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

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Innovation Perspectives - Trend Spotting Collaboration

This is the seventh of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'Who should be responsible (if anyone) for trend-spotting and putting emerging behaviors and needs into context for a business?'. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Vyoma Kapur

Innovation Perspectives - Trend Spotting CollaborationTypically, a corporation would hire a market research or a consulting firm to keep up-to-date with the latest consumer trends. Millward Brown, Iconoculture and Forrester are examples of firms which use sophisticated research techniques to advise their clients on how consumers are behaving today, and how they might behave tomorrow. Whether we are talking about changing media habits, evolving taste buds or the growing popularity of a certain sport, keeping tabs on consumer lifestyles does not happen automatically. Time, effort and capital need to be invested to stay ahead of rapidly changes and adapting business operations accordingly.

However, trend-spotting does not always have to be a function of active, dedicated research. Often, passive observation can result in insightful findings of emerging habits and trends. With an observant eye, anyone can identify and take note of valuable information around him or her in the physical space. With information at our fingertips, we are also equipped to browse through the virtual space of blogs, forums and social networks at our convenience. Such an enormous amount of content can tell us something about every facet of consumer lifestyles. Hence, active observation of social activity is a resource everyone can and should take advantage of when it comes to trend-spotting and understanding emerging behaviors.

This is not to say that casual observations should not be verified or backed up by data. Noticing something is only starting point of successful trend-spotting. Following that, objective and unbiased research needs to be carried out before a particular trend or behavior can be evaluated for business.

Therefore, for an organization to optimize its market research efforts, all its employees should take personal responsibility for trend-spotting and then sharing key observations internally. An internal communication system, where employees can post and discuss observations could be implemented. An open forum would enable everyone in the company to either back a particular observation ("I have noticed that too") or reject it ("I have noticed quite the opposite of that").

Employees could be given incentives in the form of prizes for the "Trend-spotter of the month". The most relevant observations could then be taken to the next level where their implications for business are discussed and further action is taken. Such an effort in open collaboration would facilitate the movement towards more effective and holistic ways of trend-spotting.

You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'Who should be responsible (if anyone) for trend-spotting and putting emerging behaviors and needs into context for a business?' by clicking the link in this sentence.
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Vyoma KapurA marketing professional turned entrepreneur, Vyoma avidly supports and practices open innovation. Earlier this year, she founded Colspark LLC (www.colspark.com), a crowdsourcing platform to help companies tap into student talent for ideas and solutions.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mumbai's Innovation Hub

by Vyoma Kapur

Dharavi RecyclingInnovation in the developing world, as many people may tend to think, comes from either large conglomerates or small entrepreneurial communities which have had the good fortune of venture backing. Especially in a free market economy, such as India's, innovation is often thought of as the mandate of thriving businesses equipped with the know-how.

In Mumbai, India's economic powerhouse, the real social innovation is coming from the grassroots. These are people, who despite having little, are the answer to Mumbai's mounting waste management problem.

The dwellers of the Dharavi slum, the largest in Asia, have created a massive recycling industry. Invaluable for the social impact it has created, the slum's existence is supported by high-strung officials and ordinary civilians alike. Using simple machines in their home factories, these dwellers are recycling anything from plastic bottles and metal cans to paper and cotton, saving the city from the wrath of its own garbage. Over 80% of the plastic waste of Mumbai is recycled in the Dharavi slum.

As the consumerism of Mumbai's upper and middle classes disposes of thousands of tons of waste material everyday, energetic young men of Dharavi sift through piles of trash to gather anything with the potential of being recycled. Different types of junk is given a new life and then sold for a bargain. With support from non-profit organizations such as ACORN International, rag-pickers are taught how to manage solid dry waste.

With an increasing number of micro-entrepreneurs entering the recycling business, this industry has seen an astonishing level of organic growth. The slum produces a jaw-dropping $1.3 billion worth of recycled output every year. There are approximately 400 recycling units, and the number is increasing every month.

Spreading across approximately 174 hectares, this slum is like any other. It lacks food and proper sanitation and is rife with squalor. For a few hours everyday, some areas of the slum are supplied water and electricity. Despite making only a fraction of the salaries earned by their counterparts in more developed areas of Mumbai, many of these dwellers are finally finding their way out of poverty through the huge demand for their services. Needless to say, environmentalists are in full praise of this green industry, a rarity in the hustling cites of India.

