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A leading innovation and marketing blog from Braden Kelley of Business Strategy Innovation

Friday, November 30, 2007

Missing the Call to Action

I popped over to YouTube the other day to watch a music video and it struck me that artists are missing a huge opportunity for self promotion. Instead of clamoring for YouTube to take down their copyrighted material, artists of all types should be instead clamoring for YouTube to help them promote their material.

Now I know YouTube has been avoiding having advertisements, but will be forced to have them now that Google has acquired the company and expects it to make a profit. Now it is only a question of timing, and Google figuring out how they can distribute their ad inventory on Google in the optimal way to maximize revenue without chasing the audience away to other video sites.

But will this Google ad syndication approach be the best thing for YouTube and the content that usually ends up there? For Bob's homemade video, sure maybe, but what about for a band like "The Killers" or the estate of a dead artist like "Elvis" or even someone like Tony Robbins?

Artists ultimately gain the most value from being seen or heard doing what they do best. It seems to me that it would be in their best interests not to accept some sort of advertising revenue sharing proposal from Google/YouTube. Perhaps, flip it around and propose their own proposal that promotes a link to buy their latest CD, DVD, or even Poster or Print at the end and possibly subtly during the video. In this context, the artist is providing free content and arguably should get 100% of the revenue. This enables Google/YouTube to make their money on the non-copyrighted material, or maybe they can get the artists to give them a share of the click-thru revenue.

The same is true with video content on Amazon. I was shocked that at the end of a video on the page for Gary Hamel's latest book, Amazon hadn't embedded a link that I could click on to add the book to my shopping cart. Every piece of content served up to a user should have a call to action that is relevant and potentially mutual beneficial for the viewer and the content owner. If the call to action had been there, I might have bought the book on impulse, but instead I had time to think about looking around to find the best price.

Shouldn't copyright owners seek to distribute their content far and wide with their own embedded call to action, instead of hunting those down that post it?

What do you think?

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Christmas Tree Time Saver

We went out and got our Christmas Tree last night and it turned out to be more rewarding than last year for a couple of reasons.

Reason #1 - A still-bound six-foot tree fits through the 40% fold-down of a Honda Civic sedan with the trunk closed

Reason #2 - My wife had the great idea of wrapping the still-bound six-foot tree in an old queen-size fitted sheet before putting it in the car and carrying it up the two flights of stairs

The end result was that I had a lot less cleanup to do after un-binding and setting up the tree.

Kudos to my wife for the great idea!

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Time to Prepare for Financial Winter

The holidays have always been more about family, faith, and giving than spending money which is good because people should be spending less this holiday season. If you're trying to figure out what to buy for people this holiday season, make the smart move and conserve your financial resources for the coming financial winter.

Things are about to get a lot worse in the American economy, so give yourself a gift this holiday season and focus on building up your financial reserves instead of drawing them down. Employers are likely to start handing out pink slips in the new year at the same time that people are getting their credit card statements. Hopefully you won't be one of the chosen few, but if you are you are, then you will be much happier if spent conservatively during the holidays.

The economy is going to inevitably slow because the housing piggy banks that consumers have relied on the past year or two to finance their lavish spending, are crumbling and the tightening of credit is about to spread beyond the housing market to auto loans and even credit cards. Tightening credit means decreased consumer spending, and decreased consumer spending will mean layoffs. At the same time, spiking commodity prices will push prices higher and leave consumers with less money to spend after they buy essentials like food and fuel and service their growing debt.

At the same time, the economy faces new risks as the falling dollar is in danger of spooking individual and institutional investors from overseas, potentially adding downward momentum to securities prices and upward pressure on interest rates.

I hope I am wrong, and that the inevitable financial winter isn't finally arriving on the backs of the tapped-out American consumer, but it still wouldn't hurt to make sure you have four to six months of expenses saved up in case the person who is laid off happens to be you.

So this holiday season, think about what the true meaning of the holidays are before you reach for your wallet and buy stuff that may become a burden in the new year.

Careful shopping!

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Happy Thanksgiving

Some say that if you have your health you have your happiness. So, during this holiday season may you and yours remain healthy and thus happy for many years to come.

