Category Archives: Innovation & Creativity

In Memory of Joy

I thought for a while before writing this blog entry, which is really about a personal matter, a death in my family of my father’s first cousin this week. I just attended her funeral. I thought: “is it right to mix a personal family matter with this blog, which usually discusses more formal, business stuff, like my research work.”

After contemplating it for a while, I came to the realization that a lot of this blog actually is about personal matters. In fact, a lot of my research is sort of personal and introspective. I recently have given a few doctoral consortium talks about research topics and research impact, and I’ve noted how personal good research often is. So, if there’s one thing I’ve discovered lately that feel important, it’s that the personal and the “business” oriented concerns mix and merged together in my thoughts and in my research.

Blogs are interesting places where we can do this sort of exploration. This blog in a way gives you a little insight into some of the stories behind my other writing, and it gives me a forum for exploring my own thoughts in a way that’s a lot less constrained and forced than my more formal writing like articles or book chapters.

So I am writing this blog entry about my late cousin Julie Garden, was also known as Joy Hall. Joy had a lasting impact on my life and interests and I wanted to share some of the impact she had on me in on the world in general.

Joy was an entrepreneur. After getting her accounting degree (one of the first women in Canada to do so), in the 1950s, she had an idea for a new company that she started with her husband, Moe. The company was called Ambassador Leather Goods. Her idea was to make a type of file folder for credit cards and build it into a stylish wallet. They distributed it through mail-order sales, in a time when the mail order company was cutting-edge marketing science.

Joy was an innovator. The idea behind the company was to merge two at that time cutting-edge trends: the rise of credit cards, and the consequent need the people and organize them, and the efficiency of the mail system and the ability of it to look deliver goods and services through direct mail and catalog-based businesses. This was like riding the Internet wave of the 1950s.

Joy was extremely successful. The business Joy and her husband started was wildly successful, moving from Toronto to Niagara Falls, Canada and from there to Niagara Falls, New York. In the memorial service today, her brother quoted the astonishing figure that at one time 87% of the mail going to Niagara Falls, New York was headed to Ambassador Leather Goods. The company later relocated again, this time to Phoenix, Arizona, which at this time in the mid-1960s was still largely undeveloped, but whose potential Joy, again presciently, recognized.

One of the things that I noticed when I read about Joy’s business in some of the reflections that people had about it online, one of thing that people found most memorable about the Ambassador Leather Goods catalog was the picture of Joy and Moe on the inside front cover and it was signed Joy and Moe Hall. People reflected on that picture. They opined that this was a happy family, a family that somehow by buying these wallets in different goods through the mail they were partaking in. I have no doubt that this personal touch, with their actual signatures, was Joy’s idea.

In a way this was a brand community, maybe even one of the first brand communities. It was a mixing of familial and close knit communal feelings with the commercial and economic workings of the business.

That theme, the relationship and interrelationship of the communal and the commercial, has been a central element of my research work throughout my career. It certainly was a part of Joy’s business and her family’s business as well, as they experimented with forms of multilevel marketing that tried to combine various social relationships with the logics of business. Ruminating on them, writing about them, I had contemplated these interesting social interminglings for decades before I even entered my doctoral program.

It was during her time in Phoenix that Joy had a serious health issue that led her to distrust conventional medicine and to embrace alternative forms of treatment. She was diagnosed with a terminal disease, but she resisted conventional treatments and drugs and sought out alternative treatments, which cured her.

After this incredible experience, she became an evangelical advocate of various sorts of alternative remedies and alternative belief systems. Later, she would be instrumental in institutionalizing, fundraising, and bringing naturopathic medicine to Canada. Because of this work, naturopathy has thrived in Canada, and on practically every corner in my neighborhood there is a naturopathic and homeopathic clinic.

Joy was into healthy food. I remember first learning about the merits of organic food and about vegetarianism from Joy when I was just a kid. And colonic irrigation. Wheat grass juice. Chelation therary. And aura reading. I remember that she insisted that green grapes had powerful anti-toxin properties. She had cheated death once, and I think she planned to continue cheating it, perhaps indefinitely. She was very interested in life extension, and I believe she had ties to the early post-human movement.

Joy was an iconoclast. Another way that Joy influenced my thinking, probably the most profound way, was her introduction of a range of alternative thinkers and writers to me. I remember one of the early books she gave me to read I was probably about 11 years old) was Vera Stanley Alder’s “The Finding of the Third Eye,” and T. Lobsang Rampa’s “You Forever.”

She introduced me to the work of Baba Ram Dass and Dr. John Lilly. I even met some of the spirit channeling and UFO worshiping Unarians at a meeting in her home where, as an impressionable 12 or 13-year-old, I was told by one of their leaders and ‘sensitives’ that I had an “extraordinarily high vibration level” (I felt really special at the time). That exposure contributed to a lifelong interest in mysticism and alternative and particularly Eastern religions, some of which is apparent in my writings about Burning Man (particularly the book chapters).

