Friday, October 30, 2009

Innovation at iTunes University

I was exploring iTunes U and came across a University of Cambridge course on Innovation that I thought I'd share with you all. It consists of fourteen audio clips of lectures by global business leaders on interesting topics such as "Creativity in China," and "Evolution, Revolution - or Business Collapse". The lecture I particularly enjoyed was "Bottom up Innovation," in which the speaker discusses innovative ideas that came from villages in India.

You can find this course under the Business category in iTunes U - check it out if you're interested!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"The Business of Innovation" show on CNBC

There is a 3-part TV show airing on CNBC about the business of innovation.

Description from website: "Through detailed analysis and discussion with visionaries, problem solvers, provocateurs and people on the ground floor, the series will examine not only how technology will benefit our cities, healthcare and workplaces, but also the derivative plays of new technology that will infiltrate other systems."

Learn more and watch each episode online here: business of innovation

Upcoming TV air times :

Reshaping Cities
US: Monday, November 9th 9p | 1a ET

Redefining Healthcare
US: Monday, November 16th 9p | 1a ET

Rethinking Work
US: Monday, November 23rd 9p | 1a ET

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DELL's Re-positioning Effort

A recent issue of Business Week features an in-depth account of Dell's strenuous effort to re-position itself in the rapidly changing PC market through complete restructure, under the leadership of Michael Dell. Dell's strategic make-over is primarily a forced (and maybe also a much delayed) response to its plunging stock and shrinking market share. As illustrated in the graph below, Dell has retreated steadily in the past years while rivals Apple and HP enjoyed substantial growth.

The old Dell succeeded by undercutting rivals on price. Mastery of logistics and supply chain, together with minimal investment in R&D, allowed Dell to operate at a low cost. Investing less than 1% of its revenue in R&D, Dell used to rely on Microsoft and Intel for most innovations. But as computer technologies advance and consumer needs change, this same strategy that gave Dell its price advantage proves to be irrelevant in a changed market. Lack of innovation comes to hurt Dell’s business.

In this situation, Dell plans sweeping shifts along four lines: distribution, innovation, acquisitions and management. To read the full account of Dell’s shifts in process and personnel, please go to

Now I’ll just comment on moves where I see most innovation.

In search for “a heavy-hitter to go up against Apple and HP,” Dell invited Ed Boyd, an experienced designer at Nike to join the crew. Recognizing customers’ desire for more personalized products, Boyd introduced a feature called Design Studio, where customers pay an extra $85 to get certain designs on laptops. A large and ever growing selection of more than two hundred designs is available. Although personalized laptop decoration is nothing new, Dells makes a pioneer in PC manufacturers to provide this much discretion to customers. This can be seen as Dell’s first attempt to find its Blue Ocean—introducing value-adding features without heavy invests in the development of core technologies. Some may say that this Design Studio option doesn’t amount to a real Blue Ocean, since it appears to be easily copyable to other PC manufacturers. I’m not sure how copyable this actually is. Understandably, personalized product will incur more production and shipping cost and pose challenges to the company’s customer services (e.g. guarantee & return policy). It demands more from the management of supply chain and distribution network. Without actually knowing relevant costs, I expect the above-mentioned implications to give Dell some room to play with. If the Design Studio feature work well with Dell’s existing distribution network, it will give Dell advantage as a first-mover and merit the concept of Blue Ocean.

Another evidence of Dell’s re-positioning and rebranding effort. With increased investment in R&D, Dell is developing a new flashy product line, the Adamo Series. The Adamo XPS, world's thinnest notebook, at 0.39-inches thick will be launched pretty soon. Garriques, head of Dell’s consumer division, says the $2,000 computer will serve as a statement about Dell. "This isn't going to be a high-volume product for us, but it's going to be a product that says, 'Wow! Dell did that. What else does Dell have?' " How will it work? Let’s wait and see.

