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.

A Better Education For Inmates

Wesleyan University, a selective, private liberal arts college in Connecticut, has expanded its academic programs to a local prison and is offering courses to inmates. While earning a degree from Wesleyan University while in prison is unobtainable, instructors of the courses insist that the same rigorous standards held in the classrooms on campus are held in the prison.

Here is my argument for this as a disruptive innovation. Wesleyan Professors are teaching the same courses to both inmates and traditional students at its main campus. From the article, instructors state that standards are identical and that "an A in prison is the same as an A on campus and that the inmates will be entitled to use the university’s career services upon release." However, traditional students at Wesleyan University pay approximately $51,000 for the course (tuition, room, and board) while the inmate's education is supported by public and private prison education funding. Wesleyan is taking a risk in its position as a reputable university. With college budgets shrinking, its interesting to see a university add such a program when the return on investment of educating criminals (many who will likely not re-enter society until many years down the road) is very low.

Wesleyan University maintains a good reputation as an institute of higher education through rigorous admission standards. For inmates, these standards mostly apply. What does the value of a degree from Wesleyan University hold when a once convicted criminal, released from prison, is out in society applying for jobs with "Wesleyan University" atop their resume? If an inmate, having taken classes in prison, was released and applied to the main campus of Wesleyan University in order to complete their degree, should they be given the same opportunity for admission that a honor-role high school gradate applicant would? As a parent of a student, or student yourself, would you want convicted criminals of serious crimes on campus everyday?

Please don't misunderstand me and think that I am against education in our prison systems. I am a huge advocate for rehabilitating the incarcerated. But I do see this as a move within education that could undermine a major concern for colleges and universities: prestige. This is an innovative position to take for a prestigious university when the role of educating inmates typically rests with community colleges and separate prison education initiatives.

So You Think You Can Innovate?

Bring your innovative ideas to the chapter planning meeting for the
Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)!

Tuesday, November 17th


Commons Towers 107

Refreshments will be provided
(aka free pizza!)

****The attendee who brings the most people to the meeting will win a Starbucks giftcard!****

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A bridge is not a bridge…


In my approach to bridges, the only purpose of them has been associated with taking me to the opposite point from where I start. Well, it seems that bridges can be more than the merely connection of two points as you can see in Copenhagen, Denmark by artist Olafur Eliasson. He is considered for some people as a demi-god of art for his fabulous projects such as the Weather Project in London's Tate Modem, the New York City Waterfalls and other places, and, this time, he has decided to create something different that will “slows them [people] down, and creates a meandering public space”, that is projected to be ready on 2012. You can see the difference:

I kept in mind the discussion of our last two classes, especially for the key questions that Malone (2009) introduces about collective intelligence: who and why, what and how. I felt curious about Eliasson's work and I was fascinated to find out that he has a studio in Berlin, which can be conceived as a laboratory for spacial research. He is not alone in this enterprise: there are 30 people in his team (engineers, architects, craftsmen and assistants) “who conceptualize, test, engineer and construct” large projects. But also, it is interesting to know why Eliasson has given this orientation to his work. He talks about “it makes a difference whether you have a body that feels a part of a space rather than having a body which is just in front of a picture”. Furthermore, he says that “having an experience is taking part in the world. Taking part in the world is really about sharing responsibility”. I expect I can follow his work, it has opened a new dimension for me.

The Apple Tablet and Steve Job's Legacy

The Apple Tablet is a potential saving grace for print media. What is it you ask? Well it’s so new and top secret that even Apple is not discussing the Apple Tablet. According to Wired, “the tablet remains a technological unicorn -- a mythical beast whose beauty, elegance and singularity we can only imagine”.

What need does the Apple Tablet fulfill for print media? According to the article, “Many have defined the problem -- people are abandoning old media for new in droves -- but nobody has come remotely close to figuring out the formula to monetize this audience in a way that ensures the range and level of news and periodical content and offers the rich experience advertisers will pay a premium to be part of”. Jobs has a flair for innovation, and as he considers his legacy with Apple, “saving journalism would be the Holy Grail”.

In order for the Tablet to succeed, “The device will have to make readers forget -- really forget -- the printed page. E-readers, for all that they do, don't do this yet”. E-readers such as Kindle have much invested in them and Apple is studying the trends of this and hoping to adapt it to fit the Tablet.

Part of the innovation of the Apple Tablet is that “the unveiling of an Apple Tablet will have to be accompanied by a fundamental policy change. Apple will have to let publishers roll the dice on pricing and cede control of the customer relationship it has jealously guarded”.

