Beds-in-a-Box: The Big Mattress

The Wall Street Journal: “Mattresses were long considered immune to the e-commerce boom. For decades, they have been sold in showrooms full of dozens of styles with dizzying discounts and high-pressure salespeople. But a new breed of upstarts with slick websites has cracked into the $14 billion U.S. mattress industry. The online sellers offer just a few varieties at fixed prices—and ship free to customers’ doors a foam mattress that is compressed into a box the size of a large suitcase.”

“In place of the chance to try out a $5,000 Tempur-Pedic with adjustable base or lie down on a $2,500 Serta iComfort with gel memory foam, they promise free shipping, 100-day guarantees and free returns. It is a process aimed at the often wealthier, younger and busy shoppers who care less about kicking the tires and more about convenience … Compressed mattresses promise high margins because they are cheaper to ship than inner spring mattresses that can’t be compressed … Because of how carriers like FedEx and UPS charge, delivering a 90-pound compressed mattress is less expensive than home delivery with a regular truck.”

“Returns, however, are a challenge.” As Scott Thompson, CEO of Tempur Sealy, explains: “Getting the bed back in the box, that’s a little bit of a problem.” Other online mattress sellers include Casper Sleep, Leesa Sleep and Yogabed.

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A Revolution in Toothbrush Design

Gizmodo: “Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a virtual brushing simulator that promises to revolutionize how toothbrushes are designed and tested … The size, shape, and elasticity of a toothbrush’s bristles can be precisely modified and tested in the simulator, but so can the size, shape, and quantity of the abrasive particles in a toothpaste.”

“Highly controlled experiments can be conducted in the simulator allowing toothbrush designers to almost instantly determine how effective a new bristle design is at removing dirt while still preserving tooth enamel … So in the future when a commercial for a new toothbrush promises it to be effective at battling plaque and gingivitis, hopefully its creators will be able to show the simulated results backing up their claims before you make the upgrade.”

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Michael Schrage: Why UX SUX

User experiences fall short when they are inordinately focused on transactions, says Michael Schrage of MIT and author, most recently, of The Innovator’s Hypotheses. In a talk entitled, Why UX SUX, at Columbia University’s Brite ’16 conference, Schrage said the emphasis should be on how interactions with the brand measurably transform customer perceptions and expectations.

The question, then, is which transformations are best for both customers and brands? The challenge, in that sense, is to re-design customers for the trajectory of their sense of themselves and who they want to be. Schrage cited Chik-fil-A and its offer of a free dessert to families who put away their cell phones during dinnertime, and Lego, with its focus not so much on its plastic bricks but rather the future of play itself. He also mentioned Netflix’s re-inventing its customers as binge viewers.

Tracking trajectories and transforming expectations requires integrating innovation with the experience and expectations, Schrage says. Achieving this is less about having a strategy than it is a culture that’s open to transcending the transactional experience, and transforming experiences in tandem with the customer trajectory.

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Late & Great: @ Ray Tomlinson

Engadget: “It’s a sad day for the Internet: Ray Tomlinson, widely credited with inventing email as we know it, has died … In 1971, he established the first networked email system on ARPANET (the internet’s ancestor), using the familiar user@host format that’s still in use today. It wasn’t until 1977 that his approach became a standard, and years more before it emerged victorious, but it’s safe to say that communication hasn’t been the same ever since.”

“His choice of the @ symbol for email popularized a once-niche character, making it synonymous with all things internet. Arguably, he paved the way for modern social networks in the process … barring a sea change in communication, it’s likely that the effect of his work will be felt for decades to come.”

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Sugru: The Play-Doh of Glue

The New York Times: “Sugru is a moldable glue. It looks like Play-Doh, can be shaped around any object, sticks to almost any material, is waterproof, is heat-resistant and dries to a silicone rubbery finish in 24 hours. Its ability to bond to virtually any surface — wood, glass, metals and ceramics among others — and its moldable nature make it unusual in the world of adhesives, sealants and glues.”

“I wanted to design something that was so easy and so fun to use that more people would consider fixing things again,” said Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the Irish entrepreneur behind Sugru.

“Ms. Ni Dhulchaointigh said Sugru could withstand temperatures as high as 356 degrees and as low as minus 58 degrees, making it durable indoors and out. It will not melt, freeze, soften or harden. It can be thrown into a washing machine or dishwasher, and even soaked in seawater. If a user makes a mistake, a sharp knife can be used to cut through Sugru’s rubbery surface, removing it without damaging the surface of the repaired item.”

“Sales topped $5.5 million in 2015, up from $3.4 million in 2014 and $250,000 in its first year in 2010. Ms. Ni Dhulchaointigh expects sales to exceed $10 million this year and $60 million by 2020. It is now sold online to more than 160 countries and through 19 brick-and-mortar retailers in 6,050 stores in four countries. In the United States, 10 retailers carry the product in 4,500 stores.”

