The Philosophers of Innovation

The Ascent: “When a business is beginning, often times its struggles are existential in nature. Consultants can come in and teach you the finer points of agile, scrum, kanban — you name it. Accountants can come in and teach you how to make sure you don’t lose track of your money. But precious few can come in and tell you what your business is really going to be at a deep level. But that’s the kind of stuff philosophers are trained to do. They look for essences. They probe, pull apart, and split hairs. They are trained to be skeptical until something like certainty and precision are reached.”

“Philosophical training allows for a certain kind of speculation … Speculation is characterized by its freedom. But in every discipline, speculation, and the characteristic freedom is usually limited by whatever the foundational principles are of that discipline. Philosophy, on the other hand, really has no foundational principles. In fact, its modus operandi involves questioning the foundational principles of all of the other disciplines.”

“Does this ring a bell to those in the business environment? It should, it’s practically a description of the ideal brainstorming practice. Brainstorming is embraced by so many businesses because it leads to innovation … Innovation is more highly valued now in the business world (or at least more talked about) than ever before, so if philosophy breeds the kind of thinking that leads to innovation, it seems that those who do philosophy well have a leg up on innovation.”


Apple Jack: Force-Fed Innovation

Quartz: “In an era where corporations bend over backward to appear customer-friendly, Apple’s determination to force-feed innovation to buyers is unusual. It’s a stance with roots in the company’s history as an underdog in the cutthroat world of consumer technology … Apple’s most groundbreaking developments came when it trailed larger companies, and needed devices that were radically different to attract notice and help it steal market share from incumbents.”

“Of course Apple is no longer the scrappy young upstart it once was. As the tech behemoth continues to grow and exert its influence, Apple is now the incumbent, fending off challengers. It has fewer opportunities to launch major new or disruptive products, so its best bet to stay ahead of its competitors is innovating within its existing devices. In the case of the new phone, removing the headphone jack makes the device slimmer and more water-resistant. Like it or not, customers will probably buy it. And in time, conventional headphones may seem as quaint as floppy disks and flip phones.”


Choreography, Culture & The Apple Watch

Sydney Skybetter in Forbes: “We’re super attuned to how folks perform in organizations, and I mean “perform” on all registers. How folks speak, who interrupts whom, that nobody seems to like sitting next to Ted – these are all important data points for us … if you’re working on organizational culture, or trying to figure out why certain kinds of conversations feel intractable, or why every meeting that Ted is invited to somehow goes to hell, well, you might need an empathic touch … If you want your team to ideate and move seamlessly together, hire a choreographer.”

“When the Apple Watch was first revealed, I remember thinking … that some nerd in a sub-basement at Apple got paid to choreograph the thing. There was an interface team responsible for coding … the watch’s understanding of human anatomy and gestural metaphor. The watch needed to understand that certain movements indicated particular intentionality, and surveil the wearer to know when, for example, the wrist was lifted more than 12 inches on the Y axis and rotated about 90 degrees, which means it’s probably being looked at.”

“To a growing number of human / computer interface designers, these cues are a choreographic rule game with exponential complexity. How the watch now – and in the future – interacts with a lattice of technologies like your car, your thermostat, your house, your phone, your security system, your refrigerator, etc., are dependencies that need to be composed and standardized. It’s a fundamentally choreographic concern, and, per the ambivalent emergence of the Internet of Things, a real potential clusterfrack.”


The 5-Hour Rule: ‘Learning’ as Lifestyle Choice

Business Insider: “Benjamin Franklin’s five-hour rule reflects the very simple idea that, over time, the smartest and most successful people are the ones who are constant and deliberate learners … Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading five newspapers and500 pages of corporate reports. Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks.”

“For many people, their professional day is measured by how much they get done. As a result, they speed through the day and slow down their improvement rate. The five-hour rule flips the equation by focusing on learning first. To see the implication of this, let’s look at a sales call (note: replace “sales call” with any activity you do repeatedly). Most professionals do a little research before the call, have the call, and then save their notes and move on.”

“Somebody with a learning focus would think through which skill to practice on the call, practice it on the call, and then reflect on the lessons learned … Focusing on learning un-automates our behaviors so we can keep improving them rather than plateauing. Every event is an opportunity to improve. By focusing on learning as a lifestyle, we get so much more done over the long term.”


Lovefone: Outside the (Phone) Box

New Atlas: “A smartphone and tablet repair outfit has found a fitting way to breathe new life into the UK’s iconic red telephone boxes. Lovefone is converting the underused booths into the kind of mobile phone repair shop that should probably be avoided by those with a fear of enclosed spaces. Each one will sport workbenches, charging stations and free Wi-Fi.”

“Lovefone is exploring yet another approach. The Lovefonebox takes the firm’s device repair services out of its shop premises and into the 1-sq m (10.8-sq ft) units across London and beyond … Lovefone staff are being rotated across the firm’s lab, shop and phone boxes every three days to provide variety in their roles and to minimize the potential for phone box ‘claustrophobia.’ The rotation also aids the firm’s approach to formal and informal learning for staff.”

