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There Really Is Nothing that Cannot Be Innovated

Credit: Damjan Stanković

Credit: John Chuckman

In a recent post, Four Quadrants of Innovation, I described one type of innovation as leveraging existing technologies, serving existing customers. In popular culture, this type of innovation is..well, frankly it’s boring. No cool new advances, no new stuff you haven’t tried before.

But what is compelling about this type of innovation is how well it fits Clayton Christensen’s focus on understanding the “job” your product has been hired to do. Companies need to stay on top of their products, and changes in customer behaviors. Sometimes that’s sexy new technology advances. Mostly, it’s not. Rather, it’s good ol’ roll-up-the-sleeves and innovate to meet changing customer needs and expectations.

SlideShare CEO Rashmi Sinha wrote a great post recently where she asked Is it time to reimagine your product / service? She makes the point that many web services reflect their vintage year. They fail to evolve as the market does, ultimately falling further behind the curve of customer expectations.

Rashmi Sinha’s post very much reminds me of Clayton’s Christensen’s point of view. Your customers have:

  • Requirements you have not yet discovered at any given point in time
  • Changing requirements over time that you need to decide whether to meet

On top of that, there’s something deeper in the Sinha’s post. There are times you need to push need innovations, even if your customers aren’t yet asking for them. Let your customers catch up to you.

These points don’t just apply to web services. They apply to all manner of products and services. Everything can be innovated. One key is to understand that sometimes innovation comes in service delivery or business models, not just product features.

Even things you wouldn’t expect to be innovated, can indeed be innovated.

In line with this, I came across a great post by Jake Kuramoto of Oracle AppsLab. In Unexpected Innovation, Jake notes two recent innovations he has seen with…

traffic lights. Of all things.

Yes, Traffic Lights Can Be Innovated

The first innovation is actually not all that surprising, and really is the application of existing technology. New lights use energy efficient LED bulbs. They have some issues to be worked out in terms of their ability to melt accumulated snow. But they make a lot of sense.

The second innovation is one that really speaks to a deeper understanding of what’s going with traffic lights. See the pictures at the top of this post? Designer Damjan Stanković came up with a concept where a timer is added to stoplights. Stanković posits these benefits of such a timer:

  • Less pollution. Drivers can turn their engines off and cut carbon emissions while waiting for the green light.
  • Less fuel consumption. Turning off your vehicle while waiting on the traffic light can lower fuel consumption in the long run.
  • Less stress. Since you know exactly how long you have to wait you can sit back and clear your head for a while.
  • Safer driving. With the Eko light both drivers and pedestrians can be fully aware of how much time they have left before the light changes and that way reduce the chance for potential traffic accidents.

That last bullet is the benefit that intrigues me most, in terms of the job I want a stoplight to do: safer driving. Here in San Francisco, we have walk signals at intersections that include countdowns. When the WALK signals appears, you can see how many seconds are left to cross the street.

Both Jake Kuramoto use these walk signal countdowns in a different way. When you are driving, you can see the countdowns. If you’re, say 50 meters out, this gives you something of an advantage in how you approach the intersection. When there are only a few seconds left, you know the light will be yellow well before you get to the intersection. With kids in the car, I slow down to be ready to stop for what will be a late yellow light by the time I reach the intersection.

Now if someone had asked me, I wouldn’t have come up with a requirement for traffic lights to have timers. But because someone put those countdowns on the walk signals, I’ve found myself using them in my driving when they are available. And Stanković’s design makes me realize that, “hey, I want those timers on traffic lights.”

Which goes to show you. Everything can be innovated upon. Even the most…uh…pedestrian of products and services.

Finally, I love this quote from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in a Newsweek interview:

There’s a tendency, I think, for executives to think that the right course of action is to stick to the knitting—stick with what you’re good at. That may be a generally good rule, but the problem is the world changes out from under you if you’re not constantly adding to your skill set.

