Innovation continued its disruptive march in 2012 – across not only the tech and communications fields, but other more mainstream industries such as healthcare, sports, retail and in-home appliances as well. Its transformative pace is accelerating as fiesty digital trends quickly evolve into new business models and product inventions.
Last December, I was invited by Engauge’s Digital Innovation Group (DIG) for a look at the people and technologies behind some of the latest innovations unraveling our world at their annual Winter DIG Day.
Joseph Flaherty (@josephflaherty) from Wired Magazine gave an excellent keynote describing the various twists and turns of our innovation past. He showed the 2002 cover of Wired, which asked if wi-fi would ever take off in the ashes of the Dot.Com bust. Today we know the answer to that question – wi-fi has become an everyday staple of life, but the it took different elements of technology to come together over a long period of time to really make it stick. Human nature, like many other things, tends to get caught up in the climatic success moment rather than appreciating the journey to the top. Innovation, especially ones that are technology-driven, are no different.
Joe also spotlighted three up and coming trends that are poised for mass adoption takeoff in 2013.
- Desktop Driven Manufacturing – also known as ‘maker market’ brings 3-D printing to the masses, already a $200M business in 2011. What was previously restricted to the realm of complex CAD machines, now has become a world of custom, on-demand manufacturing that is opening up for small businesses and individuals alike. From prosthetic and corrective pieces like Invisalign to replacing a missing or broken Lego – anyone can create and produce for relatively lower costs than ever before. The self-empowerment theme of the early 2000s continues.
- Crowd-funded Incentives – the idea of micro-financing and culling angel investors is not new, but the ability to quickly mass funds behind a new product concept is at an unprecedented high thanks to entities like KickStarter. The stakes are being raised in today’s funding models through specialized optimization incentive arrangements between the funder and fundee – think feature tradeoffs and customization rights.
- Community Retailing – video communities continue to thrive and their engagement levels outpace other digital platforms. Brands like Ora Brush, Blendtec, etc. are just tapping into the real retail power of communities within YouTube and using it to introduce their products to an entirely new customer base, which previously was unreachable without big time ad budgets.
Joe framed the next wave of innovation adoption as being less of a technology challenge; rather our struggle will be more of a series of human change management issues. I couldn’t agree more. Change forces us to get and stay uncomfortable.
Winter DIG Day also featured several terrific panels, sharing insights from both the big brand and small start-up point of view. I had the good fortune of joining Julia Kaplan from Walmart Labs (@WalmartLabs) and Karyn Lu from Turner Entertainment (@klu1) for “Innovation in the Real World” and listening to how each of them is building and driving an innovative culture amongst the headwinds of their traditional businesses. Julia described how simple ‘pizza teams’ of eight people were coming together to help devise the next evolution in digital retailing and social shopping utilizing Walmart’s vast stores of big data. Karen spoke about several creative approaches to educating her peers and management on innovation trends, including a campus-wide ‘Bingo’ scavenger hunt that inspired participants from across the Turner business units to ‘try on and experience’ the trend for themselves.
On the start-up side, we heard from Insightpool, who believes digital advertising today is broken; Digby, who sees a multichannel mobile retailing world enabled through location-based marketing; Viggle, a second-screen specialist who can enable ‘discoverable utility’ and Badgy, who says the open graph is the free cheese but you have to SEO it to get it. They all shared a common theme of helping marketers better connect with their fans through social and other platforms to grow their business. We are moving into the mid-day of Web 2.0 maturity – only the players that can take the real heat of today’s marketplace and drive tangible value through emerging channels will go on and survive.
In the afternoon, we went on a digital innovation tour, hosted by members of the Engauge Digital Innovation Group – here are some highlights:
1 – Myndplay – delivered straight from the Jetsons: we tried out a brainwave headset – lets the individual control videos, games or whatever content is being displayed on screen by their brain’s mood.
2 – Reinvention – takes old fashioned white boarding and notebook copying to a whole other collaborative level. New tools such as JoinMe allow for instant screen collaboration, while Evernote enables you to capture and share your handwritten notes in one camera snap, and Droplr allows easy temporary file sharing via URL links.
3 – Second Screen – our favorite second screen devices bring the community in to our living rooms during our favorite television programming. IntoNow lets you pull in stats for sports or trivia for a television drama. StorySync allows you to pull in people to watch an episode and then buy clothing or other stuff you see via eBay.
4 – Makey Makey – 3-d printing also lets you take everyday objects and turn them into controllers via electronic conductors. If you are missing a lego or game piece – now you can print a replacement. Can’t find or need another game console – just grab a marshmallow and you are back in business.
5 – Smart Homes – now consists of devices that are intelligent, self-aware and sense the conditions around them and perform tasks automatically while also being remotely monitored and controlled. Nest Thermostat learns the schedule of the temperatures you like and configure the setting based on your energy usage history. Philips Hue Light Bulbs has wi-fi inside of them. You can set color, brightness and other parameters. Kwikset Smart Lock lets you set unique codes individually with time limits and get a text message when the intended person uses it.
6 – Interactive Print – don’t throw out your print magazines and catalogs quite yet. Now you can bring them to life video pages with QR codes and other nifty technology.
7 – Swivel – shopping takes a twist with fashion retailers like Bloomingdales using new apps with Microsoft Kinect. Their new augmented reality shopping application allows you to virtually try on apparel and accessories and share your looks with your friends via text or social networks.
Big thanks to Jeff Hilmire, Nicola Smith, Stephanie Critchfield and their team for hosting an excellent day of thought-provoking discussion and lively technology demonstrations. It was a terrific forum to exchange ideas, best practices and challenge one another’s thinking – something our industry is going to need a lot more of if we’re going to keep pace as brand innovators in the months and years to come.