Wednesday, July 23, 2008

At the Stanford Summit - What is Green?

Many of us at Macadamian are very passionate about green tech and the environment. A question we've been bouncing around Macadamian is what role does the software industry have in green tech?

I'm listening to an amazing panel on green tech. On the panel is the Chairman and CEO of Southern California Edison, and the CEO of New Energy Finance to name a couple.

The panel acknowledged that while most of the buzz is about solar and wind power, one of the biggest opportunities in the next decade is the digitization of the grid. The power grid will go through the same revolution as the communication grid. Look at your cell phone bill - every text message is itemized, categorized, and quantitized. Look at your utility bill - it shows you how much energy you used in a month, and if your utility is really sophisticated, it shows you how much was onpeak and how much was offpeak.

As we come online with Smart Meters, it opens the door for new ways of conserving energy. Imagine that your meter can negotiate with your washing machine, to tell it the best offpeak time to start the cycle.

It may not be as sexy as solar, but the impact is huge.

At the Stanford Summit - on usability of IPTV

I'm at the Stanford Summit this week, and last night was a great opening panel of media executives. While most of the Summit is panels of startups, it was great to hear from the established broadcast and media companies like ABC and Paramount about the future.

One remark really stood out, and the panel agreed - part of the success of VOD and IPTV hinges on usability. Tivo, for example, has great usability, and it's the only "independent" PVR that survived and thrived. On the other hand, the usability of most set-top boxes from mainstream cable companies is rotten. I can relate - the box I received from Time Warner is virtually unusable. Searching for a show is a pain-staking experience.

The panel was clear an unambiguous. What they are seeing is usability drives adoption. When you give consumers an easy way to find and consume video content, they adopt.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Ten Faces of Innovation

I just finished reading The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley. Highly recommended reading for anyone running a product development team or in a product development role.

What I like about IDEO's approach to innovation is that they don't subscribe to the Lone Designer in a Dark Room mentality. They beleive innovation can be a repeatable team process. Ten Faces talks about the ten personas you need in an innovating team:
  1. The Anthropologist: Observes human behavior and develops a deep understanding of how humans interact with products on a physical and emotional level.
  2. Th Experimenter: Prototypes continuously
  3. The Cross-Pollinator: Explores other industries and cultures, and brings revelations back to the team
  4. The Hurdler: Knows how to overcome (or outsmart) the roadblocks in innovating, like finding internal budgets for the project
  5. The Collaborator: Brings this eclectic group together and leads from the middle of the pack
  6. The Director: Gathers the talented crew and helps spark their creative talents.
  7. The Experience Architect: Designs compelling experiences, beyond mere features and functionality.
  8. The Set Designer: Creates the environment in which the team is going to do their best work.
  9. The Caregiver: Anticipates customer needs and is ready to look after them.
  10. The Storyteller: builds awareness and morale through compelling stories.

I love the way that Kelley starts the book - he proposes that we have too many Devil's Advocates in our organizations. You know how it goes: when someone proposes an idea that's outside the box, there are several people willing to jump in with "Well, that's fine, but let me play Devil's Advocate for a second".

What if instead of saying "let me play Devil's Advocate, and shoot down your idea, but mask it in my Devil's Advocate persona", we said "let me play the Experimenter for a minute, and go put together a quick prototype", or "let me play The Cross-Pollinator" for a sec - I saw something similar work in another industry - I wonder if we could apply it here?" Do you think that would make you a more innovative company?

Kelley's not proposing that your team have each of these functions, but that people on the team adopt these personas. In a small team, one person might be the Director, the Set Designer, and the Storyteller wrapped up in one. He's proposing that a high-performing innovating team has each of these personas somewhere in the team. If you see these behaviors, nurture them. Innovation is a state of mind.