- Creativity, Innovation, Ideas and Trends for Business


Ideas are the Only Currency in the New Economy

Not Getting Good ROI on Your Marketing Efforts?

April 28th, 2011 · Marketing

Big Ideas:

  • Guy Kawasaki talks about his latest book Enchantment.
  • Brian Clark demonstrates how to write create copy that gets results.
  • The best marketing is baked into the product.

Not getting good Marketing ROI? Great Marketing is Baked in.

Brian Clark has a great interview with Guy Kawasaki about his recent book Enchantment.  As an aside, take a moment to see how beautifully Brian Clark writes copy. Who wouldn’t listen to that interview with that much enticement? Learn from that article and use the same tactics on your own sales pages.

Clark and Kawasaki hi-light many key points of marketing and business. Here is just one of the key take aways:

The ultimate marketing is baked in. It is not lipstick you stick on a pig. If you have somebody beautiful, lipstick just makes her more beautiful. If you have a pig, you still have a pig with lipstick. So the key is to not have a pig. And not figuring that the lipstick will fix the pig.

Why are Most Businesses so Mediocre?

It is astonishing how terrible most businesses are now. Mediocre products with lousy service is the norm in English speaking countries.

When sales and profits are faltering most businesses turn to advertising to fix the problem. That is what Guy Kawasaki refers to as sticking lipstick on a pig.

If you build a great product and deliver great service, your marketing will take care of itself.

How many good shopping experiences have you had in the last month? Can you identify any companies that really delivered wow service that you told friends about? I would guess the answer to both of those questions is no.

Delivering great service costs much less than advertising to acquire new customers.

Action Items

  • How can you create more value for your customers?
  • Can you create exceptional service experiences that customers will talk about?
  • Do you and your employees care about delivering outstanding service? If not, that is the source of your problems.

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Your Business Needs a Growth Hacker

April 15th, 2011 · Entrepreneurship

Big Ideas:

  • Start ups need a different type of marketing expertise than more established companies.
  • Growth hackers can focus on scalable and repeatable ways to grow your business.

Growth Hacker

Sean Ellis of coined a fantastic term, Growth Hacker.

Once startups are ready to scale, their biggest challenge is often hiring someone capable of leading the growth charge.   A marketer with the right talents and approach can kick some serious ass once product-market fit and an efficient conversion/monetization process have been proven.

After product-market fit and an efficient conversion process, the next critical step is finding scalable, repeatable and sustainable ways to grow the business.  If you can’t do this, nothing else really matters.

The Problem with Most Businesses

I have seen many marketing and social media consultants put so much emphasis on high level strategy, positioning, branding, logo design, etc. that the basic and easy opportunities to generate leads and customers remain neglected.

  • Who cares about your beautiful $20,000 brochureware website, if there is no content there to attract organic traffic or entice visitors to want to learn more about your offering?
  • Your professionally planned social media implementation doesn’t matter if your customers are online neophytes. Getting thousands of followers that will never be interested in your business is even worse.
  • Instead of looking at more effective ways of advertising, perhaps you should deliver a product or service worth buying.

A talented growth hacker can help you find the low hanging fruit to maximize your marketing budget.

Action Items:

  • A compelling business model comes first. You better have a good scalable way to create value for customers and get paid for it.
  • Make your business stand out from competitors. What value propositions do you offer? Make sure this is clearly communicated without the generic marketing fluff like “Customer service is our highest priority.”
  • Deliver on your value propositions. Service and quality in English speaking countries is so lousy now. The cheapest marketing is to actually care about customers.
  • Craft a unique story. If you want to be remembered, do something memorable. Check out my post on how a real estate agent uses bacon to stand out.
  • Research the keywords your customers are searching for and then optimize your website for those phrases.
  • Create online content your customers want to read, watch, listen to and share.
  • Develop effective lead nurturing campaigns to convert casual browsers into interested customers.
  • Have clear calls-to-action on all your marketing materials.
  • Engage people online and offline as humans with real conversations, not marketing pitches.
  • Consistently deliver more than you promise.

Am I missing anything? Let me know in the comments.

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Creative Marketing and Social Media Strategy from Jerry Aulenbach

April 6th, 2011 · Marketing

Big Ideas:

  • Real estate agent, Jerry Aulenbach (@ZoomJer) creatively markets himself with … bacon.
  • Twitter now accounts for 39% of his business.

Edmonton based real estate agent, Jerry Aulenbach has brilliantly marketed himself to stand out in the competitive housing industry. What is his secret? Bacon.

I was seriously impressed the first time I saw Jerry’s bacon business cards that are actually smoked with real meat so they have an authentic smell like all bacon business cards should. The cards are a fantastic conversation starter but I later learned that Jerry has a whole selection of bacon products and bacon has become his identity. This creative marketing, along with an active social media presence seem to be working. Jerry was kind enough to answer some questions about his marketing efforts.

