Ring in the new innovations


Who’s at the cutting edge when it comes to R&D? Experts in various fields, from art to astronomy, medicine to motoring, nominate the breakthroughs that are changing the way we live. Bees buzzing with new navigation possibilities, carbon emissions gobbled up by algae, cars that can’t crash – we venture into the innovation hothouses.


Joanne Jakovich, director of u.lab, University of Technology Sydney

Beauty in architecture lies in the detail. Today’s nanotechnology materials already enable self-cleaning and smog-eating facades through the rational organisation of molecules. Recent developments in nano-membranes mean buildings might also begin to harvest fresh water and clean air for us, bringing a whole new level to multisensory design.

Professor Andre Geim and his team at the University of Manchester, UK, have developed a membrane that is completely impermeable to pathogens, toxins, vapours and gases, but allows water to pass through it unimpeded. The membrane, less than one-thousandth of a millimetre thick, is made of graphene, Geim’s Nobel Prize-winning nano-material.

Graphene is strong and flexible, only one molecule thick and notable for its ability to conduct electricity and hold light. New luminous films could produce lightweight materials to replace complex LED media facades on buildings, as well as to create paper-thin screens for flexible mobile devices. Speaking of which, mobile devices provide the platform to socially transform views of the city, via Augmented Reality (AR) facades. A typical application for AR in architecture is virtual signage overlaid on the physical city; a life-sized equivalent of the Viewa app being used to bring new life to magazines.
Sebastian Boring of the University of Calgary is designing Augmented Reality applications that allow multiple users to interact with media-enriched facades. Boring’s augmented layers enable players to enjoy games or create new designs over an already animate building surface.

If nanoparticles and virtual games appear too intangible, “jamming” – adhering sand-sized particles – could offer a new method of building fabrication. Marta Malé-Alemany of the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Spain is developing robots that can dynamically create geometric forms from granulated materials.

Whereas prefab structures are a composition of elements, granular formation involves fabrication machines, (Fab)Bots, that are able to create stone-hard structures on-site, by the programmed spraying of aggregate material with a binding agent. New materials, including granulated PET bottles, are now being tested. Discovering how to mould molecules is the future of architecture.



Dr Maryanne Demasi, medical scientist, reporter for ABC TV’s Catalyst

The mosquito responsible for spreading dengue fever originated in Africa, but infests more than 100 countries, endangering at least 2.5 billion people. The 30-year battle against the disease has new impetus in bacterial experiments headed by Professor Scott O’Neill from Monash University in Melbourne.

A wild population of mosquitoes was infected with a common reproductive parasite, Wolbachia, which prevents the transmission of the dengue virus to humans. The true breakthrough, however, is that the offspring of these mosquitoes are born carrying Wolbachia, which potentially reduces the spread of the disease. Large-scale trials are now commencing in countries such as Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia.

Smaller yet, nano-sized robots (nanobots) hold the promise to heal our bodies from within, working with unimagined precision at a molecular level. Dr Ralph Merkle from the Institute of Molecular Manufacturing in California foresees a heart patient ingesting nanobots in a pill and the laser- or electromagnetically-controlled nanobots performing their surgery before ultimately being excreted normally from the body. Similarly, carbon nanobombs – atoms of carbon arranged in liquid-filled tubes – could be detonated by laser to kill surrounding cancer cells. 

The new Cell and Molecular Therapies Laboratories at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, which opened last year, are hosting pioneering research in genetic therapies. Scientists dressed in protective suits work in a secured clean-room facility with air that is up to 1000 times more pure than ambient; it’s a totally dust-free, lint-free, bug-free environment.

Under haematology expert Professor John Rasko, the team is experimenting with blood stem-cell therapies that may hold cures for particular cancers, heart disease, diabetes, leukaemia and HIV. The laboratory itself is a multimillion-dollar engineering feat, achieved with backing from government and philanthropy. 

