Category Archives: new product innovation

GOAL!!! The Definitive Guide to Developing Outcomes for Your Innovation Program

The room was hushed. The presenter had completed a very thorough presentation of using their tool to develop a robust innovation program, with all the fixings: the goals were clearly set out, the right people were involved at every level of the organization (yep, they had not one but two executive sponsors), the plan to… Read More »

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Does Necessity Really Drive Innovation?

innovationI’ve heard it said a few times that its necessity that drives innovation – that if you aren’t trying to solve a hairy problem, or your back is against the wall – that is the only space that innovation comes from. The companies will only innovate if they are forced to.

If you ask me, by the time you are forced to innovate in order to stay alive, then it’s probably already too late. You need to get ahead of the curve – to innovate before you need to – in order to map out the future direction of your company and the world that your company will exist in.

One of the things that I did during my time at Yahoo! we called “Targeted IP Generation” – which is a fancy term for “inventing things we can’t build yet” – we would pick a specific area, say social networks, or even a combination of areas, and invent products in that space that we purposely knew couldn’t be built right now. The reason that they couldn’t be built was usually that the systems were currently incapable of building them right now, or the market wasn’t quite ready for it right now, or that there was no clear business model to the invention, but there was something about it that felt right – that you could see that product exist in a near future world. One of the most interesting things we found that most of the things are came up with actually did come to pass, just at the wrong times. I like to say that inventing products is a bit like being a weatherman: sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong, but most of the time you’re right, just at the wrong time.

For example, one of the inventions had to do with augmented reality glasses using a transparent overlay, and about 5 years after we filed for a patent on it, products with that similar capability started coming into the marketplace. The technology had finally caught up to the idea. Since we had filed for a patent on the idea, when the technology catches up, that could have become a whole new line of revenue for the company.

Did we need to innovate? No, there was no pressing need (although if you ask me there is always a pressing need to innovate!) at the time, however we knew that there would be a pressing need for new products and business models in the future, so we preemptively invented for that time. Not many companies are that forward thinking. In doing so, however, you can ensure your continued existence. You don’t have to be worried about disruption shutting you down, like those firms did in the Innovator’s Dilemma – you’ll be prepared for the disruption. You will be birthing new businesses and business models to replace the old ones.

So I’d argue, if you wait for necessity to push you to innovate – you’ve already been outdisrupted. The time to get ahead of the curve is now. Tomorrow may already be too late.

— image Thomas Hawk

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The Future Is Here: Wearable Enviro Trackers


The beautifully designed TZOA tracker

How would you live differently if you knew exactly how your environment was affecting you?

Back in 2007, I wrote a set of predictive stories about what life would be like 10 years out. Really interesting to go back to that time and see how much of that is on the way to actually happening: some of it – like 3d printers, are definitely moving along at a rapid clip. Others, not so much. Here is one of those posts, reprinted from here.

Dateline 9/30/2018 – Houston, Texas, United States: Everyone is familiar with needing to map out your drive with Google Maps prior to getting in your car in order to avoid pollution contaminated zones. Well, WMI (Waste Management Inc) has announced a new product which makes it a lot easier to determine whether you are not heading into a contaminated zone. Instead of having to map out your route around the zone before you leave, WMI’s new product, AvoidIt! ™, will automatically send you an SMS just prior to you driving into a contaminated zone. Unlike widely available wireless phones with integrated atmospheric sensors, WMI’s AvoidIt! will track your location via GPS and alert you via a text message or phone call if you are about to drive into a contaminated area. Also unlike atmospheric sensor phones, AvoidIt! can also alert you if you are about to drive into an unsafe area with undesirable populations, so its an excellent safety choice as well. “I signed up all of my family on AvoidIt!, says Cynthia Khan. “While all of our phones have atmospheric sensors, I like the fact that I can track all of my families movements as well” Cynthia set up an alert for her husband’s cell phone which alerts her if he ventures near his ex-girlfriends apartment as well “It’s a great tool” she says.

Well guess what – like I said before, being a futurist is a bit like being a weatherman, sometimes you are right, but at the wrong time. Looks like the prediction actually came true a few years early – 2015 instead of 2017. Instead of the too obviously named “Avoidit!”, enter the much more creatively named TZOA. Kickstarted by a bunch of my fellow Canadians (eh?) from UBC, its looks like a very cool and very useful device – considering what is happening in our environment today.

This little gem is beautifully designed and carries 6 sensors:

  • Air Quality
  • UV
  • Light
  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Temperature

These guys seem to have it right – a good number of sensors and they tell me an open API – it will be very interesting to see what they can do with it. I especially love the fact that they are using a Waze style data gathering model in order to track the data – if you ask me you will see more and more crowdification of absolutely everything.

