What if you could wake up every morning smarter and more informed about global affairs with news dream media? What if you could wake up with new skills installed in your brain? There are 6 - 8 hours of our daily lives that media tech moguls haven't yet been able to reach - the time we spend asleep. But that may be changing soon...

AuthorDave Duarte
Modern Mechanix Cover.jpg

What hobby or skill would you develop if you could find the time and energy to work on it every day? The answer to this question may provide a major level-up for your creativity, career and company. 

So many of us are so busy being Professionals that we forget to be Amateurs.  The word Amateur comes from the Old French meaning "lover of", and ultimately from the Latin amatorem meaning "lover". But these days being called an amateur is often a put-down. 

Many great companies and products have grown out amateur hobbies and side-projects though. Yuppie Chef, the popular South African e-commerce company, is a good example of this. It grew out of a side-project at Live Alchemy where staff were playing a game to see who could conceptualize and launch a business in a day - and a couple of kitchen-geeks in the team did that and just kept going. 

Jamiix, a South African IM support business that is now operating in four countries, grew out of a young man's desire to help curb drug addiction in his neighbourhood. 

Woothemes, one of the world's top Wordpress theme development companies, was developed after-hours by Adii while he was working for a large printing company. He offered the CEO the opportunity to buy-into his side-venture and to run it as a business-unit within the company but his offer was declined. Within a year Woothemes was making more money every week than Adii originally valued the whole venture.

Twitter grew out of a side-project at the now-defunct podcasting start-up Odeo. 

Apple Inc. grew out of a border-line-illegal little blue box that the young Jobs and Woz built that basically hacked telephone networks so you could make free long-distance calls.

And if you want to know what the start of this process called "innovation" looks like, read the following two forum posts:

Here's Linus Torvalds announcing Linux 

Hello everybody out there using minix -

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and
professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing
since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on
things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
(same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons)
among other things). 

Larry Sanger posted about the experiment that would turn into Wikipedia as follows:

No, this is not an indecent proposal.  It's an idea to add a little

feature to Nupedia.  Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the

idea objectionable, but I think not.

"Wiki," pronounced \wee'-kee\, derives from a Polynesian word,

"wikiwiki," but what it means is a VERY open, VERY publicly-editable series of web


On the front page of the Nupedia wiki we'd make it ABSOLUTELY clear that this is experimental, that Nupedia editors don't have control of what goes on here, and that the quality of articles, discussion, etc., should not be taken as a reflection of the quality of articles, review, etc. on the main part of the Nupedia website. Does anyone have an objection to our trying this out? Larry

I think that’s what the beginning of innovation is like - not really sure of itself, perhaps a little cheeky, but backed by a person's commitment. Also note that the authors of these posts above aren’t trying to keep their idea secret, not asking readers to sign NDAs, just trying to get the support of others.  

The thing is, it's not the idea that succeeds. It's that you manage to put it into practice and help it gather momentum. 

What about big established companies? These are the hardest to change, because of the many established routines and practices that people have. 

Google has a process called "Innovation Time Off", where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on side-projects. This practice has given rise to products such as GMail, Google News, Google Transit, and their main money-maker AdSense. 

Sometimes it's not even that radical. Say, for example, you want to do more gardening but you're stuck at work the whole day. So you start a little guerilla gardening around the office - it starts with a pot-plant, then a window-box, then others join you. Soon the office is blossoming, literally, a company herb garden is estabished, people's moods and productivity improve and a greater awareness of the natural environment is fostered. Do you think that this could make a difference to the culture and results? I believe so. 

Another great example of this kind of small but significant change can be seen in the Standard Bank's "Takkie Day". Branch Manager Maggie Lesele started helping customers get served while they were still lining up outside the branch on pay-day, and soon expanded this service ethic to getting her staff to start wearing running shoes instead of high-heels on these days in order to serve customers faster. This has been a resoundingly successful initiative that has spread to other branches around South Africa, while providing a brand-boost to Africa's largest retail bank. 

So, Im interested in your next small idea. That little something in your world that you think you could improve, or that project you want to do because it might just turn into something (or not).

Have you ever had a side-project or experiment turn into something bigger? Please share and help inspire others to start on theirs. 

I love using diagrams to help explain concepts which would otherwise be difficult to remember. They make it easier for some people to call up in their minds and immediately recall complex concepts.

I thought of the following model a few weeks ago to describe how value is realized in today's fast-paced, largely unpredictable markets. I've entitled it "Value Creation in a Wild Wired World". Please let me know what you think...

Industrial Age Value Creation:

Industrial Age Innovation

This V model of Value creation is suited to stable, predictable markets and industries.The consumer doesn't have many alternative choices of products and services to fulfill their needs here. The company needs to recoup their significant investment of cash, time and labour by charging as much as possible, and keeping the product as is for as long as possible - taking it from being a Star product to a Cash Cow eventually. Microsofts OS is a good example of this, but they're slowly shifting to the model below...

