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A few weeks ago, social media “personalities” and tech gurus were so busy trying to out-swoon each other over Google Glass that no one seemed to want to ask the most obvious question everyone should have been asking about Google Glass: Why should I care?

No, I mean seriously. Why should I or anyone care about Google Glass?

1. The Emperor’s New Clothes: Tech Edition

In order to understand the problem, you have to go back to its source. Let’s do that.

The review that earned Google Glass the most attention was one put forth by “tech guru” Robert Scoble, even though it basically boiled down to paragraph after paragraph of mostly vacuous and at times incoherent babble. You can go read the entire thing here. I hope you won’t mind that I cut and pasted it here as well (to save you the trouble):

Here’s my review after having Google Glass for two weeks:

1. I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It’s that significant. 
2. The success of this totally depends on price. Each audience I asked at the end of my presentations “who would buy this?” As the price got down to $200 literally every hand went up. At $500 a few hands went up. This was consistent, whether talking with students, or more mainstream, older audiences.
3. Nearly everyone had an emotional outburst of “wow” or “amazing” or “that’s crazy” or “stunning.” 
4. At NextWeb 50 people surrounded me and wouldn’t let me leave until they had a chance at trying them. I haven’t seen that kind of product angst at a conference for a while. This happened to me all week long, it is just crazy.
5. Most of the privacy concerns I had before coming to Germany just didn’t show up. I was shocked by how few negative reactions I got (only one, where an audience member said he wouldn’t talk to me with them on). Funny, someone asked me to try them in a bathroom (I had them aimed up at that time and refused).
6. There is a total generational gap that I found. The older people said they would use them, probably, but were far more skeptical, or, at minimum, less passionate about the fact that these are the future, than the 13-21-year-olds I met.

So, let’s cover the price, first of all. I bet that +Larry Page is considering two price points: something around $500, which would be very profitable. Or $200, which is about what the bill of materials costs. When you tear apart the glasses, like someone else did (I posted that to my Flipboard “Glasshole” magazine) you see a bunch of parts that aren’t expensive. This has been designed for mass production. In other words, millions of units. The only way Google will get there is to price them under $300.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Larry went very aggressive and priced them at $200. Why would Google do this? 

Easy: I’m now extremely addicted to Google services. My photos and videos automatically upload to Google+. Adding other services will soon be possible (I just got a Twitter photo app that is being developed by a third party) but turning on automatic uploads to other services will kill my batteries on both my phone and my glasses (which doesn’t have much battery life anyway). So, I’m going to be resistant to adding Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Evernote, and Tumblr to my glasses. Especially when Google+ works darn well and is the default. 

Also, Google is forbidding advertising in apps. This is a HUGE shift for Google’s business model. I believe Larry Page is moving Google from an advertising-based company to a commerce based company.

The first thing I tried that it failed on was “find me a Sushi restaurant.” I’m sure that will get fixed soon and, Google could collect a micropayment anytime I complete a transaction like reserving a seat at a restaurant, or getting a book delivered to my house, or, telling something like Bloomingdales “get me these jeans.” 

There is literally billions of dollars to be made with this new commerce-based system, rather than force us to sit and look at ads, the way Facebook and tons of other services do.

When you wear these glasses for two weeks you get the affordance is totally different and that having these on opens you up to a new commerce world. Why?

1. They are much more social than looking at a cell phone. Why? I don’t need to look away from you to use Google, or get directions, or do other things. 
2. The voice works and works with nearly every one and in every situation. It’s the first product that literally everyone could use it with voice. It’s actually quite amazing, even though I know that the magic is that it expects to hear only a small number of things. “OK Glass, Take a Picture” works. “OK Glass, Take a Photo” doesn’t. The Glass is forcing your voice commands to be a certain set of commands and no others will be considered. This makes accuracy crazy high, even if you have an accent.

I continue to be amazed with the camera. It totally changes photography and video. Why? I can capture moments. I counted how many seconds it takes to get my smartphone out of my pocket, open it up, find the camera app, wait for it to load, and then take a photo. Six to 12 seconds. With Google Glass? Less than one second. Every time. And I can use it without having hands free, like if I’m carrying groceries in from the car and my kids are doing something cute. 

