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


2 more local innovation events by Nheeda Enriquez

logo via charlotte startup weekend

Posts have been less frequent than intended as of late, but I wanted to post two events that are happening here in May.

The first is Charlotte Startup Weekend over at Enventys Friday the 14th through Sunday the 16th.   If you’re looking for an excuse to stop talking about your great business idea and actually start doing something about it, then this is for you.  Billed as a “un-conference,much in the same vein as Barcamp, this partners entrepreneur types with developers in teams to get pitches up and running.

Also affiliated with UNCC is a panel event on May 19th at the Levine Museum called “Charlotte’s Creative Class: How Innovation Can Lead the Queen City Beyond the Recession.”  Yet another discussion about this town’s identity post-financial  crisis, but this time through the lens of Charlotte’s creative class.

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3 great places to host an ideation session in Charlotte by Nheeda Enriquez

Innovation experts stress the value of conducting ideation sessions offsite, where participants focus on the task at hand and are removed from their day-to-day distractions.  Brainstorming in a unfamiliar, yet relaxed environment really gets those alpha brain waves moving.

The economy undoubtedly presents a cost challenge, and it may seem like a luxury to whisk away your most productive employees for a day.  However, I’ve seen dramatic differences in idea quality when teams downgrade to ideating in an internal conference room.  In light of that, I suggest a few affordable creative spaces in Charlotte, all of which cost far less than a boring hotel ballroom and worth the investment for results.

photo via Magellan/IMR

The Best Buy:  Magellan Idea Center
Located just outside Uptown in the Atherton Lofts, this space was designed with ideation in mind.  (They also use it for focus groups and other types of market research.)  It’s a huge space packed with creative stimuli (magazines, toys, and local art) and has smaller spaces ideal for breakout exercises.  Lots of amenities are included, like coffee, snacks and tech equipment.

The Local: Imaginon
One of the benefits of having a session in a children’s museum is that it encourages your participants to think like kids again.  Frank Blair of PLCMC suggests choosing one of the round rooms, adjacent to the courtyard, to have a session outdoors.  Note that meetings technically have to be open to the public, so it may not be ideal for super-secret topics, but would be a nice place for brainstorming with potential customers.
Runner up “public” space: The Green at Wachovia

The Extra Sensory Experience: Amelie’s French Bakery
Though I haven’t had a workshop here myself, I imagine it would be a lovely place to host one, especially with the tasty treats so close by.  And it would be a neat option for teams who are most creative during non-business hours, since they’re open 24/7.
Runners-up: The galleries at the Light Factory or the studios at Area 15 in NoDa (site of local meetups and barcamps.)

I’d love to hear about spaces that other folks in the area have tried.  Post them in the comments!



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.



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.




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.