Industrial design

Brandon Gien, managing director Good Design Australia

Industrial designers are increasingly stepping outside pure product design and collaborating with scientists, researchers, engineers, business leaders and governments to design better services, systems and business processes. Design-led thinking is thereby expanding its influence on business, the environment and society at large.  

Industrial designers continually look at materials innovation, technology and processes to wrap around their next design, be it a mobile phone, car or electric toaster. If the buzz around carbon-based solar cells is anything to go by, the future’s looking bright. Researchers at Stanford University have followed up on the nano-material graphene (see Architecture) by developing a flexible solar-cell film. Carbon-based, it’s vastly cheaper than current solar cells, which use exotic metals. If commercialised, the material will allow designers to incorporate a flexible, energy-gathering coating to enable buildings, cars, appliances and even clothing to generate electricity.

For many years, 3D printing (also called rapid prototyping) has allowed designers and manufacturers to develop and test products and parts without the expense of handmade prototypes. Today, the plummeting cost of 3D printing technology is allowing designers to make products themselves; a radically new approach to the traditional mass-manufacturing model.

The technology enables on-demand, low-volume production of anything from car parts to jewellery, from materials including starches, metal, rubber and even chocolate.

Equally in the future frame is biomimicry, a discipline that emulates design principles from nature (a famous example is Velcro). Janine Benyus, biologist, innovation consultant and co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, is helping to direct the outcomes of this research into the design of shoes, carpets, furniture and even aircraft, leading to more efficient and environmentally sustainable outcomes. If imitation is the best form of flattery then nature, perhaps unsurprisingly, could hold the key to the future of design.

Digital technology

Karla Courtney, Bauer Custom Media digital strategy director

The internet is now truly mobile and it’s easy to associate the smartphone boom with consumer brand names such as Apple and BlackBerry. However, it’s the names working behind the scenes that are shrinking our devices and increasing our content-consumption habits exponentially.

As processors – the little chips in our devices that basically tell them what to do – become smaller and more powerful, so do our phones and tablets. ARM, the British developer of processors used in most mobile phones, recently announced a 64-bit processor to be released in 2014.

ARM claims the 64-bit technology will be three times as powerful as a 2012 smartphone, but with five times the efficiency. ARM has forecast CO2 output from data centres will soon surpass that of aeroplanes.

Another advance affecting the size and shape of devices is the screen. Lighter, more durable glass allows for lighter, more durable devices. Corning has developed a thin, flexible glass that, among many other applications, will be used to advance our small-screen technology. This has the potential to add a third dimension to our touchscreen interfaces. 

Devices are just glass, metal and microchips without the app and publishing technology to fill them. On the content side, some of the greatest innovations are taking place at the intersection of creative arts and technology. TedEd (ed.ted.com), for example, is a platform for the world’s best educators and animators to bring school lessons to life in innovative and engaging ways.

Codeacademy is an online learning platform designed to teach anyone how to code in a creative, engaging and social way. As ways to merge creativity and technology continue to become more accessible, the quality and capacity of mobile applications, websites and web content will flourish.


Giles Parkinson, editor, RenewEconomy.com.au
Australians’ love of air-conditioning has played a significant role in recent jumps in electricity bills. The culprit – blazing sunshine – might also provide the cure, in the form of solar cooling. Paolo Corrada, a PhD student in Queensland University of Technology’s science and engineering faculty, says heating and cooling account for about two-thirds of our energy use. By using solar power to drive an absorption chiller, Corrada says energy use could be cut by 90 per cent; the addition of energy storage could remove it from the power grid completely.

The CSIRO has a slightly different idea, turning the concept of intermittent renewable energy sources upside down using technology similar to solar hot-water systems. Heat energy can be stored and then transformed, on cue, into cool air when demand increases.

Greenhouse emissions are another big problem for Australia, with higher emissions-per-person than any other developed country. There’s talk of geosequestration – burying liquid CO2 – but this technology seems decades away. What if the emissions could be sequestered and re-used? Three different companies – MBD Energy, Algae.Tec and Aurora Algae – are testing different methods to capture CO2 and use it as feedstock for algae, which can, in turn, be used to make pharmaceuticals, omega-3 products, animal feed, biomass for energy, even jet fuel.

