Post Apparently Puts the “NO” in Innovation

September 17, 2009

Post is not a company that you would expect to innovate much.  Their variety of cereals are very standard and they make a nice profit putting out the same products that they have put out for years.  They recently played on that by releasing this commercial, exclaiming that “We put the NO in innovation”.

I would argue that Post has probably made some big changes over the years in terms of production and distribution, perhaps even in corporate structure and ethical standards.  I don’t know if any of these can be called real innovative moves, but change is necessary to keep up with the times.  I get the whole “we don’t change our products because they are already what consumers want” message, but let’s not call an end to progress and innovation altogether.

All in all however, it’s a pretty decent commercial.


The Printed Blog is Done: Is Anyone Surprised?

July 8, 2009

paperblogThe Printed Blog, a company founded to take blogs, print them and deliver them in newspaper format, has shut down due to lack of capital.  This New York Times story explains that Joshua Karp, the company’s founder, simply could not raise enough capital to keep the business afloat.  The company only lasted a little over 6 months.

Here is a quote from Mr. Karp that gives you a notion of where his idea came from.

“I thought maybe this would translate into a new, venture-funded model for newspapers, but no one believes print news will survive. If I had a penny left, I would bet newspapers will survive in printed form.”

In my opinion, this is a very basic misunderstanding of why blogs are so popular, and why print media is dying.  This “printed blog” idea seems to assume that the content of blogs is better than the content of newspapers, and that the format of newspapers is better than the format of blogs.  When, in fact, I think we all know that it is exactly the opposite from that.

In most situations, the content of newspaper articles is better than the content of most blogs.  But it is the blog format that makes it so appealing.  It is immediate, breaking news and information that would take a whole day to be printed and distributed in newspaper form.

So Mr. Karp, it is not that we love blogs so much but wish they were printed and handed out the next day, its that we love getting our information quickly and easily on our computer or cell phone.  It surprises me that the basic principal of printing a blog post was ever approved and thought to be a good business venture.

If you are looking to save the printing industry, look elsewhere.  If you are looking to start a company that takes the current printing industry and moves it forward, I don’t think you are going to find the answers in “print” form.  We don’t have time to wait for printed material anymore.

24 Hour News FAIL

April 29, 2009

swineI will preface this by saying that contrary to my personal opinion, the Swine Flu, or H1N1 Virus, may in fact infect a lot of people and lead to the end of the world.  Hey, it could happen.  And I don’t want to be the one that everyone points their finger at when we all contract the disease and die.

However, I put the blame for the sudden panic of the world squarely on the shoulders of 24 hour news stations.  The CNN’s, the FOX’s, and the hundreds of affiliates and sister channels all over the TV are ablaze with reports of pandemics.  And, what’s worse, we live in the age where not only are we exposed to this via television, but the web.  Every single major media outlet on the internet is covered with stories on the Swine Flu, and how bad of shape we are all in because of it.

And it gets to us.  It makes people panic.  It makes people say, “Oh my god, we are all screwed.”

The problem is, this happens all the time.  This happened a few years ago with the Bird Flu.  And you know what happened after it was all said and done, the so-called pandemic didn’t do nearly as much harm as everyone expected.

Every tragedy and every scare, anywhere in the world, is magnified a million times because of these major media outlets.  In my opinion, there is no need for it.  It just causes people to panic, when the real goal of news should be to inform without making judgment.

They do it with business news, as anyone who follows stocks can see.  They do it with political news, as anyone who is as fed up with the 100 day obligatory judgment of Barack Obama will agree with.  They even do it with sports news, endlessly bashing or building up a player or a coach to no end.

Why do they do this?  They will tell you that they have a moral obligation to inform.  They will tell you that people watch the news to get that information, so why would they get rid of it.

The truth is, 24 hours is too much for news.  And deep down, they will have to agree.  They need to fill every second with a story.  They need to take the stories that are big, and make them even bigger.

Swine Flu is this month’s presidential election.  Soon the story will dry up and they’ll find something else to talk about.

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MTA Fare Hike: Cause and Effect of No Choice Decisions

April 20, 2009

Help ButtonThere is a lot of debate around New York City about the recent vote to raise the cost of monthly metro cards from $81 to $103.  It seems insane to spend over $100 for unlimited access to New York City’s public transportation systems every month.  But if you truly understand the situation the MTA is in, then you know it’s not all their fault.

This debate brings up the thoughts of others like it.  What happens when an organization is forced into a decision because of a negative situation?  Even worse, where is the motivation to innovate when the consumer has almost no choice in their decision making process?

See, the MTA was forced into this decision because they need money, desperately.  The government has not provided the funding needed to improve NYC’s transportation, so the MTA continues to spend more than it takes in.  This can only go on for so long, and then they decide they’re not making enough, and then they raise prices.  It’s a constant cycle.

When an organization is running out of money, they panic
.  They will look for new ways to make money from their current customers.  This is the case with banks, airlines and municipalities charging new fees, seemingly pulled from thin air.  They need money, so they “trick” their customers into spending more.  This is easier than reaching new customers.  And though it may not be as smart, and it most likely will create negative brand awareness, it’s the nature of a panic.

What’s worse is that in most cases where these types of situations occur, the consumer does not have much of a choice.  For the MTA, New York City workers and residents will continue to use the subways and buses.  Why?  We don’t have much of a choice if we want to continue to get from place to place.  Its still less expensive than owning a car, more efficient than walking or biking, and generally very convenient.  So there is no motivation for the MTA not to raise their prices.  The economic rules that say when prices go up, the number of people who will pay for it go down, do not apply in this type of monopolistic situation.  There is almost no risk.

