Mike FritonHere at Catalyst Ranch many of our clients come here for brainstorming and innovation sessions. Sometimes they are developing brand new products, other times it’s to improve upon preexisting ones. Either way, it’s easy to get lost in the pressure of innovation. When you are at that stage when anything is possible, it also means that everything is possible and that feeling can be overwhelming. While in the crucible of a brainstorming session it’s easy to get enmeshed in the litany of different choices and directions. When that pressure hits however, there is a simple saying to fall back on, that, while cliche, will always steer you in the right direction. “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” You’ve heard it a million times, so here it is, a million and one, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.”


A pair of cutting-edge running shoes designed by Mike Friton

This was certainly true for Mike Friton, a freelance shoemaker, paper sculptor and weaver. His first experience with innovation came at a young age and from a personal need. As a competitive runner in college, shoes became an integral part of who he was. One of the events that Mike competed in was the Steeplechase, which comprised of a track with several hurdles and water jump. Every time he raced his shoes ended up filling with water, adding as much as an entire pound of extra weight. As a runner even the tiniest extra encumbrance can have drastic results not to mention  that water filled shoes are extremely uncomfortable to run in. So Mike had a problem. “How could he stop his shoes from filling with water?” And when Mike had problems he would try and solve them.  Whether he knew it at the time Mike was innovating, just on a personal scale. Mike experimented with putting small holes in his shoes to drain the water, trying different configurations, sizes and quantities – sometimes the holes were too big or in the wrong place and the shoes failed, other times they didn’t drain – until he found the perfect balance. Mike went on to a career at Nike as a shoemaker and innovator and today you would be hard pressed to find a pair of sneakers or running shoes without those holes in them.  In this excellent video Mike discuses his craftsmanship and how he became an innovator.

The Innovator from Cineastas on Vimeo.

One of the other great things about this video is the way that Mike talks about approaching a problem from all angles. He carefully learned about weaving so as to understand fabric on the composite level and he learned paper sculpting to explore how something flat can turn into something beautiful and three dimensional. Which is all to say that he explores and experiments with innovation on every design level –  not simply in the product as a whole. This idea of engaging with an idea in multiple ways is central to our philosophy at Catalyst Ranch. Our environment is an attempt to stimulate not just your brain but all of your sense, to get innovators thinking outside of the box and seeing new and unique approaches to their goals.

We’d love to hear from you, faithful readers, where do you start when beginning to innovate?