No Foam Isn’t an Option

I made this note a couple of days ago.

Foam is natural.

Foam exists.

Foam is a solid that’s made out of liquid and air. Foam shouldn’t exist. Well, in one view of the world, that thinks things should be what we think they are, foam shouldn’t exist.

But foam exists.

In his book “The Innovation algorithm,” Genrich Altshuller talks about foam because he talks about invention being about identifying contradictions.

Often the resolution to these contradictions is to find something that is both there and not there.

The example that he gives is a grain store. The grain store needs to be kept dry, so there are fans that circulate air over the top of the grain. But it’s difficult to know where the air is circulating? Are all parts of the grain story getting air that is circulated, or are the pockets where the air is still? What could we use to see the airflow?

Well, we could use balloons. But filling the grain store with balloons would be impractical, we would have to collect all the balloons when we’d finished. What we need is a balloon that both is there and isn’t there. This of course is what a bubble is.

What we need to do, if we’re in the business of making sure that air flows correctly over grain, is to fill the air with bubbles and notice the places that they don’t go.

To solve this problem, we need something that is both there and not there.

But on the whole, bubbles and froth have a bad reputation. To burst someone’s bubble is to bring them down to earth with a bump. We are both excited and terrified by the notion of financial bubbles — like the credit crunch in 2008. Until we forget about them and they happen again.

Yeah, sure, bubbles bursting, foam going flat is bad. But what about the bubbles that don’t burst?

A lot of things are inherently unstable, but still very valuable. Like, well, us. Human beings, relationships, civilisations.

This is where I might be ending up with thinking about project management.

I used to think (and often I still do) that when you manage a project, you need to be absolutely honest about its chances of success.

But what if what you really need to do is to inject realism into the bubble, yeah sure, so that the bubble doesn’t get dangerously overblown. But at the same time, you don’t want to inject so much realism that the thing goes pop, or falls entirely flat. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about bread.

Bread is a foam. But if you let it rise too much it’s nothing but holes. Periodically it needs knocking back.

To deliver a project, we need to create a “foam” of idealism and practicality. We need to create a mix of things that can actually be done and things that are dreamed about.

Yes. This is a new idea. I hadn’t thought about it like this before. And I’ve got another idea that goes with it. If we don’t acknowledge this, we’re left entirely in the hands of sociopaths.

Originally published at




What daemon possessed me that I behaved so well? - Henry David Thoreau

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Mark Stringer

Mark Stringer

What daemon possessed me that I behaved so well? - Henry David Thoreau

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