Do You Have the Requirements for Innovation?

innovatelepiafgeoI tried to ping Twitter for some ideas, but it seems like no one ever works on Fridays.  I did, however, get a bit of brilliant input which really summarized my thoughts as well:

@johnyeng: willing to ask crazy or even stupid questions, as well as open to crazy ideas….

@chad_oliver: requirements for innovation – at least three failures

You’ve heard all the cliches before – thinking outside of the box – willing to take risks – blah, blah, blah.  But looking around The National Summit at all the CEO suits on one side, small business people on another, and students at the back, you start to think that there really is something to all those cliches.  What if everyone started to mingle?  And CEOs were talking to students and small business people?  I think that’s what The National Summit was striving for, but the forum for true conversation within the audience just didn’t materialize.

Companies like to talk the talk, but just how many of them actually foster an environment that allows innovation to happen?  If someone has an idea, does anyone listen to them?  Or do the only good ideas come from the C-suite?

A creative environment doesn’t mean chaos or a lack of hierarchy – it still needs to be clear who is making the final decision.  But I think a lot of companies say they’re innovative (As Dr. John Mao said, “innovation is in danger of becoming the new buzzword of the century”), but don’t actually allow their employees to innovate.

What do you think?

(photo by lepiaf.geo @ Flickr CC)

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Thoughts on The National Summit #tns09

nationalsummitAs mentioned, I attended the National Summit yesterday here in Detroit.  I was lucky enough to attend for free as a student, but I only went to the last day.  Still, if you were able to follow my Twitter feed, you know there was some interesting and valuable conversations.  I’ll provide them again here and then move into some of my thoughts from the day:

  • At national summit #tns09 horrible signage made for an adventure. No plugs in room should make coverage spotty.
  • I wish people would get off the web 2.0 kick. That’s old news #tns09
  • Looked over and there’s a little bird hopping around in the Renaissance ballroom – bit unexpected #tns09
  • I’d be interested in a discussion about how to manage and engage different generations of workers #tns09
  • we’re in detroit and auto industry is important but we need to get beyond relating every issue back to it. Broaden your thinking #tns09
  • Jim balsillie (RIM) – few think strategically about technology – don’t get caught up in the device but what transformation it enables #tns09
  • Micheal Klein – in recession there are more needs than ever = opportunities to innovate and grow #tns09
  • Micheal Klein – marvel comics announced they are bringing back Capt America – the US needs a hero with super powers as a role model #tns09
  • I never thought I’d admit it but MS has some cool tech (surfaces, tagging, touch screen) I blame @joshholmes #tns09
  • Deborah wince-smith – son is getting engineering degree – forced to integrate multidisciplines of education to innovate #tns09
  • John mao – concept of classroom in us needs to change – we’re stuck in a system based on farming schedules – innovation in education #tns09
  • John mao – innovation is in danger of becoming the new buzzword of the century #tns09
  • Alan mulally – innovation is a process enabling technology to provide what people actually want (add value to their lives) #tns09
  • Steve ballmer – learned everything that’s important about life when he lived in Detroit #tns09 woot!
  • Aneesh chopra – need to use technology to create mashups of data, devices, & entreprenurial vision #tns09
  • Steve ballmer – bing – need to be tenacious and patient and keep up a high rate of innovation for the long run #tns09
  • Steve ballmer is really passionate that patience, investments for long term and education are key to sustaining innovation #tns09
  • Steve ballmer – lots of people here still using paper – tech hasn’t solved their problems yet #tns09

I think the idea behind this conference was brilliant – bringing together CEOs, thought leaders, business people and students to have some conversations about the issues facing us as a country.  But, I think that they could have a done a better job of encouraging conversation between audience members.  Most of the conversations were between panel members and the audience. I think it would have been awesome if they had scheduled some specific networking events – maybe even about certain issues or industries to encourage these conversations. (I’m not sure what was done on the first two days, however).  And a lunch where you were “forced” to sit down at a table with people from different industries and experience would have broken down some of the traditional barriers.  One thing I noticed is that many people did know each other, but you had cliques forming – CEOs over here – students over there – companies all together – that I think stiffled some of the truly collaborative conversations which could have been had.