While it seems like a tall order to Apple to succeed in this innovative venture, “Jobs' resume is one long treatise on paradigmatic yet somehow pragmatic innovation.” He brought new life to animation when he joined Pixar. While at Apple, Jobs “Apple fixed their business with an iTunes/iPod ecosystem and a one-price-fits-all policy that made sure not all music was going to be provided by pirates”, thus changing the way music was shared over the internet. Another example of Job’s innovative streak is with the iPhone. Apple was able to bust through a “mobile phone market controlled by a tiny band of hide-bound telcos and handset makers”.

As one ponders Job’s legacy was he truly a great innovator, or was he at the right place, right time with the right people to succeed in these ventures? Did he capitalize on the failures of other innovations and just improve them?

Is the Apple Tablet something that will be successful and change the future of print media? Is it truly innovative or just improving upon things such as the Kindle?

Since not much is known about the Apple Tablet, other than it has enormous potential to change an entire industry, I think it is a truly innovative device that will succeed and build off the successes off things such as the Kindle. Steve Jobs will add to his legacy as a great innovator.

A Litl voice in a loud world

In his TED speech in February of 2003, Seth Godin spoke in the wisdom of selling to early adapters. His argument was that in a world in which we are flooded with advertising, that it makes sense to target those precious few who may actually be listening to what you’re saying. For most innovative new products the logic seems sound, but it seems like there is at least one situation in which this may not be true. That is when the innovation is actually a simplification or refinement of current technology to make it appeal to the masses. How would Henry Ford have launched a car for the common man in today’s noisy market? I think the Litl may be a good modern example. The Litl is a small home computer that is not a laptop, desktop or netbook. The idea is that most home computer users only access web content, to surf the web or watch videos. To better meet this need the Litl has no hard drive, a super simple operating system, and is designed to be able to blend into a home’s ascetic. It also has an HDMI output for attaching to a TV and playing hi-def videos. The main selling points are ease of use, the non-computer ascetic, and a lack of excess features. This is the exact opposite of what early adapters would typically want, which is the whole idea. How then, do they get heard and noticed? I really don’t have an answer to this. I think I would love the Litl,, but for two reasons. One is the $700 dollar price tag, another is that you can only buy it online. I can’t see it and play with it before I buy it, although they are offering a money back guarantee to add incentive. The founder has completely self funded this project because he wants the company to be able to tolerate more risk than investors would tolerate. I think this is well advised. I think Godin’s theory is incomplete. Certain companies earn a voice even in a crowded market. If Apple launched this product, I think we would all have heard of it, and I might have one. As it stands now, I doubt I’ll ever own a Litl.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Innovation in Employee Compensation - Efficient but Unfortunate

Our country is fairly quietly experiencing a major transition in the ways that professionals are compensated. The shift at hand causes services to be measured in more discreet increments than ever. The new ways that professionals are paid can be seen in medicine, law, and banking. Furthermore, the reforms in each undoubtedly will cause major change in the nature of each industry.

Putting aside the healthcare reform discussion for a moment, doctors currently are paid on a procedure-by-procedure basis, a system which some argue creates a strong economic incentive to over-prescribe procedures. One suggested answer so far has been to compensate physicians on an "episode-by-episode" basis, which would mean paying, for example, for a few months of cancer treatment at a time. The idea is to provide less incentive to over-prescribe, while staying away from simply paying one price for all healthcare.

Similarly to paying for "episodes of care," many law firms are switching to flat-fee arrangements. This fee-for-service approach means rather than paying attorneys by the billable hour, companies will pay a single price for services rendered. An example of fee-for-service would be paying one price for bundled tax service rather than paying by the hour. The shift will likely hit corporate attorneys first, and will almost always result in reduced earnings. Some companies have reported anticipating 15-20% reductions in legal expenses.

Investment Banking has taken national spotlight lately, especially with regards to employee compensation. In the wake of our economic collapse, G-20 (The Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors) has put forth new compensation guidelines. According to a Wall Street Journal article about the ways one company has adjusted to satisfy G-20, "the guidelines focus on shifting bankers' pay away from annual cash bonuses toward a compensation model based on deferred stock and the potential for firms to claw pay should performance suffer" (Wilson). Again, the emphasis is on being paid for no more than the necessary services - in the case of investment banking, only paying for services that create profit.

