Creative Collaboration at Apple Park

Jony Ive, the legendary designer of the iPhone, is now designing Apple’s new Cupertino headquarters, known as Apple Park. He worked closely with Steve Jobs before his passing, and now with CEO Tim Cook. As professional creatives, they know the importance of collaboration in creativity:

Ive and Cook place great importance on employers being physically together at work–ironic for a company that has created devices that enable people to work from a distance. Face-to-face communication is essential during the beginning of a project, when an idea is sprouting, they say. Once a model emerges from a series of conversations, it draws people in and gives focus. “For all of the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing yet replaces human interaction,” says Cook, “and I don’t think it will ever happen.”

The thousands of employees at Apple Park ….will be seated in open space, not the small offices they’re used to….Whiteboards–synonymous with Silicon Valley brainstorming–are built into floor-to-ceiling sliding doors in the central area of each pod.

The space aligns with Apple’s iterative, improvisational creative process–one where the ideas and designs emerge from collaboration, not from the mind of a brilliant lone genius.

*Christina Passariello, August 2017, “The circle is now complete.” Wall Street Journal  Magazine, pp. 56-63.

The Emergence of Creativity: Matt Ridley’s New Book

You’ve got to read the excerpt from Matt Ridley’s new book in today’s Wall Street Journal. Just released this week, his book is called The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. I have a lot of respect for his previous books, so I’m delighted to learn that his new book makes the same points as my 2007 book Group Genius.

Here are the key features of innovation, described in both of our books:

  • The stories we hear about genius inventors, like Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb, are always myths. Ridley and I both describe the real history of the light bulb, which involves lots of people way before Edison. (Group Genius, pages 110, 196)
  • “Innovation emerges from the bottom up,” I write in Group Genius  (page 16). I show that innovation emerges from self-organizing systems, and this is Ridley’s main point, too.
  • Ridley writes that innovation is “incremental” rather than “revolutionary.” That’s why I called one of my chapters “Small Sparks”: to emphasize that innovation doesn’t come from a big flash of insight. “Successful creators know how to keep their sparks coming in a process that unfolds over time” (Group Genius, page 97).
  • Ridley describes the historical research on multiple discovery, as I do on pages 192-193, with this example: “In the 1920s, numerous teams invented television in parallel.”
  • Ridley argues that patent protection is too broad and is based on the mythical view of the lone inventor. I make the same point on pages 176-224, especially pages 221-225: “Current policy favors linear, centralized innovation and blocks the natural rhythm of innovation”.
  • Ridley demolishes the idea that innovation comes from a linear process; this is the most important point of Group Genius  (for example, pages 158-159, “Beyond Linear Innovation”)

Ridley’s WSJ  excerpt is filled with great stories of real innovations. I come to the same conclusions, with some of the same historical examples, and also by drawing on the science of creativity. Inspired by my studies of jazz and improv theater, I think of creativity as improvisation. Group Genius argues that the most creative improvisations are non-linear, emergent, unpredictable, and inefficient. Ridley has a bit more to say about the political and economic implications of this new, more realistic, understanding of innovation (for example, he concludes that government doesn’t need to fund scientific research). I have a bit more to say about how you can use this research to become more successfully creative, both on your own and in teams. It’s cool that Ridley and I come to the same conclusions from really different directions. If you like Group Genius, you really should check out The Evolution of Everything. (I’ll post a review after I’ve read the whole book.)



The Common Core Curriculum

In my Spring 2011 course at Washington University titled “The Future of Schools,” we’ve been reading a wide range of studies about the broad shift in the world’s economies to more creative, knowledge based activities. We’ve been reading about the potential impact of technology, particularly the Internet, on schools of the future. The mystery facing all research-based attempts to reform schools is: Why do schools stay the same, year after year and decade after decade, even as new research accumulates? The practice of medicine advances every year, when basic research findings are translated into clinical practice. But the same doesn’t seem to happen with education.

I suspect that everything will stay the same, until suddenly, one day, everything will change. I think it’s impossible to predict exactly when the change will occur. Here’s one new development, in the United States. In the U.S., every one of the 50 states has legal responsibility for public schooling; there is no federal government control of public schools, under the U.S. Constitution. So unlike almost every other country, there is no national curriculum, no national test, and it is very difficult to compare students from one state to the next. In recent years, over 40 states have independently agreed to use the same “common core” standards, which are currently under development. At the same time, the consortium of states is developing a new set of standardized tests, with $330 million of funding from the U.S. Department of Education. And in the New York Times of April 28, 2011, I learned that:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropy, and the foundation associated with Pearson, the giant textbook and school technology company, announced a partnership on Wednesday to create online reading and math courses aligned with the new academic standards…The 24 new courses will use video, interactive software, games, social media and other digital materials to present math lessons for kindergarten through 10th grade and English lessons for kindergarten through 12th grade.

This is fascinating. If the pieces all fall into place, it’s not hard to envision an increasing number of students choosing to opt out of school altogether, and sign up for these online courses. Pearson is planning to market the new courses directly to schools and districts, as a replacement for the textbooks they are currently buying; but I’m sure some parents will wonder, why can’t I just do this at home?

As Richard Halverson and Allan Collins argue in their recent book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, technological developments like these will continue whether or not schools adapt accordingly. And if they don’t figure out how to respond and adapt to new developments like this, they may become increasingly irrelevant. This would not be good for the future of public schools, and it should concern all of us.

*Sam Dillon, “Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools.” New York Times, April 28, 2011, p. A18.