Having spent a few years in India, I find this commendable. I have not seen the Dharavi slum, however; I've seen many other slums, just like those depicted in Slumdog Millionaire. That slum dwellers could become social entrepreneurs within their own capacity to fight for survival never crossed my mind.

The Dharavi example made me wonder; do we always need a team of experts and comprehensive research data to innovate? Is it not about solving the problems in front of us and seeking ways to improve what is defined and traditional? To the Dharavi dwellers, the waste piled up around their homes was not a problem, it was an opportunity. They became rag-pickers and set up mini factories with whatever little they had. In time, they turned Dharavi from being Mumbai's biggest headache to one of its greatest assets, setting an example for similar communities around the world.

Vyoma KapurA marketing professional turned entrepreneur, Vyoma avidly supports and practices open innovation. Earlier this year, she founded Colspark LLC (www.colspark.com), a crowdsourcing platform to help companies tap into student talent for ideas and solutions.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Fascinating Model for the Auto Industry

by Vyoma Kapur

Local Motors ConceptWhen you hear the word 'crowdsourcing', what comes to mind? Most people list ideas, tee-shirts, logos and advertisements. If you are familiar with InnoCentive, the world's largest open innovation platform, you would know product development, design projects and campaigns can be crowdsourced too.

It was at the Business Innovation Factory conference earlier this week I first heard of a 'crowdsourced' car. Jay Rogers, the founder of Local Motors, amazed the audience with his story of launching a unique automotive business that taps into a community to design and develop cars through regular competitions.

Running Colspark LLC, a company that crowdsources for ideas and solutions, I certainly found this concept bizarre. A few questions sprung up. What is the community made of? How are the winners selected and rewarded? In what way are Local Motors cars different from regular cars?

Rogers explained that the Local Motors community consists of over 3,000 designers, engineers and car enthusiasts. Local Motors organizes monthly competitions focusing on making car designs 'local'. These competitions can focus on either the exterior or the interior of a vehicle. Community members pick up competition briefs along with engineering guidelines to create their designs. Submitted designs are critiqued and selected by the community, which keeps in mind which designs will fit best in which region.

Once a design gains enough popularity, Local Motors, after determining that it is 'manufacturable' and takes them to the next phase of development. The community is kept involved in every step of the developmental process.

Local Motors ProtoypeLocal Motors is, hence, dedicated to COOL - Community, Open, Ownership and Local. Its cars are built in regional micro-factories which are also picked by the community. Once design and engineering has been completed, members of the community are able to go to a micro-factory of their choice to build their own vehicle. With the possibility of such customization, Local Motors customers are able to develop cars with higher horsepower, greater fuel efficiency and have other advantages over regular cars.

The open innovation model has numerous benefits for companies that adopt it. The most apparent one is the output it helps create, in terms of both quality and quantity. In just a few years, Local Motors has built a repository of thousands of original car designs.

Another less apparent benefit pertains to marketing. By leveraging car enthusiasts, Local Motors effectively addresses the disconnectedness there tends to be between the automotive manufacturing industry and their consumers. In this day and age of consumer sovereignty, it is important to involve consumers in decisions that have a direct impact on them. The power of a community lies in its dedication to a brand, a concept or a company. Local Motors has benefited vastly from the word-of-mouth awareness generated by its community.

Being a huge believer and practitioner of crowdsourcing, I definitely see Local Motors going far. It has revolutionized the age-old car manufacturing process and sets an example of others in the industry.

Vyoma KapurA marketing professional turned entrepreneur, Vyoma avidly supports and practices open innovation. Earlier this year, she founded Colspark LLC (www.colspark.com), a crowdsourcing platform to help companies tap into student talent for ideas and solutions.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rethinking Innovation

by Vyoma Kapur

Neri OxmanRiveting innovation stories were told during the Business Innovation Factory conference held in Providence, Rhode Island. In its fifth year now, the conference attracted brilliant people from all over the country hungry to learn and discover. Over twenty speakers from different industries, professions and backgrounds were gathered to share how they have 'innovated' in their own unique way and created an impact. I made my way to Providence full of curiosity.

