Social Media 2.0

I’d like a new social media site/app.

Not an original idea? Entrepreneurs aren’t deterred by apparent competition or from looking for solutions to difficult problems. As long as existing products aren’t serving needs and there’s a way to provide a better solution, there is a good opportunity.

The Problem with Social Media1: (if you are already nodding your head, I’m playing the right tune, because good opportunities include easily recognized problems) 

Part 1: Shiny happy people2masquerading as your friends in everyday life. Not the first one to point this out, but broadband social media is depressingly deceptive.

Many personal posts are the high points of people’s lives. You’ve seen it: here’s [someone you know] looking good, graduating from astrophysics, running a marathon, winning the award for best strawberry jam ever, getting a Nobel Prize etc. Fabulous when these things happen and everyone should feel good about them. But there is more to life.

There are the tragedies too. I don’t begrudge anyone sharing these, because this is when support is needed and everyone should be able to reach out for it. Thankfully, this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.

What’s left? The rest of life. Because the drama dial on social media is set to 11 – really great or awfully bad – the tendency is to make posts fit into one of these categories. So we end up with a lopsided view of everyone else’s life. And wonder why ours doesn’t measure up3.

Part 2: The death of depth. ’cause really, once you’ve seen 129 idyllic photos of your friend’s kid’s wedding, asking how the wedding was seems redundant. However, there is no photo of the tension with her mother-in-law over the venue or the unresolved issues the son has with his father. A person could post every hour of every day without revealing how they are really doing.

Part 3: Hardwired to Self Destruct. Metallica gets it. We’re trapped. Social media is our venue to communicate with everyone now. Regardless if they are friends, family, people we met once or businesses we frequent, they’re all on social media, somewhat indistinguishable from each other. Friend, commerce or romantic wannabe? 

Social media (1) isn’t genuine, (2) has no depth, and (3) is essential.

Therefore, a need exists for a platform that causes people to communicate with the people who are important to them in a genuine, deep way. A platform that simulates seeing and talking to close friends and family on a regular basis about things that are mundane but matter.

Ah, it’s all in the choice of the right platform, you say. I love this depiction of various social media apps, drawing parallels to the seven deadly sins. Platforms evolve to serve different purposes4, suggesting that different design elements tailor to different needs. I think that means there is hope for introducing a new platform. 

Throwing out a few ideas for my ideal site:

1. Emphasize small groups, of say 5 to 10. Do not allow them to get bigger.

2. Keep content personal – de-emphasize reposts of news stories, etc. maybe even get rid of shares. Focus on the individual’s thoughts about their lives.

3. Get away from constant updating. Hang onto the beginning of the thread so anyone in the group can see where the conversation began regardless of when they get there.

4. Change the business model – get targeted ads out of the equation. Paying for something that meets a specific need isn’t so bad and removes the need for distracting, extraneous content (i.e. suggested content, ads, sponsored stuff, prioritization that isn’t related to the user’s priorities).

I’ve argued myself into wanting to pay for social media. I’d come up with a subscription fee if it has all the features I want and none that I don’t. As long as everyone I want to connect with feels the same way, it will work. Hummm…. maybe someone has thought of this before, but now that we are all indoctrinated into social media, this could be the perfect time for Social Media V2.0.

——

1Sometimes, songs come to my mind that illustrate concepts really well, so I’ve included links to a few tunes.

2To me the song captures the duality of wanting to be happy and smiling and all loving, but the reality that life isn’t all fun and dancing, sometimes it’s hard work.

3Reminds me of a Fefe Dobson’s Stupid little Love Song

4How this happened is interesting, but another topic. Was it the original master plan, form defining function, or an outcome of the market segment that first populated the platform?

Please follow and like us:

The Entrepreneur as Customer

“I’m going to live to be 1401,” I often say. 

People laugh, which is fine. I am serious.

“But I’m going to need replacement parts,” I usually add.

Thus begins my adventure as a customer in an emerging industry: regenerative medicine. Interesting to experience entrepreneurship from the buy-side. In IT entrepreneurial circles, this happens all the time. Early adopters of new technology come from within the industry, as they are in a position to understand the need and the benefits of innovations before a broader population.

I understand first-hand (pun intended) the basic human need for tissue regeneration – it literally relieves the pain caused by degeneration. After years of wear and tear, the cartilage my CMC joint2is almost gone and won’t heal. Delicate grasping is painful – I drop things. This inability to hold a piece of paper may impede my journey to the 22ndcentury3.

