When I was a kid I loved skateboarding (even though I was terrible). One of my childhood heroes was this skater called Rodney Mullen. He is the godfather of skateboarding not because he had the best style, but because instead of ‘simply’ doing tricks, he invented them.
So when I recently stumbled accros a TEDx-talk by Rodney Mullen, I had to watch it (and I can heartily recommend it to you as well).
The first thing that startled me was how closely related the design process of a skateboard trick is to designing business models or products. This feeds my opinion even further that creativity is driven by several universal (no matter what domain you’re in) natural incentives (competition, amateurism, community, respect and the pure feeling of actually creating something). I especially like how Mullen defines his creative process. He says he takes something from the skate community (a trick or an object), puts it in a different envorinment, tries out how it works, what it does and he gives back the result (in a videoclip) to the community. Basically, Rodney Mullen based his carreer on two big ideas circling business today: Co-creation/open source and hands-on prototyping.
I’ll start with the first one: Co-creation. Taking your knowledge to a new environment and seeing how it reacts is nothing new, it’s the most rudimentary form of innovation and creativity. A caveman saw a rock rolling, translated the shape to something more practicle and the wheel was born. What is new (or at least in the entrepreneurial environment) is giving knowledge to the community in the hope they will do something with it instead of protecting it as much as possible. Rodney Mullen could also keep his tricks to himself, only showing something new on a competition, but then he would never became as good as he is now.
The second thing Rodney Mullen describes is best known as trail-and-error or, as it is called these days, hands-on prototyping. It’s easy to see why you wouldn’t write out a skateboard-trick on paper before you try it out. You just go and see how it works (and if it doesn’t why not). This goes up for everything. Why would you start creating an entire system or business without even knowing whether or not you’ll be able to pull it off? Try it as soon as possible (this is sooner than you think!), fail hard, get up, try again.
Stop building skate parks, start skateboarding
The combination of trail-and-error and open-source is an extremely powerful one. In a sustainable environment you’ll need engagement from your customers to stay on top of your game. To get this, sometimes you’ve got to stop building skate parks FOR your customers (or yourself) and start skateboarding WITH them.