Monday, February 28, 2011

Come And Get It!

So it turns out that new experiences, not things, are the keys to personal happiness and satisfaction, according to a 2010 study out of Cornell University. I could do my own review of the study, but I wouldn't do any better than Stephen Messenger of did last April. If you don't have time to read the short article (link below), the general idea is that experiences are less likely to be compared to the experiences of others, do not degrade over time, and provide one with a more internal sense of ownership than a product which is mearly posessed.

I'm left wondering what this means in regards to the development of new products and services. Particularly, I'm curious what this means in the digital domain, where the line between products and services is pretty thin. For instance, I consider and its corresponding mobile app to be products, but its notifications and pro-active research algorithms (to help me find better loan rates, for instance) make it a pretty rich service. I guess my distinction is that a mobile or web app is a product because they have a form and take up digital space. In a sense, they are "digitally tangible".  Conversely, services are much more ephemeral and intangible by nature - plus, to be overly simplistic, they serve you. To take this product-service relationship one step further, perhaps a digital service is one that provides value outside of the digital domain? There are lots of mobile apps that do this, from navigational apps to shopping assistance and restaurant reviews, but perhaps we haven't gone far enough into the real world.

This got me throwing ideas around about how our digital products could have an even greater real-world existance. From that, I came up with the concept for "Come And Get It". The basic idea behind the service would be that a person could essentially "unlock" a deal at a real-world establishment and trigger their friends to reap the benefits. Those that arrive fastest will receive the best deal, but a minimum amount of people would have to show up for the deal to go through. Essentially, it would be like a location-triggered, time-based, contact-driven version of Groupon. However, since it must take place in the real world, it could trigger a whole range of unique shopping behaviors, such as friends rushing to join each other in the aisles of the same store, or customers behaving like sales people, trying to get their fellow shoppers to buy a product. Might sound annoying or hectic if you're an uninterested customer, but what if you're an owner of a struggling store?

Interested? Hate this idea? Please comment and we can discuss...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Visualizing Ideation - My Project Proposal

I just completed a quick write-up of what I intend to produce in my Systems Visualization course this semester. Since I'm obsessed with the Customer-to-Ideation-to-Design process, I figure a visualization of Ideation as a system was a worthy goal. Here's my write-up. Please provide feedback if you have any. 

The development of new ideas is traditionally viewed as an unpredictable and ambiguous process best left to creative people and brainstorming sessions. Yet, history has shown us that ideas do not as haphazardly as one may think. In fact, the most well-known ideas often emerge, adapt, and evolve in predictable patterns. More specifically, the majority of “new” ideas are not new at all, but simply existing concepts that are re-purposed, evolved, or merged to create some new instance of the existing idea. As these ideas come together, they collectively behave in a Darwinian manner, slowly evolving, branching, and discarding as necessary with each innovation. Ideas can be as grand or as simple as one would like, from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity down to a homeowner’s clever fix for a creaky floorboard.

 In the course of this semester, I am going to attempt to visually represent the ideation process as a functioning, evolving system of interconnected components. The two primary components of the system are the internal mind of the idea developer and the surrounding external environment. At any given time, each component contains its own intentions, capabilities, knowledge, and problems in need of solutions. When the two components interact, an environment for ideation is developed. To pull a concept from the discipline of system design, ideas are the emergent properties of the internal and external components. I will put particular focus on visualizing the “patterns of ideation”, as I believe that these provide a critical foundation for an improved pro-active ideation framework. A major challenge in this effect will be in the representation of the full spectrum of ideation sources, from accidental discovery of the “adjacent possible” through the pro-active adaption and evolution of existing concepts.

 While I develop this visual model, I will be coordinating with the work of classmate Matt Harper, who is exploring the management and ultimate realization of ideas. One of the outcomes that I hope to achieve from this work is a visual representation of an optimal model for repeatedly developing innovative, high-quality ideas. After all, any organization interested in innovation should model their process after the way ideas emerge, connect, and evolve in nature. The concept of “ideas as connections” is interesting as it suggests value in an organized, patterns-driven, connection-based ideation system over unstructured ideation. Some may suggest that an attempt to structure and constrain the ideation process would only hinder the creative mind. However, it is this tension itself brought forth by constraints that often brings about the most innovative solutions. I will attempt to visualize how this tension emerges across the components of the ideation system.   

Finally, I will attempt to validate and iterate the ideation visualization by mapping some of the most influential ideas in history against my model. The source I will use for this will be Time Magazine’s recent publication: “100 Ideas That Changed the World”. I would like to visually demonstrate this full range of influential ideas within my visualization in hopes that it will reveal insights about the ideation system. In this project, I will leverage insights on ideation developed over the past decade as a professional designer entrenched in the creative process. I will also draw from the readings of leading ideation and innovation experts, including Steven Johnson, W. Brian Arthur, Tim Brown, and many others. 