On the subject of transport, more than six billion timber shipping pallets are used each year; many only once before becoming landfill. The Biofiba company based in Gosford, NSW, has come up with a biodegradable pallet that uses organic starches, non-food crops such as hemp, and no chemicals. Managing director Laurence Dummett says the Biopallet will cost no more than conventional timber types, and will biodegrade into garden mulch within about six months.


John Carey, motoring writer Wheels magazine & Qantas The Australian Way

For at least three years, Google has been working to combine digital mapping, Street View images, advanced sensors and artificial intelligence technology as the basis of a self-driving car.

The idea of a car smart enough to drive itself has naturally attracted plenty of media attention. A truly autonomous automobile is still a long way from commercial viability, but car makers are working to combine a set of simpler technologies that could create super-safe, semi-autonomous cars much sooner.

Using data from sensors that monitor the car and its immediate surrounds, combined with the right software and hardware, a handful of luxury brands have already introduced systems that gently ??? correct an inattentive driver straying from his or her lane, or slam on the brakes should a pedestrian run onto the road ahead.

Currently, however, these cars can’t share what they know about their driving environment. Imagine a car that automatically braked when warned of a deadly hazard by another car, even before its driver saw the danger. Extending the telematic horizon, as it’s called, could make cars practically impossible to crash.

There are two major trials now underway to test the effectiveness of vehicle networking. The larger is a US Department of Transportation-led initiative that will connect nearly 3000 cars, trucks and buses in the Ann Arbor area of Michigan, using a radio frequency specially reserved for V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure). An Australian company, Cohda Wireless, is a key provider of the specialised radio technology being used.  

In Europe the smaller simTD (safe intelligent mobility field test Germany) project is relying on existing high-speed WLAN frequencies to link 120 vehicles being used in the area around Frankfurt. German car and car component makers, telecoms companies, research institutes, universities and government agencies are also involved. The project is being coordinated by Daimler’s Dr Christian Weiss, head of the cooperating systems team in the company’s research and advance development department. “We are convinced that Car-to-X communication represents an important step on the way to accident-free driving,” he says.


Darren Osborne, news editor ABC Science Online

It’s been more than 100 years since humankind took to flying like the birds. Now, new frontiers of flight are being revealed by the bees.

Professor Mandyam Srinivasan of the University of Queensland is leading a team of researchers studying the behaviour of bees, and how they navigate by optic flow: gauging distance by the speed of passing objects.

Srinivasan says that despite having a brain the size of a pin head, bees have excellent vision and memory. “You don’t need a lot of processing power, just the right type of processing.” 

The researchers are applying their knowledge to develop vision systems for drone aircraft which, Srinivasan says, “are almost entirely autonomous, using their own vision to control flight, including take-off and landing”.

University of Sydney associate professor Kathy Belov leads the Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group. For more than five years she has been investigating Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, which is pushing the animal to the brink of extinction. Belov and her team have used genetic sequencing to show that devils have a low level of diversity in genes, which may be why the cancer is so contagious. More recently, they found that different tumours might have different genes switched on or off, affecting the behaviour of the tumour. A captive breeding program involving 22 zoos across Australia has also been set up, which Belov says is “our best bet to save the species”. The research could help in the preservation of other species worldwide.

The Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, led by Professor Gordon Wallace at the University of Wollongong, is using polymers to control the behaviour of cells in the body. For example, Wallace says they are looking at materials in the cochlear ear implant that interact more effectively with nerve cells.

The team is also working on a brain implant that could detect and control epilepsy. “We’re starting to imagine applications that you just wouldn’t have thought possible five years ago,” he says.

Information technology

Jez Ford, technology writer Qantas The Australian Way

Satellites have been gathering and transmitting information since Sputnik I was launched in 1957; with technological innovation they are becoming smaller and more accessible. NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative encourages universities to create CubeSat nanosatellites, cubes of about 10cm formed from multiple units.