Germany's Internet Copyright Proposal

Germany’s publishing giants and news outlets are trying to change copyright laws in Germany to help protect traditional media from the internet. Chancellor Angela Merkel “has pledged to create a new kind of copyright to protect online journalism.” Really, German publishers are tired of seeing companies like google “exploit their content” without paying any royalties or anything for the information. The coalition government has said that “the Internet cannot be a copyright-free zone.” Critics say that this proposal is only happening “because German publishers have failed to build successful business models on the internet” and that the internet should stay as unregulated as possible. 

The core of the coalition’s proposal is to give publishers a “neighboring right” whereby a license would be required for any “commercial use” of published material online. Private use of news articles would not require a license. 

What it really comes down to is the same thing that 20th century business models in every industry are dealing with: adapting in the digital age and for a digital future. The “Internet Manifesto” that journalists wrote after German publishers proposed the new copyright, they said that “copyright must not be misused as a lever to protect outdated distribution methods and to secure new business and licensing models.” 

Is this copyright innovation a quick fix for Germany’s publishers, or is it necessary to protect news media in the age of the internet? Because of the EU, legislation in member states does not exist in a vacuum. How would a copyright change like this work out in the EU, or in the US?

From “Germany Looks at Ways to Protect Online Journalism” by Eric Pfanner, The New York Times. 

Google Enters Yet Another Market

Google announced today that they are going to offer a FREE navigation system for mobile phones. This was clearly the next step for Google considering they already have all the information for the navigation system. This new feature is part of the latest version of Google Maps for Mobile. Today Verizon and Motorola unveiled the Droid (Motorola Droid pictured), which is a smartphone powered by Android 2.0 the system by which Google Maps for Mobile will be operated.

Verizon and Motorola are undoubtedly partnering with Google as part of the ongoing battle with the iPhone. Verizon had previously offered a mobile navigation system, but it was $10 a month. I am interested to see how the iPhone will fight back. Will iPhone also partner with Google, the k-strategist in this situation, or will they remain with MapQuest whose directions are inferior to Google Maps (in my opinion)? There are a lot of features that Google Maps for Mobile will offer that is not being offered currently by the iPhone. These features include live updates on traffic conditions and voice command recognition.

There is also another huge point to be made with Google’s product innovation. Will it be disruptive to the TomToms of this world? There is no doubt in mind that it will be disruptive, but how soon will this disruption occur? It is going to take time for the new Droids to get in people’s hands and therefore I do not believe that the disruption will happen immediately. Because of a recent introduction by TomTom of an iPhone app that costs $100 I believe that the company understood that a disruption was underway. Though the $100 is better than the cost of their $300 device it is nothing compared to free. How is the GPS industry going to combat the “low-end” disruptive innovations being introduced (Anthony and Christensen)? Do you think that it is feasible for the GPS industry to create a competitor to the free mobile navigation devices popping up? I think it is impossible for the GPS makers to offer a free mobile application because they have to make money. What do you think they should do next? Is there anything they can do?

Tired of Gym? Meet Mat...

When I think of yoga the first thing that comes to mind is a group of hippies sitting around meditating. Not anymore! I came across Hot Yoga as an innovative alternative to the traditional workout regimen with a focus on inner tranquility and strength. The practice and stances belong to Bikram yoga, which was intended to correct western culture's propensity for physical and mental stress. Yoga has been around for centuries but you have to admit that Hot Yoga is a creative twist to the classic form of meditation. Not only will you find the 'hippy types' in a class but also people of all ages, sizes, and walks of life. The craze has even spread to professional athletes!

The room in which the yoga is conducted is kept in the range of 100-105 degrees with a humidity of about 60%. From the heat and humidity alone it is easy to distinguish the innovative delivery of the yoga stances. The heat also allows one to focus more on strength and flexibility within the stances and less on muscle strain. When I googled the practice I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the Bikram yoga stances are patented. There have even been some legal battles over copyright protection but that's not completely surprising considering all we know regarding patent infringement, trolls, and overall system abuse.

