New look & feel, kind of almost there

The new and much improved look of my blog is based on the blog style template at Open Designs, created by fellow-Canadian Collin Grasley. Rob hacked it into WordPress-iness for me, a process that’s still being debugged. Open Designs is a very cool site that...

This iPod weighs four pounds

Today is the 8-day anniversary of my iPhone, and in those eight days a whole bunch of people have asked if I’ve lost weight. Turns out that the iPhone has magical weight-shrinking properties.

Target V.P. Michael Axelin on the seven components of successful innovation

Tonight’s symposium featured Michael Alexin, Oberlin College class of ’79, V.P. of Softlines Design and Product Development at Target. Yes, this is the man responsible for keeping me clothed during my last pregnancy, and even tougher, the post-pregnancy pre-weight loss months.

Michael’s work puts him at the heart of delivering on Target’s brand promise of “affordable design”, and he stressed that in this day and age, that comes down to the challenge of continuous innovation. He offered a nice summary of the seven key components of innovation:

  1. Observation: In focus groups, people often lack the clarity or expertise to articulate their needs. By observing people in various environments you can see what they may not see themselves. Tom Kelley in The Art of Innovation talks a lot about observation. Once you start observing carefully, all kinds of insights and opportunities can open up. Take example of elliptical machine: a GM guy noticed the elliptical path of his daughter’s runnning and wondered if you could capture that movement without the impact of running, and sold the idea to Precor, which has turned it into a profitable business. Observation helps you identify problems that need solutions, or white space. Opportunities for true innovation.
  2. Imagination: Example of iPod: imagining what it would look like to build a company arouund an MP3 player combined with a music sales service. Imagination is an intuitive process that generates a lot of ideas. In preschool, imagination treated as a skill that has to be nurtured. But that’s been lost in American culture, let alone American business. That’s something we have to find and nurture in colleagues and employees. Need to create space for imagination. Create “white space” — quiet time. Everything is going so fast, so how do you create time to allow ideas to spring forth. Need to create culture of idea acceptance not idea judgement.
  3. Brainstorming: Everyone says they brainstorm but it’s not part of an institution’s every day culture. Lots of companies love to go to an off-site…it may be fun, but it doesn’t last. A brainstorm generates a lot of ideas in a short time. The more open the process, the more likely that the next big idea will emerge. Guidelines for successful brainstorming:
    • Set ground rules: leave titles at door. Generate not judge ideas. Have fun.
    • Strong moderator who doesn’t dominate discussion.
    • Sharpen the focus by starting with a clear statement of the problem that isn’t too broad or narrow.
    • Go for quantity not quality. Encourage any thought.
    • Make the process visual. I work with 150 designers; they are visual not verbal. We encourage them to sketch their ideas and put them on the wall. Then as editing process we let everyone vote for their five favorite ideas.
  4. Creativity: Sheehy: creativity can be described as the letting go of cdrtainties. Embrace ambiguity and the unknown. Use originality to defeat habit. Defy convention to achieve greatness. Example: I.M. Pei’s pyramid for the Louvre entrance. Initially very controversial. Eventually it got built, and the juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient set the stage for a new approach to architecture of Paris — now the blend of old and new is almost their hallmark.
  5. Design. Design is the core of innovation. Success depends on having a funciton, and appeal. “What engineers were to the age of steam, and scientists were to the age of reason, designers will be to our age.” Designers are in demand because great design enhances and differentiates. Design must be functional. It’s the practical side. Kelly: Design is a way of life. Target: you don’t have to have a lot of money to have great design. Target gets a lot of credit for making great design accessible to consumer. Coincides with trend towards upscaling of America. Sometimes seems like we have the right to pursuit of life, liberty and pursuit of luxury. Design is a huge differentiator for Target in the marketplace. Key thing is the emotional connection that gets established with the Target brand.
  6. Simplicity: Schumacher: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex… it takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction.”
  7. Speed: Consumers want the latest thing know. Need to react quickly to design, market and sales trends. Apparel is pretty low tech so you can’t speed it up that much. It’s about how quickly you make decisions. Process needs to be quick to react to change. Have to take away bureaucracy to get speed. We reward team members for speed. Bias towards action that encourages people to get it done and get it done fast.
  8. Collaboration:Even though one person often has that crackling electric idea, it’s really a team sport. One person may have the idea but it takes hundreds to implement and execute. ClearRx idea came from one woman who then brought it to Target. Hundreds of people involved from all parts of organization to make it live. Collaboration + shared focus = innovation.

