We may not think about it all that often, but the choices that we make often end up defining who we become. Dr. Sheena Iyengar, the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School, makes the psychology of choice and decision-making the focus of much of her research. She wrote a best-selling book called The Art of Choosing, and just published a new book called Think Bigger.
We talk about Sheena’s new book, and dive into why decision-making has become a focus of her career. We also have a lively discussion about design thinking and its shortcomings, and talk about some of the myths associated with innovation.
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Sheena S. Iyengar is the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School. She graduated with a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Stanford University.
Dr. Iyengar’s research focuses on the psychology of choice and decision-making, addressing how humans face challenges in a world where they are inundated with options. She has also tackled issues in the business world through the lenses of network analysis and diversity-inspired ideation. She studies the processes used by both groups and individuals in making choices to see how we can improve on innovation, problem-solving, and leveraging business relationships.
Dr. Iyengar currently sits on the board of the Asian University for Women and is looking to expand her work on further board opportunities. She is also a member of the Ashinaga Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. She is a blind, first-generation Indian-American who lives in New York City.
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Summary (via ChatGPT)
Dr. Sheena Iyengar, a professor of Business at Columbia Business School, discusses her new book "Think Bigger" and the psychology of choice and decision-making. She emphasizes that choice is the tool that allows us to become who we want to be, and innovation is a useful and novel combination of existing ideas that solve complex problems. Dr. Iyengar also points out that learning from others is essential for innovation, whether through collaboration or exposure to different ideas.
📚 Dr. Sheena Iyengar is a professor of Business at Columbia Business School who focuses on the psychology of choice and decision-making.
🤝 Learning from others is essential for innovation, whether through collaboration or exposure to different ideas.
💡 Innovation is a useful and novel combination of existing ideas that solve complex problems.
🧠 The lone genius is a myth. Great innovators have access to knowledge and learn from others.
🌟 Edison, for example, had a huge lab of people who worked with him and learned from people outside his lab, such as an African American inventor who helped him with the light bulb.
🤔 Defining the problem clearly is crucial for successful innovation.
🌍 Innovation requires defining the problem, learning from others, and being open to novel combinations of existing ideas.
Aarron Walter: Sheena Iyengar, thank you so much for joining us on the design. Better podcast.
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Sheena: Thank you for having me.
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Aarron Walter: You know you've got a new book that is fascinating about innovation. We want to jump into that. You've been investigating the decision-making process for a long time now. Your previous book was all about decision-making. Your new book, though it's about innovation, also investigates decision-making as well.
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Sheena: So I think that as human beings choice is the only tool we have that enables us to go from who we are today to whom we want to be tomorrow. And so that's really the tool we can use for finding the best of what exists. as well as for creating something that helps move us forward.
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Aarron Walter: It's an interesting way to think about it. Let's talk a little bit about innovation. How do you define the idea of innovation?
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Sheena: So the great economist said that innovation was a new combination of old ideas.
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Sheena: and the way I defined innovation is to say that it is a useful
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Sheena: and I put useful first novel combination of existing ideas that come to solve a complex problem. So that's my definition of innovation. So it requires that
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Sheena: you know you have a problem that you're. you know, fussing around with.
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Sheena: And then you are going to create a solution which, first and foremost has to work may be useful.
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Sheena: and the way it differentiates itself from what already exists is that it's a novel combination of existing elements.
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Elijah Woolery: So you know one thing that's tied to this ideas of innovation is also the this concept of genius. And there's there's been this sort of push back lately about the the idea of the low in genius, the the Einstein, the Sir Isaac Newton that that really drove things forward at the same time. There are these individuals who have, you know, expanded the scope of human knowledge, and who have great creativity.
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Elijah Woolery: But you know, according to your book, there's maybe some methodology behind that. Maybe we could talk a little bit about the methods for being creative.
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Sheena: Yeah, I think we. We love the idea of the lone genius. But you know
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Sheena: well Einstein did some amazing things that were.
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Sheena: It felt magical. We shouldn't forget that he had a wonderful education
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Sheena: when he was a patent officer
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Sheena: for 5 years, and in that process he learned from lots of people because he was the one who was looking through so many patents. In fact, he himself dabbled in patents, and
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Sheena: an earlier version of the typewriter. The refrigerator even dabbled and made an interesting blouse that never went to market.
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Sheena: And you know you can say that about almost every great so-called genius that there was they they got exposure.
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Sheena: And so that's really important. It wasn't just that a magic happened in their brain. They actually had access to knowledge.
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Sheena: And then, second, they learned not just through themselves asking the right pro the right questions, but they also learned through access to other people.
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Elijah Woolery: Talk a little bit more about that. What it what kind of relationships helped some of these people move their big ideas forward.
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Sheena: Well, for example, Edison, you know we often give him
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Sheena: credit for making lots of different innovations from the light bulb to you know the record player. But, in fact, if you look at the the.
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Sheena: for example, the light bulb.
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Sheena: First of all, I had a huge lab of people that worked with him.
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Sheena: Second of all he learned from a lot of people who aren't in his lab. In fact, One of the critical pieces of making the light bulb work was an African American
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Sheena: inventor at the time. Who is the freed freed black who helped solve him some critical pieces to make the light bulb so.
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Sheena: And that's an example of a very famous person that we had his fame as an inventor. There's really no such thing as an in a famous ideator that didn't get help.
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Aarron Walter: So is is collaboration sort of
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Aarron Walter: core tenant of innovation.