Here is where I ask you to broaden your definition of innovation. I think we've become too accustomed to think of innovation as an effort that either reduces the bottom line or enhances the top line. Innovation is not only about processes; it also encompasses radical diversions of existing products, ideas built from scratch as well as bottom-up social change.

Neri Oxman's story was unique, astounding and opened my mind. Oxman, a designer and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, looks to nature to for practical design answers. Through understanding nature's relationship with things around her, she is able to visualize new and better structures. Her work has been described as "establishing a new approach to design at the interface of computer science, material engineering and ecology."

Simply, Oxman's mission is to change the world by proving how technology can live in harmony with nature. Oxman studies the form, substance and behaviour of a leaf and how these attributes change with the environment. Then, moving from the scale of natural world to the scale of human design, Oxman envisions a building which will endure various environmental conditions in ways such as bending like trees in strong wind to avoid collapsing.

One of Oxman's ingenious innovations is a chair that shapes itself into a human body. This, to me, gives a whole new dimension to ergonomics. Her work is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

Oxman is a thinker who challenges our definition of innovation. Is innovation only about increasing efficiency, lowering costs and making improved versions of existing products? Or is it about changing the way we think and ask questions - from "what can we do to make something better", to "why has something always been done in a certain way."

Vyoma KapurA marketing professional turned entrepreneur, Vyoma avidly supports and practices open innovation. Earlier this year, she founded Colspark LLC (www.colspark.com), a crowdsourcing platform to help companies tap into student talent for ideas and solutions.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Congratulations to the BIF-5 Contest Winner

Voting is now closed, and we have a winner for my ticket to the Business Innovation Factory (BIF-5) conference October 7-8, 2009 in Providence, RI. Here again were the Three Finalists:

  1. Creating a Bachelor of Innovation by Dr. Terrance E. Boult, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

  2. Breaking Innovation Barriers by Looking Beyond by Vyoma Kapur, Colspark LLC

  3. A Nightmare on Innovation Street by Brad Barbera, KAB Business Research

And the winner is...

Vyoma Kapur of Colspark LLC!
  • Colspark seeks to foster greater collaboration between academia and businesses. They believe in creating a dynamic knowledge and information flow between colleges and companies. They do this by giving college students a platform to solve companies' sales, marketing and business problems. By bringing students and companies closer together, they create an environment where the best and the brightest are rewarded. Using the principles of open innovation, effective ideas and solutions are generated for companies. Colspark endorses open communication and open innovation while operating in a secure environment. Companies have rights to confidentiality, while participating students can be rest assured that their intellectual property is protected.

Vyoma wins my ticket to the Business Innovation Factory conference after her article "Break Innovation Barriers by Looking Beyond" received the most comment votes and @reply votes on Twitter.

(NOTE: Travel expenses are NOT included and are the responsibility of the winner)

For those who would still like to go to the conference before it sells out, as a special bonus for my loyal readers I've negotiated a special $50 discount when you enter "BK110" in the payment code field on the payment options page during registration - this will get you in for $1,150. Groups of five or more can get extra discounts.

New storytellers are added each week, but so far they include:
  • Don Tapscott, "Wikinomics"

  • Jeff Jarvis, "What Would Google Do?", buzzmachine.com

  • John Maeda, President, Rhode Island School of Design

  • Jonah Lehrer, "How We Decide"

  • Keith Wilmot, Global Director Insights, Ideas & Creativity, Coca Cola

If you'd like to explore and discuss innovation issues further, please join our Continuous Innovation group on LinkedIn.

Braden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Breaking Innovation Barriers by Looking Beyond

This is Finalist #2 of 3 in the Business Innovation Factory (BIF-5) Ticket Contest
  • Vote for this entry by leaving a comment or sending an @reply to @innovate on Twitter with "I vote for #2" in it.

If you are a scientist or an engineer, you know firsthand that innovation is neither inexpensive nor straightforward. It is a long convoluted process that starts with investing copious amounts of money into scientific and market research. Furthermore, the desired end result is not always guaranteed. Several projects, if proven less than commercially viable, are halted before they even reach the developmental stage. Others that make it through the new product life cycle take years to be completed.

