Tag: #becreative

Exploring Innovation & Inventing With Falk Wolsky

On Episode 109 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Chief Innovation Officer Falk Wolsky, about innovation and inventing!


What is Innovation?
Innovation in the World of Technology
The Magic of IT
One of Falk’s Inventions: The SmartPen
Why Falk Invented The Smart Pen
How The Smart Pen Works
Curiosity: Motivating Inventors
Knowing Where to Start When Making an Idea Reality
More Episodes
Show Notes

Exploring Innovation & Inventing With Falk Wolsky


Paul: Hi, how are you?

Falk: Ah, I’m good. How are you?

Paul: Very good. So, where are you tonight?

Falk: I am actually in a small village in Saxony. This village is called Schöneck and it’s the headquarter of our company. This is already story enough.

Paul: Wow.

Falk: It’s amazing. It’s very, very small village. I might say, 10% of the population is employees of this company.

Paul: Oh really? Wow. That’s cool.

Falk: Yes. No, it, it looks like. I believe it’s not that much, but somehow, sometimes you get this impression because I work most likely in the capitals, in many different countries, and let’s say this is not a capital. It’s where fox and rabbits say goodnight to each other. We have a fairytale about this.

Paul: Cool. Very cool. Well, we’re talking with Falk Wolsky. Is that how we say your name?

Falk: That is absolutely right.

Paul: Alright. So, what is your role at Innogate Tech?

Falk: At Innogate Tech, I’m a chief innovation officer, and at GK Software, I’m the head of innovation. Both means actually the same. I look a little bit into the future and define strategies and detail products and so on.

What is Innovation?

Paul: Alright. So let’s, for our, for our listeners, you know, we’re the Edge of Innovation, but how do you define innovation and what is it? When you go to work, when you wake up… It’s a good time of year. We’re recording this in early January. And what have you sort of said, okay, I’ve got to innovate this year. What does that look like to you?

Falk: Already many questions in one. I might say, I saw a wonderful chart from Andy Brukov. He’s very famous in AI, and he showed a chart, a pie diagram. 90% was blue. And this is people who use stuff. Let’s say 9% was yellow. This is people who adopt stuff and increase or enrich stuff. And 1% of people actually create stuff. That was very interesting.

And if you ask what is innovation, it’s most likely about the thing to create. I’m very lucky I’m in IT. So actually, I can, as I’m also developer, by myself, can create things out of nothing. So, I just go my laptop and I start to code. So actually I’m a source from the brain directly to a product. It was very interesting.

So, I might say the creation of things, the real creation — not only the combination or the adoption — this is the innovation point. When things come together and you have a spark of idea and say, “Ah, cool. This is something new. This is interesting. This is useful.”

Innovation in the World of Technology

Paul: Interesting. Okay. So, do you think your innovation… How would you characterize it? Do you think it’s mostly in the technology world?

Falk: I might say yes. I cannot not say… I’m not a technologist, so I’m, I’m a really pure guy in my brain, in what I like and what I follow. I’m not good in chemistry, for example. I will never make any big innovation in chemistry.

What I do have, I have multiple disciplines. I’m looking for energy. So, I was in Africa and looking to innovate there how people can get solar energy because the current approach doesn’t fit for the people itself. I’m here with IT in retail, for example. With Innogate, we are in IT for energy provider, one of the largest energy providers in Ukraine, actually.

So, this is completely mixed and I’m reading about everything. What is creeping around this technology, not only IT. And some of the time, it’s a combination of this. So, I have not a limited field but chemistry, mathematics — this is not for me. I will not innovate there.

The Magic of IT

Paul: But now here, the, when you say IT to a person in the United States, they think about the people who keep the networks running. And I think you’re talking about IT as really the application of information technology to solve a problem. Is that fair?

Falk: Yes, that is absolutely true. I can say by a combination of technology, IT, programming, marketing, and business model, I make digital products. That’s absolutely right. It’s not a simple app. Some of these products are more complex because you have something in the database, something in the middleware, some service flying around, some cloud stuff to unite all this, make it synchronized, make it swing in harmony and build a product that actually people can use in the front and simple, as an app or website. That is the magic.

