Applied vs Theoretical Innovation

Innovation (1)Recently, I got to thinking that there are really are two kinds of innovation, and these two types of innovation were very apparent in the kind of programs I would run for companies. Borrowing a term from physics, I like to call these two types of innovation “theoretical” and “applied” just like theoretical and applied physics.

Theoretical innovation is something you simply just cannot do today. There are factors which keep you from actually implementing the envisioned product or service right now. These can be something as simple as the right kind of technology, say size of storage space or wireless bandwidth or as complex as the right geo-political infrastructures. A good example of this is streaming HD virtual reality to wireless phones. Sure, it can be done: but the network is simply not up to the task of allowing it to happen.

Tech factors, strangely enough, are not usually the ones holding back the innovation: it’s more likely the human factor, factions within companies taking credit or laying blame, cultural and political reasons etc. However, the biggest indicator of something being “theoretical innovation” in my view is ability to monetize. If there is no way to make any money off it, even if all barriers were lowered, then it remains in that realm since most no one, save some independently wealthy, or governments, will step up to take it on. It’s this type of innovation which is ideally suited to go into a patent application process.

Applied Innovation, on the other hand, is leading edge work that not only pushes the envelope, it also has a clear path to monetization. If you ask me, this is pretty easy to come up with: is it a product or service that I would use and pay for? Applied innovation takes what is out there today, and rebuilds or mashes it up to create something new, useful and valuable. Applied innovation is the kind of thing that can be taken from idea to launch in days or weeks with a few guys in a garage. And its applied innovation which is probably what most people think about, at least in the business world, as innovation.

Thats not to say that theoretical innovation doesn’t have its place, and many ideas began in the theoretical innovation space, but as these ideas have much longer paths, or in some cases no path to monetization at all, now may not be the best time to pursue theoretical innovation. In boom times, with the wind at our backs, of course, but today, in this climate, a focus on applied innovation is essential.

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Why So Flat?


Been doing some research on wearable devices (see Next Hot Space: Wearables) and I’ve come to the conclusion that we will have to see a radical shift in the way interfaces operate in this new world. When I look at wearables like the Meta space glasses, which project a 3D, nearly holographic image into your field of vision, then go back to the interfaces on your typical device today, I’m struck at how flat and similar everything looks.

Almost every app is just FLAT. Sure, its in 2D, but then everything is in 2D. Every know and then, you can see that the designers understand that they can do 3D, but its more of a nice design touch, and not integral to the design. For example, when you switch users in the iOS twitter app, it looks like a turning box. Nice, but no boundary pusher.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking 3D like the Nintendo 3DS or even 3D TV. In fact, I fully believe that we will soon, if not already, get a pushback on the use of that kind of 3D. What I’m talking about is making our interfaces live in a 3D world behind the screen.

Games have been doing it forever. Look at Infinity Blade, for example. It seems to me that sure, 3D is very cool in games, in rendering a new world for your users to experience and your characters to live in, but for some reason 3D hasn’t caught on in the app space outside of games.

If you ask me, there is a great opportunity here not only to create cool new 3D interfaces for mobile, but interfaces which can be seamlessly ported to the 3D wearable world, when projecting a 3D interface into a wearable device becomes more commonplace.

Despite what we see in Minority Report, I don’t think displays will remain floating 2D constructs which can be moved and swiped away, but 3D objects which can be rotated. We’re talking Tony Stark vs John Anderton, and Stark’s the winner.

How to prepare? Easy. Just look at your interfaces and see how they can be reworked for 3D. Consult with or bring on a designer with 3D modeling expertise. Have them generate menus and functions as 3D models in Maya, or if you can’t afford that, Blender. Use something like Unity 3D or some other game creation software to take those models and turn them into a fully functioning app.

If you do this, you’ll be ahead of the curve next year as wearables start hitting the mainstream in a big way, and you’ll already be working on an interface of the future.

