Pure Content

Look at more stuff. Think about it harder.

the great white north

Greetings. This is Charlie, checking in. Vancouver is great, although in 24 hours I'll be off the mainland and away at sea. I'm not used to the time difference, so I was up at 5:30 this morning, strolling around the streets of the Vanc. Six miles or so of walking, and that was before breakfast. Yowza.

I'm here for a couple of reasons, one of which is to give a Redrubberball Award to the President of Regent College. I'll write more about that upon my return. For now though, be well.

Fun fact about Canada: They're not allowed to put caffeine in any products that don't naturally have caffeine in them. So coffee is okay, as is Coca-Cola. But Mountain Dew, which has no natural caffeinated ingredients, is decaffeinated. Also, they pronounce "decals" like they rhyme with "shekls" or "freckles."


I don't think this is what Deming had in mind
I was walking back to my office this morning and I ran into a colleague. Greeted him with the obligatory "how ya doin?" even though I didn't really care - (just the other day he had returned from vacation and when he asked, "so'd ya miss me?", I think he was kind of hurt when I deliberately said "no") - I should start using a better opener like "what's the meaning of reality?". Anyways, he was fine. I then went on to make a passing comment about how stressed-out another one of our colleagues appeared. She had taken up a project and I saw that she needed help in bringing some of the pieces of the puzzle together - I offered my help in order to diminish her apparant and unecessary stress. He then said, "ya, there was a big argument over the parking space downstairs" I thought to myself, "here we go again - TOTAL QUALITY - yuch".

Several years ago Total Quality was introduced into the company - yes we were going to remain in business not only for the rest of our lives but for that of our children's, children's, children. "Associates", (that's what "Total Quality People" call the humans they work with) were sent off for training in the discipline, (many of them are no longer with the company - in retrospect the ROI wasn't so good). When they returned as "Team Leaders", (that's what "Total Quality People" call humans who are trained in Total Quality) we were asked to start thinking about things that "hassle" the customer. The object was to remove the "hassle". We were told to tackle something easy in order gain a quick win. So the brainstorming began, - plan-do-act - fishbone diagrams - pareto and all that stuff. Ultimately it was decided that our customer's were being "hassled" because there wasn't enough parking spaces for them at peak hours. "Associates" were using the spaces that were needed for the customer's.

The parking situation was now subjected to the efforts of a full blown Total Quality Team. The end results were, a "privileged few" would always be allowed to park in front only a few feet from the entrance, everybody else, (the "associates" as we were now being called) would be subject to a monthly lottery that determined the fate of their parking assignments. Winners would be allowed to park outside the gate, the loosers were sent "to the back of the bus" and required to park behind the gate.

There is one "associate" who refuses to play the game. If she knows that one of the "privileged few" will be out of town she will usurp the "privileged" parking space. And, no matter how the monthly lottery turns out, you will always find her parked in front of the gate. When she does this the company culture, (or lack thereof) kicks into high gear. "Associates" (remember now, this is what "Total Quality People" call the humans they work with) begin to express themselves in courageous ways that they would never have thought to before. " How come she can park there?", "Why doesn't she follow the rules?"...........and on and on and on - their questions are never answered.

I really don't think this is what Deming had in mind.


Mali's finest

last Friday, the Super Rail Band, played a concert at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA. the Super Rail Band was started in 1970 and has been a vehicle for some of Mali's finest singers and musicians, including Salif Keita.

the Super Rail Band represents a great concept in cultural initiatives. after gaining independence in the 1950's, countries like Mali and Guinea formed national bands and dance troups to promote the traditional musical traditions that had long been overshadowed by the importation and dominance of afro-cuban music of the former colonial rulers. the government used these bands to help promote a sense of nationhood.

when a dictator violently took over the government in 1968, he (Moussa-Traore) dissolved the national bands. this was not to be the end of this cultural effort though. the management of the Malian Railway Company saw the importance of the bands in promoting a national identity and unity. they put together and funded a new band to carry on the tradition and the Super Rail Band was begun in 1970, where it played in the hotel of the Bamako (Mali) train station. The band continues playing today.


channeling charlie

the strapping young lad and czar of pure content has headed north. while away, he will be using all of his blogness to channel messages through my nimble hands. to that end, he has asked that i announce the latest article from Malcolm Gladwell.

also the new Sleater Kinney album rocks.



