SXSW: what can we learn from scientific concept?

Dawn Smith, the digital development director at J Walter Thompson London, explains the art of pioneering.

Prosthetics: what can we learn from scientific concepts?
Prosthetics: what can we learn from scientific concepts?

One of the reasons I love to attend SXSW is the plethora of opportunities to learn. There are 6,000 panels and only so much time in a day. So the key to a successful festival is being selective.

As a marketer who has been in the tech community for almost 19 years, I tend to focus on learning things that are outside the industry norm. But what is unusual this year is finding that "norm" so quickly.

On Saturday I found myself in a tightly packed conference room listening to Dr Geoffrey Ling’s talk about using neuro-technology in creating prosthetics.

Dr Ling is the founding director of the Biological Technologies Unit at DARPA (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency).

He is the textbook definition of a true pioneer. The work he has done on "hacking" the brain to allow thought-controlled movement of artificial devices is stunning.

The fact that it moved from a prototype to an FDA approved modular prosthetic in testing to being fully FDA-approved in under a decade is staggering.

But what can we learn from this very scientific concept? And how do we define the what, where and how of crafting pioneering innovation in the world of communications?

First, to have a clear vision you want a clear need. In 1962 JD Linklider felt there was a clear communication problem to solve.

And his idea has revolutionised our lives. He created a system of electronic communication and Arpanet the modern day internet was born.

Have laser focus to ensure simplicity of outcome. One of the first successful decisions of the innovation process is to define your field of play and the depth of the outcome. What is your first prototype and what premise you use as a foundation are the most important decisions you’ll make.

Speed is your friend. The Wright Brothers first broke from earth’s gravity in 1903. By 1908 they were working with the military to create the first military plane. By 1914 the first commercial flight flew between St Petersburg and Tampa Florida. In six years the innovation had a real world presence and reality.

As technology has advanced, the speed of real world adaption has grown exponentially. The mind-set of having a perfect solution has moved on toward an approach of on-going improvement.

The idea must see the light of day. Move to actual clinical adaptation right away. If your idea only sits in the back room of an agency, it will only ever be a Science Fair Project. You have to launch it, optimise it and evolve it in the real world.

And finally, one last core pillar to always keep into consideration.

Never remove the human out of the picture. Technology or solutions are meant to improve lives by augmenting who we are. Not replacing us.

From the tech front, avoid the science fiction horrors of autonomous machines without human compassion. From the advertising mind-set, never forget that the best innovations improve consumers’ lives.

Dawn Smith is the digital development director at J Walter Thompson London

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