swissnex San Francisco is a platform for the exchange of knowledge and ideas in science, education, art, and innovation. MetaDesign recently partnered with swissnex to develop a new website (stay tuned!). The swissnex crew is an innovative bunch, so we are thankful that CEO Dr Christian Simm agreed to speak with us about innovation and trends.
swissnex is a network with nodes in the world’s most innovative hubs. How do you identify trends in these cities?
The first question is: how do you define a trend? A trend is something that is not yet commonplace. To identify a trend, you must at the same time understand and identify what is commonplace, and what is outside of the average. It’s like fashion. Sometimes it’s fashionable to wear red shoes. If most people wear brown shoes, then you have to know that, in order to know red shoes are a trend. We have to know what is actually happening on both sides so we can see what stands out. It’s the delta we try to observe. In the Silicon Valley we can see deltas everywhere. It can be the guy sitting next to you on the bus, or at a BBQ. Or at an event, observing how people act, function, use tools.
Five years ago, who would have thought you and I could be taxi drivers? Someone came up with the idea of Lyft because they found a pain point, and where there’s a pain, there’s a business plan. The challenge is to find out about it, and then test it before it becomes mainstream. It’s easier to find trends in Silicon Valley. People are so open – they have a ‘why not?’ attitude – which is a major component of the success here.
Besides an open mindset, what goes into the magic recipe that is the Silicon Valley?
It’s a whole set of factors. Most people here are from somewhere else, and they come with a purpose. They know that their success is linked to others. The weather is a huge element as well. If you can’t go outside, you can’t meet people at cafes or on the beach…and that is where new ideas are born. It’s a combination. If the recipe was easy, someone else would replicate it. But because it is so complex, and a sum of many factors, there’s not another place like it in the world.
What are some of the world’s most innovative environments right now?
Wherever we have a swissnex office! In the United States, San Francisco is clearly at the top of the list. Boston is an innovator on the biomedical/pharma side. In South America, Rio de Janeiro. South Korea for mobile innovation. A lot of innovation is coming out of Africa.
The thing with poorer countries is that they often use technologies that were used by richer countries for richer users in ways not planned. Like for the cellphone, most people in Western cultures never used it as a replacement for the landline (well, originally). But in Africa, copper wire is expensive. So they replaced landlines with cellphones. In Kenya, there is limited access to ATMs and banks, so when they discovered e-payments, it took off – they e-pay for everything.
What do you think are the next trends in innovation?
It’s what we write about daily. Something that is trendy doesn’t necessarily become an innovation. It comes and goes very quickly. Some trends will not materialize on a large scale. But clearly everything is linked to mobile now. Everything.
We are not far from the day where there are sensors in the phone that detect pulse, temperature, etc., and then the phone can become somewhat of an angel watching over your health. This is the most dramatic. The consequence of all this is big data. We are only at the very beginning. This immense amount of data – it can be used for good and less friendly activities.
What is the biggest obstacle you face when innovating?
The first obstacle is to determine if there is even an opportunity. That requires a very special mindset. If you don’t see anyone is wearing brown shoes, you wont come up with the idea to make them red. The second obstacle has to do with naysayers – all the people who say it’s impossible or wont work. Getting through self-doubt, and having the capacity to see through the noise is also important. So are great communication skills. You have to convince venture capitalists and clients your idea will work, and if you can’t communicate it, it will stay in a drawer, or in your basement forever.
What are some trends in your neck of the woods? Post them in the comments!
Interview by Molly Davis, Communication Strategist at MetaDesign San Francisco.