At this time of the year, in addition to being grateful for my family I also feel grateful to those who have taken the time and energy to nurture my core, my creativity, and my career. But at the same time I would like to express my gratitude to those who have allowed me to nurture their core, creativity, career, hopes, or dreams. I have always felt fortunate to give and receive this gift.

Finally, I am thankful to all of you who invest your precious time reading what I write here. I hope you find it of some use. Please feel free to leave your comments on this or any other article with any suggestions, or topics you'd like me to write about, or other interesting articles you've seen elsewhere.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Innovating your Way Out of a Plastic Bag

According to an article in Fast Company, we use 1.6 billion gallons of oil every year to make plastic bags. Plastic bags that ultimately end up in our landfills, streams, storm drains, public spaces, and other places when we are done with them.

Municipalities are starting to rebel against the externalities that are being passed on to them, and have just started to require retailers to use compostable bags and support them with a curbside recycling effort, starting with cities like San Francisco (which currently spends $8 million a year on bag cleanup).

Companies like Wal-mart and Whole Foods have started recycling campaigns, Target has launched an education campaign focused on possible re-use options, and Ikea has started charging for each disposable bag a customer takes. Ikea's approach is the best in my opinion because it combines a negative incentive (charging people five cents per bag) with a positive incentive (dropping the price of their reusable totes from $0.99 to $0.59) at the same time. The effect has been to decrease plastic bag use by 50% in the United States (a whopping 95% in the UK) and increase reusable tote sales by ten times.

Ikea could create a triple play that would be even more impactful:

1. Ten cents per disposable bag taken
2. 49 cent reusable totes
3. Five cent discount per disposable bag returned

But does even this go far enough?

Even better would be if more manufacturers designed their packaging to be easier to carry, or to hook to other complimentary packaging in some manner. Imagine a bag of Oreos that slid over the top of a one gallon jug of milk for easy carrying. I'm sure you all out there could come up with a million suggestions of how packaging could be made easier to carry without being put in a bag, and help to do the whole world a favor (while helping to increase national security at the same time).

What do you think?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kindle Without a Match?

Amazon announced their new Kindle e-book reader this week amid much fanfare at a price point of $399. It uses e-ink technology and incorporates wireless access to the Kindle online store using Sprint's network. The Kindle comes with its own e-mail address and has a built-in keyboard. They say battery life is one day with the wireless turned on all the time, or one week with this feature turned off. Will it catch fire in the marketplace?

Personally, I think even now the Kindle is still early to the marketplace and overpriced. People can buy fully-functional laptops with wireless connectivity and color screens for $399, so it doesn't feel like good value at that price. Given that this device is competing against printed magazines and books that cost a few dollars that can be dropped and don't need batteries, I find it hard to believe that e-books will ever catch on until they are priced less than $100 (or possibly even free). In addition, Kindle is competing against audiobooks that can be downloaded electronically to iPods and other mp3 players that people have already purchased to listen to music.

Finally, many people are carrying a laptop or smartphone around with them already (and maybe even an iPod), so this device would be an extra piece of electronice equipment to carry around and worry about keeping charged. For something to be an innovation, it truly has to be significantly better than those things it hopes to replace. The Kindle is not that.

Amazon is going to lose a lot of money on the Kindle. Maybe they are okay with that. Maybe they see this as a thought leadership play to keep people interested in the brand and see it as a leader in the marketplace. Maybe they see this as a defensive play to establish themselves in a premature market confined to an incubator until the technology matures enough to profitably live on its own. Whatever their strategy, the Kindle is going to decrease the profitability of the company and potentially even push out the date when people are finally ready to switch to e-books. I believe I could tell a firm what the winning design will be--if they asked.

For what it's worth, I believe the switch to e-books is inevitable, but still a few years away.

What do you think?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

She's a Brickhouse - of Innovation

Can people really innovate when they have to tend to all of their day-to-day responsibilities?

Unfortunately, people don't get promoted for being innovative, they get promoted for getting stuff done, developing people, and meeting or exceeding goals or stretch targets. If people are busy making sure they do all that, when are they supposed to innovate? And if they do come up with a good idea while they are in the shower (after all they don't have time to do it at work), how many hours of sleep are they willing to give up to help move it forward?

