innovation insights

Google Art Project and AGO Collaboration a Masterpiece

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


A crucial part of the whole innovation process is celebrating the wins. Recognizing a brilliant idea can spark others’ imaginations and turn innovation into Win-novation™.

Is it possible to replicate the feeling you get when standing in front of a compelling piece of art? The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is willing to try. The Gallery has chosen to differentiate its brand by participating in the Google Art Project. This project gives viewers high resolution access to exhibits in more than 150 museums in 40 countries around the world. Currently the AGO is the only Canadian institution taking part.

Visitors can surf into the Gallery using Google technology and view artworks with brushstroke level detail. Creating a unique offering for users, the tool successfully reinforces the idea that the AGO is a fun place to visit filled with beautiful works of art. Google Art Project takes the best the Gallery has to offer and makes it accessible. It takes advantage of a visual technology that wasn’t even available a few years ago to completely re-define the appreciation and accessibility of fine art.

What innovative lesson does Google Art Project and AGO collaboration teach us? To me, it’s an artful example of innovation begetting innovation. Someone invents ultra high definition visual technology and Google realizes that the subtle genius of the world’s great works of art are suddenly visible to the virtual eye. And the innovation will continue. My guess is that there are emerging artists being amazed and inspired right now. We may see a revelation revolution.

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Innovations Aren’t Us

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “retail” as, “to sell in small quantities directly to the ultimate consumer.”

The dictionary doesn’t stipulate the size of the store, or even that you need a physical store at all. And this something that many “big box” retailers missed. They were operating on the “If you build it they will come” mentality, which worked for a while – but now it’s not. Last year, sales and profits declined at Toys R Us; Best Buy is closing 50 stores following a fourth-quarter loss of $1.7 billion; and even Walmart performed below analysts’ expectations last year.

The problem: many of these companies have underestimated the changes happening around them. Or as a true student of innovation might put it, they’ve been afraid to make their physical stores obsolete, and now they’re being forced to play catch-up.

If your business doesn’t try hard to make its processes obsolete, someone else will. Businesses, brands, business models and platforms all evolve – creating a need for continuous innovation. In big retail, innovation must focus on developing the right mix of platforms – bigger stores, smaller stores, kiosks, and digital storefronts that you access through your computer, tablet or smart phone – all enhanced by value-added services, education, and the building of dedicated “communities” of engaged customers and other stakeholders.

Can Toys R Us, Sears and Best Buy remain in “retail”? Yes. If, as with any good brand, they develop the right brand platform and a clear brand promise to the customer that differentiates, simplifies and builds trust.

Ten years ago Walmart was supposed to take over the retail world. Now, the Beast of Bentonville is starting to show stress fractures, and online retailer Amazon, with a net sales increase of 40% in 2011, is the new world beater. It’s time for the chains to focus less on what other retailers are doing, and more on what they are not doing: not clearly defining and supporting a customer value proposition.

Toys R Us, for instance, needs to revisit its value proposition and reimagine what it can do for consumers. Can and should it continue to bring toys and baby stuff together (to address the child lifecycle under one roof)? If it’s going to continue selling safety gates and other child-security accessories, should it also provide seminars on child safety, child care, or learning and development? Maybe it can convert some of its surplus space to indoor play areas and party rooms to promote children’s exercise and health. (Maybe it could even host baby showers!)

There is no shortage of innovation opportunities and possibilities. But nothing starts without a vision and a clear commitment to the customer.

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You Can’t Counter Culture

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


Have we seen the death of the Twinkie? If urban legend is correct, they can survive just about anything … except, maybe, a change in consumer culture.

Hostess Brands built its success around the development of sweet, indulgent snack foods, from its original chocolate cupcakes to the cream-filled shortcake Twinkie. James Dewar, who invented Twinkie in 1930, called them “the cream puff of the proletariat.” But something has changed. The proletariat began to realize that they wanted to live longer, healthier lives… fighting the sweeping epidemic of obesity, not dying from it.

Contrast Hostess with Pepsico, whose CEO has announced her objective to generate 50% of company revenue from healthful food. Pepsico embraced the new wave of health-conscious thinking and made it a corporate crusade. They have diversified into snacks and drinks that support today’s active lifestyles, through Gatorade, Quaker, Aquafina and more.

With Hostess’s parent company filing for bankruptcy protection in January, the respective failure and success of these two companies couldn’t be more dramatic. But it hinged on one minor difference. Pepsico looked and listened and recognized that while change is all around us, one thing doesn’t change: The customers know best. Don’t ignore what they’re telling you.

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