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The Mural Innovation Process

INSIDE INSIGHT – NOVEMBER 2008

You’ve experienced the palpable change in a room when people are engaged not just visually, but kinetically, as complex information takes shape in a way that speaks to the intuition as well as the logical mind. Now we have developed the mural innovation process that enables people to see the potential that is right in front of them but hidden in the “details.”

Innovation often occurs at the intersections — of disciplines, of seemingly unrelated streams of knowledge. For example, the above timeline mural depicts politics, business, culture, world events, philosophy and neuroscience. We see how events and ideas in the early 20th century build through the 1960s, converging in an apex of excitement/upheaval with revolutionary events in society (“The Sixties”), technology (Engelbart’s ’68 demo, Arpanet, etc.), philosophy (Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller), culture (environmentalism, feminism, desegregation), business (Drucker).

Looking “back,” we can see what led up to the innovation — in Engelbart’s case, bringing together multiple streams of inspiration including combining his World War II experience with RADAR and the computer, the philosophy of Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think”, a recursive approach (Demming/measurement) and idealism that the world’s problems could be solved by raising the collective IQ. Can we have the same wisdom looking forward?

Or is the next wave of innovation already in front of us?

As Paul Saffo likes to say, “it takes 30 years to create an overnight sensation.” By the time it “hits,” the next wave of innovation already has a long history. The trick is to see it first. Look at today: Web 2.0, social networking, idealistic youth, frustration with dispersed teams, the rise of visualization. What’s next?

These timeline murals help people recognize and explore innovation in two ways. First, when people gather in a room with information at a lifesize scale, they physically relate to history and future, “seeing” the important events of history, their own lives. Through individual reflection and group interaction, we help raise the group’s collective intelligence. After (or instead of) the face to face experience with the live mural, we can adapt the visual story for an online forum where dispersed teams can add, change and interact with the information –mapping patterns and following them to breakthrough ideas.