How did you get started with the bacon focus?

It all started with an idea to do something different for breakfast: the bacon weave, a 4×5 strip masterpiece that I posted to twitter in 2 photos. One was of the raw bacon cooking; the other was a finished, plated weave. Needless to say, they did more than make people drool. I quickly became the outlet for everyone’s interest in and love for bacon. “Hey, have you seen [insert random bacon product here]?” Every day, I get multiple mentions of this nature. I favourite most of them, so you can see them here: @ZoomJer/Favorites

You have an iPad, shoes, tie and business cards with bacon images, is there anything else?

Branding an iPad

I have several different bacon-themed t-shirts (Bacon makes everything better; push button, receive bacon; bacon bits video game, nature’s greatest miracle). I have bacon socks, a bacon wallet (not the one available online, but a vinyl one I got at the 104 Street Farmer’s Market, a bacon air freshener hanging from my rear-view mirror, the costume, bacon dental floss, maple bacon lollipops, bacon bandaids, bacon tooth picks, baconnaise. Most of these things have been given to me (which is awesome). I’m always on the hunt for more!

I love the custom book your wife created, can you please explain what that is.

@ZoomJer's Bacon Book

Well, she actually stole the idea from me! I was making a book with dozens of my friends from Royal LePage dedicated to the former Executive Director of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. I stole her nameplate from her office and we shipped it all across the country-to every province-and I presented it to her in Toronto. It blew her mind. However, just a few weeks before I was to do this, my wife hands me a gift at my birthday party. With everyone watching, I opened it to discover that she had done the same thing for me, but she mailed out my business cards to people across the country and in about 4 other countries. I was entirely stunned. In the book were several people who were also at my party. It was surreal. Not only that, but many of the people involved in the nameplate project were in this book, and several of the images were exact replicas of the ones they sent me, except instead of a name plate, they were holding my bacon business cards, of a bacon plush. I love that book and still take it with me wherever I go. (P.S. -both books were made in iPhoto).

You had an article written about you in the Edmonton Journal, how did that come about?

For my birthday last year, I decided I was going to wear my bacon outfit to Wendy’s and order a baconator. It was of course a tweetup, and about a dozen friends came along for kicks and giggles. On my way over, I was contacted by a reluctant writer for the Edmonton Journal, who informed me of a LifeStyles two-page spread on bacon. I burst into laughter (which probably didn’t help her feel much better), told her about the tweetup and said to send down a photographer. This she did. One of my friends ordered me a special baconator. One with no patties and 20 extra orders of bacon. It was probably a 2 lb sandwich of purely bacon. I’m pretty sure it inspired EpicMealTime. No, I did not eat it. I actually took it home and froze the bacon! Photos of that sandwich have been circulated in the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald, etc, under health articles that usually speak unfavourably about bacon. I get no respect.

Has your unique marketing gotten you more business?

It sure has.

Sources of Income, @Zoomjer

You can’t just make a lot of noise on Twitter if you run a business that requires face-to-face interaction. I’ve never much liked the general public perception of realtors. It can make things like handing someone a card feel awkward, because you can easily come off as just another useless pushy salesman. When I (somewhat timidly) had my first batch of bacon-shaped business cards made up, I soon became aware that there was a way around that awkwardness. Instead of just giving them a “call me when you need to buy or sell” card, I was giving them a piece of creativity, art even. I was giving them an automatic conversation, which would quickly turn to me. “Why bacon?” “What does that have to do with real estate?” etc. I was also branding myself at the same time, and I knew it was working because people would tell me that they couldn’t look at bacon without thinking of me. My bacon card has evolved since. I’ve used increasingly better photos of bacon (instead of stock images, I now shoot my own), they are getting larger (the last one was about 4.5″), and I now have them smoked at the same place where I buy the actual bacon. Now I get a double effect. The shape of them plus the spot UV coating to make them look greasy is usually enough to blow people away (“these are the best business cards I have ever seen” is a regular comment), but when I tell them to smell it, I get the added bonus that most people were hoping it offered anyway!

I’ve also used the bacon costume to make a scene on more than one occasion. The biggest impact it has had was at a national sales rally for my company in Montreal. I wore it on the dance floor for a few hours. Needless to say, the image stuck. Combined with the cards, a lot of people know who I am now, and it’s leading to more referrals from other areas.

You are very active on Twitter, how do you use it?