Concept design from February 9, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Illustration of Ideation

Where do good ideas come from? I've attempted to visualize it. This isn't perfect, but neither is the process itself! 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Idea: Charitable Gambling & The Unexpected Merger of User Insights

Super Bowl week has arrived and my mind's on football. Despite the fact that my hometown Patriots failed to get there, I'm actually looking forward to this game. The NFL's popularity has skyrocketed in the past decade (Sunday's event is expected to be the largest viewing audience in sports television history), and this is due no small part to the games fans play around the games. I'm talking, of course, about Fantasy Football and sports gambling.

The rise of the internet and expansion of TV coverage has enabled even the casual spectator to get all the information they need on every player in every game. This has been a key to the meteoric rise of Fantasy Football. If you're not familiar, Fantasy Football allows football fans to create and compete with their own notional lineup made up of real players. Performance by a Fantasy Owner's players in a game (Touchdowns, Yards, etc.) lead to points for that person's team. The impact on real-life football? The Fantasy Sports Trade Association reports that "55 percent of fantasy sports players report watching more sports on television since they started playing fantasy sports".

Gambling, meanwhile, has been steadily gaining popularity for quite some time as well. Online gambling sites have enabled the average football fan place bets online in a far more easier and safer way than once possible. Of course, it is illegal, but convenience has a way of encouraging these kinds of activities. Finally, it's worth that there has been a recent emergence other competitions for the "active spectator", including "survivor pools" (attempt to pick winning team every week until you lose) and "pick'em leagues" (pick a series of games every week against competition). These competitions take on the mechanics of gambling (e.g. picking games against the point spread), but they tend to include more of the average fan.

So why all the gambling and game-playing? Well for some, gambling is about the pursuit of money at best, and at worst, it's an addiction that goes much deeper. However, these hardcore gamblers are not the reason for the recent rise in NFL popularity. The rise is more from the casual fan who has picked up all these various competitions as a way of making the actual product that much more exciting. Sure, it's still often about the thrill of risking a few bucks to win a little spending money, but if it's solely about the money, why not just play cards or scratch tickets? The reason is that it's NOT just about the money. People play these games because it makes the actual football action that much more exciting for many people. A random Week 6 Cardinals-Browns game is meaningless and boring unless you're counting on Peyton Hillis to score two touchdowns to win your fantasy football game...then it becomes exciting. (Author's Note: I actually stopped playing fantasy football a few years ago, so don't think I'm selling it here.. I'm getting to my point in the next paragraph)

Here's my point... if you ignore the seedy and illegal aspects of sports gambling, and just focus on the human behavior associated with it, you come away with the conclusion that many people in this country like to play games in order to make actual sports more entertaining. It's a way of taking some ownership and getting more immersed in the action. It's active participation more than passive observation. Now consider the fact that people are willing to lose (ie. SPEND) money in order to experience this higher level of entertainment and you really have an interesting insight.

So the point of this TReil & Error blog is about idea development, not sports gambling, so let's get back to that. This original insight about sports gambling/contests came up a while back during a conversation that a friend and I had while watching the NCAA basketball March Madness tournament. The question we asked ourselves is whether there are ways to leverage this insight in a way that is more positive than illegal sports gambling. What we came to is a completely different domain where people also are willing to give up their money: charity.

While this pairing between charity and gambling is somewhat counter-intuitive (one is risky and self-serving while the other is completely altruistic), there are some commonalities. I have the statistics on it, but most gamblers lose in the end or break even at best. Personally, I always hear of the person who goes to the casino, loses $100 and says "oh well, it's worth the price for a fun night". In other words, losing money is fine if it's equal or less than the cost of a fun time.

Meanwhile, charity has it's own associated behaviors. Some giving is done in traditional or direct ways, but other giving is done through charity events, such as galas or casino nights. On these occassions people are willing to throw their money around more willingly because "it's all in a good cause". In other words, their spending habits are completely uninhibited (and rightly so) due to the fact that the money is all going to charity. Worth noting that Americans give an average of 2% of their post-deduction salary to charities, more than any country in the world.. that's quite a bit of money.

So why not align these two things together? What if we created an online sports competition tied to charitable giving? I realize completely this is a legal mindfield in both domains (and potentially a non-starter), but I think the product itself is worth considering. Users could compete in pay-for-play online competitions, such as Football Pick'Em leagues and Fantasy Sports. Everyone who plays would have to register with their charity of choice, and they would have to pay a small monthly fee, or a per-contest fee, such as $10-$20. The losing players in the leagues or contests would "lose" their money to the charities of the winners. In other words, everyone would be competing to win money for their preferred that would be more than they could be individually. I would imagine that charitable organizations would be willing to give up prizes and benefits for the ability to get the huge exposure of the sports-watching demographic.

I could write much more about this idea, but I just wanted to focus on the core concept for this entry. If you would like to collaborate on this project, such as determining how this can be completely fair and legal, please let me know. I hope this has proven a good demonstration of two common behavioral insights combined in an unexpected way. Finally, check out the concept design for "Gamble for Good" that I created a while back. Enjoy the game on Sunday!