I’m faced with the intractable. Modern medicine has no restorative solutions. There are pain killers. Supportive braces. Electric can openers. It’s a problem that should be remedied, not compensated for.

There is an experimental approach: Stem cells. The scientist in me understands the theory, knows it could be the ultimate answer. Soft tissue replacement parts could be made – by installing a biological factory that regenerates the lost bits. But it’s new technology with limited testing, testing that might provide surprises not covered by the theory.

I leapt at the opportunity to undergo a cell transplant procedure with a full understanding of the risks, uncertainty and cost.

The trigger event for the this new technology were findings4that fat cells, from the abdomen, are a source of stem cells – cells that have the potential to multiply and form various types of tissue. This source is appealing (competitive advantage), compared to alternatives, that are uncomfortable for the patient (bone marrow harvest), or carry risks of rejection (if the stem cells are from a third party donor, rather than the recipient) or selection of unwanted features (culturing the cells in between harvest and injection may amplify unwanted traits). Hip and knee joint replacement is common with metal, plastic or ceramic parts. While generally successful, it is major surgery, costs $10,000’s, and requires months for the patient to fully recover. Replacement joints are less common in the hands.

I am an early adopter. Perhaps a consumer of an early stage prototype or minimum viable product, provider of input to get to product/market fit. Maybe even an investor, although I want to know if this is a scalable product. Currently, it needs a surgeon for administration, and a bunch of surgical equipment. However, this is indeed what puts the technology at the stage of product/market fit. It isn’t clear that the current approach can meet mass market demand, for technical reasons as much as anything else.

There is a great opportunity here. Clear unresolved pain, competitive advantage, timeliness, and a massive market for an effective treatment of osteoarthritis. The Arthritis Foundation states that 31 million Americans have osteoarthritis, and the expectation is that this will reach 78 million by 2040.5That’s a 5% year/year growth rate sustained for 20 years in a whomping big market. 

I’m excited to see the outcome of my treatment. Will there be regeneration and healing, so I can do mundane things like open a chip bag or put on socks without pain? There are no guarantees. As an emerging technology, there is knowledge to accumulate to optimize the product, possibly making it more effective and reliable. I’ll take the risk. I’m thrilled to be part of the development of this technology, the possibility to make a difference. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about.

——–

1I came up with this number after reading a theoretical paper many years ago about the limits of the human life span. Current estimates range from just over 100 to no limit. 

2Where the thumb bone connects to the wrist bone.

3This may seem melodramatic but there are studies that link an inability to do minor tasks with increases in depression, obesity and other chronic illness. 

4This paper summarizes the findings of a number of studies: Miana, V. V., & González, E. (2018). Adipose tissue stem cells in regenerative medicine. Ecancermedicalscience12, 822. doi:10.3332/ecancer.2018.822

5https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-statistics-facts.php

Please follow and like us:

Multi-factor Authentication Answers the Wrong Question

Two factor authentication. Securing your account with email address, phone number and password.

Seriously? When is it too much work to be worthwhile? We shouldn’t be asking how to make our accounts more secure. We should be asking what’s wrong with this system that we live in such fear of having our online accounts hacked.

It isn’t bad enough that passwords need upper and lower case letters, numbers, symbols, more than 8 of the above. And they need to be changed regularly. And we all have at least 50 of these, none of which should be the same. A mere password is insufficient to secure an account these days.

Signing in online is broken. Any system this clunky needs to be rethought. It reminds me of a common joke. Here’s a good example:

In ’80-90s shows of people in New York, they had with multiple, heavy duty deadbolts on their front doors. Took 10 minutes to lock and unlock. Huge waste of time. Then, the crime rate in NY City was high. In 2017, it hit record lows.1 Not because people got better locks or ways to defend themselves. The decline is attributed to a variety of factors, such as better policing, social programs and an improved economy.

Two factor authentication requires the user to provide two independent forms of information, such as a password and answer to security question or password and randomly generated six digit number. The six digit number is generated at 30 second intervals and relayed to a device that displays the number and the one deciding if access will be allowed to the secured account. A third party is involved, even if it’s an electronic one. How safe is that? From a brief survey of guru tech publications, the six digit random thing is considered state of the art in account security.

What disturbs me about this, in a very visceral way, is that being me is no longer enough to access my accounts. I need an assistive device. All by myself, I can memorize critical passwords so they are always there in an emergency. With two factor authentication, I need more than just me. I am not in control of my own accounts. Some device is.

