Innovation Through Osmosis

SOMETHING ABOUT SMART PEOPLE INSPIRES INNVOATION AROUND THEM. Since I’ve started spending more time in the space community online, and among some really creative and intelligent people, I find that I’m coming up with more ideas for “stuff to do” than ever before. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more motivated to do something about those ideas because of the energy of the people around me. Either way, I’m suffering from an overload of creative ideas right now with not enough space to track them or execute on them. So what’s the logical solution? Another idea!

What I need is something along the lines of a virtual thirdplace, an incubator, and coworking, all mashed up. It’s no secret that most of what has been inspiring me lately is space related. And as I said in my previous post about Spacepoints, there’s a need to coordinate the resources available to the community so that you don’t need to know people to be able to get something done. Additionally, I’m a practicioner of Getting Things Done, which says that you should only have a thought once (in an ideal world), at which point you capture it and decide what to do with it. Roll all this together and it’s a pretty interesting concept for enabling people interested in STEM outreach to do, without worrying as much about the “how”. Not to mention the multiplicative effect of putting lots of ideas out there.

We’ll start with users signing up. As part of connecting to the system, they will fill out a profile that lets them specify what their skills are. This can be hobbies (like an amateur photographer, or a woodworker), professional (e.g. a lawyer), or anything in between (someone who used to do graphic design professionally but is now writing books). They can also add in resources they can reach within 1 degree (someone they know directly). This would be along the lines of they have a relative who is a publisher, for example. By doing this we build up a resource database that can be used when working on a project later.

Now we add in the ability for users to quickly capture ideas. Whenever someone has an idea about something to do, no matter how small the idea is, how impossible they think it is, how ill-defined it is at the moment of conception, the person should be able to quickly save it in the system. They can send it by logging into the site and writing it down, by emailing it in, by sending an SMS or a tweet, or any other way we can think of. Reliable capture is an important GTD concept, and here it will let all the possible ideas be captured. Additionally, as soon as an idea is captured, it should be open to the rest of the community for comment. This lets everyone start fleshing out the idea, expanding on it, spinning off of it, and most importantly, turning it into a reality. It will be important to treat this as brainstorming, and keep it positive and constructive.

Once we have an idea and comments on it, we’re ready to start executing. This is where things start to get tricky, because there’s a big difference between talking and doing. For any project, leadership could be collaborative, or it could be coordinated by a single person. If it’s a single person, it could be the person who originally came up with the idea, or it could be someone else who wants to run with it. Regardless, this is where the database of resources comes in. Users should be able to search what’s available, contact folks to find out if they can help, and attach people to the project. Much like an incubator, there should probably be some amount of common resources available to use, such as web hosting or database servers, for those projects that will exist online.

There are a lot of gaps in this idea right now. For example, how do you handle projects that you want to keep somewhat closed? And how do you track credit for a project? That’s less important than a lot of technical details, but it’s critical for continued engagement that people have their contributions recognized. And when an idea really takes off, the people who made it happen should be identified and celebrated. We’ll figure out the details along the way.

Todd Palino


I'm a dad, a small business owner, a systems engineer, a developer, and any number of other things.

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