A recent article published in Medium talks about the importance of the source of ideas and initiatives.
Having tried Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, co-founding an eco-village and working with leading edge economic and sustainability thinkers I feel I qualifies me to say a few things about how it is to be the source.
It’s a lot of things, amazing, stimulating, but rarely fun for long. It is lonely.
I am not saying this out of bitterness or anything, I hope that my experiences will help people understand that originators and sources are often unusual personalities and will be highly productive under the right conditions.
I printed a number of copies of the book about inventing for sustainability and gave them to friends for feedback. Lukewarm reception. As with the website, although from far afield, I got some interest so I carried on.
Look. I used my own judgement. Would I as a late teenager or university student, or when I was a science teacher have picked up and bought the book and found it useful? Yes I think I would. That’s where the feeling lonely comes in.
Anyway. The point is I was interested to see if it was helpful. What I wanted to do was to contribute thinking and designs that people who were longing to do something sustainable would be able to use. That was all, that was my motivation. It didn’t seem to be helpful so I didn’t update it. I always had the ambition to update the book with new chapters, already prepared etc. Anyway, I did a short video explaining the main aspects of the inventions from the book. I thought the invention might be of interest and helpful even if the novel was hard to follow.
A TV producer rang me up and wanted to do a program with me in it, featuring the inventions. I cancelled my meetings for that day and waited for the car to pick me up. Cancelled. Heard no more.
I still find that the insights from the work on the book are relevant. And the consulting company I started did manifest some of the ideas into walking maps.
I was invited to Stockholm City management to talk about the maps, and suggested that the most sustainable thing the city could do was to declare itself the walking capital of Scandinavia and set up walking routes using our methodology. I got the reply that they had had the idea to make Stockholm the Capital of Scandinavia and that they were experts at walking cities anyway.
The move to make itself the capital of Scandinavia created a lot of bad will with Copenhagen and Oslo. And the only innovation in terms of walking is that maps on streets show walking distances…. sort of.
As to the eco-village, the basic concept of Eco-Unit, developed by Folke Gunther is genius, and one that lay at the centre of the eco-village project I helped found. However, today, the group do not want to be associated with eco-unit. They have many very good reasons why not and will argue the point many times over. What they did not do was to consult the originator (me) to hear why I thought the way I did. From my perspective they missed some stuff.
What can we learn from this?
- Firstly people with ideas and inventions mostly do it out of a feeling of being helpful. This is important. All organisms in eco systems are helpful to the system in one way or another. So inventiveness, origination is natural.
- Proper feedback is important. It is good if it is appreciative of the good parts – it is always a work in progress – and constructive for the way forward. Sources do not mind criticism if it is helpful. They love it because they are being taken seriously and it means they were not wrong in their intuition.
- Sources need people around them to help them do the next steps. In the case of the walking city innovations, I had a business partner who took the idea and helped me sell it as well as deliver the mapping services.
- innovators often seem totally mad. They are too, I know I come over as really crazy to some people. Often they seem mad because there is no way of making their insights reality. However, do not let it stop there. Ask yourself if there is some aspect that can be realized. You will often find that there are next steps that you can take with the innovation that are fairly low investment and can be taken further.
- Before changing anything it is good to listen, deeply, to the originator. They will discuss at length, happily, but do to respond well to being dismissed, especially when people find “good reasons” and make these the only reasons without weighing everything. The advantage of listening is the originator may change their minds. Remember they just want to be helpful and are often not married in an ego way to their creation. Often they feel that what they originated came not from them but through them.
- People closest to you the originator are often the worst to work with, and ask for feedback. Let’s face it they know you and think you are crazy. That’s not a good start!
- The ideal would be to have some kind of center where ideas are listened to, given feedback, and tested/realized on a small scale – even if it is just putting it through a basic business case calculation. Everyone learns from this.
We need insights, we need ideas, we need the crazies. If we let them be lonely they will just invent less and less or find a way to exploit you and make a lot of money for themselves. Or they become bitter and cynical. Handled right, they have many gifts to give, and will keep on giving!