CubeSat has enabled Romania, Poland and Switzerland to have their own satellites. Dr Steven Tsitas at the University of New South Wales hopes to develop a larger version with commercial applications. “The smallest CubeSats are mostly educational,” Tsitas says. “I see a sweet spot at a 6U [six-unit] CubeSat – large enough to undertake some missions that currently require a microsatellite.”

Back on Earth, our televisions are delivering information and entertainment on an ever larger scale. The next wave will be a revolution in resolution. The Full HD of current flat-screens has been exposed as less than full, with the first Ultra HD TVs offering four times the definition in 3840 x 2160 pixels. 

Japanese broadcaster NHK is working with Britain’s BBC, among others, to realise Super Hi-Vision. Definition will increase a further fourfold, to 7680 x 4320 pixels. A doubling of current frame rates and digital audio recorded with 22.2 channels of sound will demand new methods of delivering and storing so much information.

One solution might emerge from quantum computing. Late last year, a team led by researchers from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computing and Communication Technology announced the successful reading to, and writing from, a quantum bit, or qubit. This refers to the spin of an electron around a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon chip, with electrodes one three-thousandth the width of a human hair. 

The team’s next step will be to combine pairs of qubits in entangled states, so their storage and processing power increase exponentially. Potentially, 300 entangled qubits could perform more concurrent operations than there are atoms present in the universe.

Visual arts

Patricia Anderson, editor, Australian Art Review

Today, the pixel often replaces the brushstroke, presenting painters with a new set of challenges. Sydney artist Brett East’s giant, hyper-real paintings of bright pigments spurting from paint tubes so closely resembled photographs, East decided to document them and issue the giant photographs as limited-edition art works. This demanded considerable fine tuning, because modern digital printers are yet to match the human eye in apprehending fine distinctions. 

Among sculptors, chrome, polyurethane, industrial enamels and acrylics have expanded the more traditional media of wood, stone and bronze. Sydney’s Suzie Idiens creates minimalist sculptural paintings by coating medium-density fibreboard with glass-like layers of 
polyurethane. Brisbane’s Gemma Smith is pioneering hollow radiant constructions with sheets of reflective plexiglass, resembling diamond-faceted boulders. The light is trapped internally and reflected, prism-like, from each facet.

Some of the most interesting explorations of technological offerings can be found among jewellers. Professor Robert Baines, director of research and innovation at the RMIT School of Art, is a goldsmith and archaeo-metallurgist, and an expert on ancient Greek and Etruscan metalwork techniques. Baines finishes his delicately wrought constructions – both architectural and organic – in multiple bright colours, using the industrial process of electrostatic powder coating. He also incorporates miniature metal cars and fragments of plastic reflectors, trapped in his pieces such as the legendary Mesopotamian Ram In A Thicket. 

“I can build structures that are abstractions, and structures that have associations with other structures,” Baines says.

Source Qantas The Australian Way February 2013

Michael Stahl


Beyond Bodies



If someone tells you to think of a robot, what springs to mind? Is it a humanoid shape made of metal, with glowing eyes, that speaks in a jerky voice?

Or is it a robotic factory arm, or a car that can park for you, or maybe a system that heats or cools your house?

For some time now pop culture has painted a particular picture of robots. From Asimov’s ‘bots, to the Terminator – even the Transformers – the very concept of a robot has grown up next to these hugely popular sci-fi characters.

So why aren’t we seeing robots like these by now?

Hollywood bots

On one hand we have the glamourised depictions of sci-fi robots. On the other we have the roboticist’s more pragmatic view of robots as machines that perform functions in an autonomous way.

For these roboticists (myself included), robots are all around us – in our cars, our homes, on public transport and in buildings.

Part of the problem is that there are a number of research projects around the globe that seem to fit the “Hollywood” robot image – Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratories with their Geminoid and Robovie enabled research and our own RobotAssist to name just a couple.