They did try to encourage a conversation online on their blogs and bulletin boards.  As a student we were “required” to post at least one response to a blog and two to the discussion groups.  But this forced posting did nothing to really foster conversations.  The levels of students went from high school up through graduate level college, which doesn’t necessarily provide balanced levels of interesting ideas.  Since there were no plugs in the conference rooms and we were supposedly not allowed to use cell phones, there was very little conversation online during the actual conference (I obviously broke with the cell phone rule in order to Twitter).

Overall I think the conference was a bit of a dichotomy – foster conversations but no way to have them – old guard (executive management) and new guard (students) – Twitter and Facebook during the conference but no cell phone use – use of new media and technology but no way to use them during the actual conference.  I think the conference had a lot of value in terms of things that were brought up, but I think the conversations and engagement would have been more productive if they had taken more steps to foster more interaction during the conference.

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Are You Doing What Matters?

growthiChazWhile in the self-checkout lane at Meijers today I started thinking about rfid again.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could just walk right out the door and everything in our basket would be instantly scanned and charged?  IBM made a commercial about the very possibility.  Think about the time savings!

There’s no denying that what Tetherball is doing is interesting to marketers.  But if people aren’t willing to use the device, it won’t be of any use to marketers.  (there are lots of things that are interesting to marketers that no one else wants).  So, what if instead of spending time on a device that seems cool, they could somehow actually make it useful to the people using it?  Wouldn’t that matter more?  Wouldn’t that help make the device more accepted and actually make it more useful to marketers?

What about what you’re doing?  Does it matter?  How can you make it matter more?  Is there something you could be doing to accelerate your progress?

(photo by iChaz @ Flickr CC)

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Tetherball – A Thousand Times Worse Than Loyalty Cards

theftgrey_pumpkinAs you may be aware – I hate loyalty cards.  I think they’re a pain in the butt and offer way more reward to the company than to me.  I don’t mind loyalty programs, but I want the burden to be on the company to keep track of what I’ve purchased and my rewards.  This may be what led to the development of Tetherball, which is a service that connects mobile advertising & marketing directly with individual consumers via a small rfid chip on their mobile devices.  Marketers and advertisers seem to be estatic about the possibilities, but to me, it sounds a thousand times worse than loyalty cards.

Security Issues

While it sounds convenient to have a sticker on your mobile device that can interact with devices at a store, there’s usually very little security in current rfid technology.  This means that anyone with the proper device can read the information that’s stored on the rfid chip.  There’s no way for the owner of the mobile phone to turn off the rfid or control what information is on it or who can access it.  There’s also nothing to stop the store that gave you the chip from tracking you in places you may not know about.

Awareness Issues

I wonder just how much people who are using these rfid devices understand how the company is using their information.  Are they aware of the possible security and privacy risks?  Are the companies devulging any of these possible issues?

Scaling Issues

Even if you like the idea of a rfid chip for a loyalty program, how is it going to work when all the loyalty programs start doing it?  Is your mobile device going to be covered in stickers?  Just think about how many loyalty cards many people carry – watch the next lady with a big purse shuffle through a card deck looking for the proper card.  Will the companies be able to access the information on the other chips?

Transferability Issues

What happens when you get a new mobile device?  Will you be able to transfer the sticker to the new device?  Probably not.  So you’ll have to go through some sort of new sticker transfer process.  What if you have multiple devices?  Depending on how the technology is implemented, there may be issues with controlling who is actually using the loyalty chip.

Less Invasive Technology

It seems like there would be less invasive ways to use mobile technology for loyalty programs.  Many new phones are smartphones – or Internet enabled, which means they’re able to connect to an Internet website.  Many also have the ability to connect to wireless hotspots.  As the price for these devices comes down, more people will have them.  A company could use their wireless network in-store to easily create the same sort of loyalty programs without having the issues presented above in an rfid chip.

What Would You Do?

Is there a company you trust enough to put a rfid chip on your phone?  Are you concerned about your privacy and security of your information?  What do you think?

