It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond


Two local innovation events by Nheeda Enriquez

I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like, and one of the reasons is that I’ve been working on putting together a great conference I’m about to plug:  Innovate Carolina, which will take place on Saturday, April 10 at the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.  The one day event is jam-packed with some great speakers, including Marshall Brain, the creator of How Stuff Works and the host of the NatGeo show “Factory Floor.”  It’s put together by the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA.)  Non-members can attend for only $99 through the early bird deadline.  The lineup is undergoing a few finishing touches and includes a some local Charlotteans, so check back to see more details on the program.

If you’ve got a few more dollars to invest in a quick workshop on innovation, consider “Building your Innovation Capacity” taught by the McColl School of Business at Queens University on March 17-18.  I don’t know much about it outside the website, but it looks to hit on a broad range of steps in the innovation process.



Grocery store delighter: McCormick’s Pre-measured Spices by Nheeda Enriquez

I was at Harris Teeter the other day and caught this little delighter – pre-measured spice packs combined with recipes.  I wished this was around when I was in college, I would have saved myself tons of bland meals because I was too cheap to buy all the spices I needed.  Aside from actually solving for a problem that exists, what I love about it is that it probably didn’t cost a fortune to develop.  It simply re-proportions existing products.  It reminds me of a marketing trend of packaging smaller portions of goods to bring down the price so that consumers in developing countries can afford them.

click for larger

I realize that this is technically not a “delighter” per se, but the solution itself sure delighted me anyway!



NY Times Year in Ideas: Ideas to fuel other ideas by Nheeda Enriquez

photo via NY Times

I’m a few weeks slow on the draw this time around, but one of my favorite end-of-the-year things to do is pour through the The New York Times Magazine’s Year in Ideas issue.  In the past, I’ve used it for a brainstorming exercise (sort of like a word-association activity, but as stimulus to inspire new applications for their product using one of the featured ideas.)

One of these is called Subscription Artists, is another take on crowdsourcing, where a recording artist finances her work by soliciting pledges from fans.  The article mentions Kickstarter as the tool to collect the funds, but The Point also does the same thing (I think Kickstarter is focused on artists.)  The beauty of these sites is that participants actually commit money to ideas that they like, where as some other crowdsourcing mechanisms often turn out to be popularity contests.

How might a company use a Kickstarter-like tool to figure out what features their customers value?



State Innovation Council formed to help foster job growth by Nheeda Enriquez

In a move to spur job recovery in the state, Governor Bev Purdue announced the creation of an NC Innovation Council today.  It’s part of a larger initiative called JobsNOW and looks to accelerate ideas and foster collaboration within the public and private sectors.

One of the co-chairs of the council is a Charlotte CEO named Steve Nelson from a venture capital firm called Wakefield Group (whose website at the time of this posting was down but I’m linking to it anyway.)

There’s not a whole lot of detail yet about what they’re going to do, but in a quick web search for other “Innovation Councils” in other states, we see a range of things.  Oregon‘s team shows investment in key technology research, while Colorado‘s looks at government efficiencies through IT.  Louisiana has one, but I only found this editorial with some recommendations for the council.  In Idaho, this journalist takes issue with an initiative its council announced, claiming that the partnership with Micron is just “more of the same.”

I still think it’s a good idea.  I’m crossing my fingers that this one offers more solutions than press releases.



If innovation were steak… (Part 2) by Frank Blair
November 6, 2009, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Charlotte, community services, innovation, innovation trends | Tags: , ,

If innovation were steak… (Part 2) – by Frank Blair

If innovation were a steak you were ordering at Longhorn’s or Morton’s, how would you place your order?  Just like steak, innovation can be well-done, medium or rare.

Medium?

This steak has not been cooked through yet; it’s still a little bit pink.

If you are interested in this grade of innovation, look for a practice, technique or product that may be new to your industry or profession, but it is common somewhere else.  There may be only one vendor offering the service, or the practice or technique may never have been implemented in your industry before

So, for example, at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, an example of “medium” innovation would the recent introduction of the new ‘enhanced’ catalog we debuted on August 8, 2009.  Our customers had asked us to bring their experience into the 21st century by adding features (like relevancy ranking) that they were used to from other search engines and web portals.  They wanted the ability to create and retain their own book lists, to tag books and movies, and to write reviews and rank the books and movies they are borrowing.  All of these are possible from our enhanced catalog.  You can check it out at: http://catalog.plcmc.org – create a “My Discoveries” account.

Want more medium innovation?  Try benchmarking your products or practices against what occurs in an industry with a completely different business model.  At the library we do this when we compare ourselves to retail outlets and bookstores.

How do you like your steak?  Check back Monday and we’ll take a look at Rare.



If innovation were steak… (Part 1) by Frank Blair

Over the summer, I met Frank Blair, the Director of Research, Innovation, and Strategy at the Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenberg County (PLCMC.)   His background in Linguistics has taken him to many parts of the world, and he’s weaved his experience in IT and Innovation to make the city’s libraries a critical partner in our community.  Frank’s an extremely engaging personality, and this week, he’s a guest on this blog to share a lesson of innovation in 3 parts: Rare, Medium, and Well-done.  Enjoy!

If innovation were steak… (Part 1) – by Frank Blair

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flickr photo: nathanaelb

If innovation were a steak you were ordering at Longhorn’s or Morton’s, how would you place your order?  Just like steak, innovation can be well-done, medium or rare.

Well-done?

This steak has been thoroughly cooked.  Some believe it is the hardest kind of steak to cook, and that it is the steak for people who don’t like steak.  If you are in an environment that doesn’t care for (or is hostile to) innovative practices, techniques and products, then this is for you!  Of course there are people who just like their steak well-done for health reasons, or even just for the taste (go figure).