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The ‘Stereotype Effect’ Can Spark Creativity

Pacific Standard: A pair of experiments by University of Maryland researchers Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar find that “imagining yourself as a stereotypically creative person improves one’s performance on a standard test of creative thinking.” The ‘stereotype effect’ is a much-studied psychological phenomenon.”

“The first featured 96 undergraduates at a large American university … Approximately one-third were asked to ‘imagine that you are an eccentric poet.’ Another third were told to ‘imagine that you are a rigid librarian,’ while the final third received no stereotype-related instruction. All participants then completed the Alternative Uses Task, in which they were given the names of 10 commonplace objects … and asked to come up with as many ‘original uses’ as they could for each … Those who assumed the persona of ‘eccentric poet’ scored highest. Those who took on the role of ‘rigid librarian’ scored lowest, while participants who were not given a stereotype placed in the middle.”

“The second experiment, featuring 105 undergraduates, was similarly structured, except that each participant was asked to take on the ‘eccentric poet’ persona for five of the objects, and the ‘rigid librarian’ for the other five. The participants came up with significantly more uses when thinking of themselves as the poet, and their level of imagination was also higher under those conditions.”

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Creative Block? Try Sketching a Solution

Fast Company: “Sketching is the fastest and easiest way to transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions. Once your ideas become concrete, they can be critically and fairly evaluated by the rest of your team—without any sales pitch.”

“Drawing is a great equalizer. Everyone can write words, draw boxes, and express his or her ideas with the same clarity. If you can’t draw (or rather, if you think you can’t draw), don’t freak out. Plenty of people worry about putting pen to paper, but anybody— absolutely anybody—can sketch a great solution.”

“You start with 20 minutes to ‘boot up’ by taking notes on the goals, opportunities, and inspiration you’ve collected around the room. Then you have another 20 minutes to write down rough ideas. Next, it’s time to limber up and explore alternative ideas with a rapid sketching exercise … And finally, you take 30 minutes or more to draw your solution sketch—a single well-formed concept with all the details worked out.”

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A.I., Innovation & Watson

The New York Times: “Silicon Valley veterans argue that people routinely overestimate what can be done with new technology in three years, yet underestimate what can be done in 10 years … Predictions made in the ’90s about how the new World Wide Web would shake the foundations of the media, advertising and retailing industries did prove to be true, for example. But it happened a decade later, years after the dot-com bust. Today’s A.I., even optimists say, is early in that cycle.”

“IBM’s early struggles with Watson point to the sobering fact that commercializing new technology, however promising, typically comes in short steps rather than giant leaps … Watson’s early struggles in health care are viewed as a learning experience. The IBM teams, the executives say, underestimated the difficulty of grappling with messy data like faxes and handwritten notes and failed to understand how physicians make decisions.”

“IBM is trying to position Watson as the equivalent of an A.I. operating system, a software platform others use to build applications. Nearly 80,000 developers have downloaded and tried out the software. IBM now has more than 500 industry partners, from big companies to start-ups, in industries including health care, financial services, retailing, consumer products and legal services.”

Jeremy Howard, CEO of Enclitic: “You have to take technology that works and apply it to a known problem. Innovation alone is a mistake.”

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Mercedes Replaces Robots With People

Engadget: “Mercedes-Benz is replacing some of its high-tech workers with real live humans. As it turns out, robots can’t keep up with the degree of customization that the automaker offers on its S-Class sedans. The change comes at a time when a number of companies are replacing people with robotic devices … However, as Mercedes continues to expand the options available on its vehicles, the robots aren’t able to adapt to new tasks. They’re better suited for doing the same jobs repeatedly.”

“Robots aren’t getting the boot from Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen factory entirely, though. The machines will work alongside humans instead of being confined behind glass. Mercedes, BMW and Audi are all working on sensor-packed robots that can operate safely alongside their living breathing colleagues.”

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Does Diversity Fuel Innovation?

The Economist: “Ronald Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, has produced several studies which suggest that people with more diverse sources of information consistently generate better ideas … And internal surveys at Google have found that diverse teams are often the most innovative.”

However: “Diversity does not produce better results automatically … It does so only if it is managed well. (Source: David Livermore, author, Driven By Difference). The biggest challenge is to do with trust. Employees need to trust each other if they are to produce their best work … it is easier to establish trust with those you have a lot in common with … Diverse teams … are more likely to produce truly innovative ideas, but they are also more likely to fail completely.”

“A second challenge is to do with culture. Too many companies fail to rethink their management styles as they open their doors to new groups. They issue ambiguous instructions which presume that everyone comes from the same background … They evaluate people on their willingness to speak up without realising that some people—women especially, in many countries—are brought up to hold their tongues and defer to authority.”

“It is easy for companies to think that they have embraced diversity if they appoint the right number of people with the right biological characteristics. That can be hollow if they all come from the same backgrounds … Companies will find it hard to make a success of diversity if they refuse to recognise that it brings challenges as well as opportunities.”

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