A look at what – and who – is pushing the future in new directions

Business

Let It Dough!

Absolutely brilliant! Christoph Niemann creates the world in pastry dough. Proves that deas really do live in visuals, not words.


Next time I go shopping I can say “my genes made me do it!” Consumer preference is in the genes (via Futurity)

U. FLORIDA (US) — Genetics may be responsible for what we buy and when we buy it, according to a new study about the buying patterns of twins.

“Whether we like science fiction, hybrid cars, jazz, mustard, opera, and dark chocolate all seem to have a genetic component,” says Aner Sela, assistant professor of  marketing  at the University of Florida.

Sela’s study will be published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

The findings suggest that even certain “irrational” choice tendencies may be inherent. Beyond specific product likes and dislikes, there is a genetic basis for selecting a compromise or middle option, choosing between a sure gain and a risky gamble, and favoring “vice” over “virtue” in the form of a utilitarian or hedonistic option.

These different styles of decision-making reveal themselves in a various ways when making consumer choices, Sela says. The tendency to select “vice” over “virtue,” for example, might show up in using a $4 gift card for Godiva chocolates instead of a package of batteries.

“Our research is groundbreaking with choice tendencies in general—do I tend to be risk seeking, do I tend to be compromising, do I tend to be variety seeking—making us really the first to show that those behaviors have a genetic basis.”

The golden nugget in this research is captured in the following statement: 

 “The finding that consumer preferences are often determined by inherent factors could suggest that companies might sometimes be better advised to let consumers take the lead in expressive preferences and then react with certain products, rather than relying on marketing tactics to sway customers’ buying behavior,”


Don’t let the monotone voice fool you; this iPod nano cum watch project is really exciting.

About this project

Hi! Thanks for checking out our project. With your help we would love to make our idea a reality and get them on as many wrists as possible.

TikTok and LunaTik simply transform the iPod Nano into the world’s coolest multi-touch watches. The idea to use the Nano as a watch was an obvious one ever since the product was announced. But we wanted to create a collection that was well designed, engineered and manufactured from premium materials and that complemented the impeccable quality of Apple products. Not just clipped on a cheap strap as an afterthought. We wanted to create a product that your friends and strangers would stop you and ask “WTF is that??? And where can I get one?!”

TikTok is a simple snap-in design. It allows the user to easily and securely snap the Nano into the wrist dock. It cleanly and simply integrates the Nano and transforms it into a modern multifunction timepiece.

LunaTik is designed and intended to be a premium conversion kit for someone that wants to dedicate their Nano to being a watch and the newest conversation piece with their friends. It is forged from Aerospace Grade Aluminum and then machined via CNC into its final form.

The straps are made from high grade silicone rubber and the hardware is solid stainless steel not some chrome plated brass that will wear off. The quality of these watch cases and straps will be scrutinized very carefully and produced in the same factories that produce the best watches for companies like Nixon, Diesel, Vestal, and Nike.

So many watch companies have struggled to make a multi-touch color display watch to date. It is no small task. The Nano itself is an engineering wonder. Multi-Touch, color display, long battery life, MP3, radio, photos, pedometer, Nike+ and clock all in an impossibly small package. Just like reinventing the phone it took Apple to make it possible. And in clock mode the Nano battery lasts at least a week before recharging. We are excited to help complete the effort in converting it to a watch that everyone can enjoy.

So here is where you come in. Designing products is what we, MINIMAL, do day-in and day-out for big brands. But like most designers our dream is to eventually make our own products. But funding, manufacturing and distributing a new product is a whole other story. Kickstarter is a great way for us to realize many of the ideas that we have in our small studio that we know people will love but big companies are scared to do. We love creating cool stuff without the big company politics and indecision. We believe in the emerging power of community and the individual to bring ideas to life and we hope that this is just the beginning. By pledging at least $25 you are pre-ordering TikTok or by pledging $50 you are pre-ordering the LunaTik and helping make what we believe is a very cool iPod accessory a reality.

And if you pledge at the Limited Edition levels you will get one of the red anodized Backer versions.

With your support we are targeting to have the TikTok shipping to Backers by late December and the LunaTik by mid January. We hope that you are inspired and excited by the idea and choose to support the project. Either way please spread the word and share with your friends. Everyone has at least one friend that is a watch geek.

Thank you!

Note: TikTok will retail for $34.95 and LunaTik will retail for $69.95. iPod Nano not included. iPod Nano, Apple logo and Apple are registered trademarks of Apple Inc.

Project location: Chicago, IL

At $35-$70, it’s sure to do well (I’d be surprised if it didn’t make it to market).


Fuel cells placed in estuaries could help power cities like Boston and New York!

THE GIST:
  • Mixing freshwater with saltwater produces electricity. 
  • A process known as reverse electrodialysis could channel that electricity into the power grid. 
  • Right now the electricity would be relatively expensive to produce, but that could change.

Capturing electrical current in naturally flowing ones seems pretty cool to me, especially when it has no environmental impact. Another example of how solutions to global issues (of all kinds) are going local. Looks very promising!

From news.discovery.com:

As long as rivers of freshwater flow into a salty sea, rivers of electricity could flow from estuaries into the power grid.

Scientists from the Netherlands have found a way to harvest electricity from estuaries using devices similar to a fuel cell and they say that a full-scale production plant could provide significant amounts of power to nearby cities.

