The Hub Cool News

Kenji Ekuan

kikkoman"Making an object means imbuing it with its own spirit," said the late Kenji Ekuan, as quoted by Jonathan Soble in a New York Times obituary (2/10/15). Kenji’s most famous object is "the instantly recognizable soy sauce bottle — red-capped and elegantly teardrop-shaped." He designed it for Kikkoman "while still in his 20s. It took him three years and 100 prototypes to come up with a final design for his dispenser, which combined a gracefully curving form with an innovative, dripless spout. More than 300 million of the bottles have been sold." (image)

Another of his famous designs was the Komachi bullet train. Kenji’s own spirit emanated from "the devastation of World War II." He grew up in Hiroshima. "Faced with that nothingness, I felt a great nostalgia for human culture," he said in a 2012 New York Times interview. "I needed something to touch, to look at … Right then I decided to be a maker of things." In a 2002 interview, he said: "The path of Buddha is the path to salvation for all living things, but I realized that, for me, salvation lay in objects … Objects have their own world."

Kenji’s influences were also Western, however. For example, he liked to read Blondie comics and once described the Jeep-driving American GIs in postwar Japan, in their crisp trousers as a "moving exhibition." While he "often worked with advanced technology," Kenji "disliked futurism for its own sake." As he told an online design magazine: "When we think of the evolution of design, we might imagine a world where robots are everywhere, but that’s not it … The ultimate design is little different from the natural world." Kenji Ekuan was 85.

Something New

spencer-hapoineuCustomer data can replace brand building with efficient targeting. A Hub White Paper by Spencer L. Hapoienu of Insight Out Of Chaos. Newspaper and magazine circulation has declined by so much that if the shrinkage were applied to the physical paper it would be the size of a matchbook cover. Without all those eyeballs viewing the glorious print ads and visually compelling 30-second spots, it’s gotten much harder to maintain brand share and command premium pricing. In short, brand building is on the decline.

Keep in mind that for most of the last 100 years, brand building is what moved the market, drove business, and created one of the great consumer-driven economies. Consumer packaged-good companies, retailers, advertising agencies, and the media had a beautiful ecosystem that helped create the growth economy that relied on consumer spending for two-thirds of its size. Back in the day, it was said that General Foods makes coffee but Ogilvy makes Maxwell House. (Would David Ogilvy be tweeting now?) Read The White Paper.

Maximalist Shoes

hoka-one-oneWhile minimalist running shoes are losing favor, maximalist shoes are gaining fans, reports Lindsay Crouse in The New York Times (2/17/15). Minimalist shoes are premised on the idea "that the human body was naturally built for running without corrective footwear." Sales of such shoes, which feature minimal padding "peaked at $400 million in 2012." Maximalist shoes, by comparison, feature "chunky, heavily cushioned soles," and some long-distance runners say they protect — even remedy — maladies such as plantar fasciitis."

"My legs felt really fresh after a long run in them," says Leo Manzano, an Olympic medalist. "It’s like running on a cloud." Leo says his maximalist shoes of choice — Hoka One One — cured his plantar fasciitis in a week’s time. Hoka One One "sold more than 550,000 pairs" in 2014. The shoes "cost $130 to $170 each, and its $48 million in sales were up 350 percent from 2013." However, Lauren Fleshman, a championship runner, says she’ll remain a maximalism skeptic until "we know about how it affects the body long term."

Jonathan Beverly of Runners World meanwhile suggests that minimalist and maximalist shoes may have a lot in common: "The benefit of the big sole is actually similar to what the minimal movement did; with both types of shoes you have to keep your body and your center of gravity above your feet … So you’re running with the same posture you would if you were barefoot, but with all this cushioning." In any case, Jay Dicharry, author of Anatomy of Runners, thinks that any type of extreme shoe — minimalist or maximalist — should be used in moderation.

Disrupt Yourself

larry-deutschBetter that you disrupt yourself than let others disrupt you. A Hub white paper by Larry Deutsch of Blue Chip Marketing. In Chicago there’s a restaurant called The Southern. It’s exactly what it sounds like — fried chicken, ribs, grits, and all of the other great comfort foods, along with craft cocktails and micro-brews. One of their signature drinks is a bacon-infused Manhattan and if you’re feeling adventuresome you could try the alligator sausage.