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Sheena: in order to innovate. You do need to be able to learn from what others have done and what others know. Sometimes you can do that on your own
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Sheena: by reading by. you know. talking to people not necessarily collaborating with them. and sometimes you actually do have to collaborate with them because they just have
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Sheena: a different way of looking at the problem that helps you solve important pieces more often than that
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Sheena: people to are more likely to innovate because of their ability to collaborate with others, but it doesn't always have to be the case
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Sheena: in in every case. You're learning from others. But you may not be necessarily physically collaborating.
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Aarron Walter: So we're we're building on what?
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Aarron Walter: Right? Not Not a not operating with a blank slate.
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Sheena: Yeah. So for example. the great French polymath on
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Sheena: who it's invented in so many different areas. Well, he ends up, becoming the inspiration for both Einstein and Picasso
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Sheena: now did either one of them officially collaborate with them. No, but they they learn from him
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Sheena: and take his ideas in a different direction, and get inspired by him absolutely.
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Aarron Walter: So what are the the core elements that create opportunity or just kind of a ripe, fertile soil for for innovation is.
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Aarron Walter: is it, you know, exposure to different people, different ideas? What are those specific pieces?
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Sheena: Well, I think, in order for you to successfully innovate.
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Sheena: whether it's your solving a personal problem like.
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Sheena: And how do I figure out my career path, or whether it's solving a professional problem like, how do I get this start off off the ground, or how do I grow My company's market share by another 5%.
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Sheena: In every case you have to be able to do 3 things. The first is, you have to really be able to define your problem that you're trying to solve, for in a way that's concrete and solvable.
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Sheena: Most of the time we fail because we just don't define the problem well enough. It's too big to abstract, too big, too small.
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Sheena: The second thing you want to do is you have to be able to. After defining the problem for yourself. You have to be able to say, okay? Well, I know how people that I know have solved it or think about it.
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Sheena: I know how people in my industry. Think about it?
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Sheena: Who else has had a similar problem? And how did they solve it? That ability to search far and wide is critical to your ability to think out of the box
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Sheena: out of the box. Ideas, don't just magically appear in your head.
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Sheena: They come from your
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Sheena: the ability to expose yourself to relevant knowledge bits that come from far and wide.
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Sheena: And then the third thing you need to have in order to innovate is, you need to be able to take all the bits that you've gathered. Organize them in a way that enables you to combine and recombine in so many different combinations, so that you can see what are the different alternatives and pick the best.
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Aarron Walter: What about the scenarios where there's unexpected innovation? So
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Aarron Walter: refrigeration and air conditioning is one example where you, you, you set out defining a problem I want to solve.
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Aarron Walter: You know how to keep
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Aarron Walter: food cool and accidentally discover this technology could be used for other purposes like air conditioning a space. There are lots of examples out there where the
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Aarron Walter: person who's innovating was headed in in a different direction, and stumbles upon a an another idea. How does that fit into your model?
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Sheena: Absolutely you as the ideator? You need to start with a problem just because it gives you focus.
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Sheena: Will you end up solving a different problem along the way? Sure.
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Sheena: It's just that
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Sheena: If you don't have a problem you're trying to solve for, and you just create an idea for the sake of an idea. Nobody knows what to do with it.
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Sheena: and there's lots of solutions out. There are wild ideas out there in the marketplace that never go anywhere, not because they aren't necessarily cool. We just don't know what to do with it.
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Elijah Woolery: She had. There was a post you it on Linkedin somewhat recently, asking
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Elijah Woolery: Chat Gbt what the differences between
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Elijah Woolery: design thinking in in your most recent book, and we want to get to the AI thing, too, because we think that's an interesting thing to chat about with you. But
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Elijah Woolery: there there are some overlaps between what you just outline in your framework and the approach of design thinking. And I think there's also some differences too. Maybe you could talk a little bit about those similarities and differences.
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Sheena: So i'm going to be a little bit simplistic, just because in the interest of time.
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Sheena: obviously design thinking is a big topic and think bigger is a big topic. So here's how i'm going to boil them down.
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Sheena: Think of design thinking as having 3 big phases, and each of these phases are unto themselves processes. The first is going out and doing research on your customer sort of become an anthropologist.
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Sheena: The second phase is, you brought back all this knowledge. Now let's do a brainstorming session where we collect up. You know our knowledge. And now let's come up with a whole bunch of different ideas.
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Sheena: And then the third is okay.
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Sheena: We've got all these ideas. We're now going to take the idea that, or ideas that there seems to be some consensus around. And now let's prototype
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Sheena: to some form of visualization or a mock up, so that we can see what it is.
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Sheena: So those are the 3 main phases, I would say, of design thinking.
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Sheena: One thing bigger is
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Sheena: is, you start by defining the problem.
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Sheena: and the defining of the problem comes from
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Sheena: is is driven by the Id or by the Creator.
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Sheena: And in defining the problem. Yes, you learn from customers. You also learn from experts. You learn from as many different voices as you can to try to understand the problem.
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Sheena: We're not assuming that there's one main source of that.
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Sheena: We're not trying to be the we're not actually trying to be the anthropologist. We're trying to be the broad scientist.
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Sheena: The second phase is
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Sheena: and combine. I'm going to search to find all kinds of elements.
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Sheena: I'm not relying on my customers to tell me what I need to edit, or what how I need to fix it.
