Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Overindulging in Innovation

Note: This was originally posted to Aquent’s Talent Blog back in March of 2007. I’m reprinting it here because I referenced it here. Also, I refer to Scott’s book as “The MYTH of Innovation,” though the actual title reads “MythS,” which is actually saying something quite different! – Matt

At a recent marketing conference, the catchphrase was “innovation,” as in, “We’ve entered the age of the ‘innovation economy,'” or, “Today, innovation is the key to differentiation.” Given the premium placed on innovation, a colleague who attended this conference wondered aloud how job seekers could best communicate their ability to innovate.

As a way of answering that question, I’ll direct you to a recent post on innovation hype I found on Scott Berkun’s blog. Berkun has book on the myth of innovation coming out in May, so you’ll have to wait until then to get the whole story, but he states his basic perspective fairly clearly in the aforementioned post: No matter how ubiquitous the invocation of innovation, actual innovations are fairly rare, and, as far as success in business is concerned, rarely necessary.

From the job seeker’s standpoint, if the job you are applying for requires that you demonstrate your ability to innovate, the only real way to do that is to point to innovations you have actually brought into being. Keeping Berkun’s words in mind, however, be prepared to exercise caution and refrain from portraying drastic improvements or significant changes as something they are not, namely, innovations.

Of course you could also follow Berkun’s advice and, when a prospective employer says, “Tell me about a situation where you introduced a real innovation,” simply ask, “What do you mean by that?”

Arthur the Talking Trash Can

Yesterday I was to meet with a fellow, Charles Hamad, so naturally I Googled him.

Among the treasures that Google served up was this article from 1974 describing Hamad’s work as a graduate student on a talking trash can named “Arthur.”

Here’s a clip from a spot the BBC did about this novel application of behavioral psychology to the problem of environmental pollution:

Enabling a trash can to talk in an effort to curb litter reminded me of the more recent work of BJ Fogg in the area of persuasive technology.

More importantly, it reminded me also that technology can be used for good, and not (just) evil.

The Litl Difference

3785715256_680edc0b5c_mLitl launched the litl (though Wired seems to think it’s called “the Webbook”– clarification guys?) yesterday and they invited folks to check it out at the local Starbucks (here’s some photographic proof that I was in attendance).

Given my years of ingrained computer-user habits, I did not find litl’s card-metaphor desktop, novel controllers (buttons, rollers, etc.), and unique capabilities (bend-over-backwards easel mode) intuitively usable, though the friendly litl people happily walked me through it and one beta-tester told me that, while she had the same experience at first, after a while she found herself missing some of the litl features when she was back in her “native” computer environment.

Similarly, the head of one beta-tester family (he, his wife, and his three children all test-drove the litl) told me he found that the younger the user, the quicker the adoption of litl. As he put it, his middle child had enough computer experience to complain about missing or “different” features, while his youngest took to it like a duck to water.

Of course, the main point of the litl is this difference. It looks like a laptop, but it’s different; it sounds like it’s a netbook, but it’s different; it acts like a traditional computer, but it’s different. This emphasis on difference is both litl’s strength – it is really a new kind of thing – but also its greatest vulnerability.

I told the litl folk that what they are attempting is bold and, for that reason, fraught with entrepreneurial peril, in part because the device doesn’t ask people to do one thing differently, it asks them to do a lot of things differently (store all your data in the cloud, rely on web-based apps instead of software, think in terms of “cards” rather than pages or docs or whatever). And no matter how much we celebrate diversity or shout “Vive la différence,” getting people to do things differently is frickin’ hard.

Innovation by definition means doing things in a new way, but there is a limit to how much “new” people can handle, particularly when they don’t see the clear advantage or the critical difference.

I believe that this “difference limit,” and not just the $700 price tag, is the most daunting hurdle facing the litl team. Getting around it will probably involve partnerships with companies that have the reach and sway to influence technology buying behaviors, or an aggressive “seeding” program that gets litl webbooks into the hands of the 7-and-under crowd (kind of like Apple did by getting Macs into the hands of college-age kids making the leap from typewriter to word processor back in the 1980s).

Of course, knowing the people involved as I do, I’m sure they’ll come up with something completely different.

Image Courtesy of lucky_lucas.

“Think Clearly and Run Many Trials” Dr. BJ Fogg’s MarketingProfs Digital Mixer Keynote

Photo 553Gonna make this quick.

1. Placing hot triggers in the path of users is the key to changing behavior.

2. Humans are fairly predictable so you can use a systematic approach to thinking about persuasion and behavioral change.

2a. Effective persuasion involves: Motivation – Ability – Trigger.

2b. You increase ability by simplifying, not by training.

3. Everything big started small. If you want to innovate, start with something small/light weight. If it works, build on it. If it doesn’t, try something else.

3a. Everything that started big, complicated, and feature-rich, has failed.

4. The winning rituals of today become the platforms of tomorrow.

4a. You can attach your behaviors to somebody else’s rituals.

What did I miss?