Joy was a freethinker, she used her wealth and influence to explore and share new ideas. I remember her enthusiasm and her clear bright eyes, the passion with which she spoke, and my own thrilling excitement when I heard the ideas I had never heard from anyone else before being shared. She would take the time to invite my sister and I to share in these ideas, coming to meetings as if we were sort of modern-day cellar Christians, in her wild, extravagant penthouse mansion on Toronto’s Bloor Street was our secret hiding place.

This is my tribute to my cousin, Joy Garden, to a dynamic, independent, free spirited, and compassionate woman who changed the lives of so many she touched.

Joy, you are loved, and you will be missed.

Word Cloud Interpretation for Fun and Profit

That last blog posting generated some interest and I’ve been thinking more about the idea of word clouds as a possible adjunct to what we do as qualitative researchers.

Lois Kelly, who is a brilliant word-of-mouth marketer, had a very interesting comment and turned me on to psychologist James Pennebaker’s work. Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, has published some interesting research about his spin on content analysis. His systems counts and classifies the different types of words that people use (such as adverbs, adjectives, verbs, and even pronouns), and also catalogs them by their different emotional implications. He has published, along with co-authors, some interesting work analyzing and comparing different types of written texts and spoken words. He had even started a business from it, selling the LIWC, or Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software program.

It is intriguing, relevant, high-end, sophisticated stuff, and I am seeing a lot of work in this area as different companies are working hard to develop software that can do sophisticated content analyses of all of the textual information contained online. Companies like netbase, AC Nielsen Buzzmetrics, Cymfony, and Motivequest are all over this emotionally-oriented, passion-and-enthusiasm content coded stuff, and for good reason. It makes good sense.

But when I was speculating about word clouds and their qualitative research usage, I was being a bit more open-ended in my ruminations. I wasn’t thinking about such well-developed systems, ones that provided you with such well though out schemata for analyzing texts.

I was thinking more about doodling. Perhaps even diddling with the doodling.

I was wondering what we could do with the simple word clouds we generate with online engines like wordle.net, which I’ve been playing around with a bit after the Latin American marketing research visionary Pablo Sanchez Kohn set me up with it in one of his online experiments.

I’ve been tooling around with it, and I like it. Why? Well, the people who post it online call it a “toy” and that’s a real insight. It’s just a lot of fun to play with it. It makes decent art, too. The pictures are nice to look at. And to think with, I think. I may frame a couple, or turn them into t-shirts. Why not?

In the play, in that visual appeal, I think there is something deeper that can happen. Because we get some good analysis packed into an at-a-glance form, I think we have opportunities to use that ultimate piece of ‘software,’ the human mind and imagination, to glean insight from these word pictures. We can run poetic comparisons on these scrambled word omelets. And then we can use them to launch creative inquiries into the text. Delving deeper using all our other tools, from content analysis word counts to hermeneutic mindful deep breathing.

A couple of examples today, and then maybe a few in the next post.

Below, I have posted a couple of recent blog pages from Brandthroposophy run through the word cloud generator at wordle.net. I think they’re fairly easy to identify. See if you recognize them.

brandthro4.jpg

That one was the recent set of postings having to do with netnographic resources. It is interesting how that big http dominates the frame; the posting is full of links. But it also captures at a glance some central meaning on the page about a community of Internet research scholars coming together to offer a list of new and different places and things to study. The cloud somehow captures all of this for me rather quickly. You get the academic content, the variety of internet forms, as well as the sense of a knowledge network that is building.

Here’s another one. Do you recognize it?

costcowordcooud3a.jpg

For that one, I took one of my favorite postings, the sad saga about my screws from Costco.com. Can you see at a glance how different these two postings are? This one tells a story about Costco, please Trudy, the screws, the wall, the chair, in March. It’s all somehow squeezed in there. And nice to look at, too.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read in my entire blog, all of the entries from day one, and then construct a single word cloud from it. The software just pulled up one page or entry at a time. That’s too bad, because it would have been exciting to see what the common words have been for the 18 months or so this blog has been in existence. I wonder…

Word cloud: toy, art, or serious research tool. Why should we have to choose?

Applying Netnography and the Netnography08 Conference: Part 1

The Netnography08 Conference in Munich, Germany

Well, I can’t believe I been absent from feeding this blog for so long. It’s been an insanely busy, and insanely great month and a half, full of travel, presentations and practical applications of netnography to global companies. I’m going to bring you up to date in my blog postings here over the next few weeks. So let’s get started.