Not only that, but this enhanced security to get into an online account is like putting an armoured door on the house, while leaving the windows open. Front door access may be secure but viruses and weakly protected internet connections may allow infiltration. That ‘remember me’ box you click after entering your username and password pretty much invalidates the complex password, because once access to the device is obtained, every app on that device is open.

Several accounts I have are encouraging me to link my phone number to an internet access account. This seems silly. If I add more personal information into my profile, when it gets hacked, doesn’t the hacker has even better ways to forge my identity? The phone number is supposed to allow a question to be asked if a suspicious entity is trying to login. Or the email address will receive messages to confirm or deny suspicious activity. Based the ample spam I get regarding breaches of accounts (I may or may not possess) that must immediately be responded to (just click this link), I’m likely to mark any correspondence about an account issue as junk. Dangerous, sloppy and unlikely to have the desired effect.

I find it clunkier and clunkier to operate digitally, suggesting to me we’re building silly systems that compensate for weaknesses rather than fix them. As each lower layer is breeched, we retreat to upper layers, abandoning were we once lived comfortably. It may be that we are achieving more and more security, but at what cost of restraining people’s lives?

What happened to biometric/facial recognition? Give me something I always have with me, like a body part or function to prove I’m me. Security was supposed to get easier with innovation. In the future, it should be trivial to identify each human beyond a shadow of a doubt, without any more than the wave of a wrist. And, how about getting at root causes of cybercrime?

I’m holding my breath until we get there, because multi-factor authentication is no way to live.

1https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/27/nyregion/new-york-city-crime-2017.html

Please follow and like us:

A Scientific Approach in Entrepreneurship and Strategy

Thinking like a scientist. This may not be new, especially for scientists. And not so much for entrepreneurs who subscribe to Eric Ries’ Lean Startup method1. But it was a hot topic at the recent Academy of Management (AOM) conference.2

I’m a scientist who has lived in the business world for decades. So, I’m excited to see the scientific method embraced at a business-centred conference. The AOM is an organization of business scholars, or people who study business. However, like every business school I’ve been part of, AOM aims to share knowledge with the practicing community.

First observation: Transparent Logic. The term immediately resonated – I knew exactly what it meant and why it was important in entrepreneurship. Transparent logic is part of a model for teaching social entrepreneurship3 and requires a clear link between the proposed activities and the social problem a venture is tackling. For example, providing water purification devices will decrease the incidence of dysentery, leading to fewer hours of lost labour and therefore people earning a better wage, however, it needs to be clear how people who need the device will get them and continue to use them. For many scientists, cause and effect is utopia. Transparent logic in a social venture seeks this holy grail of cause and effect.

At a session on entrepreneurial strategy4, we heard it was less about SWOT analysis and more about observation leading to hypothesis generation. An entrepreneur sees an unsolved problem and hypothesizes they can solve it with a certain product. The term causal logic came up, followed rapidly by notions of testing. Establishing value, after recognizing opportunities, can have its roots in the scientific method. The entrepreneurial process is scientific.

In the same session, a trial to evaluate the impact of the scientific method on startups was presented. Entrepreneurs were randomized into two groups. One was mentored traditionally – entrepreneurs were guided in business methods, product development and organizational development. The other group was tutored in a scientific method, using hypothesis generation, controlled testing and analytical methods to learn from test outcomes. Those using the scientific method pivoted more frequently, acquired and activated more customers and had more revenue generation. From this: the scientific method works for entrepreneurs.

On to a plenary session on strategy.5 There, too, causal identification was presented as a frontier in strategy research. My head started to spin with so many scientific references. I was brought back to objectivity, reminded that physics with its fundamental, timeless certainties such as gravity, was more reliable for test outcomes. The fundamental forces that shape business shift more often. However, like evolution of species, changes in strategic theme occur in leaps and bounds, rather than continuously. An example is the upheaval in retail, with the onset of online shopping. A discrete change in how we shop. It left survivors (Amazon) and the less fortunate (Sears Canada).

The hotness of the scientific method in business strategy looks to me like the mid-point stage on the S-curve6 of adoption of new things (technology, products, buzz-words, sports teams). Following this trajectory, soon it won’t be the new thing, but the common thing.

When I ventured out of the lab many years ago to join an investment bank, I was a foreigner. Welcomed, but in a world of people who thought in different ways. They had vision. Visions of logical explanations. Maybe it’s me that’s catching up, learning that shrewd entrepreneurs see value where other’s don’t.

The scientific method can make sense and compelling arguments out of ideas. It makes it easy to answer hard questions about why you think this new idea you have will make a great business. A great tool for any entrepreneurial business strategist.

