Monday, November 30, 2009

Looking for a place to rent in NYC?

Where will you start making your research? Probably most of us will feel inclined to get the local newspaper or, if affordable, go to the Real States broker that can help us to make up our mind about our ideal home.

I was fascinated to read that New York City renters will be more informed about their options and rights in Playing House: Two Cool Tools for New York Renters (Nov 2009), thanks to the Center of Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and many partner organizations who worked together to make this information easy to understand. CUP has used its expertise about “making educational projects about places and how they change” to explain NY neighbors about what affordable housing implies. It is an interesting way to match a need with an innovative way to reach the population with digital and material/tactile tools. The idea of developing these tools for conventional and digital learners implies to be aware about different ways to reach the target population, in a wide spectrum: NY citizens! If such a big city has found ways to interact with their local inhabitants, is it not possible to assume this challenge from the non-profit and the public sector?

The Envisioning Development Toolkits includes a map (the Flash Map and/or the Felt Chart) as well as a guide that provides the orientation about their use. Additionally, as part of this novel idea, a Tenant’s Rights Guide has been developed as a friendly boxed set of 30 flash cards. In all the cases, the digital formats are free and the other ones imply a lower cost. There is no option to postpone civic participation with IT possibilities and, especially, to make it a user friendly experience.

Does the clients’ opinion matter?

During our course, we have talked continuously about the innovation process. One of the main motivators is related to the identification of a need that has not been (completely) fulfilled. So what happens when a client decides that he will not only point out what he needs to a company but also he decides to be proactive and provides an improvement to that organization’s offer? Will that initiative be appreciated by the organization rather than disregarded? Is the phrase “the client is always right” not important when we talk about innovations?

I found an interesting article called Why American Airlines doesn’t fly online, and what they should do about it (November 2009). Dustin Curtis felt tired of trying to deal with the booking a flight. In his condition of a user interface designer, he wrote to AA to offer an alternative user friendly website. After that, he received an anonymous mail from a member of their design team making reference to “the culture and processes employed”. Then, branding seems no longer paying attention to clients’ voices, especially in a big corporation. As this anonymous person expressed, “ is a huge corporate undertaking with a lot of tentacles that reach into a lot of interests. It’s not small, by any means”. Then size matters... it can take to inertia (Customer's Site Redesign Exposes the Sad Truth about Corporate Inertia, November 2009). It is time to innovate not only in customer service but the whole customer experience, as Curtis expressed in his article (The response, May 2009). Will, then, corporations start developing meaningful innovations for their clients?

Monday, November 23, 2009

School Lunch Revolution: The Rise of the Healthy School Lunch

Similar to Professor Silver’s Liquid Lens, Chef Ann Cooper’s innovative cafeteria system aims to improve the world on a smaller but equally valuable scale. Chef Cooper, who transformed Berkeley School District’s cafeteria lunches, is calling for a complete national transformation of the standard school cafeteria system. She hopes to transform school lunches across America from highly processed food that could potentially make children ill to fresh, locally-grown healthy food. Partnering with Whole Foods, Cooper recently launched the “Lunch Box,” a program that provides schools, cooks, and parents with information and resources on how to make their cafeteria lunches healthier. Launching with the Berkeley, Harlem and Boulder School Districts, the program’s offerings include healthy cafeteria menus, recipes, nutritional guidelines, and financial and educational tools.

Given the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity, diabetes and other childhood health problems, the need for providing healthier lunches at school is certainly pressing. For the first time in U.S. history, children born since 2000 face a shorter life expectancy that the previous generation. Cooper proposes revising the Child Nutrition Act by increasing the funding that goes directly toward healthy foods. Surprisingly, many public school cafeterias do not even own essential cooking equipment, such as stoves and knives. To solve this problem, Cooper suggests increased funding to build and properly equip a “central district kitchen,” that can service all the schools in the school district. On the food front, the program calls for a local community approach, where local farmers and food producers are the chief food providers. This will engage communities in the common goal of healthier children, reduce food-shipping costs, and build more sustainable local businesses. Given increasing childhood obesity rates, it seems imperative to redesign our cafeteria systems and provide children with healthier lunches.

Since kids’ school habits tend to become part of home and family life, I think Cooper’s healthier & locally-grown school menus could revolutionize our youngest generation’s eating habits. Indeed, the Lunch Box program is a both a product and process innovation. It aims to provide better products – healthier lunches – and a more effective, and beneficial process – a healthier food preparation process. Greater nutritional awareness alone, however, cannot cure the increasingly poor eating habits of today’s youth; I think bottom-up community & parental activism must play an active role in actually getting Cooper’s system implemented across the country. Only time will tell as to whether Cooper’s innovative cafeteria system actually gains support and funding in school systems across the America.

Do you think Cooper’s “Lunch Box” program is truly an innovation? Why or why not?

For more information, check out:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A creative way to deal with global warming

Patrick O. Brown is a biochemist at Stanford University and proposed a solution- elimination of animal farming on planet Earth- in order to combat global warming, because compared to cars, trucks and planes in the world, livestock, such as cows, pigs and chickens, have bigger greenhouse impact. His desire is to change the way the world farms and eats. From his point of view, diets are changeable. He said there was no high fructose corn syrup 30 years ago, but now most American consumes it. Therefore, his project will focus on two different things. One is to work with famous chefs and food researchers on tasty vegetarian dishes, since delicious vegetable-based food is essential to make a change in diets of the public from meat to vegetable. The other is to design economic models to explain ways that animal farming is likely to become extremely expensive.