I just returned from Munich, Germany where I presented the keynote speech at “Netnography08,” which was, as far as I know, the very first conference dedicated entirely and exclusively to netnography as a practical marketing research method. The conference was organized by Hyve AG, the Munich-based innovation firm that I wrote about previously when I visited them in February (see the posting here). The conference was also sponsored by the Burda Group, one of the largest publishers in Germany and a digital communications pioneer in that space. I have to say that this was very exciting, and an honor, to see a technique that I developed as a Ph.D. student grow to become the focus of an entire business conference.

It was an excellent conference, held at the beautiful posh new Sofitel Munich Bayerpost. In attendance were people from BMW, IBM, G2, Swarovski, Ogilvy, Vivaldi, Ferrero, Daimler, o2, Yahoo!, Siemens, PbS, W. L. Gore, McKinsey, Wrigley, many other companies, a bunch of university people, lots of prominent bloggers, and other media people (I continue to admire and be amazed at how the academic and professional communities combine and merge in Germany). You can see a bunch of pictures taken at the event in this Flickr album.

We had some excellent and memorable presentations that really brought to life how useful applications of netnography are becoming to the conduct of marketing research, particularly emphasizing its role in generating the consumer insight that leads to new product development. Although the presentations were in German (and my German is, ahem, not very good), I was delighted to have a set of capable and very accommodating translators (one of whom was Prof. Anton Meyer of LMU).

I’m going to highlighJörg Blumtritt und Christina Heinzt and briefly overview three of those presentations and what they told us. The first one was by Jörg Blumtritt of the Burda Community Network. Burda’s research team, led by the very insightful and engaging Christina Heinz, seemed convinced of the value of netnography, as above and beyond the utility of other qualitative methods such as focus groups and interviews.

Jörg shared some of the findings of a series of netnographic studies about consumers’ media habits undertaken with Hyve. Interestingly, he noted that the method originally didn’t seem to work. There were no places, no forums, no boards, no real communities that they could find where people went to discuss, for example, how and where they used magazines. But a deeper look into online content revealed that consumers certainly did talk about media and the role of media in their lives. But consumers usually talked about their media habits incidentally. It appeared in the margins as people discussed fashion, business, celebrities, cooking, or TV shows. But it was ever-present.

Jorg presentingThrough the study, Burda felt that they got a much more holistic, embedded, contextualized, honest, and nuanced view of German consumer’s media usage meanings, habits, and rituals than they would have through asking direct questions in a focus group or a survey.

The next series of studies was presented by Michael Bartl and Michael Schmidt, two of the ruling troika of Hyve’s partners (Bartl is the businessman and manager; Schmidt is the creative designer; the other member is Professor Johann Füller, who is the scientist academic). They presented a couple of wonderful case studies with some rich detail.

The first one was done to find creative new ideas for Adidas shoes, and part of this study was written up in a wonderful article for the Journal of Business Research by Johann and his colleagues (you can search it here). In that study, Hyve sought out communities where basketball and other shoe “fans” were gathered to discuss shoes and also to design new shoes themselves. This was low-hanging fruit in some sense, because there are very active, engaged, creative communities. Their study highlighted some of the individual posters on some of the biggest boards, such as the incredibly rich Niketalk board, as well as some other sites, boards, and forums, and it also emphasized some of the new shoe designs.

Michael Bartl talking about online community shoe customizationAfter observing these basketball shoe enthusiasts, they drilled down from hundreds of thousands of postings in thousands of threads to a few hundred that were classified having the highest potential to inform innovative efforts. They then distilled their findings into two rich themes. First, they found that these shoe enthusiasts were also collectors. As collectors, they liked to display their shoes. The photographs that some shoe enthusiasts shared with one another depicted room after room filled with ugly cardboard boxes stacked one upon another. And there were multiple comments about how to display, maintain, and store the precious, collectible shoes.

The second theme revolved around the many pictures of shoes customized by individual users. Shoes were colored, died, cut, decaled, stenciled, painted, reshaped, melted, and altered in just about every substantial way that you could think of. Users were highly motivated to want to express their own individuality by changing the shoes, customizing them, adding their own symbols to them, making them their own.

From these two themes, Hyve came up with designs and recommendations to develop a new type of packaging for the shoes. The new packages would double as display cases, with UV-reflecting plastic allowing them to see the shoes inside and display them, but to protect them from harsh light and its aging effects. Moreover, the display packaging would have a branded seal at the top that, if it remained unbroken, would signal that the shoes remained in their pristine state. The seal would not only have symbolic value but would contribute to increased value on the after-market for shoes (and yes, if you haven’t heard it already, shoes are major collectibles; there’s a great documentary about the entire phenomenon called Sneaker Confidential).

Michael Schmidt presenting the innovation solutionIn addition, Hyve designed shoes with a type of customizing kit, that included special paint, brushes, decals and designs so that the shoes could be easily and effectively customized by anyone.