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Your Own Personal Think Tank


When was the last time that you just took a moment to simply sit and think? I tell you, its tough. The urge to whip out your smartphone when not even a moments boredom begins, its hard. Personally, I think it has something to do with our brains – we are wired to be ultra curious. We want to know things, and we want to communicate. Our brains are a never ending sponge for information and discussion. So much so that we sometimes never devote time to simply thinking.

When I was a kid, I used to imagine that in the future some people would get jobs which were pure thinking. That, like the shift worker, would head to work, punch a clock, then instead of working on some gadget, sweeping a floor, or doing some other type of physical work, they would sit in their office all day, just thinking.

A pure “knowledge worker”. They wouldn’t generate code, software, writing, or anything for that matter. What they would do is simply sit and think. They could sit there, for days on end, just devoting time to thinking. Maybe eventually, and as the insights strike they would write down any ideas which came to them.

These ideas would then be passed on to others who could turn them into something – be it a product or service. Sometimes the ideas would even bigger and broader concepts, then those would be written into papers which are then published. Since I was a kid, I had no idea that think tanks existed just for that purpose.

We used to be able to sit and think. We used to be mini personal think tanks. Some of the greatest inventions sprang out of minds from that era. Since then, since we have practically ended that practice. Some might say that is a good thing – that always on connectedness and access to immediate knowledge actually help in the ideation process – you can instantly validate an idea and determine if its worth pursuing.

But what if that idea could have become much better with thought. With pondering. Mulling its pros and cons in your mind, before checking the world. Would that idea maybe have morphed into something else?

I’m just as guilty of immediately checking on an idea the moment I come up with it. I say, lets start a new trend. Let’s spend a few minutes, every day, just turning off the devices and sitting and thinking. I’ll give you a pad and pen to jot things down. Just schedule a time, go into a quiet room, and sit and think. I bet you’ll be surprised what comes to you.

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Video Games Teach Problem Solving Skills

playing-video-gamesOne of the things I personally believe in incredibly important, a skill that everyone should have and cultivate, above all others, is the skill to problem solve.

Sure, public speaking is important. So is Language Arts, Math, Science etc. But if you ask me, once you have problem solving skills, then everything else falls out of that.
Here’s an example: a number of years ago, I hired an intern to work on our IT dept at the company I was working at. The guys resume looked great, he had a certification in the type of network software we were using, and his credentials looked awesome. We interviewed him and he seemed to know his stuff. So we hired him and brought him in to work.

The very first task I gave him to do was to setup some computers, some of which had some issues. Judging by this guys educational credentials and experience, I figured that he would have all the work done in a few hours. A few hours later, I come back and find that he got completely stuck working on the first computer. So I sat with him and went over things with him. Left, then a few hours later came back. He had not moved on at all.

Eventually, as I watched him work, I realized that while he knew some things, and he followed instructions well, that the moment he ran into a snag, he got completely stuck. He had no way to get past the issue which he had come across. I realized that the thing this guy lacked was “problem solving skills” – the ability to figure out a solution to a problem that he came across. I realized that this was a skill that you can learn, and this guy, for all his credentials, didn’t have that.

A year later, I hired another guy. No credentials whatsoever, but he had kick-ass problem solving skills. Even if he knew nothing about anything you set anything in front of him, he was able to figure it out, learn in the process, then solve more problems. That’s when I realized, the core of everything, the core of all learning actually, is having problem solving skills. When you have good problem solving skills, nothing can faze you, since everything that comes at you is something you can figure out, whether it’s driving, building a business, learning a new language, or making the country better.

In the past, kids learned problem solving skills in school or in real life: you were given problems in school, or in real life, and were expected to figure them out. Nowadays, the answers are fed to the students, and there are virtually no life lessons given.

I was a latecomer to video gaming: I had an old Nintendo Entertainment System in the garage, and only got back into it in 2002, with a Christmas purchase of a GameCube by my mom for my kids.

Video games had really moved on from the side scrolling shooting and sword play of Zelda. One of the games that came with the system was called Star Fox Adventures, an adventure style game, very visually beautiful, sort of in the vein of Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, a game I had skipped over since I dropped out of video gaming for a while.