If you are interested in this grade of innovation, look for a practice, technique or product that is common in your industry or profession, but just hasn’t been implemented in your workspace yet.  There will likely be several vendors to select the product or service from, or perhaps alternative procedures or manuals to choose from.  The innovative thought comes from seeing the possibility of a practice, technique or product in another area or profession and realizing the possibilities inherent in customizing it for your particular niche.

So, for example, at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, an example of “well-done” innovation would the recent use of on-line whiteboard and chat technology to provide homework assistance to school-age students.  Nothing is new about providing access to resources for homework in our libraries…we’ve been doing it for over a hundred years.  But our environment has changed, and many of our customers, especially students, want to use our resources on-line from home.  We partnered with tutor.com to provide free, online live homework help from 2PM until 10PM on school nights.  If you don’t have a computer or Internet access at home, you can use a computer at the library for the same purpose.  An existing service partnered with an existing library to create an innovative service for our county.  You can learn more about the service from this WBT News story.

Want more well-done innovation?  Try benchmarking your products or practices against others providing a similar service or product.  At the library, we do this when we compare ourselves to other libraries.

How do you like your steak?  Check back on Friday and we’ll take a look at medium.




“Yes, and…” is the golden rule for ideation (and improv!) by Nheeda Enriquez

yesandI’ve been fortunate to take a handful of improv workshops during my life for different reasons, but it wasn’t until one from grad school (led by a Second City member, no less) that I realized its influence in innovation.

When brainstorming, I encourage using the phrase, “Yes, and…”  to make sure everyone reserves judgment of others’ ideas.  Generally, we find ourselves practicing the opposite, readily dismissing the kernels of a new idea without airing it out to see if someone can improve upon it.

Improv teaches us how to “live in the moment,” which can actually be a frightening place, but this is where the purest level of creativity (and comedy) live in your subconscious.  Many workshops are geared to get people out of their shells, but they can also get them out of the box.

Here is a wonderful write-up with 10 principles of improv where you can easily see how they might be applied to a business setting.

And here is a free workshop put on by Funny Bone in Charlotte next week.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to check it out because of another event, so I’m hoping for another one at a future date.



Easy, Medium, Hard by Nheeda Enriquez

A very simple, yet so often overlooked framework that I use is Easy-Medium-Hard.  Sometimes it’s just a really quick way to organize information and ideas into digestible chunks, and placing them on a relative scale to one another.  Here’s a few ways that I’ve used it lately:

  • Sorting ideas and concepts Easy ideas that can be executed within a year; Hard ones take considerably longer.   One innovation professional in town talks about his innovation in meat temperatures: rare, medium, and well-done.
  • Brainstorming Asking yourself “how might we make _______ easy for our user?”  (ie, Learn how to play one song, cooking a meal for 8 people in under an hour, etc.)  How might we make it harder?   By thinking about it in extremes, we cover a wider range and stimulate broader thinking.
  • Feature sets Everyone approaches an interface or a new piece of software from a different skill level.  Rather than bombarding each person with everything under the sun, tailor the experience to suit the consumer/user’s familiarity.  Hide the rest to eliminate clutter (and make it available if it’s needed.)  A wonderful execution of this is Google’s “Become a Gmail Ninja” feature.
image via google

image via google



The Charlotte Observer wants to figure out how to make newspapers new again by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credit: jeku arce

flickr photo credit: jeku arce

My original purpose for meeting up with Steve Gunn, the Charlotte Observer’s Innovation Editor, was to learn more about Mission Possible, the project that his paper spearheaded to find innovative ways to meet the city’s charitable needs through crowdsourcing.   Instead, what I discovered is that this project is just one of many in his attempts to keep the Observer relevant in an era of dying newspapers.

Gunn mentioned that the paper’s readership is growing thanks to the web, but the whole industry is on the hunt for ways to convert new readers into loyal ones, particularly since content is now aggregated through or onto other sites.  Mission Possible, aside from being a philanthropic effort, is also a living, breathing experiment on how this paper might collaborate with other outlets: TV, radio, papers, web, and across counties, languages, and service providers.   They expect to learn and adapt throughout this process, and put the learnings into use for future programs.

It’s been a while since I’d been in a newsroom, and I had forgotten how “creative” these spaces have always been…Desks strewn with visual stimuli in a highly collaborative environment of ordered chaos.  Gunn’s office was no exception, complete with well-traveled trinkets and a full case of Diet Pepsi.  He reminded me that the staff is “very comfortable with messy” and previewed for me an innovative new service they’ll be piloting soon, so look for that on the Observer online in a few weeks!



Bank of America looks to prototype the future by Nheeda Enriquez

bofa_branchI recently posted about Bank of America and its innovation activities and I’m about to do it again.  One reason is because I’m a long-time customer and I’m intimately familiar with their products, and another is because I’ve was an innovation consultant for the other bank in town and I can’t legally write about those.

BofA’s got an interesting (and public) relationship with MIT’s Media Lab called the Center for Future Banking where they can experiment with the shape of banking as we are yet to know it.

On a recommendation by David Phillips, a Senior Designer on BofA’s Innovation Enablement Team, I took a stroll over to a special BofA branch over at the Epicenter in Uptown where two Microsoft Surface units are installed.  Phillips mentioned how their development teams ultimately hope to use them to prototype interfaces and mini applications.  In fact, the entire branch is meant to be a test lab of sorts, allowing the bank to test different service concepts within a real-life space.  I even saw Xit poll stations (photo inset) to collect data about your experience.

There’s another Surface installation in a branch in Bryant Park in NYC.  Catch a video of the action here.