I spent 20 years of my life as a professional musician and composer and performer, and my wife is a professional painter, so I have a strong root in the arts. And in that, I'm very used to what is considered serious criticism, I mean journalistic criticism: art criticism, music and theatre and cinema and stuff like that. And I know that it's not possible, you would never be taken seriously, if you're writing about those as a professional critic, if you cannot place whatever you are talking about in the historical context of the medium, painting or music, in the culture, and talk about what it means in terms of today, the future, what came before, and place it. And not to say, you don't review the book or the quality of the video tape itself, but the contents, and even the social and intellectual content.
That completely contrasts with this other cultural artifact, which is even more influential in our society right now than painting or theatre or art, which is technology. And there, the level of public commentary and the level of public discipline around these things, is shockingly bad. Journalists for example are writing about e-books and e-readers, and are evaluating the battery life as the most important criteria, and never bother mentioning that that technology might put them out of business and make their paper go out of business. They would never say that, despite the fact they're among the most affected people of what could happen.
And the very people who are writing about it, informing the public, aren't speaking about the impact that these things have on not just newspapers as a business, but newspapers as a fundamental component of our culture and society, to support the markers in free speech, and have basically professionals being advocates for the rest of us. I'm not trying to get hysterical or make a political statement, I'm just contrasting how we treat technology from these other things.
And therefore, for some reason around things dealing with technology and innovation, we live in a culture that believes our own myths. I mean, it's just totally another myth that is demonstrably wrong by anybody who chooses to look, such as the nature of innovation and the nature of history. When people talk about Thomas Alva Edison, nobody who has looked at Edison would recognize him in the descriptions, this notion of this genius who just has light bulbs going off in his head and things coming on.
No, he was a spectacularly good talent scout. In music terms, he was an A&R guy. He went out and found great creatives, who had great ideas, and he brought them in. He had great lawyers. He was a nasty man, in terms of he was brutal - he is on a par with any business man else as well. Creatively brilliant, and then sometimes creatively brutal. And yes, he brought a lot of stuff to market, he was absolutely effective. But he had a huge factory of people making these ideas that his name is associated with. And he contributed, I'm not trying to sell him short, but I'm just trying to say, he is worth admiring and of respect, but respect him with a mind for what he actually did, not for what some story teller said who wanted to tell you a story about heroes.
Those are dangerous stories, because they take hold and people try to copy them. So we live in a culture of heroes, in sports, 'American Idol', all this sort of stuff. We want to be a rock 'n roll star, we want to be an American Idol, we want to be heroes, we want to be the person who started Facebook, we want to be the individual and say: "I'm so good, and this is what I did." And that is a completely wrong-minded way and does not reflect how the real world works.
All of these ideas take place over a really long time. They are almost never invented from scratch and all of a sudden becoming hit records. Even the iPod took four years to be an instant hit, from the time it existed. And by the way, it was the third product that had a hard-disk MP3 player on the market, so they weren't even the first. There is a long thing.
So the long nose, it's not like Pinocchio the liar, it's the long nose of Cyrano de Bergerac. If you love people and technology and what we might be able to do in terms of progress, recognize you need a long nose to be a great lover to be successful in this. It takes 20 years, if you look at the history of digital technology, information technology and telecommunications. There is solid data from the National Academy of Science in the United States that says: It takes at least 20 years to go from the first concept to mature, where it defines mature as a billion dollar industry. And most of that is below the radar of anybody's perception, and then all of a sudden hockey-sticks up.
Now if you don't know that and you think that people just have a light bulb go off and have a brilliant idea and invent stuff from scratch, you're like somebody who believes that you could make gold through alchemy, as opposed to: the gold is there, but going prospecting, learning the geological features where gold might be, learning how to find it, how to dig it up, mine it, refine it and become a goldsmith to make it worth more than its weight in gold. And the process of invention and innovation is far more like prospecting for gold and bringing it to the goldsmith as jewelry than a light bulb going off.
The long nose, if you believe this 20 year thing - and I absolutely believe it, and not only that, I believe I can demonstrate it with solid data, and it's not getting shorter - is that anything that's going to have huge impact in the next ten years, is already ten years old. And if you believe that, or even think that that's even the least bit credible, it should completely transform your approach to design and innovation, to be in far more want of prospecting and figuring how to get your head below the radar to see these things that are just lying there on the ground to be picked up, but you don't see them.
I have this lovely quote from Marcel Proust that I probably destroy every time I try to quote it, but it goes something like this: "The only true voyage of discovery is not to go to different places, but to have different eyes." And the principle challenge for those who aspire to be designers and innovators, is to actually try and find another mindset of how to see the world that is already there in front of them. And I would say, a lot of the discussion around design thinking and so on - I fight with my friend Roger Martin about this all the time, because he says "I want everybody to become a designer," and I say: "No you don't, because it's a serious profession, and that's as stupid as saying 'I want everybody to be a lawyer, a legal expert or a financial expert or an expert in nuclear energy.' It's a really hard, serious profession, being a professional designer."
What you want people to understand, at the literacy level, not at the expertise level, is what design brings to the table, which complements as opposed to replaces, the other types of thinking. In exactly the same way I want you to know what the guitar can bring to the trio, not have the guitar replace the drums and base. Because I see design and design thinking as a way to complement the iterative type of directed thinking, which is, by the way, in experimental psychology, demonstrably different, in terms of thought patterns and cognitive structures, than design thinking. And it's not that this is wrong and that's right; both are important and valuable. They're just different, and they're complementary. And this comes back to saying: If we can find agreement, if these two things can converge, I feel far more confident in the quality of the design than if I just had one or the other. And that is sort of the argument.
But we come back to this notion: What's the essence of design? And so, in the Netherlands or in the world, if you believe that it's about invention, and if you believe it's about "Oh I have this idea, I think this is what we should do, let's go here, let's do it," you're going to get it wrong. And nearly all national policies on research and invention, in my opinion, are demonstrably based on a model that is proven not to work. Such as: We will give extra money to universities or things like that, where it can be applied, so-called industry-relevant research. And we're going to stop letting people fool around out on the tip of the nose on these ideas that are loosely defined, sort of arty-farty, what we call curiosity-driven research. Anybody who studies the history will understand that the majority of large, sustainable ideas come as the result of unintended consequences of smart people chasing their curiosity.
And the second thing is, if you look at the economic models of this, and now I'm just talking like a business person rather than a designer, if you look at the economic analysis of a period of let's say 50 years, you will see that the companies that pulled back from the tip of the nose and just focused on the base, are in fact where productivity went down, it didn't go up.
And I'll tell you, the reason I work at Microsoft is because I respect their value so much. They are one of the few companies that fully respect the tip of the nose. Not at the expense of these other things, this is just another power trio, right? You've got the tip of the nose, which is where you're doing this curiosity-driven research; you've got the middle of the nose, which is where you're doing advanced development, which is equally important; and you've got the base here, which is about productization. And you manage them differently, they are different kinds of people and different types of tasks.
But like any other investment portfolio, this is about how do you invest in your future, as a business but also as a culture and a society? What are your values? And do you have a balanced investment portfolio? And where you invest, and how much, in each of these things, is a reflection of your value system and your belief system around how the world works. And I think the belief system in many of our institutions is severely lacking. That's what this is about.
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