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Sheena: I customers were only telling me about the problem, they not telling me my solution.
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Sheena: My solution phase is, i'm searching all over the place for different pieces that I can bring together to combine in a new way.
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Sheena: And that's essentially choice. Mapping is what I call that the alternative to brainstorming.
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Sheena: And the third big phase is what I call the third. I test. So rather than doing a
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a prototype, a quick mockup
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Sheena: is in my method, i'm saying, even before you can get to the stage of a prototype and
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Sheena: perfectly fine if you want to go, do a prototype. But I think first and foremost, you have to understand how to collect meaningful feedback on what your idea is, not for the sake of finding out if other people like it or not.
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Sheena: but for the sake of learning how to further edit the idea before it's even worthy of prototyping. And so the third eye is, do you see what I see? Is there alignment between what I have in my head
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Sheena: and what you, an external person who isn't in my head are envisioning.
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Elijah Woolery: That's interesting, I think.
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Elijah Woolery: Oh, I I was just gonna say that I think
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Elijah Woolery: there there, there may be more overlap then, then initially appears, because I do think you know
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Elijah Woolery: one problem I feel like with design. Thinking is just the way that it's been implemented over the years. I think
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Elijah Woolery: there's there's a lot of fault to be put at the feet of my own institution at the Stanford the school for sort of popularizing it, but not maybe handing it off in such a way that it's always used to the best of its best of its capabilities. But but I do think with
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Elijah Woolery: you know, a a a key phase that's often overlooked. Is that defined phase Where? Yes, you go out. You talk to customers, try to understand their needs. But then you do need to define the problem in a way that's really concrete, and something that you can.
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Elijah Woolery: Yes, Id around and then built prototypes around. But I I do think there's you know there's kind of a synergy between the methodology you're talking to and design thinking if it's approached in a way that's a bit more
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Elijah Woolery: more rigorous, which I think is kind of left out a lot of time in the more popularized versions of it.
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Sheena: Hey? I'm sure there's variability also in terms of how it's practice. But the way I think of it is. If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have all said they wanted a faster horse and buggy
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Sheena: customers will tell you what's wrong with what is what's existing right now. Experts would tell you what has already been tried, and what Hasn't worked so far. If they knew how to solve the problem, they would have solved it.
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Aarron Walter: There's a there's an interesting tension, though, between the idea of let's go to customers and understand their needs.
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Aarron Walter: You You can innovate with that methodology starting out where you can come up with some new
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Sheena: Let's say something is already working pretty well.
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Sheena: and it. Customer insight is, is absolutely helpful to give you some an important information that you otherwise would not have gotten.
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Sheena: and it can give you edits and and and let's be clear. A lot of times just defining the problem and learning what's going wrong might be enough
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Sheena: to solve it right. We're talking
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Sheena: a complex problem like. How do I figure out what's my next career move? How do I increase growth of my firm?
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Sheena: I want to think about this new startup. I want to create around.
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Sheena: you know, lots of things like reducing violence, or how to create some kind of a new product that helps reduce stress amongst teenagers. So for that
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Sheena: you do need to go beyond the the The anthropologist approach
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Sheena: is helpful in defining the problem. But you, the idiator, have to really take up the various information bits from watching your customers, learning from experts, learning from outsiders as well as and then from you the idea to know what it is you really want to solve for.
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Sheena: and that's what leads to the defining of the problem.
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Aarron Walter: I totally follow you on that.
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Sheena: There there is a that. But to go back to this idea
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Sheena: It's already a developed product. I just want to make it better.
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Sheena: It's it's it rating.
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Sheena: Yeah, for iterating absolutely go to the customers the fastest way. See what's not doesn't seem to be functioning. and that's the fastest way to get that information, fix it.
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Aarron Walter: Let's talk about where innovation can go sideways, though there's a great example of, like Dean Kamen and the Segue, and this idea that there is a fundamental problem with mobility, and we could create a new way for people to get around.
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Aarron Walter: That's sustainable.
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Aarron Walter: That's practical, that's, you know, inclusive, etc. And it was going to revolutionize and change cities and change so many things. And the Segue is really like we see, you know, police officers right around on it at the airport like it's and and kids every once in a while. It's.
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Aarron Walter: It's an innovative idea. There's a wild idea, but they didn't really have a problem in mind they were trying to solve for, but they they had lots of they had lots of problems, but they didn't think about the details of the problem of like. What if I have a child? And I have to, you know. Take my child to school.
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Aarron Walter: What if I have to bring my groceries home? They just didn't think about all the details that were associated with that. So it it fails pretty quickly in a lot of use cases.
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Sheena: Yeah, I mean, I I agree with you. I I regularly use the Segue as one of the examples of lots and lots of
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Sheena: you know ideas out there that for cool ideas. They just didn't
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Sheena: go anywhere, I think, because they didn't solve a problem for people.
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Aarron Walter: Yeah. So I wonder like this
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Sheena: is taking off because it does, and at least in urban environments where you're not going very far, it solves a problem for people
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Aarron Walter: absolutely.
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Aarron Walter: So with design, thinking like talking to customers. First the the think big approach, which is, instead of going directly to that is, you know, starting with a bigger problem, bigger idea. Each kit has the potential to go sideways. And i'm curious like.
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Aarron Walter: with the innovative approach of
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Aarron Walter: starting with it with a big problem. How do you keep it from going sideways like Dean came in Segue, where you're missing some of the core.
