Technology brokering. It’s called technology brokering, it has nothing to do with stock exchange, for starters. The second comment you get when mentioning Technology Brokering is, “That’s something in IT, right?”.
It’s a good chance you came across this article because someone answered “Just google it…” , and if that’s the case you might have just read the top-hit-wikipedia article. You have an idea but have no clue how it works in a real company. In fact, when it comes to real companies, there isn’t as many of them as you would think there are. The most familiar companies when talking about tech brokering, are IDEO, and T. Edison’s company Menlo Park which was founded way back in the 19th century. So, not so much an IT thing.
Creativity run amok!
The irony is, we’ve all done it. Even when you were a kid, each time you said - “You know what would be fun to have…?” - you were technology brokering. To put it in the simplest terms,tech brokering is like brainstorming but with some structure. You take a group of people from different backgrounds and you let them discuss whatever they want to discuss. The key ingredient is diversity. You take segments of unrelated industries, or science fields, or a group of artists and you mix them together with some engineers or programmers, and see what will come out of it.
Most of the information on the subject is pretty abstract. You get vague descriptions about how it works, so lets try to systemize it and see how it actually works in practice. While the bottom line is that you try to induce the most creative environment to solve unusual problems or get new ideas, there is a need to keep things on track and to direct raw creativity into concrete products.
How to do it.
There are many ways you can become a tech broker. You can introduce it to a department inside your existing company. You can build an entire business on it. Or you can just meet up with different interesting people every week, and with some moderation, you can use this creative force to tech broke the shit out of every problem. But no matter what form it takes, there are some basic principles that need to be respected.
Principle 1 — Access
Provide your brokers with a variety of information. Give them access to dissimilar, eclectic or new technologies. Give them information on different branches of industries. But most of all, keep track of people’s backgrounds and their past experiences. Great ideas come from interesting people with interesting backgrounds, so it is imperative that people involved in the process have rich experience in a variety of seemingly unrelated areas. Once you achieved this level of “colourfulness”, and provided a critical mass of information to the group, you will be amazed by the speed at which ideas bounce around, as well as by the gravity of those ideas.
Principle 2 — Acquisition
1st, study the present construction. 2nd, ask for all past experiences…study and read everything you can on the subject. — T.Edison, personal notes
Learn, learn, learn. If a client approaches you to find a new and innovative solution to a problem, or comes up with a new product, first you need to learn everything you can about the area in which a problem emerges. You need to become an expert in that field. You need to research all the similar products, and learn how they are used or were used in the past. In order to help your client, to learn more about him and what he does, you need to be able to learn with great speed. If you spend enough time analysing the existing products or procedures, most ideas will create themselves. If you take enough time to analyse the subject at hand, soon you will see a sort of an “opening”, shaped like the product that needs to be invented.
Principle 3 — Storage
When talking about storing, it is hard to imagine how you can store creativity or imaginative solutions that work. The most common practice is to store the learned experience in the people that host it. beauty of technology brokering is not inventing totally new products, it is the ability to reimagine or recreate a product while using an old idea/product. This is why it is so important to keep track of people’s past experiences since the know-how is stored inside a person’s character or memory. Often the ideas that a person bounces around are directly connected to that person’s view point of the world or a given subject.
Principle 4 — Retrieval
Retrieval entails bringing stored knowledge of potentially valuable technological solutions to bear on the design problems of current projects. — A. Hargadon & R. Sutton, study of IDEO
The best results are gained by applying Analogical Thinking ,where a person shares his/her problems in a seemingly unrelated context but with the same principal problem. For eg. you can explain someone what an algorithm is, by explaining how to cook a meal. Since a recipe for a meal is a set of instructions that should be followed in order to prepare the meal, it is completely analog to a computer algorithm, as a set of instructions the computer has to follow in order to complete a certain task. This form of operations is usually structured in a form of brainstorming meetings. In these meetings, engineers and designers share their problems with people from other departments with relevant and potentially valuable knowledge. In order for a brainstorming session to be successful, as mentioned, structure needs to be implied. For that purpose there are 5 simple rules that moderate the process in a constructive direction.
- Defer judgment
- Build on other people’s ideas
- One conversation at the time
- Stay focused on the topic
- Encourage wild ideas
Now you repeat the process. There is no magic trick about it, the idea is to keep brainstorming, and with repetion, you will get better and better. Couple of things to keep in mind… Rotate your engineers and designers. There is a great benefit in switching people from area to area. Firstly they will gather necessary diversity to have quality input in meetings. Secondly, it prevents “burn outs” of individuals due to person being on the same project for to long. It is good practice to switch between long term and short term projects. If creative people don’t create, soon they will become unsatisfied, so focus on short iterations and early prototypes. Test viable concepts often, and you will get a constructive routine break, as well as valuable feedback in the process.
Last but not least
I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work….Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense. — H. Ford
Keep in mind that you don’t need to be a genius to invent. Pure knowing and being familiar with previous achievements and innovations is more than enough to improve. Together with people who are eager to learn, only sky is the limit. But given contemporary advancements it seems we are about to brake that limit as well.
Most of all, remind yourself that creativity is NOT a talent. Not a thing you are born with. It is a way of operating, and you can achieve this modus operandi fairly simple. For that purpose I leave the deck and give my spotlight to the minister of funny walks himself. I hope he will convince you, we all can be creative and it is in the core of what it means to be human.