These small stacks have no moving parts to endanger wildlife or break, and could add electricity to the grid as fast as freshwater is dumped into saltwater.


Theater upstages fashion, but who’s complaining? The Official Ralph Lauren 4D Experience

Virtual reality is soooo last decade (aught-ish)! Now, in 2010, in the new decade we see virtual and physical experiences merge for the next phase of time-and-space bending expressions: Immersive Reality.

And the Ralph Lauren 4D shows are an early indicator of where it’s all headed. This video offers a taste, but for a more complete representation, you’ve got to go to the site: http://4d.ralphlauren.com/

The videos document major shows held last week ‘on’ Ralph Lauren’s flagship stores in NYC and London. They featured 3D holographic projections that bring the building to life, laser light shows, and a 4th dimension: scent. It’s a mash-up of ad, art installation, and fashion show.


Inexpensive, portable water purifier doesn’t require running water or electricity


Climate scientists predict extreme drought for U.S. and Western hemisphere – and major consequences -in coming decades

Extreme drought is likely in store in the coming decades for parts of the United States and the broader Western Hemisphere, scientists said today (Oct. 19), cautioning that we should expect dry conditions unlike anything seen in modern times.

The likely culprit: warming temperatures linked to climate change.

“We are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades, but this has yet to be fully recognized by both the public and the climate change research community,” said National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist and study team member Aiguo Dai. “If the projections in this study come even close to being realized, the consequences for society worldwide will be enormous.”

Just when we learned that the world is NOT ending in 2012 (update: the Mayan prediction is, apparently, wrong) comes news of something more gruesome.

As for this winter, meteorologists say La Nina may be laying into us with more snow and cold but, if the climatologists are right, we shouldn’t let today’s temperatures fool us.

What does this mean? Sustainability isn’t a trend or a value set, it’s a mandate.


Yahoo’s Purchase of Associated Content and Journalistic Industrialization

Journalistic End Times, Pre-chewed Food for Thought

The new rules of content are simple:

  • The content must be SEO-friendly.
  • The content must be available for every topic imaginable.
  • The content must be cheap to produce.
  • The content must generate ad buys.

Yahoo’s purchase of Associated Content last week, for a whopping $90 million, highlights the growing race for ad dollars going on among the Internet’s biggest players. The best way to get those ad buys is to offer companies highly-targeted content that will attract a niche audience. The best way to get the most esoteric content in the shortest amount of time is to prioritize quick and dirty efficiency over expression.

The result is something akin to an online industrial revolution, with content sweatshops churning out cheap, choppy, but sufficient bullet point lists and how-to videos. Like most physical factories, the emphasis is on making money, not producing quality work.

Sure, the content has to hold up, but it’s far from thoughtful exploration. The fact that I’ve been working on this post for about four hours (I wrote the end first) would make me worth less than $4 an hour to Demand Media.

Demand Media advertises itself as the leader in social media, claiming:

“Every day Demand Media makes it possible for people to create and publish valuable content, for millions of Internet users to engage around passionate communities, and for thousands of websites to grow with social media features their audiences want.”

Demand Media

The idea of “social media” has been through more mad libs than I can count, but there are still surprises to be had by the liberties taken at its expense. Media is media, but affixing the word “social” implies that there is some emotion, some modicum of unprovoked human expression involved.

Or it seems it should be that way. Phrases like “the death of journalism” have been thrown around for years, but if you were looking for the smoking gun, here it is.

The goals of companies like Associated Content and Demand Media are light years different than those of the Star Tribune or Los Angeles Times. Both need money to survive, but while content factories produce useful content solely to sell ads, we have to believe that most writers at these newspapers still want to tell a story.

But it takes too long, and it’s too inefficient. Major newspapers across the country now rely on this Sam’s Club model to fill the empty space by writers they could no longer afford to keep on staff. In turn, many of these writers now find themselves absorbed into the very system that is working hard to replace their brethren, churning out 30-minute articles and videos on how to draw horses or steep green tea.

We want content, we want it now and we want it pre-digested.

In 2009 Wired covered Demand Media in depth, dubbing it “The Answer Factory,” and the nickname is scary accurate.

Content Sweatshops, Algorithm-based Ideation

Companies like Demand Media employ a huge number of freelancers, producing content in bulk for pennies per piece. These are the “how-to’s” you find on sites like eHow, and each one pays about $15 if you’re a writer – $20 if you’re a videographer. You get paid even less to proofread.

The process is more machine than human, a journalistic terminator of sorts – intent on subjugating search results through esoteric optimization and algorithm-based imperialism, while struggling to portray a human facade.

Contributors operate more like factory workers than content creators, fitting blocks of information into prescribed patterns without much creative flexibility, racing towards mindless efficiency. It’s not a commentary on the creators themselves, but the system they’ve been left to create within.

How to Make Christmas Cat Treats | eHow.com

With Demand Media, it’s all about the idea-generating algorithm. Computers analyze user searches, ad buys and competitor content to find holes in the material that’s online – ranging from semi-general (kayaking) to very specific (origami frogs) – and spit out keywords.

Another algorithm then determines what context these keywords might be queried within and regurgitates a meatier, but jumbled lump of search-optimized  phrases terms. Finally, a human editor picks this up and, for 15 cents, turns the mess into something resembling a title.

