Monday, May 30, 2005

GM to instill brand loyalty on lucky customers

Sometimes, it seems, a large company will spend a lot of time and money to do something really, really pointless. Here is an example of what happens when you forget that your customer really doesn't care how cool you think your company is.

"GM to add corporate badge to its vehicles - Move reflects consumer confidence in "the brand behind the brand" "

My favorite excerpt:

" Research tells us that many of our most outstanding segment-leading vehicles are not associated by the customer to be part of the GM portfolio. Seeing that GM badge on vehicles evokes our heritage of leadership and makes an easy connection between our great lineup of vehicle brands and the company behind them."
Uh, evoking heritage? Excuse me, somebody's been drinking too much of the corporate kool-aid. This new badge evokes "Lovey, that Volvo SUV isn't as previous as I thought. It's really made by General Motors. Let's scoot over to the BMWs."

And as a reminder to all of us to drop the jargon every once in a while, here is the stirring pronouncement on how said logo badge will be hitherto emblazoned:

"The GM badge will take the form of a small silver square, embossed with the GM logo, placed on both sides of the vehicle on an appropriate location between the front and rear wheels above the rocker and below the glass belt line."

O be still my loins.

Jon Stewart on parenting

Diego Rodriguez at metacool and Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, both say that Oprah Winfrey's O magazine should be part of any design thinker's library. So, we bought a copy, and I'm not convinced.

But, it did have this great quote on parenting from Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, being interviewed by Oprah:

"Oprah: has parenting surprised you?

"Jon: There's always talk about the red-blue cultural divide. But I'm surprised at the difference between having kids and not having any. Tracy [Jon's wife] says now she sees everyone as somebody's kid. when I look at Nathan [their child], I think, I could kill someone for him. In fact, I could do it almost every day. When I see people walking down the street, it's like, Somebody is crazy about this person in a way that hurts his heart."

Saturday, May 28, 2005

My so called blog

You know, putting Google links on your blog is a mixed blessing. Like inviting over a modestly generous uncle who also likes to remind you of how much of a loser you are.

Sure it's great to get a little extra pocket change that I didnt have before, but man, that Google can be so judgemental. Like when I rant about design, I get public service ads! How am I going to retire off public service ads?

Oh man, now I'm blogging about my blog. The lowest form of non-automated blogging there is.

Maybe if I talk about Star Wars!

Maybe if I link to Matthew (defective yeti) Baldwin's hilarious story in the Morning News, on how Darth Vader made him cry!

Darth Vader never made ME cry. I had Star Wars sheets when I was a kid. Darth Vader was drawn kind of crudely, so he looked like he had a toaster on his head. much less meanacing that way. Due to poor quality contol, princess Leia's lips were massively off-center from the rest of her face. Even this didnt make me cry.

Is innovation finished or isn't it?

I just read Bruce Sterling's column in Wired on innovation. Eric von Hippel at MIT/Sloan describes a successful innovation as a combination of high velocity (sales volume x profit) and drag (the cost of adoption). This model predicts that as velocities top out in any field, business models starting turning to increasing drag -making the cost of adopting someone else's innovation too high to bear.

Sterling suggests that the world has changed, and that the velocity and drag sides of the equation are losing their interdependance, becoming, in Sterling's words, mutually exclusive.
"Why? Because the laying field itself is changing: Innovation, once rare and precious, is becoming a commodity."
I dont know if I buy that, and Sterling doesnt offer up any particularly convincing proof that innovation will not itself change as the landscape changes around it. Sure,
what was innovation five years ago is now turnkey ODM work. And yes, big companies like P&G and Target are embracing design (the most recent front in innovation) to the point where it is becoming common. This is a good trend, not something to be worried about. This is the rising tide lifting all boats.

If innovation is a velocity,
(forgive me as I geek out) , it has both magnitude and direction vector. And just because the velocity is slowing down in against one measure, it doesnt mean the magnitude has dropped, it could be that the direction vector has changed.

Daniel Pink makes the argument that design thinking (the next front in innovation) will be necessary to stay ahead in the next wave, while Tom Kelley wrote that innovation in product design was the key in this wave. They are both right, and the innovation magnitude can be conserved as the direction vector changes from 'the art of innovation' to 'design thinking'.

Companies like IDEO have surely seen their client mix change since the 20th century. But if we manage to react in positive ways to this change, we can bring innovation and design farther up the food chain, growing it into design thinking, without commoditizing it.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Annoying Tuneless Flutist

Every year, like the swallows migrating to Capistrano, the Annoying Tuneless Flutist appears in front of Whole Foods and does his annoying, tuneless thing.