I’ve been telling people that this reminds me of the Apple II, which I unboxed with my dad back in 1977. It was expensive. It didn’t do much. But I knew my life had changed in a big way and would just get better and better. Already this week I’ve gotten a new RSS app, the New York Times App, and a Twitter app. With many more on the way.

This is the most interesting new product since the iPhone and I don’t say that lightly.

Yeah, we could say the camera isn’t good in low light. We could say it doesn’t have enough utility. It looks dorky. It freaks some people out (it’s new, that will go away once they are in the market). 

But I don’t care. This has changed my life. I will never live a day without it on. 

It is that significant. 

Before I go on with the actual point of this post, let me share a few observations:

Scoble opens his review with: I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It’s that significant. 

What’s bizarre though is that Robert Scoble never actually explains why the product is so significant or why he will never live a day of his life from now on without it. I looked for a reason. Any reason. All I could find was this:

There is literally billions of dollars to be made with this new commerce-based system, rather than force us to sit and look at ads, the way Facebook and tons of other services do.

When you wear these glasses for two weeks you get the affordance is totally different and that having these on opens you up to a new commerce world. Why?

1. They are much more social than looking at a cell phone. Why? I don’t need to look away from you to use Google, or get directions, or do other things. 
2. The voice works and works with nearly every one and in every situation. It’s the first product that literally everyone could use it with voice. It’s actually quite amazing, even though I know that the magic is that it expects to hear only a small number of things. “OK Glass, Take a Picture” works. “OK Glass, Take a Photo” doesn’t. The Glass is forcing your voice commands to be a certain set of commands and no others will be considered. This makes accuracy crazy high, even if you have an accent.

Once you get past the 5th grade sentence structure and grammar (or lack thereof), what Scoble tells us is basically that this amaaaazing product he will never live a day of his life without ever again is awesome because…

a) Billions of dollars can be made from its mobile commerce system. Okay… Except this is identical to mobile commerce on smart phones. The goggles don’t actually offer a new model of e-commerce or m-commerce. It’s the same exact shit, only with an interface that you wear on your face instead of one you hold in your hand. Also, as a user, why should I care about the billions of dollars retailers and tech companies will make from mobile commerce? It isn’t a benefit to me as a consumer. So… we haven’t been presented with any concrete consumer value for Google Glass yet.

b) It can’t find sushi restaurants for you, but it will someday. Yes. Amazing. Siri can do that now. So can pretty much any car equipped with a GPS system, any smart phone with a browser, and every tablet connected to the interwebs. Moving on…

c) They are much more social than looking at a cell phone? Um… no. Browsing the web and reading emails while you pretend to pay attention to someone while they talk to you isn’t “more social”. It’s the epitome of tech douchebaggery, actually. It’s both rude and antisocial, which is the exact opposite of social. Turn the goggles off and actually participate in the conversation. Make eye contact. Give a shit about someone other than yourself for just five minutes. That’s what “social” actually means in the real world. So… no. Again, zero concrete reason to not go a day without Google Glass has been presented as of yet.

d) I want you to consider the following passage for a minute. Are you ready? Here we go:

The voice works and works with nearly every one and in every situation. It’s the first product that literally everyone could use it with voice. It’s actually quite amazing, even though I know that the magic is that it expects to hear only a small number of things. “OK Glass, Take a Picture” works. “OK Glass, Take a Photo” doesn’t. The Glass is forcing your voice commands to be a certain set of commands and no others will be considered. This makes accuracy crazy high, even if you have an accent.

Once you have gotten over the suspicion that this entire review was either written by a non-English speaking intern or generated by the same Chinese algorithm that sends SPAM directly into your inbox 139 times per day, what you garner from that paragraph is this: Google glass is voice activated but it isn’t super intuitive. If you don’t know the right commands, you’re kind of screwed.

Well, hot damn! Why didn’t you say so? You can sort of talk to it, and sometimes, it does what you tell it to? Sign me up! Unfortunately, just as we were starting to get somewhere, Scoble adds a little more magic to his sales pitch:

Yeah, we could say the camera isn’t good in low light. We could say it doesn’t have enough utility. It looks dorky. It freaks some people out (it’s new, that will go away once they are in the market). 

