With great change, comes great tension. This tension often leads to a split between the opposing forces from which re-alignment may never occur. A favourite past time of many of us is predicting a winner – the eventual pattern that we’ll all follow.
No category is less pervasive in this arena than technology. But in reality it is becoming less and less about winners and losers, and much more about choice, fragmentation and tribes. An old axiom by Stewart Brand we’ll all remember is the one about “information wanting to be free”…. but it turns out that this story has an oft left out post script: He immediately added after this that “information also wants to be expensive”, which was a far less quoted caveat.
In a world were control is dissipating, and startups are changing everything, we ought remember that both directions can be equally valid.
The graphical web as we know it is about to have its 20th anniversary. The first free downloadable graphical web browser ‘Mosaic‘ was launched in January 1993. In the past 20 years, the world has been reshaped no less dramatically than it was during the halcyon days of the industrial revolution which started in the 1750′s. And while it is clear that we are living through something like a 200 year shift, the shift can be segmented into easily definable parts when we pay attention to what has been happening.
The web, so far has had two distinct phases – from a commercial and a human perspective. The first was the connection of the infrastructure and the second was the connection of people. But now, we are about to enter a third and most interesting phase – The web of things. The web of things can be defined as a world where the web becomes so omnipresent that it becomes…invisible. It will be a world where everything and everyone is augmented via the web. You may be asking why anyone would want this and how it could relate to marketing and advertising, but before we do that, it is worth considering how we got here and why the web of things is inevitable.
The first phase of the web was the connection of the machines. This takes us all the way back to the 1960s when experiments in data transfer arose. Machines and code were being built so that previously separate forms of technology (largely mainframe computers) could talk to each other. The second phase was the one that confirmed this internet thing was not just a passing fad. In fact it was this part that caught the advertising industry napping and resulted in the largest disruption to human existence since we left the farms en masse. It was the connection of the people, the web 2.0 phenomenon, as it became known later, when we realised there was value in humans being connected to each other’s expertise, thoughts and creativity. The previously top down marketing models big brands lived by became yesteryear – turned upside down forever. Coined in the early 2000s, this phase was defined by the power of the people on the web, rather than the infrastructure providers themselves. This shift was made possible by ubiquitous cheap technology and a rethinking of platforms from a bottom up standpoint. Now that we have our invariably permanent connection to the web, we want more. We want everything we touch and experience to be augmented, bettered and digitally enhanced. Step forward phase three – the web of things.
The web of things is a vision where everyday devices, i.e. objects that contain an embedded device or computer, are connected by fully integrating them to the internet. This has been made possible by the dramatic deflation in both size and cost of the sophisticated technology, which enables the web. This includes microchips, cameras, GPS, sensors, RFID et al. The constant need for better and cheaper technology in smart phones has provided a classic scenario where the web of things can ride on the coat tails of innovation of what already lives in our pockets.
In order to provide some context of how cheap augmentation technology has become, the following price changes are enlightening: In 10 years, one gigabyte of memory has dropped from over US$12 to less than five cents and a single RFID chip is now a little over 10 cents. What this means is that technology that connects ‘things’ to the web is as disposable as the packaging it comes in. If we add to this consumers’ desire for all things to be connected to the web, then there is no stopping it from becoming a consumer and communications phenomenon that will dwarf the impact of the social web. After all, a web of things has direct financial implications and monetization potential.
What we have seen with web connected running shoes and refrigerators is just the tip of the proverbial ice berg. Imagine how we might be able to integrate communications with a fridge that knows exactly what is in it – everything we buy at the local supermarket is connected to the web. A world where, we can remotely control everything in our homes, where almost everything we buy can interact with us, other products, our smart phones, our friends and our media habits.
Let’s take the humble toothbrush – imagine it is web-enabled. All of a sudden we can directly reward usage and brand loyalty. The toothbrush will know how often and how long it is used for each day. So there would be nothing stopping the toothbrush manufacturer from coalescing with a dental health provider. The toothbrush brand could provide discounted insurance based on regularly tracked brushing and brand re-purchase, while insurance provider could benefit through reduced risk of poor dental health. A triangular loyalty and incentive programme which lives outside of in-store discounting. It is this kind of product/ service mash-up that entrepreneurs need to be thinking of. There’s plenty of evidence already that humans really like tracking their own behaviour – runkeeper for example.
