The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Entries in Innovation (38)


Fireside Chat with Walt Mossberg

We were delighted when Walt Mossberg, former Executive Editor at The Verge, Co-Founder and Editor at Large of Recode stopped by the Best Buy Seatlle Technology Development Center for a fireside chat. We covered a lot of ground in the 90 minutes we had with Walt. It's a great survey of his career in tech, the people he met, and the products he's most excited about. 


The Internet Of Things - A Look At The Good And The Bad 

Pew Research Center just pubished their May 2014 report The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025, and it provides a balanced perspective on the benefits and risks of our increasing acceptance of the connected homes we live in and the connected cars we drive. Our increasingly networked lives will potentially be healthier and more convenient, but there will be unintended consequences beyond the obvious privacy implications, Pew warns. So it's worth a read.

Credit: SatizTPM


This May Be My Favorite Quora Thread Ever

What are some awesome examples of simple yet innovative designs?
Click here to see the awesomeness.
designed by Aakash Dewan of DSK ISD (International School of Design ,India)

Three Great Quora Reads On Product Innovation

I have yet to integrate Quora in any regular or habitual way into my daily professional life. But from time to time, I dip back into the site and am delighted by the interesting insights I find buried among the snarky retorts and unanswered questions.

Here are three of my favorite recent reads on product innovation.

How does Apple keep secrets so well?

A former colleague from my time at the Apple Online store wrote, "In the end, it works because the employees want it to... They want to be part of the magic trick, and the most important part of magic is not revealing the secret."

Robert Scoble added these thoughts: "Because they are a hardware company they knew that letting details out about new products would kill sales of existing products, so they built that into their culture early on...Everything is on a need to know basis." In this world of agile software development, I would agree it is often hard for technologists to remember that hardware product lifecycles are not so short or very nimble. Manufacturing lines have to be set up, tooling has to be done and re-done, chipsets must be assembled, durability tested.

Scoble continued, "This [need to know]  extends even into meetings. If you are in a meeting and you aren't on the disclosure list for something you'll be asked to leave. Generally people don't bring up stuff in meetings they aren't allowed to discuss with the group." This, too was my own personal experience. If you don't believe security is a part of a company's culture, you haven't been asked to sign an NDA when you enter a meeting with your own colleagues in your own office building.

Why has Microsoft seemingly stopped innovating?

My former CEO at RealNetworks, (and once again Real's current CEO), Rob Glaser wrote in a "rather lengthy (War and Peace like) note" that "most of the action in technology innovation nowadays is taking place in areas where (i) PC software strength by itself is not sufficient, and (ii) the business models that lead to success are very different that the model that Microsoft was build on and is still at the core of Microsoft's DNA."

Glaser cites three value creating innovations in the past five years that Microsoft failed to nail: "(a) Search delivered to consumers/end users on the Web for free, supported by extremely valuable targeted ads (Google)  (b) Integrated Hardware/Software/Service device plays monetized both by selling the device and then selling services on top of the device (Apple, RIM) (c) Social Network Platforms that are free to consumers, based on user-generated information put into highly integrated and extensible structured frameworks, monetized a few different ways (Facebook)"

Scott Berkun, the author of the Myths of Innovation, pointed out, "The real tragedy is it takes  great products to be labeled an innovator by the mass media and consumer culture. Edison did not invent the lightbulb, but he made one that  worked well enough to be used by most people, that's why he gets all the  credit. Same for Ford. Microsoft has never been led as a products company - It's a  technology and platforms company. With that kind of strategy  middle-management and design-by-committee dominates, making the kind of  design vision and clarity of focus required to make a great product (or a  great user experience) very difficult culturally. The result is products that are often mediocre to experience, but have secondary value that enterprise and corporate customers respond to. This doesn't work as well for consumers, and consumer drive the perception of who is innovative and cool and who isn't."

What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?

Former Yahoo exec, Henry Sohn, commented, "I would argue that the best product managers are the ones who can connect to the very best creators and help bring about the best products, and communicate that to the outside world.  

The most popular answer to this question, written by an Amazon senior manager, stresses the value of simplicity to the top echelon of product managers.  "A 1% PM knows how to get 80% of the value out of any feature or project with 20% of the effort. They do so repeatedly, launching more and achieving compounding effects for the product or business. "


Are Silicon Valley Companies More Innovative?

According to a recent report from Booz & Co, there may be some truth to the theory that companies in the Bay Area have a distinct advantage in terms of cultivating innovation.  The research Booz's team conducted showed, "[These companies] are almost three times as likely to say their innovation strategies are tightly aligned with their overall corporate business strategies." More than double the number of Bay Area companies in the normal population indicated their corporate cultures supported their strategies.

On closer examination, the evidence does not suggest that the reason is really geographically based, however, there are regional trends that seem to support the trend.  As noted in the study, the Bay Area  is home to some of the nation’s greatest scientific research capacity. In addition, the Bay Area accounts for more than a third of the venture capital investment.