The Southern takes the age-old barbecue restaurant experience — a lot of napkins and good ribs — and gives it a high-end, local, sustainable, artisanal spin. Whether this qualifies as innovative might be debatable, but The Southern certainly has brought something fresh and different to what we’ve long known and loved as the barbecue restaurant. The Southern is also showing a disruptive streak by sending a food truck out onto the streets of Chicago. It’s an interesting twist. Read The Rest of The White Paper.

Unplugged

achates-engineThe future of electric cars may be more unevenly distributed than we think, reports Steve Levine in The Wall Street Journal (2/1/15). That’s largely because of "the internal combustion chamber — the workhorse of the industrial age — is proving to be much more than a stubborn technological incumbent." It is "challenging ostensibly more advanced electric vehicles," and the US Energy Information Administration predicts that in 2040, "cars with gas- and diesel-powered engines will still represent some 95% of the international car market."

One explanation is that "US government standards require cars to average 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025, up from 25.1 mpg last year." As of 2014, "16.5 million light vehicles were sold in the US" and "the top three were combustion pickups. Just 119,710 pure electrics and plug-in vehicles were sold, 0.7% of the total." This doesn’t include fourth-quarter sales of the Tesla S, but most "observers don’t expect these proportions to shift much over the next two decades." Meanwhile, new "diesel-fuel technology" is in the works.

Among them is the Achates, which "features opposed pistons, which face each other in a single cylinder rather than sitting side-by-side." Its developer "says that it gets 30% better mileage per gallon than current diesel engines — and double the mileage of gasoline engines." Because such engines burn less gas, worldwide consumption could drop from 90 to about 70 million barrels a day, driving down fuel costs. Given the relatively high price tags of electrics, it seems unlikely that combustion-powered cars will "feel real market pressure anytime soon."

Navigate Jacket

navigate-jacketAn Australian designer has created a jacket that helps people navigate, reports Jim Dwyer in The New York Times (2/4/15). The Navigate Jacket, as Billie Whitehouse calls it, "provides haptic feedback — basically, an electronic device in the garment that gives a light tap on one shoulder or the other to steer a person, not unlike a phone vibrating to announce a call." Billie got the idea after watching New Yorkers "step blindly off sidewalks" with their eyes glued to the navigation apps on their cellphones.

The Navigate Jacket was featured in a show called Cloud Couture at Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator. Some of the apparel says more about form than function, such as "dresses with cascades of petals … made possible by laser-cutting machines." "It’s very couture, but very easy to manufacture," says Debera Johnson, the Accelerator’s executive director. "You get a tremendous amount of style for a much lower price." The real play, however, seems to be the "new layer of monitoring and tracking" technology enables.

For example, a "Hexoskin smart shirt … monitors breathing, heart rate and other vital signs … Every article of clothing has the potential to be a membrane that harvests data signals from our bodies — pulse, breathing, temperature, blood pressure, pheromones — and send them to … the cloud." Debera thinks "big brands" would "love to" use such technology "to track where you are in time and space, and understand who you’re talking with and what they’re wearing." She suggests that in exchange for such "intrusion … the customer might get a $10 discount."

Doodle Away

daryl-travisThe three essential elements of better innovation. A Hub White Paper by Daryl Travis of Brandtrust. I didn’t know the guy sitting quietly near the back of the room, but I suspected he wasn’t paying much attention. I thought he was doodling. My company was less than a year old at the time and this meeting was important. My friend Barb Ford, the VP of Advertising for Kraft Foods, had given us a chance to present to a few key people.

The presentation went smoothly and there were several questions, but the guy in the back of the room did not say anything. It sure seemed like he wasn’t particularly impressed or interested, but a few weeks later he called. We had a long, interesting discussion and it was obvious, despite my initial impression, that he had been listening very closely.Our journey with Ben has been enlightening and satisfying. Many of our clients who want to innovate better and more often ask, "What’s his secret?" We’ve noticed it seems to come down to three essential behaviors. Read The Rest of The White Paper.