——–

1http://theleanstartup.com

2This is a huge conference, attended by thousands of faculty members from business schools all over the world. With two days of symposia, plenary sessions and papers, each with 7 time slots, and an average of 15 sessions to choose from per time slot, this means there are (15) 14 = 2.9 x 1016 different individual selections of talks to attend. Or maybe it should be 15! which is only 1.3x 1012 I’m not exactly sure how to calculate the number of different permutations of the program but any way you do, the number is really big. So my experience may not be typical.

6Not surprisingly, the S curve is S shaped.

In the beginning, a handful people embrace a new thing. The adventurers, the risk-takers, perhaps those in the field who understand the new thing better than most. This is the first stage, the flattish bottom to the S curve.

Then word starts to get around. The new thing is good. It does exciting things. It’s better than the old thing. People jump on board, start adopting the new thing like it’s the best thing since the last new thing. This is the part of the curve that swings up so rapidly that if it was an airplane, everyone on board would pass out.

As time goes on, people remain excited about the new thing, but many people have the new thing, so the adoption curve starts to lessen its assent – the plateauing phase of the vertical rise.

Finally, just about everyone who will ever want the new thing, which isn’t so new any more, has it. The S curve flattens. No additional adoption because everyone loves and appreciates the new thing.

Please follow and like us:

AI Personal Assistants – The Death of Shopping as we Know it

Predictions are, in the near future, we will each have a personal assistant with artificial intelligence (AI)1 that runs our life. It’ll order household items before we run out, book social engagements, reminds us of upcoming events and related purchases (like birthday gifts, a bottle of wine for the hostess, or a new outfit to wear to the party).

More elaborate predictions have the AI constantly searching for better deals on services like vehicle sharing, archery lessons or landscaping services. It’ll sample the news wire for updates on unhealthy foods or ethically produced music, keep up to date with product reviews (posted by other people’s AI personal assistants) and use this collected wisdom to amend our purchase decisions (which the AI made in the first place, so we won’t even know).

This got me to imagining the end of marketing as we know it. No more emotional buying decisions. Every single purchase would be made with the maximum amount of data and, hopefully, solid facts.

Why would an AI be interested in brand loyalty? An AI would access all available information to determine if the latest version of a brand name item delivered on the quality expected, and if not, find another brand that did. Far fewer buying decisions would be based on the logic ‘I’m buying Apple because Apple makes good technology’. Your AI would buy Apple if there was proof it was the best available technology. And the proof would come from objective tests and the unbiased reports of AI’s everywhere (because why would an AI lie?).

Trickier is image, prestige, lifestyle or that thing where you buy a certain brand because it reflects who you want to be. Would your AI get that, have the same image of you as you do? That you wear a certain type of sneaker because people who share your values do.

Then there’s the ability to forget things you prefer to forget. Like booking a dentist appointment because you don’t like going to the dentist, so putting it off another month would be fine. Would your handy personal assistant let you do that? The dentist would be happy if you came back more often, so the dentist’s AI would encourage yours to book, maybe offer a discount. The same rationale could apply for the vet, furnace cleaning, arranging a visit to those relatives you find tedious, getting the oil changed in the car you jointly own, and a few dozen other things that fall into the category of adulting ( willingly doing things you know are good for you but are unpleasant, no fun, boring etc).

Then there’s retail therapy. Could your AI pick out the perfect new sweater for you, when you don’t need a new sweater and can’t afford it, but accidentally yelled at your boss, spilled milk on your toddler, and got a ticket for not going through a green light all in one day?

Is having an excuse to get out of the house a thing any more? Shopping used to be a good neutral destination that always worked if you needed something to do or to get away from the humans you lived with. You can’t get your AI to do that for you. Unless it pretends to be your friend who has to meet you at the mall.2

There will always be new ways of doing things. But humans are humans. We learned to live much of our life online, but we shop for more reasons than to get stuff. We also forget things on purpose. We act on our emotions because that’s what makes us human.

I think I’ll sneak out of the house, tell my AI personal assistant I’m on my way to the dentist, then cancel the appointment so I can go shop for stuff I don’t need, but want.

——-

1Purchased from a large tech company and embodied as a hockey puck-size matt silver thing that sits on the kitchen counter.

2If this sentence doesn’t make sense to you, please review a TV show or movie from the 1970’s for context.

Please follow and like us:

Are You Being Served (by online shopping)?

Online retail is ubiquitous. But is it any good?

Sometimes. Other times, not so much.

