The Uber Model Isn’t Uber Great for Others

“Investors saw Uber’s success as a template for Ubers for everything … But Uber’s success was in many ways unique,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “For one thing, it was attacking a vulnerable market. In many cities, the taxi business was a customer-unfriendly protectionist racket that artificially inflated prices and cared little about customer service.”

“The opportunity for Uber to become a regular part of people’s lives was huge. Many people take cars every day, so hook them once and you have repeat customers. Finally, cars are the second-most-expensive things people buy, and the most frequent thing we do with them is park. That monumental inefficiency left Uber ample room to extract a profit even after undercutting what we now pay for cars.”

“But how many other markets are there like that? Not many. Some services were used frequently by consumers, but weren’t that valuable — things related to food, for instance, offered low margins … Another problem was that funding distorted on-demand businesses. So many start-ups raised so much cash in 2014 and 2015 that they were freed from the pressure of having to make money on each of their orders … The lesson so far in the on-demand world is that Uber is the exception, not the norm. Uber, but for Uber — and not much else.”

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Tory Sport: Retail Store as Marketing Medium

“Tory Burch’s new Tory Sport store shows how selling fashion today isn’t really about advertising. It’s about making a store into the marketing vehicle,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “People are still tactile. They want to feel the product,” Ms. Burch says. “Stores are changing, Ms. Burch says. Their purpose is to engage customers and to build a community. They also can be a place where the online and offline worlds merge.”

“With just one or two sizes of most styles on display, the Tory Sport store isn’t meant to be shopped the way mass-market flagship stores are … Instead, a designer store is a place to immerse and entertain shoppers in the fictitious, tightly controlled world the brand creates. It’s a chance to show and explain all that a brand stands for—and to seduce a shopper into buying something … Both Ms. Burch and Roger Farah, Ms. Burch’s co-chief executive, insist the Tory Sport store remains very much about sales, though.”

“We definitely want it to be profitable but we also want the experience to be one that people really like and get to know,” Ms. Burch says.

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Kaiser Re-Designs The Health Care Experience

Fast Company: “The exam room is part of Kaiser Permanente’s championing of a new human-centered, design-driven approach to medicine—and its vision for the future of health care delivery … The experience starts with the waiting rooms, which take their cues from retail and hospitality. At the Manhattan Beach outpost, the vibe is warm, West Coast modernism: There’s lots of wood, natural light, and inviting touches, such as a living wall of green plants. A pair of ATM–like kiosks near the front door allow members to check themselves in if they prefer not to wait for the tablet-wielding receptionist.”

Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson: “The culture of health care has been to get you in and out. We’re inviting you to linger. This is more than a physician visit; this is about your total health.”

“In larger facilities, the reception area will be reimagined as a kind of public square, where patients can wander while they wait, getting free information on nutrition and exercise from staff at a counter called the Thrive Bar. They can also take part in yoga classes, cooking demos, and the other programming that Kaiser is incorporating into ‘community rooms,’ which span both indoor and outdoor space … Kaiser’s new spaces are also about keeping costs low: They are designed to be more efficient at serving patients … Just as important for Kaiser, the hubs will serve as physical anchors for a model of care that aims to move health services, as much as possible, out of hospitals and medical offices and into members’ communities and homes.”

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Broad Museum Broadens Its Appeal for Millennials

“Since opening six months ago,” The Broad Museum in Los Angeles “has attracted a decidedly youthful crowd,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “The Broad’s appeal to young people starts with colorful edgy art, such as Jeff Koons’ glaring, gold-hued sculpture of Michael Jackson and his chimp, Bubbles, and Takashi Murakami’s psychedelic-looking, dancing mushrooms. The museum is also located downtown, increasingly an entertainment and nightlife hub. And it’s free.”

Younger people “seem to be more willing to wait hours in line than their elders … Indeed, the standby line — typically a 45-minute wait on weekdays, twice that on weekends — is a bustling social scene, with spirited attendees exchanging snacks, gossip and cellphone numbers with new friends … Many of the young people in line say they found out about the Broad from social media. Seeing the fun that friends were having from afar, in pictures and videos, they didn’t want to fall prey to FOMO (fear of missing out).”

Visitors “can make reservations on iPads for timed entry to special exhibits, and the museum will text people back when they may enter … Instead of security guards, the Broad has ‘visitor service associates’ who roam the galleries and are happy to chat about the art as well as to point people to the nearest restroom … Of the more than 400,000 people who have streamed through the Broad’s doors so far, 6 out of 10 said their ethnicity was other than Caucasian and 70% were younger than 34.”

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Sharp’s Quirky Culture is Innovation Key

The Wall Street Journal: “With a nearly $6 billion takeover up in the air, Sharp Corp. this week highlighted its latest lineup of quirky consumer products … Among the offerings: the Plasmacluster, an ionic air purifier that also captures mosquitoes … Consumers in Japan are now awaiting the RoboHon—a mobile phone and pet robot … With the market for smartphones nearing saturation, Sharp hopes the robotcum-phone will represent the next step in mobile communication.”