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Aarron Walter: You you don't you You've got an idea of the problem. But you don't understand the details of the problem well enough for execution to actually bring a product to market that
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Aarron Walter: that that is is going to be practical for for the world.
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Sheena: So in the case of Segue, and this to be fair, there's lots and lots of ideas that fail. So I don't want to just pick on Segue.
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Sheena: this is also one of the reasons why I say it's really important to do the third eye. Because i'm envisioning in my head, and i'm obviously
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Sheena: putting my imagining what the Creators had in their head. You know. I'm. I'm envisioning. Oh, everybody's going to be doing this thing, and you know it's no longer going to be cars on the road. It's going to be people scooting around.
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Sheena: I'm envisioning that in my head.
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Sheena: and I think
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Sheena: what you want to be able to do
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is do what I call the third eye.
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Sheena: which is, I describe my idea to you.
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Sheena: No, it's easy enough for you to say, oh, that sounds cool. People do that all the time, particularly if I tell you this is a great idea. Wouldn't it be amazing, and particularly if i'm like some famous guy like Steve Jobs, who's telling you this is this is really great idea. This is gonna revolutionize transportation.
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Sheena: You're going to n your head and say, Yes, yes, yes.
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If I really want to know
00:23:10.100 --> 00:23:23.820
Sheena: how you're gonna perceive and understand my idea. I just describe my idea to you. I don't tell you whether it's good, better, and different. I don't ask you whether you think it's good, better, and different bad idea to ask you what you think
00:23:24.120 --> 00:23:31.060
Sheena: you don't know any way what you think and how you feel about it yet. So I just described my idea.
00:23:31.260 --> 00:23:36.860
Sheena: and then come back to you a few days later. I think. How would you describe my idea
00:23:38.160 --> 00:23:39.680
Sheena: like? How would you do it?
00:23:41.440 --> 00:23:54.150
Sheena: And if you do it that way. we actually learn what stock would they take away? Did they even remember, by the way? And in the process of the retelling of your idea? Back to you.
00:23:54.680 --> 00:24:04.150
Sheena: You're gonna make some edits, and they're in the process of making those edits. They're teaching you ways in which you would imagine using it.
00:24:04.720 --> 00:24:08.570
Sheena: The truth of the matter is, you're only going to use something that you can imagine yourself using.
00:24:13.140 --> 00:24:29.570
Elijah Woolery: I'm: curious about another problem. A lot of larger companies run into sheet and one that comes to mind is kodak. We had this guy. Paul Sappo is a futurist into class yesterday, so the story is kind of fresh in mind, but you know, kodak's up and thought of as this sort of
00:24:29.600 --> 00:24:46.550
Elijah Woolery: company that was doing great in the film era. Didn't really pay that much attention to digital. And and then digital cameras just kind of ate their lunch, but in reality they actually invested a lot. They They invented the first digital camera and over the years they tried many different attempts at creating digital camera products that just failed.
00:24:46.580 --> 00:24:48.670
Elijah Woolery: and to some degree it was.
00:24:48.760 --> 00:24:56.600
Elijah Woolery: you know, push back from maybe middle management who didn't believe in these ideas, or had it, or a stake in the ground around their existing products. But
00:24:56.650 --> 00:25:00.250
Elijah Woolery: maybe you could talk about companies and what prevents them
00:25:00.330 --> 00:25:10.340
Elijah Woolery: from entering a new era with their products, or being disrupted by other younger companies?
00:25:10.470 --> 00:25:11.500
Sheena: I think
00:25:11.690 --> 00:25:17.930
Sheena: so. I think design thinking the benefits of design. Thinking was that it really did
00:25:18.300 --> 00:25:25.770
Sheena: highlight the value of being the anthropologist, and it brought together the marriage between the anthropologist and engineering.
00:25:26.370 --> 00:25:38.210
Sheena: and I think clay Christian shen, which is what you're referring to. Now, really the value of his contributions to innovation. He really showed us the sort of curse
00:25:38.220 --> 00:25:44.780
Sheena: that it that exists in large organizations that the more successful you become at doing X.
00:25:44.910 --> 00:25:52.740
Sheena: You know the more invested you are in the knowledge you've already developed, so that even when you see something that could be better.
00:25:53.120 --> 00:26:06.770
Sheena: it's such a startup cost for you in your mind that you're not willing to pivot right, and that's the curse of the large organization. You saw that at Kodak you saw that saw that at Xerox Park. I mean. Just think of all the various
00:26:06.770 --> 00:26:20.580
Sheena: amazing. You know ideas that they passed up on, you know, including what ends up becoming apple, just because the middle management just didn't weren't willing to see
00:26:20.720 --> 00:26:23.350
Sheena: what their innovators saw.
00:26:24.210 --> 00:26:29.870
Sheena: and I and I do think that so. I think that's the reason why that's happening.
00:26:30.060 --> 00:26:32.940
Sheena: and I think that the way you
00:26:33.020 --> 00:26:48.250
Sheena: you get around. That is it you companies have. I mean, this is going to be very controversial, but companies have to be willing to do 2 things: One, the corporate boards have to be dedicated to having.
00:26:48.350 --> 00:27:05.660
Sheena: if not a subcommittee on the Board, then to have an advisory committee that actually has power for scientists and technology like a science and technology committee that's really about innovation, because otherwise companies will get.