Then it’s creation, editing, plagiarism-checking and posting. Someone, somewhere, will now be able to find a tailored article detailing the fine art of constructing a pirate hat out of construction paper. Perhaps they will also click on an ad for a trailer of the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean while they’re at it.

And it’s not just about content that people will want to read – it’s about content that advertisers will want to pay to have their ads placed on. Most of the money generated by these companies comes from PPC-based ad buys. To get make more money, you’ve got to have more ads – to get those ads, you have to have content to attach it to.

So the machine continues to turn. In the near future Demand Media hope to produce one million pieces of content a month. Sooner or later, traditional journalism will seem like John Henry racing the steam engine.

Mass Production Gone Mainstream

Demand Media isn’t alone in this quest for content, either. AOL’s Seed system, introduced last year, operates in a similar fashion, and Yahoo’s recent purchase of Associated Content highlights the search engine’s desire to join the fray.

In light of Yahoo’s recent partnership with Bing, the move makes sense. With Bing handling search and Yahoo taking over the ad network, it’s no wonder Yahoo is looking for ways to produce more advertising revenue. For $90 million, Yahoo now has a stable of 350,000 contributors shelling out content based on algorithms designed to maximize ad buys.

Even Google has dipped a toe, using video content from Demand Media to pursue more ad buys on YouTube. Google also powers ads on sites like eHow, so while they’re not yet in the content game they seem more than content to dine at its table.

For those of us who still like our answers with inflection, there are places to go, but how far are you willing to dig. Are you prepared to siphon two-three pages of Google search results to find something worthwhile?


General Motors Hopes for a Battery-powered Recovery

We’re on the cusp of a battery revolution. On Thursday, General Motors will begin battery pack assembly at its plant in Brownstown Township, Michigan. It will be the first plant of its kind in the United States and, one can hope, start a trend rather than a flash in the pan.

Remember the stimulus package – that controversial, Titanic piece of legislation? Well you can thank our government, at least in part, for this leap forward on the part of GM. Way back in March, the president announced plans to reward advances in battery technology for the support of electric vehicle proliferation in the states.

General Motors was one of many companies that applied for some of the $2 billion+ in federal funding under the Electric Drive Vehicle Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative.

The money wasn’t just to boost hybrid vehicles in the United States, but to boost our competitiveness in the “battery wars.” Most of the batteries that power your phone, laptop, and various mobile devices and pending tablets come from overseas. Companies like LG, in South Korea, currently hold a rather large market share. While General Motors will be using cells from LG, the actual manufacturing of the battery packs will be going on right here – or in Michigan, rather.

Just as the United States has a role to play in battery production, GM, and the Obama administration, is hoping that there are also gains to be made in the area of more efficient automobile. Having grown up on a steady diet of Buick Leasers, Oldsmobile 98s and Cadillac DeVilles, I can say without reservation that I do not equate U.S. automobiles with either efficiency or the future of driving.

That’s not to say that I don’t love Buicks – just drop by and I’ll take you for a ride in mine.

But when I think compact efficiency, I think Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, etc. However, with the exception of the Prius, most of the models rely on fuel efficiency. Battery-powered cars, while not new in concept, have yet to reach any sort of critical mass. So, cars like the Chevy Volt enter into a race that is still very much anyone’s game.

The Volt’s lithium-ion battery pack will be able to charge both on board, by way of an internal combustion engine, and externally, from a plain, old household current. This means that, just as we now plug our phones in overnight, so too may we, in the future, charge our cars while we sleep. According to Discover Magazine, that’s a good 40 miles out of 80 cents of electricity. Not too shabby!

Learn more about the Chevy Volt below.

[via earth2tech]


NASA Helps Farmers Dig Healthy Crops

Managing Crops from the Heavens

Farmers are using satellite views of their land for strategic management of their crops, marketing, and soil.  Strategy, no matter what you’re ‘field’, is a always a matter of perspective.

From National Geographic:

The images help the Thomases root out problems caused by Canadian thistle and other weeds, NASA adds. “They help confirm that their crops are growing at least 10 feet from the borders of a neighboring farm–required to maintain organic certification. They can also spot the telltale signs of bottlenecking in the fields—where flooding is over-saturating crops–and monitor the impact of hail storms.”

Said Thomas, “We’d have to walk our entire 1,200 hundred-plus acres on a regular basis to see the same things we can see by just downloading satellite images.”

Thomas recently began providing her farm’s coordinates to her buyers in Japan. “There’s no more ideal way I know to show how healthy our crops are to someone thousands of miles away,” she said.


Social Media is Dead – Long Live the New Fresh

rssMy Google homepage looks like “Night of the Living Dead.” RSS feeds roam the screen like zombies with unfulfilled shopping lists. I don’t have a helicopter, so there’s no way I’m getting out of this.

Oh, didn’t you hear? Sometime ago RSS died. There wasn’t a big going away party – just a few close friends. And yet … it wanders the Web … hungry for brain.

I’m late to the party. To be fair, TechCrunchIT is not in my Google Reader and I wasn’t there when Steve Gillmor took its pulse. Rather I was alerted to the fact that RSS had passed by way of Twitter. (case in point?) Sam Diaz concurred last week – RSS is, indeed, dead.