I’d like to think that if I wasn’t in business, I’d still use Twitter in the same way. Most of what I do is simple socializing. I reply to virtually every mention, I follow back most everyone with a human-run account (but I refuse to use automated follow services-totally against what I do). I also run a daily search for people saying that they are moving along with some reference to Edmonton. I have to filter most of them out, but in a lot of cases, I’m the first one to know when someone is moving to the city, and I can give them a friendly greeting without being spammy. Some people respond well, some don’t respond at all. I automate that search through, and I also run a search for “aulenbach OR aulenback”, as it is a rare name, and it’s interesting to see what comes up. Other than that, I basically let the business come naturally as it would through the people you meet from daily interaction. If they know what you do, need your services, and like you, chances are good they will call you when the time comes. Seems to work for me so far. (Jerry has a great blog post on how to use Twitter.)

How much time  do you spend on social media everyday?

The time question is difficult to answer. It would probably amount to a few/several hours each day that I spend interacting with others online with twitter and facebook, but it is so spread out that it isn’t like doing just that straight for that long. It fills a lot of gaps between appointments, standing in line, down time, etc. I also enjoy it so much that it doesn’t seem like work.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Bigger and better parties. I love planning and promoting events (birthday parties, fund raisers, small tweetups), and I believe that you should never eat alone where possible. I raise money for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, and I am always trying to find ways to raise more money for their efforts to protect at-risk women and children. Philanthropy is a very significant part of what I do with my tweet cred. I’ve been asked to be on panels and to present at various events, and I quite like that. I usually have a chance to show social media skeptics how I use it and what it can do for them in a practical way. They always want to know “what’s in it for me?,” when a better question is “what do I bring to the table?” My motto for Twitter is “put out,” and I always do my best to be original, informative, entertaining, and sincere.

Links from Jerry’s Website

Follow Jerry on Twitter.

Just for fun. (Some of the items from the Bacon Store)

How I became bacon.

Twitter tips for n00bs.

A more comprehensive article on social media.

Action Items:

  • Can you come up with a fun and interesting way to differentiate yourself?
  • Jerry is “the Bacon Guy,” What kind of Guy or Gal are you?
  • Can you use Twitter to more effectively engage with potential customers?

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Is Your Business the Right Size?

March 23rd, 2011 · Entrepreneurship

Big Ideas:

  • Is your business the right size?
  • Are you expanding to satisfy your ego or because it is essential for your business?
  • There is a right scale for every business, straying from that point will harm your economic viability.
  • For most businesses, there are diminishing returns on investments in staff or technology.

Is your business the "right size?"Bigger is not Better

Talk to any entrepreneur and you will find someone that wants to grow a business. There is a natural assumption that bigger is better. Bigger may be better for our egos, a fifty employee company sounds much better than a five person company, the problem is that bigger is not always better for our bank accounts.

My wife and I ran a small service business for about ten years. In the beginning we worked hard, cared a lot about our customers and grew steadily. It wasn’t long until we were making a great income and were turning customers away.

Then we started to expand. We hired more staff and opened new locations. We noticed immediately that every new employee or investment we made contributed less and less to revenues and profits. The work my wife and I could do with minimal hassle, required 3 or 4 outside staff or would require exorbitant salaries to attract rock star talent. The worst part was that my time was being spent on boring administrative tasks that added little real value to our customers. Suddenly I was focused on hiring, training, managing, sales, marketing, accounting and countless other tasks that kept popping up. By expanding, my wife and I were working more and making less money.

Sure it was foreseeable that we could have reached a point where we could have afforded to hire staff to do all the administrative work, but that was not an incremental growth level. It would have required us to be 5 or even 10 times bigger than we were. It would have taken a lot of time and money to reach that higher level, and even then it was very likely that we would have been too big for the market to support.

Eventually, we decided against the growth and scaled back to just the two of us again with non-essential work like accounting, web development and graphic design outsourced to professionals. We made more money with shorter work weeks, longer holidays and much less hassles.

The Right Size

In the blog post, An atomic theory of business size, Seth Godin points out that a business can not only be too big, but it can also be too small.

Rightsizing your business is one of the most important decisions you can make. Just because you’re thriving at one scale doesn’t mean that a little more effort or a little more investment magically take you to the next. They probably don’t.

Several times I’ve run businesses that the market liked but couldn’t find the right scale… adding more people didn’t add a significant enough amount of revenue, and fewer people would have cost us our customer base. Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean that there’s a scale that works.

How to Really Get Big

Growth for growth’s sake is foolish. If you have a successful business that is generating good profits and it is work you enjoy than be happy where you are and invest your free time in projects you enjoy.

If you really need to change to the world, than look for a better business model. With innovative uses of technology and new business models, it certainly is possible for small teams to accomplish amazing things. However, it is unlikely that any company will miraculously achieve phenomenal returns just by scaling the old business model. Doubling staff will not double sales, and it definitely won’t double profits. Doing more of what you did before will only bring more administrative hassles.

Action Items:

  • Is your business the right size?
  • Is your optimal profit level at a higher or lower revenue level?
  • If your business can’t effectively scale up or down, are you satisfied at the level you are at?
  • If you can’t find the right scale, maybe it is time to completely reinvent your business model?