Oh. Shit. Just when I was getting excited about yelling into a pair of goggles with a comprehension problem. So… the camera kind of sucks, it doesn’t really do anything yet, it looks dorky and people who aren’t trying to be quoted by Wired or Mashable or score a pair to review on their blog are suspicious of it to the point that they will run away if you even start walking in their general direction (especially when you happen to be trolling public bathrooms in search of cool photos to post to your Google Plus stream). Awesome.

So now I have even less reasons to go out and buy Google Glass than when I had zero reasons to go out and buy Google Glass. Fortunately, our favorite Tech Guru du jour attempts to redeem himself in the end with this eloquent and deeply thought out breakdown of why Google Glass is the best thing since the invention of fire:

But I don’t care. This has changed my life. I will never live a day without it on. 

It is that significant. 

Ah. Well, okay then. I can see why so many people swooned over this thing as soon as Robert Scoble professed his undying love for a product he couldn’t quite manage to talk about coherently.

Excuse me but what a massive crock of shit. Tech guru my ass. How about we start over, starting with this:

1. Before you can really be any kind of guru, learn how to string two coherent thoughts together in a cohesive sentence. Or don’t. Whatever. Evidently, nobody bothers to read any of this shit before sharing it and retweeting it anyway.

2. Stop blowing smoke up our asses for just ten minutes and look at tech products objectively, starting with Glass. If they’re great, explain why. If they aren’t, explain why. Is that really so hard? This whole social media/guru/pseudo-futurist-douchebags-spewing-bullshit-all-day-long culture of manufactured “influence” needs to come to an abrupt end. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t healthy for companies like Google, for VCs, for startups, for product managers, for marketing, for journalism, and it sure as shit isn’t healthy for innovation either. We are so busy trying to find ways to reward well-funded mediocrity that we completely overlook real successes in innovation. We are celebrating all the wrong things.

2. Product Management is about more than buzz and “influencer” marketing. It’s about 360 degree execution

Don’t get me wrong. Google Glass might be a great product someday (and I hope it is) but right now, it isn’t much of anything. It’s barely a prototype. It’s a first stage proof of concept. It is not a product. Not yet. The worst thing Google can do is believe its own PR. This product isn’t ready. Period.

Incidentally, if I hear one more tech writer or guru compare Google Glass to the iPhone launch, I am going to start getting angry. Here is a little dose of reality: when Apple released the iPhone, it wasn’t a barely functional prototype. It was a working product. It did things. People understood what it was. Its value was crystal clear. Google Glass as it exists today isn’t even remotely comparable to the state of the iPhone when it launched.

If you want to pinpoint the moment that Google Glass will truly become a product, look towards the day when Google finally figures out what Google Glass is. (If Google’s “let’s build something and figure out what it is later” pattern of behavior feels like a recurring theme, you aren’t wrong. Google+ is still trying to figure out if it’s a social network, a collaboration ecosystem, or a dozen other things. Google Wave was… oh, never mind.)

Even Robert Scoble wasn’t able to figure out exactly what Glass is or why he liked it so much, and Google certainly isn’t helping consumers figure it out yet either. Okay, sure, it’s a wearable computer. Awesome. IBM introduced the idea back in 1997, then again a decade ago in this commercial;  and I am pretty sure I have seen versions of this in a dozen sci-fi movies. So this isn’t exactly earth-shattering innovation yet. Right now, it’s more of a voice-activated camera glued to cheap eyeglass frames with limited computer-like interface capabilities. In other words, it basically takes some of the basic things your smart phone can do and repackages them into a shitty looking eyeglass gadget that doesn’t really do anything novel but costs twice as much.  Not exactly the game changer we keep hearing about from the tech gurus.

Let’s recap. Right now, Google Glass does this:

And this:

And this:

And as far as messaging goes, this is the most significant review of the product so far:

It’s the first product that literally everyone could use it with voice. It’s actually quite amazing, even though I know that the magic is that it expects to hear only a small number of things.”

Awesome. I raise my glass to that, sir. Mark Twain would be proud. Maybe Google might want to look into hiring product development and product management folks from companies like Nike, Oakley, Sony, LG and Rudy Project at this point, because this smells like amateur hour. Sorry. Glass deserves better than this.

