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Unusual Innovations Are Innovative

Received wisdom has it that the digital age is reducing job opportunities in a rapidly changing world. But the facts do not support that view entirely. Yes, old jobs are made redundant by the internet; but new jobs in new guises are coming on line all the time.

The internet actually creates opportunities for new work/jobs, new ways of selling/buying and sharing things, from straight retailing to content writing, from data transmission to education. As the latest examples of job creation for those who are thinkers emerge, we can see just how open the new possibilities are.

Unusual Topics, Unique Opportunities

The DaVinci Institute, soon opening in San Francisco has as its Executive Director Thomas Frey, who speaks ‘on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities’. He said: ‘if your next project is not aligned with the problems, needs, and desires of the future, the future is going to kill it’.

He is a Senior Futurologist who wrote Communicating With the Future (2011), revealing his thoughts on ‘revolutionising thinking about the future’. That is to a huge degree, of course, a digital/technological future.

In essence and in the contemporary spirit of everybody being an expert, artist, writer, photographer, film maker, poet, visionary and original thinker through the web, what he advocates is that the future holds infinite opportunities to do well.

What he didn’t spell out but is suggested, is that his very work now of futurology is another job dreamed up/created by the internet and the future. It is a self-fulfilling employment.


In December 2011, the USA’s Trademark and Patent Office turned to crowd-sourcing to come up with an algorithm to speed up the patent approval process. They are but one now of dozens of organisations asking people for ideas and being prepared to pay for them.

Inevitably, it has gone further, with many companies now set up just to organise the search for solutions in innovative ways. They are called things like Innovation Challenge, HealthyImagination Challenge, Minority Innovation Challenges, Nature Open Innovation Pavilion and This Little Piggy Innovations!

Popsci is part of InnoCentive, a major innovation player. Their site says: ‘This pavilion is part of our firm belief that the future is going to be better, and that science and technology are the key tools that are going to make it better. Now your ideas can be part of the revolution—sign up today’.

Most of InnoCentive’s challenges are medical and health related, but some are from the humanitarian, organisational society fields. There is in fact, nothing that could not be improved or solved by the collective wisdom of many minds, from experts to lay.

Computer-Human Synergy

One recent example of a quest shows the scale of the search and the likely rewards that are encouraging innovation. Large-scale uses for human-machine teamwork were needed. The computer can produce so much more directly and integrated 24/7, but still many judgements have to be made by the human brain about the data, photos, names that have been gathered..

The need for human skills of reasoning, perception, knowledge structure and making instinctive/intuitive judgements remains. The task was to enhance the ‘teamwork’ or synergy of computers and large numbers of humans working together to leverage the strengths of each and compensate the weaknesses of each.

Examples of existing combinations of the computer/human team include: homeworkers making sense of web-crawler gathered material, cataloging galaxies, validating commercial listings, combatting money-laundering, remote monitoring of medical devices and drugs.

The company looking for further development, new models, practices and ideas was not after high-end creative work by people with specialised backgrounds (like business or science) but uses that were simple enough for relatively intelligent mass human application with minimal training. They wanted scalable projects that could respond to growth and were easy to recruit for.

The answer had to be original. They wanted a cost-effective solution that did not require technology not yet invented and offered a reward up to $20,000 for a solution adopted, which could be dished out in smaller parcels. In return the company seeking would get a royalty-free, perpetual and non-exclusive license to use all or any part of the solution(s).

Many people think they know how to solve problems, how to do things better/cheaper/faster for financial or altruistic reasons. Now, anybody with internet access can sign up to an innovations company and start cracking the puzzles. He/she needs to research the existing, design the new and phrase it all in a reasonable well-written paper with statistics and examples as appropriate.


Photo: Vaughan Weather