Paul: Right, right. So, do you have an example that you can share with us — not something that’s confidential, obviously — of where you have sort of gotten things to work together that wouldn’t have been obvious otherwise?

One of Falk’s Inventions: The SmartPen

Falk: There was a very prominent example. It’s already in the past. I was inventor of the first pen that vibrates when you make a mistake. It was so famous that you even had [inaudible] talking about it. It was very funny. And this was in the 1915 it seems to me, 1914, something like this. And there was multiple things coming together from the physical product, hardware, the design of a pen, where inside fits a computer, where on this computer fits enough software that the pen by itself, without any help, can detect what you write and then vibrate when you do mistakes.

So, this was already complex. I had twenty people, very multi-disciplinary because you have a lot of machine learning. You have hardware designs, sensors. You have [inaudible] catalogs. You have user interfaces. Everything. Right? This is when it all comes together in a very small product. For the user it was simple. Battery in, switching it on, and it was working. That’s all.

Paul: Hmm. Interesting. What did you learn through the lifecycle of the evolution of that product that you didn’t anticipate?

Falk: I must say I anticipated almost everything.

Paul: Really? Okay, so there wasn’t any surprise? Like, did it do as well as you thought it would do?

Falk: Actually yes. Yes.

Paul: Okay.

Falk: I was in the moment… It was very funny story. I was sitting at home and my big son actually make homework. Right? And he makes so many mistakes, and he knows how to do it. He just was not focused. My wife said, “Oh, now he could need a pen with electrical shock.” Right?

I said, “Come on. That’s just one failure.” But actually, vibrating would be cool. But in that moment, let’s say in twenty minutes – It was 2012 October – I had the full idea of how it will work. And that’s innovation.

Paul: Interesting, yeah.

Falk: It will be by motion sensors. It will be this, this, this. I can construct. Okay, you have a lot of research later on. I cannot say I was understand which library, language, I will already use. This comes later. This was already clear. Form factor was clear. Possibility was not clear.

So, the amazing fact is when you have then the prototype first. It would actually do what you told it will do. And even if people say it’s not possible because this motion sensors was used on the scale of an airplane. Now we packed them into a pen, and everybody say impossible. But it was possible. But I believed in this pretty much from the beginning, I might say.

Why Falk Invented The Smart Pen

Paul: Interesting. So, was this to help people to learn to write better?

Falk: Yes. There was multiple interesting things. The first is for children. When they come in the school and the teacher gives them back the homework after some days with the red marks, what they all did wrong, this is a very bad trigger to learn things. But the pen immediately makes you aware, look twice, and you look twice, and you say, “Ah, yeah. True. I made mistake here, that…” This is so-called positive learning. People will learn, children will learn much faster and with much more fun to write.

And when pen can understand your handwriting in the moment you do it, we have also example excellent with Word, then you, in real time, see, when you write something on a paper, it appears in Word. Then you have multiple scenarios from hospitals, doctors, production plans, everywhere where it’s still handwriting needed and by regulatory, even by law, expected. Signature. To understand is this your signature or not? Very interesting.

So, there’s a lot of cases, of what you can do with it, and not only for children.

How The Smart Pen Works

Paul: Wow. That’s cool. So how did you do it? Did you use vector analysis? Did you use scanners? Or how did you actually detect it?

Falk: Ah, it was exactly the story from this moment when I talked about it. The first from decide of a product, it was clear. Battery in, switch on. It must work. That means a lot of things you cannot do, because if you need something else, it would not fit to the product. Most of the older people in the market, when they order products, they rely on some additional. Sometimes a small box you have to climb with the paper. I don’t want. Sometimes in surface where only you can write on this. I don’t want it. Sometimes a special paper with a camera. I don’t want it. I say it must work. Battery in, switch on, go.

The only way to do was to use motion sensors, very fine-graded motion sensors. Now it gets complex. If you only have assimilation and rotation, you’re blind. You have no idea where you are. You only know I move. And then you are start very complex with mathematical calculations. You collect information, and you calculate how much I moved, how much to accelerate, how much I turn, and then you step by step calculate out of it what actually the tip of the pen does.