This is one major source of the confusion surrounding the state of the art in robotics. In an attempt to make our research accessible to the wider world we, the roboticists, have leaned on pop culture’s sci-fi robot and subsequently reinforced the stereotype.

Sure, the fundamental research questions we are probing are embedded in the project, so there’s no harm done, right? Well, yes actually, there is.

Great expectations

We’ve shaped the presentation of our research around this stereotype and the actual science questions are less visible to the casual spectator of our work.

With robotics research and development presented in this manner, the tendency for the casual onlooker is to measure the gaps between the research on show and the benchmark of the sci-fi robot. This is not always a true indication of the state of the art.

I myself have been guilty of unintentionally obscuring my own research intentions by putting them in a sci-fi friendly wrapper with RobotAssist. While RobotAssist appears on the surface to be another somewhat human-like robot that can do some cool things (but is no T1000), this isn’t its intended role.

RobotAssist is a research and development platform for core robotics technologies. It has provided a valuable platform for a number of important developments that have found their way into real-world realisations. These include robust people-detection and tracking techniques that are currently deployed in mining, construction and transport environments.

From a particular robotics perspective there is little difference between the RobotAssist incarnation of the technology and how it is used in a transport environment. What changes is the way the technology is embodied.

Your local train station, say, doesn’t look anything like a robot. But in a sense, the entire building is a robot. Maybe the security cameras and embedded sensors are its eyes, maybe turning on and off exit signs and dynamically restricting and redirecting some passageways are the actuators. This kind of robot is invisible.

Put your body into it

Roboticists have been guided by the “sense-act-think” operational definition of a robot for more than 30 years now.

This definition states that a robot is a machine that can actively “sense” the state of the world, “think” intelligently about its task in light of sensed information to form an action plan, and “act” that plan upon the world.

Notice there is no mention of embodiment?

This, I believe, drives another major source of the confusion surrounding the state of the art in robotics.

Society is conditioned by pop culture to recognise robots through the way they’re embodied. Roboticists, however, often consider the embodiment superfluous, or at least tangential, to the robot.

This brings us back to the two viewpoints that I mentioned earlier. The reality is that disembodied robots are already prevalent throughout society.

Just think about our cars with their automatic parking (see video above) and braking. We don’t tend to acknowledge these machines as robots, partly due to the sci-fi stereotype and partly due to roboticists further encouraging this stereotype – but they do fit the operational definition of a robot.

Don’t get me wrong, the sci-fi style robot entering society is inevitable. Too many people want it for it to not happen.

My point is that this is just one of the many forms a robot can take, and perhaps it will be one of the later ones to be realised.

If we want a true gauge of where we are at with robotics we may need to re-calibrate our expectations of what a robot is. We are “getting there” with our research. It just turns out that “there” isn’t exactly where pop-culture told us where we should be.


Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city | via TEDex Boston


How can we fit more people into cities without overcrowding? Kent Larson shows off folding cars, quick-change apartments and other innovations that could make the city of the future work a lot like a small village of the past.

Kent Larson designs new technologies that solve the biggest questions facing our cities.



Planting Entrepreneurial Innovation in Inner Cities – Daniel Isenberg – Harvard Business Review

Remember just a decade ago when the term “inner city” basically meant “dead city,” conjuring up images of destruction, dereliction and despair? Today, inner cities are “in” — innovative, hip hotbeds of convenient culture, commerce and connection. Scholars such as Richard Florida and Edward Glaeser, among others, are showing that although increasing problems accompany increasing density, urban access to the good things of life increases even faster. The centripetal force of today’s cities is pulling the ambitious and educated back in, and increasing cities’ innovative capacity, without sacrificing (at least some would argue) their inclusiveness.