3. First to market is not the same thing as first to scale: how Google could lose its grip on the wearable computer market

I really hope that Google’s product management team figures out what they want to do soon, because right now, outside of the tech hype bubble, no one is super impressed. The Glass team needs to find its legs fast, and here is why: other companies are already taking the wearable computer concept and actually moving forward with the development of real products. Cool products. Products with utility and a point.

Here are two of them that you guys should pay attention to:

1. Oakley Airwave GPS-enabled goggles: If you’re a skier, snowboarder or a downhill mountain biker, the Airwave’s heads-up display already allows you to track speed (GPS integration can accurately measure how fast you are moving down a slope), jump analytics (measures and tracks distance, height and airtime of your jumps), vertical travel (measures your vertical feet by run, by day and over the course of the season), and navigation (pinpoints your location on a map and finds the run or points of interest you’re looking for).

It is also equipped with trip viewer capability (it lets you review your performance stats like max speed, total vert and max air, in detail, run by run or for the whole day), and has a buddy tracking system (helps you locate and track friends that have the Oakley Airwave goggle or App on their smartphone). Last but not least, the interface lets you control your music, monitor incoming phone calls and text messages while you’re on the slopes.

Here’s a quick video of what it can already do:

For more info, check out Oakley.com/airwave.

2. Recon Jet: a heads-up display for cyclists, triathletes, runners, and so on. As a triathlete myself, I immediately see value in this technology for me. The idea that I might as some point be able to move my bike computer’s data to a heads-up display is genius. One aspect of this is safety: I like the idea of being able to keep my eyes on the road at all times. Every time I have to look down at my bike computer, I run the risk of touching someone’s wheel or hitting a pothole. Also, if an aerodynamic tuck, not having to look down to see how fast I am going or what my wattage is can save me precious seconds over the course of a race. Add to that the possibility of adding biofeedback (like heart rate) to the display and even GPS features (like course maps and elevation), and you really have a product that most competitive cyclists will gladly spend upwards of $300 on. There is real functionality there. Ergo: real purpose and value.

Bonus: We still aren’t looking at the style and elegance of Oakley or Rudy Project competition eyewear, but the frames don’t look like something out of a skymall catalog from 2003 either. They’re actually wearable.


For more info, check out jet.reconinstruments.com.

Do you see the difference between Google Glass and these two products? While Glass still struggles to figure out what it wants to be and relies on “tech gurus” to help them find their way (sorry but recording the moments of your life isn’t enough unless you’re Canon or Nikon), Oakley and Recon Instruments have already identified markets, purpose, and specific features and functionality to answer the needs of those markets. It won’t be long now before you start seeing other applications pop up specifically for law enforcement, military personnel, hospital workers, retail sales clerks, hotel and restaurant staff, automobile drivers, customer service reps, educators, students, tourists, and so on.

Do you know what the difference is between a gadget and a product? It isn’t features or branding. It’s purpose. Purpose matters. It strikes to the very identity of a product. “What is this?” is as important a question as “what is it for?” and “what does it do?” These three questions form the basis for “what will this do for me?” If you can answer neither, you don’t have a product. You still only have an idea, and at best, a prototype. If you can sort of answer it but not completely, what you have is a gadget. You’re in infomercial territory. That’s where Google Glass is right now. (“I can wear Twitter on my face? Awesome!!! Here’s my money!” Good luck with that.)

Unfortunately for Google, if you really want to see where this technology is headed, you may have to start looking outside of Google for the next year or two. If Oakley and Recon Instruments are already developing cool heads-up display products with a point, it’s probably a safe bet to look to companies like Bolle, Smith Optics, Nike, Rudy Project, Garmin, Polar and Specialized to follow suit. Basically any company that makes pro-quality athletic eyewear, GPS devices, heart rate monitors and head protection will find a reason to get into this tech. They will be the first to put these types of products on the shelves and see commercial success.

The second wave will come from startups and communications/data companies that plug into government and service industries, especially those that rely heavily on CRM technologies. The big question mark will be whether tech companies like Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, LG and even the Nokias of the world will get into the wearable computer game as well. If they do, assuming they care to invest in what is currently at best a niche product category, what will be Google’s answer to their slick design, smooth interfaces, purpose, image, utility, device functionality overlap and cross-compatibility? It’s a real question.

