products

Tis the season…

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Technologic Santa ClausIn the spirit of the holiday season, Osmotic Innovation thought we’d give you a new take on an old standby, the best gifts of 2012. Of course, we’ll be tackling it from a unique angle – showing you the Most Innovative Gifts of 2012.

PerfectPetzzz

The original breathing huggable pet. Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to own a real pet. Say goodbye to vet bills and food, these stuffed animals are soft, huggable, and breathe. Why it is innovative: recognizing that regular stuffed animals are stand-ins for the real thing and that one of the great experiences of owning a pet is having it lull you to sleep with its breathing this company found its niche – combining the two.

Street Legal Airplane

Say goodbye to lines at the airport – or even having to park at the airport. With the Transition you can fly your car (or drive your plane). Why it is innovative: listening to the customer – private pilots – Terrafugia made its position in the market by providing a real solution to the problems of plane transport, storage, and weather issues delaying travel.

A Trip to the Moon

Forget Ibiza or Jakarta, for the person who truly has been everywhere there is only one trip left: the Moon. Why it is innovative: The critics would say its expensive (putting it mildly!) and that the market is small. We see a market pioneer establishing themselves as the leader in tourism to one of the last frontiers.

Personal Levitation System

For yacht owner who really wants to make waves MS Watersports GmbH offers the Jetlev-Flyer JF-260: a carbon fiber 260 HP 4-stroke flying machine. Why it is innovative: For a generation weaned on James Bond and action sports vacation isn’t complete without some adventure. The Jetlev gives people a safe and exciting way to have an exhilarating experience.

Home Aquaponic Farm

We’ve all got that friend who lives off the grid. Unleash their full potential with an aquaponic system, allowing them to grow fish and vegetables sustainably, even through the Mayan apocalypse. Why it is innovative: In a world with resources that seem more scarce by the day finding ways to do more with less is important to many consumers. Home Aquaponic kits, supplies, and know-how are a valuable commodity that capitalizes on a trend toward more sustainable living.

One thing that all these gifts share is an appreciation for their customer – finding new benefits and opportunities that their target customer want or need. That’s what we’re all doing, regardless how strange or unique the list here might seem.

Innovative or Not? – Dip and Squeeze

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Every so often we take a look at a new or iconic product to evaluate the innovation (or lack thereof) behind it. One of us will argue for good, one for bad, and the third will make a final judgement.

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?

‘Dip & Squeeze’ – Not Innovative

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.

‘Dip & Squeeze’ – 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.

‘Dip & Squeeze’ – The Verdict

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.

The two sides of…Idea Management Software

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Heads

Every organization has its own way of generating ideas, but unless the system is totally broken there is always a plentiful supply of good, bad, and indifferent ideas floating in the minds of its employees. The main problem organizations have is in tapping into those ideas in a way that allows the best ones to rise to the top. In top down organizations leadership designates priority areas to ensure focus but can miss the boat on big wins from disruptive innovation. Organizations that allow everyone to work on their own pet idea are rewarding innovation, but allow its impact to be diluted through extensive resource waste on repetitive and irrelevant ideas.

How can an organization get the best of both? Rather than reinventing the wheel to come up with a new system the most efficient path forward can be the utilization of an off-the-shelf idea management software like Spigit, Imaginatik, or Brightidea that encourages idea submission from all parts of the organization and that then commences an organized process of idea ranking to find the big opportunity areas. This avoids the pitfall of having too few people making a decision and missing out on a big opportunity – the crowd sourcing or stock market approach allows contributors to collaborate to build ideas up and move good ones forward. It also allows management to designate winning ideas to go forward and to be allocated the necessary resources to succeed. Besides these two benefits – involving all employees in the innovation process and ensuring proper focus and allocation – idea management systems also become a de facto filing system for ideas, making sure that work your organization has done in the past doesn’t get lost. Ideas that have been vetted and collaboratively generated are at the ready anytime you need a new innovation.

Idea management software won’t generate winning ideas for you – but it will simplify the process of managing innovation and will allow you to master your innovation pipeline.

Tails

Idea management software is becoming more and more commonplace in corporate environments and the number of different vendors producing and selling their own management platforms seems to increase every day.  Like all productivity tools they have their place and when used well can add tremendous value to an organization’s efficiency. However, idea management tools must be chosen very carefully and before beginning down this path you should consider the following:

Are you sure that the problem your company has is too many great ideas?  If your staff isn’t sure what to work on because they aren’t sure what (if any) are the good ideas then maybe idea management isn’t as important to you as an improved idea generation process

Are you sure that an idea management platform can cope with the shear number of ideas in your innovation portfolio?  Many platforms promote their ability to cope with large numbers of entries, but does the interface allow for the user to cope?

