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Cities, Innovation, and the Future

by Langdon on October 27, 2014

hong kong crossing - small

Innovation is intimately linked with cities. This occurs for many reasons, many of which are entirely obvious. People congregate in cities, and through experiencing problems and sharing ideas for how to solve them, innovation comes about. There are suppliers and experts and scholars and materials and tinkerers in cities in abundance, so questions can be formulated and answered.   There is capital in cities, to provide investment to support good ideas that solve problems which people are willing to pay for. There are people in cities looking for better opportunities, and who hire on when new companies scale up.

But the city itself is also a topic for innovation. These are the fields of urban design, city planning, real estate development, construction, and architecture, which come together to shape the human-created environment in which now more than 3.5 billion people live.

Demographers estimate that by 2100, the total aggregate urban population will be around 7.5 billion, meaning that over the next 85 years, humanity will construct new urban settings for 4 billion people. This will certainly constitute the most massive building boom in history.

But what will these cities look like? How will they feel? What will it be like to live in them? Will they be squalid and polluted? Will they be the playground of cars and the bane of pedestrians? Will they be healthy and thriving, or sick and tired?

Here are some interesting facts about today’s cities, which tell us a lot about what we may want and not want for tomorrow’s.

People who have longer commute times today are less happy than people with shorter commute times. It can take up to an hour for people to recover the ability to concentrate following a long commute, and psychologists have a word for this. They call it “commuter amnesia,” which occurs as people simply shut out stimulus and try to forget about their long drive as soon as it is over. The longer the commute, the more likely people are to report chronic pain, high cholesterol, and people with commutes longer than 90 minutes are the most likely to be anxious, tired, and obese.

Public health experts have invented a word to describe low density suburban neighborhoods where one is obliged to drive everywhere due to the dispersion of housing and shopping and the massive highways that separate everything from everything else: obesogenic. That is, suburbia literally makes people fat, because they spend too much time driving, and not enough time walking. Imagine designing a city that is intended to make people overweight! But this is precisely what we have done …

Consequently, merely living in a sprawling, suburb-oriented community has the effect of reducing one’s expected life span by four years, largely as a consequence of the diseases associated with obesity and the stress of the commuter lifestyle.

In contrast with the negative impacts of disbursed suburbia, some cities have combined dense urban living arrangements in configurations that are quite pleasant, and to which people who have choice are inevitably drawn. Vancouver, Canada, is one of those cities, and the real estate development profession has created a new word to describe it: Vancouverism. Vancouver is relentlessly dense and yet manages to be charming, beautiful, and humane. It helps that the setting is so spectacular, but even without the water and the mountains, the lessons of thoughtful zoning and planning are applicable anywhere. Developers are copying Vancouver wherever they can.

When thinking about city street, scholars have identified what is now referred to as the law of social geometry, which tells us about how far from the street a good porch should be. It must be close enough to allow the porch sitter to interact with the passing pedestrian, but far enough that they are not obliged to interact. Stunningly, this can be quantified. The perfect distance for urban street conviviality is 10.6 feet.

However, if the cars take over a neighborhood, the results can be disastrous for the human and humane scale. People who live on highly trafficked streets report more feelings of loneliness and less connection to others than those on low-traffic streets. Cars, that is, can turn neighborhoods into what are called non-places.

These are just a few of the fascinating insights I gleaned from the book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, by Charles Montgomery.

Photo:  Hong Kong (dense and beautiful, like Vancouver).


Driven to Death by the Rate of Innovation

by Langdon on September 18, 2014

cjadghagWe recently had a fascinating meeting with a prominent venture capitalist based in Palo Alto, and during the course of our conversation about the pressures that his portfolio companies are under he used a fascinating phrase to describe the tech industry as a whole.  He said that the lagging companies, many of which are not even lagging that far behind, are being “driven to death by the rate of innovation.”

What a precise way to express both the tone and brutal reality of our times!