I challenge you to experience Hot Yoga first hand! If you'd rather pass, check out the link below and think of other ways Hot Yoga has become an innovative practice.

Namaste :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SkyMall (you know you need a Spy Pen)

Founded in 1990, SkyMall originally operated as a delivery service- maintaining warehouses near to or on selected airport properties for same-day delivery of its catalog products to customers. Frequent travelers may recognize it more readily in its current form, described by their website as “a multi-channel, direct marketer offering high-quality, innovative merchandise from top direct marketers and manufacturers through its SkyMall catalog and web site.” If you’re not familiar with SkyMall, get thee to their website and check it out. You might even find something you need (who doesn’t need a cat box disguised as a potted plant or a home neck-traction system?).

As far as innovation goes, the product lines they feature (most often from other companies’ catalogs) vary widely in how innovative they are- I’ll let you judge for yourselves. (CEO Christine Aguilera believes the products they feature are innovative, as you can see in this article when she says “What is recession resistant is innovation.”) SkyMall itself, however, serves as both an innovation and a market for fermentation to occur.

According to their website, their catalog, distributed primarily in the seat-backs of airplanes, “is seen by approximately 88% of all domestic air passengers reaching more than 650 million air travelers annually." That’s a lot of potential customers viewing your product, and each and every one of those people is strapped in for the duration. This potential customer base is the source of both their ability to be a so-called “Blue Ocean” innovation and a market in which fermentation can occur.

In order to best understand how SkyMall is a Blue Ocean innovation, we have to focus not on the products they offer, but rather on the catalog itself as a part of the direct marketing industry, with product developers as its customer (buying advertising space in the magazine). Traditional direct marketing products (catalogs, “junk mail” advertisements, etc), focus on the mail as their primary distribution method. By opening up delivery to the captive audience of air travelers, SkyMall has succeeded in creating what Kim and Mauborgne refer to as a “value innovation” for its customers, and therefore creating a new and specific market within the direct marketing industry.

Likewise, they may also be providing an opportunity for product testing and ferment. In the New York Times article linked above, it is mentioned that the product selection changes with each issue of the catalog (issued four times per year). Some items, those that sell the best, may remain from issue to issue. This allows companies to expose a broad range of customers to each product they develop and judge which one sells best. Additionally, you may see similar products made by different manufacturers listed in the same catalog, which allows them to compete against one another, creating an environment hospitable to the ferment process by which potentially disruptive innovations emerge.

Innovating Executive Pay

BMW has announced plans to link the pay of top managers to those of their assembly line workers. This innovative pay structure comes after much scrutiny over executive compensation during the current economic crisis. The compensation plan, starting in 2010 will use a common formula to link upper and lower level employees to the company’s performance. This means that management will have the potential to lose more than workers for poor performance. They believe that this will create a more transparent and sustainable organization.

This pay structure is an innovation in paradigm at BMW. There is a change in the organizational culture. Their old culture placed a greater emphasis on performance for the workers and now their culture will place performance emphasis on all employees. This shows they are concerned about creating sustainable personnel policies. Do you agree that this pay structure is innovative?

While I believe that this is a good idea, I also believe that it presents a lot of risks for BMW. One risk I foresee is that management will work towards the performance objectives that are measured and not the overarching strategic objectives of BMW. Do you think this a good idea? Are there any risks that you foresee?

Another risk I foresee is that it will discourage technical innovations in the firm. This compensation structure could cause both management and workers to focus on current production and financial numbers and not the future of BMW. However, I also think that it could encourage innovation by creating a more collaborative work environment. Do you think this initiative will affect technical innovations at BMW?

I believe that this type of pay structure, where pay is linked to performance, could be used in any organization. The difficulty lies in creating fair measures of performance. One industry that I believe this could be easily implemented is the banking industry where C.E.O. compensation has also been highly scrutinized. Can you think of other industries that this would work in? Do you think that other companies will follow BMW and create similar pay structures?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Paging Dr. Movie Selection...