Google may be one of the players in this emerging market, but it certainly won’t be the leader if it doesn’t quickly start focusing on a) creating interfaces for specific verticals to create clear value props, scale and renewable revenues and b) developing designs that don’t look like something out of a K-mart version of a Star Trek prop that only a middle-aged tech geek would be caught wearing in public.

There is a market development model for this type of tech that, while complex, isn’t rocket science to figure out and put into play, but… well… right now, let’s just say that Google doesn’t really seem to be moving in that direction. It’s a shame too, because with the right team leading the charge, Google really could do something amazing with this. It’s kind of sad that it might all slip away for no other reason than a lack of direction, or an absence of product marketing leadership, or both.

*          *          *

Olivier Blanchard is the author of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. (You can sample a free chapter at smroi.net.) If English isn’t your first language, #smROI is also available in Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean and Italian now, with more international editions on the way.

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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moleskine Yellow - Graph

The Moleskine notebook is the new Mac.

There, I’ve said it. Chastise me if you will, point out that a notebook is analog, laugh at me for making such a ridiculous comparison… but you know it’s true: When all the other cool kids have a MacBook and an iPhone and the neat creative director-style glasses, what’s the next badge of cool? That’s right: The Moleskine.

A year ago, seldom did I see someone in my peer network pull a Moleskine notebook out of their messenger bag or briefcase. Not surprisingly, a year later, the Moleskine owners’ club looks pretty strong. Surprising? Not really. The product management team at Moleskine seems to have done everything right: They’re cool, they’re functional, they’re super well designed, they’re iconic, they look professional, and they have a story.

Exactly a year ago this week, I bought my first Moleskine since my days in the military. (The company was under different ownership back then.) Since then, my Moleskine has been my constant companion, my confident, my travel buddy, my easel, my sketch pad, my memory, and my idea generator. For the tremendous use I got out of it, my trusty Moleskine lasted exactly one year: I finally ran out of pages this week.

moleskine pages

Buying a new Moleskine a few days ago was bittersweet: On the one hand, I am pretty excited to have a fresh new notebook in which to record a whole new year’s worth of ideas, thoughts, observations, notes, sketches, solutions and adventures. But I also know that I will miss my old Moleskine.

So… tell me…

One: Do you Moleskine?

Two: If you do, what’s in your Moleskine?

And um… Moleskine marketing peeps, yeah, feel free to drop me a note to say hi. You guys pretty much get a thumbs-up from me.

new and old moleskines

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You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. 😀 (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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Via the SwampFox Insights blog:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The man has a point.

Check out this brilliant website.

A lot of people don’t think of “design” as being all that important, because our daily interactions with “design” are limited to gadgets like the iPod or the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, or maybe a faucet or something. Maybe we think of design when it comes to cars and clothes and furniture. But smart design can also save thousands of lives every day. Yes, something as seemingly superfluous as “design” can change the world. (Starting with the first tool, taking a detour via the wheel, and fast-forwarding to the millions of things we now take for granted, like the plasma TV, the hybrid automobile, the artificial heart, and even the ubiquitous bottle of Coca Cola.

If you aren’t the humanitarian type and couldn’t care less about saving lives, bear in mind that design can also create entirely new markets. (We just talked about getting there before the herd, so your ears should be perking up just about now.)

How can smart design can create new markets? According to this article in the New York Times entitled “Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor” (annoying subscription required):

“A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

For starters.

That’s something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop – specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children – is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere. Maybe the time to get into these markets is before they even exist. The seeds are being planted now. The herd is starting to gather. Maybe by the time the market exists and the pastures are green and lush, you’ll find yourself in the back again. Maybe you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having made a move sooner. (History repeats itself.)

What if you could create one of the most lucrative companies of the 21st century AND save tens of thousands of lives at the same time? What if you really could be enormously successful AND help save the world all in one fell swoop? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

In this economy, perhaps these are questions worth asking yourself – especially if you are a US or Western European manufacturing company looking for a reason to go on.

