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John Wooden

(re)inspire

Created by: the (re) institute llc                All Rights Reserved 2011-2015

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cases of ‘places’

the ‘mindset’ subsection immerses you in (re) thinking; the ‘stories of value’ subsection draws the connection to tangible value. so what does it look like when that thinking spreads: across organization, culture, time? come see.

direction

what:

in it’s time, Bell Labs (BTL) was the most innovative scientific organization in the world. formally, it was the research arm of Bell Telephone.


environment:

it’s intended role was to support the R&D efforts of a huge, monopolistic telecommunications company. but because it was given ‘space’ - physical space yes, but virtual, geographic and managerial space most importantly - it allowed scientists and researchers, many fresh out of graduate studies and full of ambition and dreams, to ‘play’ with and play out ideas. their mantra was to focus not on what was known, but what was unknown.


impact:

the way BTL’s team chose to pursue ideas offered no guarantee, at times not even an intended end. what individual employees of Bell Labs chose to pursue was often arguably distant from the business of the company that funded it. they played at the edges. however, they nonetheless challenged themselves and each other to define a ‘value’ context for whatever they did, even if the immediate measure of value wasn’t in dollars and cents. largely because of this environment, BTL and its team shaped the telecommunications and digital world and its advances continue to have a ripple effect nearly 50 years past the Lab’s closure. 


limits:

while the environment within BTL was ‘open’ for decades, what made it unusual was that such an environment existed within a for-profit organization. ultimately though the primary mission of profit trumped the pursuit of creative thought. though BTL no longer exists, it proved that having an open space for taking a different view does bring value (including nearly incalculable monetary value over countless companies and decades).

Bell Labs

what:

you may never have heard of Janelia Farm, unless you’re immersed in basic biomedical research. and that’s suits them just fine. think of Bell Labs, but focused on Janelia’s passions, and benefiting from many of BTL’s ‘lessons learned’.


environment:

funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Janelia is the near-utopian manifestation of HHMI’s mission in creating cutting edge advancements in basic biomedicine. it is a self-contained, state-of-the-art facility (much like BTL was in its time). it pays its employees near the top of the industry pay scale (so the ‘money’ invested in the team frees them not to be distracted by money). similarly, it provides each researcher with a robust research budget, on top of the monies already invested in the Janelia facility. in total, this allows the Janelia team to focus on exploring beyond the edges of known and accepted basic research - something their founders realized was difficult to do in any other academic or corporate environment, where other priorities trumped truly creative, innovative exploration of ‘what could be.”


Janelia goes further to tap the fullest potential of ‘looking at the world differently’ and creatively by consciously recruiting 1) researchers from across areas of science often siloed from one another and 2) mixing both newly minted scientists with seasoned leaders in their respective fields, both of whom have a passion and desire to truly explore ‘what could be’ and the openness to learn from one another.


impact:

what could sound indulgent has already proven highly effective - both by current and new standards of value. in its first 5 years alone Janelia is producing research results and publishing papers in leading journals and in quantity and quality that other established institutions only dream of. more, they are already turned to equally for their quality and their revolutionary way of viewing both their research and the potential value to be revealed through it, having most recently been asked to be part of the President’s and NIH’s $100 million brain research initiative.


limits:

Janelia has a clear focus on biomedical research. that’s important and effective for their own application of creative thought, but unlikely to result in their mindset or model spreading to other industries, issues, and opportunities... at least not directly by them. the fact that they are after a ‘value’ that is often several steps from a commercialized, money-returning form may also cause some to undervalue what they do.

Janelia Farm

what:

GreenXchange (GX) is a program and an open platform for pursuing sustainable innovation. how? through the sharing of intellectual property (patents and proprietary ‘know how’) that would otherwise stay locked up tight within the company that produced it. 


environment:

Nike started the exchange and has since been joined by others. as a big company with lots of resources encouraging innovation and experimenting at the edges, they came to realize that their company and its mission and operating environment alone could not extract the full value - amount or form - of their ‘smarts’ or their assets. so they chose to do what was once unthinkable: to open up the vaults and share their intellectual property to see what others might do with it - without restriction and for purposes other than helping Nike increase its bottom line.