Both of these design initiatives were adapted and launched by Adidas, and the resulting product was a huge success. Michael Bartl’s presentation really hammered home the impact and importance of netnography and its attendant insights to Adidas’ innovation process in developing this new smash product.

In the next two postings I’ll tell you more about some of the presentations at Netnography08 that really brought to light how netnography is being adapted and used by companies in their innovation processes.

Adult Entertainment Brands in the Age of YouTube


Revolutionary times happen in every industry as technocultural change keeps on keeping on. Everyone knows that the Internet has seriously deflated the traditional adult entertainment industry. Adult entertainment once upon a time made major profits printing airbrushed pictures of beehived babes on dead trees. Along came videocassettes, along came cable, and then boom, along came the Internet as a major challenge. How those brands have adapted and not adapted to the changes wrought by technoculture might provide some food for thought for all media companies facing major challenges from rapid technological change among their consumer bases (and that’s just about everyone in the media).

A few years ago, I did an interview with BusinessWeek magazine about the Playboy brand (see the article here). I said that the brand and the bunny icon had some residual appeal, however, a kind of kinder and gentler sexuality that had some kitsch appeal. I thought at the time that a positioning around playful sexuality made sense for Playboy, and indeed, with the Hefner name attached to Playboy, it seems like they can’t move too far from their emotional roots. Playboy is like Adult Disney, it isn’t particularly threatening, dangerous, or perverse. Once it moves into Hustler’s terrain, the brand is, um, screwed.

That’s where the marketing insights of Christie Hefner really seemed to shine. Playboy followed the lead into all forms of New Media–they’ve had to. Although Playboy is the mainstream brand, Playboy Enterprises has built its Spice brands into a hardcore heavyweight. Catering to divergent needs with different brands, Playboy is able to maintain a mainstream corporate brand that offers porn to the masses (and the masses are loving, it by the way, as this recent popular machinima YouTube video attests). And with Spice, they also have a complete range of offerings to satisfy many adult tastes. Diverse tastes, legitimacy concern, multiple brands. I called it “decoupling” in the BusinessWeek article, and Christie Hefner called it the use of a flanker brand. Whatever you call it, it made good sense to me.

The results seem to bear out that this strategy makes sense. I see the Playboy brand around, adorning women’s jewelry and clothing, more than ever. Although we don’t often acknowledge it, sexual repression is alive and well in our contemporary society, and it inspires resistance. Clearly the brand’s meanings of an open, guiltless, approach to sexual pleasure have resonance with young and old.

Penthouse’s brand hasn’t been doing nearly as well. Entering Hustler’s space, Penthouse went hardcore and its sales suffered. Channels closed up, and in 2003 its publisher filed for bankruptcy. As Abram Sauer writes in an interesting online posting about the brand for brandchannel.com, Penthouse has been restructured and re-launched into the same mainstream segment that Playboy occupies. Like Playboy, Penthouse now features only “tasteful” full nudity and now has at least 11 international editions and a circulation around 350,000. There is little doubt that this brand is struggling, and Sauer opines that Penthouse needs to find its proper customer segment. Which group of people, which set of needs, is the brand going to appeal to?

But I think my initial observations paid far too little attention to the revolutionary changes that technoculture–the combined impacts of technology and culture–has brought. How do adult entertainment brands find and create meaning today in such a rapidly changing, high-demand, instant access, everything available, porn, porn, everywhere world? Consider first some alternatives, like the Suicide Girls, Burning Angel and SuperCult web-sites that spotlight a different type of young woman, exposing a grittier and more realistic, more 3-dimensional view. As you can see in the quick posterview comparison in the graphics above, sites like these seem to cater not only to a different target but to a different aesthetic thank Playboy and Penthouse, and I think that’s important (BTW, I don’t mean to ignore or bypass the many important and worthwhile alternatives to mainstreamy straight porn in this blog, I just don’t have the bandwidth to deal with everything in a focused way this time).

But I think what is going on simultaneously is something even more fundamental than a particular target’s needs not being served. What if parts of the porn industry are shifting, just like parts of so many industries are shifting, into a more communal and do-it-yourself (DIY) model. What if increasing numbers of people don’t have the same taste for professional porn that they once did, and prefer the amateur variety?

What if the porn industry is becoming wikimediated the same way that Star Trek and other media properties are, the same what that YouTube is democratizing the media, and blogs are engaging the news? What if a rising tide of people (yes, people, male, female, and every possible combination) is actually *enjoying* the combination of voyeurism and exhibitionism that they can only get by DIYing their porn?

There are many business models out there for monetizing this trend and its activity. Go check out RedClouds, WhatBoysWant and YuVuTu web-sites, for instance, to see adult entertainment brands that brand themselves around user-generated content. And there is an awful lot of room for free content out there. People seem much happier consuming their porn rapidly on screens rather than slowly on dead trees. What works and what doesn’t in the adult entertainment industry is going to be an interesting lesson that is going to help us understand the nature, appeal, trends, and business models of user-generated content across many other new and old media industries.

