Category Archives: Innovation

Irrelevant Innovation

Last week I went to Inamo, an oriental restaurant in Lower Regent Street, for a pre-theatre meal. My companion suggested it, as he’d heard the food was good (it was – especially the spicy ribs) and it has a new and different twist – computerised dining tables.

In front of each diner is a mouse pad and the whole table is a digitised display. There’s a choice of landscapes for your table – so you can choose your own personal ambiance, from vivid tropical landscape to abstract expressionism. The mouse pad also controls the visual menu, broken down into drinks, starter and main courses, as well as an option to call for a waiter and a games console.

I suppose if you’re in the habit of going for a meal with an incredibly boring person, having a games console on your table during dinner may be an attractive diversion. And if you like the kind of establishment that offers illustrated menus, having one that visualises each dish as if it was a plate in front of you, may have its attractions. For the rest of us it’s a pointless feature.

I found the ordering process surprisingly stressful and time consuming (mouse management!) as well as rather anti-social. My companion ordered a second glass of wine for himself without telling me – when he’d normally have said ‘shall we have another?’ – which made it all seem very individually focused and not very sociable. I  found scrolling through the (picture) menu tedious and frequently got mouse paralysis. The novelty had worn off in about 45 seconds!

All this raises a question. Just exactly what unmet need is a computerised dining table and menu meeting? What is so difficult about looking at a printed menu? It’s MUCH quicker. It allows you to scan the whole offering – as opposed to looking at one item at a time. I can imagine there are benefits for the restaurant – more speedy and accurate transmission of orders from table to kitchen – and the fact that you probably end up spending much more than normal (we certainly did!).

It reduces the waiters to mere delivery vehicles and removes one of the most important elements of dining –  interaction with the waiters. When all they do is plonk something down on your table, it becomes a very souless and impersonal transaction.

Yes, you can apply technology to dining. Inamo have shown that. They delivered everything we ordered in a timely and accurate manner. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should!

I wonder how many of their diners make a return visit. Nice as the food was I won’t. I want to escape from computers when I go out to eat. I want to talk to my companion, not play with a mouse or challenge him to a game. I like to have a bit of repartee with a waiter – or ask for the recommendations – and in doing so glimpse his or her personality, not have a cipher silently deliver dishes to my table. They may as well be androids! And call me old fashioned – but give me  a well starched, linen table cloth in preference to a digital display any day.

What’s Mine is Yours

Review of What’s Mine is Yours – How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

I need to declare an interest upfront,  in that I know and have enjoyed working with Rachel Botsman, one of the co-authors of this book. Rachel is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard universites has worked for President Clinton and as a successful management consultant. But no bias on my part – this is an interesting, engaging and important book!

What’s Mine is Yours posits that we are at a tipping point in a new way of living – based on sharing, bartering and helping each other out. This is partly driven by rejection on the part of newer generations towards the excesses in consumption of their Baby Boomer parents, partly by a desire to husband our earthly resources better, partly by increasingly straitened economic circumstances for many, and all of this facilitated by technology and new connectedness that we enjoy now through social networking and mobile communications.

The book is written in an involving anecdotal style, using real stories and experiences to bring the concepts alive. Botsman and Rogers have interviewed a number of key entrepreneurs and opinion formers. It sets up the context for collaborative consumption and explains the socio-demographic and psychological forces that have encouraged the desire to share instead of own, to be more “we” and less “me”. There are plentiful examples to demonstrate what collaborative consumption is, how it has arisen and the many forms it takes. Finally the authors explore how this phenomenon will further evolve and its likely long term impact.

I’ve always been a bit of an early adopter, so several of the emerging organisations and companies practising collaborative consumption were already known to me: I’ve rented a van from StreetCar; rented out my own car several times to strangers through Whipcar; I’m in the process of negotiating a house swap in Australia; I’ve acquired  jars for jam-making via Freecycle and given away furniture through Freecycle and Street Bank; I regularly rent DVDs through Lovefilm and have bought and sold on eBay. I’m also a co-founder of a website dedicated to living sustainably and creatively by making and mending things rather than buying and binning. All that may indicate I’m heavily pre-disposed towards the concept of collaborative consumption, but  as someone who has been an Olympic standard conspicuous consumer and big spender in my time, I think it says more that  if people like me are getting into this, then Botsman and Rogers have identifed a very real element of the zeitgeist and we are going to see a lot more examples of collaborative consumption before long.

Not only is it happening: it also makes a lot of sense. To use an example from the book, when doing a spot of DIY we want the hole not the drill (apparently the average usage of an electric drill is 12 minutes in its entire lifetime!). You want to see the film – not collect plastic boxes to sit idle on your shelf. It’s about access not ownership.

