American (olive)pit-falls on innovation

Today, Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Rep., launched a lawsuit against a House of Representatives cafeteria, the cafeteria’s operator and two other food suppliers because of an "unfit and unwholesome" sandwich that contained an olive pit. Yes, an olive pit. A sandwich that claimed having pitted olives, came with the seed and allegedly caused "sustained serious and permanent dental and oral injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures, and has sustained other damages as well, including significant pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment." How hard can you bite it if it is in a sandwich? Anderson Cooper from CNN 360 showed videos of the Ohio Rep a few months after the date the event happened and Kucinich doesn’t seem injured or harmed as he speaks in the video. As for the “loss of enjoyment” we can’t tell. How much is he suing for? $150,000 USD, even though he has a governmental dental plan and even though surgical procedures are way under that amount. Another thing, when did the event happen? On April 2008, almost 3 years ago. I’m sure it is not a pleasant experience biting on an olive pit, but in my opinion this is too much.

The US has a list of lawsuits that seem excessive, some of them are won by the “offended”, others are lost, but still it shows the American propensity towards law suits, specially to well-known companies from which they can take advantage of. Let’s remember Stella Liebeck vs. McDonalds, the 79 year-old lady who in 1992 bought a 49 cents hot coffee and spilled it on herself, causing skin burns. ABC News called it "the poster child of excessive lawsuits" although she did spend 8 days on the hospital and lost nearly 20% of her body weight. A New Mexico jury awarded her $2.9 million USD in damages. Thanks to Stella Liebeck the “Stella Awards” were created and you can read some much more ridiculous cases on from people suing Nike "for defamation and permanent injury" because of being confused for Michael Jordan to Mazda being sued for "failed to provide instructions regarding the safe and proper use of a seatbelt" or a policeman suing Teasers after killing a man because of confusing the stun gun with a real gun.

So how does this affect innovation? One word: fear. It is true companies should be responsible for their products and services, and extensively investigate and test them before release and continue doing so for the product’s life cycle. There is no doubt about that, and it should be part of the innovation process. Companies should also be punished for their lack of responsibility or negligence and it is absolutely favorable that government and other institutions protect the less powerful, such as a client against large corporations. But an extreme law-suit oriented culture can be harmful for everyone. It’s not about doing things entirely safe and even fool-proof (Pokeyoke), it turns out fools are very clever, to the point they want to take advantages. The other day I was hearing a conversation where Mexican doctors said some American doctors feared risk taking, even when needed, because of lawsuits, in this case being cautious to the extreme can have damaging results.

In Latin America and other developing countries we don’t have a law suit propensity as in US. We are probably closer to the other excessive harmful side where corporations have the upper hand and where you don’t even want to think of getting into a legal mess with them. An over-freely and permissive approach can cause risky innovations to emerge, causing harmful products i.e. toys in China with high levels of lead.

The best context for innovation is having responsible corporations with informed clients that demand high quality (therefore better products), with an objective and efficient legal system that does respect both ends equally and other institutions that support and inform both of them (i.e. consumer’s reviews). Can this middle-term be reached or is it utopia and the legal balance will always be on one side or the other?

As for me, I wouldn’t like having a cafeteria and being sued $150,000 USD for an olive pit. You are not even safe doing simple sandwiches… now imagine doing nuclear reactors! That’s why I’m calling this case an American (olive)pitfall towards innovation.

Narco Fashion Marketing

The Mexican Drug Lord, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, aka “La Barbie” was arrested and presented to the media on August 31, 2010, using a green Ralph Lauren Polo shirt.

When Jose Jorge Balderas, aka "El JJ", was arrested and presented to the media on January 18 2011, he was wearing a blue Ralph Lauren Polo shirt. “El JJ” was also a drug dealer and is the alleged shooter of the Paraguayan soccer player Salvador CabaƱas.

In jail, "La Barbie" was also photographed wearing the same blue polo shirt model as "El JJ".