As entrepreneurs, we have now got a chance to invent the commercial implications of the inevitable ‘web of things’. The social web has now connected us and introduced a new era for startups, so we should now take the lead and create consumer goods mash-ups and value equations which couldn’t exist in a world without connectivity. And just like the social web, we will only ever know what people want to track, share and do when we put our web of things startup in front of them.
I’m convinced that pretty much everything is getting cheaper as time progresses. Relative to incomes there are not many things I can think of that have increased in price over time (excluding property). I wrote about this in a recent business manifesto post:
Omnipresent Deflation – While tabloids decry the rising cost of living and most everything we purchase, the reality is the opposite of what is being reported. Energy, housing, technology, entertainment and even food are all getting cheaper in ‘real terms’. Rapid technological change, Moore’s law and developing nation labour forces will ensure this continues. It’s creating the great business revenue maintenance challenge as we quickly move the price of ‘free’.
This is good news for startups. The barriers to entry have been infinitely reduced to well, almost nothing. One such service that is so cheap it is ridiculous is fiverr.com While it may not represent a bastion of quality, there sure is a lot of interesting services one can get for $5. Some of which could form interesting fun stuff to pimp your new brand. Many of these services could never have been available at such low prices… while many would never exist at all without the craziness that goes with all things web. Here’s a few of my fav’s from Fiverr:
Another case of the tail getting longer and the impact of connected labour.
Just when it feels like it’s all been done, it seems that the next idea will just take that niche a little further, and they’ll be some people who demand it too.
A regular marketing tool is to let potential customers know what the entry price point of a product or service is. I was driving into car park in the city when I was exposed to this method of marketing.
Park from $5
I was there for 3 hours and it cost me $38. Which is quite a distance from the initial promise. It turns out that pretty much every retail offer in market use the prices start from premise. Cars, insurance, concert tickets, airline flights, they all do it. And because they all do it, we all know we need to be suspicious that it does not represent the truth. In fact, we know it’s a bare bones offer, a best case scenario for pricing, in which the probability of that serving our needs is very low. In short it’s a trick to gain attention, it’s inauthentic and often misleading. But now that the trick has been used for such a long period of time, people with a level of intelligence simply ignore the message. We know better than to believe it, let alone act on it.
Every now and again we need to flip the way we go to market. Often because the people that came before us ruined it for everyone. Maybe it is time to flip the ‘starting from‘, to become ‘ending at‘?
What if we told consumers what the most expensive version of the product or service was, the one with all the bells and whistles? Yes, the thing we actually want. While this might sound crazy, it would have an important impact on the perceptions of what we are selling. The experience could only get better than the promise, not worse. And instead of generating negative word of mouth or brand associations, it would probably generate some positive ones. Not just from the authenticity and respect we are providing our customers, but also due to the positive sentiment that comes when we realize something is better value than we expected.
It comes down to a simple principal, do we want to create disappointment, or inspire unexpected delight?
Since I left school around 20 years ago and in that time I’ve learned some things, that might just be a short cut for you. I’m not going to explain them – just state them. This list is non exhaustive and here they are:
- Taking longer to make decisions rarely improves the final result of said decision.
- Large companies primarily make decisions to protect income, startup companies primarily make decisions to grow income.
- Hard work from an average person invariably has better results than average work from a smart person.
- We remember and revere events much more than we do so for things. We should know which one to accumulate.
- People who have money problems while on low incomes have them on high incomes as well. It’s the habits that matter.
- Spare time is a poor choice to allocate anything important to (read here family, exercise, reading).
- Large companies most often reward people on cultural alignment more than actual results of tasks.
- Passion projects often take a lifetime to bare fruit. The short term favours sacrifice of belief systems.
- Great technocrats always get paid well. Great leaders and influencers always get paid more.
- Being aligned to your partners values is more important than alignment of interests. True for business and love.
- Financial independence is always a function of spending less than your income. Regardless of income size.
- Technology is recalcitrant towards the status quo and history. It forges ahead regardless.