In fact, it seems like everywhere you look, things are dropping. I keep waiting for someone to tell me that social media is dead – and then what’s next? No media at all? Will we transmit thoughts and perception telepathically through Motorola chips implanted in our brains?

It seems like an ongoing trend to declare things in absolute statements. These are a few I’ve heard over the last year:

  • Teens don’t tweet.
  • Newspapers are dying.
  • Public relations is dead.
  • Kill your blog.

I could go on. I think it’s a mistake to relegate things that are no longer the trending norm to eternal slumber. Plus, more often than not, it’s simply not true. Teens do tweet – they’re just not the homo superior of the realm. Newspapers, as a whole, aren’t dying; the medium is becoming sustainable in the new information economy. Public relations isn’t dead – it’s certainly due for a shift in perspective, but it’s very much alive.

At this stage in communications, things are changing so fast, we don’t have time to see the gradient shift. The next hot item is just stepping out of the car and something needs to clear space on the runway. It seems like we’re no longer content to watch things play out. We have to kill off yesterday’s headlines so that we can herald tomorrow’s.

Plus, the age of Twitter is very much the age of catchphrases. “Microblogging is emerging as a viable, and worthwhile, form of expression and networking,” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like “blogs are dead.” Plus, the latter leaves room for a link to the full article and any subsequent re-tweets.

I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. I love Twitter … most of the time. Best of all, I have the option of skimming in Twitter and then doing a deeper diver later into my reader. I also check certain sites, friends’ Delicious accounts, etc.

I just don’t think that Real Simple Syndication is dead. It’s been tweaked, torqued, twisted and integrated. I think the main idea, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that we no longer rely soley on our Web aggregators to inform us. Well, yeah, we have a few more options. That doesn’t mean that RSS died, it’s just not the only player on the field.

Collective Soul just released their eighth album, but I still take the time to listen to “Shine” and “Pretty Donna” – they’re just part of a steadily growing playlist.

At most, I think we can say that certain functions of RSS have been adapted and customized to fit other formats. The future of social media, newspapers, public relations and so on and so forth isn’t death, but integration and adaptation. We don’t have to predict the future, because it’s constantly shifting – and it won’t be the same for everyone.

Some of us will abandon RSS for Twitter. Others will use both. Perhaps some will just use RSS. Or maybe some new tool will come along that combines the best features of everything and then we’ll all use that?

Isn’t that what Google Wave is supposed to be?

Google Wave

Announced in May, and recently available to some Apps users, Google Wave seems to be a jack-of-all-trades for communications. Is it a messenger, a mailbox, document sharer, collaboration tool, project dashboard … all of the above? But it enters the picture with a basket instead of a scythe. It’s not here to kill AIM or Twitter or e-mail – it’s here to take the best of relevant technologies and integrate and adapt them.

Evolution is constantly going on, but we don’t have to qualify things in absolutes. Remember, video did not kill radio – radio went online.


"Hybrid thinking"? … Think again.

Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man"; di Vinci is often described as the archtype of the Renaissance manObama lauds innovative spirit … Future economic prosperity depends on building a new, stronger foundation and recapturing the spirit of innovation.” 

Historically, tough economic times have catalyzed surges in innovative thinking - Hewlett Packard and Polaroid were formed after the Great Depression, MTV came close on the heels of the recession in the 1980′s, and Apple’s iPod (developed during a sharp decline in sales and margins of consumer electronics in 2001) joined the “pantheon of game-changing innovations born of hard times, alongside Depression-era breakthroughs such as nylon and the jet engine.” (HBR, July/Aug. 2009) If history repeats itself, the current economic downturn is the perfect storm of opportunity for innovation.

The rustling in the bushes is all there – at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggests that, “Companies and industries that continue to pursue innovation during tough economic times will achieve a significant competitive advantage and position themselves for growth…” … And, “… companies investing countercyclically in R&D (biz-code for innovation) during downturns tend to outpace their competitors on the upswing.” (HBR)

What all this means is, between random jolts from the Federal Reserve and the pitch and yaw of consumer confidence, companies and industries around the world are rifling through drawers, combing executive profiles, and making the mad dash into the ethers in search of both survival and triumph in the huge pot of gold at the end of the Next Big Innovation. Suddenly, the fluffy and elusive x-factor of creativity/innovation/design has become the imperative “it-force” behind economic recovery and prosperity. From Washington to Wall Street, everyone is using the “I” word, rushing into the vortex with new takes on how to pin down and quantify innovation.

Dev Patnaik, founder and chief executive of Jump Associates, a Silicon Valley growth strategy firm (clients include Nike, Target, and Hewlett-Packard) discusses the underpinnings of innovation in this month’s Fast Company, ”Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking.” Fast forward to his point, Patnaik suggests that there is a unique role that designers and their skill-set/way of thinking can play in making everything — products, services, experiences, and industry-specific entities such as finance, education and government — better.  He then pushes beyond that thought to propose that something bigger is going on in the minds of successful innovators:

“… something bigger is going on, more powerful than the adoption of a single school of thought. The secret isn’t design thinking, it’s “hybrid thinking “: the conscious blending of different fields of thought to discover and develop opportunities that were previously unseen by the status quo …”

We’re not talking about “multi-tasking” here … True hybrid thinkers (you know who you are) traffic in the cracks between traditional areas of expertise and are able to ”connect the dots between what’s culturally desirable, technically feasible, and viable from a business point of view.”  The new face of innovation demands that we “see the world through multiple lenses and draw meaning from seemingly disparate points of data.”