00:27:05.660 --> 00:27:25.130
Sheena: you know, stuck in their ways. We all do. And there's nothing unnatural about that. But you need an entity that's responsible for literally getting people incentivized to come up with new solutions. So you need science and technology to essentially do
00:27:25.360 --> 00:27:37.970
Sheena: 2 jobs. One is identify all the various technologies or innovations that are happening both in your industry as well as in other industries
00:27:38.220 --> 00:27:42.190
Sheena: and sort of organize them Into what sorts of
00:27:42.280 --> 00:27:59.990
Sheena: you know categories could we put them in? On? What kinds of problems would they solve for? And then you also need that committee to identify what sort of problems exist currently in my organization that would benefit
00:28:00.090 --> 00:28:02.110
Sheena: from new ideas.
00:28:02.140 --> 00:28:04.330
Sheena: Do you need that at the high level.
00:28:04.370 --> 00:28:16.060
Sheena: and then at the lower levels of the company, you actually do need to be shifting people from different tasks around. You need people to be essentially exposed
00:28:16.220 --> 00:28:20.990
Sheena: to different knowledge bases in order for them to be more open to innovating.
00:28:23.630 --> 00:28:27.610
Aarron Walter: What does that look like? Shifting from one knowledge base to another?
00:28:29.290 --> 00:28:45.320
Sheena: Well, depending on the organization like, let's say i'm a professor, right? And I said in management, I actually think that business schools and other academic institutions, one of the biggest hurdles to innovation is the fact that we are siloed in our various disciplines.
00:28:45.400 --> 00:28:47.150
Sheena: which, you know
00:28:47.240 --> 00:28:55.840
Sheena: it hurts our ability to innovate. The more you have faculty, have to work with people from other disciplines.
00:28:56.160 --> 00:29:05.030
Sheena: Put them in on committees, move them around in terms of teaching teams, research collaboration centers
00:29:05.190 --> 00:29:14.320
Sheena: that you need to get people exposed to different knowledge bases in order for them to be able to expand their way of thinking and identifying new solutions
00:29:16.740 --> 00:29:31.400
Sheena: are. Is is there a a company or an organization that we could look to from his? Well, Samsung did this very well. They were ones that would create. They went out of their way to continuously
00:29:31.400 --> 00:29:46.490
Sheena: move people into different committees, so that they would be working with different parts of the organization. 3 M. Is another company that created the sort of innovation to subgroups
00:29:46.760 --> 00:29:59.340
Sheena: into. It, did it for a while. Right. These 8 person or we had to be fed in 2 pizzas or less groups that would spend time just innovating. But you gotta be careful that they're not just doing it with their friends.
00:30:03.230 --> 00:30:08.580
Elijah Woolery: She had a recent interview with the globe and mail that that you discussed your book, and some of these sort of
00:30:08.740 --> 00:30:11.650
Elijah Woolery: popular myths that surround creativity and innovation.
00:30:11.720 --> 00:30:16.160
Elijah Woolery: First one was that creativity is innate. Either have it or you, Don't.
00:30:16.170 --> 00:30:17.640
Elijah Woolery: Why, why isn't that true?
00:30:19.380 --> 00:30:30.390
Sheena: I mean it became popular because of the work of Sperry, who got the Nobel. But then his work got sort of overly interpreted, and
00:30:32.240 --> 00:30:43.240
Sheena: I guess misunderstood. And so I mean his work just looked at the effects of what happened if the 2 sides of your brain tended to get severed, and
00:30:43.450 --> 00:30:46.180
Sheena: and then people began to assume that
00:30:46.200 --> 00:30:53.080
Sheena: the right brain was for creativity, and the left brain was for analytical thinking, and
00:30:53.150 --> 00:31:12.100
Sheena: we made the assumption that you know different portions of the brain took care of different things, and that some people just happen to be stronger in one side versus the other side, or in order to get people to be creative, maybe I needed to do stuff to light up your right portion of the brain all that got the bonked
00:31:13.390 --> 00:31:25.110
Sheena: in the last 20 years. So essentially there's you know, that there's no such thing as creative tasks versus in a little tasks. Essentially everything happens, and learning in memory
00:31:25.120 --> 00:31:34.190
Sheena: both portions of the brain light up whether you're doing a so-called you know, analytical task like a math problem, or so called creative tasks, like
00:31:34.250 --> 00:31:37.400
Sheena: writing a poem or making a painting.
00:31:38.860 --> 00:31:39.960
Sheena: And so
00:31:40.370 --> 00:31:44.810
Sheena: yes, we, the the Internet is still filled with
00:31:44.840 --> 00:31:50.110
Sheena: the right left. Brain tests that we love to take, but actually not true.
00:31:51.740 --> 00:31:53.880
Sheena: You might have a preference
00:31:54.010 --> 00:32:08.560
Sheena: for certain kinds of activities. You might prefer to do math over making a painting. You might over time develop a better skill for it, because you're really spending the time to do more and more of it, and you like it.
00:32:09.740 --> 00:32:10.820
Sheena: That's fair.
00:32:12.770 --> 00:32:13.910
Elijah Woolery: Do you think that
00:32:14.360 --> 00:32:20.130
Elijah Woolery: our educational institutions have a part to plan that, too? I, Dave Kelly, has this idea of creative confidence, and that
00:32:20.470 --> 00:32:36.230
Elijah Woolery: in large part in in early years in school, when you look at almost any toddler and their finger painting and singing and being creative, but it eventually just sort of gets drilled out of us as we're taught to like in our seats. And do you know, memorization, that kind of thing. You think that's another component of this.