- Informal and self education is of greater value than the formal version. It should also never end.
- Over time, prices for most everything relative to income drop. The only exclusion I know of is land.
- The most valuable things in life cannot be bought or sold, they must be earned. Respect, love, health…
- Secrets kill the soul.
- Ideas should be shared.
- Generosity is rewarded on the long run but may be invisible.
- We all have valuable skills, and these skills can leveraged in many ways once we stretch our imagination.
- The people we spend our days with has a greater impact on happiness than the work we do.
What are some of the philosophical things you’ve learned?
I was talking to someone about a presentation I will be making to his marketing staff in the coming weeks. I took him through a basic flow of the topics and ideas and explained a little bit about each. But also made reference to the point that it was only about 60% finished. He then asked me when I expected to have the final presentation ready, and I’m pretty sure I surprised him with my answer:
“I’ll just make the rest up on the day”
It wasn’t a throw away comment either. I meant what I said. He paused for a while, and seemed concerned. After all it is a paid for gig. He then laughed and said; “Are you serious?” I told him that I was and went on to explain the following.
“You’ve heard me speak before, which was what lead to you inviting me to speak to your team. The good news is I made up about half of that talk too. So I’ve done it before, and it is pretty much how I roll. The reason I do it that way is it enables me to feel the audience. It enables me to react to the content which is resonating more strongly with them. My job when communicating isn’t about delivering a canned sermon. It’s about sharing information that matters and inspires the audience, and I can only know what that is once I get started. So it is up to me to know enough about the topic to change direction on demand.”
He was pretty satisfied with that answer. But it also brings me to another point.
Why do we teach our kids and our employees that everything must be justified?
Why is it that where we got our information from matters so much in a corporate world and the academic world? The people ‘in charge’ so often like to reference where the facts come from, and all too often dismiss any idea which isn’t justified and verified before by some ‘authority’. As far as I can tell this is another example of old world thinking.
If the real value in life and in business is built upon originality, ideas and inspiration, then it might also be about time that we stop validating intellectual and emotional labour. Just because it’s new thinking doesn’t make it invalid, in fact, the opposite is often true given the pace of change is now so rapid. If our thoughts only have currency based on research, there’s a good chance we are already behind the crowd.
Startup blog says – forget the bibliography and make stuff up instead.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of random things I have done during my life:
Take gymnastics classes
Play Australian rules football
High board diving
Build multiple cubby houses
Swim in the local river
Learn basic code on a 16kb ram TRS-80 computer in 1981.
Waste all my pocket money on video arcade games (think Galaga)
Mountain Bike racing
Had 9 broken arms (well the same 2 nine times)
Stand up comedy
Do Surf Life Saving (so I could get free beach accommodation)
Live on a farm
Live in 4 of Australia’s 7 capital cities
Collect first issues of magazines ( I have many, it was a weird long term investment strategy)
Start and sell a clothing company
Build a raft that sank on it’s first outing
Learn to speak Italian
Learn to speak Mandarin
Be a Sales Representative
Be a shelf stacker
A valet parking attendant (still my fav’ job ever… could write a movie about it)
Write a movie script (it’s waiting to be made)
Perfect break dancing (all the while wishing I lived in the Bronx)
Work in advertising
Lecture at University
Eat only frozen food for 6 months (don’t ask)
Your list is just as long as this list. Your list is probably more interesting than this list. This list that we all have tells us a great deal about our desires, our passions, our successes and our failures. It shows how much we know and what we are capable of. If we write it and study it closely it often gives us clues on the things that really mattered, and might just tell us what to do next.
I met a really smart person yesterday. It was a stand up conversation after a business breakfast seminar where like minds often gather to share a few ideas before parting ways. In this short time, it must have been less than 10 minutes, she managed to impart upon me two very innovative ideas that I immediately wanted to share on startup blog. They may not be new, but she put a certain spin on them and I’m yet to see them in market. A smart brand that actually cares would find a way to implement them.
