Sunday, July 1, 2012

Innovating Innovation

Detroit Riverfront

Since I joined the Media Lab a year ago, I’ve been constantly amazed and amused by the tribe of iconoclasts, risk-takers, and renegades here who look to the edges for new ideas. On a walk through the Lab buildings, you'll see–among other things–robotic ankles, smart wallpaper, an interactive ping-pong table, fuzzy robots, and a model of a folding electric car. We call ourselves antidisciplinary, and we’d like to extend this way of thinking and working into a program we've named the Innovators Guild, aimed at bringing together like-minded trailblazers.

One thing I've noticed is that the people in organizations who are the most responsible for innovation are frequently working alone–and they're lonely. When you're the person who walks the tightrope between risk and results day in and day out, you need colleagues to bounce ideas off and peers to give a simple reality check: to tell you whether an idea is awesome–or simply crazy.

I'm envisioning the Innovators Guild as a cohort for CIOs and other innovators, a cross-sector network that can work together to make a challenging job a little less lonely, and a lot more fun.

We talked about the idea this morning at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and we’re still developing the details. As a first step, the Lab has teamed up with Knight Foundation (who will be filming a documentary of this project), and IDEO for our first hands-on activity, an on-the-ground project in Detroit, where we'll work with local innovators to hack out a new possible solution for inner-city food production and think about how to create sustainable systems. In the process, we expect to find new inspiration, make new connections, and engage in hands-on experiences to speed innovation. John Seely Brown, the former head of Xerox PARC and John Gage, former Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems are the two first recruits for the guild who will be joining us on this trip.

We’ll be sharing more details about the Guild in the fall. Stay tuned!

[Interested in joining the Guild? Contact us at innovators-guild [at] media.mit.edu.]
Joi Ito is director of the Media Lab.

Image: "Detroit Riverfront" | Ian Freimuth | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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