While investment and infrastructure certainly are foundational to ensure innovation has a chance, the report emphasizes that culture is really the deciding factor in perpetuating a company's bias towards innovation.  The Bay Area, it turns out, leads the nation in companies that follow the Need Seeker model of innovation, which Booz highlights as a significant differentiator.

You can read more about this study here.





More On Creativity - John Cleese And The "Tortoise Mind"

It is easy for a professional comedy writer to advocate making definitive time and space boundaries in your day to enable creative thinking, but before you completely dismiss the possibility that John Cleese is actually a voice of corporate reason, take a listen to this video excerpt from a several years old lecture that he gave.  


In the full lecture, Cleese references a British psychologist's study of the "tortoise mind, [which is] a slower, less focused, less articulate, much more playful, almost dreamy" side of ourselves that must be allowed time to roam in order to be creative.  

And what does Cleese really think is the enemy of creativity?  "The widely held, but misguided, beliefs that being decisive means making decisions quickly, that fast is always better and that we should think of our minds as being like computers...The pressure on managers at all levels to act quickly is enormous." Cleese acknowledges that while we need to be able to multi-task, and let our "hare brain" dominate, we have to carve out time to balance our thinking with our tortoise mind. The book, and Cleese's application to business, are  detailed more in this New York Times article.




My Philosophy of New Product Development

"We should cultivate the ability to say no to activities for which we have no time, no talent, and which we have no interest or real concern. If we learn to say no to many things, then we will be able to say yes to things that matter most." Roy Blauss via Compendium


CES 2011 Video Moments

I hope you enjoy these two video montages of the sites and sounds of CES. It's a visual and auditory mashup, but so is walking around the show floor.

And, just in case you think it's all glam and glitter at CES, please see my post on Technorati, Ten Things I Hate About CES.


Can America Become The Comeback Kid?

If you ask the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association what America needs to do to become as great as it used to be, he'll tell you the answer lies in two words - support innovation.

Gary ShapiroGary Shapiro, head of the organization that annually mounts the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, believes America's position as a global superpower has been diminished by the federal government's immigration, education, broadband and tax policies which have dimmed our entrepreneurial spirit.

Shapiro feels so passionate that the country needed a strategic turnaround plan, he says he almost named his new book simply "The Plan." In an interview on the verge of opening the 2011 trade show to tout his short treatise "The Comeback, How Innovation Will Restore The American Dream," Shapiro said, "I created a SWOT analysis for the country, and evaluated our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats."

The CEO of the CEA was steadfast in his interest in speaking about long range vision, and was committed to the perspective that his job is to focus on federal policy. Downplaying the impact of the state government's role in fostering innovation, maintaining employment levels or managing immigration at our borders, Shapiro suggested that the economic situation California has gotten itself into is a local business issue that gets sorted out through competition among states for jobs and business. "Other states win when California makes bad decisions," Shapiro remarked. Despite insistence that innovation starts with federal policy, in his book, Shapiro compares the financial woes of California to the economic implosion of Greece.

Read more:


Twitter CEO Dick Costolo On His "Technical Debt"

In this interview at the mini All Things Digital conference at CES, the Twitter CEO euphemistcally describes the "fail whale" and his plan to have us see it less.


A Socially Syndicated Dessert Idea

On my first day in my new office, one of my R2Integrated colleagues brought in a freshly baked batch of phenomenal cake pops.  When I asked her how she managed to poise such a quaintly designed, icing covered ping pong ball sized piece of moist cake on the end of a stick, she proceeded to give me detailed multi-step process which I instantly knew I’d never have the patience or skills to execute.

Undaunted, I remained fascinated by the incredible portability and convenience of the dessert-on-a-stick concept, and set out to execute something decidedly simpler to conquer at a recent dinner party.  I began with the most child-friendly of recipes, a Rice Krispies treat, and melted a bunch of chocolate chips. Inserting the sticks into chunks of the treats, I coated them in thick layer of chocolate one at a time. It maybe took half the number of steps as those yummy cake pops, but they looked pretty darn good.

Standing at attention on the serving plate before my guests, the Rice Krispies lollipops screamed both neat and gooey all at the same time. It was then I realized that the essence of that original ball of red velvet cake on a paper stick lived on, at least in a small way through how I re-packaged the value I got from the initial idea.  Someone else who was more of a cake fan than me might have immediately thought of other interesting ways to serve cake after seeing a cake pop and extended the idea further (perhaps cake in a cone?); I only thought of what else I could serve on a stick that’d be less effort than that cake recipe seemed to be?

Great ideas, re-packaged, are still great ideas.  The idea, re-presented, still has merit but it is amplified by its extension.  In putting my own spin on the novelty and utility of the dessert poised on a stick, I added the simplicity of the new recipe, as well as the nostalgia of a favorite childhood treat, and broadened the opportunity to pass it on.  In advancing what was important to me, I syndicated those features which my own capabilities could carry forward.

New media marketers need to recognize that re-packaging is a natural part of sharing.  When ideas are syndicated, they don't always get re-transmitted in their original form or with the same emphasis.  What's perceived as the most important meta-message by a marketer may not be the "thing" that the audience hears and carries with them.




