The power of innovation – recycling cycling

Sometimes you read something and you go ‘wow’. This week I was reading about how a designer called Izhar Gafni has designed a rather cool looking bicycle made largely from recycled cardboard and aimed to be produced for under $10!

As someone that has recently got into the cycling boom in the UK and having spent well over £1000 on a lovely carbon fibre bike I’m intrigued about the potential of a bike that weighs about the same and yet could cost much, much less.

Clearly the bike isn’t designed to win the Tour de France but it has the potential to be truly great because it addresses a number of key innovation success criteria:

  • An inspiring and exciting story that will be rapidly shared - ‘surely you can’t cycle on a cardboard bike’. Clearly both the intrigue and fantastic design create a really exciting story that has the potential to generate huge amounts of media coverage and of course offers the sort of ‘talkability’ that many brands aspire.
  • Unique position in a large growing market – I’m assuming that there are not too many folk as creative and determined enough as Izhar to have been spending the last two years in their sheds creating the perfect cardboard bicycle. I trust he has also been smart enough to protect the IP then he could enjoy a unique position in a large market for some considerable time.
  • Keeping the offer simple – Not only is the bike design beautifully simple but the idea itself especially the low-maintenance aspects of the bike are fantastically simple. It’s easy to know what this offers and of course how a sales person can sell it.
  • Opens up big new customer market opportunities – not only could this address the obviously large market potential in developed and developing markets for ‘low-cost’ bicycles but the additional angle of ‘easy maintenance’ hits another massive consumer need for convenience. Not only that but the more environmentally conscious audience opens up yet a third key customer target group.

Not only am I hugely impressed by the innovation in the product itself and the massive potential market opportunity but mainly I’m struck by the sheer focus and determination of this great innovator to prove that the impossible can be possible.

Whether this cardboard bike would really survive the often wet and pot-holed roads of the UK or even ever be produced at such aggressively low costs still remains to be seen but this is the kind of simple but challenging innovation that gets me really excited.

Good luck to them.

Have Nokia found the winning touch?

Nokia’s problems have been very well documented with many writers believing their cause to be terminal. Certainly their strategy to put all their eggs in the Windows basket is somewhat brave to say the least. However, there are signs this past week that suggests there could maybe be life in them yet.

Operating systems aside – and it is a big bet that Windows Phone 8 can be successful without a larger list of quality apps and games – it does seem that Nokia have been really thinking about creating a simple and enjoyable consumer experience that can differentiate them from the masses of Android manufacturers.

I believe this focus on consumer experience can provide real competitive advantage in a sea of similar smartphones – and I think Nokia might just have found the right touch.

Firstly, it looks like they will be among the first with a good consumer use of NFC technology – with a simple touch their new Lumia smartphone can automatically pair and start playing music on their new wireless speakers made in partnership with JBL. Sony have also announced a similar solution with their new NFC enabled speakers but it looks like Nokia will be quicker to market and could maybe give this greater focus in their marketing.

With Apple seemingly going to change the accessory speaker market for good with their new connector this gives great opportunity for players like Nokia to accelerate the growth in wireless speakers by making their usage so simple.

Secondly, and maybe more significantly, It appears that Nokia are going to use the simplicity of touch to charge their latest smartphones. Of course this isn’t the first time this proposition has been offered with Palm Pre back in 2009 but that was a paid-for accessory whereas it appears Nokia will offer free.

Not only this but it seems that Nokia have applied a touch of colour and fun to their designs which really stand out.

I believe there is a big chunk of the market looking for the next big cool factor. Maybe the simple combination of ‘touch to play’ and ‘touch to charge’ could be enough to encourage a sizeable base of people away from another Android phone – and who knows how excited the Apple fan base will be with a slightly longer slimmer iPhone.

With a focus on bringing new technology to life in a simple, fun and colourful way I believe there really is life left in Nokia yet. How much we will have to find out.

The winners of the 5th screen will be …..

….. probably not the advertisers as discussed on this piece on ‘5th screens’ on Fast Company. I maybe wrong or simply short-sighted but I think the commercialisation of these screens just needs to be different.

The 5th screen’s role in life is simple – to tell you something useful and in a way that is easier and more beneficial than just getting your smartphone out of your pocket. It has to be designed to be useful in even more fleeting glances than the ever increasing times we spend engrossed with our smartphones.

So the winners in the 5th screen device market will have learnt from the 3rd screen (smartphone) and 4th screen (tablet) and be those that get the user experience right so that consumers actually want to view and in this case actually wear their screen.

As someone lucky enough to have used the Sony SmartWatch for the last couple of months I can tell you how important it is to get the design and navigation right. This is pretty cool but you really don’t want to be spending time fumbling around with your watch and looking a geek. This needs both a good resolution display and of course simple software UI.