... or whatever it was?

I was just thinking about your dilemma and wondered if you had decided on either a movie website or an art for kids innovation.

I was also wondering if you had though about combining the two ideas- maybe take your movie website idea and turn it into educational software that helps kids figure out what kind of art resonates with them? I think that's what got me into art originally- finding something I liked, learning more about it, and branching out from there. There are a million directions you could go with that...

Or maybe you already have something. I was just curious as to how that was going, and I'm sure I'm not the only one- let us know how you're doing.

Don't overuse technology just because you can

This article from uses four watches to show that just because innovators can use a new and trendy technology in their product, doesn’t necessarily mean that they should.  Three of the watches have touch screens, while one does not.  The author shows that the touch screen watches are no better than the one without a touch screen.  He draws attention to his own theory, the Long Nose of Innovation.  In this theory, he asserts that any technology which is likely to make an impact over the next 10 years is already at least 10 years old, and in the process of being perfected.  Thus, simply incorporating what you think is a new innovation (like a touch screen) into your product is really not innovative at all.

This led me to also consider the Blackberry Storm, which seemed to represent a scramble for Research In Motion to keep up with the iPhone.  However, Blackberry Storms have received terrible reviews, and loyal Blackberry customers have tended to stick with more traditional models with a screen and full keyboard.  

This article also led me to consider Malcolm Gladwell’s article, Smaller.  While it was incredible innovative for diaper companies to come up with ways to make their diapers more compact, this was not a trend that other industries needed to follow.  For example, throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, mobile telephones were becoming smaller and thinner as time went on.  One was not able to tell if we would one day be using cell phones like that in Zoolander.  However, more recently a shift has occurred and people want their smart phones to have bigger screens and interfaces.  Cell phone manufacturers who continued to make their products smaller - just because they could - likely missed out on this opportunity to appeal to a new audience.

Thus, this article and several examples from historical trends show that copying another innovation’s technology is not a sure way to gain equal success.  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Welcome to the University of iTunes!

In the article we read and discussed last week, “How You Can Benefit by Predicting Change,” authors Anthony and Christensen state that it is crucial for leaders to be able to identify early signs of industry change, so that they can “have the best chance of creating new growth by bringing disruptive innovations into a marketplace.” Apple’s iTunes University, and other open courseware technologies, in my opinion, can be considered a hugely disruptive development in the academic world. I have always been intrigued by the idea of disruptive innovations in education, and how schools and universities can leverage new technologies as instructional tools, as well as marketing vehicles.

So far, hundreds of universities have recorded lectures and seminars to be available to their students and the general public via downloads through iTunes University. This has proved to be immensely successful as a supplementary instructional tool in the traditional learning environment – HEC’S MBA program even provides each student an IPOD Touch so they have access to recorded lectures and even use it for class activities. In addition, iTunes U has been used by many universities as a distance learning tool, delivering course content to students whose schedule or location prohibits them from attending class on-campus. Of course, iTunes U has also made university curriculum and content available to those who may not have access to it otherwise, enabling anyone to “attend a class” at prestigious universities such as Yale and HEC Paris without having to pay thousands of dollars in tuition. As Anthony and Christensen stated, exploring ways to “meet the needs of overshot customers, undershot customers and non-consuming customers” is one of the most important ways organizations can predict change and leverage disruptive developments, such as web-based learning, to their advantage. For many universities, the primary incentive for participation has been marketing and advertising – sharing a sample of their curriculum in order to spark public’s interest in their academic programs and increase enrollment.