Annoying Tuneless Flutist is a thin, modest looking man. In typical Palo Alto fashion, he's just dishevled looking enough where he could either be homeless or an internet millionaire. His small wooden flute sounds homemade, or South American, it's tone kind of piercing, raw, and reedy. He sits by himself as he plays, sometimes accross the street from Whole Foods, sometimes just nearby. It doesnt really matter, since he can be heard a good block away.

He has only four or five notes. He plays them fiercely and fast, without any discernible tune, melody, tempo, or purpose. He just spits them out in random combination, over and over and over, sucking the music out of them so that they are just annoying, tuneless sounds. He could do so much more, by playing with the tempo and volume, holding some notes out long to let the flute really sing, changing it up so it sounds like a conversation, like a mournful wail, like human emotion. Anything but that spastic droning chatter.

Annoying Tuneless Flutist is calm as he does this, his demeanor friendly, and I think he really thinks he's making music. I've never noticed a tip plate, so maybe he isn't doing this for money, just for the joy he thinks he's bringing to the world. I can respect that, but you got to have the skills, too.

Maybe he really is a internet millionaire, desperately seeking a way to fill his days now that money is no object. Maybe I've got it all wrong and he's a homeless guy, a ramblin' man with only his flute as a companion. Or maybe he's a defective music android from the future, sent back in time to annoy us all. One of these days, before I pass into Whole Foods for an overpriced lunch, I will ask him about it. No, really I wont. I'll just continue to ignore him, hoping he'll go away.

Here are some beautiful (and beautiful sounding) flutes

Friday, May 20, 2005

Sick Days and Democrats: The Importance of Story

[edited July 19th, 2005]
Seth Godin posts today on the fact that Democrats keep digging themselves a hole by refusing to acknowledge that they tell a snore of a story:
"What I'm talking about is the consistent bungling of the Democratic Party as they fail to tell stories that people want to hear."

My favorite repo office secretary, Ms. Overshop, also posts today on how delicious it is to speculate about what people are doing on their sick day:
"When he does come back to work, Logical Guy will be treated to a dose of skeptical questioning about where he went and what he did when he took a sick day. It's only fitting. He would do the same for any of us."

Monday, May 16, 2005

A long, scary, tail

It must be spring, the Annoying Tuneless Flutist is playing outside Whole Foods again.

I was reading the latest Wired and came accross Daniel Pink's interview of Thomas Friedman, about how the world is flattening out. Hearing Friedman say it, hearing Pink say it (I finally got my copy of A Whole New Mind), it's starting to stick in my head. Freidman has an interesting riff about how global systems can be thought of as supply chains. Even Al Qaeda can be thought of this way:

"What is al Qaeda? It's an open source religious political movement that works off the global supply chain. That's what we're up against in Iraq. We're up against a suicide supply chain. You take one bomber and deploy him in Baghdad, and another is manufactured in Riyadh the next day. It's exactly like when you take the toy off the shelf at Wal-Mart and another is made in Shen Zhen the next day."

Last Thursday, while I was in New Jersey, Chris Anderson of Wired spoke at IDEO about the Long Tail, a similar concept of the consequences of globalization. Long Tail thinking basically says that with global connectivity, the effect of all the fringes and niches may well be greater than the mainstream -i.e. the area under the long tail of the popularity curve = the area under the mainstream part of it.

Combining these global constructs leads to scary possibilities when it comes to fringes and niches that espouse violence and general badness. It used to be that a fringe leader needed to build themselves a compound in texas or fly followers to South America to achieve critical mass. But with the power of global connectedness, the supply chain feeding these niches is essentially inexhaustible, globally decentralized, and equivalent in power to their enemy, the mainstream. That mainstream includes simpletons like myself, which makes me nervous.

Of course, the web being the resource that it is, the first google hit for "al qaeda long tail" is John Robb of Global Guerrillas, who has pondered the dark side of the long tail long before me. A teaser:

"The long tail has applicability to my work here on Global Guerrillas. Traditionally, warfare (the ability to change society through violence) has been limited to nation-states (except in rare cases). States had a monopoly on violence. The result was a limited, truncated distribution of violence (a power law). That monopoly is on the skids due to three trends."

One more blog to pore thru. I hope Osama's not doing the same.

Friday, May 06, 2005

O Beautiful Widgets

Back before the digital age, I used to do this art thing where I would take an image and tweak it by photocopying it regressively. It only took three or four generations before something completely new emerged out of the random machine interpretation of the original image.

I was on the web earlier today, looking for wire clips. I came accross a website with these enlarged 2nd or 3rd generation digitizing of some line drawings. Arent they gorgeous in that same low tech way?