Of course this little device can only track environmental issues, where the “Avoidit!” also tracked crime and other statistics – you might say that my ideas were a bit less – ahem – politically correct – than the folks at TZOA.

via TZOA Wearable Enviro-Tracker.

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Happy Crowds Are Happy Customers


You don’t need much more evidence than the last years numbers from Kickstarter to understand that crowdification is in full swing:

  • 3.3 million people from all over the world
  • There were $529 million in pledges
  • Funding over 22,000 projects

You can see: the crowd is fully engaged. We no longer want to sit back and be told what we get – we want to actively participate in the product creation process. We want to build too.

Gone are the days when you can decide what’s best for your customers – they want to be intimately involved from day one – not just in the feedback after your product hits the shelves, but from many, many days minus launch, preferably during or even before the inception stage. Today, customers not only expect their products and services to do more than ever before – they expect to be in the drivers seat before you even put pen to paper on your next product.

Some fight this. Some still hew to the old belief that they know what their customers need, and they are going to give it to them, whether they like it or not. However, these companies will soon be few and far between. Instead of fighting it, why not embrace it?

Give your customers and prospects something to do. Take a look at some of the tasks that your employees are doing and see what you can push to the crowd – if they are willing and interested in doing the work, why not let them? All you need to do is to implement a process to control the quality of what goes out.

Of course, like anything where you engage your customers, it could be a double edged sword: its a new communications method for your customers, so they may use it to complain about your current product offerings. but at the same time, you could glean excellent insights into what your customers are looking for.

Case in point: My Starbucks Idea. A number of years ago, Starbucks opened up a website to gather and rate ideas from customers – both for areas of improvement and new product development. If you take a quick look at the numbers, there has been a ton of customer engagement, and a lot of really good ideas which benefit their customers came out of the woodwork, were developed and launched. Starbucks leveraged this tool to not only engage and involve their customers, but to also offload new product development ideas to their customers. Sure, some of the ideas didn’t go anywhere, but I’ll bet that a large number of their new product found its genesis in a customers mind.

Why not do the same for your customers? I’ll bet that you have some of your own raving fans out there who would love to be a part of the new product creation groups for your company. When you reach out, I’d bet you’d be pretty surprised by the cool stuff the crowd can come up with.

Yes, even a Veronica Mars Movie.

via Kickstarter – 2014 By The Numbers

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Innovative Or Not: Inventive Soda Labels

sodalabelsStarting this week, we are going to try a new feature every Wednesday on the thinkfuture blog called Innovative Or Not. It’s kind of like Hot Or Not, or Tinder for innovation – since everything seems to be binary nowadays, we may as well give it a try.

What we’ll do is take something that some people think is innovative, and dissect it to see if it really, truly is. Let’s see what we will be swiping left or right on this week:

Inventive Soda Labels

You’ve probably noticed if you drink soda, or if you’ve recently wandered around the soda aisle of a grocery store, that typical bottles and cans of soda have changed. Well, they haven’t really changed on the inside – on the inside, you’ll still get the same water, high fructose corn syrup and phosphorus which gives you that distinctive Coke flavor (remember New Coke? Whatever happened to that?) that’s been around for a long, long time. No, the inside is the same – the only thing that’s changed is the label.

Coke cans and bottles now feature names and roles. For example, you’ll see things like Sis, Bro, Better Half, Sidekick and Favorite as well as a ton of names – seems to me covering a lot of the more millennial sounding names – like Jayden, Ethan, Isabella, Madison, Chloe, Charisma etc. You can even go to the Share a Coke website and get your own name printed on a bottle and have it shipped (apparently its $5 a bottle – I haven’t tested it to see if they filter out profanity or not). Sprite is now starting to print lyrics from popular hip-hop songs on their cans. continuing that brands tradition of connection with hip hop artists. All this sounds like a great marketing campaign – using technology to allow people to personalize their drink, but is it innovative?

If you think about, all of these brands are in a bit of a bind: they want to innovate, but as New Coke has shown, its almost impossible to mess with a formula people are used to. At the same time, sales of these types of water/high fructose corn syrup/artificial flavor drinks are in decline, as more and more people prefer a healthier drink, especially water.

The brands are in decline, so they innovate around the edges, by changing packaging. I’d say, interesting, but not innovative. How can Coke become truly innovative?

