Its time for some collective innovation action: let’s build a ‘problems that require innovative solutions’ database which we can wave in the face of the institutionalised innovation-denial of our political and cultural elite.
One of the underlying assumptions of the Big Potatoes Manifesto is that innovation at root, is about problem solving. The critical question is always whether the innovator is asking the right question or not, never mind finding answers. As anyone involved in R&D will tell you, finding the right question is the most difficult undertaking because it involves a lot of hard preparatory work which is never recognised, the questioning of strongly held assumptions, no definitive way of knowing when you’re there and thus a willingness to take risks. The history of innovation, or rather the history of non-innovation, is littered with towering examples of solving the wrong problems.
As we enter into the promised land of the ‘Big Society’ (whatever that might mean, surely not the ‘obese society’?) which is focussing on everything except the real problem of how to seed innovation as a spur to generating new economic growth, there is no shortage of problems facing 21st Century society that demand innovative solutions. Instead we are faced with a culture of institutionalised evasion and low expectations.
So what to do about it? Well, we published Big Potatoes as opening salvo. But I was struck by another simple idea when traveling to Germany this week amidst the information drought spurred on by volcanic ash uncertainty. From the moment I woke up (very early) my experience, from starting my web browser to search for the latest information about flights to actually getting on the plane, was one punctuated by small and large problems that if solved would have made my life so much easier.
It struck me that as a first step, we should be capturing and publishing details of all the problems we encounter in our daily lives to create a ‘problems that require innovative solutions’ database which we could present to government, business and academia to demand some action.
The ‘Information Age’ still in the toilet
Let me explain. My few hours before getting on my flight to Germany threw up a number of problems, big and small. The Big Potato problem was the inability to get the information about airport closures or flight cancellations quickly. It is still staggering to think that despite over ten years of talking about the information age and the ‘always on connected’ culture, it is still not possible for my airline to text me vital information about the status of my flight, especially since volcanic ash disruption was neither unexpected nor new. Despite subscribing to Lufthansa’s SMS service, I received no such updates. Instead I was forced to look at news pages from the BBC that were two hours old and which seriously suggested ‘passengers should contact their airlines for the latest information before leaving home’. Has anyone at the BBC ever tried to phone an airline to get this information? First, where do you find the number? Second, where is there a number you can call that’s not going to cost you next term’s school fees just to hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons being interrupted by ‘we’re sorry but our customer services representatives are all busy…’. And of course, ‘your call is very important to us (so why use a £100 system instead of letting me speak to a person) and will be used for training purposes’.
SOLVE THIS DAMN PROBLEM PEOPLE!
The small potato problem I encountered was in the toilets. How come no one has worked out how to situate the wash bowels next to the dryers so that you do not have to carry your hand luggage with wet hands to the dryers after washing them? This could be solved either through design or by inventing a system that allows you to wash and dry your hands at the same spot – a wash hand basin and a dryer in one – hardly a revolution but certainly a better solution. And yes, I know these do exist, but the ones I’ve tried to use did not work.
I accept this is small potatoes. But it speaks loudly to the point that there remain real day-to-day problems that require innovation and creative solutions. If we all began to systematically record these problems – the Small and Big Potatoes – we would be able to demonstrate the opportunities for innovation that our political and cultural elite seem to have given up on. No problem should be ruled out: from toilet wash hand basins to the energy crisis, from digital data to health care for ageing societies, we should catalogue small and large.
As a start, post observations as comments to this article. Depending upon the response we can migrate this to a dedicated space on the Big Potatoes website, or create a website just for this endeavour. It would be the start of a crowdsourced innovation/problem solving data base which could spur some action. At the very least it could act as a rich source of ideas for entrepreneurs.
We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.