The Giorgini Principles: Lessons on Midwifing Innovative Industries from the Milanese Fashion Industry

I’ve been fascinated by the theory and practice of innovation for years, having taught and developed the New Products course at the Kellogg School of Management for seven years. My recent blog entry on the Conference Board’s critique of Canada as a stagnant cesspool of unimaginative copycats has spurred my interest in this area even further.

The more I personally experience of Canada’s business climate, the more despondent I become. The Canadian economy is an American business clone living in a different political-social-cultural ecosystem. The supermarkets are all-American styles, but the service and stocking systems are pathetic. Same for all the franchised “services”? All-American style, but with the Canadian spin on “service.” Is there a unique Canadian cuisine? Canadian health care advances (American style, but without the budget or the service orientation)? Canadian rituals and customs? Uniquely Canadian brands (you mean President’s Choice?)? Almost everything manufactured is Made in China and consumers here don’t seem to really care: Made in Canada seems to signify nothing in any sector of the economy. And why should it?

No wonder Canadian national wealth is based on the hewing of trees and the dredging of oily tar sands. Oh, and tourism. Camping, fishing, hunting and skiing. It is a patchwork economic system based on raw material exports, exploiting land mass, and a plethora of professional services based largely on (watered down) imitation (of course there are notable exceptions, like Research in Motion, but far too few of them). It needs more.

Many of these critiques could also be leveled at the American economy. It isn’t nearly as apathetic as Canada’s, but its design and innovation orientation are slipping. What does Made in American signify anymore? In which sectors (besides Hollywood, weaponry, and high-tech) does it matter anymore? American and Canadian, heck, the rest of the world too: these are challenging times requiring immense innovation. We can all do better.

I recently came back from a magnificent trip to Italy and Switzerland as part of the European Association for Consumer Research conference (Stefania, Cele and Mary Ann put on the best conference I’ve ever attended…bravissimo!). While I was on that trip I spent a lot of time with my colleague Diego Rinallo at Bocconi University in Milan, and we spoke about the topic of innovation, and creating innovative industries. I can’t say enough about Bocconi, by the way. It is the #1 University in Italy, it has a gorgeous campus and, best of all, it is chock full of brilliant scholars doing cutting-edge, important work in the areas of consumer culture and marketing, people like Antonella Caru, Bernard Cova, Stefania Borghini, Stefano Pace and of course Diego.

So let’s talk fashion. Milan is chock full of important and innovative designers: Prada, Armani, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana are households names around the world. There are many others: Emilio Pucci, Navarra, Cavalli. Somehow, I was under the impression that Italy and in particular Milan had always been important fashion centers, that their innovation in clothing design had been long-standing, like maybe from the Roman ages when togas were all the rage. But Diego’s recent historical studies set me straight.

Amazingly, given its international influence and renown, the Italian fashion industry is actually only 56 years old. That’s pretty amazing. Before February 12th, 1951, there was no Italian fashion industry as such. Italian dressmakers were simple copycats. They looked to Paris for design, creativity, novelty. Paris dictated fashion. Milanese and Italian dressmakers built it. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Then along came Giovanni Battista Giorgini. He was originally a buyer of handcrafted leather goods (and much more) for a set of American department stores, a guy in touch with markets and marketing, who knew how the fashion industry worked at the level of merchandising and retailing. With some hard work, he convinced thirteen important Italian dressmakers to present their own designs and collections in Florence, at the beautiful Sala Bianca of Pitti Palace, in front of a selection of American buyers and journalists.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The idea caught on, Italy became a center for design, and a major high-value-added Milanese and Italian industry was born.

I think that major case studies of how innovative industries and companies begin and work is of immense value to managers, educators, and policy-makers. I’d love to work with Diego on building a more rigorous examination of Giorgini’s Milanese success story into an article about creating innovative industries.

Here are Five Initial Principles for Creating Innovative Industries that we can learn from the Creation of the Milanese Fashion Design Industry. Without wanting to personalize them too much (because I believe and assert that we can definitely learn from what he has done, and others can do it again in other industries), I call them “The Giorgini Principles.”

1. Code-Switching: The innovative industry “movement” was led by Giorgini, a man with cross-continental experience, a fluent translator who spoke fluent American-English, fluent Italian, fluent business/marketing lingo, and fluent fashion. He was a perfect ambassador.