00:32:38.330 --> 00:32:40.340
Sheena: So I think that
00:32:41.760 --> 00:32:54.250
Sheena: is it important. So I I I agree and disagree right. I think essentially it's not as black and white right. Do you need memory in order to be creative? Yes, you're only going to be able to create with the stuff you have in your head
00:32:55.340 --> 00:33:09.990
Sheena: right? So if I ask you, you're creating right now every time you ask me a question every time you say a statement. You're You're engaging in an exercise and creativity. It's it unless you're saying the same sentence over and over again. You're you're engaging in improper improvisation
00:33:10.000 --> 00:33:21.120
Sheena: in order for you to be able to create new sentences. You clearly needed to learn how to read and write. That took a lot of wrote memory, a lot of doing things over and over and over again, so clearly that skill is important.
00:33:21.690 --> 00:33:34.180
Sheena: At the same time, do you need the ability for me to create for you opportunities for you to have time to sort of, hey? Can you, you know, Write me a paragraph.
00:33:34.780 --> 00:33:47.030
Sheena: and you can write a paragraph about any number of things or anything you want. This is a chance for you to now explore. What could you do with all these words? You learned how to read.
00:33:47.790 --> 00:33:55.750
Sheena: So I think what is a fair thing to say is that we have privileged. or
00:33:55.830 --> 00:34:05.990
Sheena: learning that comes in the form of very unduly structured, unduly rigid unduly about, just, you know, stuffing stuff in the memory.
00:34:05.990 --> 00:34:16.679
Sheena: and we're not giving you enough training and how to take this stuff that's in your Memory Bank. And now taking those pieces and combining and recombining in multiple combinations.
00:34:17.110 --> 00:34:17.699
00:34:18.290 --> 00:34:22.350
Sheena: That's what we need to have more of in our education teaching people how to do that
00:34:24.389 --> 00:34:33.989
Sheena: Another one of the myths that you debunked in that article was one more thing, and they also need to be able to exercise their curiosity.
00:34:34.330 --> 00:34:37.110
Sheena: You don't usually leave room for that in curriculum.
00:34:39.909 --> 00:34:46.940
Aarron Walter: Another one of the myths that you debunked in that article was that creatively designed offices yields creative ideas.
00:34:48.400 --> 00:34:55.960
Aarron Walter: Tell us a little bit about that, like what's flawed with that that that that if we design creative spaces will be created.
00:34:56.190 --> 00:34:57.870
Sheena: You know I don't know if we know
00:34:58.490 --> 00:35:03.660
Sheena: definitively that space has like what role it plays.
00:35:03.840 --> 00:35:06.840
Sheena: It is interesting that
00:35:07.270 --> 00:35:16.400
Sheena: you know Google, which has, which was the leader of creating the most fun. Space was actually invented in a garage.
00:35:16.770 --> 00:35:27.390
Sheena: And you see that for a lot of stories of the great innovators, right? They kind of came out they were, which the idea of the great company was started in some
00:35:27.510 --> 00:35:28.510
00:35:28.900 --> 00:35:31.440
Sheena: fairly humble
00:35:31.450 --> 00:35:33.190
00:35:33.370 --> 00:35:34.560
00:35:34.720 --> 00:35:46.590
Sheena: the studies on the role Space plays are very undefinitive. It's clear that space might make you feel happier.
00:35:47.530 --> 00:35:54.840
Sheena: and as results might make you more likely to stay at that company, and to the extent that pretension is important.
00:35:55.120 --> 00:35:56.750
Sheena: Make a nice space
00:35:58.390 --> 00:36:03.330
Sheena: the the best study. if we could call it that
00:36:03.470 --> 00:36:06.720
Sheena: the best controlled example of
00:36:06.800 --> 00:36:15.450
Sheena: does space make a difference? Your ability to innovate really comes from Bell Lab, I think. where they had an really ugly building
00:36:15.750 --> 00:36:21.570
Sheena: that was very quickly erected around World War 2, and then a really beautiful building
00:36:22.250 --> 00:36:24.300
Sheena: built in the sixties.
00:36:24.330 --> 00:36:31.260
Sheena: and when you come and you know a lot of times the the people were cross-pollinating across those 2 buildings.
00:36:31.800 --> 00:36:33.960
Sheena: you know you actually had.
00:36:34.450 --> 00:36:45.800
Sheena: It's slightly more Nobel prize winners from the ugly building than from the other building. I don't know if that means anything. But essentially you actually have just as much amazing innovations for Bell labs
00:36:46.720 --> 00:36:48.390
Sheena: coming from both buildings.
00:36:49.390 --> 00:37:05.050
Sheena: That's about as we control the setting as I can think of. I mean you have other one off examples like there was that ugly building at Mit which ultimately had to be torn down because of asbestos problems, but it actually had more Nobel prize winners at 1 point than any other place on the planet.
00:37:06.920 --> 00:37:25.390
Aarron Walter: It would make sense that these on precious spaces would create more creativity. You know opportunity for more creativity just going back to your core tenant of innovation that we're broadening our aperture of possibilities, what is possible. And if you're in a very precious space, it says
00:37:25.390 --> 00:37:41.900
Aarron Walter: you can't spill a can of paint. You can't tape things to the wall. You can't sort of explore in any behave in in lots of different ways that that may or may not lead to some innovative idea. I'm curious if if that
00:37:42.110 --> 00:37:45.840
Aarron Walter: I don't know how that sits with with your perspective of space and creativity.
