The Art of Doing

Talk: Radical Creativity

What does it take to be radically creative? What does being radically creative even mean? Come find out at our talk “Radical Creative” part of the Provocateur Series at Parsons Design Center Friday, 11/13.

radical-creativityWhat is radical creativity? Who is radically creative? How? And why? Find out tonight how Sir John Harington, Bob Dylan, Cindy Sherman and others come up with radically creative ideas, and how you can, too.

Friday Nov 13 at 6pm our talk on “Radical Creativity” at the “Provocateur Series” at the Parsons Design Center 66 5th Avenue at 13th street


Why Making Something Simple Is So Complicated

Kara Walker goes down the rabbit hole of the history of sugar to come up with a simple idea, a colossal Sphinx.

“A Subtlety” Or “The Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined
our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World
on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” -Kara Walker, May thru July 2014, Domino Sugar Factory

Kara Walker was asked to create a public work of art in the sprawling industrial ruin of the soon-to-be demolished Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, New York that dominates the waterfront across the East River from Manhattan.

Walker’s 35-foot tall, 75-foot long bright white Sphinx layered in powdered sugar, lording over the factory like a deity from an alternative universe, seems like an inevitability. After seeing it, it’s hard to imagine that she could have made anything else.

We’re always surprised (and a bit envious) when someone comes up with an idea so basic, so elemental and stripped down that it seems to have been plucked readymade from the collective unconsciousness—Warhol’s Soup Cans, the phony-hating Holden Caufield, the Empire State building, the iPhone, Twitter­. We sometimes imagine that the creators of these concepts must have conjured them out of thin air.

Think again. Continue reading “Why Making Something Simple Is So Complicated”

Confessions of an Angel Investor

Yun-Fang Juan, an angel investor and a former FaceBook lead engineer learns a hard lesson about math.











Yun-Fang Juan, Silicon Valley insider, angel investor and a former FaceBook lead engineer, has seen some questionable ideas turn into gold. You might have heard of them: Google, Facebook and WhatsApp.

The WhatsApp Lesson

Back in 2010, Yun-Fang Juan, a Silicon Valley insider and co-founder of Stealth Startup, was at a Mountain View taqueria with her husband Keith Chiem. The high-powered couple was sharing a meal with Brian Acton, a long-time friend, former Yahoo! colleague and best man at the couple’s wedding. Acton was working on a new messaging app on iOS that he said he could turn into a billion dollar business. The new app had a couple thousand users, a steadily growing user base, and the company wanted to hire more engineers. Acton was trying to recruit Chiem, and Chiem was interested. But with a background in statistics, Juan ran the numbers—doing a back-of-the-envelope analysis. Maybe Acton would be able to build a $100 million company, but she gave his chance of turning it into a billion company a multiple of 0.1%. After taxes, she estimated, her husband’s equity in the company might be one or two million dollars.

Now that might sound like a lot of money to most of us, but Juan who had worked at Yahoo! and Facebook and her husband had already cleaned up with Yahoo! stock and would do so with FaceBook holdings. So Juan told her husband: “If you want to work with Brian because he is a brilliant guy, do it. But it makes no sense to do it for the financial rewards.”

Juan’s husband passed on the offer.

Two months ago, Acton’s little messaging app, WhatsApp, sold to Facebook for $19 billion.

Juan called it an “expensive and humbling lesson.” It reminded her of times in the past when she had seen other business models with what at the time seemed to be limited potential—that is until they went on to become multi-billion dollar companies. Continue reading “Confessions of an Angel Investor”

Play for Good

What happens when brainy economists try to solve the world’s problems? More fun than you may think.


Play for Good’s Spin for Good is a new kind of social gaming site that combines the passion of gaming with the motivation to do good.

Put together some brainy academics to solve the world’s biggest problems and you may think they’d come up with a blizzard of white papers filled with obscure hypotheses and foot-long equations that would give you flashbacks of tests you failed in high school.

But you’d be wrong.

Amee Kamdar and Janet Moehring, two young University of Chicago economists, were having Thai takeout in Moehring’s Lincoln Park apartment in Chicago, brainstorming how to start a business with a pro-social bent when the idea hit them. Continue reading “Play for Good”

No Managers Required How Zappos’s is Ditching Old Corporate Structure for Something New

After making its move to the new downtown Las Vegas campus as part of Tony Hsieh’s Las Vegas revitalization quest, Zappos is making another radical change.


After making its move to the new downtown Las Vegas campus as part of Tony Hsieh’s Las Vegas revitalization quest, Zappos is making another radical change. 

No more job titles. No more managers. No more hierarchical decisions. By this time next year, Zappos’s 1,500 workers will be organized into something called a holacracy.

Holacracy is a little known organizational management system that’s is gaining a toehold in the business world. Zappos, so far, is its biggest adopter. Holacracy takes its name from the Greek word holos, a single, autonomous, self-sufficient unit, that is, at the same time, dependent on a larger unit. Think of a human cell’s relationship to the entire body.

Brian Robertson, founder of HolacracyOne and advisor to Zappos and other companies on how to adopt holacracy describes human beings as sensors who observe errors and inefficiencies in systems, and can intuit possible fixes. He describes the gap between what is (current reality) and what could be as a “tension.”

In traditional corporate hierarchies Robertson found that employees who observed inefficiencies or had ideas for improvements would have to go to a boss, who would go to their boss, who would go to their boss and so on. Often this critical information that could lead the company to meaningful change simply slipped through the cracks.  “When there is lack of clear and effective channels for processing tensions,” Robertson says, it can leave people frustrated, burnt-out, and disengaged.