During the conversation we also talked about the digital revolution, and the fact that as computer technology continues to advance, the new power it brings creates unprecedented opportunity for those that quickly create new digital platforms, and then attract a very broad base of users.  For any firm that is directly in the high tech sector, and likewise any firm that is affected by what happens in tech, the key theme is therefore speed.

Speed is also one of the three main themes of our newest book, coming out September 22 from Wiley.  We called it “Agile Innovation,” as the book explores the synthesis of Agile Software technique and rigorous innovation methodology.  We wrote the book with one purpose in mind – to help leaders accelerate their innovation progress.

Front and Back (Smaller)

We have received a lot of very positive comments from the early reviewers, including this comment from Reid Hoffman, co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn:  “In today’s world of always-accelerating global competition, organizations either innovate or die. And as the authors of this worthwhile book make clear, innovation in the Networked Age is a team sport. It’s no longer enough just to think differently. You have to think faster. You have to think more productively. And to do that, you need to think collaboratively. This book is filled with good advice on how to do just that. Read it, then share it with your co-workers!”

And this one from Forbes, which put us at number 9 on their Recommended Reading List:  “Langdon Morris, Moses Ma and Po Chi Wu, Agile Innovation: The Revolutionary Approach to Accelerate Success, Inspire Engagement, and Ignite Creativity (Wiley, September 22). Two leading innovation thinkers and consultants (Morris and Ma) and an engineering professor (Wu) have written an excellent (and overdue) guide to how agile techniques, like process acceleration, risk management, and fuller team engagement, have fostered successful innovation for leading businesses and can be put into practice elsewhere.”

And this one from Errol Arkilic, who was co-creator of the Innovation Corps for the Obama administration:  “Agile Innovation promises to profoundly transform businesses and institutions. By bridging the worlds of Agile and traditional corporate innovation, the authors have created a mash-up for business strategy that enables the transformation of self-organizing toward self-optimizing teams and offer a map for the journey to the development of self-actualizing organizations. This must-read book is a strategic imperative for anybody aiming to successfully deliver new products or services in a brutally competitive, digitally-accelerated business world.”

To help encourage our friends to buy the book, we have assembled a digital library of tools and helpful information.

We’ve also created a new Crowd Launching platform to support the book and also to support other authors and content creators.

Click here to find the free library, read all the praise, watch a quick video about the book, and find links to Amazon and other booksellers.

Or you can click here to go directly to Amazon and order your copy now!

Thanks for your support!!


Arrogance, Risk, and Resources (Or, How to Avoid Unpleasant Surprises)

July 20, 2014

There was recently a small article in The Economist highlighting the growth of Airbnb, the residential room-sharing service, that like Lyft and Uber, is disrupting a traditional industry.  The short piece explores how Airbnb is growing, and discusses how much of a threat this may become to hotel chains.  The signals to date are mixed, […]

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The Secret that Victoria Didn’t Know

May 24, 2014

What the best way to move into an adjacent market? A recent Bloomberg Businessweek* article highlighted how not to do it, reporting briefly on the difficulties that Victoria’s Secret has had in moving from lingerie into the markets for sports bras, sweaters, jeans, and dresses. None of these new ventures has fared as well as […]

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Innovation Around the World: Palau, China, Brazil & Kenya

March 3, 2014

Innovation is happening everywhere, and there’s a lot to admire about some of the insights behind these excellent ideas: Palau:  Sharks, Better Alive than Dead The southwestern Pacific nation of Palau consists of 250 islands, and is home to about 21,000 people.  Many sharks live there also, and in the past the sharks were killed […]

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Sustaining Success and Coping with Fundamental Change

December 28, 2013

The acceleration of change and its impact on business and society is a theme that we touch on constantly here in this blog.  This post covers four recent events that individually and together reflect how various organizations are coping (or not) with the changing world, and how they apply innovation and creativity to sustain themselves […]

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