But collaborative consumption is about more than accessing ‘things’ – it’s also about sharing and accessing services and skills. Bartering requires a “double coincidence of wants” a lawyer with a leaking tap might normally struggle to find a plumber in need of legal advice but the Internet has dramatically changed that. Apparently there are already around 500 online barter exchanges in the Americas, including Bartercard with more than 75,000 members across nine countries who exchanged over $2 billion of goods and services though its network in 2009.

Obviously a pre-requisite of collaborative consumption is trust. One of the theses Botsman and Rogers put forward is that  to establish trust we will increasingly rely on our personal reputation capital. At first this sent a chill up my spine – another excuse for people to monitor and spy on my activity online? But already we are all subject to credit checks, like it or not, so checks on our reliability and trustworthiness are probably an inevitable consequence and facilitator of collaborative consumption. This is already operating extensively in peer ratings – as done by the self policing system on eBay – but it does also raise a concern that one’s reputation could be blown by a spiteful comment from an individual – as some hoteliers have found with abusers of Trip Advisor. It means we’ll all need to be vigilant and active in developing and protecting our ‘reputational bank accounts’.

This is a very well researched and thought-provoking book, packed full of entertaining examples and written in a very accessible and conversational story-telling style. You can buy it on Amazon What’s Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live

The dangers of multi-tasking

A couple of weeks ago, frustrated that I had made little recent progress on my eternally ‘almost finished’ book, I blocked out three days and marked them in the diary as if they were external meetings. I told  colleagues and friends what I was doing to help cut down on unnecessary calls – usually I get lots of Skype  calls throughout the day. The real test came when I had two requests to meet clients during the allocated days (Sod’s Law). I decided to hold firm and (without saying I was working on the book) explained that I couldn’t make the chosen times. Both people suggested alternative dates. Normally I would have just forgone the writing time and accepted the initial suggested meeting timing.  As a result of my standing firm I manged to finish the first draft of the book. I know that would not have happened otherwise.

During those 3 days, I only checked my email at the beginning and end of the day – and used my phone or iPad to do this so I could avoid getting hijacked once I was working on the book on my Mac. I kept my browser closed and only went online (again via my iPad) to fact check when needed. I was amazed at how much I got done – averaging 3000 words a day plus a lot of editing and research.

This afternoon I was reading a piece on information overload, from The McKinsey Quarterly and it rang a lot of bells for me. Today was a classic multi-tasking, always-online, kind of day (including reading the McKinsey piece which I came across while browsing my Twitter stream) and I got done only a fraction of what I wanted to do, despite having no client meetings and only a couple of calls to distract me.

I realise now it was because I was trying to work on several tasks at once and failing to give enough attention to any of them. The McKinsey piece explains why multi tasking , far from being a virtue, can actually be bad for you in terms of productivity, creativity and wellbeing.

It refers to recent research in which participants who completed tasks in parallel took up to 30 percent longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence.

The same article references a Harvard Business School study among 9000 individuals which showed that the likelihood of creative thinking is higher when people focus on one activity for a significant part of the day and collaborate with just one other person. That certainly mirrors my own experience.

On top of that multi- tasking also creates anxiety and lowers job satisfaction. So much for us women thinking we had an inherent advantage in being able to multi task better than men!

In this digital, always on age, where we rarely venture forth without a smart phone and where we are always connected and reachable, it’s worth taking stock every now and then and thinking about disconnecting, even if only for blocks of time. I’m also going to do my work in sequence rather than grass-hoppering about between projects and tasks.

I’ll let you know how I get on!

Open IDEO – crowd sourced innovation for social good

Applause to IDEO for their new initiative, Open IDEO, which is crowd sourcing innovation for social good.

I’ve long been a fan of Open Innovation and this particular effort looks like an exciting way to get some creative brains thinking about some of the world’s challenges. The way it works is you sign up then you can participate in all or any of the four stages of all or any of their current challenges. Right now there are two – Jamie Oliver asking “How can we raise kids’ awareness of the benefits of fresh food so they can make better choices?” and “How might we increase the availability of affordable learning tools & services for students in the developing world?”

The  stages are :

  1. Inspiration – sharing stimulus – including videos, photos etc and build on other people’s. What exists already that could help with the challenge?
  2. Concepting – sharing your own ideas and building on others
  3. Evaluation – rating and commenting on other people’s ideas
  4. Winning idea

Each participant earns points for each stage and these add up to give you your personal DQ or Design Quotient.

This little video explains how it works.

Introduction to OpenIDEO / OpenIDEO.com from IDEO on Vimeo.

I’m really looking forward to joining in and to seeing the outcomes. The only problem is I may find it so engaging that I never get any other work done!

Check it out >> Open IDEO