What about the environmental impact?

The good:

  • Consistently comprehensive information. Full product descriptions. Reviews by:
    • other consumers, consumer associations,
    • industry associations,
    • random bloggers. many of whom are professionals in the field.
  • Stock. It comes in that colour, your size, a format compliant with the electrical supply in Iceland and can be purchase without leaving the comfort of your lawn chair.
  • Products are easy to find. At the physical store, staff that don’t seem to be able to find one of the 200,000 products in the [warehouse] store. Because really, who could? Online, the droids in the warehouse find it for you.

Online allows the entire company’s warehouse to be within reach of every customer service representative and has other wonderful features, like convenience, variety, ease of finding the lowest price. These features suggest an overall positive environmental footprint. Fewer car trips by buyers, more efficient delivery through route optimization with one vehicle serving hundreds of customers. Lower shipping impact compared to a company stock dozens of outlets across the country. Less impulse buying and therefore throwing of unwanted items into the landfill.

The dark side:

  • Occasionally not so convenient. If you order something requiring a signature, such as wine or expensive electronics, and aren’t there when it is delivered (because you are at work during the day, when it’s always delivered), then you have to trek, drive etc., to an outlet that is only open during the day. Online shopping is meant to avoid this.
  • Prone to theft. Because of the point above, many packages are left on the doorstep. And some disappear while waiting for the buyer to come home from work. Various creative approaches are being suggested to overcome this. Meeting people at in the parking lot of their work. Designated, convenient pickup points. Secure approaches to allowing the delivery person to place the package inside the home. It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to address.
  • All that packaging. Tape. Boxes. Bubble wrap for fragile things. A mountain of stuff that is left over after the UPS truck departs. Might packaging of home-delivered merchandise negate 50 years of carrying your own shopping bags?

While the first two points could lead to extra emissions due to unnecessary trips, the third is more worrying, because it seems to have garnered little attention. The stats are staggering1. For the 2017 holiday season, UPS was predicted to ship 750 million packages, over 30 million a day.2 According to one source3, 41% of Americans get 2-5 parcels a month. Between 2012 and 2017, average annual deliveries increased in number between 5 and 6% for UPS, FedEx and the United postal service. How much cardboard, tape, sticky labels, and other assorted wrapping was involved? Tonnes4. Literally. And I haven’t heard a peep about it as an issue. Cardboard boxes are recycled, but how efficiently? The tape and labels aren’t generally. Overall, environmentally concerning.

While we’ve learned to minimize the packaging for items we carry out of the brick and mortar stores, can the same be done for home delivery? Here’s a great entrepreneurial opportunity – a ready made, growth market. Socially conscious. Easy to identify buyers and an easy to make value proposition if the new solution is less expensive than the current mound of packing.

Somebody go for it, please!

——-

1 Unless you are in the delivery business and then they are great – indicative of a good growth industry.

2https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/26/ups-expects-to-ship-750-million-packages-this-holiday-season.html

3https://www.shorr.com/packaging-news/2017-05/2017-package-theft-report-porch-pirates-purchase-habits-and-privacy

4 Incidentally, who is making cardboard boxes? -This also must be a great growth industry, especially with good recycling programs.

Please follow and like us:

Are you having a Meaningful Relationship with a Brand?

Two things happened to me at about the same time, so they must be related. Right?

Ok, both were about customer service. One was kinda theoretical, the other a real-life experience.

Theory and real life intersecting? There’s always a fundamental interconnectedness.

Here’s what I experienced:

#1. I’m reading the book: ‘If you are in a Dogfight, become a Cat!’ by Leonard Sherman. A great read about business strategy. Page 155 presented me with: “87% of consumers would like to experience a more meaningful relationship with their favourite brand.”

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn’t read any further until much later, so I was left to ponder what the heck that meant. I have favourite brands: Apple, Tim Hortons, Lululemon. I can’t fathom how I would develop a more meaningful relationship with them1.

I have relationships with people. We interact in ways that express our mutual affection for, and concern about, each other, and have common goals, interests, and values. How does that translate into something I would do or feel with a brand? If I used the product in the way it was intended and it worked out well, I’d be happy. I can sip my coffee, lean back and enjoy how fabulous it tastes, but that isn’t the same as confiding my fears about funding my retirement with a friend who understands the situation in exactly the same way I do. I don’t get the relationship part. Perhaps I am part of the other 13%.

#2. While still mulling this over, I dropped into a fast food restaurant for some fries and a burger. It was chaos. A special kind of Canadian chaos, with 20 people eagerly anticipating that their order would be delivered next, while bobbing and jostling to stay out of each other’s way but failing because it wasn’t clear where to wait.

