Archive for April, 2010

College “on-demand”

April 30, 2010 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Technology, Trends, Uncategorized

With two sons now in college, I’ve had some great opportunities to see how the traditional college scene is not what it was when I attended!

It’s exciting to see not only how conventional learning has evolved, but also how a new way to learn is emerging for those students who don’t consider themselves a traditional tuition-paying, degree-seeking member of a university.

All you need today to be a collegiate learner is a computer. A number of schools have created on-demand downloads and videocasts of their content. The OpenCourseWare movement from MIT and many other universities around the world is one example. iTunes U is another.

An effort known as Project TUVA us under development by Microsoft where online they making available lectures given by some of the brightest and most well-known scientists. Although the lectures themselves may be conventional, they are being enhanced with written captioning, expert commentary, and a note taking ability that can be synchronized with the lecture.

In Project TUVA one can easily navigate within the lectures, and the application even allows transcript searching and skipping directly to that point in the lecture. For their first demonstration they have provided a series of very interesting lectures on physics given by Professor Richard Feynman of Cal Tech in the 60’s. Feynman had the fascinating ability to make complex science fun and interesting. Even though the lectures themselves are old they are worth checking out.

All of these offerings provide a wide range of courses, but generally they are not complete in any specific degree area, and there is not as of yet an affordable selection of advanced or graduate level courses. There is still much improvement to be made in the quantity of content.

Obviously the thought is that universities don’t want to give away their product for free, only samples of what they provide. But even if they don’t provide them to the public, why wait to start building a potentially valuable “library” of lectures? Colleges and Universities could start recording much of their content now, and not just let it slip away in the memories of their students.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someday all of that content could be incorporated into a repository like Project TUVA to be accessible by youth all over the world – especially by those who will never be able to afford or participate in a conventional college education? Perhaps this is one area were available public funding could be used to better invest in our future.

The application of new technology to education is requiring creative thinking around user interface design, storage, and media searching and indexing. There is so much opportunity to bring more powerful experiences to the process of learning and allow more people to participate in the learning experience.

It is a highly exciting time. We are beginning to be able to subscribe to the learning outlets that we want. Take advantage of it where we can. Download a free e-book or watch a lecture. You don’t need a specialized reader like a Kindle or an iPad; all you need is a computer or a smart phone (and of course some spare time!).

Social Entrepreneurship in Africa: Innovation that Serves Others

In Conquering Innovation Fatigue, we begin with an examination of some of the reasons that people pursue innovation. Not all innovation is driven by a desire for wealth. In fact, a large number of innovators are more interested in seeing their work make a difference in the world than in becoming rich (many want both, but the desire to see real results from one’s work is often essential). Social entrepreneurship and humanitarian innovation provide evidence of this. In the book, we highlight Empower Playgrounds (EmpowerPlaygrounds.org), the non-profit innovation engine that is bringing educational success to thousands of African children by creating playground equipment that generates power for LED lamps that children can take home so they can study and do homework after the finish their chores at home. Something as simple as a portable electric lamp, charged by innovative playground power generators, makes the difference between educational failure and graduating with opportunities for college. Many thanks to Ben Markham, the CEO of Empower Playgrounds, for recognizing the need and driving so much collaborative innovation to bring hope to western Africa.

Another great story out of Africa is the Forbes article, “Can This Bicycle Save Lives In Africa?” by Stephanie Finch. After achieving international success with his bicycle innovations, Frederick K.W. Day noticed that many streets in Africa were lined with abandoned, broken down bikes that quickly fell apart on the rough streets of Africa. He also saw that the huge diversity of bikes being sent to Africa made it very difficult for mechanics to repair due to lack of proper parts and tools for the diverse designs. He is now working to bring rugged, low-cost, easy-to-repair bikes to Africa:

Through his World Bicycle Relief charity the ponytailed entrepreneur hopes to put millions of sub-Saharan Africans aboard special heavy-duty bikes designed to withstand the continent’s rugged roads while carrying 200 pounds of cargo–enough for a weaver to bring his rugs, or a farmer to tote his produce, to market. Moreover, he aims to promote a self-sustaining bicycle economy with regional operations assembling the bikes and area mechanics trained to repair them.

Frederick is making many changes in the bike as well as crafting a business model for distribution and maintenance that will meet the needs of many parts of Africa. It’s not about getting rich, but about truly making a difference in the world for thousands of people. That’s inspiring innovation!

What are your favorite examples of altruistic innovation or social entrepreneurship helping Africa?