Beautiful Widget I Posted by Hello

Beautiful Widget II Posted by Hello

Beautiful Widget III Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Common Sense Via the Repo Office

[edited july 19th, 2005]
I tried Blogger's 'next blog' feature the other night and came accross Ms. O, a nice woman who works in a repo office, bakes great looking pastries, lives with her adult son, and was not really convinced by Supersize Me.

Reading her blog is kind of like sitting next to a stranger on a plane ride and re-discovering that there are things that people just have in common. I guess that's what common sense is. Her take on first impressions, from the POV of a repo office, could apply to anyone in corporate America:

"In my line of work, I see all sorts of people. Most people who have their cars repossessed will either find the money to pay enough to get the car back, or they suck it up and go on with life and get a different one. It's just a car.

"Sometimes we have to deal with the Highly Indignant people. How dare we come to their job and steal their car? It was there, we took it, should be end of story. But the Highly Indignant person wants to redeem themselves in the eyes of their family and friends, so they put on A Show.

"The problem with putting on a big show is that the person presents a poor first impression of himself, and we react to the impression. This could cause a 10-minute business exchange to drag out over the course of days, because the Highly Indignant person is more concerned with their performance than with getting the proper information they need in order to resolve the situation."

Well put, Ms. O.

Gestalt Effect, iPods, and Breasts

Gestalt Effect: Defined on wikipedia as the "form-forming capability of our senses."

This explains why a 3 year old can recgognize the iPod Store:

This morning I asked him, "How did you know the iPod Store was an iPod store? Did you see the iPods in it?"

He said, "No! It looks like an iPod!"

OK, this is from the son of one Alex Pang of the Institute For the Future, probably exposed to more iPOds than other 3 year olds might be (thread via metacool).

Grown men automatically exercise these same form-forming abilities in the presense of certain stimuli, a response we can't consciously help. In the case of defectiveyeti, this mammilan response descends upon him at an office pediatric dentistry (and read the comments too, very funny):

"You have no idea how exhausting it is to concentrate on whatever you're saying about my son's dental coverage while 85% of my mental resources have been diverted to my eyeballs to prevent them from drifting southward; you have no idea what a drag it is that, in order to go from looking from your face to looking at the paper in front of me, I have to detour all the way around your chest -- feigning a glance at a wall clock en route -- or move my head so quickly that I risk whiplash.

"Don't get me wrong: I loves me some cleavage. In a bar, at a party, on the beach. But at the pediatric dentist? Come on. That's practically entrapment."

So, um. Thats what breasts and iPods have in common. We see them everywhere. Yep, that's it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Living Strong

I still have my Lance Armstrong bracelet on. It went from novel, to trendy, to mainstream, and now I believe it's post-trendy. What happened?

In the beginning, these bands were symbols of Armstrong's effort to raise awareness that young people get cancer. Someone very close to me fought cancer (and won!) at the age of 30. She actually received her diagnosis on her birthday. Since then I've known other people with cancer, some who are still fighting it. So, I wear the bracelet to remind me of them.

Along the way, bad things happened around the edges of the message. Some things happened for the best of intentions like bracelets for tsunami support, bracelets for school fundraisers, bracelets for AIDS, or diabetes, or whatever. Somethings happened for simple old fashioned human greed. Google "lance armstrong bracelet" and the top ad is for a company marking these up 400%.

The original message got drowned out , to the point where my five-year old tells me, "Dad, you're not cool, you only have one color. Someone in my class has ALL the colors." Maybe the trendiness will go elsewhere, and the only bracelets you see will be the ones that represent the original message. or maybe, those singning the original tune will get tired of the dissonance first, and when the the trend goes, there will be nothing left.

So how do you keep a message, a concept, from being drowned by its own success, when its such a good idea everyone wants a piece of it?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Al Bundy vs. Amazon

Do you remember on Married With Children (you know, before the internet), that one episode where Al is trying to find the song that goes "hm hm HMMMMMM"?

Well, my wife is trying to find a tome on voice recognition. Doesn't know what its called, but she remembers that there's a dog on the cover.

In steps Amazon, and a few clicks later, voila!.

Think Pink, Part II

Like I said before, one of the coolest perq's at IDEO is the tremendously great speakers we get to hear at our regular Know How talks. This week Daniel Pink made me feel gloriously lucky to be amongst the folks here, speaking off his new book, A Whole New Mind.

Don't just take my word for it, here's a perspective from Alex Pang, a research director at the Institute for the Future, and friend of Metacool's Diego Rodriguez.