We’ve learned to wait in line, confident in the concept that each of us will be served when it is our turn. Most of the time, this is accepted to be in the order we arrived. But that isn’t how it works currently in this food emporium, because there are least four ways to place your order, or perhaps have a meaningful relationship with this brand. Food can be ordered via: drive thru, ordering kiosk, talking to a human the old fashion way, mobile ordering, and using a food delivery service like UberEats or Skip the Dishes.

Experience #2 was distinctly weird. It felt like there was choice but we were all waiting for the same thing (the restaurant’s fare). I didn’t want choice in how I ordered, I wanted the most efficient way to get my food. I was hungry. I parked rather than go through the drive thru to avoid the long line of cars. I ordered at the kiosk because I thought it would be quicker (I can’t explain why I thought it would be quicker – perhaps a belief that is technology is more efficient than humans). Had I know how long I’d have to wait, I might have paid the fee to have the food delivered.

The experience wasn’t meaningful, it was like picking a line at many places -grocery store, customs at the airport, toll booth. You pick the slow one. We all pick the slow one. And that doesn’t suggest to me that the brand has the same goals as I do. The brand appears to be trying to be everything to everyone, despite delivering the same options and product to all customers, regardless of how they order. It’s like a gloss of customization smeared over mass production. Mass production isn’t so bad, as long that’s what you’re looking for, like a tank of gas, reinforced concrete in the hockey arena where your kids play little league or enough data to stream all the sports, teenage drama series of choice and pilates videos desired by a family of five simultaneously.

When I got my order, I returned the straw and stack of napkins packed into the bag before I left. That was an opportunity to made a connection with the brand for me – minimizing both plastic and paper waste – things I value, along with the occasional feed of french fries.

The interconnection: I later learned there are many ways for customers to have a meaningful relationship with a brand. The right one depends on the brand, or relates to the customer’s expectations. Companies must understand what the customer wants, rather than offer a bunch of options and hope that provides mass customization. Find out which is most important to customers – choosing how to input their order, being treated fairly, or getting their food quickly. Then develop ways to deliver.

Old fashion values still rule. A devoted customer has a great relationship with the brand, even if they would never describe it that way. They’d say ‘I like the everything about X’, as you might say about someone you had a meaningful relationship with.

1 If asked ‘what do I want from my favourite brands?’ I’d say, more great stuff. The best functional, easy to use, attractive technology, the same coffee and donuts, and athletic gear that looks great on, is stylish and good to exercise in.

Please follow and like us:

Barriers to Innovation

My last post was an optimistic ode to the endless innovation currently possible, due to the state of technology, entrepreneurship and related support systems. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Today, I want to discuss some sobering limitations that thwart the introduction and uptake of new things.

Several broad categories of barriers to innovation spring to mind:

  • regulation
  • fitting into existing infrastructure
  • consumer habits
  • figuring out who is going to pay
  • short term vs long term thinking
  • benefit twice removed

To illustrate these, I’ll discuss barriers in a couple of hypothetical situations where delivering a solution seems easy.

Consider the challenges to providing real-time transit information. This was inspired by a comment I overheard: “in X,Y and Z city, you know exactly when the next bus will arrive; why can’t we have that here?”

Why indeed?

The technology exists to track a vehicle, create algorithms to integrate the traffic flow, rate of bus progress, passenger demand and weather conditions to estimate and adjust time of arrival for buses and trains. Multiple options exists for providing this information to transit customers, such as pixel boards at stops, a downloadable app or text message service. The information is useful to customers to plan their commutes and use their time wisely. Providing real time updates enhances the customer experience, because it’s more satisfying knowing that your bus will arrive in 14 minutes than not knowing and having it appear after you have fretted and peered into the traffic for 6 (much longer) minutes. Happier customers are repeat customers. So, there’s value to be shared between provider and customer.

Why can’t they have it everywhere?

I can think of a bunch of (hypothetical) reasons.

1. Perhaps the current fleet of vehicles aren’t GPS enabled. Perhaps there is no way of announcing the information at the stops, since all that currently exists are metal signs. (infrastructure issues)

2. The bus drivers union may object to such a system because it tracks driver performance in an unfair way. Or the legal team could be concerned about liability of promising something not under the control of the transit authority. (regulations)

3. How will the new infrastructure be paid for? Through fare increases, increased bank loans, or decreased dividends to shareholders? Although the value can be seen, is it enough to make people reach into their pockets? (who will pay?)

