The launch of the new iPhone 5 was met with high levels of anticipation by the technology, investing, and consumer communities. The reaction to the launch has been mixed; with some saying it is a disappointment and others a major success. This makes it an obvious choice for another round of Innovative or Not.
Innovative: The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, and faster. Does this make it innovative? Since it largely gives the same experience as the iPhone 4S, it’s just more of the same, thus not innovative. This argument is easy, right? Not exactly. The “easy” argument only speaks to disruptive innovation, but what about incremental innovation? With the iPhone 5, Apple designers made dozens of changes, some of them incontrovertibly innovative.
Changes include a new display technology, integrated LTE voice/data on 1 chip, a smaller, faster processor, a smaller connector, better call quality with new noise cancellation technology, and vastly improved earbuds. In the OS, we also see new features like Passbook, which ingeniously integrates all tickets, reservations, and store cards in one place.
Of course, some of the individual new features aren’t innovative, but just smart design. However, smart design decisions become innovation when integrated with novel technology, like the display/touch screen. Previously two parts, the new ‘in-cell’ screen technology integrates them into one. This has never been seen in a phone before. Like it or not, this is innovation. It not only makes the screen thinner, but also optically superior.
Combining many smart decisions to achieve a design goal (thinner, lighter, faster) results in an incrementally better product. When those decisions require innovative technology, you get incremental innovation. Incremental innovation may only be incremental, but it’s still innovation.
Not Innovative: The long awaited release of the iPhone 5 has come. But does it have the awe inspiring innovation that we expect from Apple? To answer let’s first look at the definition of innovative: using or showing new methods or ideas. Does the iPhone 5 do this? As a current owner of the iPhone 4 I struggle to find what the new idea or method in the iPhone 5 is. Yes it is longer, has an extra row of icons, a new accessory jack (which does not allow you to use your current apple devises without a special adaptor), a new camera, and is 4G LTE, but do these things make the phone “innovative”? Most likely not as most of the competition (Android and Windows) already have these features. Yes the iPhone 5 is the longest on the market (in which currently multiple apps do not work correctly with), but making it longer does not constitute the phone to be innovative. The critics seem to agree. Wired called the iPhone 5 “utterly boring”. The BBC ran a review stating that “Apple’s iPhone launches no longer excite.” Instead of giving a new look to the iphone, or updated apps, it seems Apple just wanted to out perform their competition without having to think outside the box. All in all, the iPhone 5 is an improvement, but lacks on the awe inspiring apple innovative which was expected.
Judgement: Not every round of Innovative or Not has a clear winner or a loser, and in taking on the iPhone 5 this is certainly the case. The merits of both cases are strong: yes, the product utilizes a number of new to the industry technologies, boldly deploying them along with a stunningly fast and efficient roll-out. This is impressive. At the same time, few features will excite the average user and some seem destined to annoy: new cables, connection, and size rendering the phone incompatible with most current accessories, and few new to the world ‘features’ since many competitors already carry the feature improvements that seem to headline the product. But, an answer must be found and, as the first writer argues, the iPhone 5 is the picture of incremental innovation. It represents the next step in the evolution of smart phone technology. Perhaps this is a sign that smart phones as well know them are ready to be surpassed by some new technology or format, starting a new race of innovation and growth in the industry.
Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.
Recently a Chicago based inventor filed suit again H.J. Heinz, claiming that it’s recently launched ‘Dip & Squeeze’ format for ketchup was infringing on a patent he has filed in 2005. Whether or not infringement has occurred we’ll leave to the courts. The more pressing question is: is the ‘Dip & Squeeze’ Innovative or Not?
Dispensing fluids from containers is a problem that has plagued the foods industry among others for decades if not longer. If you’re a regular at a fast food restaurant or local Chinese delivery service you’re well acquainted with the myriad pouches, sachets, cups, and tubes used to delivery condiments for your food. Heinz, in combining the squeeze action found in a pouch of mustard with the dipping action found in a container of BBQ sauce, certainly struck a chord with fast food regulars used to struggling as they eat on the go. However, the ‘Dip & Squeeze’ doesn’t represent an innovative leap forward as Heinz might wish us to assume – it’s simply another incremental stepwise improvement for the packaging industry. Incremental innovation is defined as the addition of features to an existing technology in order to slightly improve the format. Just as Gilette added an extra blade, mp3 players added video, and cars added GPS to the standard feature set sustaining improvements are part of any development strategy. If we were to take a portable tub of sauce as a starting point, one of the first ideas we would find to improve it would be to add precision application.
The ‘Dip & Squeeze’ ties in to a very good consumer insight – that people want to eat in their car – but doesn’t take a massive leap forward to change how customers use the product. That is why, regardless who invented it, it is not innovative.