For platforms that promote some sort of crowd wisdom approach to idea management, are you sure that the software will be engaging enough to get a large number of people involved?  Crowd wisdom only works if there is a crowd.

Many platforms include mechanisms for contacting internal experts or require experts or management to comment for ideas to progress.  This works when the idea base is well targeted and relevant, but when a system becomes a catch-all for every half baked idea in the company, the contact mechanisms can rapidly become inbox spam turning off the very people who can contribute most to the system.

Like all productivity tools the adoption of idea management software has to drive a benefit for the company in the form of improved output (do more stuff), improved efficiency (do the same stuff with less people) or improved quality (do better stuff).  Do you know how to measure or realize this benefit for your innovation program?

In short, better idea management is a challenge that all innovation groups face but the system you chose must match both the quality and quantity of the ideas in your portfolio.  Just because it doesn’t have a URL doesn’t mean it isn’t cutting edge.

Innovative or Not? – Kellogg’s Cornflakes

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Every so often we take a look at a new or iconic product to evaluate the innovation (or lack thereof) behind it. One of us will argue for good, one for bad, and the third will make a final judgement.

Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.

This week Kellogg’s Cornflakes comes under our microscope:

Innovative – Kellogg’s Corn Flakes have been around for literally over a century, and may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of an innovative product. However, the brand produced both manufacturing techniques and advertising that revolutionized the industry.

Like many inventions, the story of Corn Flakes began with an accident. The Kellogg brothers, working at a sanitarium, left cooked wheat to cool for too long. Though the wheat went stale, they attempted to salvage it by pressing it through rollers to make dough. Instead, the wheat formed flakes, which were then toasted. Realizing the novelty of this method, the brothers patented it. Corn was later substituted for wheat.

Corn Flakes required no new technology to produce nor were they the first breakfast cereal available. In spite of this, they were able to disrupt the market with the new “format” of the ready-to-eat flake at a time when most cereals were hard biscuits that required preparation. Their unique product spawned countless imitators, and more importantly drove further innovation at both Kellogg’s and their competitors.

But the cereal itself was not the only innovative thing about Corn Flakes. Shortly after the cereal hit mass market, Kellogg’s started offering a premium “prize” to anyone who purchased two boxes. The prize was given in the store, but eventually became a mail-in offer. This not only helped spur growth at Kellogg’s, but also created a new way of incentivizing purchases that became one of the mainstays of the breakfast cereal business.

Not – Though highly successful, Will Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were not innovative.  He simply attached them to the bandwagon of breakfast cereals that started with Granula in 1863.  The first cereals were innovative, proving so popular that they’re now a staple in many countries, but Corn Flakes didn’t arrive until 1906, 43 years later.

In the intervening years, other innovations paved the way.  Following Granula, a ‘ready-to-eat’ breakfast cereal was introduced by Quaker oats in 1877, improving on the need to soak Granula overnight. Then, a major disruptive innovation arrived in 1879 when George Hoyt designed an attractive box for his Wheatena cereal, avoiding the less sanitary practice of selling breakfast cereal from barrels.  This was the birth of modern breakfast cereals.

Around the same time, Kellogg’s brother, John, developed a biscuit of ground cereals.  He was working on this product when he accidentally let soaked wheat go stale and found, to his surprise, that it could be rolled into wheat flakes.  John called it Granose, serving it and a corn version to patients at his sanatorium, but it would be another 20 years before Will would mass market Corn Flakes in an already burgeoning industry of breakfast cereal.

There is no doubt that Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was and is a strong, successful product, but this resulted from good marketing that stood on the existing innovations of ready-to-eat, convenient, sanitary, processed breakfast cereals.  Corn flakes and Android may be great products, but Granula, Quaker Oats, Wheatena, and iOS were innovative.

Verdict – Not Innovative!  The history of cereal is in itself a story of great inventions and Kellogg’s Cornflakes stands proudly amongst the best in this field.  Inventions are easy to spot but when trying to identify a great innovation within the history of a great business things can get a bit tricky.  How much success is attributed to the invention and how much to the strong business model?  For me the key here is in the time that Will took to mass market the invention.  There is not doubt that the brothers had stumbled upon a great invention but by the time the product was marketed to the public the cereal category was rife with competitors and substitutes.   What’s more, so much time had elapsed since the invention that no significant legal protection was left for the nascent business.  If Will had moved to produce his Cornflakes immediately upon discovery would I reverse my decision?  Probably, but all we really know for certain is that by the time the Corn presses started rolling the company was relying on its marketing message to out compete its rivals as the value in the invention, and thus its status as an innovation, had been diluted.

Innovative or Not? – The Segway

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Every so often we take a look at a new or iconic product to evaluate the innovation (or lack thereof) behind it. One of us will argue for good, one for bad, and the third will make a final judgement.

Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.