4. The cost to implement this new system will have to be paid long before rider retention can be proven. (short term vs. long term thinking).

To illustrate the other two barriers, I’ll use plastic utensils, especially straws. Much has been made of the earth- and ocean-clogging features of these implements of consumption lately. We need an alternative. Why do we use straws to consume beverages? (This is customer habit.) Innovations that replace the straw must overcome habit. And why do we have plastic utensils, food containers and other disposable, polluting conveniences? Because they are convenient. Eating your meal and cleaning up afterwards are things you will enjoy right now. Pollution of the oceans may only come to your attention years later. And you’re not sure how plastic in the waters effects the environment. It’s difficult to understand the vastness of the consequences of disposables in the sea when you put a single straw in your bubble tea. (benefit twice removed)

Yes, there can be significant barriers to implementing a genius idea that is good for people, business and society as a whole.

And yet, the answer is innovation. Business innovation. Get around the regulations or change them. Show stakeholders short and long term benefits. If there is value in an innovation, someone will be willing to pay. People only cling to their habits if they don’t see the benefit of changing.

Innovation is possible, if you understand the barriers and come up with ways to get over, under or around them.

Please follow and like us:

What’s New in Innovation?

How cool is a conference that opens with a humanoid robot (Sophia) and a hologram of her creator (Dr. David Hanson) discussing artificial intelligence?

They were okay, but the real revelation I got from this year’s OCE Discovery wasn’t flashy, revolutionary or disruptive. I wasn’t transported to a new reality. Instead, I looked around and realized: we’re here. Here, at a place where innovation has few limits.

Technology is not limiting.

Data is not limiting.

Knowledge is not limiting.

Being an entrepreneur is not limiting.

What’s left is to ask the right questions, choose the problems to tackle, the needs to fulfill.

Let me explain. First though, let me say this post tumbled out of my brain1 after listening to many inspiring presentations by David Hanson, Megan Smith, speakers in the Keynote panel on Transformative Technologies, and panels on Artificial Intelligence and Smart Cities at the 2018 OCE Discovery, an annual, award-winning innovation-commercialization conference.

Technology. There are several waves breaking onto the beach of everyday life: Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. Big data. The internet of things. Robotics. The capacity to use information is immense, because of increased transfer rates (5G), increased availability (social media, GPS) or increased monitoring (sensors on everything). It goes beyond what humans are capable of by combining the storage power of machines with the processing power of machines. Sure, there are still technical challenges, but there is capacity to write algorithms, apply principles, reduce to practice. We are on the cusp of autonomous cars, SMART homes, apps to help us do everything from planting vegetables to grocery shopping to putting out the garbage.

Data. We have reams of data. We have reams of accessible data. Accessible both because it’s been collected and because some of it is public. Our phones and search engines probably know more about us than we do ourselves. Watson, the super-intelligent computer, knows more about medical studies than doctors2. Is Shakespeare is available in Klingon or which of his plays have been performed most often? This data3 is available.

Knowledge. Don’t know how to do something you want to do? Search. If that doesn’t work, ask. See above for accessibility of technology and data. Seriously, you can learn how to do just about anything on the internet, or at least find someone to teach you. The sharing economy has not only brought us cheaper rides and accommodation, it has shifting thinking to collaboration and partnerships so people are willing to share their expertise.

Entrepreneurship is best defined by what it no longer is. Entrepreneurship is an acceptable career choice. Starting your own business is cool now, although there was a time it was considered nasty capitalism by some. While starting your own business isn’t trivial, it’s better supported in Canada than it ever has been, with incubators, accelerators, educational programs, and accessible resources. What works and what doesn’t in entrepreneurship is understood better than it was 10 years ago. Due to the technology, data availability, and knowledge sharing, developing an idea into a business has never been easier. The challenge now is how to encourage and support people to do it.

That’s what struck me. We can do any number of things. We only have to decide what we want to do. Do we need to curate traffic so here are no more jams? Should we understand weather patterns to predict umbrella demand? Can we make a difference by diagnosing a disease before it is symptomatic? How do we reduce energy consumption? Waste less. Care for more.

From the miraculous to the mundane4, we have the technology, data and knowledge. We can build it, better, stronger, faster, for less than millions of dollars.

Combining creative risk-taking (entrepreneurship) and utilization of available resources (technology, data and knowledge), we can solve an enormous number of problems.

All we need is to just do it5.

——-

1Being inspired by interesting people was even better than not realizing David Hanson was a hologram until his talk was almost over.