However, I noticed something very interesting while I or my kids were playing this game: there were a ton of puzzles thrown into the mix along with the bashing and shooting. We worked together to solve each problem on the screen, moving blocks around etc. In the process I noticed that my kids were actually developing problem solving skills VIA playing the video game. And not only were they developing this skill, which I feel is the uber skill above all others, that they were having a great time doing it.

Contrast that to the dull instruction both adults and kids get learning nowadays.

Dude, where are our kids going to learn to solve problems, except for here?

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Planning Vs. Resilience

trampolineIf life is change, then how does planning work?

I firmly believe that there are two core ways in which to run your life. You can either:

  • Plan everything out to the Nth degree, and hope nothing upsets your plan
  • Expect that something will happen to ruin what you are doing, and be able to bounce back

A lot of people believe in the “plan it all out” strategy. Problem is that life does not work that way. Life is change, and no matter how you plan, invariably something will happen that you cannot plan for. And in that case, all of your planning will be for nothing.

I read this great article in a now defunct magazine which was part of the Forbes empire – it was called Forbes ASAP, and it was all about leading tech thought and investment etc. The article was called “How the West Kicked Butt

In this article, the author postulated that the reason the west coast was getting tons more investment than the east coast was the “style” of the place as opposed to the ideas coming out of that place. The author suggested that the difference was planning vs resilience – and used the weather and earthquakes as the metaphor. On the east coast, you know that during the upcoming winter, you are probably in for terrible weather. So you prepare for the weather: you buy warm clothes, you get snow tires for your car etc. You have some idea what is going to happen so you plan your life. So planning is a big deal. The better your plan, the better you can deal with this known quantity: bad weather. On the west coast, on the other hand, you have no idea when a devastating earthquake may occur.

So you can’t plan for it: sure you can get supplies in etc in case one occurs, but you can’t really plan for when it happens. So what is a big deal? Bouncing back from disaster: or resilience. The ability to claw back from bad things that happen. That’s more important than planning on the west coast.

So why is resilience better than planning? Simple. This article was focused on business and investment: it supposed that venture investors would prefer to invest in companies which could survive sudden adverse conditions.

Life is like that too. Being able to survive sudden adverse conditions is much more critical to life than planning out your every step.

So to all of those people who plan out their lives to the Nth degree, I say:
RELAX. Sure, make a plan, but don’t go overboard. Life will get in the way. That’s its job. Instead, focus on being able to bounce back from adversity. Move on quickly.

Like in craps. When you throw a bad roll, you just move on to the next shooter. You don’t sit there and focus on that guy who just lost you $1200.

Just move on to the next win.

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Kill The Loading GIF

Seen this lately?



I’ll bet you have – and the hundreds of other variations of the ubiquitous, LOADING, PLEASE WAIT gif or whatever – you know that thing designers throw in when they realize that their page is taking too long to load?

The thing that I don’t get is that if you ask me, we are seeing way more of these that we should. Not only that, we are seeing MORE now than we ever have before! If our network speeds keep going up, why do our pages keep slowing down?

When I first started out on the internet, using a trusty dial up to get on, we could live with a few seconds delay when we logged on. For one company I worked for, we got a fully graphical home page which, gasp, clocked in at 50K, and it took what we thought was forever to load.

Fast forward to today: we have fiber to the home, upwards of 25Mb to most homes, and if you actually clock the real time from click to page or app load, its worse than a few seconds, placated by a loading gif. Why is that?

As processing speeds and network throughput speeds have increased, we’ve kept pace by making our web sites and apps slower and slower, burdening the user with having to wait and wait. Even the normally snappy Google home page has now added junk, in the guise of Google+ notifications, an apps grid, and other stuff which most probably don’t need. Reminds me a bit of the days where Microsoft would release versions of Windows which would slow existing computers which were upgraded because they were targeting the next generation of hardware – I think they learned that lesson with Vista.

