product innovation

The XYZs of Gesture Control

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

Optimizing-Innovation-90-rule

Keyboarding is slow; mice are passé. Voice recognition is still flawed.  In future, you may interact with computers (and many other devices) simply by gesturing. A Canadian company called XYZ Interactive Technologies is using inexpensive infrared technology to power embedded sensors that enable you to control devices without touching them. Explains XYZ’s CEO, Michael Kosic,”The future battle for consumers of User Interfaces will be fought in 3D”.

Think of an iPad that you don’t even have to touch, because your hand movements (not the press of your smudging fingers) control the device. Or consider the potential for hands-free operation of devices in order to keep environments more sterile by reducing the transference of germs by contact.

Whatever field you are in, innovation isn’t only about invention; it’s also about solving problems by making existing products and services work better – one breakthrough at a time. As a business strategy, innovation is about recognizing ideas that will touch your customer’s lives in a positive, impactful way. Or not touch them, I guess, if you are part of a group of engineers re-thinking the whole notion of interaction.

No comments

Examples that show innovation can be easy

Originally published as a Special to Globe and Mail Update, January 4, 2012

Shreddies-Innovation
Image from a Shreddies campaign in 2008

When I ask business owners and managers about innovation, many of them talk about ideas they have percolating but they have never pursued.

They’re too busy fighting front-burner issues to think about anything new. But if innovation is going to be a source of new products and revenues, I have three words for you, from one of the world’s most innovative companies: Just Do It.

t’s as simple as that. Innovation is about bringing ideas to market rather than letting them languish on a half-forgotten scratchpad. And innovation doesn’t necessarily mean invention. More often, it’s about acting on an opportunity you have already recognized, or adapting existing solutions for other markets or industries.

How simple can innovation be? Consider these examples:

Seeing the same thing in a different way

Think of the publicity coup for Post’s Shreddies – and its 18-point gain in market share – when it reintroduced the timeless breakfast cereal in diamond shapes rather than squares.

Exploring new markets with the same products (or slightly adapted features)

Toy giant Lego has launched a Lego Friends brand to target girls in addition to its dominating “boy brands” such as Star Wars Lego and Lego Ninjago.

Tapping into (or teaming up with) new market trends

Hyundai now provides a multimedia tablet as an owner’s manual instead of the traditional printed book.

Bringing together features from existing products or markets to create something “new”

The maker of SLAP Watch offers a unique twist on silicone watches with interchangeable faces, bright colours, and spring-coil bracelet – all in one item.

Innovation is the engine that drives your business forward. Think about it: customers are engaged by new and exciting products and services. It gives them something to talk about, a reason to buy again, and more often.

You wouldn’t change the oil in your car just once a year – the engine would sputter and die. Your company shouldn’t leave ideation, innovation or the introduction of new – even small – improvements to an annual schedule. Without the tune-up of continuing innovation, your business will also sputter and die.

You should make 2012 the year that innovation becomes a continuous, front-burner activity, just like sales and marketing.

How do you take the first step in your business? Set aside a 15-minute slot in your weekly sales and marketing meeting. Ask everyone at the table to talk about one interesting innovation they have seen in your industry, or better yet, an industry far from your own. Discuss which examples are most applicable to your business, then charge a person or team to flesh those ideas out. Monitor their progress monthly in the same team meetings. Success breeds success, and feedback and inclusivity are its lifeblood.

Winning through innovation doesn’t have to be scary, painful or expensive. Business owners and managers can do it step by step. Start by creating an environment in which employees, trusted partners and even customers offer great new product and service ideas. The active ingredient in “win-novation” is simply creating a process to examine those ideas and pursue the best of them.

The cost is low, the potential sky-high. It’s better to implement a number of smaller innovations than to have big ideas and do nothing with them.

No comments

Make yourself obsolete, or someone else will

make-yourself-obsolete

by Ken Tencer
Originally published as a Special to Globe and Mail Update, Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

With Dyson’s new bladeless fans, generation of kids will be denied the chance to stick pencils through screens to see what happens when they touch fast-spinning blades.

For any other reason, you have to love the British-based company because its innovations are so obvious yet so breakthrough.

  • Safe, bladeless fans that move air without all the rumbling and rattling.
  • Technology patterned after jet engines.
  • Dual-cyclonic vacuums that suck up more dirt, more efficiently.
  • Airport hand driers that actually work.

Why were these products not developed sooner? Did no other company listen to generations of frustrated consumers? Or were the former market leaders simply too afraid to cannibalize existing products and markets by introducing something truly innovative?

Dyson’s success is a lesson to all business leaders: Don’t be afraid to make yourself obsolete, or someone else will do it for you.

For most companies that’s easier said than done. I used these words while co-chairing a recent innovation conference in New York City, and I heard the groans from the audience.

I have heard their thoughts out loud too often:

  • “We are the market leaders. We are too big to fail.”
  • “Our technology dominates the market, no need to worry,” said the buggy-whip maker to his horse.

Too many great companies have disappeared because they resisted change instead of embracing it. We may now be watching the demise of yet another giant, in photography company Eastman Kodak Co. The incredible thing is that Kodak actually saw and invented a future when digital photography would replace film. But somehow it managed to resist it. As analyst Chris Whitmore of Deutsche Bank told The New York Times: “The big story here is that their core business — the yellow box business — got cannibalized by the digital camera, which ironically they invented.”

The “good news” for investors is that Kodak is now soundly and strategically focused on digital-printing technology (in an increasingly paperless world?). I don’t mean to pick on Kodak, as it is not the first company to resist change, and it won’t be the last.

So where do we turn to find an example of an industry successfully making itself obsolete? Look at autos. Car makers recognized it was only a matter of time before the traditional combustion engine model gave way to newer, cleaner technology. So over the past decade they have gradually introduced us to the future, in the form of clean diesel, hybrid and now fully electric engines.

Each of these introductions started small, with expensive pioneering products sold to early adopters. This is how the industry developed its ability to introduce alternative technology, test demand, optimize production, and manage the transition. Today auto makers have a clear understanding of their market and possess the production capacity to ramp up a full-scale transition – fully cannibalizing the old combustion technology – without endangering their revenues.

The car industry didn’t just stay ahead of the curve – it created and managed the curve. If more of Dyson’s vacuum-cleaner competitors had shared that kind of vision, they wouldn’t be sucking air.

No comments