Doc North from Prototype This! and In The Making

July 23, 2014

 

I met Dr. Mike North at a conference called HATCH.  What is HATCH?  HATCH is a community, movement, and a series of experiences designed to unite creative thought leaders to HATCH a better world.

 

I remember when I first met Mike at HATCH.  We were heading to a party with a car load of people, I was driving and Mike was the backseat DJ.  He made me laugh the entire way as he picked the music and commentated the journey.  That’s what it’s like to hang out with Mike.  He’s a ton of fun.  He also oozes creativity and imagination and I’ve been in meetings with him where he can’t sit still in his seat because he’s bouncing with excitement.  

 

Mike’s resume is impressive.  Instead of listing out all of his accomplishments, I’ll let his interview speak for itself.  I am honored to include Doc North in this interview series!  I’m sure his creativity will inspire you!  Thanks Mike! 

(PHOTO CREDIT: ROYCE GORSUCH)

 

IN ONE SENTENCE, WHO ARE YOU?
 

I’m an inventor, inventing my own systems and disrupting the established, whilst sharing that with the world and putting a few smiles on faces in the process.

 

WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE?
 

Usually the little things.

 

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TOY OR GAME AS A CHILD?
 

My hammer.

 

YOU ARE NO STRANGER TO THE TOY AND GAME INDUSTRY.  YOU SERVED AS CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER AT NUKOTOYS.  TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS.
 

I was the founding CTO of an ambitious start-up aimed to disrupt the toy category by creating toys that integrate with digital devices. For us old folks, there is a line between digital and physical. For kids that grow up digital natives, there is no line. Nukotoys blurs the intersection between online and physical and does so with games that add to kids’ lives versus just addicting them to make a profit. For example, Animal Planet Wildlands lets kids become animals by tapping a NUKO to the screen and then driving the animal by moving the iPad. The kids can then tap on the animal to learn more about it and even watch an HD video of the animal in the wild. Truly a transmedia endeavor!

 

WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST GRATIFYING WORKING IN THE TOY AND GAME INDUSTRY?
 

We developed a game with PBS for helping kids overcome the 4th grade reading slump (going from learning to read to reading to learn). Mission to Planet 429 was a wonderfully creative and fun game, and was shown to work. 

 

As a part of the project we did testing in a Title 1 elementary school in Chicago. The teachers in this school were amazing and certainly had one of the hardest jobs on the planet. So much of their job was just maintaining order in the classroom. This is where I saw the power of video games. The kids were completely engaged in the game (which at its core was looking for books, posters, etc. to read to solve problems). With the kids engaged in the game, the teacher could then go around and work one on one with the kids helping them to move forward.

 

One girl really stood out from the rest at the game. I asked the teacher later about her.

 

Me: “Wow, she was really amazing. She must be one of your top students.”

 

Teacher: “Sara?  She was held back twice in 2nd grade.”

 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE INVENTORS TRYING TO INNOVATE IN THE PLAY SPACE?
 

Spend more time with kids.

 

WE MET AT HATCH, A COMMUNITY THAT UNITES CREATIVE THOUGHT LEADERS TO HATCH A BETTER WORLD. HOW WOULD YOU HELP TO HATCH A BETTER WORLD?
 

Through humor and antics showing different ways of thinking so that others can see it’s possible to rewire their own neural and social networks, to create a life they love.

 

HOW DO YOU ACTIVATE CREATIVITY?
 

I use narrative and storytelling through words, inventions, and video. A story is something that we create whether by doing or in the imagination. Once it’s created, it becomes reality. The bolder and more daring the story the more creative I need to become—both in making it up, and then making it!

 

WHO IS OR HAS BEEN YOUR MENTOR? WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE DID S/HE GIVE YOU?
 

Everyone around me is a mentor which is why I’m very proud of the people that surround me.  The best piece advice I’ve been given came from my 90-year-old professor, Leckie (may he rest in peace): “Be careful what you get good at because chances are you’ll end up doing a lot of it.”

 

WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS?
 

Causing people to rethink the world around them.  Whether it’s with an unexpected punch-line or a crazy prototype.