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The Gamification of Business – Example of Kurasushi in Japan

March 17th, 2011 · Ideas

Big Ideas:

  • Businesses are increasingly using games to improve the customer experience and productivity.
  • Kurasushi in Japan offers a perfect example of how the restaurant experience can be transformed through simple gaming elements.

The Gamification of Business: Example of Kurasushi in Japan

One of the funnest places I have ever eaten is Kurasushi in Japan. The popular Japanese chain a a perfect example of how to turn business more into a game to enhance the customer experience, excitement and even lower costs.

Kurasushi is a kaiten, rotating sushi bar, where the sushi streams by on rotating belts throughout the restaurant. Kurasushi has taken the experience to new levels with a touch panel ordering system and plate collector that counts how many sushi dishes you have eaten.

Not only does this reduce the staff needed to take special orders and deliver the food, but Kurasushi also turns it into a game by giving users a chance to win a small prize after every five plates dropped into the collector.

Even though the prizes are small and not particularly interesting, it is a lot of fun to drop the plates and play the game to see if you win or not.

Here is an explanation of the image above.

1. Prize Dispenser – The available prizes are above every table in a clear box so that it is completely visible to everyone. You can easily see other tables win.

2. Touch Panel – Here you can order fresh dishes and other items like miso soup or deserts. It is also turns into a simple game after every five dishes dropped in the plate collector slot. Users have to chose one of three choices and variations of a slot machine type of game are displayed, slowing revealing if you have won or not.

3. Custom Order Belt – This is a special high speed belt that delivers food on a special train to specific tables. When your order arrives it starts beeping to notify you and there is a button to press to signal that you have finished taking your sushi plates off of the train. It is actually a lot of fun to see the train quickly pull up to your table and then return after it is finished.

4. Main Sushi Belt – This is the main rotating sushi belt where sushi is delivered in a steady stream to every table in the restaurant.

5. Plate Collector Slot – This is where you drop finished plates to be tallied on the touch panel display. When you are finished eating, there is a button to press to call a staff member over to give you your final bill.

The Future is Games

In a previous post, Games Can Make the World a Better Place, I have included a couple of great videos highlighting the potential of games to improve our lives. There are many examples listed in that post but here are some more ideas.

Contests and loyalty programs like airmiles or credit card rebates are common but there is still a lot of room for companies to improve the user experience through gaming elements.

Salespeople are typically motivated with incentives and publicly displayed sales records. Customer service staff compete for the most positive reviews. Manufacturing firms monitor product defects and on-time deliveries. Geo-based location services like Foursquare and Gowalla encourage repeat business. However, those measures are just scraping the surface of the possibilities to gamify our business and lives.

Restaurants could have loyalty programs that reward customers who have ordered the most dishes. Regular customers could be given special tables and items not on the menu.

Department stores could have in store treasure hunts where customers have to locate items throughout the store. To increase environmental awareness, they could  have contests to guess how many plastic bags are used by the company every year.

Toy stores could have receipts with special numbers that give online characters special powers in competitions against the characters of other customers. Kids would want to buy more things in the store to increase their character’s abilities.

Airlines could have in flight seat raffles while waiting for passengers to board. This might make the wait actually enjoyable and encourage passengers to get to the plane earlier.

Authors could have contests where users have to find mistakes in new manuscripts.

With mobile phone scannable QR codes, it is possible to link real life to the Internet. The possibilities really are endless.

Action Items

  • How can you turn you business more into a game?
  • Can you get customers competing against each other for more status or recognition?
  • Can you get employees working together to come up with new ideas or ways to increase profitability?

Gamification on Wikipedia
The Gamification Encyclopedia
The Gamification Blog
Fun is the Future: Mastering Gamification – Youtube video
The Future is a Video Game – Canadian Business Article

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Rejuvenate your Business Model with the Question Framework Exercise

February 24th, 2011 · Ideas

Big Ideas:

Use the Question Framework Exercise to discover new business models and better ways to create value for your customers.

Let’s face it, most businesses are pretty underwhelming. They offer similar goods at about the same price points, generally with lousy service. For every Apple, there are dozens of other companies competing on price. For every, Zappos, there are countless competitors basically doing the same as everyone else. Creativity and innovation are the only ways to stand out above the competition. That generally means radically reinventing your business model.

The Question Framework Exercise

Here is my Question Framework for developing new business opportunities. It is best done with a diverse team of people but it can be valuable for individuals as well.

Don’t dismiss any ideas. The entire point is to examine the furthest extremes to see if there is any value at that edges. That is how breakthroughs are achieved. You can’t incrementally improve your way to a new business model. That is exactly the reason small and nimble startups are devastating old industries. Blockbuster didn’t create Netflicks and Microsoft didn’t create Google. They couldn’t have. It would have required a radically different way of thinking.