If you ask me, the web and apps should be loading faster, not slower. We should be seeing LESS of the loading gif, and not more.

I get that as technologies move forward we need to use the latest and great tools to provide the absolute best experiences. But we should also look to the overall speed experience, from click to run, and I’m not talking just adding in loading gifs when the pages slow down. I mean, figure out what is slowing you down and unless its key to the whole experience, junk it.

This is also an unfortunate side effect of the API economy, where a lot of what you are doing depends on some API or another to work. For example, I just switched over to Livefyre, and even though I feel its a better experience, my comment load time has slowed down.

We are going in the wrong direction. We are slowing down our sites and apps at a faster rate than the speeds that the networks and devices are accelerating. We’ve got to make it a focus to turn this around, to retire the loading gif for good. So let’s do it.

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A Super Secret Of Life: Revealed!

changeI’m going to reveal a super-secret secret of life. I know, I know, once you read it you’ll go, of course duh. But let me tell you first and then explain why people don’t believe it after.

Here is the fact:


There, I said it. You are saying, duh. Everyone knows that. But do you? Do you really? And if you know that, then why are you surprised by anything? Once you truly get it, and understand that life is change, then trust me, things will get better.

Why you ask?

I’ll tell you. If you truly believe that life is change, then nothing will surprise you. Everything that crosses your path which throws you off, won’t. And if something still does throw you off, then you know that you really still don’t believe in the above.

But even if you go so far as to say, sure I believe in the above, and are not surprised, still you worry. You worry about losing your job, your home, your spouse, your life, gaining a new job, buying a new house, having a baby, and any and all of the myriad things that will happen in your life. Some will be good and some will be bad. The fact is that whether its good or bad, it’s still change.

So how do you deal with all of the change in life, good or bad? Simple. Don’t just deal with change as it comes:


If you embrace change when it comes, and you know it will, you can truly have a fulfilling, calm and wonderful life. And how do you embrace change? Also simple:

Do. Fail. Learn. Do again until you succeed.

Pretty simple, huh? I see people make up all these elaborate plans, and then something in life comes along and changes everything, and then they have to write up whole new plans and everything. So why do it? If life is change, how much planning can you really do? Plan your work and work your plan, may be great for some things, but it doesn’t work for life.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

Every failure is an opportunity to learn.

Where Do You Want To Go Today?


Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Remember this as one of one of Microsoft’s many slogans? – I think this was when Bill was launching Windows 95, with a whole host of new, cool stuff. Radical, dude.

Yes, it was a whole new interface – with the menu bar at the bottom. Yes, it would require retraining. Yes, it was “plug and play” when you plugged something in, it would magically appear on the desktop (Macs had done this for years so Bill was just catching up at the time)

I distinctly remember the Windows 95 launch event in Las Vegas at Comdex that year, when Bill did the presentation and seemed to be sweating bullets while he waited for that little drive icon to show up on the desktop after he had plugged one in. The room was filled with thousands of mostly bald, mostly men, waiting with baited breath the words of the most holy of holies, Bill Gates.

There was only a little cult of Mac back then, real geeks used Windows. Well, real geeks used UNIX, but if you were a real geek with a business sense, you followed Bill around.

But the thing which interested me more at the time was the slogan, “Where do you want to go today?” It was a question. It rose above the fray of – I want to create a document or I want to do a search or I want do a presentation. It was different. It asked a different question, which unfortunately the software wasn’t able to answer at the time. In fact, even today, any software is rarely able to answer that question.

What’s so special about that phrase? Think about it for a second. What is it asking you?

Where do you want to go today?

It’s asking for your intent. Its saying “tell me what you want” – the inferred promise being if you just tell me what you want, I can get it for you. Software of that day couldn’t do it, and neither software nor web services of today can do it either, although they try.

