Four rules for impact-driven innovation

Matan Berkowitz is a fascinating character. Interdisciplinary artist, entrepreneur and renowned speaker, his varied background has given him a somewhat unique take on innovation and the role it can play in helping those who need it most.

We caught up with Matan recently in Boston, following Virgin Atlantic’s latest Business is an adventure event, to learn more about what’s  keeping him busy and the rules of innovation he’s picked up over the years in his roles as artist, entrepreneur, film director, band leader and event producer.

"What I’m really interested in is having my own innovation lab, somewhere to build things up internally and test them. I’ve been to lots of different innovation labs in places like Harvard and MIT to see what they have," explains Matan. "The two things that I’m passionate about the most are applying innovation to art and creativity on the one hand, and on the other to impact. Almost everything I do is around innovation, creativity or impact - it always has to rank high when I test it against this equation."

Through his work in various sectors Matan has picked up a wide range of tactics to ensure focused and impact-driven innovation, here we pick just four from our discussion with him.

1. Target innovation at the bottom of the pyramid

Breaking down the barriers around art is a big passion for Matan. As he sees it there are two main issues, the first being that of time, ability and skill - something we will all face. The second, however, is where he feels he can make a real difference - disability and inclusion.

"I look at this barrier as a pyramid, let’s take music as an example. At the top of this pyramid we have professional musicians who have all the skills, equipment, knowledge and experience.

"Then you have hobbyists, they have some of knowledge and equipment but not all and don’t make money from what they do. Below that we have non-musicians, who have to start from pretty much scratch and don’t have any knowledge. Finally, there are those who are experiencing real challenges in attempting to express themselves or learn a type of skill. If you start at the bottom with these people, creating ways to help them, then you are going to affect the whole pyramid.

"If you have someone who mentally or physically struggles with playing the piano, and you can create an innovative tool to make it fast and easier for them to do so, then you’re going to have a tool that can probably apply to everyone."

2. The importance of disconnecting

As Matan explains at the start of the below TEDx Talk, time to yourself - away from the lures of smartphones - can result in the best ideas finding their way to you.

"Our free time is now completely filled with content, which we’re not in control of. Everyone, including myself, seems to be completely addicted to this - it’s so hard to disconnect. Before coming to Boston I took a week in New York to be alone, I found myself trying really hard when I woke up in the morning to not reach for my mobile.

"When I managed to avoid it I could prepare myself, process dreams, stretch my body and generally have a plan for the day. People are taking their phones to the bathrooms, looking at them during conversation and this sort of technology is only going to become further engrained into our lives."

3. Set yourself a time limit

As a veteran of many hackathons Matan has picked up a number of techniques that enable the natural flow of innovation and yield positive results, one of which centres on the importance of a rigid time limit.

"At a hackathon you will have people from a number of disciplines, so how do you keep them both engaged and motivated? We need to work hard and have fun but it also needs to feel like something that’s important, if you get that collaborative spirit in the room it’s great. It’s a social experience but it needs to matter. Hackathons are great as they’re based on a time limit.

"You usually want to have a time limit. If you look at a 24 hour hackathon, most of the work is going to be done in the last eight hours. With a 72 hour hackathon, most of the work is also going to be done in the last eight hours. Time is important. The more time you have, the more time you can spend planning and trying stuff out - when stuff need to starts happening it will."

4. Expand your network

As a prolific speaker and a serial collaborator Matan is a big believer in travel and meeting new people, the benefits of which may not always be what you either expected or needed at that particular moment.

"When you travel around and get up on stage it changes a few different things, one of these is the ability to network. Through this you get exposed to so many more ideas, content and culture. Networking is not about money, friends or recognition, it’s about finding people who are doing interesting things. Even if what you end up doing with them is not what you met them for, or attracted you to them, you now know the right person to go to if something comes up.

"One of my art projects is focused on creating trees around the world that are all interconnected. It started in Israel with my friend but through a connection in Sweden we managed to get funding from Stockholm, now we’re connecting the two countries. Meeting these people expands your work but it also makes you better at it - the more people you meet, the more times you will have to explain what you do and why you do it, this is important."


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