 

YOU HOSTED THE SHOW PROTOTYPE THIS! ON THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL WHERE YOU LED TEAMS OF CRACK INVENTORS, SCIENTISTS, BUILDERS, AND ENGINEERS TO CREATE NEVER BEFORE SEEN SPECTACLES OF ENGINEERING.  WHAT WAS THE MOST FANTASTICAL INVENTION YOU SHOWCASED ON THE SHOW? 
 

Showcased? Built! The crowd pleaser was the water slide simulator. I thought the custom six-legged vehicle took the cake.

 

WAS THERE ONE THAT DIDN'T MAKE IT ONTO THE SHOW BUT IT’S WORTH MENTIONING?
 

We had an un-aired pilot with two prototypes. One prototype was an un-stealable bike that locked the offender to the bike and then disabled the steering, locked the brakes and called the cops and gave them the GPS coordinates. The other prototype was the PooBot which automatically picked up doggy doo doo and threw it over your neighbor’s fence.

 

WHAT IS YOUR SUPERPOWER?
 

Thinking the absurd and turning it into reality.

 

WHAT IS YOUR PLACE OF INSPIRATION? 
 

I just make all this up.

 

YOUR NEW SHOW, IN THE MAKING, HAS YOU TRAVELING THE GLOBE KNOCKING DOWN DOORS TO HACKER SPACES, INFILTRATING TOP TECH COMPANIES, AND PROFILING MAKERS OF CHANGE WHEREVER THEY ARE.  WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY THAT BLEW YOUR SOCKS OFF?
 

A radical new invention in x-ray technology!  The episode aired on July 17th at www.youtube.com/inthemakingtv   Go there to see Flyboarding, iPhone controlled cockroaches and more every week! 

 

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT TRENDS YOU SEE?
 

I’ll pick one: The digitally integrated self, or as I call it, The Internet of Me. I think this one is very interesting as I foresee an inflection point in our relationship with technology happening. Ask any parent and they’ll complain about how their kids always have their heads in their devices. As someone that has an online life in addition to my physical life, there is a need to be checking with your devices constantly. The tools that we use online are trending for simpler, quicker, and less disruptive to our lives. I think this trend will continue and we’ll see the reemergence of the face from the screen and the technology will start to be less obvious and yet more enabling.

 

YOU ARE THE FOUNDER OF REALLOCATE, A NONPROFIT THAT CONNECTS WORLD CLASS TALENT TO SOCIAL IMPACT PROJECTS THAT CREATE REAL WORLD SOLUTIONS.  HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT AND WHAT HAS IT MEANT TO YOU?
 

When I was working at Nukotoys, the CEO asked if I’d help out his nonprofit Miraclefeet, a mission to treat kids with clubfoot in developing countries. The braces involved in the treatment were expensive and no one had designed a good low-cost brace. I looked at it and said, sure, it looks pretty straight forward and does a good thing for the world. Little did I know this would change my life forever. I quickly brought on friends, designers, corporate partners, like Stratasys 3D printing, and soon we had developed a new brace. Nine months after starting I found myself in a hospital in Nicaragua testing the brace on children. The moment I put the brace on the kid’s foot, I realized that this kid was going to walk because we were able to reallocate just a little bit of the vast resources we have in the western world. Inspired, I came back to the United States and started ReAllocate.

 

WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT WITH REALLOCATE?
 

I’m really proud of the open source cooperative innovation platform Kyle Stewart and Scott Leonard built (along with a diverse community of contributing developers). The tool can be used to activate a community. People can create projects, give descriptions, updates, etc. and then can post opportunities for others to be involved. It’s matchmaking to make the world a better place! We’ve been white labeling the platform for a few select organizations, and soon will be opening it up to more organizations and communities. To get on the list fire an email off to info@reallocate.org

 

HOW DO YOU MOTIVATE YOURSELF TO TAKE ACTION?
 

Cameron Sinclair (founder of Architecture for Humanity) had a great way of putting it: blackmail yourself. It’s a technique I’ve used for years and it works exceptionally well. Tell people you are going to do something, and then do it. If you value your reputation, then you’ll follow through on what you s