I agree with his ideas. It is true that feeding livestock is detrimental to current environmental situation. In an effort to offer meats to eat and survive, we need to plant crops to feed both animals and ourselves, which requires more lands. Plus, his notion of making yummy vegetarian food to tackle the issue of global warming is very creative. Indeed, the key point of going to which restaurant or eating which dish depends on how tasty the food is. On the other hand, changing diet is not an easy. If your family and friends are not vegetarians, you are the only vegetarian person. It is easy to give it up, because you do not want them to give up their favorite dishes with meats or restaurants where only serve meats. Changing takes time not overnight. I am curious about how long it would take or maybe it is possible to fail because people can not remove their habit that quickly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Culture of Innovation at Disney

Last week’s discussion about building a culture of innovation brought to my mind an organization that I believe does this exceptionally well: the Walt Disney Company. Having worked at Disney World through the College Program internship, I know that ingraining a strong organizational culture that its employees can connect with is one of the top priorities at Disney. Innovation and creativity are at the cornerstone of that organizational culture – in fact, it is number one in the list of ‘shared values’ that Disney lists as defining its culture:

Innovation, Quality, Community, Storytelling, Optimism and Decency.” Disney has developed a four-phase model for fostering a culture of innovation amongst its employees (called “cast members”) across all levels:

1. Define the culture: Disney does a great job of building a strong organizational culture specifically through their orientation and training programs.

2. Align the ideas: To ensure all new ideas are aligned with the company’s mission and identity, and make good business sense, Disney stresses the importance of the 3 “W’s: Who you are - understanding your core competencies. What you do - delivering your product. Where you're going - knowing your goals and strategies.

3. Design a process: in which an idea moves easily through the organization from conception to implementation, conserving the resources of time, money, and employee passion. This is done by being consistent in how ideas are evaluated, creating consolidated checkpoints and having defined deliverables.

4. Refine the product or service: This refers, obviously, to a continuous process of trial and error. According to Disney, an important part of their innovation process is encouraging cast-members at all levels to think of ways to continuously improve processes, and especially valuing ideas generated by front-line employees who are closest to the customers.

What resonated with me most about Disney’s culture of innovation was something we have mentioned several times in class this semester, and that is the willingness to constantly make, and learn from, mistakes. As we discussed last week, to build a culture of innovation, the commitment to innovation must start from the top – and it certainly does at Disney, in my opinion. Walt Disney himself always encouraged experimentation and taking risks, while learning from mistakes. When asked about the key to Disney’s success, Walt once said, "To some people, I am a kind of Merlin who takes a lot of crazy chances but rarely makes mistakes. I've made some bad ones. But fortunately, the successes have come along fast enough to cover up the mistakes. When you go to bat as many times as I do, you're bound to get a good average."

Paypal and attempts to spur innovation

Paypal president Scott Thompson says the financial sector is and has been highly resistant to innovation.

In order to take advantage of an increasingly cashless society, Paypal (in a very K-Strategist fashion) is taking the apple route, and opening it's platform up for use and development. By crowd sourcing, Thompson hopes to tap the diverse resources brought about by convergence of websites and internet services thanks to Web 2.0.

While this approach is not particularly innovative, I believe it's an insightful move that will lead to innovations of a disruptive nature.

I think this is the case because Paypal can potentially compete in a number of markets. Just to name a few: it is a safe way to purchase online goods, can act as a no frills (and thus no fees) bank account, and can even be used to transfer money via social networking websites (Twitpay). These services can provide value in and of themselves, but imagine the linking of your own personal account across all these functions.

Paypal is such a multi-purpose/multi-form tool that Crowd-sourcing can provide the value of multiple uses (even if they are minority uses) without the cost of retaining a software development team.

Ultimately the power lies in the application of Paypal's concept, and the possibilities are as great as the crowd that gets sourced.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Facing Disaster, Trustmark Launched a Renaissance


This article caught my eye for two reasons.  First, it mentions that the focus of the story, Trustmark, was looking to Apple and American Girl (two organizations we have discussed), for its future plans.  Second, the article discusses ways to encourage a culture of innovation, something else we have discussed extensively in this course.


Trustmark is a health and life insurer and benefits administrator that was facing a difficult situation in 2006.  They had been working to their finances in order for years, but had consequently paid little attention to the outside market. David McDonough, the CEO, knew that they needed to innovate to stay afloat in a changing marketplace.  He hired an innovation consultancy firm, Play, and together they worked to create a culture of innovation.  They took employees of Trustmark on a tour of CompUSA, Apple, and American Girl stores, and a museum.  This exercise opened employees’ eyes to the fact that they could be more like Apple.


The company had faced barriers to innovation because of their weak financial situation, and the conservative culture among their employees.  Insurance companies are not generally as innovative and liberal as, say, designers.  It is in situations like Trustmark’s that organizations see stalled growth, and often the cure for this is outside knowledge and perspective, which Play offers.


Although this story takes place in 2006, it is applicable to many organizations today.  Right now, there is definitely a market for innovation consultancy firms.  So many companies are trying only to stay afloat and cut costs in today’s economic climate.  They are missing out on opportunities to use the changing marketplace to their advantage.  Those who take innovation seriously, like innovation consultancy firms, can help businesses see outside their current situation to what could happen in the future.