This is one of the key problems established organizations have in making innovation happen in their organizations. First, people get rewarded for executing not creating. Second, everyone is so overworked that getting funding and staffing up a project team to make the business more profitable or to ensure its longevity, is incredibly difficult.

So, what's the answer?

I came across an article today that shows that Yahoo! believes the key is a set of dedicated off-site resources charged with taking employee ideas and suggestions and developing them. In the article they site a product development example in which the product was developed in a third of the time it would have taken within the normal Yahoo! reality. 65% faster than an internal project. What does that say?

What this article reinforces is that people must have time to execute new ideas. Top levels of management have to commit to ring-fence a portion of people's time to develop new product or process ideas that will improve the efficiency and profitability of the enterprise OR they have to commit the resources to a group external to the normal operations of the company.

Bringing in outsiders is a third alternative, but not that different from number two with the exception of a little more of an outside perspective that comes from working with multiple clients and living outside the political culture.

So, which approach are you prepared to commit to? Or, are you committed to driving the best ideas and people out of your company and seeing your competitors blow by you?

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Following the Line to Innovation

OK, it may not really be an innovation, but I appreciated the following operational efficiency anyway:

Going to check out of the Hilton New York City, there was a queue in spite of the several available kiosks and multiple employees staffing the counter to help customers with various requests. Hilton had obviously invested in some business process consulting (or possibly listened to an employee suggestion) because in addition to the kiosks and the employees staffing the counter, they had an employee staffing the line to identify the needs of guests while they waited in line.

In my case, she asked how my stay was and I told her the story about how I had difficulty with the WiFi not allowing me back into my work e-mail after the connection went down and came back up again. I told her that the first night it worked fine and that I expected not to pay for the second night because it didn't work properly (leaving important time-critical messages stuck in my outbox). She was sympathetic, but I halfway expected to have to tell the story all over again when I got up to the counter (as this is the typical bad customer experience on the phone or in person). I was surprised and impressed when she told the counter person to take off the second night's WiFi and that I was ready to check out. Thankfully, I didn't have to tell the story again.

This is good operational practice for a couple of reasons:
  1. It gave them a way of increasing throughput during busy times when they would otherwise be limited by the number of computer workstations.
  2. It provided a good customer experience. I only had to tell the story once.
  3. I was on my way much more quickly as a result, and the counter person was on to their next customer more quickly as well
  4. The poor person behind me didn't have to wait while I told my story again, and potentially argued with the counter person because this had already been taken care of while we were both waiting in line (except no arguing was necessary).
  5. If the customer has no special needs, the employee can direct the customer to an available kiosk.
This example, while more about good operational practice and customer service than innovation, does provide the opportunity to identify process innovation opportunities if we look at our own business through a lense of separating the customer experience into the following parts:
  1. Information Gathering
  2. Information Evaluation
  3. Information Processing
Are there times in your business when your customers are waiting? Why are they waiting?

Do you have certain resources that reach capacity quickly or for sustained periods during busy times that you can't expand easily?

Is there a way to utilize that waiting time to separate out the information gathering or information evaluation components of a customer interaction, to allow for a division of labor that can be more easily flexed to accomodate demand spikes?

In a phone scenario, could you not implement an interactive voice response phone system that notifies the customer how long they can expect to wait and then transitions to a "While you are waiting..." message and then asks the customer for their name, account number, and phone number to either be played for the agent before transferring the call, or maybe even trying to do some kind of speech to text and facilitate a record-lookup using that information?

Maybe you need to allow your skilled people to focus on information evaluation and processing, while lower skilled people focus on information gathering. Or, maybe in your industry the skilled people are at the front end, focusing on information gathering and evaluation and need to be separated from the information processing tasks.

In a manufacturing environment, while we don't talk about information gathering, evaluation, or processing, we still use the same logic to evaluate the overall system throughput. Then, break it down into components so that we can identify and manage critical constraints and manage them in a way that maximizes throughput.

So whether you are in a manufacturing or a service environment, are you constantly looking for ways to optimize throughput and maximize profits or customer service (or maybe even both)?