You can put the onus of the problem squarely on the shoulders of the organization in question, and say that it is not an ethical decision to raise prices on customers who need their service.  But in truth, an organization will do anything to survive.  It is in their nature to make enough money to continue to operate, and you can’t fault it for looking to make more money when it starts to run out.

The true problem exists on a bigger level.  In this case, it may fall on the state and local governments who cut funding for transportation.  In many cases, it may lie in the hands of the systems we have put in place.  Competition is important.  Creativity and innovation are vital.  Companies that perform better should always win.

Where there is no motivation to innovate, most organizations simply won’t.

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JetBlue Impressions: Good then Bad

February 17, 2009

jetbluepillow2_080408_mn1Back from a short stay in the Dominican Republic and innovation is on my mind.  Of course most of my thoughts are on travel, in general, and how it can be made better/easier/more convenient.  If you missed my post last week on innovative travel service ideas from the road, check it out.

A lot has been said about the struggling airline industry.  And, with a few crashes in the past month, they obviously have some important things to look at.  But they still have yet to really get the business right.  In a recession, people are looking to the companies that help them out.

It was my first time flying JetBlue, and overall I had a very good experience.  Their terminals are big and comfortable and come with many amenities.  The planes are roomier and more comfortable than other airlines that I have flown in the past.  Overall, I see a lot of people praising JetBlue, but they do lose some of us.  Here is where they lost me, or at least their business model lost me.

They advertise special services that you can pay for on the flight.  You can pay $5 for an in flight movie, but they only have 2 choices, and I can’t start and stop it whenever I like.  You can pay $5 for special food or beverages, except they don’t take cash.  And finally, you can pay $7 for a pillow and blanket which they claim is a “State of the art, most comfortable pillow and blanket set ever”.  Are you kidding me?

First of all, thanks to the guy sitting in front of me, I got to see this “magical set” first hand.  Let me tell you this, if you have ever gotten a pillow or blanket on a plane, this was the same or worse.  It was, in no way, more comfortable.  And second of all, the stewardess, along with the advertisement in the brochure, make a big deal out of the fact that you can take it with you when you leave.  Awesome!  I remember when you could take the free ones with you.

A note to all airlines, you’re trying to scam your customers.  I know you operate in a tough industry, but it is one that will always be there.  Air travel is a modern day necessity and it’s not going anywhere.  Figure out how to model your pricing so that you can afford the amenities we want.  Cut down on costs that are dragging you down, perfect the processes that are costing your employees time and money, and get the business back on track.  Some airlines are moving in the right direction, but others are moving backwards.  Wake up.

Readers, take your shot at the airlines that have caused you trouble in the comments section below.

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When We Need to Retool

October 12, 2008

There are times when an industry has gone as far as it can go on their current practices.  At times like that, it becomes necessary for a new player to come along and shake things up.  Most often, it takes a new player because the cost of changing the way an existing company does things is far to great for anyone to get accepted.  There are too many highly paid board members and CEO’s with too much pressure from stockholders to suggest drastically changing something within an organization.

As an example, I will use the struggling Airline industry.  Nothing seems to be working for them now.  At one point, it appeared that Southwest Airlines has come into an industry that needed a new player at the right time to change the way things work.  But it is apparent now that the change that should have been felt was not widely accepted.

When you have to charge someone an extra $20 to change their reservation on the phone, there is a problem.  In affect, you are scamming someone who is already your customer.  This person has already made the decision to fly with you.  They have already paid money, choosing your service over that of your competition.  So why make them question that decision?  Why make it any harder for them to get what they need?

When you have to charge people to check a bag based on how much it weighs without announcing that to them before they come in, there is a problem.  If I purchase a ticket online, and it does not warn me that I will pay an extra $15 because my bag is one pound over a limit, what am I supposed to take from that?  What happens the next time I need to fly, am I going to happily choose your company again and pack a little lighter?  No, probably I will do some more research and do everything possible to choose another carrier.

So what does the airline industry need?  Where does it go from here?  For starters, it needs an outsider’s persepective.  It will need a new leader, one that steps up and challenges the things that today’s giants take for granted.  How can you reward people for being loyal?  How can you save money for the company, and relay that savings to everyone who chooses your service?  Fuel is expensive, but is there a way to pay for rising fuel costs by cutting your expenses in another way?  Stop looking for little ways to “steal” money from customers.

It’s time for someone to start to think a little differently about the way that we fly.

We Choose, They Listen

August 24, 2008

I talk a lot about companies changing the world through innovation.  I discuss different ways that companies are working to move forward.  And I offer suggestions on things you can do in business and in life to follow suit.  But the truth is, there are a lot of companies out there that are not following that principle.  There are a lot of companies out there that really don’t care about the common good of the people they serve.  They are money hungry, greedy organizations run by corrupt leaders who couldn’t care less about society as a whole.

When a food producer tries to deny the spread of a disease or bacteria instead of owning up to it and doing something about it, they are being ignorant.  When a car company puts out a faulty model that does not keep its drivers as safe as they should, they failed to see the big picture.  When a toy retailer chooses to sell cheap products made in poorly run factories, exposing their customers to dangerous materials, they are choosing money over human beings.

It’s sad but true.  But, as consumers, we have a choice.  We can seek out the companies that are doing good.  We can discover products that are more healthy and use them.  We can so to greedy companies and yes to those that give back some of the profits to help those less fortunate.

It’s time to find a cause.  It’s time to step up and be counted.  Innovation does not start at the top.  It starts with you, the consumer.  Because most companies in this world won’t do anything they don’t have to.  If you buy their products, they won’t change a thing, even if it hurts the masses.  So be a driver of change by choosing the right companies.  We all have a choice, help make the right one.