According to Patnaik, “hybridity” matters now because the problems we need to solve are too complex to be handled by any one skill-set. Gone are the good old silo days where depth in a single field trumps breadth in multiple areas. Audiovox design executive Lou Lenzi asserts that those who want to innovate, must be “one part humanist, one part technologist, and one part capitalist.” 

Well, “hybrid thinking” might be a catchy modern phrase, but it isn’t a new concept. In the spirit of “Everything old is new again,” hybrid thinking can march to the back of the line behind lava lamps, lime green and liberal arts.  Two words for Dev: 1. da; 2. Vinci.


John Hope Bryant: Our First Dood

The Push tagline, “Push the Future in New Directions,” reflects our mission to, on the one hand, track the people, ideas, and technologies that are shaping our future while, on the other hand, give people the tools and inspiration required to be Push-ers in their own right.

Ultimately, we’re interested in Pushing three categories of behavior: Thinking, Seeing, Doing. All our content and programming will be catalogued in this way, which we hope will bring a spark of inspiration to our fun finds and analysis.
Under the heading of “Do” we celebrate people who are pushing the future in new directions. They are innovators who are making things happen and, as such, are models for the kind of thinking and committed action that lead change. We refer to these Push heroes as “Doods.”
Our First Dood (the anti-Todd Palin) is John Hope Bryant, Founder of Operation Hope, an organization dedicated to raising the level of financial literacy in communities stuck in poverty. Bryant maintains that the barrier to success is no longer about race, or civil rights, but about access to capital, what he calls “silver rights.”

jhb_in_rwanda_2

“A person with no hope is the most dangerous person in the world. We need to give individuals a stake in the system, or they will seek to destroy it. This is silver rights in action.”

John Hope Bryant says he’s out to make smart sexy. That the next emerging markets are in our own back (mostly urban) yard; that our communities, in terms of an economic recovery, are (dys)functioning as underperforming capital; that people have to see options before they know they have options; and that role models who can make smart sexy are critical to showing the way to success.

The next step is to give people the tools they need to help themselves by knowing how money works, how to use a bank, start a business, and manage and grow entrepreneurship within oneself and community. It’s the kind of bottom-up change that’s so popular now through mechanisms such as microfinance, of which the well known model of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is the grandaddy. In addition to insititutions (or people, as in the case of Kiva.org) that make small loans to individual entrepreneurs, the model has been used successfully to bring telephony to underdeveloped areas of the world (Grameen Phone) and is now being used to bring distributed power to off-grid areas as a further step to alleviate poverty in places for which there’s typically been little hope.
But enough of this, you really have to hear the man speak. He grabs you and makes you want to jump up in a full-throated “Amen!”


Pay-Per-Pee: You've Got to be Kidding Me

There are many ways to survive a recession, but trust me, charging your customers to use your bathroom is not one of them. Irish budget airline, Ryanair, recently admitted to toying with the idea of pay-per-use restrooms, but let’s hope it never leaves the discussion table. Many things came to my mind when contemplating this experience:

*What kind of currency are you going to put the meters in? If Ryanair chooses the euro, they’re leaving out the UK: a huge portion of their market.

*How much are you going to charge? Will it eventually cost extra if you want the door locked?

*What happens if you don’t have any change? Will you then have to endure the humiliating experience of demanding of the fellow sitting next to spare a euro or you’ll simply pee in your chair?

Right, so we live in a world where everything has a price, but it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Using the bathroom is a very personal and regular part of one’s life.  It seems like a human rights violation to be depriving someone of,  or charging  for that privilege. Next, there will be an Oxygen Fee tagged onto our ticket price.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ryanair.  As an avid, albeit poor traveler, Ryanair is my saves-the-day airline for cheap flights and European jet-setting. I’ll give up my feet space, I’ll surrender being trendy for the sake of only taking a carry-on, and I’ll even pack my own lunch, but I won’t put a price on my dignity.


A Picture of Sustainability

This is John Paget‘s award-winning video for the Congress for New Urbanism. Paget lays out his argument that while urban sprawl is designed to fail, new urbanism is a model that is built to last. In addition to his suggestion to keep our personal living spaces condensed, Paget should also recognize that it is important to look at our building methods on a large scale. Aside from the housing market,  businesses can begin to set the example by requesting sustainably designed structures for their companies. They may not be able to cut corners on the size of their manufacturing plants, but they can definitely cut social and environmental costs.

My dad is the owner of Sage Structures, a sustainable construction company in Madison, WI, and he has made a career  in tilt-up concrete construction. Consequently, I have been receiving environmental build lectures since I was a little kid. Especially in a climate like the Midwest, where winters can reign brutally cold and summers are unbearably humid, the quick heating and cooling capabilities of a concrete building can make a huge difference for a large building. Green Concrete, a division of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, also highlights the many other sustainable aspects of concrete buildings. They are much more durable than metal manufacturing buildings, they reduce energy costs by as much as forty percent, and concrete is made of air, cement, water, sand, and gravel – elements that are available locally most everywhere.

Due to its accessibility in the construction realm, a push towards concrete builds seems would be an easy first step in sustainability for larger businesses. For even more architectural ideas, check out Blaine Brownell’s publication, Transmaterial: A Catalog of Materials That Redefine Our Physical Environment. He takes an innovative approach to design-build by using an array of unorthodox materials from coconut palm to” sonic fabric.” Pretty cool stuff!