Tips

dipjarTechnology is changing America’s culture of tipping, reports Hilary Stout in The New York Times (2/1/15). As a custom, tipping in America dates back at least to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who tipped their slaves (especially Jefferson). In the 1940s, a 10 percent tip was common, but today 20 percent is more typical and iPad checkouts are pushing tips even higher. Some establishments present buyers of low-ticket items like coffee with touch-screen tip options that amount to as much as 25, 50 or even 75 percent of the total.

Usually there’s an option to write-in a tip manually, but this can be awkward. Tip expectations are growing so much that it may get "to a point where they can no longer be counted as ‘add-ons,’ leading employers to rethink pricing and salary structures." Uber, for instance doesn’t allow tips, and Public Option, a new pub set to open in Washington DC "will not allow tipping; its owner plans to pay his workers $15 an hour." Others, like Nick Sullivan, founder and CEO of ChangeTip, envisions a tip system that will "disrupt the advertising model" online.

ChangeTip is "a platform that allows people to send small Bitcoin payments through social media, email, Skype or text to show their appreciation for content creators (or anyone) on the Internet." Most payments are around $1, but this has so far generated $250,000 in tips. Nick thinks this kind of tip has potential to go viral. Another concept, DipJar, lets patrons of counter-service eateries swipe their card to give a preset $1 tip, as a less intrusive alternative to including a tip line on a receipt. The hope is that this will generate more tips.

Below the Waterline

alder-165Brand experience innovation often happens beyond the customer’s view. A Hub white paper by Alder Yarrow of Cibo. Thanks to the remarkably competitive global economy in which we find ourselves these days, we live in an era of imperatives. We must be authentic, we must be engaging our customers, we must be nimble and, above all perhaps, we must be innovative. Innovation tends to be spoken of in reverent tones, and is often used interchangeably with creativity, strategy, disruption, or in any number of ways we characterize the change we are all supposed to be making. The only problem is that few people know where to begin.

It’s fine to say we need to be more innovative, but how? Where? When? Why? Let’s start with why, because the answer is simple. The marketplace requires innovation. In this complex, global economy, the ways in which companies traditionally have created competitive advantage have become increasingly commoditized. Copying the competition has gotten easier and easier. You have a feature, function or service? Guess what? In six months pretty much any one of your competitors have it, too. Remember when delivering a pizza in 30 minutes or having visual voicemail was a source of competitive advantage? Read The Rest of This White Paper.

Jonathan Lamberton

jonathan-lambertonA deaf sign-language interpreter is the breakout star of the blizzard that wasn’t, reports Michael M. Grynbaum in The New York Times (1/29/15). Jonathan Lamberton’s performance of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pre-storm news conference was so unusual it went viral. His "arsenal of rapid gesticulations, vigorous frowns and mime-like smiles" were in "stark contrast to the mayor’s sober mein," and attracted "equal parts awe and amusement." (video)

"That guy nailed it," said Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show, after featuring "a compilation of Mr. Lamberton’s more theatrical moments." It was probably the most amusing moment in New York mayoral history since Rudolph Giuliani’s son stole the show at inauguration (video). Jonathan Lamberton wasn’t trying to upstage hizzzoner, though. "I’m not part of the entertainment," he says. "I’m there to facilitate communication."

As a deaf person, Jonathan’s "seemingly melodramatic style … can be easier for some hearing-impaired people to understand." For the hearing impaired, his "emphatic gestures and facial expressions" are "like hearing the subtle accent of a native speaker, rather than someone who has picked up a foreign language." Jonathan’s partner in translation is his wife, Andria, who signs a translation to him, and then Jonathan adjusts "for meaning and nuance."

Fiskars Responsibility

fiskarsA 365 year-old company expects to introduce 245 new types of scissors over two years, reports Sarah Kessler in Fast Company (1/26/15). That company would be Fiskars, the timeframe is 2014 and 2015, and to be precise, "scissors" includes "garden shears, loppers, craft punches and other cutting tools." Seventy-two of the 245 will be "what the company calls ‘new innovations,’" that are more than just incremental or cosmetic changes. Among them is a pair of scissors that "don’t lift fabric," which is really important to those who sew.