This is what I think will define the winners and the good news is that that it doesn’t have to be Apple. I say this because:

  1. The smartphone user base is now much bigger than just iPhones given the massive rise in Android
  2. Hopefully enough players have hooked onto simple & smart UI design and can develop as quickly as Apple would need to for this new type of device

As an entrepreneurial lover of technology and gadgets I think it’s great that the Allerta Pebble smartwatch has raised so much funding to hopefully secure a successful launch. It does appear to have taken further steps in the right direction but the areas that I think need to be delivered by whomever wins in this area are:

  •  provide us something compelling that will genuinely get us to value this over a normal watch - This could be as simple as easily changing/personalising the clock/calendar but obviously has scope for other applications such as messaging, location, etc.
  • simple content presentation without too much scrolling around - you really don’t want to be pressing too many buttons or dragging content around the screen otherwise you will simply get your smartphone out!
  • battery life has to be good and easily charged - I love the built-in USB charger on the Nike Sportswatch that just plugs into computer, charges and updates apps
  • do not do what is inferred by the FastCompany post and clutter my watch experience with adverts - my watch is arguably more personal than even my phone and is definitely going to be smaller so a completely new thinking of commercialisation needs to be considered.
Sure, I recognise that monetisation of the business model can happen and potentially subsidise the cost of these sexy 5th screens in the same way as my post on monetising smartphones but let’s start by creating rich services that consumers would be willing to pay for rather than simply seeing it as another screen to serve adverts.
In my opinion this should be more ‘experience value driven’ by offering things such as a golfing GPS app or running/exercise app than by seeing it as another screen to monetise with adverts. Of course there are many other great opportunities for brands to get involved and build value into the experiences like this and use this to drive their business.
But do this in the smart way of adding value to the consumer on their new 5th screen rather than trying to find the right way to shoe-horn your advert onto the screen!

The mobile innovation conundrum

Well this may not exactly come as news to many of you but this week really reinforces the conundrum facing mobile operators – and therefore all of us – in the quest for new service innovations to support their future business.

In the week that we have seen Facebook’s staggering $1bn acquisition of a non-revenue generating business we have also seen the recent results showing that revenues at the UK’s leading mobile operators have declined by 2.3% in 2011 as their customers are simply using their latest smartphones & data packages to communicate and entertain themselves in many other ways than the high margin voice business.

Clearly the mobile operators are not starting from scratch and some such as O2 have had a business innovation unit going for some time looking at creating new services in areas such as health, mobile payments and monetisation of mobile search and web.

However, this week clearly demonstrates the need for them to accelerate their innovation even faster and I just hope that they focus the resources and take the appropriate risks to make this happen.

Don’t forget if the operators don’t get this right and help find new profitable revenue streams they will be forced to continue ongoing cost-reduction measures.

And the worst income in this would be a continued reduction in their subsidy of the shiny smartphones and tablets we are all using to drive the innovation in the first place.

Of course another scenario is that the over-the-top services such as Apple, Amazon & Google continue to drive the innovation themselves. However, even though Amazon are reportedly subsidising the Kindle Fire to a tune of $50 per unit that’s an awful lot of incremental margin they need to make and even then it’s a much smaller subsidy than the mobile operators have typically been able to support on new devices.

So let’s hope that between them they can get this right –  especially how the operators can better partner with the OTT service providers as they plan the build of their new 4G networks – so we can continue to enjoy the shiny new smartphones and tablets driving this fantastic innovation.

 

Simplexity rules …..

Or at least my definition ‘creating something simple out of a complex situation’ is I believe key to leadership and success in today’s business environment.

Of course, we can all see many examples of where businesses have been successful and stand out from the crowd by taking something that is actually very complex and marketing it in a way that is both more simple and therefore more exciting than the competition. Classic cases that many of us have enjoyed are:

  • iPod/iEverything – just the simplicity of the original ‘click wheel’ to navigate 1000’s of music tracks was a jaw-dropping experience followed up by many others
  • Google – the empty screen with a single search box has provided most of us with the simplest and yet the best way to explore the internet
  • PayPal – provided the simplest (and most secure) way for us all to spend our money on eBay driving rapid growth in eCommerce for items as low as £1

However, simplexity as I see it doesn’t just apply in the provision of a simple customer experience (although I believe this is key to competitive advantage and rapid viral customer advocacy and adoption). We all seem to face more complexity than ever before; rapid change in new technologies and services, faster new market entrants & competition, globalisation, new methods of payment & business models, fragmented media platforms, etc.

So thinking and implementing ‘simplexity’ needs to be at the heart of the mindset of today’s leader such as:

  • a simple vision of ‘what good needs to look like’ for the team to aim towards – define this with life examples so everyone can picture what you’re aiming towards
  • a clarity of prioritisation – rather than the ‘things to do’ of over 50 items make sure you are focused on the few things that are going to make the biggest difference
  • communication that never leaves the potential to be misunderstood or misinterpreted – simple and straightforward is required and ‘less is more’ is often a good aim!

  • why is a customer going to love this and advocate it to their friends/colleagues? – I really like to understand the ‘pub test’ as to how a customer will want to show off what we are doing for them
  • how can our communications stand out in the market? – we all know that simple messages are those that cut-through most but more often that not we don’t do it and get carried away with the details
  • how is this going to make money? – explore the broader market environment and focus on how you can best drive profits both directly and with partners

Of course all of this sounds simple – which it really should be – but it’s surprising how many times I (and many other businesses I have seen) have lost sight of the need for simplicity as they have got themselves stuck in the wonderful details of the technology, the lack of focus or the complexity of the market.

I believe that if you can manage simplexity both as a leader and in what/how you go to market you will put more smiles on more peoples faces – which has got to be a good thing for being successful!

Dave