What are your favorite stories of process innovations that have led to improved customer service or manufacturing efficiencies?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Starving the Bottom Line

It is hard for me to believe that we as airline customers accept being packed into airplanes like sardines for six hours on a cross-country flight (seven if you are stranded on the tarmac for an hour waiting to take off), only to then also face the choice between starving or being forced to buy a stale ham and cheese (or wrap) or a $3 giant Three Musketeers bar. It's almost as if the airlines have decided to say "let them eat cake."

There is a better way...

I have noticed that some restaurants in airports have started to sell chilled 'To Go' items. This doesn't constitute an innovation by any stretch of the imagination, and is even less exciting when you take into account that most airports have dismal airport food choices. The airports need to recognize that the airlines have chosen to put the airports in the food business and rise to the challenge of better vender selection or requirements.

If airlines are going to the operational steps necessary to sell stale sandwiches on board, they could easily allow customers to order a hot meal when they purchase their ticket (or in the days leading up to their flight). The kitchens that make meals on site for first class or for international flights could easily make hot meals for coach passengers. Alternatively, the space that used to be used to prepare coach meals, could be leased to a vendor like Wolfgang Puck. Any hot meals for coach could then be delivered to the plane along with the current first class meals and beverages for all classes of service.

Or, the airlines could partner with airport restaurants to take advance orders for hot meals that could be prepared and ready for pickup from a delivery cart at the gate 30min before the flight.

Even rental car and airport limousine (aka car services) companies could get into the act and have meals ready for customers when they check their car back in, or when they pick their customers up. Airport limousine companies could execute such a strategy by partnering with area restaurants convenient to their location.

As you can see there can and should be numerous food options for travellers, but there aren't. Maybe your airport or airline offers some interesting choices. If so, I'd love to hear about the offerings you've encountered.

What have you seen?

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Bid your Way to a Better Seat

I was fortunate enough to fly to New York City this week, but I found myself disappointed that nothing has changed in the past few months. Airlines are desperate for profits, yet everything seemed the same or worse from a passenger perspective. We all deserve a better travel experience, so in the next couple of articles I'll be covering a couple of areas of potential profits that the airlines could capture while improving the customer experience, starting with:

1. Airlines should auction off available first class upgrades

Some airlines reward frequent fliers with "stickers" that they can attempt to use to upgrade themselves on future flights. Each sticker can be used to upgrade 500 miles of travel. I have been trying to upgrade myself for years now on American Airlines and still have 17 stickers in my account (I think I was successful once in the last 24 months). I would imagine that these stickers sit there on the balance sheet as a liability until they are redeemed (I know this is true for miles) and so airlines should be trying to help people spend these. This liability is the reason that miles expire and why American Airlines recently shortened the expiration of miles to 18 months (reset upon each account activity).

In general, frequent fliers use stickers to request upgrades and the person with the highest status wins, followed probably by first come first serve within a status level. Coupled with this is an incorrect assumption that people wouldn't redeem more points or miles for an available upgrade seat if they knew it would help them secure it. Here is what I propose:

A cross-country flight on American Airlines requires 5 or 6 stickers to get upgraded. I propose they implement an auction system and make the minimum bid these same 5 or 6 stickers while at the same time allowing someone to set an unlimited maximum sticker and mileage bid. That way the customer with the stronger desire wins the seat over a less-motivated peer, while the airline wins by reducing their outstanding sticker and mileage liabilities. At the same time it would add a dimension of drama to help everyone involved pass the time before the flight. People could even be allowed to boost their bid by text message if they get outbid.

What do you think?

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Future of Broadcast Television

The television industry has been fighting against progress for the last several years, but finally appears to be coming around and accepting that change is inevitable. First it was Tivo and the industry worrying about customers skipping commercials. At first the networks fought against it, but now, willingly or not they are shepherding a return to more integrated advertising. Sadly, it hasn't resulted in a reduction in the number of commercial breaks, except for the people using Tivo or any other Digital Video Recorder (DVR).