This, of course, brings me to another article we read for last week’s class, “Open Courses: Free, but Oh, So Costly” which criticizes universities’ use of open courseware sites merely for marketing purposes (versus offering credit), and discusses the challenge of universities to find a profitable business model for offering open courses. While I am certainly not a higher ed. expert, I believe having some sort of mechanism for distance learning has become crucial in universities today. University of Phoenix was a blue ocean strategist initially when it started offering online degrees, but now it seems that the majority of universities recognize the value of distance learning technologies in reaching a wider audience and adapting to the needs of a changing market. I think there is great potential in using tools such as iTunes University as part of a distance learning strategy and leveraging this “disruptive innovation” of open courseware sites to benefit both learners and universities. What do you think a profitable business model for this would look like?

Are new Black barbies too much or not enough?

Mattel just recently introduced a new line of Black Barbies. While, this new endeavor may not seem so novel, it’s definitely a new spin on something that has been around for awhile, and thus qualifies as innovation. The new line of Barbies have features like fuller lips and curlier hair that aims to better represent African-American women. Although, these are significant improvements when compared to the first Black Barbie, Christie, that was launched in 1969, there are still critics. Some say that the Barbies features are “unrealistic,” that the long, straight hair could be replaced by braids or an afro. Others , like a person who comments below the article, contend that “Barbie has always been white, and to change her race and keep her name, for the sake of profit or any other reason, is just sick”. Clearly there are very different viewpoints including those that applaud the new line.

This criticism of the new Barbie shows how innovation can be difficult for people to accept because it involves changing their current way of understanding the world. For some it may be easier to picture Barbie as White, while for others Barbie isn’t Black enough. At what point does innovation survive on it’s merits? Do we have an innate need for incrementalism? Clearly, some people want Barbie to have an Afro, but will this innovate too much? Is there such a thing? Does innovation have to be a complete transformation? Or can Barbie keep her long, straight hair and still be innovative? I, personally think this particular innovation is strong because it makes a small change that makes a big difference . I think Mattel should “envision the future” a little bit more and use it’s past offerings to inform how they can improve them and create more diversity on the store shelves. Doesn’t a Latina Barbie seem like the appropriate next step?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"The New Untouchables" in the workforce

The link above leads to a great article from yesterday's New York Times about what it's going to take to stay competitive in the American labor market after the current recession. The writer calls for an upgrade in the public school system, but also maintains that in order to remain employable in the future, people must be creative, innovative, and strategic. Ultimately, the workers who go to work each day waiting for work to be given to them will be in constant danger of being victims of any cut-back. Timely advice for a class learning how to constantly stay innovative in any career we each choose.

The More the Merrier for Innovation?

I recently read an entry in the NY Times’ Economix blog by Casey Mulligan, University of Chicago economics professor, regarding the relationship between population and innovation. His article refutes a Unicef study that promotes the benefits of family planning and population control for environmental health (via reduced carbon emissions and resultant climate change). Mulligan counters that population growth increases the chance for innovative minds to come up with alternative energy solutions or to mitigate effects of carbon emissions.

In our dicussions regarding the right conditions for innovation, I haven’t thought about how the number of people on this planet affects innovation. At first, Mulligan’s position seemed easily defensible. Even if brilliant innovators will still be born regardless of population control, he says, their incentives to innovate would diminish. Incentives are important for innovation, he says, as evidenced by our patent system that protects (in theory) the innovator’s financial rewards. Indeed, we had an in-depth lecture on the complex US patent system and the incentive to innovate related to property rights (Gilbert 2006). In addition, Mulligan continues, market size stimulates innovation: pharmaceutical research is more intense for widespread conditions. We have supported the concept (e.g., our discussions about orphan drugs). Plus, it just makes common sense that the more people there are, the more chance there will be that innovative ideas will come to fruition. Right?

I think the network perspective article we read would support that –weak ties are a strong tool for innovation (Conway and Steward 2009) and the larger and more diverse the universe of connections, the more weak ties there will be among networks.

However, Anthony and Christensen might say that fringe markets (overshot and undershot customers) are most ripe for innovation. I’m not personally advocating population control, but looking into the relationship between markets and innovation from this population angle was interesting. If the universe of the markets shrinks, wouldn’t that change the dynamics of the “battle for existing customers in existing markets” (Anthony & Christensen 2005) so that more markets become fringe markets? I think a smaller market universe might force smarter, more specialized, more disruptive innovations.