The Question Framework Exercise can help you discover radical and  compelling business models. Doing what everyone else is doing is the road to declining profit margins and intense competition.

Get out some flip charts or paper the walls of a room and write the following questions at the top of each section:

Who? What? Where? Why? When? How? How much? How many?

Many people are visual learners so I find it helpful to draw simple icons for each major idea. For example, a stick man with a question mark can be used for “Who?” “What?” might be a box with a question mark, etc.

Don’ t be afraid to jump around and add ideas where every they fit. Keep it very unstructured in the beginning.

In this example, I used a cafe owner.


Who buys? – Students doing homework, business people meeting or using the Internet, commuters getting coffee on the way to work. etc.

From here you can start experimenting.

  • Students – Does it make sense to create a social venue for concerts, art exhibitions, etc.
  • Business people – could this be a shared office space? Maybe they want private offices or conference rooms.
  • Commuters – Could you sell a full breakfast? Do you need a drive through window to speed up the sales process? Should you be at a gas station or near a busy intersection because commuters are stopping there anyway?
  • Coffee connoisseurs – Should you focus on premium coffees?
  • Who delivers? – students, housewives, perhaps you could partner with another deliver service to jointly distribute.
  • Who makes it? – Bikini clad servers, coffee experts, vending machines?
  • Who is the most profitable segment?
  • Who is the least profitable?


As you can see above, what you sell is directly related to who is buying. For all the charts, you can put your main customer segments down the left side (students, business people, connoisseurs, commuters, etc.)

What do you sell? Are you selling coffee or a comfortable place for people to meet?

  • Coffee – Could you offer more variety? Higher quality? A variety of roasts? More ethically sourced coffee?
  • Meeting Space – Should you have more comfortable chairs? Should you have private meeting rooms? Should the atmosphere be lively or quiet?
  • Convenience – Are several small kiosks better than a larger cafe?
  • Coffee Culture – Should you market high-end coffee makers and espresso machines.

What complimentary products and services could you offer for each of the segment you identified in the “Who?” section.

  • Students – Copy and printing services. Designer T-Shirts,
  • Business People – Networking groups, office space, answering service.
  • Commuters – dry cleaning drop off service
  • Connoisseurs – gourmet beans, high-end espresso machines

What would change in your business if you simplified your product offering?

  • For example, only 3 or 4 espresso products with one or two pastries.
  • Maybe you could offer better quality products at a lower price.
  • Maybe this would make the ordering process more streamlined so customers would get served faster.

What if you greatly expanded your offering?

  • 100 different coffee beans.
  • Maybe you would attract the aficionados.
  • Maybe customers would buy in much larger quantities.


Again, as you start hashing out these questions you will notice overlap. Where you sell will depend on the segments you discovered in the “Who?” section.

Where do you sell?

  • Are you selling premium coffees that people take home?
  • Maybe it could be an Internet focused business?
  • Maybe you could have a monthly coffee subscription?
  • Should you be located in a trendy coffee district or near busy thoroughfares?
  • Should you set up near a university?
  • Should you be in a high end furniture district?
  • Should you deliver coffee directly to offices?
  • Should you do catering services for meetings?


Why would customers choose your company?

  • Are you socially conscious?
  • Do you have the best coffee?
  • Are you the cheapest?
  • Do you have the best selection?
  • Is the atmosphere of the cafe important?
  • Are you active in the community?
  • Loyalty programs?
  • Innovative marketing?


When do customers buy?

  • In the morning?
  • Afternoon?
  • During working hours?
  • On the weekend?
  • After school?


How do customers buy?

  • Internet?
  • Drive through windows?

How is the coffee made?

  • Automated vending machines?
  • Expert barristas?

How is the coffee sourced?

  • Purchased directly from growers.
  • Investing in developing countries.

How is the coffee roasted?

  • Onsite so that there is always a roasting aroma.
  • Does this add to the experience of the cafe?

How much?

  • Should you be very expensive to convey exclusivity and high quality?
  • What if you doubled your prices? What would you have to change to keep customers? Would you be more profitable?
  • Could you offer the coffee for free, in exchange for advertising on cups or the up sell of other products?
  • Could free coffee be the loss leader for other products?
  • Could the coffee be an inexpensive sampler to get consumers to buy beans?

How many?

  • Are you selling one cup of coffee at a time or are you focusing on large conferences and events where you sell hundreds?
  • Could you have a buyers club for beans where you can offer discounts if enough people agreed to purchase at the same time?
  • How many locations? Should you have kiosks on both sides of a street to make it easy for commuters to quickly stop by?
  • How would the business change if you had no staff? (vending machines)
  • What if you tripled the staff and increased the quality?
  • What if you had ten times the volume in one location? What would you have to do differently?

