Archive for June, 2008

Innovation Gone Wrong

June 30th, 2008 | Category: A bit of fun

I happened on this blog earlier today and I was amazed by some of the innovative thinking. How about fighting lobsters, dog sweaters and wigs for cats.¬†Most recent post was for a smell cell – that’s right a cell phone that emits odour; I wonder what the consumer insight was for that one? Anyway,¬†Innovation Gone Wrong certainly amused me somewhat and I’ll be back for a look before long. OK, it’s not serious, it might even be described as a bit flippant, but¬†then sometimes¬†innovation can and should be fun (he said earnestly). Anyway I think it will go on the blogroll too.

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Innovation directions on

I’ve just received the latest from, my favourite trend site and this month it’s a doozie. The article, entitled “Innovation Avalanche” lists 41 innovative products, business models¬†and services, a number of which are enabled by new technology. What I love about Trendwatching is that they pick out some really interesting innovations and trend directions and they mix it with an insightful commentary. They have a network of upwards of 8000 spotters around who notify Trendwatching when the see something interesting. Incidentally, I had the privilage of¬†attending a day long seminar some time ago when Reiner Evers, the Trendwatching founder shared some upcoming trends and insights. It was a deep, inspiring¬†and powerful experience which I would recommend to other innovators. The article urges us to be less earnest about innovation, to have some fun with it. There are highs and lows in the featured innovations as you might expect, so, in the spirit of fun, here is my pick from the list with a “sweet spot” spin:


Ever fancied running your own brewery? Now you can with For $50 you can buy a slice of the action in terms of voting rights on the¬†company name, logo, product design, product mix, marketing plan, advertising and sponsorship. They are looking for a minimum of 50,000 members. Assuming the concept goes well, profits will be divided three ways: one part to members in the form of reward points redeemable for products from the Beer Bankroll store; one part back to the company; and one part to charity. Interesting business model with a potentially captive audience (I own the company so I’ve got to drink the beer). Not sure that 50,000 people voting on what the product tastes like would work for me. It’s a different business model, but I’m not sure that 50,000 people can create a better beer than one talented brewer. Verdict: doesn’t work for me, I’d rather drink Leffe.


I reckon catwalkgenius might stand a better chance. Catwalkgenius has joined the crowdfunded fashion fray with its new Adopt a Designer program, featuring fashion and accessories from independent designers. Through Adopt a Designer, supporters of a participating designer can buy shares (or “elements”, as it calls them) in their work for EUR 14-plus a EUR 1 processing fee-in the hope of sharing in future profits. Once 5,000 such elements have been sold, the designer is given the resulting EUR 70,000 to create a new collection within 6 months. In the meantime, supporters receive a limited edition piece created exclusively for them by the designer. So far, the company has signed up 160 users, half of which are designers. Clearly this business is just starting out but the numbers look more achievable. There could be a niche.¬†


Blyk is a free mobile phone service aimed at 16-24 year olds. In exchange for¬†217 texts and 43 minutes free every month they get advertising-up to 6 messages sent to their phones each day. Britain’s youth don’t seem to mind-Blyk reached that 100,000-member target six months ahead of schedule. Blyk will launch in the Netherlands in the second half of 2008, followed by Germany, Spain and Belgium in 2009. This will definitely have some appeal for 16-24 year old without an excessive text habit.¬†



 Here is a definite example of the Premiumisation trend, meaning take something mainstream, find ways to make it very special and charge for it. Monavie is an ultra premium line of alcohol-free juices that could easily be confused with wine. Utah-based MonaVie offers both juices and concentrated gels made from 19 different fruits, all chosen for their healthful properties. First among them is the Brazilian acai berry-widely considered a health-promoting superfood-accompanied by apricot, aronia, acerola, lychee, wolfberry, bilberry and of course grape, to name just a few. Pricing is very high-end, indeed, at about USD 40 per 750 ml bottle of juice.



Here’s a winner right on line with the Individualisation trend.¬†Exploiting specialised printing technology allows personalisation of your M&Ms to an unprecedented degree. The new innovation takes the existing service which allows customers to pick colors and have texts and logos printed on M&M’s, a step further by enabling customers to have their own likeness printed on the candy. M&M’s Faces lets customers upload one or two photos, pick their colors and add up to two different texts to be printed on separate M&M’s. Using a simple interface, they can zoom in or out to select which part of a photo they want to use. The photo file is turned into a sketch-like rendition that looks good on small pieces of candy.