Another "new innovation" is a pair of "loppers with pivoting gear and a technology for cutting thick materials." This is important for those who "cut a lot of thick things like burlap and leather," who apparently are growing in numbers thanks to Pinterest. You likely know Fiskars best as makers of those stylish orange-handled scissors (image), introduced in 1967 and now its flagship product. Fiskars’ first variation on that theme was a pair of left-handed scissors, and "after 48 years, it is not out of ideas."

Fiskars is equally persistent about testing its new ideas, having "built what looks like a torture chamber for scissors." One machine "uses a prototype to cut thousands of snips out of a moving roll of paper to test how long it will take for a blade to dull." Another "tries to pull handles off blades to test whether they’re safe." An aquarium-style machine "spews a corrosive mist" to assess rust potential. The engineering team can put "10 years of wear" on a pair of scissors in a single afternoon, and if it survives, it just might be ready for prime time.

Frugality v. Frippery

tata-nanoA frugal approach to innovation is moving from emerging to developed economies, reports The Economist (1/24/15). The idea of "stripping products of their fripperies and cutting costs dramatically" was hatched "to meet surging demand from new consumers in emerging economies." This didn’t always go as planned. For example, even after India’s Tata fixed problems with its $2,999 Nano automobile (it had "burst into flames"), "aspirational Indians made it clear they did not want to be seen driving ‘the world’s cheapest car’."

The approach still flies in developing countries, however. "It is also conquering a rich world in which a financial crisis and recession have been followed by a spell of stagnant household incomes, and, in parts, persistently high unemployment. Some of the West’s biggest multinationals are designing no-frills products in developing countries with the intention of selling them in developed ones, too. General Electric designs affordable medical devices in India and China. Renault-Nissan has a center for frugal engineering in India."

Of course, many notable frugal innovations, such as "low-cost airlines and discount supermarkets," have their roots in developed economies, which "also pioneered the use of digital technology to replace expensive physical plant and to help people share resources." The Khan Academy and Airbnb are frugal innovations, as is Kickstarter, which provides "a frugal source of financing for frugal innovators." And any number of apps are replacing "expensive industrial and medical instruments with something far cheaper."

Watch Out!

tyler-murrayFirst movers, over-innovators and isolationists stumble on innovation’s path. A Hub White Paper by Tyler Murray of TracyLocke. Innovation may be the hottest topic in marketing today — and for the foreseeable future. The topic is worth its hype. Peter Drucker famously declared, "Innovate or die." That sentiment is now widespread. Every company feels the pressure to stay ahead of the pace of change, or face a slow demise. The marketplace demands innovation, companies are in constant search of it, and employees long to be among the brilliant few to create it.

For all the excitement the topic inspires, however, the practice of innovation remains stubbornly elusive. According to Nielsen, only a miserable 15 percent of new packaged-goods products launched in the US will still be around in the ensuing two years. Innovation failure isn’t limited to packaged-goods, either. About 75 percent of venture-capital-backed start-ups fail to generate any financial return to their investors. That only a quarter of start-ups will be successful is staggering considering that these small businesses are fully dedicated to seeing their innovations succeed. Read The Rest of The White Paper.

Magzter Magazines

magzterWhat Netflix and Spotify did for movies and music, Magzter hopes to do for magazines, reports Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg Businessweek (1/19/15). So far, "the idea of paying a flat fee for unlimited access" to magazines "hasn’t caught on," however Next Issue Media has been attempting such a model since 2011, but to date has attracted only "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers willing to pay "$15 a month for access to about 140 magazines." Netflix, by comparison, has "50 million" subscribers and Spotify "12.5 million."

Magzter, meanwhile, is trying a different approach. Magzter’s plan is just $10 a month, and it "thinks it can gain traction where Next Issue hasn’t by offering a larger selection of more obscure titles and by selling subscriptions internationally." About 5,000 publishers are using Magzter to sell standalone issues, and 2,000 are participating in its "all-access subscription service." "It’s the last great white space in streaming media," says Magzter CEO Girish Ramdas. "Everyone else has made the jump."