Specific to this article, is population control a viable solution to environmental problems, or does population growth increases the chance of innovative environmental solutions?

More generally, would a smaller population make spotting trends in Anthony and Christensen’s methodology easier and therefore inspire more disruption? Would it reduce the size of the blue ocean competition and spark more red ocean ideas?

Liquid Lens: The “Silver Glasses” $1 Solution in Repairing Third World Eyesight

Affordable Price + Optician-free Spectacle Design = Innovative solution to increasing Third World eyesight

As many of us prepare for Thanksgiving, it may be worthwhile to spend some time appreciating those innovators striving to improve the world. Professor Josh Silver aims to do just that with his innovative Harry Potter-esque “Silver Glasses,” which are designed to improve the vision of those without access to an optometrist. Although people in wealthy countries have little trouble accessing an optometrist or purchasing a pair of glasses, it’s not so easy in less developed countries. According to Silver, there is a significant lack of optometrists in Africa - about 1 to every 8 million people. In England, on the other hand, optometrists are much more plentiful- about 1 to every 10,000 people. To solve this problem, Dr. Silver, a former professor of physics at Oxford University, discovered a new way to alter the curvature of lenses while studying mirrors in his lab. Silver then applied this method to create a new form of water-filled corrective lens that easily adjust and correct over 90% of users’ vision. This is particularly useful for people in developing countries, where optometrists are costly and unavailable.

Given that half the human population has impaired vision, Silver’s product innovation satisfies a pressing need and offers numerous benefits. First, the glasses can be easily mass-produced. Rather than manufacturing a variety of unique lenses – each tailored to users’ specific needs - Silver can easily mass-produce millions of the glasses. Although this one-size-fits-all design may not succeed in highly developed countries like the U.S., Silver’s goal is to help the millions of people in impoverished countries who suffer from poor vision. Secondly, the “Silver Glasses” are very cheap and affordable (around $1) for consumers in developing countries. Thirdly, international literacy rates will significantly improve following distribution of the glasses. Given that good eyesight is required for good observation, the glasses can also promote innovation and scientific discovery in developing countries.

So far, about 30,000 “Silver Glasses” have been distributed to people throughout 15 impoverished countries. However, Professor Silver’s end-goal is far more ambitious. Ultimately, Silver hopes to distribute the glasses to over one billion people by 2020 by distributing 100 millions pairs annually.

Despite Silver’s humble claim that his invention was merely a “glimpse of the obvious,” I think his innovation is groundbreaking. Given that the glasses are entering a new, untapped market – the cheap, nonprescription glasses market- Silver’s product innovation is a blue ocean strategy. Venturing into this unknown market, the “Silver Glasses” are creating demand rather than fighting for it. Moreover, Conway and Steward argued that organizations must actively involve and leverage their “networks” to achieve sustainable innovative value. Revolutionary innovations, such as Sony’s Betamax, typically require widespread support from key organizations to achieve success and sustainability. Similarly, I think Professor Silver must utilize support from his network’s key “players” (Non-Profits, the UN, national & local governments, companies, etc.) to establish a distribution infrastructure and deliver innovative value. Without such network support, the “Silver Glasses” innovation may fail to deliver large-scale value to the international community.

How can Professor Silver use “organizational networks” to deliver his innovation on a large-scale, global level?

What are the disruptive implications, if any, of the “Silver Glasses”?

