Thought You Should See This, July 20th, 2012

This week on the innovation/design blog I write, Thought You Should See This:

Technology investor and entrepreneur, Peter Thiel threw down with Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt as part of the Fortune Brainstorm Tech event. It was a wide-ranging conversation that spanned many topics, from the true impact of technology innovation to the influence of government on innovation and growth. The pair took on some of the thorny topics of our time, with gusto.

Find out why veterans despise the Red Cross–and understand the implications of making unexpected or unwanted changes to service.

Another service story, this time breaking down “Netflix’s Lost Year” and some of the horrible management decisions senior leadership made in the name of attempting self-disruption.

A smart NYT op ed, The Machine and the Garden, makes the case that the economy is an organic, naturally impaired system, not a perfectly working machine. Interesting and compelling argument.

Two great new projects from Google make me want to pack my bags and head to London. Interactive artist Aaron Koblin has teamed up with Chris Milk again to develop The Exquisite Forest, a riff on old “exquisite corpse” games as part of a collaboration with Tate Modern. Designers also teamed up with the Science Museum to create the Web Lab, a year-long exhibition that meshes the physical and the virtual.

If you want to check out a charming story of one innovator’s grit and persistence, you’d do worse than to read the story of the evolution of Sugru. You’ll likely want to buy some of the miracle material once you’ve seen it, too.

Audi goes Apple: Audi’s just-opened high tech showroom near Piccadilly Circus in London plays to the digitally savvy crowd.

And finally, an interesting research project from General Electric aims to develop an at-home natural gas refueling station (image shown top.) Great stuff.


Thought You Should See This, April 13th, 2012

This week’s Thought You Should See This blog update for my pals at Doblin:

Liked this interesting story on Unilever’s list of innovation “wants.” These range from super serious, world-challenging issues (“safe drinking water”) to rather less dramatic problems that are clearly important for Unilever (“amazing toothpaste”) but represent what will likely be a common use of open innovation tactics to solve problems.

Also loved the new, world-record-winning Rube Goldberg machine (video above.) Incredible design and nerdily adorable.

Facebook bought photo-sharing app, Instagram, for a billion dollars. Or, as NYT reporter Jenna Wortham put it: “Instagram, an Internet start-up in San Francisco, has no revenue and about a dozen employees. It has not yet celebrated its second birthday. But to Facebook, it is already worth a billion dollars.” 

Meanwhile, writer and technologist Paul Ford weighed in on Facebook’s approach to design: “In terms of user experience, Facebook is like an NYPD police van crashing into an IKEA, forever.”

Overlooking the fact that the Peter Thiel teaching at Stanford is the same Peter Thiel who paid 20 kids $100,000 to drop out of college and start a business, PayPal co-founder Thiel’s computer science course has started, and student Blake Masters took detailed notes. Some great quotes here, including a fun paraphrase of Tolstoy: “all successful companies are different; they figured out the 0 to 1 problem in different ways. But all failed companies are the same; they botched the 0 to 1 problem.”

Piers Fawkes at PSFK asked me to opine on what constitutes good service these days. Given that I loathe shopping, this was rather harder than it should have been, but an interesting exercise all the same.

And finally, a good video of Tal Golesworthy describing how he dealt with Marfan Syndrome, a heart condition affecting the ascending aorta. Disinterested in the traditional treatment, which requires long surgery, the installation of a plastic valve, and a lifetime of anti-coagulation therapy and antibiotics, Golesworthy decided to treat himself as a “planning problem” and set out to change the entire treatment. He did it, too.

A Happy Story of Stellar Service

I recently helped to organize a trip to Miami, to celebrate a dear friend who’s getting married in May. The long weekend went well, a good time was had by all, etc etc. Yet I was particularly thrilled and gratified by the experience we had at Michelle Bernstein’s restaurant, Michy’s.

For some time now, service has been talked of as an important factor to consider within innovation. It’s one of Doblin’s “ten types” of innovation, and “service design” has emerged as an important discipline in its own right. Practitioners such as Hillary Cottam in the U.K. demonstrate what’s possible when you apply smart design principles to systemic matters of great weight, such as the justice system or healthcare.

This was rather more straightforward: a restaurant doing things right. Here’s what stood out for me during this lovely evening:

The menus
I’d had fairly involved discussions with someone at the restaurant before our group even showed up, and during one of these conversations I mentioned that we were celebrating my friend. “How lovely. Would you like us to customize the menus?” was the instant response. I hadn’t even thought of this, but it was a lovely touch that lent a carefully designed feel to the evening.

The food
Chef Anthony Bourdain once described vegetarians as “persistent irritants,” and declared that he’s delighted to charge a fortune to serve them a couple of pieces of grilled eggplant. Don’t think they, er, we don’t notice. We may not eat fish or meat, but we’re not stupid. Here, in contrast, there was neither huffing nor puffing about the one vegetarian in the group demanding special treatment. My friends actually wanted to try my food too. I can’t tell you what a rare occurrence that is.

The thoughtfulness
Giving a bride-to-be an unsolicited dessert with the word “congratulations” written on the plate makes her very happy. It also makes the organizers very happy that they went to that venue.

The service
None of us were driving so we relied on taxis to transport us back to our hotel after the meal. As we loitered outside the restaurant waiting for a car to arrive, the hostess came to check on us. “I’ll come and get you if one doesn’t arrive in five minutes,” I said to her. “No. I’ll come back and check on you in five minutes,” she replied. She did, too.

It strikes me as a bit sad that good service should still be a moment of wonder rather than an expected part of any experience. But as I’d bet everyone could attest, that’s not the way of the world. So hell, I’ll take it.