00:37:47.270 --> 00:38:02.460
Sheena: So I would say that the most important things for you. when thinking about your space and your ability to be creative is, it has to be a space in which you feel comfortable thinking.
00:38:03.840 --> 00:38:07.650
Sheena: You know, I I, that could be different places for different people.
00:38:08.330 --> 00:38:22.930
Sheena: But you need to have a space in which you can sit and think and say, okay, what do I know? What do I still need to know. What pieces do I have? What could I create?
00:38:23.260 --> 00:38:27.940
Sheena: That's one thing. You need to have some space where your mind can actually do its work.
00:38:28.620 --> 00:38:36.630
Sheena: And the same thing that's got to be important for you is access to information that you don't have.
00:38:37.640 --> 00:38:46.080
Sheena: and whether that's having colleagues that are helpful, which I believe it was probably critical in the case of Bell Labs and Mit
00:38:46.210 --> 00:38:50.610
Sheena: colleagues that are willing to chat chat with you and tell you what they know.
00:38:50.740 --> 00:38:52.910
Sheena: or whether that be.
00:38:52.930 --> 00:39:02.480
Sheena: you know, access to databases or Google, or it be picking up the phone, whatever it is. I think those are the 2 things you both need.
00:39:05.560 --> 00:39:24.930
Elijah Woolery: How do you think this plays with? You know this? There was this pendulum swing towards remote work during the pandemic, and it seemed to have swung back towards requiring people in the office, or in some cases, maybe a hybrid scenario. How does that play with this idea of being in a comfortable space, but also needing access. Maybe the colleagues and and information.
00:39:27.010 --> 00:39:40.770
Sheena: So I think you've described it very well, right? I do think that when we need that that thinking space. provided your home is a place where you're not gonna get distracted can be a very good place.
00:39:41.420 --> 00:39:51.440
Sheena: At the same time you could be stuck in the vacuum where you really are going in circles and circles and circles, because you don't have access as easily.
00:39:51.560 --> 00:39:53.620
Sheena: 2 other people that can help you.
00:39:53.910 --> 00:40:00.870
Sheena: And then coming into the office sometimes and being able to talk to people, can be really helpful.
00:40:02.820 --> 00:40:04.660
Sheena: And how do you create that
00:40:05.330 --> 00:40:15.000
Sheena: really beautiful balance is, I mean, the tricky part about that is that varies from individual to individual, and also probably tasks to task right
00:40:15.540 --> 00:40:20.620
Sheena: certain tasks. You need more people to help, and other tasks you may need less.
00:40:23.190 --> 00:40:37.110
Elijah Woolery: Let's go back to the AI, which we sort of hit it out earlier, and there's been these immense developments. Obviously, over the last 6 months, many kind of unexpected emergent behaviors from some of these large language models.
00:40:37.180 --> 00:40:46.800
Elijah Woolery: You had an interesting post about AI and creativity. I think many people are afraid that AI has a potential to take away creative jobs that we thought were sort of safe
00:40:46.850 --> 00:40:50.450
Elijah Woolery: for machines. But maybe there's another way to think about that.
00:40:51.890 --> 00:41:01.680
Sheena: Yeah, I think AI is only going to make us more creative. I honestly don't. I mean, I will there be some unintended negative consequences? Of course there there always are
00:41:01.780 --> 00:41:09.200
Sheena: from every innovation that's innovation is never purely positive, nor is it purely negative. Right.
00:41:09.260 --> 00:41:12.400
Sheena: So I I think that
00:41:13.820 --> 00:41:22.240
Sheena: you know, when the camera was invented we were worried that painting and artistry, as we know it was going to be done.
00:41:22.360 --> 00:41:28.810
Sheena: But you know impressionism came along with the what did the camera do? It gave us a new way to see the world.
00:41:29.510 --> 00:41:33.900
Sheena: It taught us something, and that led to impressionism and cubism. And then
00:41:34.240 --> 00:41:37.580
even photography itself has become an art form.
00:41:39.010 --> 00:41:52.700
Sheena: When the computers stimulation of chess came along, and Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov. This was a really big deal. My God, this is the end of human intelligence. As we know it.
00:41:52.760 --> 00:41:55.090
Sheena: we're nothing but cogs.
00:41:56.260 --> 00:41:57.720
Sheena: Well, I mean
00:41:58.840 --> 00:42:07.560
Sheena: The reality is that the presence of computer simulations of chess is actually made. Humans become better chess players.
00:42:08.500 --> 00:42:11.800
Sheena: I think the same thing is going to happen with Chat Gbt.
00:42:11.940 --> 00:42:25.300
Sheena: It's we're gonna see as the more we're able to use it, and those who do take the time to use it will probably become. They'll see more ways to combine the same materials. They'll
00:42:25.380 --> 00:42:33.760
Sheena: get bits of pieces as I was talking about before, that they might not have thought of, and that'll enable them to come up with solutions.
00:42:33.980 --> 00:42:38.980
but they wouldn't have thought of before, so I I think on balance is going to make people more creative, not less.
00:42:40.900 --> 00:42:44.330
Sheena: What people are afraid of is that the bar will go up.
00:42:48.600 --> 00:42:49.920
Elijah Woolery: Aaron, You're on mute.
