12 things you don’t know about Rob Cottingham

In a few hours I’ll be thankful for a plate of turkey, stuffing and gravy. Meanwhile, there’s nothing like jamming chunks of bread into the cavity of a formerly living creature to make you appreciate what really matters in life. As I stood elbow-deep in turkey, I found myself reflecting on the person who is at the heart of most of what I have to be thankful for this year

Wrap your brand in reflected glory

Someone needs to tell the folks at Glad: Unless your customers pay for the privilege of wearing your logo, don't build an online community around your brand.

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.

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.

Vendetta of the month: Christmas (cancelled)

This month’s vendetta: Christmas. Why Christmas? The fact that my Christmas vendetta has to begin on November 6th should say it all. This holiday could be the poster child for scope creep. It starts out as a nice little religious holiday, sing some songs and have a big meal with your friends, and now it’s an entire season.

Turn It Off! British Columbia – The Pledge | 30 Days of Sustainability

On May 16th, I’m turning off…

1. My hair dryer (so no cracks about the ‘do, ok?)

2. All the #@*!!## beeping, noisy kids’ toys in our house. Let them play with carbon neutral, quiet blocks for the day.

3. My TV. I can read the American Idol results online. 😉

Why would I live without all that electrical goodness, even for one day?

Because May 16th is “Turn It Off! BC” — a day for people across the province to turn off their lights and other non-essential electronic and electrical devices. We’re going to show the world that BC-ers don’t just talk the talk on sustainability — we’re prepared to talk in the dark.

Please join me by:

1. Forwarding this message to three (or more) of your Facebook friends (instructions below)

2. Joining the Turn It Off! BC Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2263583834&ref=mf

3. Taking the Turn It Off! pledge at http://30daysofsustainability.com/pledge

To turn YOUR friends off….

1. Select this message (everything down to where it says THANKS!), copy it, and then hit the “share” link (above if you’re reading this in a profile, below if it’s a message in your inbox).

2. Choose the “send a message” tab, and paste this text into the body of your message.

3. Edit the list at the top of this message to replace one of my pledges with your own (or replace all 3 items).

4. Enter the names of 3 of your friends in the “To” field (Facebook will help fill it in), slap on a subject line (“Can you turn it off?”) and hit “send”.

And while you’re at it, why not post to your profile or your wall, too?

On May 16th, I’m turning off…

1. My hair dryer (so no cracks about the 'do, ok?)

2. All the #@*!!## beeping, noisy kids' toys in our house. Let them play with carbon neutral, quiet blocks for the day.

3. My TV. I can read the American Idol results online. 😉

What will YOU turn off?

Oops, I poisoned my kids

Last month's "how the hell didn't I know that" moment was the discovery that Avent bottles, which both of my children have been drinking from daily for just about their entire lives, contain a suspected carcinogen.

I came across this info not through a consumer alert — that went out in 1999, before I was a parent and paid attention to these things — but because I set out to investigate the rumour I'd heard that plastic wasn't safe for food storage.

Edward Groth, the Consumers Union scientist behind the 1999 story leading to the alert, wrote that

There could hardly be more contrast in these two perspectives. One, based on firm conviction but no data, asserts that there is no effect of bisphenol-A in baby bottles, because none has been observed scientifically and because one part per billion of BPA is "too low" an exposure level to have biological effects. The other, based on simple, undisputed scientific facts, notes that polycarbonate bottles can expose babies to unimaginably large numbers of molecules of an estrogen-like chemical, several times a day. We must ask, on what basis can we presume that such exposure has no biological effects? What if "low-level" exposure is not intrinsically "safe;" what if, instead, our inability to measure effects has created an illusion of safety? In short, a precautionary risk assessment in this case would emphasize not the lack of concrete data showing harm in babies exposed to 1 ppb of BPA in their formula, but rather would recognize that 1 ppb is not necessarily a "low" exposure. It would assess the difficulties of knowing whether or not the quadrillions of molecules a baby ingests daily have any harmful effects on the tiny consumer's developing systems.

The dispassionate observers at plasticsinfo.org note that:

Polycarbonate has been studied and tested for nearly 50 years, and its use in products that come in contact with food is regulated for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as governmental bodies worldwide.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a key building block in polycarbonate plastic. In recent years, a number of researchers from governmental agencies, academia and industry have studied the potential for trace levels of BPA to migrate from polycarbonate products into food and beverages under conditions of typical use. Extensive safety data on BPA show that polycarbonate plastic can be used safely in consumer products.

As a result, the use of polycarbonate plastic for food-contact applications continues to be recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Food, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and other regulatory authorities worldwide.

By dispassionate, of course, I mean that plasticsinfo.org is the web site for the American Chemistry Councils' Plastics Division, which "represents leading manufacturers of plastic resins".

While I'm sure that the American Chemical Council wants nothing more for my baby than a long life full of plastic-purchasing opportunities, I'm afraid I can't take their "don't worry, be happy" message on this one. I've just gone out and purchased a supply of Gerber GentleFlow bottles at ToysRUs, which are made from polypropylene. If money were no object I'd go to Crocodile Baby on Fourth and buy the BornFree glass bottles.

And please note that BPA in baby bottles is by no means the only source of concern about kids and plastics. Check out the Smart Plastics Guide: Healthier Food Uses of Plastics for Parents and Children from the Instittue for Agriculture and Trade Policy. I've collected more resources on this topic and bookmarked them on del.icio.us.