The Future Needs Hacking

3D printing

On Friday, Lauren Ingram attended the In Progress creativity and innovation conference, curated by It’s Nice That

As coordinator of our innovation programme Engine Garage, I was a little overexcited about In Progress 2012 as it featured over a dozen speakers including creative trend forecasters, entrepreneurs, and The Guardian. Writing about all the talks would be overambitious, so I’ve distilled some themes that cropped up into basic suggestions for driving innovation:

1. Generate ideas

Disrupt your environment to get the juices flowing. We heard from Artangel, who created A Room For London, a space to inspire artists and humble citizens alike. But you don’t need to be in a boat atop the Southbank Centre to get out of your comfort zone, even a coffee shop will do – you never know what insight might crystallise from a little eavesdropping.

Be open to any idea to begin with – no idea is a bad idea. The Olympic torch designers, BarberOsgerby, informed us that they had an 80 page document of constraints (including not using the Olympic rings logo). Imagine how this restricts creativity! Fostering a culture of freedom to fail allows brains to run wild; reeling in the wackiness can come later on.

2. Realise your ideas

‘Fail small, fail fast’: 3D printing (above) was a hot topic at In Progress (indeed, Adrian Mars’ talk was called Why I’m So Unbelievably Excited About 3D Printing) as you can manufacture designs quickly, with fewer constraints on your ideas. Mars told us that American troops have been given 3D printers, and they have not just replicated their tools and spare parts but also invented new ones.

3. Share your creations

And for free! Allow others to benefit. Ruth MacKenzie, the Cultural Olympiad Director, told us it was quite a battle to make the 100,000 Hackney Weekend tickets free, just as it was to make the London museums free over a decade ago. But now our free culture (and also our free healthcare) is world-reknowned. One of the Engine Garage teams came up with ‘free insurance’ but we’re still not sure how that might work – answers on a postcard.

Pete Hellicar and Joel Lewis (of Hellicar & Lewis) showed us their interactive software called Somantics for children on the autistic spectrum – like all their software, it’s opensource. Sharing is great because you can…

4. Get feedback

Your idea is useless without a user. Let other people collaborate and build on your idea – what do they like about it? Do they use it for a different purpose than it was designed for? For Hellicar & Lewis, watching children use Somantics taught them a huge amount, as they hadn’t predicted the way that kids would use it to express emotions.

5. Rinse. Repeat.

Once you’re an innovation ninja, don’t stop there. At Engine, we have a set of ‘innovation labs’ on the ground floor, and our Engine Garage workshops had plenty of positive results and feedback, but one-offs are not enough. This is just the beginning of an ongoing culture shift.

So manipulate the world around you: adapt your camera so you can grip it better, ‘hack’ your burritolearn keyboard shortcuts to save yourself time and feel really clever – innovation is about not accepting the status quo. So go ahead and challenge it!

This post originally appeared on the Engine Group’s website:


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