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


Creativity + business: A trend in NC? by Nheeda Enriquez

Thanks to the friendly folks at Charlotte’s Arts & Science council, I learned about some recent initiatives worth sharing:

The topic for the Institute of Emerging Issues‘ conference up in Raleigh this year is “Creativity, inc.” and among their keynote speakers is one of my favorite authors, Dan Pink, who wrote A Whole New Mind, which describes a future designed by left+right thinkers.

photo via the Institute for Emerging Issues

The forum is February 8-9, 2010 and you can register here starting Dec. 1.  (Incidentally, to encourage attendance from the Charlotte area,the ASC is offering partial scholarships to the first 20 that send them registration confirmation.)

Also, the North Carolina Arts Council released their report Creativity Means Business back in June.  They claim that the value of the creative sector in the state is over $40 billion and makes up just under 6% of the workforce.  Why is this important?  The study suggests that regions with a high proportion of creative workers attract more visitors and new residents, which in turn means more money.



If innovation were steak…(Part 3) by Frank Blair
November 9, 2009, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Charlotte, community services, innovation | Tags: , ,

If innovation were steak… (Part 3) – 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.

Rare?

A rare steak is warm all the way through, but still bright red in the middle.  This is innovation for those who want to try what hasn’t been tried before – the original idea that really has no precedent.  This grade of innovation is truly rare, and does involve risk in the sense that things may not turn out as expected.  Course corrections will have to be made to the project plan along the way in order to account for unforeseen consequences.  You will likely have to create the design or workflow specifications yourself, because the idea has arisen of its own accord, and there are no models elsewhere.

Benjamin Franklin had a knack for this sort of innovation – he invented the concept of a lending library open to the public.  In his time, only the wealthy had any sort of access to large numbers books.  Benjamin Franklin recognized that for a community to be truly creative, everyone had to have access to the resources needed to create new ideas.  In his time, that meant books.

Flash-forward more than two centuries.  Now the resources needed to create new ideas aren’t just books anymore…it’s music, and it’s animation; it’s video and it’s the computer; it’s the Internet and it’s digital books..  All of these serve the same purpose as the quill pen and the printed book did in Benjamin Franklin’s day.  And the library is still the place to go when you want to create new ideas.

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flickr photo credit: gregor bug

At Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, we recognize this by providing space and resources for people to create, not just consume, content.  Whether it is the Studio I animation studio, the “little playwright” desk at the Spangler Library in  ImaginOn, or the upcoming Job Help Center at Main Library, we provide access to the resources needed by teens, children and adults to innovate.

How do you like your steak?



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.




Big Apps: A crowdsourcing example Charlotte might learn from by Nheeda Enriquez
311 app logo via Apps for Democracy

311 app logo via Apps for Democracy

I’ve been intrigued by a crowdsourcing challenge New York City is sponsoring that invites developers to submit solutions for new city apps in exchange for fame and a cash prize.  They are not the first to host such a contest – Washington DC did one last year.  For a mere $50K, these “non-profits” were able to solicit 230 resident insights and 47 applications in 30 days!

These challenges is that they blend two good innovation ingredients together:

  1. An attempt to understand what kinds of apps would be useful to consumers by collecting insights and needs.  The last thing my iPhone wants is an App that doesn’t solve a problem that people care about.  Both the DC and NYC contests leverage UserVoice to do this.
  2. A data mine for developers.  Big cities have lots of data that probably doesn’t get used, but if applied in a good context, you could end up with interesting results.  Making the data available promotes transparency and probably helps developers test their apps.  This reminds me of the super-successful Netflix Prize, where the company provided real data to help contestant programmers improve its recommendation algorithm.

I know that there are lots of clever developers in Charlotte.  I wonder what unique apps would help our own residents?  I know I could have used one today that tells me where the closest Wi-Fi signal is both free and strong based on where I am.



Upcoming (and past) events about new ideas in Charlotte by Nheeda Enriquez

I’m highlighting two events that focus on Charlotte folks sharing (pitching?) their innovative ideas for everyone else to absorb.

1.  The Charlotte chapter of the American Marketing Association (CAMA) is hosting a Donny Deutsch-style “Big Idea” meeting at Dilworth Grill on Oct. 20th at 6pm.  The panelists include some local heavyweights:

• Julie Rose (Moderator): WFAE News Team
• Louis J. Foreman: founder and chief executive, Enventys
• Winn Madrey: executive vice president, Topics Education
• Jim Bailey: founder, CEO and president, Red Moon Marketing

2.  The second is BarCamp Charlotte, over at Area15 in NoDa on October 17th, all day.  BarCamps have become known as an “unconferences” where sessions are decided on the day of the event and an open-source mentality is required.  (I’ve never been to one before, so I’m looking forward to it.)

Finally, I’m just now getting around to it, but the SocialFresh folks posted some post-conference material from their Charlotte social media event back in August for those of us who didn’t get to sign up in time!  There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, check out Spike Jones’ presentation on movements vs. campaigns.



A quick visit to a recent past: Part 3 by Nheeda Enriquez

I’m off traveling for a week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to revisit three “timeless” posts on broader innovation topics.  The third is about how we might tackle an unusual constraint and make it work for us.

Enjoy!
Nheeda

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Innovating restaurant menus
May 13, 2009

courtesy of cleveland.comphoto via cleveland.com

Contrary to popular belief, innovation actually loves extreme constraint.  This economic downturn is an example of one, and many new companies were borne out of a recession.  New business owners find compelling needs to fill, and they recognize that they must survive or die in challenging times.  Starutps learn to fail and adjust quickly, adapting in ways that may not have been considered before.

New regulations are another type of constraint that force companies to innovate (whether or not they agree with it.)  I’m in NYC this week, and I am reminded of a law instituted last year mandating restaurants to post the number of calories of each of their menu items.   I’ve heard anecdotes of some restaurants changing recipes in order to keep the interest of customers with their newfound awareness of caloric content.

It also reminds me of a story I heard about Charlotte’s own Ratcliffe on the Green delivering more value to attract customers that now carry lighter wallets.  Instead of sacrificing on the quality of their local ingredients, they’ve switched to a Brasserie-style menu, an interesting paradigm-shift that I hope to taste soon.