impact:

since its founding just a few years back, the GX has gathered together nearly 500 separate pieces of intellectual property. this IP is available to and searchable by a global audience. for free. and GX has created 3 simple ways in which companies owning the IP can offer it and others can use it. the GX gives a whole new meaning to the typical understanding of return, value, and mission in the corporate environment, not to mention dramatically opens up the meaning of partnership.


limits:

like Janelia Farm, it seems a bit early to focus on limits. what’s perhaps more interesting is to take note of what has developed as almost a competition among corporations to take the GX further or do it one better with new ideas and ways to expand, seed, and draw value from creative thought. the exchange doesn’t show its audience how to connect its IP or ideas to value, but it takes it does create and encourage an environment of idea generation and a ‘space’ in which new ideas and collaboration are much more likely.

Nike GreenXchange

what:

a non-profit, venture capital firm.


environment:

that simple description of In-Q-Tel (IQT) is almost enough to say it all. it’s also enough to stop anyone familiar with venture capital in their tracks. ‘profit’ is not the goal of IQT’s investments or their decade-and-a-half venture. funded by the U.S. government, In-Q-Tel is a relatively small organization made up of really smart people who know how to explore the edges - of various technologies, of ways to productize ideas, of folks who know the private sector and those who know the government sector, investor types and lawyer types. their mission, and the basis on which they are judged to have produced value and to have been successful enough to justify continued funding isn’t financial return. their ‘return’ is keeping the U.S. intelligence community equipped with the latest information technology to support our country’s intelligence capability.


In-Q-Tel has changed the value equation typical of a venture investment organization. in so doing, they have expanded the potential for seeing and realizing value.


impact:

In-Q-Tel has made the intelligence community smarter, more efficient, and more cutting edge than that community could ever be on its own. IQT’s focus allows the intelligence community to focus on what they do best, employing technology to protect the nation, rather than trying to invent technology.


but In-Q-Tel has done more, directly benefiting the technology innovators and entrepreneurs of this country by providing funding where it most often does not exist or at least cannot be consistently counted on - at the earliest stages of creative thought where ideas, outcomes, and tangible returns are often difficult if not impossible to know. In-Q-Tel in essence bets on what author Steven Johnson would call ‘the slow hunch’ - the place where truly game changing innovations are born.


side note: tax status and return measures aside, IQT has backed numerous profitable private ventures.


limits:

the greatest limit is more the risk that the government may have a change of heart or become uncomfortable with the fact that IQT doesn’t look like or operate like the rest of the government or measure value in the same way. this could lead to IQT’s funding being cut off or severely limited or worse, having its model of investment abandoned altogether. a further limit could be raised that to date this smart model hasn’t been adopted anywhere else in the government.

In-Q-Tel

what:

here’s the official line on the Santa Fe Institute (SFI): an independent, non-profit, theoretical research institute dedicated to the multidisciplinary study of the fundamental principles of complex adaptive systems - physical, social, biological, computational, and more.


environment:

the words in italics above (our notation), go a long way to explaining the environment of SFI and why it’s a trailblazer in expanding the possibilities of creative thought in the scientific research. being independent gives the institute the freedom from doing research under another institution with a different agenda. this ties directly to their multidisciplinary approach - in a typical research organization (a university or an R&D lab of a for-profit corporation), the sciences would be separated, not cross-discipline as they are at SFI. the focus on the theoretical signals that SFI can’t always anticipate the outcome of its activities. SFI is willing to accept that uncertainty because it knows that the best place and best way to discover ‘new’ is in the unknown - territory, view, or results.


it goes further. by targeting complex adaptive systems across fields of study, SFI is producing views and discoveries that actually encourage others to think more broadly. instead of expecting or looking for simple, narrow answer, they actively acknowledge intersections of ideas and intelligences.


impact:

many would argue that SFI helped break down the barriers between the sciences in other places where they are researched and applied - a huge impact. SFI also has created a model where it houses and finances a small in-house resident faculty but collaborates with a large group of external faculty, arguably spreading its learnings farther than they would otherwise go and keeping their in-house thinking fresher.


limits:

like Janelia, SFI is only focused on the sciences and research (though numerous times it has had a huge impact on industry). it is also little known outside its immediate circles. it is arguably under-funded as well, necessitating chasing capital sources rather than employing its energies further into what it does so well.

the Santa Fe Institute

sampling (re) thinking

mindset, catalysts,

environments