So how does holacracy work?  Continue reading “No Managers Required How Zappos’s is Ditching Old Corporate Structure for Something New”

Giftopia: How to Innovate Your Gift-Giving

Instead of devoting all of your cognitive energy to choosing between the reindeer sweater and the iTunes gift card, why not get creative with the act of gift giving this year?


Get creative with the act of gift giving

American adults will spend on average nearly $800 on gifts this holiday season according to the Gallup poll. That’s a decent chunk of change that we shell out in cash or put on our credit cards to express our affection, gratitude or commitment to our loved ones, friends and co-workers. But in this era of technological disruption and entrepreneurial innovation why has the act of gift giving changed so little?

We might not always think of it this way, but most gifts in a market economy such as ours, are economic exchanges. Say you walk into a store or go online and find the perfect Marc Jacobs bag. And then you pay for the bag.  Now you own it. And then–Happy Birthday! or Merry Christmas!–the act of giving the bag, properly wrapped and carded, transfers the ownership of the gift from you to the giftee.

But is that all there is? Why not get creative with the act of gift giving instead of devoting all of our cognitive energy to choosing between the reindeer sweater and the iTunes gift card? Continue reading “Giftopia: How to Innovate Your Gift-Giving”

Are Robots Going to Kill Your Next Job or Create It?

Everyone agrees that some jobs for humans will be lost to robots, and some jobs for humans will be made because of our ‘bot overlords. But there’s a growing debate about the math.


Everyone agrees that some jobs for humans will be lost to robots, and some jobs for humans will be made because of our ‘bot overlords. But there’s a growing debate about the math.

This much we know: The robots are coming.

Every day there’s a story about a new job that a robot has been designed to do, sushi chefsecurity guardsurgeonfirst responder, and job interviewer. There are nearly a quarter of a million robots running already in U.S. factories, second only to Japan. According to the Robotics Industries Associations, this year in North America there has been double-digit growth in the number of robots sold in a variety of industries.

Everyone agrees that some jobs for humans will be lost to robots, and some jobs for humans will be created because of robots. But there is a growing debate about the math. Will the robotics revolution be an aggregate job creator or job killer for humans? Continue reading “Are Robots Going to Kill Your Next Job or Create It?”

Do You Know Where You’ll Be 285 Days From Now
at 2 P.M.? These Data-Masters Do

Microsoft researchers have developed a mobility prediction system that knows where you will be, even years down the road. What does this mean for the future of business?

Far Out
This screenshot of Far Out’s visualization tool shows mobility patterns of one of the study subjects living in the Seattle metropolitan area. The colored triangular cells represent a probability distribution of the person’s location given an hour of a day and day type.


Would you like to know how crowded your drive to the beach will be in three weeks? Or where your ex will be on a Friday night next month so that you can avoid him?

Adam Sadilek, formerly of Microsoft, and John Krumm, a principal researcher at Microsoft, were inspired by the question of predicting where people would be in the future and even led off with the query, “Where are you going to be 285 days from now at 2PM?” in their their paper, Far Out: Predicting Long-Term Human Mobility.

“At first glance,” the researchers told us, “it sounds like a very difficult problem.”

Sadilek, Krumm, and others have done a lot of research on predicting where a person might be in the immediate future–say, in an hour or two. Logically enough, it’s been found that a person’s previous location is a good clue for their next location. But as these models are extended into the future, they give poorer and poorer results. To guess with any accuracy where someone would be in 20 or 200 days would be more of a challenge. In order to do so, Sadilek and Krumm realized, they’d have to develop new techniques. Continue reading “Do You Know Where You’ll Be 285 Days From Now
at 2 P.M.? These Data-Masters Do”

What the Creators of IVF Can Teach Us About Innovation

Robert Edwards 2,500th child.Dr. Robert Edwards spent decades trying to solve the riddle of infertility with IVF. His innovative approach was a lot like any you could find in a modern-day startup—underfunded, scrappy and improvised.

It was in the mid-1950s when Robert G. Edwards, a young post-grad student who worked menial jobs to pay for his tuition at the University of Edinburgh, got a crazy idea.

Working on a genetics project with mouse embryos at a university lab, Edwards wondered if he could “pluck the egg from the ovary [of a woman] and fertilize it in the laboratory,” he wrote in his book, A Matter of Life. More importantly, he thought, if he could transfer the resultant embryo back into the woman’s womb, he’d solve one of mankind’s most vexing biological problems–infertility.

Considering this leap from mouse to man, it was an audacious thought, and a highly unlikely goal for a young scientist-to-be. But nearly 25 years later, in 1978, Edwards’s dream came true when the first child was born through in vitro fertilization.

The history of every innovation is unique with its own idiosyncratic quirks, characters, and defining cultural moments. But when we look back on ideas that were mere visions before they were embraced by the public, such as IVF, it can be helpful to see how an innovator like Edwards (who died earlier this month) pulled it off. Here are some lessons any entrepreneur or visionary can borrow from Edwards’s quest: Continue reading “What the Creators of IVF Can Teach Us About Innovation”

Steal Like Picasso: How Outside Inspiration Can Fuel Innovation

steal-from-outside-fieldAustin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, has quoted Steve Jobs, who cited Picasso’s apocryphal line, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” No one knows for sure exactly what Picasso meant (or, for that matter, if he ever even spoke those words), but what is not in dispute is that Picasso was very clever when it came to theft. Instead of stealing from the celebrated artists of his day, which would have made him a second-rate version of Cézanne or Van Gogh, Picasso stole ideas from artists far outside his own milieu.

In 1907, he saw an exhibit of African art and promptly stole the exaggerated features and non-perspectivized visuals for his own work. When Picasso unveiled Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, his first work influenced by African art, he was hailed as a groundbreaking artist, at least by those who didn’t call him an immoral heretic. Continue reading “Steal Like Picasso: How Outside Inspiration Can Fuel Innovation”