Restart New Coke as a purely customized drink. Set up a website and a mobile app where you can customize all aspects of the drink, from the sweetness content (give the customer a choice of sweeteners, or even a combination) and a choice of flavors (and combinations) and a choice of carbonated or still, and then let them further not only order it but also resell their combination for them. They can call it whatever they like, powered by New Coke. This not only brings in the power of crowdification (where you push the product development to the crowd) but platformization (Coke is not longer the end result, but a platform for the crowd to deliver their drink of choice).

Now that would be innovation. Custom labels, not so much.



Welcome To Tomorrow, Today.

futurecarI’m almost 100% that you’ve heard this very famous quote:

The Future Is Already Here…its just not evenly distributed. – William Gibson

This is totally true. Of course, some of that future might still reside n your head, but don’t worry, we can help you get it out of your head and into the world where it belongs.

I’ve been going around describing my concept of a Seamless World, where things like Big Data, the Internet Of Things, and Automation combine in order to make things just happen – automagically, as some may say. And when I describe this kind of stuff to ordinary, everyday people, they typically invariably say:

Oh, that’s too futuristic for us!

Ah but my friends, it not. This stuff that I’m describing isn’t the future – its the present, its today.  Everything that I’m talking about is not super futuristic stuff which is impossible or expensive. These are technologies that exist today – there and now – and if you aren’t paying attention to them – someone else is. And that someone else could very easily be one of your competitors.

Let me give you an example: let’s take something mundane – like lunch (although I know some people who take lunch very, very seriously). Here in Silicon Valley, we have a little secret – we only go for lunch at 2 times: before 1145, or after 115. We assiduously avoid any time in between because its crazy busy – yes even in those places where the employees get free lunches – the cafeterias get really nuts between those two times. Of course, if you want to hang out and socialize with others, its a great time – if you are in a rush to get back to your desk because you are so super passionate about the project you are working on that you can’t wait – you go before or after. So here is a simple problem: how do we save lunch. How do we stop the invariable lineups, the intolerable wait for food, the cold noodles when you get back to your desk? Simple: let’s apply a little seamlessness:

As we walked towards the restaurant, my phone buzzed. An alert from the store. “Did you want to try our special today Kale, Mushroom & Chicken or do you want the usual?” Hmm, I thought, sounds interesting. I pressed “Yes”. We then continued to walk to the restaurant. When we got there, there was no line. People were eating their lunches at tables. There were no menus on the wall behind the counter. There was no cash register. Just a counter with a number of orders on it and a cooler full of drinks. We walked towards the counter where our orders waited. My name was written on the bag, plus my phone buzzed when I got near it. My colleague ordered her usual, so she picked hers up at the same time. At the cooler, my colleague grabbed a fruit juice. We picked up our lunch and walked to a table. We sat down. Moments later, I got a call that I had to get back to the office, so we got up and walked back to work.

What just happened? We walked to the restaurant, picked up our food, which was hot and freshly ready for us the moment we got there, and walked back to the office. We didn’t wait in line. We didn’t have to order. We didn’t even have to pay.

What really happened:

  1. Our smartphones detected that we were walking towards the restaurant, so they knew we were coming
  2. The restaurant automatically sent me an upsell suggestion as I walked towards it.
  3. My colleague didn’t get one as she had previously told them she didn’t want offers
  4. The orders were placed right after I said “yes”.
  5. My smartphone told the restaurant the exact moment that we would walk into the store based on our walking speed.
  6. It gave the store an ETA so they were able to make sure that our orders were as fresh and ready as possible when we walked in
  7. The orders were placed on the counter moments before we walked in
  8. As we reached our lunches, a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) sticker on the bottom of the bag communicated with our phones, buzzing when we stood in front of our orders.
  9. As we picked up our order, it detected that it was travelling with us. If either of us had picked up the wrong order, an alert would let us and the store know we’d picked up the wrong bag.
  10. My colleague picked up a fruit juice. Within moments, the BLE sticker on the bottle told her smartphone app that she was carrying it too, along with her lunch
  11. We sat down. Our smartphone apps detected a lack of movement within the walls of the store and assumed that we would be eating in. Our default payment methods were used to pay for our lunches.
  12. Moments later, our apps detected that we weren’t going to eat in after all, and we each got a 10% takeout discount…

I have to say – I really, really, like this future. No lines! No rude cashiers! No indecisive people in line in front of you! Lunch when you are hungry – not too early and not too late.

The thing is – while this may sound futuristic – its not – all of the technologies above exist today. You can – if you have the willpower – build this solution today. Imagine how your customers would feel if you could implement something like this. Imagine how many more people you could run through your store at rush hours. And finally, imagine the amazing value of the big data that you would be able to glean from this.

Why wait. Everything I’ve described above is doable today. Welcome to tomorrow, today.