The Future of Learning

April 27, 2010 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Cool Inventions and gadgets

Ask any student if they’d rather learn their lessons through online interactive tools or via a classroom lecture with textbooks, and you can imagine which method will overwhelmingly win out.  Even a first-grader will tell you how they learn with computers and even handheld gameshow-like remotes and interactive white boards that help them participate during a visual presentation.

New ways of preparing students for modern society are constantly evolving. As conventional lectures and dry textbooks are giving way to interactive digital content, the options for electronic learning are increasing rapidly. From e-books to online video lectures, learning is becoming more fun and practical for everyone.

Today’s generation tends to think in more “web-like” or tangentially-connected ways. Universities have slowly recognized this and created more web-oriented curricula and content where technology is leveraged to increase student engagement and understanding.

In my next blog post I will share some exciting ways the college landscape is changing for students!

The human body as a keypad? Now that’s innovative!

April 23, 2010 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Innovation, Technology

Check out the latest technology from Microsoft called Skinput. It’s an idea that may someday do away with a physical computer keyboard  or remote control and replace them with your body! The video below shows how a projection system displays the keypad on a user’s arm, while sensors read the input based fingers touching skin.

The inventor explains applications for mobile devices and beyond, by using the human body as a sensor. Where does this technology go from here? I’m sure whatever consumers can do with a keypad now, they’ll someday be able to do with their bodies. Imagine snapping your fingers to unlock your front door, or using your forearm as a TV remote.

Innovation Trends: Smartphones and Agriculture

One of the interesting trends in emerging nations is the rapid spread of mobile phones without first moving to landlines. Millions of people who don’t have landlines and may not have the infrastructure for them are able to benefit from cell phones. As cell phones increasingly become smart, offering a variety of apps and services, their smartphones can change the way people work and live. That includes the way they farm, including they way they apply pesticides, apply water, manage the soil, and harvest crops. Look to agriculture and the related fields of water and soil management for added value in coming years.

Lindsay Corporation (no relation) recently announced a new cell phone application to help farmers track and control their automated irrigation systems such as the Zimmatic® system. Here’s an excerpt:

Lindsay Corporation, maker of Zimmatic® irrigation systems, announces the introduction of FieldNET Mobile—pivot control for smartphones. The new feature allows growers to fully control and monitor their irrigation pivots anywhere through the convenience of smartphones.

“FieldNET Mobile provides a labor-saving innovation with the convenience of web-enabled phones,” says Reece Andrews, GrowSmart™ product manager at Lindsay. “With full control and monitoring from anywhere, growers are more efficient with their time and always know the status of their irrigation systems.”

FieldNET Mobile’s graphical interface supports most industry-leading smartphones, including the iPhone®, Droid® and BlackBerry®, according to Andrews.

FieldNET is an award-winning web-based irrigation management system. With the addition of FieldNET Mobile, growers can view the current status of all their pivots in one list, receive system alerts, arrange pivots by predefined groups, view water usage reports and receive a history of pivot runtimes.

Innovators are already considering many other smartphone-enabled opportunities for improving the way we farm and manage water around the world. We look forward to seeing what we can do to further improve the quality of life through better agriculture practices enabled by the power of smartphones. Stay tuned!

What do you see as future applications of smartphones in agriculture? Interested in working with us to explore the IP landscape and innovation opportunities here? Give us a call!

Related reading:

Top 50 Innovators: Is a new world order emerging?

Aside from being a taxing week in the U.S., mid-April is also when BusinessWeek Magazine publishes its top 50 list of the most innovative companies all over the world. This year’s rankings are definitely pointing to a trend I’ve talked about before: That a majority of companies recognized as top innovators are based outside the U.S. Check out this video for some insights:

In the 2010 Bloomberg/BusinessWeek annual rankings of Most Innovative Companies, 15 of the Top 50 are Asian—up from just five in 2006.
The list is dominated by companies from Europe, Asia, and for the first time, South America.

Bloomberg/BusinessWeek’s Most Innovative Companies report has been published each April since 2005, although in the beginning it was the Top 20 list. The results are based on  a 21-question poll to senior executives around the globe. The 1,590 respondents, who answered anonymously, were asked to name the most innovative companies from outside their own industry in 2009.

What many will find surprising, I think, is that when Bloomberg/Businessweek started ranking innovators in 2005, only six of the Top 20 were headquartered outside the U.S. A third of 2005’s American champs (3M, Starbuck, eBay, etc.), no longer make the Top 50.

Check out the article & the Top 50 list here.