These questions and answers are just a starting point. A good group of people can come up with many more opportunities in a short time. Don’t dismiss outrageous ideas because that is where the real breakthroughs are discovered.

Other companies have succeeded by asking questions like:

  • What if we didn’t use the hub and spoke model for airlines?
  • What if we gave our product away for free and made it up with advertising?
  • What if we stopped using gasoline powered cars?
  • What if we don’t need to physically attend a university to learn?
  • What if we didn’t rent an office space any longer?
  • What if workers could work any hours they wanted?
  • What if our employees were all over the world and never met?

Question your assumptions and you will find new opportunities. It is important to learn from the past, but don’t let the old way of doing things constrain your possibilities.

If you need help discovering new business models, I can help. Email me at (john (at) ideaeconomy (dot) net.

Further Reading

Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin offers some great techniques for both visually representing ideas and questioning assumptions.
Download the Business Model Canvas for a different look at the same types of questions from Business Model Generation.

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The Uniform Project: A Great Idea Executed Brilliantly

February 16th, 2011 · Ideas

Big Ideas:

  • The four S’s of a great idea are: Simple, Story, Surprising and Social Good.
  • The Uniform Project, started by Sheena Matheiken, is a great example of the four S’s. (Wear the same dress for a year to raise money for disadvantaged children.)

The Uniform Project Sheena Matheiken

How is this for an idea – Wear the same dress for a year to raise money for charity? You might be thinking, “Yeah right. How about I sleep everyday to raise money for charity?”

There is an elegance in a beautiful idea rooted in simplicity and generosity. The Uniform Project is one of those ideas. Everything was (is) perfect about the execution. Here are the four S’s of a beautiful idea:


A great idea has to be simple, otherwise it is too difficult to communicate, spread and understand.

Wearing the same dress for a year is easy to explain and communicate.


People relate to stories, not platitudes or sales pitches. Here are two quotes from The Uniform Project’s about page, which is more inspiring?

“Revolutionize the way people perceive ethical fashion and place social responsibility at the center of consumer culture. Use fashion as a vehicle to make acts of charity more inspired and playful, enabling individuals to rise as role models of style, sustainability and social consciousness.”


“The Uniform Project™ started in 2009 when a young woman realized she was drowning in the doldrums of an advertising career. To counter the uninspired demands of the corporate world, she came up with an unusual creative challenge; to wear the same dress for an entire year – but, and this is where the real challenge came in, she’d have to make it look unique every single day and do so without buying anything new. The challenge was also designed to be an online fundraiser, raising money to send underprivileged kids to school.”

Too many companies focus on USP’s (Unique Selling Propositions) and then use meaningless words like “quality, excellence, highest standards, customer service, stakeholder value,” etc. Everyone says that garbage, tell us stories instead.


Doing the same thing as everyone else, but a little cheaper, faster or better is a recipe for mediocrity. You have to break the rules to stand out. Wearing the same dress every day for a year is a shocking idea. People take notice. If Sheena Matheiken had said that she was going to donate 10% of profits from a new company to charity, it would have been a yawner. Few would have cared. The same dress for a year plus 100% of the proceeds go to charity, now that is a big idea and the press picked up on it quickly.

Social Good

People are motivated by much more than money, we want to do good in the world. Great ideas have to be good for society, more so than just a bank account. In fact, I argue that profits impede social initiatives. If you really want to do good, why have a profit motive at all? Pay yourself enough to live comfortably and reinvest in the organization, but beyond that, why not devote all profits to good causes? How much do you really need to consume?

Check out this amazing video of the first year of The Uniform Project.

Action Items:

  • Do something big. Make the world a better place. We don’t need anymore mediocre businesses.
  • Simplify your idea to its most basic element. Do one very simple thing and do it very, very well.
  • Forget long sales pitches and marketing babble, just tell an authentic story.

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Practically Radical: Four Simple Truths About Leading Change and Making a Difference – William C. Taylor

February 15th, 2011 · Entrepreneurship

Big Ideas:

  • “The only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.”
  • Look at your business from the perspective of different CEOs to gain insights and make creative breakthroughs.
  • Focus on what is right with your business, not just what is wrong.

Practically Radical William Taylor

FastCompany magazine cofounder and author of the book, Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, offers four simple principles to transform your business in this ChangeThis PDF.

We are living through the age of disruption. You can’t do big things if you’re content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently than how you did them before. In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special. Today, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals, they redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking.

There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as watching a young organization reshape its field—a blank-sheet-of-paper startup that transforms an industry, a challenger brand that redefines a market. Alas, there’s nothing quite as common as watching an established organization—a company that reached great heights in one era of technology, markets, and culture—struggle to regain its stature as a force for leadership in a new era. The work of deep-seated, sustainable change remains the hardest work there is.

