Archive for the 'Creativity' Category

Soccer and Sockets: Connecting Common Practices to Common Needs

Point: Solve a ubiquitous problem by using a ubiquitous practice

Story: Four entrepreneurs found a way to generate free electricity in developing nations.  The entrepreneurs – all women who had experience in developing countries – prototyped a soccer ball that “captures and stores energy during normal game play to be used later to charge batteries and LEDs,” said co-creator Jessica Lin. [1]  The soccer ball, called sOccket, generates and stores energy with every kick and bounce. The ball looks like a regular soccer ball, but inside “there’s a magnet that goes back and forth through the inductive coil, which allows a current to be captured in a capacitor and electricity to be stored,” said co-creator Hemali Thakkar. [2] “About 15 minutes of kicking the ball allows us to use a single LED for three hours,” Thakkar said. After kicking the ball around, the person plugs their light, battery pack, cellphone or other small electrical gadget into a DC jack in one of the ball’s panels and enjoys the clean renewable power.  A day of play can become a night of light.

The genius of the idea is that it takes a ubiquitous practice – soccer is the most popular sport in the world, especially in developing countries – and uses it to solve the common problem of the lack of electricity in those countries.  The UN estimates that nearly 80% of people living in the 50 poorest nations have no access to electricity.  By piggybacking electricity production onto the prevailing activity of soccer, the innovation lowers barriers to adoption.  Customers don’t need to change practices to use the product.

The entrepreneurs got the inspiration for their idea from a dance floor in Rotterdam [3] which uses the energy of the dancers’ steps to power the lights.  In the developing world, sOccekt-powered lights would provide an alternative to kerosene lamps, which 1.5 billion [4] people use today as a lighting source.  Kerosene lamps sicken children through respiratory disease (breathing kerosene lamp fumes is the equivalent of smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day) and produce carbon emissions equivalent to 38 million cars. [5]  In contrast, sOccket produces light from the naturally renewable energy of soccer-players.

The invention, named one of the breakthrough innovations of the year by Popular Mechanics [6] will be distributed in a sustainable way as well. Rather than giving the ball away for free, which would ruin the existing businesses selling soccer balls in developing countries, local entrepreneurs in developing countries will assemble and sell the sOccekt balls themselves. This will help local economies while lowering the cost of the product.


  • Find a common problem or need (e.g., lack of low-pollution lighting)
  • Examine common practices or activities of the region/country/customerbase (e.g., soccer)
  • Innovate at the intersection of the gap and the existing activity (e.g., energy production from playing soccer) to maximize adoption.
  • Look for other ways to enhance adoption by using local resources (e.g., employing local entrepreneurs for manufacturing and distribution)

[1] sOccket: Soccer Ball by Day, Light by Night.
[2] Electricity Onto the Field
[3] Partying Helps Power a Dutch Nightclub
[4] Harnessing the Power of Soccer
[5] Using Soccer to Supplant Kerosene Use?
[6]The Soccer Ball That Makes Electricity During the Game

Comments Off on Soccer and Sockets: Connecting Common Practices to Common NeedsCase study, Creativity, Entrepreneurs, Innovation

George Lucas Innovates Outside the Hollywood Box

Point: Consider the role and value of outsiders in innovation

Story: George Lucas, legendary producer, director and screenwriter of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones blockbuster hits, shared these thoughts at the World Business Forum. Lucas described how he got his start making movies by going outside the insular Hollywood system.  When he graduated from film school, Hollywood was not receptive to new ideas and Lucas didn’t want to go there.  He and Francis Coppola moved to San Francisco to start American Zoetrope in 1969.  Befitting their 1960’s cultural background, Lucas and Coppola “didn’t trust anyone over 30.”

The choice of San Francisco had paradoxical properties for young Lucas and the new film company.  The bad news was that San Francisco had little of the movie making ecosystem of supporting companies and infrastructure that make Hollywood the mecca for film making.  The good news is that San Fransisco therefore had little of the movie making ecosystem that constrained the industry to the prevailing ways of doing things.  As a result, Lucas had to invent his own ways of making movies, which led him to develop a long string of innovations in camera handling, special effects, sound, and editing.

Lucas also benefited from the corporate buyouts of Hollywood.  As mega corporations bought Hollywood studios, the new outside owners of the movie industry realized they didn’t know how to make movies.  These new owners decided to hire  people fresh from film schools, like Lucas, to bring in new blood.  The ownership change also created a tumult that allowed people like Lucas freer reign.  Sometimes innovation benefits from benign outsiders.


  • Consider how the prevailing ecosystem of suppliers and partners could be hindering innovation
  • Take innovation outside of the existing company and industry boundaries to start true greenfield ventures
  • Look for times when outsiders take over an industry (e.g,, foreign investors, industry transformation) — the tumult of ownership changes combined with owners who don’t know “tradition” provide opportunity.


George Lucas at the World Business Forum October 6, 2009 #wbf09

2 Comments »CEO, Creativity, Innovation

Innovation by Improvement

Point: You don’t have to be the originator of an idea to succeed with it.

Story: Sam Walton didn’t invent discount retailing. Instead, he learned of the idea from an article about two Ben Franklin stores in Minnesota trying self-service. At the time, self-service retail was a brand new concept. Previously, customers came to a counter and the full-service clerks helped the customer by picking items from the shelves behind the counter. Upon reading the article about this new concept, Sam went to investigate. “I rode the bus all night long to two little towns up there — Pipestone and Worthingon,” Walton recounts in his autobiography. “They had shelves on the side and two island counters all the way back. No clerks with cash registers around the store. Just checkout registers up front. I liked that. So I did that, too,” In 1950, Walton’s Five and Dime was the third self-service variety store in the country.

But Sam didn’t simply imitate this one discount retailing idea. He continued to toy & tinker with it and improve it, even as it grew and became successful. He kept his stores well stocked with lots of items, stayed open late, bought goods in bulk to reduce costs, and pioneered communications and logistics technologies to maintain his everyday low price strategy. “As good as business was, I never could leave well enough alone, and, in fact, I think my constant fiddling and meddling with the status quo may have been one of my biggest contributions to the later success of Wal-Mart.”

Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, sees this style of constant innovation as key characteristic of creative people. He says, it’s not a flash-in-the-pan, one-time-only thing. it’s a whole style of existence. People who are creative are always thinking about the domains in which they work. They’re always tinkering. They’re always saying, “what makes sense here, what doesn’t make sense? And if it doesn’t make sense, can I do something about it?”


  • Be open to the new and different — seek out odd-ball business practices in out-of-the-way places
  • Study how others do what they do, why they do it, and how it can work in your situation
  • Adopt and adapt those discovered ideas and keep tweaking the ideas

For more information: Sam Walton: Made In America and Creative Spirit by Daniel Goleman, Paul Kaufman, and Michael Ray.

3 Comments »Case study, Creativity, How-to, Innovation, Strategy

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