Going From Point A to Point B? Take the long way.

100 Architects‘ work is all about turning concrete into color and pathways into experiences.

 

Check out their recent entry to transform an urban walkway in Shanghai, China, into an urban journey. Here’s a quick video overview:

 

 

That’s so cool! What did you notice as different, and what surpassed your expectations? 

 

For me, it was the:

  • Vibrant colors
  • Implied suggestion to not walk straight
  • Many different kinds of spaces
  • Feeling of wanting to linger, not hurry
  • Uplifting mood
  • Animated people, walking in place ;-)

 

Not one of those features is efficient, practical, profitable, measurable, or easy (attributes we commonly apply to ‘successful’ or ‘smart’ business projects). But, I’ll wager that once completed, the Puji Road bridge (which connects two of Shanghai’s most densely populated neighborhoods) will be much more successful than its raw-concrete-is-beautiful-and-cheap alternative. That’s the one that probably would have been built if there hadn’t been a competition. 

 

Knowing when to let common business sense guide you and when to rely on creative inspiration to create valued opportunities isn’t easy. But it’s not impossible. Just do what Shanghai City did and host a design competition.

 

Don’t worry; it’s not that hard. Because you don’t have to stage a competition in the real world. Instead, you can do a thought experiment inside your head like Albert Einstein was fond of doing. 

 

 

This kind of thought experiment involves sharing a clear idea about an outcome you’d like to bring about, then asking others for innovative ways to get there.

 

You won’t be the first. There are many examples:

 

Disney > EPCOT

Kennedy > Man to the Moon

Jobs > iPhone

Musk > Tesla, SpaceX, Boring Company

 

For each of these famous idea introductions, the founder started with a clear idea of the OUTCOME they wanted and then invited others to develop multiple pathways to the stated goal. 

 

Hint–and the main point of this blog post: The key concept here is to specify the END RESULT, not the process to get there. You can rely on your people to figure out the best way (which happens to be where the best innovations come from). Remember, thought experiments are for things that have never been done before.

 

Kennedy had teams of scientists to evaluate how to ‘win the space race.’ Did you know that a leading idea wasn’t chosen? It was to not go to the Moon but to build a space station first. 

 

Several business models are based on the notion of ‘multiple paths to a single goal:’

 

CrowdSpring is a creative service that charges users a fixed fee for a creative project (think logo or website design) for unlimited responses from talented creatives. For, say, $400, you post your project for a new logo. Then, you get to see 20+ ideas for how to design it–from 20+ different designers. Pick the one you like, tweak it, and you’re done.

 

LEGO offers a serious methodology used globally to enhance innovation and business performance. By putting your hands on (to LEGO building pieces) and your minds on (to your business problems), LEGO SERIOUS PLAN produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities. 

 

 

XPRIZE was founded by futurist Peter Diamandis and is now run by Anousheh Ansari. The XPRIZE Foundation runs incredible, large-scale competitions around the world that set very clear, objective, measurable goals on the way to solving the world’s challenges. Huge prize purses attract the best and sometimes most incredible talents from across the globe. XPRIZE entrants aren’t afraid to tackle problems like turning CO2 into tangible products, making sure artificial intelligence doesn’t run amuck, and rapid reskilling of displaced workers. 

 

CrowdSpring, LEGO Serious Plan, and XPRIZE competitions work because every project starts with an exact, outcome-based END RESULT. If you took that clarity away, each would fail. Miserably. 

 

As your business faces the future, think about making your outcomes more explicit. And, consider getting help from unexpected places. The combination of the two can be catalytic!

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