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iIDEAS 2.0 – for those who really want to think differently

At the beginning of this year, after a dinner organised by Apple Computer in London, I wrote a short article entitled "iIDEAS". My proposition at the time was that APPLE develop software to handle ideas. Nothing came of the suggestion, not surprisingly maybe. The current APPLE pitch is the digital world seen in terms of the easy handling of multimedia content. Dealing in ideas might well lead them elsewhere into a potentially risky countryside. Some nine months later after a similar luncheon meeting organised by APPLE during the Paris APPLE Expo, I have the feeling that my idea is even more important today for APPLE. In attempts to win over Windows users, they have based their communication on likening their computers to Windows machines stressing the added advantage of using Macs. They have chosen to do battle on Microsoft’s battlefield. They have forgotten the old adage that if you want to win a battle you need to choose your own battlefield. Reviewers of the new code-named Jaguar Mac OS X operating system are understandably, if unfairly, talking about a "catch-up" strategy.

"Think different", the slogan said. Well APPLE fans expect the company to do just that. Judging from the state of the market, the ease of handling digital content no longer constitutes a sufficiently significant competitive advantage. A different perspective is needed. APPLE really need to think differently.

This is where the iIDEAS proposition fits in. In an economy increasingly based on the constant development and evolution of knowledge, the greatest benefit will come from and for those who can help people handle ideas and the relationship between them in an intuitive, creative and easy way. Up to now, the major vehicle for elaborating and communicating ideas has been the text with all the limitations of its necessarily linear nature. Not to mention the fact that school taught most people that they can’t write. In addition, we wastefully discard ideas because they don’t fit in one context although they might be a perfect starting point elsewhere. What we need is an easy-to-use visual tool to help us keep track of our ideas (past and present) and those of others and to link them together playfully in a host of ways. Creativity comes from following up and elaborating on the sparks that come from juxtaposing apparently incongruent ideas.

So how should this be done? My starting point would be software like that made by INSPIRATION that enables a flexible, graphical form of “mind-mapping”. That is to say where ideas - expressed by a couple of words or possibly pictures - can be linked together in configurations that can easily be modified and in which the ideas can be developed with attached notes and in which links can be labelled with indications of their nature. There are, however, two limitations to this otherwise excellent software. The first is that it does not allow the re-use of ideas. The second is that it is tied to the individual user. To counter these limitations, the first step would be to create a database system for the recording of ideas, expressed as a label or title, a brief explanation, perhaps an audiovisual element like a diagram or a picture. There could also be more extensive notes (called up at will) and perhaps some form of indexing in terms of key words. All ideas go into the searchable database and can be recalled for use in an ideas map. We need to be able to save each configuration of ideas and possibly compare them. Secondly we need to be able to share ideas and idea maps with others using something like a cross between Napster and iChat…

So Steve, what are you waiting for? You know what you have to do: acquire INSPIRATION and get working on building tools that could really help us think differently!

Alan McCluskey, at the CIEP in Paris.

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Created: September 11th, 2002 - Last up-dated: September 11th, 2002