This week the Segway comes under our microscope:

Innovative – In 2001, there was word of new technology soon to be unveiled that would become a whole new way of transportation.  Venture capitalist John Doerr claimed it would be more important than the internet, while Steve Jobs was quoted as saying it was “as big a deal as the PC”.  That December, the Segway was revealed in Bryant Park on Good Morning America.  Despite the hype and publicity, the Segway struggled to sell as many units as expected and still to this day remains in a niche market.  However, marketing and publicity aside, we must focus solely on what inventor Dean Kamen provided: a two-wheeled, self-balancing battery powered vehicle termed Segway.  By seemingly being able to read the riders mind, it will move in the direction desired by use of advanced sensing, smart battery management, electric propulsion, and dynamic stabilization.  Balancing is accomplished by use of dual computers utilizing proprietary software, two tilt sensors, and five gyroscopic sensors.  A feedback signal continually adjusting for deviations from expected behaviour moves the wheels forward or backward as needed for either balance or propulsion.  By leaning the Segway away from or towards the riders center of mass, it senses this change and adjusts the speed to accommodate maintaining the balance of the rider.  To turn, the rider manipulates a control on the handlebar right or left.  Considering that prior to this invention, a bicycle was the only other two wheeled mode of transportation, we have come a long way to make life easier.

Not Innovative –  Innovation is a multi-faceted process. Creating a technology, no matter how groundbreaking, is not innovative on its own. It is the application of that technology into a form that meets the needs of a market that makes a truly innovative product. In that regard, the Segway was successful as an invention, but not as an innovation.

The Segway begs the question: can something be innovative if no one’s buying it? Since its unveiling over a decade ago, Segway has found use in a niche market, but has not increased the efficiency or convenience of travel enough to justify its price tag to the average person. A better word to describe Segway would be “novel.” It might have earned some interested looks early on, but in the long run has not changed consumer habits. It did not disrupt the market in any meaningful way—Honda, Toyota, and company haven’t exactly scrambled to put out their own “people movers” in response. And for a device that promised to revolutionize transportation for the masses, that cannot be qualified as anything else but failure.

All innovation is goal-driven, and Segway’s hype may have created a goal that was unattainable. Perhaps with a more modest outlook, it would be easy to see Segway as an innovative product with specific applications (law enforcement/paramedic, factory use, mobility assistance) that could eventually trickle down to full scale consumer use. As it stands now, most consumers know it as the butt of jokes like Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

The Verdict– Innovative!  While it is true that the Segway has not lived up to its early hype, the story of the Segway is really more a story of over zealous advertizing than poor innovation.  Had the original predictions for the Segway been more tame, perhaps opining that its future was one of city tourism, mall cops and enthusiast groups then we would never be having this debate.  The Segway is not a bad product, it serves a use, is loved by some, used by few and even the counsel for the negative admits it is novel.  Can we rule a product not innovative simply because it didn’t deliver against overly ambitious sales forecasts?  I say not, the yardstick of innovation cannot be defined by the modesty of marketing executives.

Innovative or Not: The Toyota Prius

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Every so often we plan to take a look at a new or iconic product to evaluate the innovation (or lack thereof) behind it. One of us will argue for good, one for bad, and the third will make a final judgement.

Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.

This week the Toyota Prius comes under our microscope:

Not Innovative: The Prius is a car that inspires some strong reactions – none of which should be an exclamation of ‘Its So Innovative!’ As one of the first efforts by a major car maker to bring hybrid technology to the mainstream the Prius has slowly achieved commercial success and cult status without doing anything innovative. When it was first launched the Cato Institute had this to say regarding the Prius; “With most subsidies, the government pays someone to produce something that no one wants to buy. But what happens when the government pays people to buy something that no one wants to produce?” and “News stories about the popularity of these vehicles simply aren’t true. There’s a waiting list … but that’s because Toyota will only ship 12,000.” In fact, for the first six years the Prius never sold more than 50,000 units in a year – even with extensive tax subsidies!

The technology used in the Prius isn’t anything unique or disruptive – it’s the same as that used in any number of hybrids on the market. And it certainly wasn’t the first hybrid car, with the brake regeneration technology based on an invention from the 1970’s. The Prius is a success not because it was innovative – it is a success because it became an emblem of the environmental movement. With the help of generous government subsidies and marketing the Prius was able to overcome high cost and limited consumer interest to become the kind of ‘innovation’ deservedly mocked by South Park.

Innovative: There are two types of people in this world, those whose car says something about them personally and those who drive Honda Accords.  Originally it was the ad men who told us what our cars stood for, and the Accord guys loved pointing out how much they were ignoring them…until the Prius.