4 Which is which may depend on your perspective – consider bringing entire populations out of poverty with microloans or being able to recharge your phone anywhere.

5 There are barriers and challenges to developing any idea into a tangible solution but I hate to be pessimistic. The Discovery conference was uplifting. We have so much potential. In my next post, I’ll take a critical look at common barriers to solving problems.

Please follow and like us:

Modern Potty Humour

What if everything in the future works like the automated public bathrooms of today?

The average state-of-the-art bathroom has:

  1. lights that turn on when you enter the room,
  2. toilets that flush when you stand up or walk away,
  3. taps that turn on when you place your hands under them,
  4. automated soap dispensers,
  5. sensor-powered air dryers or paper towel dispensers1

All these conveniences should allow for a visit to the restroom that requires not touching anything that another human has placed their germy bits on.2

Problem is, the technology doesn’t work reliably.

I’m sure you’ve been there. Toilets that flush while you are still sitting, spraying your exposed buttocks with heaven knows what. Taps that won’t turn on. Soap dispensers that make the noise but deliver no soap. Paper towel dispensers that don’t. Dryers with no air flow.

Makes me wonder which is the greater microbe-spreading evil: not washing my hands at all, washing with just water, or touching the exit door handle with wet hands.

Now that your toes are curled and you want to never go to a public bathroom again, let me share my real concern: this is how all automated systems will work in the future.

Consider the parallels that might be between the automated bathroom and soon to be available self-driving cars, or AI’s that run your house .

Current Automated bathroom Dependability and usefulness Self-driving car AI home control system
Lights turn on automatically when someone enters the room pretty much works all the time, so far so good, system is useful car is there when you call it, opens the door and greets you by name responds to your voice, plays Nickelback on command
toilet flushes automatically when you walk away from it, but sometimes when you are still there a bit overzealous but doing its job car takes you to desire destination, but makes a ton of suggestions for stops along the way, especially when you are in a hurry system opens and closes door locks based on specified permissions but refuses to let your youngest child in when hair is freshly dyed pink
taps turn on when you place your hands under them, most of the time, or sometimes after several thrusts in various directions basic functionality but needs work car usually stays on road, occasionally drifts towards other lane, then neck-wrenchingly corrects as it does in the proximity of a squirrel, person with cane, or baby stroller has mastered turning on lights in occupied rooms but music plays in the basement, garage or attic even when no one is there, which is creepy
soap dispenser either dispenses soap or makes a pit of the belly grinding noise trying good effort, failing because of need for a third party to refill the dispenser car runs out of fuel sometimes because fuel gauge is linked to commodities markets and car is trying to arbitrage prices via beta version app grocery orders often don’t include items that begin with b (bananas, barbecue chips and basa fish) because … ?
hand drying gambit of questionably functioning towel dispenser and hot air blower need to figure out which is the best approach and make it work car finds quickest route about half the time, still ends up sitting in traffic at rush hour (you begin to suspect it’s because it enjoys Bluetoothing with other cars) room temperature is controlled half the time, the other half you have to ask to turn it up, then down, then up, then specify a temperature 2 degrees warmer than you really want
no automated toilet paper dispenser why not? refuses to change radio stations, suggests stopping at dance clubs as an alternative will not interact with the dishwasher, claims it doesn’t understand what a dishwasher is

Is the public restroom a metaphor for the coming automated world we’ll live in? I hope artificial intelligence is going to be smarter. Sensors will be more sensitive and selective. There’s more sense to automation.

I’m looking forward to the day when we engineer a body lotion that converts all biological waste to molecules that are passed as odourless gases through the skin, thereby making bathrooms obsolete. Now that would be progress.

——

1I’ve noticed that many bathrooms are now equipped with both paper-towels and hot air blowers, leading me to believe that the experts are divided on which is the best way to dry your hands to avoid the spread of the plague or similar diseases, or which is environmentally preferable, or more user friendly, or all of these. Hence, public restrooms are equipped with both.

2One thing lacking in the automated chamber is the toilet paper dispenser. Why hasn’t anyone created a thing that dispenses 3.0 sheets of paper at the wave of a hand? I’ve been to many a stall where I’ve dug around to get the roll started, then yanked when I had a sufficient supply, only to have paper trail onto the floor. That’s not somewhere I want to go, so I tear off three feet and start again. Or the paper tatters in my hand, leaving a dusting of tp fragments on the floor. What a waste. And it looks unsanitary, even if it probably isn’t.

Please follow and like us: