Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category.
Snapchat seems to be attracting more interest recently with more users of and more questions about the mobile sharing app which allows you to send images and text (‘Snaps’) to contacts with an ‘auto-destruct’ after a few seconds. In April, CEO Evan Spiegel announced that 150m photos were shared each day, and the app has come under investigation as to whether the images actually do auto-destruct. There is also a perception that the app is a fad among teens, and the auto-destruct nature of the communication makes it suitable for mere frippery or even for sexting.
But the rise of Snapchat is much more interesting than that; it presents a real innovation in communication tools.
Social media tools typically allow communication (in text or visually) that is then stored forever. You can get lost in a sea of your own memories and in the messages and updates for others. This can be confusing in itself – the nature of memories tends to eschew this kind of cataloguing of detail. But also it reflects more the nature of written communications - things that are logged and recorded; filed and searchable. And this is at odds with the nature of much of the things that we communicate on social media.
Much of what we want to say to contacts in social media is ‘of the moment’ – it is a greeting or a friendly hello, a piece of information or advice. It is not content that the recipient will need after they have read it, and it is certainly not content that needs to be stored, catalogued and searchable. It reflects more much of our spoken communication – passing a message on in the now. And to date social media tools have been poor at meeting this need.
What Snapchat offers is a tool for communication as ephemera – content and messaging that has a shelf-life and doesn’t need to live on after that.
So much of the way we interact as human beings is like this that I would expect to see a real rise in tools that operate in a similar way to Snapchat; tools that don’t require everything we say in social media to be forever.
Of course, there is much that is wrong with Snapchat – the concerns of bullying, sexting and whether those photos are really deleted are all real. But the essence of the app – the ephemeral nature of communication is also very real. And it has the opportunity to develop and to change the way we communicate through digital devices, and the way brands communicate with us. What would you say if you could pass on a message that genuinely lived just in the now?
Classroom (Photo credit: Vitó)
Last week I got a glimpse into the future of education through the eyes of two visionaries: Salman Khan (founder of the Khan Academy) and Martin Bean (Vice President of the Open University). Both speakers talked about how online learning has had, and is still having a massive and transformative impact on education, and how it has the potential to vastly improve society. Khan’s website now has roughly 6.5 million unique users a month and it’s videos have had more than 200 million, while the Open University has had more than 1.5 million people graduate from their courses.
What is the Khan Academy?
The Khan Academy is a non-profit online learning environment that was set up in 2006. Salman’s continuing mission is to create a world class education for anyone in the world at any time; so that there are no barriers for people to gain the skills they want to develop. With more than 3,600 online video lessons, viewers can master a variety of subjects at their own pace, such as maths, physics, history, economics… even how physics can be related to an NBA basketball player.
Khan suggests that the ability to remedy gaps in someone’s knowledge at their own pace is one of the websites greatest assets and is turning people who shuddered at the thought of tackling a long division questions into “mathletes” who are now entering maths courses at degree level.
Four aspects of the future of education
Four themes were common across the talk:
- Access: Education was once only something for the extremely well-off people in society, but now with the global reach of the Internet and the power of online video, a world class education can be accessed by almost anyone in the world, at any time.
- Agility: One of the greatest features of the Khan Academy is the ability to go off and master a concept in your own time, so that there won’t be gaps in your knowledge before you move onto the next stage of your learning. The Khan academy gives students the tools to see where they have gaps in their knowledge, and is developing a tool to send users relevant material and members who can help you progress to the next level.
- Analytics: Khan and his team have been using the website to perform a wide range of experiments on the site, which they are then using to increase student’s engagement with the learning material. One of the best parts about online education is that Salman and his team have constant feedback about how users are engaging their educational material and using web analytics and A/B testing which they can experiment to make the material more engaging for learners.
- Improvement: Growth Mindset is the idea that learners should be rewarded for improvement rather than their attainment. Khan has taken this idea and incorporated it into the website, by giving users motivational quotes during their exercises and has found that this has greatly increased the amount of time people spend doing problems and exercises.
Other education options online
Millions people are now regular using the Khan Academy to educate themselves and their families and come from a wide range of ages, incomes and geographies. However, the Khan Academy isn’t the only way to learn online and here are a few other options to think about:
- iTunes University hosts lectures form some of the best higher education institutions in the world and is a great place to find great courses on a whole range of fascinating topics, such as “Principles of Nutrition”, “Playwriting” or even “Exploring the Hobbit”.
- TED.com is a global set of conferences and lectures that was formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading” and can be watched on smart phone apps or from the comfort of your own desktop. There are many interesting lectures from the some of the world’s most innovative thinkers and this is definitely a place to go if you are looking for something new to inspire you.
- Lynda.com is an online training library that trains users to use a variety of software title, scripting languages, graphics design and web development platforms and also provides a handy section of videos to improve your business skills.
With all these wonderful learning opportunities, it is going to be amazing to see what benefits we will see from people grasping the many learning opportunities that are emerging online.