(photo by grey pumpkin @ Flickr CC)

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Simple is Good

simpleSarahJaneI had a chance to listen to Josh Holme’s talk The Lost Art of Simplicity at the KalamazooX Conference, which I covered here.  It’s a great talk, and if you get a chance to listen to it, I encourage you to do so.  Josh recently posted his slides from the talk, which are worth a peek.

I think all of us – designers, programmers, marketers, businesspeople, consumers… get caught up in complexity.  In making our products, our businesses, our websites, our lives complex.  Often I think we believe that people won’t pay for simple.  We need to add lots of features, lots of value-adds, lots of freebees.

If we take a few minutes to look at some of the most successful products, we see that they are inherently simple.  The Apple iPod.  The Sony Walkman. In their design.  In their features.  In how easy they are to use.

Simple is not easy.  It can be very difficult to make these as simple as possible.  But simple is a delight to use, too look at, to be apart of.

How can you be simple?

(photo by Sarah Jane)

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9 Ways to Lose Business Using Twitter

angryhansvandenberg30Companies and inviduals alike have been flocking to Twitter.  Many companies are using Twitter to enage their customers in meaningful conversations, helping with support issues and questions, and gathering feedback to improve their products and services.  But some companies are just using Twitter as another broadcast medium, which can actually be harmful.  When using Twitter for business here’s what you shouldn’t do:

  1. Talk only about your company and products – Twitter is a social media for having conversations (that means two-way communication).
  2. Ignore what people are saying about you – Twitter gives your customers a voice.  Pay attention to what they’re saying.
  3. Fail to Respond – For very large companies with many followers, it can be difficult to respond to every request, but you should try as hard as possible.
  4. Talk about inappropriate subjects – This happens most often when personal and business subjects mix, but it could also be talking about controversial subjects.  Just keep in mind that whatever you say is out there for everyone to see.
  5. Sell to followers – Obviously some self-promotion is fine, but it should not be the main use of your Twitter account.  And you shouldn’t direct message every follower with links to your product or promotions.
  6. Ask for contacts – If people are interested in your products or services, they’ll contact you.  If you provide useful and helpful information, people will start to follow you.  People are very protective of their coworkers, friends and family, so don’t violate their trust.
  7. Ask people to promote your stuff -  If they find what you say valuable enough, they’ll tell others. Asking for a rt occasionally may be ok, but constantly bugging people to promote you will just annoy them.
  8. Don’t do anything constructive with feedback – Your customers are offering feedback because they care (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother).  If you don’t do anything useful with the feedback, they’ll stop giving it and it’ll be much more difficult to satisfy them.
  9. Take more than you give – If you fail to offer useful and helpful information, offer support and wisdom, and give information, your customers will stop listening and go elsewhere.

I think a lot of it comes down to acting the same on Twitter as you would in person.

(photo by hansvandenberg30)

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Why I Hate Keyword Clouds

cloudskevindooleyEver see a set of words in different sizes which are all links on a site?  It’s probably a keyword cloud.  These clouds try to give a visual representation of what the site is about.  Sometimes they’re based on tags, which the writer of the content uses to categorize their content (these are .  Often they are based only on the words the site – the keywords – the words that are mentioned the most often are represented by the largest size.  The problem is these keyword clouds often falsely represent the true content of a site.  Keywords are not intelligent.  They don’t know that a story about – they don’t know about context or associations.  Keywords are dumb.

For example, we try to cover social media, marketing, strategy and technology links through our Twitter feed.  Many of these tweets do not use any of those keywords, but they do cover that subject area.  If you were to just look at the words we tweet, you’d come up with a keyword cloud that looks similar to this:

twittercloud
From this keyword cloud, it looks like all our feed is about is thanking people, being happy and retweeting. Secondarily, about marketing, social media and the web.  While our tweets certainly to include those words, it’s not the entirety of what we’re about.  It doesn’t show context or association.

These types of keyword clouds also encourage people to game the system by always including certain words in their tweets and websites (what people often think of as keywords).  This makes conversations dull, repetitive and largely useless.  When you start writing and tweeting for search engines or computers, you’re missing the conversations you need to be having with customers and people.

