Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Creativity of Evolution

I know what you're thinking.

He's stepping into dangerous territory now. After years of telling us how from his training and experience in the sciences that innovation is driven through evolutionary and revolutionary paths, Jim's going to weigh in on the greatest debate of all: Where did we come from? How did we get here? Who or what is responsible it all?

I can summarize the answer to your thoughts in two words: Advertising Agencies

(more on that later...)

Today's posting really gets back to what this blog is about. It's a place where I like to chronicle ideas, events, and things that capture my attention. A lot of times it involves my professional interests, and sometimes it reflects something more personal. On rare occasions, I come across something really unique that blends interests and ideas from both sides, and today, I want to share something I stumbled across the other day that fits in that category.

I focus an extraordinary amount of each work day thinking with my clients about evolutions of systems of all kinds (mechanical, electronic, biological, thermodynamic, the list of systems is open-ended). How machines are put together, how and why they function, and how they can be improved are my bread and butter. I also have a passion for the arts, especially fantastic art - visions of possible futures and pasts as realized in oils, watercolors, computer graphics, wood, metal, television, film, stage, and just about any medium for creative expression.

The word "evolution" of course has a sociological context, and immediately conjures up images of primordial soup, dinosaurs, primates and humans engaged in a battle against time and the elements. Each organism is locked in mortal combat, striving to survive, and (consciously or not) is trying to better itself for the promise of an unknown future. Imagine then, my reaction to this advertisement for Saturn Consumer Electronics I recently came across from the Scholz & Friends Group. Is this robotic evolution, or Deus Ex Machina?

Within a few minutes of seeing this ad, I happened to stumble across another which addressed a similar theme, but where the evolutionary flow of time was reversed.

It also happened to feature another one of my..ummm...passions.

This advertisement, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, won a top award at Cannes in 2006. I'm sure my colleagues in Great Britain will recall it, but I think I can safely say it never aired during the Super Bowl, or else Budweiser would have suffered record losses that year.

So, you see? I really wasn't going to unleash a charged debate on the origin of humanity. Evolution can co-exist with all kinds of design. Pre-determinism and free-will can find balance in the universe.

Now, where did I put my remote?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fail Whale at 36,000 Feet (or: Oh No, Not Again)

It's not often that life imitates Rod Serling and Douglas Adams simultaneously.

I'm currently 36,000 feet over Colorado, flying on the new Virgin America route between Boston and Los Angeles. Ever since America West's acquisition of US Airways, coast-to-coast travel has not been one of my favorite activities. When Sir Richard Branson entered the United States' ailing commercial airlines market, there was a glimmer of hope that something new might be on the horizon.

Today's flight offers coast-to-coast Wi-Fi service. How cool is that?

Now I find myself ever closer to working "anytime, anywhere" as I can spend the majority of a 6-hour flight connected to the virtual world. I can keep up on my e-mail. I can hold web-conferences with clients and pass critical issues to home office as they happen.

I can update my blog. I can tweet. Wait, I just saw something. Did I just see in my window what I thought I saw?

I need to summon the stewardess, err, flight attendant (he gets paid less). Come quickly, it's out on the wing!

It's gone. But I know I saw something. Maybe I'm just tired. I should get back to updating my tweets. Here's a neat article on Wolfram Alpha that I saw, let me post the link. I just sent the tweet..wait..nothing's my window is going blank..wait..there it is again! Now I can't do anything...tell the captain - the creature's tampering with the knowledge engine!

Twitter's "fail whale" is a familiar but random creature that up until this morning, I only saw on land. Now it's a recurring nightmare above 20,000 feet, and yet, it seems to be missing something, like a bowl of petunias. I know I've seen these two together somewhere before. Maybe it's an iPhone app.

I've spent most of my career keeping up with and driving technical innovations. Once in a while, however, the benefits we gain come with extremely ironic coincidences. I'll research ways of coping. Maybe Google or Facebook has something. Nope. Let's check the Twitterverse again. Wait a minute...there it is again!!

Flight Attendant: "Can I help you, sir?"

Yes...a glass of water.