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

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.

Beware of innovating against old metrics by Nheeda Enriquez
July 24, 2009, 11:43 pm
Filed under: empathy, innovation trends | Tags: , , , , ,

stitchesDuring a family brunch back home in NJ, my sister the ER doc bemoaned how police investigators would get in her way when she treated violent lacerations.  They’d be in her face, demanding to know “HOW MANY STITCHES?!  HOW MANY STITCHES?!” so they could include the number in their reports.

Lack of compassion for a busy hospital aside, we agreed that the number of stitches was a terrible way to measure a stab wound’s severity.  My sister said that the number required to seal a cut had more to do with its location than its length.  (Faces require more.)  And in some cases, you might use adhesive to close it instead.

The story makes me think of how an outdated or inappropriate metric is sometimes used to evaluate whether or not an innovation is worth doing.  Many companies look to traditional ROI or NPV calculations to determine financial return, as they should.  But for really new initiatives that may not have been tried before, don’t forget to brainstorm the non-obvious key performance indicators.

It’s actually be a fun exercise to ask: “If this wacky new bike merchandising solution is successful, how might we know?”  The first answer is always, “we sell more bikes.”  But it might also be “increased time spent in store by customers,” “number of cell phone pictures taken of said bike rack showing up google maps,” or even “number of complaints by annoyed employees having to deal with telling the story of new bike display.”

How is a spaceship like an elephant? Analogies in innovation by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credits: serendigity and Matthieu :: giik

flickr photo credits: serendigity and Matthieu :: giik

On Wednesday, I attended the NCTA Emerging Trends and Technologies Breakfast Series over at the NC Research Institute (where I also found out that NCTA is pronounced “en-see-ta” by those in the know.)  Prime speakers, good info, and primo networking opportunities abound.

This particular event was about Biotechnology, but one thing stuck in my mind – Mike Luther, president of the Research Institute, mentioned how the bioscience community looks to Wall Street to find ideas (and not just for funding.)  They wanted to know how to efficiently sort through massive amounts of data (think genome sequencing) to find meaningful patterns.

I am a huge advocate of using analogies in ideation, because there’s many an idea to be borrowed from one industry to solve a problem in another.  To practice this, use a simple exercise: “How is a _____ like a ______?” to start thinking about how two seemingly different things might actually be similar.   Finding analogies on a daily basis is surely an innovation muscle that’s worth strengthening.

Unstructured Crowdsourcing: A funny thing happened on the way to the bank by Nheeda Enriquez

I recently checked my “Bank Mail” via my Bank of America account and caught this message:


click image for larger screenshot

I’m assuming B of A’s legal department installed a disclaimer after a customer saw an idea that was similar to one they had submitted through their account mail box.  A quick Google search on “Unsolicited Idea Submission Policy” turned up Apple, Fruit of the Loom, and Intego (virus software) with similar caveats.

Crowdsourcing, or the ability for outsiders to influence the product development process, has slowly become popular with companies to engage their customers (or even internal employees not involved with the product or service.)  It becomes an opportunity to leverage the collective wisdom of a user base.  But I guess without a structured way for folks to submit their ideas (a la Black & Decker or Starbucks,) you rely on whatever way you have to reach someone at the company.

BusinessWeek’s Innovation and Design section examines the future of crowdsourcing, which includes issues with underpaying inventors or hairy legal issues like the one above.