You and your best friend are on the road and stop at a drive through for a bite to eat. You both get your favorite, french fries and ketchup and then you realize… how are we going to eat these? You like to dip your fries, while your best friend likes to squeeze the ketchup right on the fries, the solution a packet of ketchup that can be used either for dipping or for squeezing. This is exactly what a Chicago inventor has recently been granted a patent on. He has taken a format that has not changed in a long time, and has found a way to innovate on it (which often is the hardest). If you are a dipper no more having to worry about where to put your ketchup, simply open the top and you have a container of ketchup to dip in. If you are a squeezer, use the packaging as you would any packet of ketchup, rip open a corner and use as you would. Given that a ketchup packet is really just that, a ketchup packet and someone has found a way to bring new news to such a simple product is why I believe this idea innovative. Sometimes the simplest of ideas are the most innovative.
Essentially the arguments have boiled down to the question of how impressive a product advance needs to be in order to qualify for the tag of “innovative”. All products change over their lifetime; most incremental changes are turned around so rapidly and impact our consumer behavior so minimally that we hardly notice them at all. This “background noise” innovation is so pervasive that we tend not to label it innovation, reserving the phrase for the more impressive advances of our industries. Is Dip & Squeeze simply background noise or does it meet the fuzzy criteria of innovative? The answer may lie in two facts. Firstly, Dip & Squeeze has met the requirements of the US patent office. For such a basic idea this is not insignificant as the examiners would have plenty of reference material along with real world experience with which to judge the novelty of the patent application. The second is the length of time that passed after single serve ketchup first appeared before Dip & Squeeze arrived. Incremental innovation is normally rapid; often companies are working on improvements before they launch the first version of their product. For such an obvious improvement to have taken so long to be realized probably indicates that the improvement was a significant technical mountain even if conceptually it was a molehill. Verdict: Innovative.
There are many in the field of Psychology and Neuroscience that point to the benefits of solving puzzles. Claims of increasing memory and cognitive performance to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s all point to solving puzzles as a key factor. In fact, one such professor of neurology at George Washington Hospital University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr. Richard Restak, published a book called Think Smart: A Neuroscientists Prescription for Improving Your Brain Performance. Among many of his tips, one of them is to simply solve puzzles. By doing so, Dr. Restak argues that different parts of the brain will be used depending upon what kind of puzzle you work on.
Within innovation sessions, I have personally observed the increased creativity in individuals when given a riddle or puzzle to solve before being asked to generate ideas. The act of solving something abstract removes the mind from its common everyday “rut” and opens up fresh ways of thinking that are non-linear.
With that in mind, I would like to challenge your creativity and get your brain thinking a bit by providing you with the following mix of riddles and puzzles. How many can you solve?
Hands I do not have, yet I grasp so tight.
I love darkness, my enemy is light.
Both the mighty and low know me well,
For in the hearts of men I dwell!
What am I?
Echoes from a shadow realm,
whispers of things yet to come.
Thoughts strange sister dwells in night,
is swept away in dawning light.
What am I?
I am spelled by three
Two letter the same in me
I am double or single
Or brown, blue, or green
I am read from either end and understood
What am I?
I can be touched,
but I hurt those who touch me.
I move swiftly through a dry forest,
but die in a mountain stream.
Where I pass, I leave a black shroud.
What am I?
A boy and a girl have some candies. If the girl gives one candy to the boy, he will have double the amount of candies that the girl does but if the boy gives the girl a candy, they will have the same amount. How many candies does the girl have and how many does the boy have? Hint: The boy and the girl don’t have the same amount.
If you put a coin in an empty bottle and insert a cork into the neck of the bottle, how could you remove the coin without taking the cork out or breaking the bottle?
You must cut a birthday cake into exactly eight pieces, but you’re only allowed to make three straight cuts, and you can’t move pieces of the cake as you cut. How can you do it?
Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.
This week Reality Television comes under our microscope:
Innovative: Turn on your TV to a random channel any night and you’re likely to be watching reality television – a format that allows the viewer to watch real people go about their daily lives, overcome challenges, and showcase talents. Because reality television has been around since the 1940’s in various formats it would be easy to assume that shows like Around the World in 80 Plates or The Real World are the television equivalent of a new flavours of ice cream, just new riffs on an old idea. That thinking would be to miss the point entirely. The magic of successful reality television is that it is culturally relevant and utterly unpredictable.
Most entertainment, be it a drama, comedy, or thriller, has a set of conventions that the viewer can expect to see play out. Reality television tosses these conventions out. Shows like What Would You Do continue to thrill viewers because they offer raw and real emotion and behaviour through an ever changing lens. It is a format that by nature requires endless innovation. Producers constantly reframe what reality television is: who are the stars, what are the situations, what is the story. They must innovate to find new insights that connect deeply with the viewing audience. In an ever changing world this is no easy feat. Reality television is innovative because it is an ever evolving mirror of our culture and our norms with real people as the stars, allowing each frame to connect deeply with us as viewers.
Not: Reality TV is not innovative in any way. Reality TV is simply society’s latest version of a very common and human activity, voyeurism. If we can agree that voyeurism existed before television (it did) then the argument for the affirmative has to be that putting it on TV is somehow innovative.
