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Creativity and the business of social innovation.

The Last iPhone (Poem)

What if you are holding the last iPhone ever made?
What if the 3G-S looked no different than the 3G?
What if the 4G looked no different than the 3G-S and so on...?
What if all iPhones looked the same from now on?

What if it didn't matter that the iPhone could be made 1/16" thinner next year?
What if it didn't matter that the iPhone could be produced in a host of different colors and metallic finishes?
What if the design could not be improved upon?
What if Apple stopped releasing new iPhones?

Is Innovation at a Crossroads?

Over the last few years the traditional thinking about innovation has been turned on its head. We used to assume that innovation was driven by access to the most advanced tools and resources. But the emphasis has shifted more recently to the role that scarcity plays in driving innovation. This change has inspired a newfound belief that innovation will emerge from the bottom up, out of developing markets, as opposed to being exported by rich nations like the U.S. and Japan. But is that really the case?

As Consumers' Demands Change, Designers Are All in the Behavior Business (Fast Company)

Over the past few months, I've been busy challenging the design community with a theory that designers are now in the "behavior business." Many of the challenges that businesses are facing cannot be addressed without a strategy for influencing consumer behavior in a positive and sustained manner, in areas like personal finance and preventative care. For example, I have spent significant time with head of disease management for a major U.S. insurance company who can't do his job, and manage the ballooning costs of chronic illnesses, if his members don't get their annual checkup (which is free BTW).

Even as behavior emerges as a central theme to many businesses, design is generally not at the top of the agenda. Yet times like these require creative thinking more than ever: if you feel that things are under control, then you are not moving fast enough. The design community needs to help businesses not just understand how we think, but how we fit in.

Kindle DX: Why Size Matters (from Fast Company)

People have a lot of expectations for the new, larger-sized Kindle DX [0]. Interesting how a shift in size / form factor can hold the fate of an entire industry (newspapers in this case) in its hand. Wow, the power of industrial design! I wish a larger screen could save the Boston Globe. But I doubt that is the case, at least not in the way people are hoping.

Re-Kindling your Brand (from Fast Company)

It's such a relief to have a new cause celebre in the world of product design--particularly something not made by Apple. I am talking about the new Kindle, of course. I can finally take the iPhone out of every one of my presentation decks. Like the Wii, the Kindle seems to be breaking new ground, appealing to people (like my wife, an editor at a women's magazine) who are not Luddites (she has used a smartphone for email for years) but don't fetishize their gizmos at all. The Kindle is a different story.

It is particularly exciting for anyone in the product design community when a major consumer brand makes the leap to hardware. Unfortunately, this usually takes the form of "logo slapping," by the likes of Disney and others. The results are superficial at best. But they can also do real damage to the brand.

At frog, we talk a lot about "brand-led innovation," a concept that is becoming core to any brand or marketing strategy. But innovation cannot be delivered through conventional marketing media alone. It requires new products or services of some kind, like Hulu. And I would argue that innovation has a different impact when the product is something you can hold and love.

Fringe Economic Indicators (Part II)

I want to thank you all for the great response to my original post. It lead to a number of interesting follow-up discussions with new stories emerging from all over. I hit critical mass over the weekend in a conversation with the editor or a leading business magazine. So here is a second crop of Fringe Economic Indicators (thank you to Paul Rodda for the new & improved title). Please keep them coming. Also, check out UnCommon Indicators at WNYC for some local (as in NYC) stories.

1. Cash for Candy: There have a been a couple of interesting stories that have hit the front page of the New York Times. This one concerns a dramatic rise in the sale of penny candy, particularly nostalgic brands like Necco Wafers. Business has jumped 80% (!) at Candyality in Chicago where the proprietor is "struggling to keep up with the demand for Bit-O-Honeys, Swedish Fish and Sour Balls." I love this quote from the proprietor of Candy Store in SF where "Many of her customers tell her that even though they are living on less, they’re setting aside cash for candy." Candy futures anyone?

