Is The Deck Stacked Against Disruptive Innovation?

The Wall Street Journal: “Anshu Sharma, a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to do so. He calls his thesis the ‘stack theory’ … the mistaken belief that” building something new is a simple matter of “moving up the stack.”

The “stack” is a “layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user.” IBM, for example, “moved up the stack from making things that compute to selling the services that computation enables … Google tried to move up the stack from search to social networking.” Apple apparently hopes to move up the stack to make electric cars.

According to Mr. Sharma, failure to move up the stack happen when the company lacks empathy for its customers and doesn’t understand its customers’ wants or needs. It’s generally easier to move down the stack (e.g., Tesla builds its own batteries because it knows its own requirements). Uber would be more likely to succeed at building its own cars than General Motors would be at creating a ride-sharing service. That’s because “Uber has the advantage of knowing exactly what it needs in a vehicle for such a service.”

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Why Aren’t Wearables Well Worn?

In The New York Times, Nick Bilton offers several reasons why so much wearable technology has not worn so well. “First, almost all of them require a smartphone to be fully operational … a wearable becomes yet another gadget that we need to lug around. There’s also the fact that most of these devices are quite ugly … Then there’s the unpleasant fact that the technology just doesn’t seem ready … But the biggest issue may be the price … consumers just can’t justify buying a smartwatch that costs nearly as much as a smartphone.”

Geoffrey A. Fowler, writing in The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile extols the virtues of the Mio, which uses a metric called Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI), which tracks heart patterns rather than foot movement. “Mio’s hardware isn’t as elegant as others on the market, but PAI is the best example yet of how wearables can turn data into tailored, actionable advice, and hopefully longer lives,” Geoffrey writes.

“Unlike step counting, where you start over each morning at zero, PAI runs on a rolling weekly tally … Everyone’s PAI is a little different, by design. The formula takes into account your age, gender, resting heart rate, max heart rate and other unique signals. It’s personal Big Data,” Geoffrey writes.

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IBM: Where Design Thinking Is The Corporate Culture

Wired: “For going on four years now, IBM has been working to reinvent itself as a design-led business. In 2012, the computing behemoth employed just one designer for every 80 coders. Today, that ratio stands at 1:20. By the end of 2016, the company hopes to narrow it to 1:15. All-told, the company is investing more than $100-million in an effort to become a design-centered corporation.”

“That plan hinges not only on the company-wide implementation of design thinking—a framework for conducting business that puts users’ (i.e. customers’) needs first—but the establishment of IBM as a leader in the growing ecosystem of design-conscious companies.”

“Its entire design thinking manifesto is now online (link), and if you’re interested, it’s certainly worth a read. If nothing else, it provides fascinating insight into how a massively successful corporation plans to stay relevant amidst the rapidly changing worlds of computing and business. In many ways, IBM’s newfound focus on design is an admission that a good user experience isn’t always as simple as slapping on a new user interface—it can take a total overhaul of corporate culture to get it right.”

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GE: Perfect Homemade Pizza For Just $10,000

Business Wire: “Perfectly crisp crust. Browned, bubbling mozzarella. GE’s Monogram Pizza Oven brings restaurant-quality cooking capabilities to the home kitchen, enabling home chefs, entertainers, families and pizza enthusiasts to recreate their favorite pies—from the perfect Neapolitan to New York style and everything in between—quickly and with ease … the Monogram Pizza Oven brings authentic old world taste to today’s high-end kitchens.”

“The Monogram Pizza Oven was developed through FirstBuild, a new model of manufacturing that challenges makers around the world to ideate and help design innovations in home appliances … The Monogram Pizza Oven is available May 2016, with an MSRP of $9,900.”

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Ace of Lace: Adidas Soccer Boot Fits Like a Glove

Gizmag: “Dubbed the ACE 16+ Purecontrol, Adidas’ newest wheels do away with conventional laces and use a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) cage to secure the middle part of the foot. There’s also an internal locking system and the upper section is made from a combination of open and loose knitted structures, something called Primeknit which featured in Adidas’ all-in-one boot/sock hybrid concept from 2014.”