The hard truth pays off for Domino’s

April 14, 2010 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Food & Restaurant trends, Strategy

What company in its right mind would ever admit to the world that its product was awful? In what many might call  a risky move, Domino’s Pizza delivered the tough truth and customers were thrilled. We’ve all seen how Domino’s “got real” in commercials launched last December that openly admitted why their pizza recipe needed big improvements.

The company paid millions of dollars for its Pizza Turnaround Campaign, airing their customers’ biggest complaints about “cardboard crust,” and “ketchup-like sauce.”  The commercials then showed real Domino’s employees working  to create something better.

The commercials attracted curiosity at first, and then rave reviews. Go check out their pizzaturnaround.com site to see what I mean. Domino’s is brave enough to display all the news coverage and Twitter comments–whether good or bad.

The risk paid off, and Domino’s reported last month that its fourth-quarter profits rose to $23.6 million–more than double last year’s figure. And franchisees report store sales are up 1.4 percent.

With all the corporate scandals and big bailouts that have made headlines these past few years, I find that kind of honesty refreshing. Apparently, so do pizza lovers.

Is Your Business Missing the Green Light of Opportunity During the Economic Chill?

April 12, 2010 Jeff Lindsay No Comments » Financial Trends, Innovation


During a recent snowstorm, I took the above photo of a traffic light not far from our Innovationedge offices in Neenah, Wisconsin. Thanks to heavy, wet snow, the traffic signals were largely hidden. I saw it as a metaphor for what happens when times of economic chill blind entrepreneurs and businesses to the opportunities around them. A downpour of discouraging economic data and fear can pile up like snow on a traffic light and obscure the green light of opportunity that otherwise could be telling you to move ahead. The lesson is not to just plow ahead, nor is it to remain at a standstill until the chill ends, but to learn to look for the fainter clues that show the true color of the largely hidden glow.

This may be the right time to move ahead for the opportunity before you. Indeed, many great companies have their roots in times of economic recession. While others are cutting back on innovation and preparing to put their companies permanently in park, those who invest in innovation now will have the decisive advantage and be miles ahead of the competition when the chill ends. Look closely – there may be a green glow under all that snow.

At Innovationedge, we’ll work with you to find the glow and understand the opportunities you face. Let us help you plan and prepare for your journey with our innovation roadmap services and other strategic tools. The intersection you’re parked at may provide an exciting avenue to opportunity-if you have the right help to know which way to turn and where to go. Give us a call today! Talk to Cheryl or any of the Innovationedge staff at 920-967-0470 to learn more.

Taking innovation from marginal to mainstream

April 9, 2010 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Events, Open Innovation

I am just leaving London, where I’ve been presenting at the 2010 Open For Business conference on open innovation. The event was invite-only, and hosted senior decision makers from Fortune 500 companies who are responsible for open innovation or open business models.

Yesterday our panel discussion focused on how to create an enriched organizational culture, so that companies can foster innovation outside of their traditional internal R&D departments.

We know the challenges of creating and honing that culture of open innovation, and we discussed how to forward-thinking business leaders can advance their technologies and develop new products or services with outside sources.

There were five of us from all over the world taking part in this panel titled, “Open Innovation – From Marginal to Mainstream.” My co-panelists included JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist, BT Group, and Karim Lakhani, Assistant professor, Technology and Operations Management Unit, Harvard Business School.

The discussion was incredible and inspiring, and I enjoyed sharing my experiences in this space among other thought leaders on this dynamic panel!

Got Invention Radio dials up innovation

One of my good friends Brian Fried, host of Got Invention Radio, invited me to come on his show for a four-part series, which aired late last week.  You can listen online or download it here. Got Invention Radio is a wonderful show where inventors can call into the program and discuss their innovation ideas with experts.  My colleague Jeff Lindsay has also been on Brian’s program before along with a number of other business leaders. (Check out the archive here.)

Our company does a lot of work with inventors who have fantastic innovative ideas for game-changing products, but need a little guidance taking their idea to market. I always tell them Step One is to get a clear definition of idea or invention before you can lay out the path to bring it to market.

People often get stuck in this stage because they haven’t thought through the time, processes and resources needed to make it happen. For instance, has the inventor mapped out what people and skills are crucial? One idea is to explore open innovation–those strategic partnerships that can take your ideas beyond your own brick and mortar walls.

My favorite part of the program was taking calls from inventors who had questions about licensing preparation and prototypes.

We want to help people with projects that will make a significant difference in the lives or habits of people. There are many inventions that are incremental–a little bit better and a little bit cheaper–but the true innovators are making that difference for consumers.