Now the networks are struggling to adapt to the Internet. At first they seemed to ignore that it existed, then they built websites, and now almost all shows try to extend the viewing experience into the online world and try to build a community around the show. ABC is the most forward thinking of the networks, becoming the first to sell television episodes immediately after they air via Apple's iTunes music store for $1.99. Some of the other networks followed suit, and ABC has gone so far as to offer their programming on their website for free. ABC offers their programming on their web site for free because it contains advertising.

At first you might say, why would I watch television on a computer? Well, the consumer has the ability to watch it full screen over broadband and it actually provides a win-win situation for both the consumer (only two minutes of advertising instead of 20) and the advertiser. The consumer is only exposed to one advertiser and the consumer must interact with the advertisement in order to continue watching the program (even if this only means clicking a continue button). This begs the obvious question, once a network incurs the huge cost of creating a program why aren't they seeking to distribute it anywhere and everywhere they can?

Hulu.com is a joint venture between NBC and News Corp seems to get that point, while also seeing the site as a way to combat people posting clips of their shows to YouTube illegally. This builds upon what ABC.com is doing by allowing people to embed the content on their sites and it should decrease YouTube posts because people can come to Hulu.com and see the content for FREE at a much better quality than a YouTube bootleg copy. Bootleg versions are really only useful to people when there is a cost involved (two minutes of ads people can deal with).

OK, so people will be able to get content for free online, which is the right way to go, but nobody is allowing people to download the episodes for free. All of the networks should be allowing people to download episodes for free like a video podcast with advertisements inserted and allow people to distribute them as freely as they wish. The networks could model the likely distribution and charge advertisers based on the expected viral distribution not just the number of downloads. Why aren't they doing this? Limiting downloads to those who are willing to pay $1.99 is a waste of time from a measurement and revenue perspective when compared to the potential advertising revenue available.

People can only consume so much entertainment and so networks should be pursuing a wide and free distribution strategy to lock up their viewers, and to encourage people to help promote their programs by further sharing and distributing them (with the commercials of course).

What do you think?

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Innovation Comes in Many Forms

Innovation comes in all different forms, and there is more than one way to boost profits in organizations.

Layoffs are not the only way to improve the bottom line when times get tough. Often asking the right questions can uncover new revenue sources in areas that previously had only been seen as a source of costs.

There is an article in Fast Company about ways that companies are greening themselves. I highly recommend that every entrepreneur and manager read it. It's not a hippie and granola, look at us aren't we great type of article but instead highlights loads of different ways that organizations are becoming green. This article highlights lots of different ways that organizations are improving their bottom lines, while greening themselves at the same time.

There are many reasons why trying to make your organization more environmentally responsible has the potential to improve the bottom line:
  1. It focuses the organization on identifying and eliminating waste
  2. Creating new directions for the waste your organization produces:
    • Are our waste products of value to someone?
    • Can we recycle or otherwise use our waste products for something useful?
  3. Could we produce our products closer to our customers?
  4. Could we source our inputs closer to our factories?
  5. Could we change how we package our product to reduce the amount of raw materials needed?
  6. Could we somehow distribute our products in reusable containers?
Finally, there is no escaping the fact that becoming more environmentally responsible as an organization will either gain you additional sales now or prevent you from losing sales in the future. as the standards of government and corporate procurement departments begin to shift towards purchasing from more environmentally responsible vendors.

So, what does your organization have to gain from trying to identify areas of environmental opportunity?

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Followup - Motoring Innovation

I came across an interesting article today on stackable cars that is a good followup to my article about vehicle ownership and whether the combined Zipcar and Flexcar represent an innovation in the automotive industry.



The stackable electric cars are being developed by MIT with a grant from General Motors, along with an electric scooter. Unlike Zipcar's round-trip rental policy, MIT is advocating a one-way rental system both for the electric scooters, but also the stackable electric cars. This is similar to the way that free bicycle systems work in several cities around the globe. The main downside will be whether or not a one-way system can maintain even coverage across the city to serve customers.

There is no reason that Zipcar couldn't benefit from this invention. Assuming that these cars could be purchased by Zipcar, they could make more cars available in a smaller amount of space. This could be quite handy for Zipcar. Do the benefits of a vehicle like this stack up?

What do you think?

