Virtue #4: Impatience. The Desktops.

We didn't forget. If you'll excuse the analogy, we got impatient to move on before these were complete. Take a look and download below at your leisure. And don't forget to take a look at the intro to this fourth Virtue of Small Thinking here.

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Let's fabricate... digitally.

We're currently looking into ingenuity as part of our #smallthinking series. I got a firsthand experience of what ingenuity looks like yesterday, when I was privy to a tour of the Shopbot facility here in Durham, NC. I was excited to see what I thought was one machine, but what turned out to be several working units and some higher level concepts floating in the ether. The folks at Shopbot, including Ted Hall, the founder, are obsessed with details. They make sure they have the best quality rails, motors and electronics to run their super-cool digital fabrication machines. Partly, because clients clamor for them, but partly because Ted wants to make sure the machine runs well enough for his own use if nothing else. He really believes in the Shopbot mission which seems to be placing digital fabrication capabilities in the hands of people who might not otherwise be able to enter the category. So while some of their competitors charge MUCH more for comparable machines, Shopbot keeps putting out hi-test units at a fraction of the cost. There are currently about 7,000 or 8,000 machines in use across the country.

It's really cool to see these machines at work. They sound like Star Wars droids at work, but with much less sarcasm. Their movements are precise. I walked on the floor at the Durham facility with a notion of typical applications: wood, routers, furniture, signage, etc. Nothing too fancy. But Ted changed the trajectory of my thinking by placing these tools into the realm of digital fabrication. To him, digital fabrication is not about automating old ways of making things. It is really about finding completely new ways of making new products. Bringing ideas to life. For example, we saw a 5-axis machine that basically cuts out the tray you place your mini-pretzels on when you're in an airplane. Somebody has to make these things, right? The Shopbot enables the designer to build in certain features that would otherwise require two or more machines. Anyhow, think of this machine hooked up to a Kinect, so that anyone could carve out human figures with a few mouse clicks. Woah! That's a new way of getting something done.

So the inspiration I took away was to constantly look for news ways of doing things. Try them out. See what works. Keep asking " What if?" There's a lot of ingenuity going on in the Shopbot brain trust. A lot of "what if?" questions. And, it seems, a few answers to boot.

Durham Makes It Big by Thinking Small

We Durhamites love our town. It’s undeniable. At the suggestion that the area still needs to grow into a better version of itself, we cast a sidelong glance, purse our lips, and feel sorry for the person who is blind to how fantastic Durham already is. With such eager supporters, it might seem as if Durham were on a permanent path to greatness. Truth be told, we’ve come this far because of good old-fashioned moxie. We are where we are thanks to the very real ingenuity of the individuals, families, philanthropists, activists, bloggers, athletes, artists, huge technology companies, and tiny neighborhood businesses that have stuck their necks out for Durham over years and decades. Our countless small initiatives managed to come together in harmony and built something big -- a wonderfully gritty, smart, and impassioned community.

Up to now, we’ve kept that trend going by being both creative and prolific in our efforts to kickstart and sustain budding projects, and by being willing to take the right risks at the right time. It can feel as if we’re on an unstoppable roll, with The Cookery opening its food business incubator last month, the Bull City Startup Stampede giving new downtown businesses a leg up through the end of May, and this summer’s scheduled renovation of the old Chesterfield Building on the corner of Duke and Main, which promises to add a fresh spot for mixed-use space to the downtown revitalization. And that’s just to name a few reasons why Durham is the envy of personality-deficient towns and entrepreneurial-wannabes everywhere.

With so much buzz in the air, it’s easy to assume we can ride the wave forever. But here’s the rub: Doing more of what’s worked in the past doesn’t guarantee success. For a new project to catch on, it should be conceived carefully. And to be innovative, it should offer something clearly better. Continuing to churn up tiny, effective waves of influence is how we will end up buttressing this vibrant city of ours. In other words, to make something great, we have to remember to think small.

I got to thinking about this a little while back when Chris Heivly, executive director of seed-stage investment program LaunchBox Digital, said that the “big picture” of Durham has to develop organically out of everything we do. As Heivly told Durham Magazine on 6 April: “I don’t want to be the next Boston, the next Austin, the next anything. I want to be Durham.”

The man makes a good point. So to help keep Durham a thriving, authentic place, take a closer look at your latest project idea. Is it small enough to work on its own merits, producing immediate results? Is it digestible enough? Those are the questions to ask, because the short-term is where it’s at. Being precise and timely, small ideas can be developed, tested, and implemented while they are still relevant and inspiring. Smaller thinking lets you act in real time and effect tangible change. Right now. Any long-term, lofty effects you want it to have on the character of Durham are just icing on the cake.