For more information:

Innovation in an Inhospitable Environment

So, I am in Maui this week (don’t worry, I’m keeping up with my schoolwork). I have been hanging out on the beach and seeing the sights, and along the way noticed that although the Hawaiian Islands are (obviously) incredibly beautiful, they are also in some ways not very hospitable to human inhabitants. There are beautiful beaches, and in some places fields of sugar cane as far as the eye can see. But because Maui is a volcanic island, there are also some places that look like the surface of the moon. And there are hazards caused by those volcanic cliffs that go beyond just volcanic eruptions; specifically, falling rocks from erosion and earthquakes. To combat this problem, Maui County has put up chain link mesh along certain cliff faces to contain falling rock. This chain link is comprised of an outer layer of regular chain link, like you would see on a fence, and an inner layer of interlocked steel circles, maybe a foot each in diameter, that help contain volcanic rocks when they crumble and fall. It does not look like it could hold an entire cliff together, but judging by the pile at the bottom of the fenced in area, it does seem to prevent rocks from falling into the road.

These fences brought to mind our reading at the beginning of the course about the engine incubators, and the video about GrameenPhone (which Pierre also referenced in his post this week). In this case, Maui County has come up with an innovation to deal with life in an inhospitable physical environment (and variations on this system are used around the world). GrameenPhone and the engine incubators were inhospitable economic and resource-limited environments respectively, but the motivation is the same- taking something you have and using it in a new way to solve a problem.

I can only find one photo of these fences on the internet, and haven’t been able to take any of it myself (most of these fences are along windy, two-lane, cliff-lined roads with nowhere to stop), but you can see above what they look like from afar.

Aloha everyone- see you next week!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Science vs. Technology as the innovation trailblazer

I found this New York times article interesting. It's a review of the book, "The Nature of Technology: What it is and How it Evolves".

In the book, author W. Brian Arthur evaluates the relationship between science and technology as part of an effort to more comprehensively define innovation. He explains that it is a symbiotic relationship where technology takes lead, saying, " is more fundamental than either one." He argues that technology gives rise to science and the economy, and innovation arises as a preconceived solution to a social problem.

All this made me think about our class on law, policy, and the government's use of Universities to pursue the "science” behind technological innovations.

I wonder how Arthur's understanding of the innovation would affect the government’s policy toward subsidizing innovation.

I believe it would generate a greater focus on NGOs and small business that solve social problem (like Grameenphone). These organizations would be encouraged to solve social issues while creating innovations for the use and benefit of other organizations in society. Perhaps we would also see Universities more actively carrying out their service missions as well.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flight and Airport Innovations

This article appeared on today. We've talked a lot about innovations involving baggage checking, parking problems, and other in-flight issues. Just thought this was interesting and relevant.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creative Giving- The Bill Gates of Switzerland

Stephen Schmidheiny is a social philanthropist and launched Avina Foundation fifteen years ago. Every year he puts 30 million dollars to help entrepreneurs in both Central and South Aerica in an effort to reduce the poor population. Also, what he cares about is corporate environmental responsibility. The approach The Avina Foundation utilizes is to encourage the poor to become entrepreneurs rather than to provide them welfare, including aiding latin America’s waste pickers in Brazil to raise their earning and training the poor to run business in rural areas.
This article makes me associate with the idea of Zipcar. Reducing emission of carbon dioxide is the vision of Robbin Chase, the founder of Zipcar, so she combined carsharing with technology to come up with very cool concept, Zipcar. Schmidheiny has the same vision as Chase. They all want to tackle the social problems- environmental problems and create very special approach. I like the way Schmidheiny used to move toward his vision, because it is very positive and meaningful. His creative approach- not hand poor people welfare but train them to obtain knowledge they don’t have- is beneficial to not only environmental protection but also the personal development of the poor. Teaching people how to enhance their income through being an entrepreneur is much more important than giving them grants. Only grants instead of instruction are passive and impossible to deal with the real problem. People still do not know how to make more money to improve their life. As a philanthropist, Schmidheiny definitely proposed the effective policies to assist poor people away from poverty and dedicate to the reduction of pollution.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Innovation by the DOT?