00:42:52.750 --> 00:42:54.110
Aarron Walter: Say more about that.
00:42:56.580 --> 00:42:57.330
00:42:58.550 --> 00:43:04.000
Sheena: did the camera kill the portrait. The one who makes portraits. Yeah.
00:43:05.640 --> 00:43:12.210
Sheena: Did artists have to innovate and figure out a new way to do something interesting? Yeah.
00:43:13.540 --> 00:43:19.100
Sheena: Did the average quality of the human chess. Master, go up. Yeah.
00:43:23.130 --> 00:43:26.460
Aarron Walter: how do we? How do we start to
00:43:27.190 --> 00:43:36.970
Aarron Walter: get better at thinking about the negative implications of our innovations? It seems like, you know, speaking of of a
00:43:37.000 --> 00:43:44.890
Aarron Walter: of of a raising bar, like the stakes, are only getting higher as what we're innovating on becomes imminently more powerful and influential.
00:43:46.680 --> 00:43:53.350
Sheena: I mean that. Gosh! If someone could ever answer that one I mean, can you just imagine?
00:43:53.940 --> 00:43:58.060
Sheena: I mean, first of all, we're as humans. We're terrible at forecasting.
00:43:59.400 --> 00:44:05.630
Sheena: And I mean, that's the genius of humans. You know, for better and for
00:44:05.850 --> 00:44:08.330
Sheena: and for evil, that we
00:44:08.340 --> 00:44:09.610
Sheena: never know
00:44:09.910 --> 00:44:12.910
Sheena: how something is gonna take off. So
00:44:13.980 --> 00:44:16.690
you know, like take, for example.
00:44:17.730 --> 00:44:18.750
00:44:20.300 --> 00:44:22.680
Sheena: it is. It was an innovation.
00:44:23.980 --> 00:44:40.480
Sheena: it can. It has absolutely become a symbol. a female empowerment in this country and different parts of the world. It's also become the symbol of female suppression and and and abolishment. Right?
00:44:40.900 --> 00:44:42.400
Sheena: Same technology.
00:44:45.940 --> 00:44:49.560
Sheena: you know, if you think about the
00:44:50.190 --> 00:45:01.630
Sheena: any innovation, whether from the camera to social media. On the one hand, it gives you access to more information. On the other hand, it's there also tools that have been used to.
00:45:02.260 --> 00:45:10.260
Sheena: and i'll lead to alternative interpretations, misinformation, deception, I mean.
00:45:10.710 --> 00:45:13.850
Sheena: take your pick very tough.
00:45:15.210 --> 00:45:16.220
Aarron Walter: It is
00:45:18.570 --> 00:45:25.450
Aarron Walter: last question for you here, you know, thinking about innovation as like a compounding energy.
00:45:25.580 --> 00:45:32.290
Aarron Walter: You, you know we we innovate on a certain thing where that's AI medical advancements, etc.,
00:45:32.320 --> 00:45:37.290
Aarron Walter: and that creates new opportunities for additional innovation. That's
00:45:37.370 --> 00:45:40.600
Aarron Walter: exponentially better and better and better and better.
00:45:40.770 --> 00:45:47.350
Aarron Walter: And it feels like at this position we're we're into the 20 first century here a little bit
00:45:47.540 --> 00:45:49.400
Aarron Walter: long way still to go.
00:45:49.460 --> 00:45:54.630
Aarron Walter: What does compounding innovation look like as we go through this century?
00:46:00.360 --> 00:46:12.130
Sheena: I would say, so far in the 20 first century the big innovations have been well. My favorite is to James Webb Telescope.
00:46:12.270 --> 00:46:13.840
Aarron Walter: Hmm. Yes.
00:46:14.090 --> 00:46:19.620
Sheena: I mean, that's just incredible. The advances we've made in in space.
00:46:20.390 --> 00:46:29.680
Sheena: I would say the other one was the Mrna vaccine. you know, which I understand now feels boring, or
00:46:29.950 --> 00:46:35.250
Sheena: or maybe it became so political it is. It's not sexy, but, my God!
00:46:35.360 --> 00:46:37.330
Sheena: It was an amazing innovation.
00:46:38.360 --> 00:46:51.250
Sheena: and it's absolutely changing the face of medicine. And I think the third is going to be AI and machine learning just because I do think it's changing the human frontier
00:46:51.520 --> 00:46:54.540
Sheena: of both creativity and innovation more generally.
00:46:55.540 --> 00:47:03.150
Sheena: Now, what the world's gonna look like by the next century. I'm not going to be alive by then. So not even going to make a prediction.
00:47:05.130 --> 00:47:11.720
Aarron Walter: Totally fine. That's that's helpful. But from 1,900 to the year 2,000.
00:47:12.620 --> 00:47:17.200
Sheena: Wow! Think about those 2 worlds.
00:47:18.340 --> 00:47:20.310
Aarron Walter: Yeah, it's just unrecognizable.
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Aarron Walter: Yeah. Sheena. Where can people learn more about you and your new book.
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Sheena: You can follow me on Linkedin, and feel free to follow it. Go to my web page, or on the Amazon and
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Sheena: order a book email me. I'm always happy to chat
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Aarron Walter: fantastic. Your new book is, Think bigger how to innovate your previous book. Also a great book the art of choosing both good reads. Advise everybody to check those out. Sheena. Thank you so much for being on the show.
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Sheena: Thank you.