Markets are always shifting. Don’t think that anything is immune from innovation.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 082109

From the home office at the World Track Championships in Berlin…

#1: Spigit Innovation Summit Wrapup http://bit.ly/4zIqo1 by @innovate “It’s important to have connectors on your #innovation team”

#2: Jeff Bezos on corp #innovation: For innovative ideas to bear fruit, companies need to be willing to “wait for 5-7 years” http://bit.ly/tP9vj

#3: Like this by @paulsloane – Given unlimited resources to solve something, we’d dev something expensive & over engineered http://bit.ly/Qa3tY

#4: Zopa isn’t disruptive argues @bankervision http://bit.ly/ZYela His key points: same customers, same credit scoring, same pricing as banks

#5: Gary Hamel last week: “We have a state of creative apartheid, where some are *really* creative, some aren’t. That’s BS.” #spigit09

#6: Bookmark this: 14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail http://bit.ly/3piYNF by @dhinchcliffe #e20

#7: Bookmark this: How To Kick Start A Community – an Ongoing List http://bit.ly/641dA by @jowyang

#8: Mashable: “14% of surveyed employers disregard candidates who use friendly smiley faces in social media” http://bit.ly/1ajvd8

#9: RT @skap5 Is IMHO a necessary descriptor? Unless of course the rest of your opinions are not humble.

#10: My son starts kindergarten in a couple weeks. Then I see this: “Tutoring tots? Some kids prep for kindergarten” http://bit.ly/3htw0 No…

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 013009

From the home office in Tampa Bay, FL…

#1: PETA ad that uses sex to sell vegetables (yeah, you read that right) is rejected for Superbowl. See for yourself: http://bit.ly/1xVgO5

#2: NYT piece on Twitter & David Pogue’s request for help w/ hiccups: http://bit.ly/1oI72B BTW – SUGAR. Teaspoon of sugar makes ’em go away.

#3: I’m already part of the Jeff Bezos fan club, nice post here about how he pursues root cause analysis: http://bit.ly/aJtH

#4: Guys at The Content Economy post: Three good presentations on Enterprise 2.0 http://bit.ly/3slVoL Honored to be there w/ @jowyang & AIIM

#5: Enterprise 2.0’s job is to increase the frequency with which those who need find those who know. Among many jobs.

#6: RT @ghornet About to present a business plan – must focus on not using e2.0 buzzwords… afraid someone will yell BINGO!

#7: One thing with emails…you have to re-earn the right to arrive in the in-box every time you send them. Unlike RSS feeds.

#8: Chrysler removed its “Thank You America” post (for the bailout). Became a rallying point for public venting. Background: http://bit.ly/bp0z

#9: Odd to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies, realizing he’s our governor. Bad guys were easier to handle than Sacramento lawmakers.

#10: And so it is settled…after 14 games of the card game War with my 4 y.o. son Harrison, I am victorious, 8 to 6.

Investment as Signal: Bezos Funding Twitter Is a Green Light

Twitter announced today that it picked up more funding, which I first heard through Marshall Kirkpatrick’s tweet. He has a nice post up on ReadWriteWeb.

Investments provide three benefits:

  1. Cash
  2. Signal the broader market about the company’s prospects
  3. The investor provides advice, ideas and introductions

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is one of the investors. His investment hits all three benefits listed above.

Let’s look at what Bezos has done while at Amazon.com:

  • Established the preeminent brand for online retail
  • Built a platform for small merchants to sell on
  • Integrated user ratings as a key element of the sales process
  • Pioneered affiliate marketing
  • Developed Amazon’s highly successful recommendation engine (35% of sales)
  • Created a vibrant cloud services offering
  • Gambled on Kindle, which is showing some promise despite skepticism

Clearly, the guy has a good eye for things that can be successful.

Now he’s put his own money into Twitter.

What are the two biggest things Twitter needs?

  1. Reliable, scalable architecture
  2. Monetization strategy

Amazon.com processes how many transactions per hour? I imagine the number is huge. Amazon Web Services are all about scalability, with the need to process millions of transactions reliably. If you can’t scalability master Google or its executives to invest in you, I’d say having the founder of Amazon.com qualifies as the next best choice.

Monetization is the other question for Twitter. Amazon has had success in its affiliate marketing (relevance drives the clicks, distributed advertising program), its recommendations (35% of sales, driven by relevance) and in its fee-based Amazon Web Services. Ads, incremental revenue, web services fees. You think in that mix there is a solid revenue model for Twitter? I’d bet on it.

I really like this investment by Bezos in Twitter. Good for Twitter, and I hope it portends success for them in the months ahead.

*****

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