[ freespace ] : The Future of Innovation Incubation

A noble experiment is being conducted in downtown San Francisco. It’s a project that may have an incredible impact on the city. It could change the way people think about civic involvement. It could change the way people think about getting things done. It could change the way a community comes together. Or, it might not do any of these things. After all, it’s an experiment; failure is always a possibility.

Born from San Francisco’s National Day of Civic Hacking, the [ freespace ] project is incubating civic ideas to positively impact the Bay Area. Last month the organizers partnered with a variety of city organizations to rent a 14,000 square foot warehouse for just $1. Using the building as a creative hub for artists, hackers, mechanics and more, [ freespace ] is producing projects they hope will serve as solutions to some of San Francisco’s civic ills.

Thanks to a successful indiegogo campaign, [ freespace ] is now entering its second month. With its $1 rent no longer available, the project raised over $25,000 to occupy the space through July. And with this new lease on life, the project has the potential to further brew ideas to improve the city that’s shown them so much support.

This type of incubation is exactly what businesses across the globe are attempting to do today. As we explored previously, brands around the world are rethinking how they approach innovation. As [ freespace ] enters its second month, there are three key ways it has illustrated what companies can do to craft inspired spaces for innovation.

 

Start with a purpose

The civic leader B.R. Ambedkar once said, “Everyone must have a philosophy, for everyone must have a standard by which to measure his conduct. And philosophy is nothing but a standard by which to measure.”

We hear a lot about the importance of authenticity. But for an organization to be able to communicate their authenticity they must have purpose, and therefore a philosophy. For [ freespace ] that purpose is to positively impact their city. It’s inherent philosophy was centered on collaboration. This framework is broad enough to allow for a wealth of ideas, and yet provides enough creative restraint to allow participants to act with focus.

But for an organization to be able to communicate their authenticity they must have purpose, and therefore a philosophy.

Without a clear purpose, companies easily fall into the trap of innovating for innovations sake. With a clear purpose not only do you create a focal point for action, but you also provide yourself a ruler on which you can mark your progress.

Explore the worst idea

Key to the creation of the [ freespace ] experiment was the ability to rent a downtown warehouse for the incredible rate of $1 during the month of June. This preposterous rate would sound like a horrible idea for any landlord. Yet through creative negotiation amongst its partners, [ freespace ] unlocked innovation from this seemingly foolish proposition. Leaving no idea-stone unturned, even if it seems like the worst idea, can hold the key to innovative solutions.

Who would have thought posting messages of 140 characters on a poorly designed webpage would become the epitome of 21st century communication? At the inception of Twitter, it sounded like one of the worst ideas of the Internet age. Or who would have thought shooting a flavored liquid into water would challenge the leaders in the soda industry? Leaving no idea-stone unturned, even if it seems like the worst idea, can hold the key to innovative solutions. But MiO has become a rising star in the category. These ideas and many others held no precedent and thus seemed like business model suicide. But embracing the risk of the worst idea is a great way to unlock the potential for innovative solutions.

Shape the space

Anyone interested in the history of innovation is likely to be familiar with MIT’s Building 20. This World War II era building became a “magical incubator” for MIT programs, research and innovations. Essential to its success was the ability of its inhabitants to shape the space as they saw fit. Originally constructed from lumber, Building 20 was the antithesis of precious space. No wall was un-breakable. No furniture un-movable. The space offered no limits to creativity and therefore no limits to innovation.

When those involved feel they can steer the ship of innovation, it more richly ties them to the project.

One of the most notable elements in the story of [ freespace ] was the raw nature of the building at the projects conception. The space was a blank canvas. All participants in the project had the ability to shape the space through painting, installation art or decoration. This ability offered a key impact for the participants: Ownership. When those involved feel they can steer the ship of innovation, it more richly ties them to the project. And with that kind of connection, dedication quickly follows.

With several initial successes, the [ freespace ] project is sure to keep the innovations coming through the month of July. While it will be exciting to watch the experiment continue, [ freespace ] is already offering us a truly unique model for incubating innovation. They are bravely pursuing a purpose, considering their worst ideas and shaping a space for innovation.

And that’s an achievement all on its own.

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