(photo by kevindooley)

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Social Media is Already Affecting Business As We Know It

webcloudzillaIn his post yesterday, The Future of the Social Web: in Five Eras, Jeremiah Owyang summarizes a larger Forrester report on how the social web will impact businesses for the next fear years.  Of particular interest to me are the 5 eras and how they are defined:

The Five Eras of the Social Web:

1) Era of Social Relationships: People connect to others and share
2) Era of Social Functionality: Social networks become like operating system
3) Era of Social Colonization: Every experience can now be social
4) Era of Social Context: Personalized and accurate content
5) Era of Social Commerce: Communities define future products and services

Forrester has era 5 starting around 2011, but I don’t think the eras are so clear-cut.  Many companies are already tapping into the social web to define future products and service (era 5) through the concept of co-creation.  Through it’s Nike+ iniative, the company engages runners and uses information and feedback to produce products they want.  Brother has tapped the social web for hobby sewers to provide products and services for both its customers and for its dealers – leading to more sales of its high-end hobbiest sewing/embrodiery machines.  Comcast has famously used the social web to improve customer service.  I believe there is quite a bit of cross-over in the eras, with business leaders already jumping into the 5th era.  The nice thing about the social web is that any sized company can jump right in, without the need for expensive research tools.  I do believe, however, that the social web will also force these eras to happen and businesses who have not entered the fray will be left behind.

(photo by cloudzilla)

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Making Strategy Work – Be Transparent & Speak in Plain English

fearvincepalDo you have a strategy for your business?  Do your employees and other stakeholders know what it is? In order for a strategy to work effectively, everyone in the company needs to be working towards the same goal.  How can people help implement a strategy if they don’t know what it is?  I’ve come from companies without clear strategies and goals.  It makes it very difficult for the employees to know what they should be working towards.  So everyone just works on what they think they should be working on.  Individual thinking is great (and needed), but it won’t help you get where you need to be unless everyone is aligned.

Enter the current economic recession.  Many companies have cut costs and laid off employees.  Current employees are scared that they are going to lose their jobs.  Everyone keeps their heads down and works.  No one acts out.  No acts of brilliance.  No innovation.  Nothing new.  While many companies may think that cutting costs and just trying to make it through a recession is the way to survival, it will probably only work if they have deep enough pockets to survive for long enough.  Who wants to go through life in fear and just surviving?

Figure out what makes your company different.  What are you good at?  What benefits can you offer your customers?  How can you not only survive in this economy, but actually strive.  When you figure it out, make sure everyone in your company knows.  Keep goals and language simple so everyone understands where you want to go.  Employees will be much happier if they can work towards a goal and if they know what the future holds – even if there is some risk, at least they understand what it will be.  Not knowing breeds fear – and that’s not a good strategy.

(photo by Vincepal)

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Personal vs. Business Branding

personalitymisterwilson1There’s been much to do lately about the effect of personal branding on businesses and the importance of personal branding for small and medium businesses.  I think both personal and business branding are important – and they certainly have an effect on each other. How much will depend on the influence and reputation of the brands.

Now, I’m not against personal branding, as I said it may offer some people that ability to create the best job going, but a business is an asset, something that gets more valuable over time and, here’s the biggie, can be sold. It is very difficult to sell a personal brand. Some of biggest personal brands you could name on twitter right now would be worth very little without the person behind the avatar. – John Jantsch – Business Isn’t Personal – Duct Tape Marketing

Businesses certainly can benefit from having a bit of personality.  Customers want to have experiences, not just purchase products, and they want to interact with brands and businesses.  As Scotty Monty, who works for Ford, said:

It’s a lot more difficult to screw a brand when there’s a real person that you know that’s associated with the brand.

Some of the most popular business brands today have strong personal brands behind them.  Apple, for instance, is undeniably tied to the personal brand of Steve Jobs.  But a personal brand is not the same as a business brand.  While Steve Jobs may work for Apple, there is more to his personal brand than just a CEO.  Apple is more than just Steve Jobs (at least, so the investers hope).

In an era when transparency is much easier, it is important to be aware of the effects of personal brands on business brands, and vice versa.  What you say and do as a person is linked to your business, even if you’re building separate brands.  What a company does while you own it can also be tied to your personal brand.  Instead of a black and white division – there are many shades of grey.

(photo by Mister Wilson @ Flickr CC)

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