The question is, why Ralph Lauren Polo shirts? Is it just a coincidence? Sure it is a well known brand that is also considered a luxury, or at least expensive, here in Mexico (about 125 USD per shirt). It is also copied quite often by piracy. But there is one more thing. I would also think the image of the "big Polo logo" has something to do with it. The big logo, opposing previous small-minimalist logo trends, is very "in your face". In a society that has recently been affected by crime and where no one wants to show off luxury brands, you have to be someone “important” or “connected” that is not afraid of getting mugged in order to wear them. Luxury brands can become a power status more than ever.

The big Ralph Lauren Polo logo also affects due to the fact that it made us notice the brand’s presence in both cases. Think of it this way, even being a trend topic in Twitter, nobody is talking what brand where the pants or jeans the criminals were using.

The crazy fact to analyze is that, although no actual data exists for being informal markets, Ralph Lauren Polo shirt sales in Tepito (the Mexican market for piracy and illegal purchases) have increased due to the fact that the drug lords were wearing the shirts. You would have thought it would be bad image for the brand, when in fact it helped in sales, at least in the piracy markets. Who is buying them? Rising criminals that want to imitate or pretend to be like the drug lords? Those who want to live the life of luxury as drug lords do? An interesting thing would be to analyze what are the actual sales of the original shirts, was it also positive for them?

If you were the brand, would you make a statement about this “coincidence”? It could be a PR opportunity.

If these guys are societies role models and are influencing fashion, then we are worst than I thought. I made some modifications to the original logo, more apt for the situation.

Multi-aging Teams

How to balance experience and youth in innovation projects is very important. Sometimes when we talk about “innovation” it seems like a youngsters world, someone that understands new trends, technologies and “coolness” (is the word cool still used??) But this can lead to big mistakes.

In our generations, those between Generation X and Generation Y, being “young” became an important issue, since many workers in the industry were not trained in using computers and technology. This was a plus for us the newcomers. Over time, tech knowledge will not be a differential advantage as it once was since our generations have learned to be aware of tech changes. Right now in my generation we are not afraid of what highschoolers are learning in class, but I am sure some technology will come and at some degree make us obsolete (maybe mainstream DNA handling or something like that). The important thing is that we are now aware of it; we value flexibility, adaptation and fast change and those are skills to prevent us from becoming obsolete, which older generations weren’t used to have.

I remember sitting with a bank’s CEO and other high-ranked managers during one of our consulting presentations. I was about 26 and talking to them about opportunities and reengineering. I guess the group’s average age was about 57. They asked me my age. Some congratulated us, other’s were really skeptic others took skepticism into negativism and even resentment. As consultants we needed to integrate and motivate every person so we could deliver results. I wasn’t sure my age was a pro for energy or a con for being "trustworthy", but the important thing was learning how to cope with the situation and making people believe in your talent and goals. Here are the pointers I learned from myself, other consultants and our clients:

If you are a young company newcomer:

- - Listen to everyone. Use your thirst to LEARN from others. Question their paradigms but never underestimate experience, especially practical experience.

- - Use your most recent skills and knowledge to TEACH not to brag. Earn credit from it but without stepping on others. Be a team player and be always willing to help.

- -- If your innovative intentions are always blocked see if you are communicating effectively, speaking their language.

- - Even disruptive innovations need experienced workers to make them happen.

- - Experience also means connections, never underestimate who can you meet through others. Networking is an important word in our days.

- - Read change management theories and apply them.

- - Don’t be impatient. Growing in a company does take work and time, it is not immediate. We are used to having things in a “click” and impatience can be a flaw.

- - You might be wrong too, new doesn’t always mean better. Keep an auto-critical mind.

- - If being creative means being open to ideas, guess what? old or conventional ideas are ideas too from which you can build upon or bring into new contexts.

If you are an experienced employer:

- - Don’t get too comfortable in your job, keep challenging yourself and never lack energy.