1. The Full Supermarket Trolley:
Supermarkets should have an isle for their most valuable customers – those with full shopping trolleys. Instead what they have is specific isles for their least valuable customers – those with hand baskets. What supermarkets should have is a policy that says if your trolley is full – you never have to wait behind a person with one or two items or a hand basket. Maybe you press a button for the ‘golden trolley lane’ and someone comes from out the back to help you or something. Counter intuitive sure, but this is the type of thinking real marketers do, while engineers and logistics managers chase efficiency based on non customer metrics. While it’s easy to argue that it is all too hard, and that there is no quick way to scan all the items of a full trolley, it really is just old world thinking getting in the way of actually caring. In the age of ‘self scanning’ checkouts, surely every person using a trolley could self scan their items with a mobile scanner as they place them in the trolley.
2. The 19 hour Hotel Room:
We check into hotels in order to have somewhere to sleep and it is expected that this is largely overnight. But in this day and age, why should it be? With hectic business travel and strange flight times, surely the period of stay should be up to the customer. So why don’t any 5 star hotels allow you to choose the 19 hours you need? It is because they are more concerned with the rostering of their cleaning staff than they are with their paying customers. The regular business hours or work day is yet another legacy relic based on a passed era. Surely the staff can be reorganized around the customers?
Both of these are simple innovations we are yet to see. Both are technically possible. Both would create interest and attention. Both would reward valuable customers. Both are yet to happen because of inertia and fear.
A funny thing about these innovations and fear, is that the person who shared them with me didn’t want me to link back to her in this post. I immediately told her that I wanted to share her ideas with my readers and give her the due credit, but she didn’t want it. When I asked her why, she mentioned that some of her clients where large supermarkets and she didn’t want to upset them or big note herself. She said I could blog away, take the ideas….. And while I can see her point, and respect her decision, I can’t help but think that the world (and maybe her business partners) are missing out on more of her wisdom because someone just might be offended.
Ironically, the same fear that stopped her ideas being implemented in hotels and supermarkets, is the fear she is suffering from. The fear of upsetting the status-quo for a minority, at the expense of making things better for the majority. In reality almost all innovations have a cohort of detractors, it’s just the way it is. We should push things forward regardless.
Startup blog says: Ideas need to be free and shared, and if our sentiment is positive, nothing should stop us.
Recent shifts in technology have fundamentally changed the way we live. Consumer technology is now so pervasive that much more than communication that has been effected by it. It has changed our perceptions and what we think is possible. It has had important cultural and physical implications on consumer culture. New ideas change our physical surrounds and reality. It enables the re-birth of activities that got lost in the industrialised, world. A couple of simple examples include lomography, growing vegetables and slow food.
But all this technology has clouded our vision too. It has created some perceptions which aren’t based in reality. It has made us cluster around specific technologies, to the point that they become the archetypal definition of innovation. The place that innovation must revolve around. The app, geolocating or other technology de jour.
The truth about innovation is that it is not about tech wizardry – it never has been. Innovation is about finding solutions. And solutions don’t necessarily involve, technology or even products. It might be a simple new way of doing something.
Innovation is really about good thinking being put into practice.
It doesn’t have to be leading edge, driven by industry or assisted by technology. It can be simple and human. And sometimes the best innovations come from ideas that got lost along the way. The re-invention or a reminder of a certain way to do things. Maybe it’s devolution? Or maybe it isn’t the ‘thing’ or ‘product’ itself that the innovation comes from, maybe it’s the things around it or the people using it. What we want to hear from people is “That’s a good idea”, rather than “Gee, I wonder how they did that?”
Innovation is all about what it provides to the end user. The truth about innovation is that it lies in the process that gets us to a better result, something that makes us happier for whatever reason.
At the end of 2011 I sat down diligently to plan my goals for the coming year. I had a list of around 10. Some of which were big, and some small but important. We are now more than half way through 2012 and I am ashamed to admit that I have only completed 1 of these tasks.
While I have done some things which were not on the list. I sent a Lego Space Shuttle into Space and got global news coverage, and started the Super Awesome Micro Project which is a new crowd funded world first project that raised $20k via twitter alone… I’m pretty down that I have achieved so little this year. The ironic thing is the only thing on the list that I have actually completed was fixing my Galaga Arcade machine as seen below….
Maybe the lesson from the only thing I have done in 2012 is this – start having more fun?