scenario and Greg Verdino. I’m particularly fond of the […]

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Jeez, I take a couple days off and it just keeps going!

First of all, Rob, I took no issue with your comment about East over West, I just haven’t commented back. You know, deadlines and all that.

So you say…

“We’re not going to agree on this and that’s fine but you can’t change the definition of innovation to suit your argument because much of what you describe [from a technological point of view – I absolutely agree we are going through a period of unprecedented innovation interms of social/cultural and economic areas] is either evolution or inventiveness.”

Alright, the definition of innovation, “something new or different introduced.” That’s it. I’d argue that you’re shifting the word’s meaning rather than shouty. Either way, this whole argument makes my head hurt, mainly because it doesn’t make any sense.

Name one. One. Any one innovation that was not a product of evolution. Sure, there are varying degrees of evolution, but something never springs from nothing. It’s all evolution. If a baby made a computer out of grass, then I’ll acquiesce to your point. As of yet, I haven’t seen it happen.

And I’m up for a beer any time, man! Now I just need to get to the far east… 🙂

Comment by Paul McEnany

So looking at this a different way, a big part of Rob’s post was actually about the decreasing proportion of students taking engineering degrees. Which is actually an issue in UK, US & Australia. BTW not so much an issue in India/China – which is where I suspect a lot of engineering innovation will shift to – just as some of the finest engineering brains have come from Japan in the last 50 years.

I’d like to see some research on the attitudes of school-aged students in Western countries to engineering. Is it seen as “too hard”? Or doesn’t have enough cred? Or enough earning potential?

And just to put the cat among the pigeons, I do think the total rate of global innovation is increasing – N.B. Not equally across all countries & industries. We probably have more trained, talented and hungry engineers on the planet than ever before. It’s easy to take a backwards view and say “Where are innovations like the car, the aeroplane, the TV?” but these took decades to get taken up widely. The new new thing is probably already here but we won’t recognise it until after the fact.

Comment by Matt Moore

I’m sure both cats and pigeons are very scared of you Matt.

What I’m equally sure of is that the way to inspire future engineers is not to tell them that the creativity and innovation are in decline. I’d recommend a course of The Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

I fell in love with science as a teenager by being exposed to the human stories, magnificent personalities, and the notion of intellectual passion in the face of usually pretty dismissive forces: Galileo’s trial by the church, Issac Newton sacrificing his eyesight, Marie Curie, Grace Hopper, J. Robert Oppenheimer….and engineers like Werner Von Braun and Henry Ford. Odd I know…..

I can’t help but believe that there is undiscovered innovation already out there and who knows where we will be tomorrow?

Comment by katiechatfield

I now have to wear a bell for the sake of the cats & pigeons.

Absolutely agree about the 7 Wonders of the Industrial World. I’m just thinking of young engineer taglines:

– How many lives can you change with your imagination?
– How many idiots can you really p*** off?
– Here’s a place to stand, now move the earth.

Comment by Matt Moore

my head hurts now.

Comment by Sean Howard

[…] ago I was having an enjoyable shouting match with Rob Campbell in part about the nature of innovation- but mostly about how to inspire young […]

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