- - Question your paradigms and allow others to question them without taking it personal. We all have paradigms, believing in innovation as a mantra is one too.

- - Don’t always support “newness” just to be perceived as an innovator. If something seems way out of proportion DO give your experienced opinion.

- - Always keep training, not only in your expertise area, but in other areas that can allow you to move horizontally in a structure and bring new topics to your area. Also keep up with tech changes and mind shifts due to them.

- - When feeling threatened by newcomers, remember: “You are as a good leader as leaders you create.” I think new generations, although pretending to be wiki-know-it-alls, they DO need mentors.

The same way we talk about making a multicultural team for a creative environment, we might also talk about a multi-aging teams, after all it means having people with different mind sets. Remember for our generations “experienced” will no longer mean those people who are not tech-savvy or not used to innovating as it once was, totally the opposite. Experience will now mean someone who adapts real quick, has used different high-tech through time with no problem and can absorb and evolve ideas successfully.

What new mind shifts and skills will the next generations develop that will challenge us?

The picture comes form The Official Dilbert Site

Keep Your Crib Female Friendly

Have you ever considered YouTube or other online video databases to do your brand perception analysis?

My cousin just sent me this video that you might find funny. I thought it illustrates a segmented perception on brands (and this guy's insiders on women). This video should be a matter of marketing study! Not because what the guy says is true (absolutely not), but because he could actually thinks this way!

WARNING This video may include offensive material with sexist and racial comments that neither I or my company support! Why post it then? Just take it as a brand perception or consumer behavior test through YouTube... and the guy is funny. He even gives industrial design pointers to Kool Aid at the end!!

This should be a paid commercial! Maybe it's a good idea for viral marketing...

Innovation Espionage

Intellectual property becomes more important in the innovation-driven era and becomes critical as companies invest more resources in new product or service development, either human effort and time as well as money. Handling intellectual property in terms of patents should be part of the innovation process for earning future value. But intellectual property is vulnerable during several stages of the new product’s development .

Take for example the recent news concerning industrial espionage at Renault (January 8, 2011) on new batteries and engine technologies for electric cars. Although it is said nothing critical has been stolen, French intelligence is investigating an industrial espionage case that can involve Renault employees (senior managers!!) and can also point to Chinese car companies, although they have denied it.

In Latin America, corruption has taken part in our politics and culture and we are more sensible to this kind of espionage. The fact that Chinese companies are being considered as possible perpetuators made me remember December’s news where two Chinese entrepreneurs from Foshan Meijiao Trading tried to bribe PEMEX, the Mexican oil company for preferences in polyethylene sales. It is not a case of stealing intellectual property, but it talks about our shameful world-wide fame on corruption and the way global illegal acts can affect processes.

Here are some pointers on taking care of your intellectual property:

Provide sensible information only to those that need it. Sharepoints, Open Innovation platforms (either internal or external) and all types of information technologies allow collaboration for idea generation and team integration, which is in fact needed for the innovation process. But beware on who is accessing the information, maybe you will need to restrict authorization at different stages.

Select your alpha and beta testers wisely and have means to preserve secrecy.

At initial stages of product development and prototyping, use different suppliers, so that no one big supplier knows the global structure of your product.

Keep prototypes in-house. Heard about Gray Powell? He is an Apple Software Engineer who lost a next-generation iPhone prototype at a bar stool of a German Restaurant in California, last April. His last Facebook post using the prototype was "I underestimated how good German beer is." The prototype ended up in Gizmodo, an online gadget reviewer.

If you are outsourcing design ideas or other new product development services, be sure the firms manages information appropriately.

If leaks occur, investigate and punish them, set the example. According to GIZMO (the sameones that got the iPhone prototype) it is said Apple has special teams that call themselves The Worldwide Loyalty Team that prevent or detect leaks.

Invest in protecting, you have more to lose.

Renault …call Inspector Jacques Clouseau (The Pink Panther) and get the innovation thiefs… here in Mexico sadly we left the PEMEX bribers get away.