Rapid Prototyping, Perpetual Beta

An alternative model, more suited to fast changing, unpredictable, hyper-competitive markets looks more this:

Value Creation in a Wild Wired World

The idea here is to launch with a "good enough" prototype, attract early adopter users, and develop the product according to their needs and feedback. In the software development world, this is known as "Beta" - where the product is in testing mode, and constantly improving according to how people are using it. There is generally less upfront investment required in this model, which is important since many products launched into unpredictable, competitive markets will fail unless they adapt in ways that weren't originally envisaged by the product team. Often times the best ideas here arise to serve an unmet need of the founder - you might hear the founder saying the product was launched to "scratch my own itch" The other motto of firms that operate with this model is: "release early, release often". Google does this well.

Your feedback

What do you think about these models? Do they make sense? Is there anything you'd label differently, add to, or remove from the diagrams?
A research and education collaborative called Creative Synthesis are busy working on a website design that evolves by itself, mimicking genetic evolution digitally.
For example, consider a fictitious experiment that explores the use of color, size, typography, and spatial positioning as representation tools in an introductory presentation of the lambda calculus. A highly simplistic ‘genetic’ algorithm could be implemented to vary experimental treatment based on correct and incorrect subject inputs. Although not a complex example, structuring this kind of approach within recycled research projects encourages broader, more flexible experiment design through computer augmentation.

They are basing their experiments on the opensource Wordpress platform.
AuthorDave Duarte
Innovation is a large and important topic, and there are many different perspectives and definitions of it. It is important to understand the factors which lead to Innovation, since it is considered to be a major driver of economic growth. In the Evidence Based Management course that I'm teaching at UCT, we take the perspective that Innovation only occurs when tangible economic value is realized from the application of new ideas, inventions, or processes.My perspective on this has been informed by my interactions with Prof. Eddie Obeng, Christof Gillet and Jon Foster-Pedley from Pentacle, a virtual business-school that teaches Innovation to business executives around the world. Their perspective of Innovation as a management process that yields economic value (i.e. Money!) has informed the way I approach it in all my endeavors.

The most innovative companies in the world, such as Google, Nokia, P&G, and Johnson & Johnson, don't leave Innovation to chance. They all have systems and management processes to take lots new ideas, reduce them to what can be implemented, and then set-about developing, testing, and launching the new products, processes, and services.

An innovator needn't be a Creative, nor an Inventor. In fact, many innovators simply have systems and processes to apply the creativity and invention of other people to solving problems. This, of course, can be highly profitable.

Edison, for example, is often cited as the inventor of the lightbulb. This however, is inaccurate, as Edison did not invent the light-bulb. He did, however, tackle the problem of disintegrating filaments in electric powered light-bulbs, a problem encountered by people for decades prior to his breakthrough. To achieve his desired result of a long-lasting and inexpensive light filament, he applied a painstaking process of trial and error, working with numerous collaborators and scientists, many of whom contributed their creative ideas for little or no credit. The result of their work was an inexpensive carbon filament, bent into a horse-shoe shape, which lasted longer due to a more efficient vacuum which he obtained. This made the old light-bulb invention usable in cities, and thus elevated it from the realm of invention to Innovation.

We therefore draw the distinction between Creativity, Invention, and Innovation so that we can prioritize the value-creation aspect of Innovation. This allows more people, creative or not, to engage with the subject.

Creativity and Innovation

While creativity often plays a part in the process of innovation, it is not the end in itself. Creative ideas are not always relevant to the market, nor are they necessarily practical. So, in the process of Innovation, creative constraints are drawn to help focus creative ideas on solving a problem.

Invention and Innovation

Invention is probably one-step closer than Creativity to Innovation. A creative idea may spark the design and development of an invention. An invention, in turn, can be applied in the market to create value or change- thus becoming an Innovation.
"An important distinction is normally made between invention and innovation. Invention is the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or process, while innovation is the first attempt to carry it out into practice" (Fagerberg, 2004: 4)

Innovation and Action 

A quote which comes to mind:
"Ideas are a dime a dozen, people who put them into action are priceless".

(I'm not sure who said this, some sources say Einstein, but it might as well be Mastercard).

This perspective on Innovation take it out of the conceptual realm, and into the action and implementation space. The most innovative companies, then will have the most effective systems (or Heuristics) for determining which ideas are relevant (perhaps among many ideas submitted by the crowd), and then rapidly prototyping ideas, and testing and developing them in the market profitably.

If I achieve anything in this part of the course it should be that the students realize that Innovation doesn't always come in a lightning flash of insight,  but it can be managed as a business process to yield consistent results and value over time.
AuthorDave Duarte
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