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Projecting the Future

I've been hearing for a while now about the big bulb projector being on its way out soon, which will be a happy day to the legions of consultants traveling around and helping organizations around the world. I personally will be happy to say good riddance to the expensive, unreliable technology that have been a source of frustration and embarassment for millions of people.

Whether they will be replaced by LED or laser-powered projectors or something else, isn't really important. Let's instead focus on innovation that is on its way, how it will impact behavior, and maybe a little bit about my vision for the future of information sharing.

Microvision, a Redmond-based company, is working on a product called PicoP that will allow you to plug in a mobile projector to your mobile phone, and possibly have one embedded in your Motorola mobile phone beginning in 2009. Why is this an innovation?

Well, it unshackles information and images from the screen of the mobile phone and makes it possible to share information with groups of people simultaneously instead of having to pass your phone around. This will help to change how people think about sharing information and could also possibly change how people think of and interact with their phone. This technology will likely find its way into Smartphones first, enabling users of Apple iPhones and Windows Mobile devices to display e-mail, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations, or whatever else they might like to project.

Maybe someday, instead of carrying around a $2,000 fragile projector just in case the client doesn't have one, maybe consultants will be able to instead use their mobile phone as the contingency plan. This leads me to open up for discussion my vision of our information sharing and consumption future. Here is how I see it:
  1. The mobile phone will become the center of our information and entertainment universe
  • A mobile broadband connection shareable over WiFi that becomes your network access for entertainment and computing in both home and mobile, delivering:
    • Multichannel Television
    • Internet Access
    • VOIP
    • Video Chat
    • Anything else we dream up
  • You will be able to pair a mobile phone with a keyboard or other input device, while also pairing it with any screen or other output device as you would a Bluetooth headset today (including laptops, desktops, and surface computing environments)
  • Data will not live exclusively on the mobile device or on the network, but will be available just the same via the mobile broadband connection
You can see how handy a built-in projector would be in this view of the future. So I ask you: Is Microvision's PicoP is a valuable innovation or only a merely useful invention?

What do you think?

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Zipcar or Flexcar? - Motoring Innovation now Both

Earlier this week Zipcar announced that it was acquiring Seattle-based Flexcar. For those of you not familiar with either company, they are both pursuing the same innovation - rental cars available by the hour parked down the street--not by the day parked at the airport.

Most people these days operate on the paradigm of owning a car for every adult in the household (if not more than one). A car used 15,000 miles per year at an average speed of 30mph equates to 500 hours of use (less than 1.5 hours per day - or about 2hrs/day at 20mph). This results in most cars sitting idle 22 of every 24 hours. If the owner takes public transportation to work, idle time increase to 23 of every 24 hours for the vehicle.

Depending on your tastes, it costs about $6,000 to have a car (loan pmt., gas, insurance, repairs, etc.) - or coming at it a different way, this also equates to $.40/mile x 15,000 miles. Building upon the above example, a car used 500-750 hours per year thus is costing its owner between $80 and $120 per hour to use. This is where the innovation of Zipcar and Flexcar comes in. They are competing against car ownership by offering people vehicles for rental at about $10 per hour all-inclusive (plus a small annual membership fee) that are parked down the street.

The proposition is incredibly powerful once you break through the mental barrier of feeling the need to have your own car. Many people in cities like New York and San Francisco don't even own a car, and Flexcar and Zipcar enable even more people to join the ranks of the car-less.

Personally, our family of three has one car and I can easily take a bus or a plane to client meeting (or even a taxi) and come out ahead from both a financial and a productivity standpoint (many of my blog entries are written on the bus). I found myself a little bit excited when I saw a Flexcar parking spot a few blocks from my house. Not that we feel a need for a second car right now, but it is nice to know that the option exists nonetheless should the need suddenly present itself.

When you start running the numbers, it quickly becomes apparent how incredibly capital intensive the United States transportation model is and how much of our GDP is sitting idle 22-23 hours a day. If we could all break down our mental models to accept a different reality, particularly in our densest cities, we could create a replacement reality of better, more frequent mass transit and shared cars on every block, putting capital back into the system to be re-allocated in a more beneficial way to society. Wouldn't that be a true innovation?

What do you think?

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