Hmm. Somehow I ended up with eight. I’m hoping Michael will tell me which of these is the “bonus” component.

Is Facebook trying to kill you?

From Blade Runner to the Matrix, from Star Trek’s Borg to Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons, we’ve spent a lot of time imagining the day when our super-strong, super-smart robots get tired of vacuuming and decide they want to rule the world. That’s given me an opportunity to consider a more immediate threat: Facebook. Not just Facebook, actually, but all the social networks and online communities to which we give our eyeballs, braincells, hearts and dollars. Could these online communities constitute the machine threat that sci-fi has taught us to anticipate?

You can’t download sovereignty

I waited for Tivo. I waited for iTunes video downloads — and I'm coping with its still-too-limited content. I'm even scraping by without Amazon Unbox. But THIS is the last straw:

We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S. We will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora, but for the time being we are required to restrict its use. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative.

Our friend Adam put us onto Pandora a couple of months ago. It is a deeply groovy, rapidly addictive web radio service that creates custom channels based on your musical preferences. It took just a tiny bit of feedback to get a great mix that plays a great range of mellow working tunes on one channel, a set of showtunes on another channel, and energetic hip-hop on a third. Most magically, each channel settles into that perfect balance of tunes you know and love, and tunes that you are thrilled to discover. For those of us who have ceded control of the radio to our children, this is a wonderful chance to explore musical genres that don't involve farm animals or princesses.

But once again, Canadian sovereignty has done me out of my online content. Part of me (the part that subscribes to Entertainment Weekly) wants us to undertake the digital-era equivalent of those currency schemes in which countries adopt the US dollar instead of going to the trouble of running their own currencies; let's just trade our precious intellectual property freedoms for a broadband hookup that delivers all the goodies available to our southern neighbours, and sign onto all the American I.P. laws so that what works there works here.

The other part of me (the part that subscribes to the New Yorker) is sick of being ingored by media companies that can't be bothered to navigate regulations they haven't written themselves. Yes, it's very convenient to get the laws changed when your mouse is about to go rogue, but sometimes companies have to figure out how to comply with laws instead of just writing new ones.

And the way I see it, there's no time like the present: with the majority of the US media empire stymied by a labour force that has recognized its own interests in digital media rights, their lawyers might as well turn their attention this way. Maybe we can catch their attention if we point out that the writers up here are covered by a different union.

Google docs: now in Safari

I just discovered that Google Docs finally work in the Safari web browser. (Up until now, Mac users had to access their Google Docs via Safari.) I think we may have the iPhone to thank for this; all those iPhone users wanted mobile access to their documents! I wonder what else the iPhone will finally bring to the Mac platform.

If you’re not using Google Docs, this is a great time to start! Google Docs let you create, edit, store and share documents and spreadsheets; the word processor feels very much like Microsoft Word, and the spreadsheet editor like Excel, so you’ll be right at home. But unlike the desktop versions of those apps, Google Docs let you collaborate with your colleagues. Here are some of the ways we’ve used Google docs and spreadsheets in our work:

  • as part of a strategic planning process: brainstorming results in rows, participants in columns, with each participant marking their favorite ideas
  • manage our docket of clients and projects (one client per row, one week per column; each week we insert a new column and add notes, current status, and upcoming actions and status
  • capacity planning: clients and projects in rows, weeks/months in columns, to track upcoming hours required
  • document creation: one person drafts in word and uploads, others fill in their details/examples