With that in mind, if your project needs a fresh start, try sketching out how you would begin to experiment with a small idea. Identify a current and pressing issue with local implications, and use these tips to help get the process started.

Don’t burden your idea with fluff.

Take the lines of your favorite car. Maybe an Aston Martin does it for you. What about that particular year makes it more beautiful than any other? I’d be willing to bet that the designer followed one small idea, and it paid off.

Translation: Start by articulating the problem you’re trying to solve. Dig deep and jot down a word or short phrase that sums up your purpose. Refer back to it whenever you feel yourself getting lost in decision-making.

Just go.

Before I left to spend a year of college in Freiburg, Germany, a favorite professor told me, “If anyone asks you to go anywhere with them, go. Just go.” That kernel of an idea was both simple and inspiring enough to put into action, and through a series of small moments, it led to a richer, more colorful experience.

Translation: Experiment. The beauty of small ideas is that you can test out new waters constantly. And if something isn’t working, you can let it fail without worrying about having wasted months on it. Go, and go often.

Virtues of Smaller Thinking Vol. 03: Ingenuity

Things happen for a reason. A common enough sentiment, but one that also holds much truth. In every endeavor we have a reason. In an ideal world, this reason is consistently tied to creating better ways of doing something whether it's growing an herb garden, serving inner-city youth or constructing a research methodology. In a not so ideal world (the one we live in), our raison d'être is the effort of at least looking for needed improvements in our world. In this, the third installment of our Virtues of Smaller Thinking, we will explore ingenuity and how it impacts our reaching the goals we've set.

We've established that ingenuity is the act of finding better ways of doing stuff. But how? What's the impact for ourselves? For others?

You might expect me to say that ingenuity begins with innovation or inspiration, but this is where ingenuity eventually points us. Ingenuity is harder, and is first about honesty. An altogether honest assessment of the condition of our being or the quality of an object under consideration. This is not the honesty of family reunions -- this is the brutal honesty of credit reports and blood pressure tests. In Shift, Peter Arnell tells us of his own reluctance to see himself as a 400 lb. man in favor of a more benign self-identification as merely a creative person, without all the baggage. He got past this with an unsettling realization -- his reality -- which led to a better way of living and his losing 250 pounds. Like Peter, only after we assess the subject at hand can we focus on how best to improve upon it and truly move into wider worlds of possibility. Without this candid conversation, we're probably having the wrong conversations as we move forward.

So how does this impact our work? Our processes? This is what we'll explore in more depth over the next few weeks, but know there's a good chance it might not always be pretty. We have to trust ourselves. Ingenuity can sometimes be found in fundamental changes in how we perceive ourselves and our outputs. In other words, something like epiphanies and bolts of lightning. A lot of the time, though, ingenuity manifests itself in lots of tiny revolutions as we constantly refine the way we do things. Constantly. These incremental improvements do add up and they do improve our lives. So keep your mind open to possibilities no matter where they lie. And never suppress the little voice that cries out "What if?" before hearing it out.

As for the impact of ingenuity, let's travel back in time for a moment. All the way back to the 15th century. The world is awakening from what we now call the Dark Ages. Feudal life is not a charmed one. There is no internet and no Facebook. Hell, there are hardly even any books -- and even these aren't available en masse. Along comes Johannes Gutenberg and his magical mechanical moving type. He found a better, faster way of printing books, most famously his 42-line Bible. Before his ingenuity took root, books took months or even years to transcribe by hand. Turns out, even though he changed the world, Gutenberg never became a Renaissance rock star because of his Bibles and Latin texts. He had to borrow money to keep his operations going and was even taken to court. But he persevered. And if we look closer his ingenuity produced a radical contribution to the world that continues to give.

Many folks trace everything in our modern world right back to Gutenberg's dingy workshop. Skyscrapers, VoIP, Gatorade and the combustion engine. Indeed, Mark Twain wrote, "What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg."

Movable type fed the awakening of Europe and subsequently the entire world. It helped bring about the Renaissance because texts were suddenly easier to distribute. Learning took off. On second thought, it was more like learning blasted off. Martin Luther's 95 Theses were printed and circulated widely due to Gutenberg's advancements and then eventually issued as broadsheets which led to the development of the newspaper. And now everything we know is doubled every 900 days. So while ingenuity spawned an original contribution in this instance it inspired many more to come, both directly and indirectly. Another way of saying ingenuity doesn't sleep.

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