23andMe (Photo credit: brendanlim)
I’ve been agonising about whether to send my DNA ‘spit kit’ to 23andMe, a personal genetic testing company (founded by the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin). For $99, they will give me information about my ancestry (how much Neanderthal is there in the Trim family?) and help me to learn more about my health. But what are the risks in doing this and am I opening myself up to unwanted scrutiny from third party companies by doing so?
23andMe is an interesting example of the convergence of three trends: quantified-self, Big Data and crowdsourcing.
I track my runs and cycles on RunKeeper and I’ve become sadly addicted to the Heart Rate app – taking pride in how low my heart rate is, even in the most stressful meetings! The quantified-self movement believes that data and metrics helps us perform better. So getting to know more about my health risks could provide vital data for managing my life better in the future. One example cited by 23andMe is that
…one person in five people develops diabetes by the age of 79. Variations in your DNA tested for by 23andMe might raise your risk to one in three, making your lifestyle choices on factors like exercise and weight control even more critical.
But there are questions over how much the tests that 23andMe currently performs can actually tell us beyond what we already know: to eat healthily, give up smoking and exercise regularly. And if you know you are high risk for a particular disease, does that just create unnecessary anxiety for you and your family? That knowledge isn’t going to stop you from developing the disease and the resulting stress may contribute to a whole host of other health-related complications. Finally if I submit this test, will I have to declare this to my health insurance company and will they penalise me if I turn out to be high risk for say breast cancer? The FAQs on the 23andMe website make the answer to this far from clear.
Last year 180,000 people added their DNA samples to the 23andMe database and this year the company is pushing to take that to over 1 million. What has struck me about the early discoveries that the company has made (for example with Parkinson’s disease) is that this is actually one huge crowdsourcing effort. By analysing a ton of Big Genetic Data, we could all contribute to finding new research breakthroughs and potentially make health improvements for millions of people. So I’m going to forget the personal and think more about how my little piece of DNA could help the crowds. It’s the ultimate use of social data and understanding the connections between us to help us design better health care systems.
Innovation is a common topic of debate and strategies in most businesses (be they new or well established). In the current economic climate, and with the huge potential of the likes of social media data, brands are increasingly looking at innovation (large and small) as a way to beat the competition.
But innovation is often misunderstood. After a recent event debating the topic at the Open University Business School, I left with some insights into what the attendees thought that innovation was, and some misconceptions about what it has to be (but doesn’t):
Five things that innovation is
- Innovation and growth are inextricably linked, according to the BBC’s Evan Davis. He surmised that innovation hasn’t come to a standstill in 2012, although we do have a growth problem which innovation itself will be crucial to solving.
- Delicate. It’s important to nurture it gently so as not to kill it off too quickly, but also carefully contain and manage it to prevent any huge financial, market, or reputational fires.
- More prevalent during recessions. The atmosphere of fear engendered by recession is often the trigger required to force organisations to adapt and survive (as opposed to ending up at the decline end of the sigmoid curve, such as Kodak), as well as being ideal for start-ups. Recessions tend to shake out the worst performers, and those simply coasting along with the status quo.
- Often within your team already. Any business is likely to have great ideas and innovators already within the team. An open and creative organisational culture and office space is crucial to finding, developing, and encouraging these employees, who will always move to another company (possibly a competitor) to innovate if they can’t do so where they are.
- Often the victim of resistance and sabotage. Some tactics to look out for and actively surface and manage include Peter Keen’s “lay low”, and “keep the project complex, hard to coordinate, and vaguely defined”. Plus also the wonderfully expressed “Say yes! But do nothing”.
Five things that innovation doesn’t have to be
- Big or complex. Sometimes the best innovation can come through a series of incremental steps which ultimately amounts to something quite large, impactful and radical. Such gradual change can often be more palatable in businesses.
- Hugely expensive or driven forward by companies. As demonstrated by the user-led innovations of the maker movement, and also Jugaad Innovation’s more flexible, frugal, and bottom-up approach.
- A risky business. At least not to the innovators – who have complete faith in their idea. It’s the financial backers who are taking the risks. However, if we’re taking an incremental approach, perhaps that can help reduce the overall risk by breaking innovation up into more manageable and less intimidating or costly chunks.
- A driver to cut costs. As it’s enabling many companies to retain their current cost bases but stretch those resources further into more countries and ventures.
- About technology. Thinking and process innovations show it’s not just about technology (e.g. queuing), and service innovations prove it’s not only about products either. Nevertheless, technology is certainly vital, and SAP UK’s CTO Adrian Simpson explored how innovation is being shaped by greater mobility (e.g. increase in mobile devices), social media and networks, the cloud, and huge data sets (including social data).
Ultimately, innovation seems to depend on persistence, belief, adaptability, and relevance to customers and the market. While its success relies on people, behaviour and skills, and spotting and pursuing the opportunity before it’s too late. Undoubtedly money and resources help, but perhaps more of a barrier exists in the minds of employees and cultures of organisations?