Business Cards for Jerks

meatcards

Do you want to add a little more meat to your resume? Try handing out your business cards in beef jerky. A carnivore’s delight to networking, MeatCards provides custom made beef jerky business cards via a 150 Watt CO2 Laser Beam. No joke. Their website simply states, “these business cards have two ingredients: Meat and Lasers“, with the added disclaimer that “MeatCards do not fit in a Rolodex because their deliciousness cannot be contained by a Rolodex.” Is this for real? Yes. Can you eat the business cards of your competitors? Not recommended. The guys behind MeatCards assure that their product is edible, but they make no promise of it being palatable; due to legal implications, they don’t plan to market it as such.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting concept. I feel like their target market may be somewhere between the avid outdoorsmen and the die-hard rodeo rider, but anyone keen on standing out from the rest could probably be served well by a MeatCard. Who cares if you get a call back for an interview because your contact information smells like Mesquite BBQ? You still made it to round two!

And why do I get the feeling these cards were designed by a bunch of stoners? The conversation probably started with, “Dude, what if the whole world was made of beef jerky?” Upon agreeing this would be a good idea, they decided to start small – with the business card, but full-blown hickory-smoked venison resumes are likely what’s next. (Or maybe that’s just the Wisconsinite salivating in me).  I can just hear PETA starting up their cannons for this campaign, but I got to give props to MeatCards for adding some flavor to the workplace.


Green Xchange provides platform for sustainability collaboration

Nike, Best Buy, and Creative Commons all seem to agree that “corporate colloboration” has a much better ring to it than corporate secrets. Their debut of a new sustainability cooperation tool called “Green Xchange” paves the way for the sharing of intellectual property in the name of widespread innovation. Within this platform, companies can grant the access of their sustainability research and development initiatives to other companies. This access can be provided free of charge or for a price, at the individual company’s discretion.

Obviously, competing companies are not always going to be keen on working together, but conclusive research on product sustainability can be used by more than one industry.  The example that Agnes Mazur gives on the WorldChanging blog is that of a truck tire manufacturing company using Nike research on maximizing the efficient of air pressure in sneaker design and applying it to truck tires. This type of collaboration, with some consideration for free market competition, can save a lot of time and money. It also has great potential to accelerate the sustainability movement, which is good news in a world where it is increasingly evident that our carrying capacity has already been reached. Check out the informational preview here: Green Xchange


When Worlds Collide: The Newsroom

Take a peek at this highly amusing skit from Landline TV that laments the woes of the changing newsroom. Oh, nostalgia…


Mein Kampf: The New Business 101 Primer

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As PUSH advocated at our 2005 conference feature “Lessons from Deviants” and more recently in our “Diamonds in the Rough” post, more often than not, there is a method to one’s madness and that method is worth studying. Indian business students have certainly caught onto this strategy, as demonstrated by the recent increase in demand for Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf. In the last six months, sales of the book surpassed 10,000 copies in New Delhi alone.

The owner of a Mumbai-based bookstore explained the phenomenon as such: “They [Indian business students] see it as a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it”. In other words, however twisted that vision was, his business plan to execute it was not. The passage of time may now have finally afforded us enough distance to critically study the methodology behind Hitler, Goebbels, and others that created such an impressive force to be reckoned with… And the fact that Indian business students are the ones with enough savvy to recognize his logistical merit is a nice little jab of irony for Adolf. It just proves you don’t have to Aryan to be smart.


A Preview of A Global Dinner Party

This Monday, I had the opportunity to attend a test dinner of the Push Institute’s much-anticipated Global Dinner Party (now in its pilot phase) at the home of Sam and Sylvia Kaplan. The guest list included four lawyers (from corporate to entertainment to constitutional/security-torture-rendition, our mayor, a singer, a serial entrepreneur, a college student in need of a free meal/younger blogger (me), and others. The three-course dinner featured matzoh ball soup and salad, a Middle Eastern main dish, and chocolate meringue for dessert, but the conversation undoubtedly proved to be the main affair – so much that, I confess, I rather slacked off on taking notes. Like a good meal after a long day (when you don’t stop to wipe your face until you’ve cleaned your plate), I became so engrossed in the conversation that I did not pause to take notes for fear of missing the debate.

In our review of the evening, Cecily explained that “The aim of A Global Dinner Party is to bring people together over food and ideas, to share and challenge thinking about where we’re headed. We’re creating a 3-course menu of questions on topics such as energy, immigration, life expectancy, worldviews, exploration of space and ocean, morality, and other such juicy stuff.  If the conversation broadens and inspires people’s thinking, all while having fun, then the dinner is a success.  Ultimately, these are the kinds of experiences that ultimately impact how decisions are made — which is how change is made — and that’s what we’re after!  Share a dinner, create community, and change the world — what could be better?”