The importance of innovation is apparent everywhere. Companies need to constantly be in innovation-mode to remain competitive and become more productive. Government and non-government organizations, too, need to embrace innovation to progress forward.

So when innovation doesn't come easy, what can a company do? What can large multinationals manufacturing hosts of products do to prevent being "out-innovated"?

Proctor and Gamble was in a serious situation. At the turn of the millennium, its R&D productivity had somewhat stabilized, yet costs were increasing beyond top-line growth. Inflationary effects were being seen in everything, from labor costs to prices of equipment and raw materials Their existing innovation model, where pretty much everything from conceptualization to development was done in-house in their global research facilities, was proving to be costly.

The P&G management made a bold but wise move. It broke through its "invent-it-ourselves" model and started looking for innovation beyond its walls. It started actively tapping into the open innovation marketplace for patentable research projects. By offering prizes for valuable research data, inventions and other milestones to innovation, P&G was suddenly attracting qualified scientists all over the world.

Open innovation sounds like a rosy concept, but there are several challenges in adopting that model. For one, building awareness and reaching out to the right crowd of industry leaders with total credibility cannot happen overnight. Even for a Fortune 500 company such as P&G, building a global network of professionals in itself requires time and resources. It took P&G years to identify and grow its network of technology entrepreneurs, suppliers and scientists. Not only that, P&G was also tapping into other R&D companies to license research studies which did not get carried to the developmental stage.

To make things easier, P&G approached a third party agent, InnoCentive. The poster child of open innovation and crowdsourcing, InnoCentive provides research and development driven companies with an avenue to leverage its global pool of talent. With over 150,000 members possessing a variety of backgrounds and expertise, InnoCentive was an incredibly powerful tool for P&G to find solutions.

InnoCentive gave P&G the ability to post challenges at any stage of the development lifecycle. Hence, it can engage outside solvers across four different stages of the product development process - ideation, design, product prototype and final product delivery.

Partnering InnoCentive enabled P&G to circulate its technology briefs around in its network and receive hundreds of proposals for each. After careful evaluation, if a solutions is found, P&G's business development team contacts the producer to begin negotiations for licensing, collaboration or other deals.

A number of successful innovations have resulted from the P&G's open innovation efforts. Here are some remarkable ones:
  • P&G wanted to boost sales of Pringles potato chips. Its executives came up with a unique idea - to print trivia questions right on the chips and lure consumers into buying them for more than just the taste. To do that, however, they needed ink which wasn't only edible, but that did not break or change the taste of the chips. They did not know if it was worth investing into R&D for this unproven idea. So P&G sought solutions through global networks of scientists, academia and researchers. Eventually, an Italian professor came forth. He already had the ink-jet technology to printing images on cookies and cakes with edible dyes. P&G engaged him and adapted his technology to Pringles potato chips at a much smaller price and time scale.

  • In 2006, there was another product upgrade P&G wanted to develop. It wanted to product a "smart" dishwashing detergent, one that effectively displays when the amount of soap dropped into to a sink full of dirty plates is optimal. As with the first challenge, the in-house research required for this project was colossal. Through InnoCentive, P&G found a solution. Another Italian came up with a whole new invention. Right from her home laboratory, she created a dye that would turn the dishwater blue when the right amount of soap is added. For this ingenious solution, P&G awarded her $30,000 in prize money.

  • Another successful product was invented when an open innovation technology entrepreneur recommended a special material to P&G. The material, a type of foam produced by a German chemical giant is used for soundproofing and insulation in factories. Seeing that it was being sold in Japan, the entrepreneur contacted P&G wondering if it could be of any other use. P&G, recognizing its potential, approached the German firm to license the material. What followed was incredible- P&G and the German firm co-developed a hit product, the Magic Eraser.

In 2000, only 15% of P&G's new products had elements that came from outside the company. Today, the figure has gone up to 35%. Academia, subject matter experts, government laboratories, and research institutes all over the world are working with P&G to create and license their product innovations. By reaching out to a global pool of talent, P&G has truly overcome several barriers to innovation.





A marketing professional turned entrepreneur, Vyoma avidly supports and practices open innovation. Earlier this year, she founded Colspark LLC (www.colspark.com), a crowdsourcing platform to help companies tap into student talent for ideas and solutions.

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