Finally an innovation on the Convenience trend direction. US based colorOn and Australian Eye Majic have both introduced press-on eyeshadow kits. The kits allow consumers to instantly apply professionally created eyeshadow designs without applicators or mess. Each single-use kit is applied to the eyelid using a pre-prepared strip that contains a variety of matched and blended colors. Pressing the strip to the eyelid transfers the colors onto the eyelid in just the right shades, creating a look much like one a professional make-up artist might have created. I’ve checked out the website, purely in the interest of research and the process of applying the make-up looks rather more complex than initially advertised. ÔŅĹ

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Future topics for this blog

I thought it would be interesting to get some feedback on subjects for future blog posts so I asked a question on Linkedin, as you do. So far, the relevant points I’ve got are:

From Siamack Salari – “Understanding the difference between innovation and evolution. Also, unarticulated needs – where do you even begin to disentangle those from everyday life behaviour?” I’ll need to get some clarification on the innovation vs evolution point, but the second point about unarticulated needs is crystal clear and really relevant to targeted technology innovation. Expect some stuff on this.

From Reut Schwartz-Hebron: “Innovation is not just about having a great idea– it’s about implementation and buy in. I think one of the topics technology innovators need are around:
– motivating people to adopt change
– how learning is a teacher’s job (in other words what change facilitators can do to increase learning)”

I think the subject of innovation and change are very closely linked together. Often market breakthrough product implementation first of all requires a mindset shift within the organisation before the end product can be successful. More on this in later posts.

From Brian Cambell: “Why doesn’t TRIZ sell? Why does UK plc pay lip service to innovation? Why do innovation consultants ignore TRIZ?” All good questions, I reckon there¬†should be¬†some good posting to come on this lot. I’ve already had some good debate on the first TRIZ point¬†in comments on my previous post on TRIZ certification.

Finally, from Ellen Domb: “Why “Technology Innovation?” I see lots of situations where it is innovation in marketing or packaging or business processes (be innovative about who the customer could be, rather than the technology of the product.) Technology innovation is a very small % of successful innovation, but it gets a lot of attention already.”

I agree with some of this, in that innovations in marketing, business process or packaging design on their own can¬†deliver significant market impact.¬†There is a place for this type of innovation – for example in the UK the P&G brand Ariel¬†was positioned as an innovative 30 degree Centigrade washing powder even though the product remained unchanged. Suddenly it was very good for saving¬†Polar Bears with nothing more than a new marketing message and packaging design. ¬†In P&G speak, I think this is known as Commercial Innovation. However, while there is a place for this¬†type of innovation, this blog is not that place! This blog is about creating market breakthrough products through targeted technology innovation. What do I mean by targeted? Building on insightful business strategy, combinations of new business models and deep market understanding to scope and direct a systematic process to eliminate the shortfall in today’s technology. This final bit can be done pretty well through combinations of advanced TRIZ thinking, Open Innovation and good old fashioned networking, but there is room for improvement and this is where this blog comes in. This blog is about learning how to target and deliver breakthrough innovation better, with more repeatability and greater vision. In my view this is the sort of innovation which doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

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Flexible display in your smart card anyone?

June 28th, 2008 | Category: Targeted technology,Technology trend

I was just cruising the Philips Applied technology website when I came across this rather interesting development, exploiting Philips expertise in thin film flexible displays and smart card controller chips. It’s a smart card with a display on it.

Philips have set up a start-up Flexible Display Solutions to commercialise the concept, key benefits for the user are increased security and information feedback. Strangely, the original display was a flexible LCD, which, according to another article I read on flexible displays is usually big trouble but now Philips are targeting an electrophoretic display instead because it is bi-stable Рit only needs a signal to switch it = less power consumption. The card is 0.5mm thick and, in addition to the display, contains a control chip and battery.

With rapid development in the area of OLEDs and thermoplastic semiconductors, flexible displays are expected to play an increasing important role in our lives over the next few years as displays become cheap enough to be incorporated into clothing and packaging.



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New mobile telecoms development – local twitter, hit or miss?

June 28th, 2008 | Category: Innovative products,Targeted technology

Just off TechCrunch is a new option for the iPhone, nrme (near me) provides a 9 block radius running update on things happening nearby. Users write in a short message about stuff they see happening and this is broadcast to other nrme users in the 9 block radius. While there is an option for chats ans instant messaging in nrme, what this package is about is getting the latest updates on stuff happening in walking distance. Maybe a bar is getting full or a new product has just come into the shops. The business model requires local based, time specific advertising on top of the feed.

Some issues still need ironing out, like browsing through random conversations between two people just because they are local to you. The system will probably require some further context sensitive adjustments before it really works, oh yes, and enough people using it.

If the issues can be resolved this could well be one more step towards an ambient intelligence future.