Gearhead Gal's Favorite Things Giveaway

If it is good enough for Oprah, it's good enough for us. Here at The Consumer Matters, we just love books and giveaways like the Big O does. (Okay, to be clear, we're not giving away an iPad or taking everyone to Australia like Gayle's best friend.) Sure we love our Kindle and iPad to read ebooks, but we also love to own the real pulp and glue smelling thing. To thank everyone for following us over this past year, and in honor of the season of giving, we're offering our readers a chance to get a fresh, shiny new copy of some of our favorite business bibles. And, if this goes well, we might move from gifts to gadgets.

All you have to do is "Like" The Consumer Matters on Facebook, and add a comment on that page telling us why you are interested in a specific book listed below. If you want more than one, you'll have to work for it - provide three separate posts to plead your case. We'll give you some time to write a pithy, compelling, or needy post on our Facebook wall.  And we'll even give you a few days to be creative.  Next Friday, aka Black Friday, we'll pick the lucky winner, and then as an added bonus, you'll also be able to tell all of your friends that you nailed your first holiday gift without having to get up early and wait in line.

Our first book is Cynthia Rabe's "The Innovation Killer."

Next up, we're offering Jeffrey Hayzlett's "The Mirror Test."

And finally, our last selection is "Customer-centric Product Definition" by Sheila Mello.


So start the Like-fest and check back here and on Facebook next week for the lucky winners.


Favorite Tweet Of The Day

RT@profhamel What's important: in a (consumer) value theory of   (via @


Quirky & Make - DIY Meets The Science Guy

When I was a kid, I loved to pass the crummy Philadelphia winters making things. From Rube Goldberg-style contraptions to pinhole cameras, our attic was filled with my "inventions."  Professionally, while I eventually channeled this urge to create into filmmaking and then product design, a few of those ideas still rattle around in my head as I lie awake at night. 

But now, thanks to Quirky and MakeProjects, I have two new sites to scratch that creative itch.  MakeProjects is a "collaborative resource for people who like to make things," and there are some clever, wacky, and creative projects already highlighted on the site to spur the inventor in you. The site also has a companion magazine, and this month's issue focuses on - wait for it - GADGETS! One of my favorite highlights is "the Most Useless Machine," a tautological invention if there ever was one.


Quirky is a social product development site which combines crowdsourcing and commerce together and enables would-be inventors access to a community of designers and consumers who help bring the idea to fruition. Quirky provides ideas a home to be nurtured, refined and built, and then offers those winning ideas to the public on their website.  Quirky's staff builds prototypes and based on forecasted popularity (that is pre-sales), Quirky will take the product to production.  If there is a community who'd love your product, but you don't have the resources to get it into the market, then Quirky is your answer.

Thanks to online creative communities like Quirky and MakeProjects, you needn't be a borrower or find a lender to realize being an inventor any more.





Good Things Come In Small Packages

Thanks to my friend, Mark Hall for pointing this out to us. The simplicity of the interaction model belies some very creative thinking. Hang around for the whole video to see the amazingly cool applications these little cookie-sized tiles enable.  An advancement beyond touch screens, these interactive squares are actually calculating and reacting to the motion around them. 


The Creative Process Is Just A Matter of Time

Check out this preview of an interesting video I discovered on the Ideas & Art Frequency. So, tell me, what do you do to come up with a good idea?


A Guy Walks Into A Bar...

No, this isn't another story about that prototyped and hyped next gen phone. The guy that walked into the bar was Michael Ohrbach, of Cascadia Capital, an investment bank in Seattle. The bar was the Celtic Swell, and it just happens to be co-owned by Joleen Winther Hughes, whose Hughes Media Law Group sponsors a series of events there to support the local start-up community. 

Ohrbach laid out a series of charts and graphs to show the trends in funding for new business ventures from before the "econolypse" through today, with a compelling case that angel and venture funds are flowing to fewer projects with rigorous business plans, "and not just to inventors with a good idea." He maintains the Internet is still a driver of investment capital, and validated the continuing love affair investors have with consumer technology.


Hughes Media Law Presents: Cascadia Capital - Venture Funding In Today's Market from Gearheadgal on Vimeo.



Favorite Tweets of the Day

It's been a while since I posted any tweets that captured my attention. Here now is an eclectic group of ideas to ponder for a Monday AM.

RT @mindful_living “I am a very old man and have suffered a great many misfortunes, most of which never happened.” ~ Mark Twain

RT@innovate A Tribute to CK Prahalad - - Rowan Gibson - #ckprahalad #strategy  #tribute #innovation Rethink the future

RT @eMarketer: Consumers Spent Less Time With All Media Except Mobile in 2009 [Stats]  -

RT @themarknews Why Neuromarketing's Time Hasn't Come - April Dunford — THE MARK

RT @gigaom The State of the Internet: Now Bigger, Faster & Mobile 


Favorite Tweet of the Day

Reification. My fave new $.25 word! @berkun Transcript of my speech on Innovation Myths at The Economist #ideaseconomy event - #innovation #creativity