Is the Prius innovative? Of course it is, but not because it is a hybrid (there are plenty of those) and not because it is the most successful (although it is).  The Prius is an innovative car because it created a new personal statement that a driver could wear on the road.  The Prius says as much about its driver as an F250 with a gun rack and Playboy mud flaps.  The Prius was designed as a hybrid; you don’t have to look for the badge on the back to see if that Prius quietly gliding past you is a hybrid because they are ALL hybrids, its shape makes that statement, unlike its competitors. The Prius was the innovation that changed everything.  Suddenly at wine tasting’s all over the suburbs the Accord drivers’ smug indifference to the might of Madison Avenue could be trumped by the simple statement “of course Steve and I went for the Prius”.  The middle class was rocked to its core and the malls would never be the same again.  A sports car says you are dangerous, a luxury car says you have made it and a Prius is the conspicuous consumption of politics.

Judgement: Not Innovative! Although the Prius has a different shape from its competitors, this feature alone is certainly not enough to consider it innovative.  There are many products that differentiate themselves from competitors via shape and colour, but fundamentally offer nothing new or unique.  As mentioned, the technology is the same as used by other hybrid manufacturers and it certainly wasn’t the first to lead the way for others to follow.  In fact, a quick Google search reveals that back in 1870, Sir David Salomon developed a car with a light electric motor and very heavy storage batteries[1].  As for its being embraced by consumers as a political statement; such statements bear no merit toward a reflection on the level of innovation for a product.  Consumers are known to embrace random products to either make a statement about or flock ‘en mass’ to madly purchase. In 1975 consumers went crazy for what was called the Pet Rock, earning its “creator” over 15 million dollars!  So even with its differentiated design and being considered the “conspicuous consumption of politics”, the Prius is still far from being innovative.

Innovative or Not: Google

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Every so often we plan to take a look at a new or iconic product to evaluate the innovation (or lack thereof) behind it. One of us will argue for good, one for bad, and the third will make a final judgement.

Have a suggestion for what we should do next or disagree with our assessments? Have your say in the comments.

This week Google Search comes under our microscope:

Not Innovative:  When someone tells you to look something up on the internet, you will most likely hear the phrase “Google it”.  Asking a Google user to try another search engine almost makes a person feel uncomfortable.  Although cited in numerous articles as being one of the most innovative companies today, was this search engine really innovative when it first started?  Back in 1998 (when Google went public) some of the top search engines used were AltaVista, MSN Search, and Yahoo!.  AltaVista used a fast multi-threaded crawler termed Scooter which covered numerous web pages and received 13 million queries per day.  It was a huge success and was earning millions within a few years of its launch.  Another powerful search engine at the time, Yahoo!, organized websites in a hierarchy as opposed to a searchable index of pages.  Yahoo! grew quickly along with its stock price.  Google emerged during this time with its own variation that returns based on priority ranking and offered Boolean operators for an option for customization.  Considering all the available search engines, and the power they had – returning web pages matching what a person looks for – why would one be considered more innovative than any other?  Although most utilized the same technology, some (like Yahoo!) were different and offered something unique.  Therefore if we were to consider the whole search engine landscape during this time, singling out Google as emerging with something more innovative than any other search engine is a rather difficult task to do.

Innovative: Google‘s main innovation was in ranking pages in a way that consistently returned higher quality results than the status quo.  This forced every other search engine to change their foundational algorithms.  In other words, it drastically disrupted the entire business of searching the internet; it’s the very definition of a disruptive innovation.

When Google began in early 1996, search engines still ranked results by an algorithm that counted how frequently search terms appeared on a page, and returned whatever page mentioned your search terms the most.  Today, we know this system is easily tricked and returns low quality results. Google’s innovation was called “PageRank”, a system that ranked pages by how often other pages linked to it.  Google treated every link to a page as a “vote” for that page, thus making the internet into a sort of democracy.  Also, when a page had lots of votes, its votes carried more weight, refining the system to be smarter and harder to trick.

Google went further though: their page worked faster than anyone else’s.  By building their unique homepage to be blank, except a search box, it loaded almost instantly.  In addition, their advertisements were text only, carrying the two-fold benefit of loading faster and being less annoying.

Google’s website offered a faster service that returned higher quality results, all based on a system in which people decided which websites were most useful.  Google didn’t just make a better, innovative search engine, they made the internet more democratic.

Judgement: Innovative! The definition of disruptive innovation is using existing technology to deliver what may appear to be an inferior product that meets the core needs of new and emerging market segments. When it first launched, Google, with its stripped down front page may have seemed lacking in comparison to existing (and successful) search engines like Yahoo! and Webcrawler. However, Google was actually disrupting search by identifying the core need of consumers – fast and relevant search results. Was this a radical innovation, incorporating new technology to outpace its competitors? No. But it was a massively successful example of disruptive innovation, transforming an industry by applying known technology in a new way. Doing search (and only search) very well allowed Google to become synonymous with the internet usage and to grow its business into all of its current segments.