New, industry-wide pay systems are clearly innovative because they represent new ways of solving an old problem - namely, how to properly pay for services rendered. Each industry's approach to this problem has its own origin: purely from governmental regulation in the case of investment banking, from perceived societal needs in the case of medical care, or from general market forces as seems to be the case in the legal industry. Whatever the cause, though, each industry has an expressed need for new ideas about employee compensation. I think these innovations in employee compensation strive to increase efficiency throughout the economy. However, as an individual interested in two of the three professions mentioned above, I am not very enthusiastic about these changes.

Goldstein, Jacob. "Beyond Fee-for-Service: Paying Doctors for ‘Episodes of Care’." Web log post. WSJ Health Blog. Wall Street Journal, 30 Jan. 2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2009. .

Koppel, Nathan, and Ashby Jones. "'Billable Hour' Under Attack." Web log post. WSJ Law Blog. Wall Street Journal, 24 Aug. 2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2009.

Wilson, Harry. "Commerz Revamps Pay System." Wall Street Journal 11 Nov. 2009: C2. Print.

Volunteering and Tourism…Voluntourism!

Are you familiar with the idea of voluntourism? For me, I encountered this strangely coined word for the first time in a recent article in the Time Magazine--Silver-Spoon Voluntourism: Luxury hotels offer day trips to help vacationers connect with communities. Voluntourism, also known as Volunteer Vacations, means doing voluntary work while you tour. Only after Googling did I realize that voluntourism is nothing new. In fact, it was recognized by the Travel Industry Association of America as a growing trend in tourism back in 2005. According to the latest poll by travel web site Travelocity, the percentage of travelers planning to volunteer during vacations in 2007 nearly doubled from the previous year, jumping from 6 percent to 11 ( Following traditional travel agencies and some NGOs, luxury hotels now jump in line and start to offer voluntourism trips to wealthy clients. Designed to connect tourists with the communities they visit, many short-term voluntourism projects involve hard labor. For instance, the Mandarin Oriental in Miami offers a two-night package in which guests spend a morning removing invasive plants and assisting with recycling programs in Everglades National Park. But unlike programs such as Habitat for Humanity that pair weeklong projects with unglamorous accommodations, “hotel-organized excursions generally take up no more than a day, and participants can cap off the experience back at the ranch with $15 cocktails and a night on high-thread-count sheets.”And do guests get discounts for being do-gooders? They don't. In some cases, hotels charge participants an extra $40 or more to cover transportation and other costs associated with their manual labor.

Having trips with a heavy focus on voluntary services sounds interesting. But is it innovative at all? Do you think it innovative for luxury hotels to offer voluntourism excursions? Presumably, participants in luxury hotel-organized trips are rich people who care about local communities.Thus so-called silver-spoon voluntourism claims another goal, which is to link local charities to potential donors. Unsure of how well this social function can be served,I see offering voluntourism trips as a clever move for luxurious hotels to address emerging consumer needs-just like adding another hotel amenity. In this regard, it is a well-received innovation, or even a Blue Ocean strategy--it creates a less competitive market for voluntourism where ordinary travel agencies can't easily enter because of its high-end nature.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Twitter’s Workout Plan?

For all those seeking weight loss, Twitter could be the answer! A company named Withing has developed a WiFi scale that will not only monitor your weight, BMI and body mass, but will also share your information on Twitter..Incorporating fitness into social networking from the standpoint of motivation, could be a new key to weight loss. It's definitely an innovative addition to traditional social networking. Many people are drawn to social networking sites everyday to “check up on their friends”, but with this new technology your friends can see your weight loss or gain. Although, it sounds like the Wifi Scale will share too much of your personal information, think of how much personal information one is willing to post on Facebook, MySpace or other similar sites. In actuality, the Twitter function is not a default setting, but rather, it has to be enabled upon purchasing the scale. In this way, users can determine whether or not they want this information to be shared. If sharing is desired users can configure their scale to send their stats to "the Twitter" either daily, weekly, monthly, or each and every time they weigh in. Nike has benefitted from fitness products that report one’s personal metrics. However, will “tweeting” your weight be enough to do for dieters what Nike has done for runners?

For the bargain price of $159.00, this scale could be a revolutionary tool in the world of personal fitness and health. By making one’s weight a trackable item, it opens the door for more motivation as well as personal accountability because it will be more public. I think it would be cool to have friends across the nation working out and tweeting the results. I would personally love to try this product! Would you want your weight to be “tweeted” by your scale? Does it sound like it could be a successful venture? Or is weight the one thing that people might not disclose on the a social networking site?