Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Pitfalls of Sexy Innovation

In his blog on customer strategy, Curtis Bingham has a great post warning companies about the folly of always looking for the "sexy" customer. I'd like to build on that with a note about innovation: companies can miss many opportunities by focusing on what is hot and exciting, while missing what can be done with "mundane" innovations that deliver on unmet needs in simple, low-tech ways.

Innovation doesn't have to involve the latest high-tech tools to deliver value. In fact, sexy tech can easily become failed tech. Look for innovation across your supply chain, in packaging, in your relationships with suppliers, etc. Blockbuster innovation can be simple and low-tech. Look at the rise of private brands in the retail market. Simple, low-cost, but huge advances have occurred behind the scenes to make these concepts work.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Innovation in Sound Masking: Toward a Cone of Silence

In "'Cone of Silence' Keeps Conversations Secret" at New Scientist, Paul Marks describes a recent MIT invention of a system that can direct noise toward nearby people to make it difficult to overhear a private conversation. It's a step toward a functioning version of the "Cone of Silence" from Get Smart. The MIT system, however, demands a lot of infrastructure. Many sensors and sound generators are required to do its subtle work. Will it have market potential, given that simple and relatively effective solutions are out there already? One example is the sound masking technology of Logison near Montreal, Canada. They offer more sophistication and control than generic white noise generators, but in a simple and easy to use system. Who will prevail in the long run? The MIT system certainly has the potential to offer more targeted masking, but unless the complex system can be offered in easy-to-install plug-and-play formats, it may never make more than a whisper in the market, though it may become a preferred tool for a few high-end users.

The key to successful innovation is rarely coming up with the highest performance in a product. The real key is providing a product that can be socially adopted - meaning that it positively changes the way people do things, and drives others to adopt it. The social aspect of innovation can never be neglected. This demands attention to industrial design, to ease of use, to convenience, to cost, to service and repair, etc. These factors help drive social adoption. It's not all about bells and whistles. I hope the MIT product will become reality and succeed, but at the moment, I think lower-tech solutions will prevail unless the design and business model aspects for the MIT invention can be pursued to deliver successful social adoption.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Innovation: It's for Cities, Too

Innovation is not just for new products and growing companies. Innovation in the way things are done is essential for many aspects of life - how we play, how we live, how organizations work, and even how cities function. Andrew Spiegel's blog has an insightful essay, "Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Holds Lesson for Cleveland," which reminds us of the need for innovation strategy when it comes to government and urban life. Pittsburgh has been through tough times, but like many wise organizations, is acting now to build for the future--and appears to be creating something of a boom in the process. We hope the innovation energy can be maintained as they further develop new models and encourage growth in a diverse array of economic sectors. Sometimes the places that are hardest hit in an economic downturn can become engines of great future growth and innovation, when there is vision and courage.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Silver Nanopartciles in an Antibacterial Film from ETH in Switzerland

The Functional Materials Laboratory Blog from ETH in Switzerland offers an interesting video featuring some of the work of a chemical engineer I met a few years ago, Dr. Wendelin Jan Stark. A calcium salt is heated with silver nanoparticles to form particles that are highly lethal to bacteria and capable of being applied to polymer films. Good synergy between the two components. Many interesting innovation opportunities.

The real reason I'm sharing this video from the Swiss TV channel, SF1, is that it has a delightful mix of High German and Swiss German in a single program. It begins with Swiss German, and later Dr. Stark also speaks Swiss German. Having spent two wonderful years in Switzerland, this was truly enjoyable. Hope you can appreciate the unique flavors of the two dialects, even if you don't speak German. The Swiss are rightfully proud of this "Erfindig us dr Schwiiz."


Sorry, this is in German/Swiss German only.