EV battery maker A123 hit a new rough patch this week—another example of the “Faster, Better, Cheaper—pick any two” trade-off that affects all companies, but few like clean tech companies. And another warning to those who think innovation is the same regardless of what company or which industry you’re in.
I've often quoted Pablo Picasso, who once said "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." What he meant was that good artists know enough to build on the works of others, but fail to add anything to their replication of the original. Certainly they don't add enough to hide their source material. Great artists, on the other hand, often bring enough of the creative process to their borrowing that evidence of the original source (or often sources) is quickly lost. An interesting and polarizing event is unfolding around a novel blogging application, Svbtle, by Dustin Curtis and an open-source copy, Obtvse, by Nate Wienert, that illustrates this challenge. You be the judge.
Does the world need another book on sustainability? Honestly, I'm not really sure. Having waded into this literature roughly five years ago, and have since ventured into some of its stronger currents, I have seen that much of what needs to be said has already been said — it's just that not everyone has said it and not everyone has heard it. It helped me to recognize there are different approaches to the topic, and a roadmap would be useful — here's the one I've come up with to help me make sense of the large and growing conversation.
I study the innovation process, both in modern companies and industries and through historic events, and bring that perspective to the challenge of achieving sustainability. I was recently asked to discuss my perspective on the interdisciplinary nature of UC Davis’s sustainability efforts, and here were my comments.
Not all networks are created equal. And I’ll take this moment to point out this more challenging aspect of innovation in general, and sustainable innovation in particular, having just ran across yet one more glaring example. Everyone, myself included, talks about the critical role of networks in the innovation process. We rarely talk about how those same networks go bad.
I had a recent conversation, continuing across two posts, in Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog earlier this week. The first was on a cool new company, Ecovative Design, that came out of RPI’s Inventor’s Studio and an interview of Eben Bayer, the CEO and co-founder: “A Young Green Innovator Turning Fungi into Jobs Muses on the Path to Breakthroughs” with some of my comments towards the end. The second is a Your Dot, an additional comment I posted on “The Innovator’s Challenge: Moving From Idea Networks to Action Networks” to elaborate on the challenges of building networks that do things…
A series of recent articles on fighting climate change have called for “breaking every rule in the free market playbook” (e.g., Another year goes by, Capitalism vs. the Climate). Do we really have to break the system, or can sustainable practices move from the fringe to business-as-usual?