Innovation and Opportunity

Patchopolis celebrates the potential of innovation to spur sustainable community development through activating urban environments, improving community partnerships, and developing more efficient urban infrastructure. Through the innovations discussed, developed, and dreamed about this blog searches for local solutions to create better community and business connections today and into the future.

At times when researching for this blog it can be overwhelming to think about the social challenges our communities and others around the world face.  Between current challenges in the U.S. or abroad (ex. malnutrition, healthcare access, civil order) or future challenges (ex. adaption to climate change, resource abundance) it feels at times like an uphill battle against questions without answers. Recently I have been able to enjoy a few pieces that focus not on the challenges, but on solutions and the mindset of how to approach challenges.

Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis(@PeterDiamandis) and Steven Kotler
The Island President, featuring President Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) of the Maldives.
• A video of the commencement speech that Dick Costolo (@dickc) gave at the University of Michigan.

There are any number of similar resources that can provide inspiration (and I encourage comments with suggested resources), but I found the message of these three to be related and empowering, all calling for innovation, collaboration, and making decisions in the moment.

Rather than focusing on the negative, approach challenges of shortages through the compounding benefits of innovation.  Abundance commits chapters to topics including food, water, energy, health, and education, but besides citing the success of new innovations by students, start-up companies, and community organizations, the authors discuss, for instance, how reducing hunger also impacts an individual’s overall health, a community’s access to preventative healthcare, and educational success.  Similarly The Island President encourages not focusing on what is sacrificed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but instead the benefits for nations and corporations to be leaders in their field through finding adaptive strategies that are better solutions than following in the footsteps of U.S. Industrialism from the last century.  Through creating better practices and cleaner more efficient approaches to challenges, nations and new companies become leaders in the new economy rather than playing catch-up.

While the challenges faced are complex, the solutions don’t have to be.  Collaboration between mixed experiences and individual specialties create innovations that address multiple issues more efficiently, using less resources while meeting multiple needs.  While an engineer can create a potentially world changing innovation, they may have no idea how to fund it, role it out to a community, and continue to manage and improve the service.  Even if this can all be achieved by one individual, having ten teams working independently to address the same challenge has a far greater potential to find an even better (more resource or monetarily efficient) solution. Abundance uses the example of the xPrize where issuing a comparatively small prize to the winning idea nets a whole set of solutions, any of which might prove to be a world changing solution.  Through collaborating on issues, different backgrounds and specialties come together to find innovative solutions.

Of final importance is the message to live in the moment — being willing to go for it and chase an opportunity.  We are not able to plan out how the future will unfold, but when an idea or opportunity presents itself we must be willing to accept it and see where it leads.  In 2007, if you had asked me where I saw myself in five years my vision wouldn’t have included this blog or any of my current learning interests.  I wasn’t planning to study at the University of Minnesota for graduate school and therefore wouldn’t have an M.S. In Sustainable Design.  I wouldn’t have worked for a wind company, business sustainability consultant, or as a project manager for building alteration projects.  We can’t plan the opportunities that present themselves, but instead must take what is available, develop our best ideas, and push them to the limits to see what is achievable.  How will the greatest challenges of the next five years be solved?  We can only begin to dream, but if we are prepared and willing, opportunities will present themselves to test great products, make substantial improvements, and have life-ruiningly outstanding experiences.

In Milwaukee June 1-10 is Flying Car 2013, Milwaukee’s Innovation Week.  I plan to attend the Kohl’s Challenge, Millercoors Libation Innovation, and hopefully a few other events.  If you’re in the area I suggest registering and coming to collaborate, network, and mingle socially with other innovators and entrepreneurs from the area.