It has always intrigued me to consider the ways in which locations are connected by an unbroken series of roads. Since 1994, the Federal Department of Transportation has made a commitment to innovation related to roads. This innovation does not have to do with the materials, design, or construction processes of engineering public roads, but with their financing.

The Department has traditionally funded the construction of highways by offering grants of up to 80% of project costs. These days, the nation's demand for new road construction is too great for the traditional grant program and as a result, the Department has turned to "innovative financing" - new and creative ways to finance the production of public roads. Two examples of these innovations are Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles, also known as GARVEE bonds, "whereby future Federal funds provide the revenue stream needed to pay debt service and other bond-related costs for debt-financed projects" and “Credit Assistance Strategies,” through which the government aids in providing credit enhancements to improve the financial feasibility of such projects.

The Department's approach to project finance by means of debt instruments is by no means new. Obviously the Department of Transportation was not the first organization to make use of credit enhancements or to take on debt in order to lever a project off the ground. The DOT's approach is nonetheless innovative on the grounds that it has taken existing infrastructure and applied it in a new way to provide financing solutions.

Some would say that it was creative financing that got our economy into trouble. Particularly blamed are credit default swaps, which created a giant web of liability among our nation’s investment banks. Do you think innovative finance has a place in our economy anymore? What effect do you think increased regulation would have on such innovation? Do intellectual property rights play any role in this discussion?

Re-thinking higher education institutions

Globalization has arrived and revisionism about what we do, how we do it and why we do it too. The higher education sector is not the exception. The need of renewing its business model is mandatory (Francis and Bessant, 2005).

I found an interesting calling to review liberal arts education by Liz Coleman (Jun '09), the Bennington College President. She describes how the expert model is privileged over the educated generalist in American higher education institutions. Furthermore, her critique is directed toward educators: "when the impulse is to change the world, the academy is more likely to engender a learned helplessness than to create a sense of empowerment".

It is interesting Coleman’s remark about the connections between politics and leading educational institutions. Also I found a worthy comment about how the last ones may foster access to personal wealth but they may not play in their responsibility for installing democracy. Is not the role of higher education to educate citizens?

Following the same reflection, Bobby Allyn’s article “Among privileged students, I’m an outsider”(Oct '09) condenses her reflection as a senior, first-generation college student, coming from a low economic status. It also makes me think about challenges that higher education institutions must assume and keep on postponing, if not denying. Maybe it is the time of real disruptive innovations (Anthony and Christensen, 2005) that redefine the required value for customers, that is, the students and citizens, nowadays.

Megacrete: The Building Material of the Future

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and Pliny Fisk III lives by this adage. Fisk is an architect in Texas and his mission “is to develop environmentally-sustainable building materials and to fundamentally change the way we build our communities”. He has recently launched a “prototype test of his latest invention -- an environmentally friendly cement and building structure” called Megacrete.

Megacrete is made “of magnesium oxide and phosphate from brine, which is a by-product of petroleum and water treatment facilities”. He is taking what would be considered waste and making into a renewable resource. Fisk hopes that ‘the cement will hold together building modules that are essentially self-contained structures created from local and regional building materials.”

Fisk is trying to reduce carbon footprints and by trying to do so, he is being innovative in process. He is taking something that was considered to be waste and turning it into low-cost building materials. For now, the prototype has just launched, but if successful there could be many positive impacts. Megacrete is low-cost so it could be used in a variety of different building opportunities. Fisk envisions it be used with local and regional building materials.

Fisk is innovative in that he is expanding upon what is already available (petroleum and water treatment facilities waste) and making those by-products and processes more valuable by turning them into an eco-friendly form of concrete. If Megacrete is successful in its prototype test, there are endless possibilities for it. If successful, it has the chance to change the building process. The paradigm would shift towards being much more eco-friendly and would do without harming the environment and at a lower cost. And since its easy to manufacture, it can be adopted in cities where there are petroleum and water treatment facilities.

At a time when people are very concerned about going green and reducing carbon footprints, this seems like it has the potential to be a huge success.