Innovation from the ordinary

Squeezing the last drop out of our visit to Copenhagen, James and I spent 90 minutes with Jacob Boetter at the airport. Jacob and his colleagues – here’s their blog – are working to see design reinvented in much the same way James and I want to see marketing change to be much more collaborative. This would move the emphasis away from the notion of designer as genius, towards the designer as faciliator of the ideas of the community he is working for.

This got me back to the subject of ordinariness in innovation. It’s tempting to see innovation as coming from geniuses. Maybe sometimes it does; but I think there’s something paradoxically ordinary about many breakthroughs. Like the kid in the Emperor’s New Clothes whose intervention is to state the bleedin’ obvious when others are stuck in hi-falluting mode. Robert Scoble has created an extraordinary impact at Microsoft by writing in a very ordinary, down-to-earth way; not fancy copywriting, just good conversational writing. An ordinary approach is one that’s likely to let more people into the conversation, enriching the network and thus increasing the possibilities for new connections and new ideas.

6 thoughts on “Innovation from the ordinary

  1. Tom Guarriello

    Johnnie, I personally resonate with what you say here. I love the potential of finding the power hidden in the ordinary.

    And, at the same time, I’ve been involved with an extraordinary design group for the last seven years in which amazingly talented, original, out-of-this-frickin-world people come up with ideas we mere mortals would never have surfaced.

    “Breakthoughs, implications, breakthroughs, implications” is a great pattern if you can keep it going.

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Tom: Yes, I thought after posting that there are layers to this. Something about the extraordinary being enfolded in the ordinary, but less pretentious sounding…

  3. jim wilde

    Johnnie, thanks for sharing the info on reboot. I wish I could have been there.

    Anyway, the idea of innovation as being ordinary is something we are helping businesses discover using enterprise blogs, tags, etc. I mention the enterprise blogs because there is a real difference from hobby software blogs such as mt, typepad, wordpress, et al. Enterprise blogs have advanced publishing, security, permissions, workflow management, multi-threaded discussion capabilities within blogs, wikis, forums, group chat and private messaging, news aggregation on topic and keyword, metadata functions with controlled (taxonomies) and tagged – folksonomies (internal and external) vocabularies, internal bookmarking and XML publishing for content sharing purposes. That is just the basics. We also support an internal market for ideas and resources using a bidding system.

    I am mentioning this because the idea of innovation as ordinary is true and that great ideas come from everywhere. Employees with internal blogs have a real voice and they want to contribute. Soon, customers will have blogs hosted by the business…

  4. Adrian Trenholm

    Johnnie, yes, very interesting post and comment. I just blogged about your previous post on Skype using “ordinary” language (“Talk” not “VOIP”). Considering that most tech companies would have gone with the technical acronyms, not the everyday word we all understand, does Skype’s use of the ordinary make it extraordinary?

  5. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Adrian: I think that being ordinary, or down to earth, can be great as a contrast to hype. Skype lets the product do the work and they don’t need to get over-excited promoting it.

  6. Jack Yan

    I believe there’s a huge push toward simplicity, especially in gadgets which look a lot simpler now than 15 years ago. It’s about democratization: who are we to restrict some products (e.g. software) to certain groups when there is a whole untapped resource of intelligence out there who can apply it in novel ways?
       In the font design game, which I still play in, Fontographer was aimed at professionals, but when “amateurs” got their hands on it, there was a typographic revolution. Grunge fonts, decorative fonts


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