2. Histori-Localization: Giorgini maintained and emphasized the Italiano aspects of design. He talked about how Italian collections would have particular lines, cuts and portability that drew from the Renaissance artistic tradition. Locating the critical “First Italian High Fashion Show” in the 15th century Palazzo Pitti was brilliant and highly symbolic of this historical-national connection. We now find that historical and local connections are read as the harbingers of authenticity by consumers of all kinds (this goes for B2B buyers as well). There was no real historical continuity between these Renaissance designs and the current Italian fashion industry. It, too, was manufactured. And fairly recently.

3. Tuning: Giorgini not only initiated creative ideas, he knew how to sell them, by first learning, building connections, tuning in and customizing for the relevant market, which was the American (and Canadian) market, through his connections with major retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, H. Morgan, Tiffany, Bonwit Teller, and Sakowitz. Staying in touch with American buyers and customers meant that Georgini was balancing multiple needs. He was managing the creative market-driving of designers, but also matching and directing it to be market-driven by the needs and responses of the American markets. That opportunity to bring in a fresh perspective and listen exists for every entrenched market.

4. Rupture Opportunism: The timing was no accident. Paris had been battered by WW2 and Hitler had misunderstood the value and placement of the Parisian fashion center and tried at one time to move it to Berlin. Paris’s dominance as a fashion center had been challenged and weakened and the time was right for a strong challenger to step in. Giorgini’s genius was to recognize this, get the timing right, and implement perfectly.

5. Pattern-Breaking: Giorgini planned the fashion shows to occur immediately after Paris held their own fashion shows. This left the designers with no time to imitate French fashion designs. They were forced to be innovative and unique.

I think that this story and these principles can be an inspiration for Canadian companies, industries, educators, and policy-makers to wake up and find an industry to claim (or reclaim) as its own. I think that industry should be in that oxymoronic necessity of environmental “technology.” I use the word “technology” loosely, to also denote new changes in techniques, procedures, practices, and ways of living, as well as in complex machines. Canada still has a natural (as in close-to-nature) “brand” meaning for the rest of the world, especially Europe and the USA (they buy Canadian mineral water for this reason). Will the world attune to our new technologies and systems to help form a more sustainable future?

What will the future cities of the world look like? Europe is ahead in innovations in this area, but with its environmental challenges, its educated workforce, and its access to capital, I think that Canada could become a quick study. The first step is that we are going to need major public and private players who recognize that the oil-and-trees boom is going to go bust very soon.

Who will be Canada’s green tech Giogini? Will someone please step up? You will need to be

  • An excellent code-switcher, attuned to the realities of global environmental markets
  • Aware of local and historical backgrounds, and able to build a strong case for the basis and value of Canadian ingenuity and design in this area
  • Tuned into international opportunities and sales/consumption networks
    Able to take advantage of the ruptures caused by the general lack of green technology or emphasis, particular in the current Bush-led America
  • Capable of devising ways to break Canadian thinkers, engineers, students, educators, policy-makers, and companies out of their intellectually lazy imitative funk, and able to motivate them to create novel products and procedures for a world that needs them

Canadian industry needs a new direction. Merely talking about “commercialization:” (the current buzzword, even worse than innovation) or “innovation” is far too general. Canada needs a specific sector or sectors where a small country like Canada can sustainably focus its “resources” literally and figuratively into particular kinds of investments and risks, portfolios of places that lock together into the kinds of microclimates and ecosystems we see in places like Silicon Valley or Hollywood/Burbank, where expertise builds on top of expertise, instead of single isolated bubbles of technology.

We have the beginnings of some interesting innovative clusters: hydrogen in BC, handheld devices in Waterloo, theater in Toronto. So how can we use the Giorgini Principles to get the geographical clustering that will attract diverse but focused talent (a la Richard Florida’s very important Creative Class work), build communities of interest and concern that functional alongside the economic practicalities of workaday culture, lead to an easy informational marketplace that aggregates ideas and companies, and lead to centers of excellence that get funded and richly pay out their investments? That’s a big question, but it’s well worth getting our finest minds tgo start thinking about it.

In Canada, for sure. And everywhere else.

O Innovation, Where Art Thou?

Just a quick follow on post to my prior post on innovation.

My good friend, Department Chair, and colleague Eileen Fischer emailed me a great comment that I’m going to incorporate here.

She has a bone to pick with the way that the Conference Board measured innovation for its report. They measured innovation as proxied by two things. One was patents and the other was scientific journal articles, both measured per capita. There are many problems with both measures. Patenting in America and a few other places is out of control because people are making a lot of money on legal challenges (as witness the recent debacle that nearly shut down Research in Motion, and ended up making their legal aggressor plenty rich). The second measure, journal publications, seems to have a whole host of problems. Are we talking good quality journals? Only hard science journals? What do publications have to do with innovation, really? What to we mean by innovation then?

As I think about Eileen’s great points, it seems we are desperately in need of better measures of innovation.