“The upshot of all this is, according to Adidas, a football boot that fits like a glove and offers closer ball control thanks to its larger surface area and absence of pesky laces. Beginning this weekend, some of the world’s most high-profile footballers will slip into the ACE 16+ Purecontrols and take to the field in professional competition … There’s no word on pricing, but a limited number will then become available in Adidas’ flagship stores in Paris, Marseille, London, Barcelona and Manchester and from selected retail partners.”

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When Dumb Devices Make Us Feel Smart

On Thursday, The New York Times ran a story about Nest, the “smart” thermostat. Apparently, a glitch in a software update caused users “across America” to lose heat on a cold winter’s night. Babies were crying and grandmothers caught chills. Customer support lines were jammed. Those lucky enough to get assistance were talked through a nine-step procedure that required a mini USB cable.

Shortly after I read this story, my own low-tech, “dumb” thermostat went haywire. Part of the house felt like St. Martin in the summertime while other rooms recalled Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. So, off to Home Depot I went, to buy a new thermostat. At the low end was a basic model, priced at $24.95. The priciest — The Nest — was ten times (ten times!) as expensive. Two hundred and forty-five dollars!

It’s often said that we tend to buy things that make us feel smart — whether that’s based on a relatively rational price-value calculation or a more emotional rationalization. All I can say is, I have rarely felt as smart (even to the point of smug) about a purchase as I did walking out of that store with my $24.95 “dumb” thermostat. The three-step installation took about 10 minutes and specified only a screwdriver.

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Americans Are Loving Bowls

“Sales of bowls are rising as Americans prefer more casual, one-course meals that layer flavors,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Tableware makers are reconfiguring place settings. Restaurants are overhauling their china cabinets. Consumers are increasingly cradling their food while perched at kitchen islands, lounging on sofas or multi-tasking at a table.”

“The trend began as a way to make healthy entrees more appealing. If eggs and vegetables are piled into a bowl rather than on a plate, the diner is less likely to mourn the missing bread.” Juliet Boghossian of Foodology comments: “You’re taking away all the carbs, like toast, muffins and potatoes, but you don’t see the empty space on the plate.” Designer Ree Drummond adds: “A bowl is much more flexible and open to interpretation compared to a plate.”

Rebecca Proctor of Aurora Brands says: “The rise of the bowl is really evidence of the shift in our lifestyle from more formal to casual.”

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Late & Great: Richard Sapper

“Richard Sapper, an industrial designer whose sleek, precision-engineered prototypes spawned the Alessi espresso maker, the Tizio lamp and the IBM ThinkPad, died on Dec. 31 in Milan,” The New York Times reports. He was 83.”

“Mr. Sapper also designed for Mercedes, Fiat and Pirelli; conceived an ergonomic executive chair and computer monitor arms for Knoll; and invented teakettles that whistled in two keys, emulating an American locomotive. But he was especially revered by coffee connoisseurs for his lustrous stovetop Coban 9090 espresso maker, a graceful stainless-steel, single-piece machine that was introduced in 1979 by Alessi, the Italian housewares manufacturer.”

He once said: “I am very interested in objects that move and change character. That’s the main theme of the Tizio, for example, or even the ThinkPad, which opens and reveals itself like a box of cigars. The Coban also has this nature — it makes noise, steam comes out of it, you see the condensation drops form. It starts to live.”

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Open Content

The New York Public Library is releasing “more than 180,000 photographs, postcards, maps and other public-domain items from the library’s special collections in downloadable high-resolution files — along with an invitation to users to grab them and do with them whatever they please,” The New York Times reports.

“We see digitization as a starting point, not an end point,” said Ben Vershbow, the director of NYPL Labs, the in-house technology division that spearheaded the effort. “We don’t just want to put stuff online and say, ‘Here it is,’ but rev the engines and encourage re-use … It’s the old library mission: Take it and run, and make it your own,” he said.

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