Discussion for the evening focused on (which) factors that create a stable and robust society. I’m not sure that we arrived at any answers, though there was agreement that a malleable framework (ability to identify and adapt to change) was indeed a key aspect. Some thought that framework depends on the soft stuff of trust and community, while others leaned toward the hard stuff of social institutions, i.e. government, constitution, laws, banks, schools, health care, philanthropy, etc.  It’s a chicken-egg/nature-nurture dialogue, but consensus wasn’t the goal, rather this group preferred to describe how a stable and robust society feels, looks, behaves. Terms used included safety, diversity, education, resilience, identity, production of goods and services, access to opportunity, common good, and leadership. Tom Wiese, my partner in the one-on-one discussion even argued that lazy people were an important aspect of society because the ambitious are motivated by others lack of action. – Interesting take!

The conversation then moved to encompass the benefits of our increasingly open-source government. With the introduction of interactive internet tools, more people are able to weigh in and hold sway. Nate Garvis of Target Corporations argued, “We have been suffering from a failure of creativity. We tend to throw the government and military at every problem. We use old tools for the new age when what we really need is more social innovation. The internet tools we now have allowed us to expand greatly in the world of social innovation.”

I could continue, but it doesn’t merit much for me to give you a play-by-play. It is our hope that every global dinner party will have its own unique face, but all will offer the opportunity to engage.

“The dinners are by design,” Cecily says. “It’s a way of humanizing ourselves.”

“I think we are surrounded by messages that drive us apart,” Nate adds. “We need to focus more on what we have in common and what better place to bring us all together than over the dinner table?”


Essence Exposed: When the economy breaks, what happens to the soul?

If you can get past the stuffy British accents, this discussion panel on whether the free-market model has created a moral vacuum (put together by the Guardian) is definitely worth the listen. (It’s only about five minutes long.) It includes insights from Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Richard Sennett, a sociologist; and Susie Orbach, a writer.

Dr. Williams starts off by pointing out that the current economic crisis is just as much about pride as it is about greed. People share “the absolute terror of not being in control, the need to always be setting the agenda” and when people don’t have that, they tend to freak out. To put this in a business perspective, Cecily states, “There’s a human tendency to want to have everything figured out before taking action. For example, you often see people whose work life isn’t satisfying, yet wait to know exactly what they want to do before making a change. But you can’t really figure things out in your head; experience is the only way to really know what works and what doesn’t.  That’s not to say that thorough research and preparation aren’t needed, but it is a reminder to not suffer the ‘paralysis of analysis’.  The best one can do is to set a direction and just start moving.”

As it is, there are plenty of parallels between what the individual is feeling and what a business experiences in a time of recession. Richard Sennett points out that “modern capitalism reconfigured things like careers so that it’s no longer a meaningful concept for people to perform short-term jobs.” Short-term investment became much more popular than long-term gains and views, and when put in this kind of short-term regime, both people and businesses suffer.

Why does this happen? Orbach argues it has a lot to do with identity. “We now have this thrust…for a self that is so fractured that it can only be experienced through the latest accomplishment…” she explains. Their is an immediacy to our well-being, we tend to view our lives in terms of a checklist and when we’re in between checked boxes, we have a total loss of who we are. Orbach touches on the fact that we lack a sense of continuity and fluidity in what it is that comprises us. “It”, that feeling of self-satisfaction, simply comes and goes in such short-term wavelengths that it’s difficult to process. Our lives have become so external that we forget how to nurture our own identities.

“That is why branding is so important,” Cecily says. “A well-defined, deeply rooted sense of purpose should drive business strategy. As we know, conditions and trends can swing wildly, yet purpose is constant. Purpose is what makes a brand resilient and adaptive. In traumatic times, such as we’re in, it’s important that decisions be guided by the basics, ‘Is this who we are? Is this what we do? Does this fit?”

A brand, done well, is a distillation of purpose and personality. Branding is a process of translating that subjective, squishy stuff into objective terms. It’s an interesting process; the aim is to find language, metaphors, archetypes, style that moves seamlessly from subject (company) – object (brand) – subject (consumer) – object (purchase). A brand that resonates across all channels is a brand that has successfully articulated its purpose and meaning.  This is why it is also the seat of strategy, the cause of resilience, and the driver of loyalty.  – Pretty important stuff.

We do this as individuals too. Take Facebook, for example. We have objectified our identities in the form of the page and by adding you as a friend, joining groups, and exchanging information, we’re saying to one another – “Hey, I like who you are! I like what you’re about!”  It’s all about bonding and belonging which, when extended through a community of like-minded people gives a sense ‘tribe.’  Essentially, that is the same relationship a business should have with its clients, even though it usually doesn’t play out in such obvious terms.

“Remember, no one else can ‘do’ you,” Cecily says. “It’s you, your brand, your identity. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Just stay true to you, then use that sense of conviction to guide you through the rest.”


Diamonds in the Rough: What companies can take from criminals

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The April issue of Wired features an incredible retelling of the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, where thieves managed to penetrate 10 different security systems in order to reach their loot. They would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for the careless disposal of a garbage bag carrying incriminating information…a garbage bag that they happened to have tossed on the land of a man who is gets red-faced when he says litter on his land. August Van Camp made a habit of calling the police every time he found garbage on his property and the day the diamond thieves left behind theirs was no different.

Now, 4 out of 5 involved in the heist are serving jail time. The man known as the “King of Keys” has never been found and neither has the estimated $100 million in diamonds. Leonardo Notarbartolo, their ringleader and the man who finally agreed to speak with Wired, is not giving away the location of the loot, but what he is willing to tell us – is the method behind the sheer, brilliant madness of their plan. It a method that Cecily argues, business can learn a lot from.