And those improved measures need to start with better definitions of innovation. My friend Gerald Haman of Chicago’s SolutionPeople brainstorming company defines innovation as a practically applied idea or invention. That’s a solid start. We’re not just talking about ideas, but applied ideas, commercialized ideas.

I’m also thinking that we need to be much more open-minded about the kinds of innovation that matter now and that are going to matter in the future. And the kind of cultural systems—local, familial, regional, national, and global—that are going to support them.

Measuring patents, Nobel Prizes, and hard science journal publications smells to me like a smokestack economy. Is that all that we’re really after here? New products only? New flavors of potato chips and new squeezy things for our toothpaste containers? Or are we also looking for major changes in lifestyle, in thinking, in doing, experiencing. The kind of innovation that we should be looking for are innovations on a cultural level, as well as including a material goods and services component.

I think the kinds of creative thinking we see in the entertainment industry, in the software industry, in themed retail, and online in the so-called Web2.0 economy are highly significant. Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class sorts of innovation. Seen in that light, I’ve been studying innovators and innovation my entire research career and I think we’re seeing major changes across society in the way we “do” innovation.

What might be some good measures of cultural innovation to add to the list? Per capita percentages of bloggers, wiki-participants, and content adders? Percentage of tinkerers? Of fans? Amount of Do-It-Yourself stores in a neighborhood? Prevalence of basic HTML literacy in the population? Percentage of people who start their own small businesses? Percentage of people who had one or more entrepreneurial parents? Tax rates on small business and small business owners? Amount of general risk-taking propensity in the culture?

If we don’t come up with better measures and definitions, we’re not going to get what we really need.

Next week, I’m going to talk about one of the most innovative places on Earth: Burning Man. And I’m going to examine the controversial sell out that its organizers made this year, a sell out that a lot of good people fear will destroy much of what is good about it.

Uh Oh, Canada: Innovation Alert!

Yikes. According to a report just released last week by The Conference Board of Canada, Canada is in big trouble. How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada compares Canada’s performance in several areas to other OECD countries and tries to come up with relative ratings and a national strategy.

The good news is that they gave Canada an “A” grade for education and skills training, claiming that Canada’s education system “works well for mainstream participants” but that it doesn’t serve the needs of the highly educated or innovative. From my experience, I agree. That’s better in some ways than systems that can’t even fulfill basic needs. But America has a thriving private school system and a system of scholarships that accompany it to reward excellence and encourage cutting edge thinking.

America’s education system produced 58% of the world’s Nobel prizes in science between 1950 and 2006: 206 awards. Despite criticism of America’s public system at the lower levels, it is firing on all cylinders at this higher level. Canada’s system produced a measly 6 Nobel prizes in science in the same 56 year period, a rate of only one prize every 9 years or so. Canada’s system produced as many winners as Australia, a country with only 60% of Canada’s population. Canada was beaten by Sweden, a country of only 9 million people (versus Canada’s 33 million). I’m being a tad provocative here, but so what if we’ve got good basic education? It just means we are graduating a bunch of highly educated bank tellers, franchise workers, and wait staff.

Canada’s education system is stuck in the middle tiers of mediocrity. It teaches mediocrity and it rewards mediocrity. It isn’t completely bad, it’s just not innovative. It doesn’t take many risks and it encourages students not to take risks. I’m puzzled about how that system can get an “A” grade. The big reason seems to be that a lot of people move through the system and get their secondary and post-secondary degrees, yet I think we need higher standards than that. This isn’t a world where having your high school diploma guarantees you anything anymore. Maybe a job working at Subway.

So that’s the good news.

Let’s move on to the not-so-good ratings. They give a “B ” rating to the Health system. I like what the Report had to write about Health, but think they are too generous to an outmoded system. But hey, they need to be politically astute. I don’t.

They cite a number of statistics to show that Canada provides a good basic level of universal health care, which it does. They also seem to factor in that Canadians think they have a great health care system. This conveniently ignores the truth: they’re misguided. Canadians also think that Americans suffer with a terrible health care system. But the Canadian system is on the verge of a breakdown, with wait times in emergency wards around me approaching 6 hours, insane delays for appointments with specialists and criminally long waitlists for important surgeries like heart bypass surgery. The care I got with the most basic HMO in Chicago completely kicked the lauded Canadian health care system’s butt. Basic care for diseases like cancer is okay according to the report, but not amazing. Now think about that. When you can afford the care (and that’s a big “if”, but bear with me) and it is you or someone you love that has cancer, I can only think that you want amazing care, not just sufficient care. In Canada, you can’t even buy better care if you want it. That’s illegal, and that’s nutso. The report finds that innovation is sorely lacking in health care, and is a key to its revival and success. Innovation is their common theme.

Now, to the really bad news. Among other things, Canada is not managing child poverty well at all; that issue is getting out of hand. Dashing the safe and happy Canada image portrayed in movies like Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore, Canada has high burglary and assault rates. Organized crime is out of control in major cities. The country has a crime problem that no one wants to discuss.

