Archive for: February, 2011

Innovation posts of the week: Combining scale with agility

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powerade bottle

Powerade: A case of bad product design

I don’t get these Powerade bottles. They have a ‘security strip’ to hold the lid in place (see strips next to bottle in photo) to make it harder for people to open them. I mean if you’ve been working out and are thirsty, the last thing you want is to ‘waste time’ opening a bottle of Powerade! You want to quench your thirst. This new lid design is not making easier for me to do that.

The lid becomes an obstacle in towards my goal, to quench my thirst.

It’s not intuitive either. I’m not one to read instructions (Which it has on the side. When did we need instructions to open a bottle?!) so it probably took me 30 seconds to a minute to figure out the security strip and then finally open this thing.

Makes me think they never market tested these new bottles. It also makes me think they don’t know who their customer is, athletes.


powerade bottle


Make it easy for people to achieve their desired goal

Great design takes into account a users desired outcome and then removing obstacles from their path in achieving that outcome. If we wanted to ‘make it harder’ (a pain) for people to quench their thirst, Powerade did a great job at doing exactly that.

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Fast response is the new normal in customer service

Do you know what kind of service drives people crazy? Poor attention.

According to research from Zendesk 82% of people stop doing business with a company because of poor customer service. And poor attention is in my opinion is where it all starts because nobody likes being ignored.

Here are a few things that happened to me last week…

This morning I received an email from Sxipper, a password management program for Firefox that I used, replying to a ticket I submitted over a month ago. Yes, that’s right. It’s been over a month and they just answered.

But get this, it’s just a reply that they’ve seen my email. Not a solution. Well guess what, they’re too late.

Since I submitted my inquiry and didn’t get a fast answer I changed to another provider, LastPass.

Result: Ni modo, you lost out. If you would have answered quickly I would still be using your product.

Earlier in the week I noticed that was not functioning when clicking on links through Tweetdeck. So I asked if anybody else was having the same issue and two minutes later I got a response from the folks at

[blackbirdpie url=”!/bitly/statuses/38689020481372160″]

Result: Now I know what’s going on. Great! It wasn’t that hard.

Another example, this past week I switched the ‘share buttons’ on this blog to AddThis. Not everything went smoothly, the buttons were not showing up initially. I checked with them on Twitter but they don’t seem to use it as a customer service channel, so I went over to their forums and posted my inquiry and got a response within a few hours. They pointed out that I was missing some code for it to work, told me what I needed to do and they fixed it for me. This wasn’t their problem, it was my themes problem.

Yes, AddThis fixed a problem that wasn’t theirs so that I could use their plugin. BEA-utiful!

Result: I post about how cool their plugin is and recommend you use it too.

Worst is not responding

When you don’t respond, people are going take it as a ‘‘we don’t care about you’ signal. The result is they’re going to tell their friends about how much you suck and will switch products to someone ‘who does care’ about their needs. It’s that simple!

Even if you have a high cost to switch (telcos), people will put their money down to switch because in the long run they much prefer not to deal with you. High switching costs are no longer an excuse for ignoring people. Get over it.

Getting it right

Customer Service is the new marketing because your customers don’t live on your time, they live on theirs. You have to acknowledge that they have control to tell others if you’re the best or the worst. And if you have a web presence (which you should), customers expect you to be there for them if an issue arises. There are countless ways to provide support and answers such as forums, Twitter, phone and email but still, in most cases people still prefer to talk to a live person for customer service.

Do you really want to talk to them? How committed are you? Do you see customer service as an added cost or as a difference maker?

While fast response is not a new idea, it’s execution is. The world has changed and so has customer service. People are on social networks talking to their friends about either what a great or bad service they got with you. One of them can win you loyal customers, the other one can make you look like the worst business on the face of the planet. Which one do you want to be? The balls on your court.

Fast response when we have a problem. Today and tomorrow, that’s what we expect from companies who’s products or services we use.

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Innovation posts of the week: How to disrupt your industry

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Find the revolution in constraints

Before I fell in love with technology my intent was to become an architect. Because of this I have an acute sensitivity with architects, so when I heard about the ideas of Bjarke Ingels a few years ago I was blown away.

When we think about innovation we talk about thinking outside the box so we can replace the existing box. But in doing so we sometimes completely forget about using the constraints of the existing box for inspiration. Thinking outside the box is just looking for solutions in other boxes and integrating/combining those ideas into the existing box to make a different and better box.