The tip on the pen on the paper, if you have this, what it does, this motion, then you can give this information to a handwriting recognition engine because it already lives by two-dimensional data. But the magic is out of blindness, only by rotation and assimilation to understand what the pen does. This was the magic. This was the thing that nobody before had gone through.

And there was all six people working only on that to understand. With every case, and we had brilliant people, they worked almost a year to achieve. And we achieved it. It was working. No matter where. You can write upside down, on the paper, on the table, whatever. It was no matter. Right? It was very interesting. We even had small video writing the air because it’s also motion. You have big letters, but in general, it’s the same.

Curiosity: Motivating Inventors

Paul: So you had this. You’re sitting at a home, and your wife is saying, you know, “Can’t we make an electroshock pen?” And you have an epiphany. What made you think that you could do this? What, leading up to that point said, “I have the nerve to be able to say ‘This, this is real. This is something I can try”?

Falk: I would say similar on Innogate or in the position that I do now for GK, it’s very similar. I have, first, long time history when I was developing a lot of stuff by myself, hands on. I know database. I know about development. I know a little bit of Java development. Any kind. I did a lot career. So, you have already gut feeling, a rough-gut feeling.

The second is I’m, by nature, unbelievable curious for everything. I’m following quite clear what is the development in the machine learning. I’m following what is the development in the flying taxi. I am following what is the development in solar panels collecting sun and producing water. It’s endless. This curiosity leads you to swallowing the information, what is existing. Some of the time an innovation appears also by combining things clever and saying, “Ah, if I took this and this and merge it, then it’s actually possible.”

And, I did before, a project about IoT. Actually, I was inventing another thing, but it’s more to smile. It was the first coffee machine that could send tweets. And it could also receive tweets. So, you can control your coffee machine via Twitter. And it sounds a little bit to smile, but actually for brand and for food service, it’s a pretty cool thing.

And from that time, I had already a good experience in IoT and small computers and how to program it and what is the problem or not. What is possible or not? So, this large curiosity for almost everything what is tech, that helps a lot.

Knowing Where to Start When Making an Idea Reality

Paul: Yes, absolutely. I’m asking, would you agree that most people who would approach that problem of saying, I want a pen that when somebody makes a mistake, notifies them of that? They wouldn’t know where to start, let alone to think it was possible.

Falk: I would agree on, some people, they believe it’s not possible. We have people surrounding us. They have maybe not a clue. They don’t know IoT stuff. They don’t know to program. They will say — I don’t know.

Most people though start somewhere into combining things. And there is a second component in innovation. Only combining what is there not always leads you to something. Most of the competitors actually start by camera because it’s existing already. It proves it’s possible, and then you will start constructing your product around these. But I go from the different perspective. I said, “What is the optimal product? And how can I reach it?”

So, I challenge the current state and change it and say, “No, I need a different way.” This is exactly what I do now. I have a huge software project, and I said to everybody, “Guys, we don’t work like everybody work, because if you do it, we actually spent the last part of the line like everybody do.” And also develop ten years. This time we don’t have. We need to be somehow different. I challenge the state also. Not reinventing everything. But I ask twice, “Is this what is existing the right way? Or there is maybe shortcuts? Or something be revolutionized here.”

And this was in the pen exactly the same. I said, “We will do it with motion tracking. If there’s motion sensors.” Everybody was saying, “No way. Not possible.” I said, “No, I have a feeling. I have a gut feeling it will work.” I was just researching a little bit about the resolution that these sensors already have. Is this fine enough or not? And roughly I could guess. I said, “I must be possible. It will be fine.”

So, but this was part of it. And most people, also by my experience, they will say, “Yes, it’s for sure possible,” and then they start to construct a product around the technology they have. This is maybe a small thing. What is the real innovation is not to do this. You just say, “Okay, what do we have? Let’s build something.”


Paul: Well excellent. We’ve been talking with Falk Wolsky. He’s the chief innovation officer with Innogate Tech. And we’ve had a great talk about innovation and there’ll be a lot of links in the shownotes to both his company and some of the things we talked about.

Well, thank you very much.

Falk: Thank you very much too. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Paul: It was a pleasure to talk to you too.

More Episodes:

This is Part 1 of 3 of our conversation with Falk Wolsky! Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!

Show Notes:

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