“The first Lovefonebox opened last week in the Greenwich area of London, with another eight already planned across the city. Lovefone’s aim is to open around 37 locations in London over the next 18 months, as well as to offer franchise opportunities elsewhere in the UK.”


Services: The Killer App of Smart ‘Things’

Christopher Mims: “The killer app of the Internet of Things isn’t a thing at all—it is services … When internet-connected devices are considered a service, consumers don’t have to worry about integrating gadgets. Focusing on services also helps vendors clarify their offerings … In the case of Brita, the service is filtered water. For alarm maker ADT, it is security; for ride-sharing companies, it is transportation.”

“The term Internet of Things is misleading, argues Ljuba Miljkovic, co-founder of Automatic Labs Inc., which makes a device that can turn almost any car into a connected vehicle. More important than simply adding a chip and a wireless connection is ‘why?’ How does the combination of smarts, sensors and connectivity enhance people’s lives?”

“Shifting from describing objects as smart and connected to realizing that they are elements of a service offering allows us to make a prediction: The next breakout Internet-of-Things company will be another services business.”


Audi To Offer Stoplight Insight

The Washington Post: “Audi will debut software in select 2017 models that communicates with municipal traffic light systems to predict when lights will go from red to green. Some cities already monitor traffic patterns, and Audi and its supplier, Traffic Technology Services, will harvest that data and use it to tell drivers how long they’ll be sitting there.”

“The software will appear in select 2017 Audi Q7, A4 and A4 all-road models with Audi connect, a data subscription service that comes free on all new Audis. Audi expects to have the system running in at least five major metropolitan cities by the end of the year. Those cities will be announced within the next month, a company spokesman said.”


Combrr: Like Uber for Beach Eats

The New York Times: “It’s called Combrr, and it will soon allow people to buy items from concession stands from their towels, avoiding lines that lately stretch clear across the (Rockaway Beach) boardwalk.”

“Combrr works a lot like Uber: Customers drop a pin at their location. Vendors can accept or decline an order, and customers can track its progress from the app. There’s a $5 delivery fee, and the entire transaction, including the tip, is done digitally, bypassing the city’s requirement for a permit to sell items on the beach. But in addition to geolocation technology, Combrr relies on customers’ selfies and instructions. A sample note: ‘We’re wearing pink bikinis sitting under a polka-dot umbrella on 99th’.”

“The Rockaway Beach concessions, which appeared in their present artisanal incarnation in 2011, have been credited with turning the beaches into culinary hubs. So far, the seaside food scene has remained charmingly low-tech — operating out of sandy-floored bunkers and brightly painted shanties with surfboard racks … Combrr, which is free, will be available not long before the concessions close, a week after Labor Day.”


Binu Binu: Soap as Body-Soul Exorcism

The New York Times: “For the Toronto native Karen Kim, 36, the memory of her Korean grandmother buffing her body when she was 5 years old left a lasting impression … Something about the purity of a simple “soap and water” beauty routine stuck with Kim. So much so that last spring, she left her job in fashion at La Garçonne in New York City … to try her hand at soap making, reinterpreting the old-fashioned traditions of Korean bath life into a line of modern cleansing goods.”

“Called binu binu (or ‘soap soap’ in Korean), it comprises six restorative bars, all made with a base of boricha, a barley tea that’s prized for its detoxifying powers.”

“Each bar starts with a story, many of which include strong female characters in Korean culture. Her Haenyeo Sea Woman soap, for example, is an homage to the haenyeo deep-sea divers of Jeju Island … Her blend of black Hiwa Kai sea salt, seaweed extract and peppermint oil riffs on the bracing feeling of plunging into the ocean. Others, like her Shaman Black Charcoal soap, conjure up the modern mudang shamans … the essential oils in the charcoal soap — lavender, cedarwood and clary sage — are often used in purification ceremonies and provide a deep cleanse that, she says, is akin to ‘an exorcism’ for the body and soul.”

“Kim cuts the bars by hand, forming monolithic shapes inspired by the severe blocklike aesthetic of Donald Judd. ‘I love the idea of soap being a little sculptural element in your bathroom,’ she notes.”


Parity Airlines: Copycats in the Sky

The Wall Street Journal: “The big three U.S. airlines—American, Delta and United—match each other more closely than ever … They’re all intent on not letting one rival gain a cost or product advantage.”

“When United announced it would begin flying lie-flat beds on cross-country routes such as New York-Los Angeles, Delta and American also switched to lie-flat beds in premium cabins. When Delta was first with luxury-car rides across the tarmac for top customers at major hub airports, the other two found luxury cars, too. Fees for good seats? Check. Start charging higher ticket-change fees? All three went up to $200 on domestic trips.”

“Airlines say the similarities just mean they are all coming to the same conclusions about what customers are willing to pay for and what they aren’t.”