Entrepreneurs, too, are moving downtown: London, Boston, Barcelona and Buenos Aires are balancing the suburban pull of Silicon Valley and Route 128. Venture capitalists are close behind. Smart mayors, such as Boston’s Mayor Menino and New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, are fostering holistic entrepreneurship ecosystems to strengthen and accelerate the trend. Nor do you have to be a mammoth metropolis to have an urban entrepreneurship policy: led by Mayor Jorge Rojas, this month a dozen public and private institutions in the city of Manizales, known throughout Colombia for its concentration of universities and safe environment, in partnership with the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, launched a four-year initiative to dramatically increase the concentration of high growth entrepreneurship in the city.

What are we learning about what cities can do to foster entrepreneurship and innovation?

Develop an inclusive vision of high growth entrepreneurship. On the one hand, it is a reality that a small number of extraordinary entrepreneurial successes have a disproportionately stimulating effect on the environment for entrepreneurship in a city, such as the impact of Skype on Tallinn, Estonia. By definition, only a few can be extraordinarily successful, and city leaders need to communicate a coherent message to those “elites” about how important they are to your city’s future, that you need them there and will work to make it attractive. At the same time, the influx of ambitious, highly educated, opportunity-seeking entrepreneurs may risk creating social divisiveness. This can be countered with a strong message to entrepreneurs that they need to play a role in community building. With the encouragement of City Hall, entrepreneurs in Boston’s Innovation District created Innovation District Entrepreneurs After work (IDEA) to organize community events.

In parallel, you need to tirelessly communicate a coherent message to all of the stakeholders and residents, highlighting the entrepreneurial benefits of dignified job creation, quality of the environment, and innovative capacity. Boston’s Mayor Menino and his staff developed and have repeated hundreds of times the mantra of the Innovation District: “Live, work, play.” An intense social media strategy, combined with direct outreach, has led to numerous joint activities between the naturally less-affluent, creative Fort Point artists’ community and the Innovation District.

Use best processes, not best practices. As one of the leaders of the Innovation District put it to me, “We are a ‘platform,’ not a program.” An ecosystem exists in nature when numerous species of flora and fauna interact in a dynamic, self-adjusting balancing act. Thus, in cities, you need to provide a broad platform to support the inclusive vision, encouraging restaurateurs, designers, neighborhood groups, schools and universities, real estate developers, law firms and architects, chambers of commerce and other government agencies to interact with each other in innovative ways. Best processes are more important than best practices.

Boston’s Innovation District was launched with clear vision and commitment, but, surprisingly, one of its keys to success was that it had no detailed plan, budget, organizational structure, nor even an officially designated team. The fuzziness was a counter-intuitive advantage in engaging diverse stakeholders to define for themselves the role they would play. The mayor and his staff were inspirational facilitators, not controllers. They were not shy about making specific proposals and asking for investments from the private sector, but more as a way to concretize the projects’ feasibilities than to push particular programs.

One element of “best process” in fostering entrepreneurship ecosystems is experimentation. As Mayor Menino put it, “We’ll experiment with alternative housing models. We will test new ideas that provide live/work opportunities to entrepreneurs and affordable co-housing for researchers…. We’ll give architects and developers the challenge to experiment with new designs, new floor plans, and new materials. Our mandate to all will be to invent a 21st century district that meets the needs of the innovators who live and work in Boston.” Experiment. Test. Invent.

Define principles, not clusters. Innovation, creativity, design, sustainability, experimentation, entrepreneurship, inclusiveness: these are example principles to be infused into the city’s collective consciousness. But don’t prioritize specific sectors. One of the drawbacks of popular cluster strategies is that prioritizing sectors serves as a signal to entrepreneurs about where they should seek opportunity: currently, clean tech and mobile applications, for example, are de rigeur. Tomorrow it may be space travel. But you should ask, not tell. It is the entrepreneur’s job, not City Hall’s or that of a consulting firm, to learn how to identify opportunity, usually where most people think it doesn’t exist. In fact, many of the great opportunities defy definition and lie in the creative “inter-sectors”: health care and the environment; real estate development and information technology and cleantech; education and mobile communications.