Intention (or wonder)

What is my intent? What am I wondering about? An example: I realize that my old car is a pile of you know what and decide “I’m going to buy a new car” Sure, this might come out as “I want to buy a new car” or “scooter” or “motorcycle” or whatever. My initial thought is that since I currently own a car, and it’s not meeting my needs, I need to replace it. Of course, my mind is set on a car, because that is what Ithink I need. From a higher level, however, my intent is to obtain and use some kind of thing which can transport me, and whatever else I need to transport, be it stuff, people or whatever, from point A to point B, and to do it in a fashion of my choosing. Sounds reasonable, right?

So let’s say that you have made the decision to begin researching those options. My assertion is that despite the advances that we have made since the internet was born as the semi-friendly location which it is today, we still have to do about as much legwork (and in some cases much more) as some dude back in the mid-80s buying that nice Reliant automobile.

Hope you enjoyed this sample chapter from my latest book, Wonder Man Machine

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Retail Innovation Trends Compilation [Video]

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
- William Gibson

I put this compilation video together about 2 years ago for a presentation on the future of retail – It’a amazing how far along some of these are now in the last 2 years, and some of these are completely wrong.

Not here yet:

  • Surface style screens with table/mobile phone connectivity
  • Screens which can fold and morph into laptops
  • Folding displays that work really well. I bet they are close though…
  • Customer customized pricing per product: you walk into a store and there are no prices. You download the store app and use it to scan the item, which gives you your price. Other shoppers get their price. That would be interesting.
  • Flying cars! When the hell are those getting here!

Already here:

Probably Never:

  • Credit card size devices. As I’ll talk about in my upcoming book Our Devices, Ourselves I feel that devices hit a size wall in 2010 and displays are getting smaller, as opposed to bigger. There will be other ways of communing with our devices
  • Walking through a virtual store in a first person 3d way. Looks very cheesy in this video but what if we really kicked up the realism level through really good graphics and OculusVR style displays?
  • On cart displays. You’ll use your mobile device for all that. Maybe a bluetooth connected scanner in the handle for you to scan things and auto charge/check shopping lists. Same for navigating within a store

Completely Wrong:

What do you all think? Anything you found completely right and unbelievably wrong? Let me know, below….

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Thanks, Google For Bungeeing Us Into The Future

bungy-jumpBack in Canada, there is this yearly fair called the Canadian National Exhibition or CNE (we just used to call it “the Ex”). I think its the longest running yearly fair, its been going since 1879. They have rides and exhibits and stuff: everything from food to international products, to hobbies, flowers, you name it.

One year, they decided to add a bunch of new rides called “The Human Experience” – things like bungee jumping, a couch on bungees (couch on a slingshot), that Superman thing where they pull you up and you swoop on by. Needless to say, this attracted a lot of onlookers, most of them at the bungee jump, which was suspended pretty high up, over a air cushion. I was one of those onlookers. As I stood there, watching jump after jump (one guy was so big that he needed two cables, another girl, obviously not thinking it through, jumped in a skirt, and spent most of the time trying to hold it down) I realized that even though I started off not thinking I was going to try it, the more I say people doing it, the more I thought, yeah, I could do that. I think it was the $95 price tag that stopped me in the end.

Moral: See something crazy or weird being done by enough people, it becomes a lot less crazy and weird.

Google Glass is great. Actually, some people think its not so great, but with all of its faults, its has been great at one thing: making people start to think about wearables in a whole new way. Even though its really early days, if you ask me, Google Glass, in its current incarnation, and probably what its form factor will be when it finally launches to the public, will never be a true mass market device. It’s just a little too geeky and far out.

However, what Glass did really well was to push out the perception and the concept of wearables to the point that people are actually thinking about it. Even if Glass never gets truly popular (and personally, no matter how cool they make the headsets, and how many celebrities they get to wear them) I think that Glass will forever remain a too geeky product. But that’s perfectly fine. What’s more important is that Glass made people think that maybe someday they’d try wearables.

Glass is like a bungee jump by Google. IMHO, I think they purposely pushed the boundaries in order to stretch the imagination on what wearables could do, and help to further fire up up wearable market. IHMO, as I’ve said before, I think 2014 is the year for wearables, so if you are looking to start something, that space is ripe.

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