Here are four of those principles—simple rules for transforming your  company, shaking up your industry, and challenging yourself

1. What you see shapes how you change
We’ve all experienced déjà vu—looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you’ve seen it before. Vuja dé is the flip side of that—looking at a familiar situation (an industry you’ve worked in for decades, products you’ve worked on for years) as if you’ve never seen it before, and, with that fresh perspective, developing a distinctive point of view on the future.
TBWA also uses what it calls the “CEO Hat” exercise to encourage organizations with tunnel vision to develop a new line of sight. Participants search for out-of-the-box answers to big strategic questions by reaching into boxes filled with hats, shirts, and other paraphernalia from breakthrough organizations such as Apple, Virgin, Target, Southwest Airlines—and then adopt the mindset of those free-thinking companies as they think about the questions with their clients. “We define possible strategies for companies through the eyes and values and under the leadership of a different CEO,” explains Laurie Coots, TBWA’s chief marketing officer. “The sheer act of being free to think like somebody else gives you permission to generate ideas that you might not get to otherwise.

2. Where you look shapes what you see

The most creative leaders I’ve met don’t aspire to learn from the “best in class” in their industry—especially when best in class isn’t all that great. Instead, they aspire to learn from innovators far outside their industry as a way to shake things up and leapfrog the competition. Ideas that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another industry, especially when those ideas challenge the prevailing assumptions that define so many industries

3. There’s nothing wrong with your organization that can’t be fixed by what’s right with your organization.
I’m convinced that one of the big reasons for the failure of so many change programs is that by focusing almost solely on what’s wrong with their organizations, and by importing off-the-shelf strategies devised by outside experts consumed with what’s new, leaders undervalue what’s right with their organizations, and overlook home-grown strategies rooted in the wisdom of the past.

4. Success is not just about thinking differently from the competition

Even the most creative leaders recognize that long-term success is not just about thinking differently from other companies. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, about caring more than other companies—about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless temptations to cut corners and compromise on values. For leaders, the pressing question isn’t just what separates you from the competition in the marketplace. It’s also what holds you together in the workplace.

Action Items:

  • Use the CEO Hat excercise to look at your business and industry with the perspective of different executives? What would Richard Branson or Steve Jobs do with your business model?
  • Look at what is working in other industries and try to bring it to your business? The next time you go to a magazine rack, read something completely unrelated to your business. Find out the most successful companies in that industry and analyze what they are doing right.
  • Don’t focus on the negative. What is right about your firm? Can you build on that to really become exemplary?
  • The hardest part of business and life is building and maintaining quality relationships. Businesses shouldn’t only be run by numbers. What can you do to care more about your customers and employees?

Practically Radical PDF

Practically Radical Book on Amazon
Willliam C. Taylor Website
Follow Taylor on Twitter

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The Zen of Business: 7 Habits of the Highly Creative – Matthew E. May

February 14th, 2011 · Marketing

Big Ideas:

  • Use the Japanese idea of Shibumi to increase creativity.
  • Don’t give all the information, leave something out to encourage the imagination of your customers.

Author Matthew May has an interesting PDF on (free download) based on his book,  the shibumi strategy.  May uses the Japanese notion of  “Shibumi” to describe a moment of “being in the zone.”

Shibumi is … Elegant simplicity.
Effortless effectiveness. Understated excellence.
Beautiful imperfection

The Shibumi Strategy Matthew May

Mays writes, “The pursuit of shibumi in business, work and life is guided by several key concepts, seven of which fit neatly under the heading of creativity.”

Here are the seven creativity habits he identifies:

  • Zen creativity habit #1 – Koko (austerity): Refrain from adding what is not absolutely necessary in the first place.
  • Zen creativity habit #2 – Kanso (simplicity): Eliminate what doesn’t matter to make more room for what does.
  • Zen creativity habit #3 – Shizen (naturalness): Before taking action, look for naturally occurring patterns and rhythms, and construct your ideas to fit them.
  • Zen creativity habit #4 – Yugen (subtlety): Leave something to the imagination by limiting information.
  • Zen creativity Habit #5 – Fukinsei (imperfection, asymmetry): Appreciate the beauty of natural imperfection. Leave the door open for others to co-create with you.
  • Zen creativity habit #6 – Seijaku (stillness, quietude, solitude): Learn to quiet your mind; designate a time and place
    for creative solitude.
  • Zen creativity habit #7 – Datsuzoku (break from routine): Re-energize your creativity by taking regular “timeouts”
    every 90 minutes.

Creative Elegance: The Power of Incomplete Ideas

Mathew May has another PDF on ChangeThis discussing his previous book, In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.

Conventional wisdom says that to be successful,
an idea must be concrete, complete, and certain.
But what if that’s wrong?