“One secret to Sharp’s innovation is its laid-back culture … product planning and design were always freewheeling, reflecting a taste of its home base in Osaka, Japan’s comedy mecca … Sharp’s quirkiness isn’t limited to product design. Its official Twitter account features irreverent, self-deprecating humor, even about its products’ sometimes-limited appeal.” Sample Tweet: “We also have earphones, which won’t cap earholes and are very rare. You won’t see them around because many retail stores won’t carry them.”

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Teamwork ‘Fashion’ May Be Out of Style

The Economist: “Teams are as old as civilisation, of course: even Jesus had 12 co-workers. But a new report by Deloitte, “Global Human Capital Trends”, based on a survey of more than 7,000 executives in over 130 countries, suggests that the fashion for teamwork has reached a new high. Almost half of those surveyed said their companies were either in the middle of restructuring or about to embark on it; and for the most part, restructuring meant putting more emphasis on teams.”

“Deloitte argues that a new organisational form is on the rise: a network of teams is replacing the conventional hierarchy. The fashion for teams is driven by a sense that the old way of organising people is too rigid for both the modern marketplace and the expectations of employees.” However: “Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School of Management in Illinois warns that, ‘Teams are not always the answer—teams may provide insight, creativity and knowledge in a way that a person working independently cannot; but teamwork may also lead to confusion, delay and poor decision-making.'”

“Teams work best if their members have a strong common culture. This is hard to achieve when, as is now the case in many big firms, a large proportion of staff are temporary contractors … Team-building skills are in short supply: Deloitte reports that only 12% of the executives they contacted feel they understand the way people work together in networks and only 21% feel confident in their ability to build cross-functional teams. Slackly managed teams can become hotbeds of distraction—employees routinely complain that they can’t get their work done because they are forced to spend too much time in meetings or compelled to work in noisy offices.”

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Saturn & The Great Cosmic Joke

Remember Saturn? Jean Thompson does, in The New York Times: “The dealerships offered no-haggle pricing, and emphasized customer-friendly service. When you bought a Saturn, back in those palmy days, the dealer took a picture of you posing next to your new vehicle, wearing a Saturn hat, and perhaps a Saturn T-shirt. You were part of the Saturn family. Yes! There were even Saturn Homecomings where owners drove their cars back to Spring Hill to celebrate the Saturn experience.”

“But G.M. didn’t do right by Saturn. All the upbeat advertising in the world couldn’t seem to make up for some design missteps and lack of resources. The last Saturn was manufactured in 2009.” Jean has been driving her then-new Saturn since 2001. Now, she writes: “For so long the car has been my Millennium Falcon, my African Queen. Those battered but indomitable embodiments of disreputable romance, with hidden reserves of performance for anyone skilled enough to pilot them … One recent morning the emergency brake light came on and a warning began chiming, one last spasm of its softening automotive brain.”

She continues: “It’s only a car, and there’s no point in being sentimental. After all, the universe is organized around the principle of entropy. Systems decay, institutions and landmarks we took for granted vanish, swept over a precipice: the Saturn brand, the Republican Party, the glaciers of Greenland. Ah, love, let us be true to one another! Let us make our stand against the implacable forces that hasten the end of all worthy things. Let us fight the good fight, look our fate unflinchingly in the eye, die with a hammer in our hands. Let us go car shopping.”

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Narrative Games: Changing Stories By Breaking Rules

“Two innovative recent board games—Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories—make narrative a central feature of their designs,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Every play of a game unfolds differently; unlike in a book or movie, the ending isn’t set … From the players’ decisions evolves a narrative or story, with important choices, dramatic tension, surprises and turning points.”

“Pandemic Legacy is a new incarnation of the modern classic Pandemic, a cooperative game in which the players take on the roles of public-health workers and collaborate to vanquish a set of diseases that have spread across the globe.” After each game, players “open a factory-sealed envelope that reveals instructions on how to modify the game before their next play. The board, pieces, cards and even the rules themselves may change.”

In T.I.M.E. Stories, “players are time-traveling agents who have to enter alternate realities (such as 1920s Paris) and solve mysteries to save the world. Once your team wins, you can’t play again—that’s the end of the story.”

“Traditionally, a game is defined by its rules. If you don’t let pawns turn into queens, you aren’t playing chess, and if you make captures optional, you aren’t playing checkers. The success of Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories shows that this rule itself was made to be broken.”

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The ReUse Store: Like a ‘Bizarro RadioShack’

The Wall Street Journal: “The city’s most peculiar electronics store may be the shop housed in a brightly painted cinder block warehouse in an industrial section of Brooklyn. There, customers waiting in a metal-cage entrance must ring a bell to summon the attendant.”

“Welcome to the ReUse store at the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse, where every amp and smartphone for sale is some fellow New Yorker’s castoff. The program, run by the nonprofit Lower East Side Ecology Center, collected and recycled more than 1 million pounds of used electronics last year. It funds its operations—at least in part—by refurbishing and selling everything from laptops to speaker wire.”

“Customers range from parents buying laptops for their kids to artists seeking cheap electronics for their high-concept fantasies … One might imagine the ReUse store looking like a thrift-store version of a Best Buy. The reality is more of a bizarro RadioShack. There are countless peripherals and accessories, stacks of old speakers, bins filled with remotes and shelves of VHS tapes. There are also great bargains.”

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