Invest time, not money. Nothing is free, but one of the big temptations is for governments to step into the ubiquitous resource void with capital for either the ventures themselves, or financial incentives for capital providers, or direct funding of space for entrepreneurs. This is to be avoided: better to spend your energy persuading the stakeholders that it is worth their while to make those investments. In Boston, the mayor called on the major real estate developers to set aside a percentage of their developments for entrepreneurship and innovation. This led to the attraction of MassChallenge, the world’s largest startup competition and accelerator, which received a free floor in a new office building. This also led to the allocation of portions of high-end condominium developments to less lucrative, convenient live/work space for entrepreneurs, as well as the 12,000-square-foot Boston Innovation Center. At first, the developers seemed to be appeasing the mayor in exchange for City Hall’s good will in issuing permits. But as they are experiencing for themselves the impact of the Innovation District’s attractiveness and growth on the value of their properties, the investment is seen as enlightened self-interest.

Instead of hard cash, hardwire your calendar for entrepreneurship. Your time is one of the scarcest resources you can invest. Look at your schedule: how do you allocate your 70-hour-plus work week? Even just one hour for entrepreneurship out of the 70 will go a long way. Go to office openings of new ventures, make a congratulatory call to those who raise money, write a thank you note to the entrepreneur who hired a few engineers or a high school summer intern. Invite an entrepreneur for a short chat and a chance to have a photograph with you. Have a monthly breakfast meeting with a different group of entrepreneurs to solicit their ideas for how the city can be better for them. Ask, don’t tell. Celebrate the success.

Fight the battle for talent, not capital. Although entrepreneurs will always complain first about the chronic difficulty of raising money, the smart ones know that talent is the more important battle to win, because money follows talent. Make your city an amazing place for the most talented entrepreneurs, innovators, and creative people to come to seek their futures, to live, work and play in. The coffee shops, environmental art, evening bars, museums, bicycle lanes and rent-a-bikes, all build the buzz. In every city I work with, I start by asking entrepreneurs where they really want to be — and the unfailing consensus is uncanny: entrepreneurs need to crowd around these urban watering holes. In Boston it has become the Seaport. In Istanbul, it is Beyoglu. In Manizales, it is El Cable. Invite colleges and universities to establish presence or hold classes there, as Babson has done in the Innovation District, and as Harvard’s Kennedy School has done with its program for innovation policy makers. Successful later-stage ventures that need dozens and hundreds of talented people, and provide dozens of jobs, will take notice, and will not be able to afford to stay away.

Building on urban entrepreneurship policies such as these, and creating new ones, is the keystone for creating jobs and reinvigorating the global economy.


Listen to The Panel: leadership and innovation – By Design – ABC Radio National

Listen to this ABC bradcast about innovation challenges in Australia. 

Leadership and innovation go hand-in-hand. By Design panel examines these concepts with Australia in mind. Where are we doing well, and where are we failing? Why are we falling behind? Design thinking is the key to understanding the changes

Guests: Dana Arnett, CEO, VSA Partners, Chicago, Speaker, AGIdeas, Melbourne, 2012; Mauro Porcini, Head, Global Design, 3M, Speaker, AGIdeas, Melbourne, 2012; Professor Ken Friedman, Dean of Faculty of Design, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne

Broadcasted on Wednesday 23 May 2012 2:38 PM

Producer: Janne Ryan


If You’re Not Pissing Someone Off, You’re Probably Not Innovating – Philip Auerswald – Harvard Business Review

 Philip Auerswald

By Philip Auerswald, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. He is the author of The Coming Prosperity: How Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Economy.


As the editor of the journal Innovations, I’m asked with some regularity, “So, what is innovation anyhow? How would you…”? (eyebrows usually furrow here) “… define it?” Since I don’t particularly enjoy debating definitions, I usually respond by saying: “That’s a difficult question. But one thing is for sure: If you’re not pissing someone off, it’s probably not innovation.”