And worst of all for future generations, Canada gets a D in terms of how it is managing its Environment. While there are some decent achievements in environmental protection, overall Canada deserves an F, not a D. Only two countries contribute more greenhouse gases per capita than the supposedly green Canadians: America and Australia. The Conference Board again makes a stand for innovation, saying that with the right initiatives, Canada could be building a green economy that would lead to all sorts of benefits. I think they’re right.

The bottom line is Canada’s D in innovation. Canada ranks far behind smaller counties like Switzerland, Sweden, and Finland, and behind powerhouse economies like America and Germany. Canada has been depending on its natural resources for far too long and is squandering its greatest resource: a highly educated and well-trained workforce. Many countries have done much more with less. It’s a cultural problem. A problem of motivation. As the report says “This culture holds Canada back in entrepreneurial and technological innovation.” Across the board, the system punishes risk takers and encourages mediocrity.

Canada’s performance across all measures of innovation is “consistently poor.” As the report says, that poor performance is beginning to seep into every other aspect of Canadians’ lives. It has a direct impact on the economy. It leads to an aging and outmoded health care system and weaker social services. It shows up in a mediocre, risk averse education system. And old methods and a reliance on outdated technology mean a dirtier and unsafe environment.

The report says that Canada desperately needs a “national vision” that will encourage innovative behavior. I couldn’t agree more. And a good place to start would be Canadian business schools. As I learned in my last two years teaching MBAs in Toronto, Canada has outstanding students with excellent basic skills and lots of good ideas. As I raised the bar on them, they could handle most of what I threw at them. In the span of a semester, they achieved great things like creating new products (in a few cases suggesting new industries), estimating demand for entirely new products, using innovative methods like netnography and visual metaphor elicitation to get a read on current trends and insight into consumers’ tacit needs, and editing consumer videographies. They received b-school education at the highest levels.

Unfortunately, most of them weren’t rewarded with the great jobs they deserved. I taught them cutting edge marketing and management techniques that most of them simply were not able to apply in their Canadian jobs, because the scope of those jobs was so limited. It wasn’t simply a function of their management level, either. My MBAs from University of Wisconsin and Northwestern simply had more choices of jobs with much wider and more innovative marketing scope.

One of the reasons I chose to come back to Canada and work at the Schulich School was the high rankings and attention that Schulich was getting for its emphasis on integrating environmental and social issues into a business school curriculum. For some details, see the recent Beyond Grey Pinstripes report. But it’s crucially important that the students get good jobs so that they can apply that worldview and use those techniques.

I’m currently working on three initiatives to try to make progress for our students by working with industry and with the school to come up with new programs to teach and help implement innovation. These programs need to work with industry to ensure a relevant education and that we have good placements for students when they are done. We want the education to have real impact, impact that can be realized.

  1. I just finished teaching one of Canada’s first Word of Mouth Marketing courses. The course ran in collaboration with Sean Moffitt of Agent Wildfire, one of Canada’s leading thinkers and innovators in the area, and the founder of one of Canada’s top WOM Marketing firms. Along with Sean’s help, I had students placed working with Starbucks, Nike, HarperCollins publishers, a CBC/Discovery Channel Documentary called Gamer Revolution, and the interesting nonprofit Rethink! breast cancer. Together, the 5 student teams came up with some dynamite marketing plans that ran on shoestring budgets with high-level thinking and ingenious ideas. I’m a true believer in WOM as a source of major marketing innovation. The results of the inaugural year of WOM Marketing were a major success, and I plan to follow the course up with another version next year.
  2. The next initiative is a brand new MBA level course in Innovation and New Product Strategy at the Schulich School of Business that will launch in Winter 2007.
  3. The third one is the biggest initiative of all. Along with a number of faculty and other people I’m spearheading a plan to start a new degreed program exclusively in the area of Consumer-centered Innovation. I hope this program will be among world leaders in implementing ideas that cross functional lines and disciplinary areas and lead to applications of breakthrough thinking.

Canada isn’t the only country in trouble. I think that what the report is saying in general applies well to almost every nation, maybe to our entire species. We need new thinking and new governance systems. Across the board. We need innovations that will help us rapidly change our culture and our systems to a more sustainable social system. We need a nimble and innovative global economy, and a cultural system that helps us use resources wisely and live within our means.

In a previous post, I had an idea that would help consumers to see environmental impacts of the products and service they buy. Imagine the kinds of innovation such a system would begin to spur. Imagine the other innovations we could come up with and implement if we put our minds to it.

Education has a huge part to play in all of this. So does business. Academics, particularly those in business schools, are well placed to have an impact on these matters. I welcome collaborators in all of these areas from next door and from across the world. And as always I welcome your comments.