The opportunity might seem ripe, especially since "drawing readers to single-title magazine apps that mimic the print experience" hasn’t caught on — "app subscribers make up less than 4 percent of overall magazine circulation." However, "it’s not clear that anyone but the most voracious readers will save money … If a Netflix for magazines ever does catch on, it would preserve one consistent aspect of the magazine industry: relying on readers to subscribe to far more material than they have time to read."

Technically True

sharon-loveOnly people can connect technologies with daily life. A Hub White Paper by Sharon Love of TPN. Because technology now defines how we communicate, engage and manage our lives, the word ‘innovation’ today usually evokes some form of digital technology, device or cyber-related evolution. Changes in technology present themselves daily. It is the primary driver of our connected experiences with family, friends and even brands. It is exciting to watch where the cutting edge of digital innovation is leading us, as brands explore emerging technology to serve their audiences better.

At the most recent Plug and Play — a retail conference where technological possibility meets creative ideas meets financial backing — upstarts who may be the next leverage point for marketers looking to connect with their targets were out in force. Partnerships are now forming at the intersection of brand and retail, the ‘Internet of Things,’ digital media and mobile. The result is innovation that takes virtual concepts and makes them physical, that transports cyber-chefs into your shopping and cooking experiences, for example, presenting augmented reality that challenges actual reality. For the vast majority of people, these advancements mean new and exciting experiences that marketers assume they also want and need. Read The Rest of The White Paper.

MiniLuxe Salon

miniluxeA group of investors hopes to do for nail salons what Starbucks did for coffee shops, reports Sarah Max in The New York Times (1/15/15). John Hamel and his partners at Cue Ball were seeking "a highly fragmented industry" where there was an opportunity to "use a combination of smart design, systems and company culture to create a following." John had to look no further than "the strip malls near his home north of Boston" where he found oodles of nail salons. The supply suggested demand, and a closer look revealed a big opening.

At most nail salons, it’s all "fluorescent lighting, smelly acrylics and questionable hygiene." Scheduling appointments is another weak spot. "Borrowing practices from the medical and dental industries, MiniLuxe uses single-use tools … ultrasonic debris removers and hospital-grade autoclave sterilizers." It also introduced "its own line of toxin-free polish." To reduce wait-times, it hired "a data scientist to predict which factors drove demand" and "24/7 online booking." A soon-to-be introduced app will "buzz users’ phones" when "it’s their turn. "

Most important, MiniLuxe provides employees with "health insurance, paid time off, profit sharing and a company 401K." "You can’t create affinity for consumers if you do not create affinity for employees," says Mats Lederhausen, another Cue Ball partner. To pick locations, John looked for clusters of nail salons near Starbucks shops. Like Starbucks, MiniLuxe also devised "its own language, their own product lines," says Joseph Michelli, a customer experience consultant. Now with eight Boston locations, MiniLuxe plans to expand nationally.

Nano Management

tesla-logoTesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gets to what’s right by focusing on what’s wrong, reports Mike Ramsey in The Wall Street Journal (1/12/15). "I have OCD on product-related issues," Elon says. "When I see a car or a rocket or spacecraft, I only see what’s wrong. I never see what’s right. It’s not a recipe for happiness." He may not have been referring to his own happiness as much as that of certain "high-level managers" at Tesla, who "quit or were fired" because of Elon’s "insistence on doing things his way."

So intent is Elon Musk on what he calls "nano-management" that he "set up an office in the middle of the factory floor" during the Tesla S launch in 2012. "If you are fighting a battle, it’s way better if you are at the front lines," he says. "A general behind the lines is going to lose." Just three weeks ahead of the delivery of the first car, Elon "demanded that the sedans have larger rear tires because he felt they looked better." This was unrealistic for a number of reasons, but Elon insisted, and the "design change went through without a hitch."

This style doesn’t play well with everyone, but that’s fine with Elon. "He used to say that he only wanted ‘special forces’ working for him," says Ricardo Reyes, Tesla’s media relations head. "No normal people." Supporters say this "relentless perfectionism has steered Tesla to where it is today." His "unwavering determination" helps explain why "investors have flocked to Tesla and shrug off the fact that the auto maker has never made an annual profit." "You take Elon out of the company and the market cap would go down 80%," an analyst says.