Behavior Change in the Great Recession

Recessions don't really 'happen' until we experience the impacts on a human level. For some that is direct and immediate, losing your job. For many other people these experiences are indirect, through stories and images of the effects on others. Behavior is a great signifier, becoming synonymous with financial crisis like the Great Depression. For those of us who were fortunate to miss this dire time in our nation's history, the words 'Great Depression' almost immediately conjure up the same image, in this case bread lines.

So what are the stories of behavior change that will stand as signifiers for the 'Great Recession' that we are experiencing today. I have been collecting some examples. They follow on my interest in the less obvious, predictable dimensions of human behavior:

1. Workers in Detroit carrying their trash out of the office each day because their companies have eliminated most janitorial services.

2. A huge one time spike in online pornography when Bush's tax rebate checks were mailed out last year.

3. And this one just in from the net: a sudden rise in vasectomies, as reported in the NY Times.

All right, so there are no vasectomy lines...yet. Was discussing this particular trend with Rik Kirkland from McKinsey who just launched their fantastic blog(!) What Matters. He reminded me that 2007 saw the biggest spike in births in 50 years. Over drinks he coined the term 'Bizarro Leading Indicators' which is fairly appropriate (particularly for lovers of Superman).

Please Let me know if you come across of any others.

FourSquare and the Future of Direct(ed) Messaging

New inspiration always floods in after a speaking appearance is over. Kicking myself for not highlighting a couple of things that were right in front of me @ my SXSW panel. Perfectly timed gifts  as usual, in this case foursquare and tweetluck. Let me explain: in the world of social cohesion messaging rules. So, any conversation around behavior change needs to respect that role. Successful behavior change requires immediate feedback, and social relationships offer the best form of encouragement. But messaging platforms are direct, not directED. We spend a lot of time in them because they are open (attendees at SXSW spend much more time twittering than talking). We can do what we want. We insert goals at times, like getting together for dinner, so coordinated behavior emerges all the time. But these goals are ephemeral and not baked into the system.

(Greener Gadgets) Saving the World...One Meter at a Time

It is the eve of the Greener Gadgets conference. I checked out the 50 finalists when they were announced a few weeks ago (happy to see a couple of frog submissions in there like the CompostAll and the WattBlocks concepts). I counted close to twenty energy meters or vampire plugs of some kind.  There has been a lot of buzz around rise of 'Personal Informatics' and the central role that it will play in behavior change (see this nice post from Joshua Porter at The Pop!techblog). Josh is not the only one with a great deal of faith in a future in which our lives are embellished with tiny data displays that track our consumption behavior in real time. Google recently announced the Google Power Meter while simultaneously reducing much of their social innovation activities in other areas (atleast according to this article on from the New York Times).

As a designer, I can't help but be disappointed by the lack of imagination that is driving this emphasis on data displays and graphing tools.  Is a blinking meter really the best that we can come up with as a means of influence? For the sake of our future I hope not.  To be fair these solutions have demonstrated positive impacts on personal energy consumption. But so have smiley faces on electric bills. Here is my interpretation - a quick mockup I threw together for my talk at IxDA (special credit goes to Minjung Sohn from Dept. of Industrial Design, KAIST as I hacked this out of one of the renderings they submitted to CHI).

The Innovator's Dilemma

Nice to be included in Fast Company's (FC) Top Ten list of the “Most Innovative Design Firms.” Some great company there. Not just IDEO, but Pentagram, Rockwell, and Smart, to name a few. That said, the list seemed to emphasize companies that make cool shiny things. Where were Doblin, Stone Yamashita or Jump Associates? Perhaps they don’t fit FC's definition of 'design' any longer. In fact, given that rationale, I was surprised to see Smart at the bottom of the list. The FlipHD has to be the best new shiny object of the year. Just ask my kids.

But you have to ask yourself: what is so 'innovative' about design firms creating great new products (or interfaces or environments)? Isn't that what we have always done? Many of us have made a significant effort to extend our impact beyond the tangible and visible to transforming services and systems. Makes it much harder to get on the next FC hotlist, I guess. The fact is, to most businesses 'innovation' just means 'new': new products, new services, new revenue streams, new markets...which is really nothing NEW at all! Helps to explain why 'innovation' is facing a severe identity crisis right now.