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Open Innovation – more Idea Marketplace options

David Kutchner has added a comment to my previous post on Open Innovation Marketplaces, highlighting another option. This one offers a lower entry cost than the other three I mentioned. By the way RFP stands for “Request For Proposal”.

According to David: “The RFP Database is pretty simple: it’s a literal trading-place for RFPs, as well as a damn good place to post your RFP and get competitive bids and project proposals from vendors interested in your project. While it doesn’t necessarily cover the same market as Nine Sigma, it’s essentially the same thing, minus the onerous fees and commissions that they charge. We try to keep ourselves out of the process as much as possible and instead let the RFP speak for itself and the people putting forth projects to speak directly to the issuing organizations. We have grant projects going through all the time, as well as organizations looking for proposals on research for specific topics. In some cases we’ve been employed to help organizations compose their RFPs, publish them, and analyze the received proposals, but for the most part we’re simply a platform. Unlike some of the competing spaces, ours is exceptionally egalitarian in that the costs to gain access to projects are $2/project lead OR free depending on how you make use of our site (ratio system to encourage users to contribute projects they aren’t bidding on). There is no sliding scale, no commission, no subscription fees, etc.”

I’ve had a look at the sort of things being posted and David is right, it isn’t really covering the technology problem solving area as for example Nine Sigma and Innocentive do, with more of a request for tender or organisation to organisation dating service feel to it. It also doesn’t yet have the scope of the other idea marketplaces in terms of solver or seeker base. I like, however, the approach of undercutting the existing providers and going after “non-consumption” to coin a Clayton Christensen phrase.

Thinking about it, I reckon there is another opportunity to target non-consumption in an area which is very obvious in the UK Рthat is, connecting small companies who have great technologies but limited scope in terms of sales up to bigger markets, either in terms of licencing from large companies or sales of product. The only option available at present is for a number to small companies to get together and negotiate a slot on It would be great to get feedback from the US on this, is there a problem there for small companies and entrpreneurs too?


Virtual customer environments – the key to co-creation?

June 27th, 2008 | Category: Consumer centred,Innovation tools

I’ve just been reading in the MIT Sloan management review (here is a summary article) about the rise of Virtual Customer Environments (VCEs) as a means of forging closer links with customers in the areas of innovation and value creation. Microsoft, Cisco, Nokia, Volvo and Nike are mentioned as being pioneers in this area. A VCE can be as simple as an on-line discussion forum or a sophisticated product prototyping centre. By interacting with customers, Nokia have been able to tap into innovative design concepts. AB Volvo were able to accelerate product development by incorporating customers in virtual product concept labs. At present, VCEs are being used in five different (but in my view fairly close) roles in customer value co-creation: product conceptualizer, product designer, product tester, product support and product marketer. Here’s a little more on each of these:

Product conceptualizer:

This is where companies encourage customers to interact among themselves to generate and develop product improvement ideas. An example of this is Ducati Motor Holding SpA, the Italian motorcycle company with their Tech Cafe, where customers share design ideas (even including detailed engineering drawings) to customise and improve their bikes.

Product Design

Customers can design their idel product using virtual prototyping tools in the VCE. For example BMWs Customer Innovation Lab (see related article in European Business Forum) gives customers the tools to create their own designs. PSA also do something similar.

Product Tester

Companies are starting to harness virtual product technologies to engage their customers in testing concepts. Volvo and Audi have both implemented this capability

Product Support Specialist

Basically getting your expert users to support other users. Not quite so relevant to my innovation theme, so I’ll move through this one quickly. Perhaps not surprisingly, Microsoft and Cisco seem to be the main companies pushing this.

Product Marketer

Some companies have used customer expertise in product marketing¬†activities carried out on VCEs. Both Korea’s Samsung and Japan’s Suzuki have experimented with virtual product launch centres, employing interactive product simulations and in the process engaging customers in product marketing.

All in all, these technologies, seem to offer innovative companies many opportunities in future: better engagement of customers,¬†reduced time to market, potential for viral marketing and ability to derive input from lead users (see my previous post on this subject).¬†My only concern with these technologies is that used blindly, they could become a tool for averaging and “group think”. There still needs to be room in tomorrow’s innovation processes for the sort of visionary connections and insights which can create true breakthrough product.¬†¬†


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James Dyson is trying to break his products – anger issues?

Having a better day? 