He uses examples, like the Sopranos finale that didn’t show whether or not the main character, mafioso Tony Soprano was killled or not. May also suggests that part of the success of In N Out Burger can be attributed to the ‘secret’ items they leave off the menu. It is definitely worth a read.

One more PDF that

Action Item: What can you leave out of your business, to stimulate the imagination and intrigue of your customers.

Mathew E May
– The author’s website.
Follow May on Twitter
The Zen of Business: 7 Habits of the Highly Creative PDF
Creative Elegance: The Power of Incomplete Ideas PDF
Mind of the Innovator: Taming the traps of traditional thinking. Another great ChangeThis PDF by Matthew May.

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Games Can Make the World a Better Place

February 10th, 2011 · Ideas

Big Ideas:

  • Game dynamics are invading real life and they have big influences on how we buy and behave.
  • A key psychological catch is essential to making these new business models work.
  • In games, we behave as the best versions of ourselves. We need to make real life more like a game.
  • Games are helping to solve real world problems like oil shortages and environmental degradation.

Games can make the world a better place.

Games are Invading Real Life

Carnegie Mellon University Professor, Jesse Schell, offers an interesting take on how games are invading real life and what the future my hold once games start playing a bigger role in how we buy and are marketed to.

Here are some examples Schell gives in the video.

  • Nintendo Wii –  adds in physical movement to video games.
  • MafiaWars – a text based game where you compete against your real life friends.
  • Webkins – real stuffed animals that can be registered online to create online characters.
  • Club Penguin – can play for free but must become a paid member to be able to buy things with the points you earn.
  • Guitar Hero – play a physical guitar in a video game.
  • DARPA Network Challenge – a competition to find 10 red balloons tethered around the US.
  • Weightwatchers – earn points for losing weight.
  • Ford Hybrid Car- incorporates a virtual pet to encourage you to save gas.
  • Lee Sheldon, University of Indiana professor gives experience points instead of grades. Students “level up” through the class. Attendance, participation and quality of homework all increase.

We already have a wide variety of rewards systems like loyalty cards and airmiles so it is not so much of a stretch to see that these will evolve to more developed games. FourSquare is proving that where we shop can be greatly influenced by game dynamics and companies like Gamify are providing the tools to bring gaming to your business.

A Psychological Catch is the Key Business Model Innovation

The most important part of most of these games is a psychological catch to get you to buy. In Mafia Wars, you are competing against your friends so you are willing to pay to access extra features and benefits. In ClubPenguin, children can play for free, but can’t access key features without becoming a paid member. Even in sites like Facebook and Twitter, the number of followers, fans or likes is prominently displayed so that we end up competing to build our reputation.

Marketing has always played to our emotions, but now it is more important than ever to think of a clever catch with our offerings.

Gaming Can Make a Better World

This next video with game designer, Jane McGonigal feels that gaming can make a better world.

Here are some highlights from the video,

In a game world, most us behave like the best version of our self. We feel that we are not as good in reality as we are in games. And I don’t mean just good as in successful, although that’s part of it. We do achieve more in game worlds. But I also but I also mean good as in motivated to do something that matters, inspired to collaborate and to cooperate. And when we’re in game worlds I believe that many of us become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again. And in real life, when we face failure,when we confront obstacles, we often don’t feel that way. We feel overcome. We feel overwhelmed. We feel anxious, maybe depressed, frustrated or cynical. We never have those feelings when we’re playing games, they just don’t exist in games.

Gamers can achieve more in online worlds than they can in real life. They can have stronger social relationships in games than they can have in real life. They get better feedback and feel more rewarded in games than they do in real life. … it makes perfect sense for gamers to spend more time in virtual worlds than the real world. Now, I also agree that that is rational, for now. But it is not, by any means, an optimal situation. We have to start making the real world more like a game.

Here are a couple of games that McGonigal has helped develop:

World Without Oil is an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage… Nobody wants to change how they live just because it’s good for the world, or because we are supposed to. But if you immerse them in an epic adventure and tell them, “We’ve run out of oil.” This is an amazing story and adventure for you to go on. Challenge yourself to see how you would survive. Most of our players have kept up the habits that they learned in this game.

Superstruct at The Institute For The Future. And the premise was, a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet. It’s your job to invent the future of energy, the future of food, the future of health, the future of security and the future of the social safety net. We had 8,000 people play that game for eight weeks. They came up with 500 insanely creative solutions.

John’s Note:

Learning through well designed games is very powerful, because if you complete the game, you will have learned all that you needed to learn. There is no failure, only not enough effort. The focus can shift away from creating effective tests to creating more enjoyable learning experiences in the games.

Action Items:

  • What can you do to bring game dynamics to your business?
  • Do you have a psychological catch that makes your company irresistible to customers?
  • Can you make your work environment more like a game by giving your employees “experience points” and opportunities to “level up?”

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