Watch these series of videos and notice how many times Bjarke works with contraints to create something revolutionary while not even attempting to do so.

Evolution leads to Revolution

Creative constraints as the BIG idea

Key point: Constraints help you focus on what matters. Then you can look beyond them in other boxes to see how you can re-arrange, re-imagine you existing box.

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Reverse brainstorming: A better way to generate creative ideas


When we consider ‘how aha really happens‘ the traditional method we use for generating creative ideas, brainstorming, has flaws. Ask your friends, when do they have their best ideas? They will seldom answer, ‘during a brainstorming session’. Most likely it was in the shower, while driving and stuck in traffic or while daydreaming. The fact of the matter is ‘we can’t schedule creativity’ because we don’t know when that ‘aha’ will strike. Yet despite this basic human process we find that managers schedule a specific time for teams to come up with creative ideas.

This is not how creativity works in our brains. (Read page two of ‘How Aha really happens’):

“Over the past decade, neuroscientists have come a long way in figuring out how ideas form in the human mind. As it turns out, their findings contradict how most companies understand and organize innovation. But very few executives know that. They continue applying their conventional wisdom, unaware that science has overturned it.”

Another common belief is that having diverse people involved in a brainstorming session improves idea generation and selection. While this is true that doesn’t mean that the human element of ‘bias’ doesn’t exist. Group dynamics stifle innovation:

For example, in brainstorming sessions several people can quickly dominate a conversation often restricting the sharing of all potential ideas. In other cases, individuals may think less critically about a problem because they are happy to let others do the heavy lifting.  And, those people who lack confidence or internal credibility are more likely to practice self-censorship within peer groups. Finally, groups can be a breeding-ground for organizational barriers such as cultural norms and management bias that limit creativity and critical thinking.

Ok so now what?

Hybrid Model of Brainstorming

I think a better way of brainstorming is doing the opposite of typical brainstorming. For example, instead of brainstorming in groups to solve a particular problem at a particular time, setup a weekly meeting and let people bring in ideas on any subject that strike them at any time during the week. Interesting right?

Also in a traditional brainstorming session the group picks out the idea right there. Instead, don’t decide right away. Because if you brought an idea on any topic at all, the rest of the group might not have thought about the topic before. They’ll greet you with a blank stare in their face.

So instead of evaluating your idea the group will ask you to explain the idea as best you can, including all the elements that you combined in your head to come up with the idea. Then everyone goes off and think about individually and the discussion can continue over emails, telephone or in person. Eventually, a promising idea might emerge from the pack. At that time, it’s time for the ‘What Works Matrix‘ as an individual or group exercise.

Bottom line is creating the element of surprise at the beginning of idea generation. Because if you don’t create surprises you aren’t innovating.

Reverse brainstorming isn’t new

Now that you know how creativity works in the brain, the point is that our brains make connections continuously without us being aware of it. And because this is a natural human process, it’s key that we take advantage of in a whole week or month and not just in a two hour session.

Now, new research suggests that this hybrid model of brainstorming is more effective than the traditional one. While the research may be new, the practice is not. Firms such as IDEO have been doing this for years. They’re well known for including people from diverse backgrounds in all their meetings, essentially preparing a cocktail mix of ingredients to generate creative ideas.

This is how creativity works in the brain.

Obstacles don’t go away easily

Personally, I practice this model of brainstorming myself but have encountered problems. For example, if you’re the only one who brainstorms this way you’ll end up generating ideas that make no sense to others. They’ll think you’re nuts but at the same time they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt since you seem to have all the cool non-conventional ideas. Another problem is that people are used to brainstorming and selecting an idea right there. They don’t want to give an idea time to ‘simmer’ in their brains because of the bias for action. And also because they have more ‘important’ things to do in their routines and supposedly have no time to think. Blah!

So what to do?

Well you have to get people on board in the new way of brainstorming. My recommendation is ‘educate’ your team on how creativity works in our brains so they become aware of their own tendencies. This isn’t necessarily going to eliminate all obstacles but it’s an effective way to get people to believe, and as a plus they’ll feel smarter.

Thoughts? Do you practice a version of reverse brainstorming?

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Innovation posts of the week: The Connected Company

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