Relentless!

roundtable-64-165Innovation is a process and failure its constant companion. A roundtable discussion featuring Sally Grimes of Tyson Foods, Ed Hoffman of NASA, Nadia Shouraboura of Hointer, Graham Milner of WD-40 and Frank Maher of The Integer Group.

Sally Grimes: We have a team at Tyson that unites the key growth enablers across the entire enterprise. From an organizational standpoint, this group touches every aspect of the enterprise. By having this central growth group, we reach out and connect with all the different functions in the organization. We are intentional about innovation by creating a structure for unstructured time. For example, we created monthly ‘Snow Days,’ when our teams come together to share insights and ideas. The name stands for Sharing New Opportunities to Win, but it also refers to those days when school was snowed out here in Chicago and kids had a fun day free to do new and different things.

Ed Hoffman: Freedom and resources always drive innovation. This is true whether it’s a project team, organization or a society. Freedom is really key. If people are afraid, they are not going to innovate. There is too much of a risk. So, you need to have an environment where people can share, talk to each other and argue, and where there is intellectual freedom in a safe environment. In terms of resources, it doesn’t have to be money. Where you have people looking to be creative and innovate, sometimes it may be office space they need. Sometimes it’s a tool or a technology. Sometimes it’s that they just need support to test an idea to see whether it produces enough growth. Read The Rest of the Roundtable.

Pizza Studio

pizza-studioA former Naval officer is bringing military discipline to the pizza business, reports Karsten Strauss in Forbes (1/19/15). Samit Varma, an Annapolis graduate who spent eight years as an officer on nuclear submarines, says his training was "crucial" in the launch of Pizza Studio, a 25-store chain, in 2012. His co-founder, Ron Biskin, meanwhile brought a history in food service via TGI Fridays, Baja Fresh and Wolfgang Puck. The concept, however, is Samit’s, who says he was inspired by childhood memories of making "fun pizzas" with his mom.

What makes Pizza Studio different is that its customers can "choose from different flavored crusts, several types of sauces, an assortment of cheeses and 25 toppings." Crusts come in "whole grain and flaxseed, rosemary and herb and more," for example. Sounds somewhat Chipotle-esque, but the innovation is in the execution: "The assembled pie moves on a conveyor belt through a convection oven that exhales 50 mph gusts of high heat and emerges two minutes later crisp and bubbling."

This compares to the relatively slow pace of most pizza parlors, where "a half hour can elapse between order and service to table or home — and they sure don’t offer full custom construction." So far, the concept appears to be catching on, with its revenues increasing from $2.5 million in 2013 to $11.5 million in 2014. Samit and Ron expect their 25-store enterprise to grow to "close to 100 locations" in 2015, helped along by some $6.5 million in venture capital backing. "Americans spend nearly $39 billion a year on pizza."

Beyond Verbal

beyondverbalAn Israeli startup is offering an app designed to deduce your emotional state, reports The Economist (1/3/15). The startup is called Beyond Verbal, and the app is called Moodies. It applies "emotions analytics" based on "hundreds of thousands of voice samples in more than 40 languages." Moodies "analyzes such things as the loudness and pitch of the speech, and then runs the results through an algorithm to match them with patterns from its database." The thought is such analysis "could be useful in phones, fitness gadgets and cars."

"For instance, a vehicle that senses a driver is in a heightened state, perhaps because he has been drinking, could flash up a warning before he takes to the road." However, "some experts in the voice-recognition field are skeptical that the technology touted is reliable enough for mass deployment. Then there is the thorny issue of privacy. People are bound to be repelled by the prospect of companies and devices tracking their emotions." Yuval Mor, CEO of Beyond Verbal, counters that "the upside … can more than compensate for the downside."

However, "signs of resistance to emotion-tracking software" is already evident: "The Samaritans, a British suicide-prevention group, recently disabled a free web app … that alerted people whenever someone they were following on Twitter used a phrase" suggesting "a fragile emotional state." Among other things, critics said the app could be used "to prey on vulnerable people." For now, Beyond Verbal has focused "on narrow areas such as market research and security rather than mass-market consumer electronics."