Here’s an interview a brilliant friend of mine conducted to force me to think more clearly about what I offered clients. It was super helpful to me; I hope it helps you!
Alternately, I was interviewed for the New York Times on how I do what I do – this one is pretty fun too, and has a story about the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy! I know, it’s crazy what they’ll publish these days.
What do you do?
I innovate – particularly around systems, across disciplines, and in ways that entrenched industries are too afraid to try. For example, I mixed new a new business model (free) with an old industry (publishing) and got a distribution deal for my novel with Amazon when nobody else would publish it. In another example, I took an established psychological method (operant conditioning) and a problomatic ecological niche (crows) and combined them by making a vending machine from crows that trains them to fetch lost change for peanuts. More recently, I’ve been combining technology and fashion, public speaking with gastronomy, and robots with secretaries.
Why is it important?
All leaps of human progress have occurred on the fringes, by people taking big chances and thinking differently. Now, more than ever, we need innovation that will take us ahead of the problems we face. For example, the ecology is suffering from human kind’s inability to foresee the implications of our technology choices. Economically we’re unable to keep up with the rate of change in industry. There are all kinds of problems like this right now, all occuring at the same time as we’re seeing unbelievable advances in science and technology. Connecting the two – particularly across siloed disciplines – is both effective and important.
How do you do it?
First off, you need to be passionate about something. I am passionate about technology, people and creating positive change within society. Then, you need to talk to a lot of different people about it and to learn a lot about it. In doing so you’ll get not just the established cannon of information on the discipline (or niche, or industry, or whatever), but also the problems and quirks of the systems that people inside it take for granted. Those are your entrance vectors to bring about radical change. Then, take the information and access that you can uniquely bring to the problem and start talking over your ideas for unusual solutions. Eventually you’ll meet the right team of folks who have the best mix of backgrounds and insights and you’ll have developed a solution to match. In being courageous enough to question the obvious and being willing to collaborate you’ll be able to do something completely different and effective in a space where others take those problems for granted.
So What? Why does this matter in the long run?
I don’t do things “by the book.” And when you look around, most of the greatest inventions – penicillin, the internet or chocolate cake – didn’t come with instructions. Most people are used to the deeply-siloed, tautologically-divided way of doing things. I try to color outside of the lines and do things that haven’t been tried before because if you don’t take risks, you won’t succeed. Making a vending machine for crows, for example, or giving away your novel for free as a way to get it published. Sometimes, turning the expected view of things and turning it on its head gives way to radical new ways of suddenly evolving a formerly stagnant situation. As we all get increasing access to new and expert information doing this is just going to get more important; insight is only going to become more valuable.