Reality TV; real people doing real things while the rest of us watch. How new is this idea? Can you remember Candid Camera? Maybe not the original but it was the granddaddy of reality TV back in 1947. Oh how our grandparents laughed at the confused faces of real people in real (albeit staged) situations (hum Big Brother theme tune here). At least they would have if they had a TV, which they didn’t, because back in 1947 total television production was only 178,000 units.1
In 1947 the majority of Americans were actually listening to Candid Microphone2 on their radio set (yes, you heard me) and only wishing they had access to a TV. So here is the thing, reality shows were part of the original programming as television became popular in the 20th century and they built off the success of reality radio that had enjoyed many decades of success before that. While reality shows currently seem to be ubiquitous they are no more an invention of the television age than sports, news reporting or game shows. Reality TV is today enjoying its moment in the sun but we cannot confuse popularity with innovation.
Judgement: Innovative! Although reality TV has been around for some time, it is the way in which it is currently delivered that differentiates it from its predecessors. Candid Camera was simply people doing staged stunts with a camera hidden somewhere. If you think about it, there was still some sort of script that was followed by the people who were “in” on the joke. A scene was set and actors were sometimes still needed to ensure events happen to trigger the response. However, in todays format, we have the camera simply follow people around while we sit back and watch the resulting social and emotional interactions develop (or fall apart). Another aspect of reality TV is the judging shows like Americas Got Talent and American Idol. Here we get to watch people place themselves completely out there and they either make complete fools of themselves, or we get new stars (think Susan Boyle and Kelly Clarkson). In both examples, no actors or script is followed and it is a complete deviation from hat was done since the beginning of TV. Therefore for that reason, I judge reality TV to be innovative.
2. Beth Rowan. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/realitytv1.html
In the first post in this series, I explored how despite the common tendency to categorize mathematics as a subject concerned with rules and complexity, it can actually provide ways to lead one to think creatively. Instead of getting lost in the specific complexity of Calculus and Differential Equations, we took a step laterally and showed how these areas manifest themselves in the creative beauty around us.
In this second part, I would like to introduce another area of study within mathematics that is commonly viewed with dread when one decides to either major or minor in the subject – mathematical logic and proofs. Many (if not all) math textbooks contain a section proving how and why different theorems work. Although ignored by many students due to their high complexity, they are the reason why the theorems work and are rather important to the field of study. So why does a course in something like mathematical logic help enhance creativity? Put simply, it forces you to think differently. In mathematics, the goal is to find truth and proofs are the explanation we use to convince ourselves and others. I am not going to now go into any further discussion on how to write mathematical proofs, but instead focus on some of the simplistic components. In writing a proof, you have a few options:
- Simply find an example of something that works
- Contrapositive – which simply means negating both sides of the statement
- Induction – try using a low number and then if it works, prove that it will work for when that number is increased by 1
There are many other ways, but I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. So knowing this, you may now wonder how it could be applied in your next innovation session. As a starting point, it is important to note that each of these techniques enhances reasoning and enables you think creatively by forcing you to look logically and break things down, analyze them, and build them back up. Therefore, you may want to try a few of the following:
- Break the challenge statement down into its components
- Ask questions assuming the opposite situation is occurring
- Use contradiction – find examples of things that didn’t work and ask why. Then add something incremental to it (e.g. a motor, magnet, sensors, etc) and ask if that works
- Examine a new product idea that really resonates with consumers. Ask why as many times as possible to get to the core as to its success
- Take something from a completely different industry and try to apply it to your challenge
Three prisoners have been sentenced to long terms in prison, but due to overcrowding, one must be released. The warden devises a scheme to determine which prisoner is to be released. He tells the prisoners that he will blindfold them and paint a red or blue line on each forehead. After this is done, he will remove the blindfolds and a prisoner should raise his hand if he sees a red line on at least one of the other two prisoners. The first prisoner to identify the color of the line on his own forehead will be released. Of course the prisoners agree to this. The warden blindfolds them and then proceeds to paint a red line on all three prisoners. He removes the blindfolds and, since each prisoner sees a red line, each prisoner raises his hand. Some time passes when one of the prisoners exclaims: “I know what color my line is! It’s red!” This prisoner is then released. Now, we must ask: How did this prisoner correctly identify the color of the line painted on his forehead?
I will let you think about that and have some fun with it. Hopefully by now in reading the two blogs about mathematics, you have some better appreciation and understanding how such a subject can indeed enhance creativity and exercise the mind.
Mathematical techniques like proofs challenge the practitioner to become adept at understanding the process by which you reach a conclusion. Having all that skill can improve innovation and creativity by allowing a person to inherently examine the truth in a problem and solution – not to just take it for granted. That level of analysis can manifest itself in recognizing new solutions or incorrect assumptions to create better innovations
Creativity, as we all know, comes in many forms and is a huge part of Mathematics. Allow me to end with the quote from well-known writer J.K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter novels).
“Sometimes ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works.”