I saw this on Techcrunch and I thought you might enjoy it. It seems that James Dyson is keen to emphasise the robustness of his latest vacuum¬†cleaners. In my book, this has to be a good thing – my current¬†Dyson vacuum cleaner has continued to self-dissassemble (if that’s a verb) over the last couple of years but I’m just too tight to go out and buy a new one, so I’ve jury rigged it. Anyway, on the video¬†you can see that James clearly has some frustrations to work off as he roundly abuses one of his products. My hypothesis is that he may have been having a bad day. In terms of his robustness strategy, he is on the right track when he mentions rigorous testing, which is a good first step but he doesn’t mention any of the other good stuff you can and should do to get a fully robust product and not compromise time to market. I know it can be a bit dull but FMEA is still a very powerful tool and TRIZ can also help to identify functional areas of a product which can go wrong. In addition I use a proprietary Critical Parameter tool to investigate and assure robustness of new technologies. It really works! More on this another time.


Also there is a link to a video on his new hand dryer which uses a small brushless motor running at 100,000RPM to blow air at 400MPH in a thin blade at your hands. very whooshy! No heater too, which is good for energy consumption. There is a problem, however, for me as a user of the Airblade. Although it was good at drying my hands quickly, am I alone when I say there is a really worrying thing about putting¬†your hands¬†completely into something with a name containing the word “blade”? Call me a soft if you like but it gave me the shivers.

I do admire a couple of things about James Dyson though:

1. he is not afraid of making mistakes

2. he targets technology to solve user problems, just like I’ve been saying¬†in my blog!ÔŅĹ

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Ideal Technological System, some practical examples

The previous post got me thinking a bit about the TRIZ concept of an “Ideal Machine” or “Ideal Technological System”. This is a very powerful and deep rooted TRIZ concept, which stated simply can be summed up by the sentence:

“An ideal technological system is a system which does not itself exist as a physical entity but¬†the function that it delivers is still fully performed”

Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? If the system itself doesn’t exist then how on earth does it deliver any function at all? Well, lets see if we can think of some examples of ideal technological systems, that is, things which delivers¬†functions but which don’t themselves exist.

1. The office printer, scanner, fax¬†and photocopier used to be¬†four discrete devices, each with their own costly consumables and space requirements. Now you can get all the same functions from one device. So you could say that, for example,¬†the fax function is delivered without any system. Here’s a shiny example from Canon to prove¬†it, just look at all the stuff it does!


2. As I showed in my post about evolution of technical systems, the system to move aircraft control surfaces¬†has become¬†quite complex due to the need to control and move control surfaces on large and fast aircraft. The¬†active aero-elastic wing (AAW) prototype demonstrates a new way to move control surfaces by using shape memory alloys to flex the entire wing surface. This format eliminates many of the subsystems needed in a conventional wing such as flaps and hinge systems. Incidentally I’ve found some film of the AAW is action which is rather cool.


3. OK, I’m going to shift industry area completely now. Here is a final example of ideality. In this case, a recent innovation in dishwashing tablets – Finish Quantum. The key innovation here is that the tablet is encased in a hot water soluble barrier. I know it’s not perfect, I’ve stopped using them myself after a brief flirtation, but you get my point – no wrapper!


I hope you can see that such a thing as an “Ideal Technological System” can actually exist in reality and isn’t just a high-flown abstract TRIZ concept. From the TRIZ viewpoint the reason this concept is so important is that all technological systems, even if they are far from ideal right now, tend to evolve towards the “Ideal Technological System” over time, just look at computers, mobile phones and audio media for example (compare MP3 with an LP to get an idea here).¬†¬†

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New ways to control mobile devices

I found this on MSNBC today and it got me thinking how people might be controlling mobile devices (should they still exist) in the coming years. The article talks about eye movement control of mobile phones and portable music players being researched by engineers at NTT DoMoCo is Japan.

The experimental system uses sensors and chips that detect electrical current produced by movements of the wearer’s eyeballs. NTT DoCoMo believes wearable control technology will be adapted for mobile devices that download music, play video games and allow users to shop online and keep up with their e-mail. The new technology may also enable cell phone cameras to read bar codes used in Japan to get product information, download music and coupons when the user simply looks at the codes, researchers said.

Also on show was a new minimalist phone system is the form of a ring. To listen to it you stick your finger in your ear and the vibrations travel through your bones to and from the ear piece. Looks to be a bit clonky right now but I guess it’s only a prototype.

Finally there was a device shaped like a wrist watch which you tap to control other devices.

There is an interesting trend in technologies to interface with various devices right now, be it in surgery, aerospace, gaming or mobile telecoms. I’m not sure if the above options will ever make it to market but they do point the way to a future sitation where mobile devices become more “ideal” and, in time, a situation where they cease to exist totally, while their functions remain or¬†are even enhanced.


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