In 2005, the Push Conference featured a segment entitled “Business Models: Lessons from Deviants” where Cecily pointed out that innovations often come from society’s outliers — people who deviate from the norm. “For example, take the next generation of video technology,” she explains. “Where does that usually come from?”  I think I might know the answer to this one: if storks brought us babies and the eagles carried freedom and democracy for all, it seemed plausible that the pelican would bring us movies…You need a fair amount of space to store that large, unwieldy film reel, right?

“Pornographers,” Cecily informs. “Law breakers are really more like law get-arounders. People who can pull off capers such as this demonstrate sophisticated research, analysis, systems thinking, and planning. To what end? To exploit vulnerabilities in the system. This is why innovators in the pornography industry are usually the ones coming up with new ways to ‘share their wares,’ as it were.” I raise my eyebrows…Go on….

“I’m certainly not endorsing criminal activity, ” Cecily assures. “Consider the Antwerp diamond thieves. They planned for that heist for a long time and in intricate detail. They built a replica of the vault to rehearse every detail of their strategy to determine, precisely, how to get around many, many layers of security surrounding the vault. Whatever else you may think, you’ve got to admire how crazy smart it is, as well as the commitment, patience, organization, and execution of the caper. That kind of thinking is what’s needed in the innovation process too.”

“Because we learn and process information best through experience,” she continues, “simulations — such as the diamond theives had — priceless (or at least $100M worth).” The diamond thieves may have walked off with light prison sentences (Nortarbartolo is serving the longest at 10 years) and loot that is mysteriously stashed, but their real goods are the qualities they already had to begin with: careful planning, patience, and precision in execution. Luckily for the business world, these kinds of goods are available anywhere as long as you take the time to foster them.


Future of cars uncertain, Honda reveals its side-project: a mind reading robot

Scientists at the Honda Research Institute have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and they’re never just your run-of-the mill thoughts. As of yesterday, Honda thoughts now have the power to move robots. Japanese scientists introduced Asismo this Tuesday. Asismo is a bipedal, humanoid robot that has a 90% success rate of reading its operator’s mind, then carrying out one of four commands.

With mind-control technology, the idea is that eventually we can take the teapot off the stove when we’re in the other room or warm up the car without even having to go outside. Honda scientists explained the “brain-machine interface” as having sensors that pick up electrical signals in the scalp and the ability to translate them into the appropriate actions. There is obviously a bit of a processing time-delay – probably the same amount of time it would take for you to get up off the couch and complete the task yourself – but hey, who am I to knock on something so scientifically progressive, high-tech, and trendy? I know if I were still seven years old, I would be begging my parents for an Asismo for Christmas. The amount of time I spent dreading washing dishes would’ve given me plenty of time to think through the whole affair and delegate the responsibility to my pet robot.

Honda stressed that Asismo is still a baby, not yet ready for introduction to the market. The unpredictability and diversity of a person’s day-to-day thinking makes it difficult for Asismo to function universally. A brain must be analyzed for up to three hours prior before taking a trial run with the robot. If Honda is really smart, however, when Asismo is finally ready for market, they should change its name to Wall-E. The fans would go wild! (Myself included.)


The Reich-AIG Smackdown

aig-is-a-pig1Jon Stewart single-handedly revived Celebrity Death Match last week with his-much-talked-about, searing (and, oh so satisfying) rebuke of Jim Cramer’s lack of accountability — and that of his colleagues at CNBC — as a financial “entertainer.”

This week Robert Reich jumps in the ring, unloading a fresh can of whoop-ass on AIG and their astonishingly brazen-yet-craven defense of the $100M  executive-bonus (or is it ‘bogus’?) payout.

Reich counters AIG’s claim of legally-binding, preexisting agreements with refreshing common sense (full post here):

AIG’s arguments are absurd on their face. Had AIG gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy or been liquidated, as it would have without government aid, no bonuses would ever be paid (they would have had a lower priority under bankruptcy law that AIG’s debts to other creditors); indeed, AIG’s executives would have long ago been on the street. And any mention of the word “talent” in the same sentence as “AIG” or “credit default swaps” would be laughable if laughing weren’t already so expensive.

…This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that’s “too big to fail” and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. To whom should they be accountable? As long as taxpayers effectively own a large portion of them, they should be accountable to the government. But if our very own Secretary of the Treasury doesn’t even learn of the bonuses until months after AIG has decided to pay them, and cannot make stick his decision that they should not be paid, AIG is not even accountable to the government. That means AIG’s executives — using $170 billion of our money, so far — are accountable to no one. (emphasis mine)

It’s common knowledge that the handful of executives who take a $1/year salary (CEOs at Apple, Yahoo!, Google, Citigroup, Ford, among them) is little more than a PR move. The extraordinary wealth of these men (mega-millionaires to billionaires all) continues to grow through recalibrated bonus and stock option packages, all while appearing to martyr themselves for the health of the company.  Stunningly, the folks at AIG appear to have no pride (or its inverse, shame), and maintain an impenetrable sense of entitlement to extravagant parties and pay scales.  It’s crazy, it’s unconscionable — and worse — it’s deadly.

I stand by my earlier assertion that causes of the collapse of our financial system really aren’t complicated. Sure the financial instruments themselves may be, but the principles of the game are exceedingly straight-forward.