I like this response because, if it doesn’t end the conversation, it usually shifts it from definitions to dynamics — which is what innovation is all about, after all. But I also like it because it captures one fundamental obstacle to innovation that all would-be disruptors must be prepared to face: the potentially hostile response of incumbents who don’t want to see their market advantages threatened.

There’s nothing new here. We all know that Joseph Schumpeter talked about creative destruction decades ago. And he was well aware of the likelihood of vigorous pushback from threatened incumbents:

To undertake such new things is difficult and constitutes a distinct economic function, first because they lie outside the routine tasks which everyone understands and, secondly, because the environment resists in many ways that will vary, according to social conditions, from simple refusal either to finance or buy a new thing, to physical attack on the man who tries to produce it.

Since you, the disruptive entrepreneur, can count on incumbent resistance (if not necessarily physical attack) down the road once you’re successful, the question is: What can you do early on to be prepared for the onslaught?

The famed “Attack of the Doughboy” offers one good answer.

It was 1987. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield had just successfully completed Vermont’s first in-state public stock offering for shares in their new company. Sales were taking off, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was competing head-to-head with the vaunted Häagen-Dazs. Then Häagen-Dazs was acquired by Pillsbury. One day, says Cohen, a Ben & Jerry’s distributor contacted the two young entrepreneurs:

We found a dark corner of some restaurant at Logan Airport, and the distributor informed us that the salespeople from Pillsbury threatened to stop selling Häagen-Dazs to him if he continued to sell Ben & Jerry’s. The distributor clearly liked us, but we were the newcomers, the upstarts, and the distributor made more money off Häagen-Dazs than anything else on his truck. He couldn’t afford to leave his customers without it, so he had no choice but to drop our product.

Ben & Jerry’s response was a definitive moment for the company. Pillsbury clearly was in violation of Federal Trade Commission regulations against the restraint of interstate commerce. But pursuing legal action would bankrupt their company even if they ultimately won.

So the partners turned to a more dependable source of enforcement: their customers.

They launched the “What’s the Doughboy Afraid of?” campaign, with their customers in the lead. “A lot of letters started pouring in to the chairman of the board of Pillsbury,” Cohen recalls, “and some major articles appeared. Finally the Doughboy got such a black eye that Pillsbury relented and allowed our distributor to continue to offer our ice cream.”

Richard Branson tells very similar stories about epic battles between Virgin Airways and British Airways (a win for Virgin) and between Virgin Cola and Coca-Cola (a loss for Virgin). Where he succeeded, it was because his customers were loyal to the point of being willing to advocate on Virgin’s behalf.

Here’s the point. The more disruptive your innovation, the more your success needs to look like the creation of a political movement.

If you’re really creating change, it is quite likely you will reach a point when you’ll ask your customers to do more to support your work than just buy your product. They will need to stand up for your business, your product, your very right to exist in the marketplace. You’re going to be asking for their time. Depending on where you’re working and what you’re selling, you may be asking for their courage. To make such requests, you’re going to need to have built a hell of a personal bond.

“Ethics aren’t just important in business,” Branson says. “They are the whole point of business.” This isn’t just happy talk from a guy who’s already made it. It’s sound advice on how to succeed as a business innovator in the 21st century.

For folks who are looking for operational principles, take these from Lisa Gansky’s fabulous book, The Mesh.

  • Say what you do — manage expectations and revisit them frequently.
  • Use trials.
  • Do what you say.
  • Perpetually delight customers.
  • Embrace social networks and go deep.
  • Value transparency but protect privacy.
  • Deal with negative publicity and feedback promptly and skillfully.
The good news is that creating the sort of deep, trusted customer relationships that both Branson and Gansky are talking about is completely possible. The bad news is that it’s no longer optional.

We will always need entrepreneurs to champion the new and overcome the old. But the successes of those who try to do so only serve to renew and intensify the challenge for the generations that follow. So, for those innovators at work today, just remember — you can price your way into a war with a powerful incumbent, but you can’t price your way out of one. When the incumbent fights back, you’d better make sure that your customers have your back, not just your receipts.