Tag 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

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

15 Key Principles for winning in a recession


  1. Start with a clear vision for the business – Why do you exist? How do you create value? What are the things that you will do and, most importantly, won’t do?
  2. Make sure you really understand the market and your competitors and your own strengths and weaknesses
  3. Get close and personal with your customers – you need to understand them better than anyone else does (especially your competitors) and in tough economic times they will be more discerning and discriminating about what they buy and what they need
  4. Innovate, innovate, innovate! If you can’t afford to improve your product then be more creative in your marketing. Try different ways of serving your customers.
  5. Zero-base your business structure – what organization structure would you need to deliver your goals if you were starting from scratch now? What can be outsourced?
  6. How can you make better use of the talent at your disposal?
  7. Invest in advertising – but spend smarter and measure its effectiveness
  8. Collaborate with employees, customers and suppliers to develop ideas that build the business or save you money – and reward them for doing it
  9. Negotiate better deals with your suppliers
  10. Invest in “good costs” but prune bad ones
  11. Chase receivables and incentivise customers for early payment
  12. Communicate transparently with employees – they need to see the big picture
  13. Find ways to keep employees’ (and your own) morale and motivation up, at low cost
  14. Look for ways to add value, service or flexibility rather than just cutting prices or discounting
  15. Get 2 steps ahead of competition – pull forward projects that they might delay

And always keep smiling!

Burger King’s Whopping Whopper Sacrifice

whoppersacrificeFacebook may have killed off the Whopper Sacrifice in its prime: but not before Burger King’s promotion had seen more than 23,000 people strike off 10 of their friends in exchange for a free Whopper Sandwich token.

The burger chain’s promotion offered a free Whopper in exchange for Facebook members deleting 10 of their friends. The evil twist was that BK then notified the rejected friends that they had been unfriended and by whom, letting the victims know that their erstwhile friend valued them a less than one tenth the price of a burger. Claiming that this was breach of its users’ privacy, Facebook pulled the plug on the promotion after only ten days.

This was a short-lived, vicious but brilliant promotional device that perfectly exploited the nature of social media and the way that its devotees measure their own worth by the size of their friend lists. Its cheeky, memorable if somewhat brutal message made it stand out in a generally poor field, where brands are struggling to get to grips with the challenge of social media. It cost Burger King next to nothing and earned it a lot of valuable notoriety. The brand announced the demise of its offer with the words “In the end your love for the Whopper Sandwich was worth more than 233,906 friendships” and an offer to rejected friends to send an ‘AngryGram’ in the form of a talking Whopper to the person who defriended them. Brutal but perfectly attuned to the target market.

Riding out the recession

snowboardingThe natural instincts of most businesses, is to pull in their horns when recession looms. Just as consumers are abandoning the high street and reveling in frugality, so many businesses look inwards, cut budgets and cut back customer service.

This is a big mistake.

Great companies always outperform their competitors during hard times. They seize the opportunity to grab market share by continuing to invest in their customers, their products and services and keep a long-term focus.

Whilst many companies go to the wall during recessions, history is rich with examples of those that built unassailable gains and rode to greatness in these periods. Some of the world’s most significant inventions and most successful corporations were born during depressions or recessions.  New needs emerge in such times: Health insurance was born out of the US Depression as were stereo recordings, digital computers, Monopoly, sunglasses, ballpoint pens and bubble gum, to name but a few. Messrs Hewlett and Packard got their products rolling from the famous garage in 1939. Despite industry in crisis and companies going under, Fortune magazine, the world’s first and most successful business publication was born at the height of the Great Depression : this was a counter-intuitive and risky venture at the time, but proved an unqualified success.

Continue to invest – your money goes further
During recessions, when everyone else is cutting back on marketing expenditure and research and development efforts, the wisest companies continue to invest in these. They are often able to do so because they managed their businesses prudently during easier times, keeping costs under control and building a valuable war chest.  This makes sense, as during a recession money goes further, as suppliers cut costs, and are ready to make deals. For those with available resources, this can be a great time to get acquisitive. Sadly most firms work the other way round, spending freely in good times and then savagely cutting costs when times get tough.

Lavish time and effort on customers
For those companies or small businesses that haven’t built up a war chest, there are still great opportunities. What they lack in funds they can make up in time and effort, by lavishing attention on customers. This means spending time to listen to them and find out how to serve them better; to get them to collaborate with you in dreaming up new products or solutions; to look for ways to offer them more value, rather than lower prices and to find ways to lock in their loyalty.

Keep on marketing
Advertising and marketing is often the first spending victim of recessionary cost-cutting. It is such an easy budget to slash, but you do so at your peril. Look for ways to use the money more efficiently, to seek out better deals and to try new approaches, but NEVER stop communicating with your target market. If your competitors cut back their spending, rub your hands with glee and see it as a golden opportunity to gain share at their expense. In a normal market, marketing is often a game of ‘tit for tat’ that makes it hard to gain ground and often results in standoff. In recessionary times, you can find yourself on an empty dance floor with the audience’s eyes trained on you alone. Go for it!

Ideas and insights are free!
Whilst money may be tight, creativity comes free, as does spending time understanding your customers’ needs. Time spent now hanging out with customers and consumers, observing them, talking with them and listening to them will yield rich insights about their needs and behaviour that will give a huge edge to your new product and service development efforts and help you hone your advertising messages.

History shows that it is twice as easy to grow share in a recession as in buoyant economic periods. Those firms that succeed in growing market share in this recession are likely to hang on to it, while those that lose it will have a tough and very costly battle to regain ground when things pick up.

Yesterday I read a quote from Marco Pierre White of Hell’s Kitchen:

“I think a recession is the most obvious time to open a restaurant. Number one: in doom and gloom, you’re creating something that’s exciting and fun. Number two: everything is cheap to do. Number three: you get the lion’s share of publicity ‘cos no one else is doing it. So it’s entirely logical to open a restaurant during a recession.”

There are many other businesses that could apply the same philosophy.