Don’t even approach the problem from a humanitarian standpoint if you don’t want to. Approach it from a business standpoint. Here’s the problem you need to solve: 90% of the planet’s population wants something that they probably can’t get very easily. All you have to do is figure out what that is, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and how to get it to them. It could be a mode of transportation. It could be a light source. It could be a sanitary product. It could be food. It could be a garment. It could be knowledge. It could be something as simple as a tougher bicycle wheel. It could be anything.

There is no single answer. There are probably thousands upon thousands. And that’s exciting.

Whatever it is, it could also have applications right here, where the richest 10% of the world population lives and eats and shops 24/7/365.

It might even be a better option than trying to become the next Google.

Food for thought.

So… what are you working on right now?

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“Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product.”

– Jennifer Van der Meer –Former Wall Street Analyst, green activist and innovation strategist.

Fantastic piece on Core77 by Jennifer Van der Meer on the convergence of design, (customer) movements, product adoption and innovation against the backdrop of “green” product growth.

Here are some tidbits:

Recently, I was invited to participate as a Speaker at the Greener by Design conference in Alexandria, VA, with innovation culture and systems guru, Robert Shelton. Our talk focused on the encouraging shift towards more open models of innovation, where knowledge is shared both inside and outside a company’s walls to solve for the complex and daunting challenges that we face. This praise for the widening of knowledge networks emerged as a theme in many different conversations throughout the rest of the conference. More and more companies have begun to shift sustainability from public relations statements and corporate social responsibility promises to actual product development and marketing activity–a way to create real value. Facing up to climate change will require a major redesign in the way we bring things to market.

The caveat? Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product: consumers do not want tradeoffs. Clorox’s Green Works is one company that embraced this gap. How did the Green Works team aim to get past the 5%? When choosing household cleaners, green-leaning consumers are looking for proven efficacy, broad availability, comparable price, and a brand they know and trust. They’re not willing to settle for a product that performs less than a more eco-unfriendly alternative. Clorox Green Works accepted these constraints and delivered a natural product that passed blind performance tests–in partnership with the Sierra Club. Despite initial external skepticism that a brand like Clorox could succeed with a natural product offering, the good word got out and sales results have “far exceeded expectations,” according to Kohler.

The “no tradeoffs, no compromise” approach has served as a mantra in many companies and across industries when challenged with comprehensive green innovation. But there’s something missing in this stark consumer win-it-all equation: Consumers are not part of the conversation and they know it.

I have spent a good deal of time sitting down with these emerging green consumers and many themes come into to focus. When asked to take the time to give their real opinion about their lifestyle, they reveal an untapped desire to participate in the process to be more than just a stat about consumption and purchase behavior. When you move the conversation beyond price and performance benefits to engage people in the challenge of designing a green future, they want to do so much more than just vote with their wallet.

Unleashing the Innovator in Everyone
In fact, I found that once on the topic I could not get these consumers to stop thinking about innovation and the role they should play in the design process. One-on-one interviews, blog studies, and focus groups all inevitably turn into green therapy sessions. People wanted to dissect how they chose to eat their food, build their home, rely on transportation, raise their children, and create meaning in their lives. When the conversation shifted to how we could live more sustainably, the real ideas would begin to flow.

While it was personally gratifying to be a part of these discussions, I found that my role as a strategist and researcher had major limitations. It was costly to send someone like me around the world, burning jet fuel, to have deep conversations only to fold these insights into traditional briefs on brand and product development. At the same time, every industry started getting green religion and claiming a green message. But the old compartmentalize structure was still in place, which resulted in confusion all along the chain, the initial pleasure and fascination with the complexity of the problem devolved into fatigue amongst the newly green converts at the consumer and corporate level.

The roles of designers, product development specialists, and marketers should never have been as segmented and will never be again. Participation is the key to innovation…

I realized that the nature of this challenge requires constant, ongoing conversation between all the elements. Even a successful human-centered approach to the fuzzy front end completely drops off when we hit the conveyor belt process for product development. Ideas once sensibly vetted are suddenly forced to move lock step through the phases required for launch, and often get watered down in the process. This is in fact where the activity of greenwashing occurs–good intentions turn into skepticism, compromises, and incidental innovation. How do we create a system that provides more interaction, iteration and a feedback loop?

Read the rest of Jennifer’s piece here. It’s well worth the detour.

Have a great Monday everyone. 😉

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