We sent out a Playshare today. If you'd like to receive these every two weeks in your Inbox, send us an e-mail. If you want to receive Pure Content (this blog) in your Inbox each day, just enter your e-mail address in that box on the right. Here it is ...

In Paris, during the summer of 2001, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe decided to ban cars from the streets on the right bank of the River Seine. He did this as a special gift to the city’s residents and tourists, making the streets available to rollerbladers, bicyclists, and those interested in simply strolling on the riverbanks. The public’s reaction was weak, at best. The crowds didn’t materialize and the closed roads were seen as a nuisance.

Determined to make this work, he continued the next year. The city spent $1.5 million to truck in palm trees, beach chairs, umbrellas, and nearly 200 cubic yards of sand, to create a public beach in the middle of the city. The city’s residents loved it. Every day this summer, the roadway has been packed with Parisians and tourists, sunning themselves, playing volleyball, and throwing Frisbees. At night, cafés set up tables and jazz musicians start playing. It’s been a resounding success.

It was a risky move last year, closing almost 2 miles of roads. Delanoe could have written off the experiment as a failure, but he decided to elevate his thinking and push the envelope. Often, we have ideas that - either through their articulation or their execution - don’t live up to their potential. When you believe in doing something new and you face resistance (“We tried something new last time, and it didn’t work.” “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” “We’ve experimented before, but it was a failure.”), elevate your idea and take it to a new level. In the end, it can mean the difference between empty roads and a beach in the middle of Paris.

let's play.


two quick posts

Sorry for not writing anything on these two articles, but I need to get home. Check 'em out, though: Be It Ever So Humble: Trash Home. Okay. Dumb title. Cool article. This one's even better: Vision Quest: A half century of artificial-sight research has succeeded. And now this blind man can see.

There are some great pictures, but for some reason I can't post them.


manufacturing innovation

Nathan Mhyrvold is a former Microsoft executive and founder of Microsoft research, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a youthful Wolf Blitzer. In the May 2002 issue of Technology Review, Evan Schwartz tells the story of Myhrvold's vision to create a for-profit venture with the exclusive focus on developing significant innovations and methods to broaden their impact on the market.

The venture would not be tied to any particular product or market but would be free to investigate any industry or field in need of new inventions. Bringing together a network of established inventors, the new company would get revenue from the licensing of patents that its inventors produced and its business model would be built around an unusual way of compensating those who create by splitting license fees and royalties between the inventor and the company.

Myhrvold is tentatively calling his vision the "Invention Factory." Myrvold comments, "Even though it creates a huge amount of value, invention is usually just a by-product of industrial research. In many ways, it's been given short shrift. Our whole notion is that invention is important enough to say, Let's invent, and create the context for inventing, and get inventive people to do it." Within the Invention Factory, Myrhvold plans to have the inventors jump across problem domains in order to spur serendipitous discovery, rather than spending their entire time in one narrow field.

Myhrvold believes the Invention Factory model will work because he will be leveraging the the sheer joy that inventive people draw from their work. For him, this joy has been largely missing from corporate labs for a long time. "Invention is so exhilarating that most true inventors would do it for free."


internship innovations

IBM has been running a summer internship program that has been a source of innovative energy for the company, producing 20 patent-pending inventions last year. The program puts MBA and computer-science students together. The students work closely together, along with IBM's business managers. The program is called "Extreme Blue" and has been running for four years.

Tischelle George wrote an article about the program in Information Week (8/5/02) . She describes how the program ultimately benefits IBM with the innovative energy Extreme Blue produces. "Extreme Blue is good at getting high-risk projects attention and proving that they ought to be done," comments John Wolper, the manager of the Extreme Blue lab in Austin. The projects tend to be those "that some people weren't ready to bet big money and careers on," but, says Wolper, help "keep innovation alive at a big company."


design and business

Interview with Tom Peters in @issue: The Journal of Business and Design. Here are some great insights:

"If your product is intangible (banking, travel, etc.), distinguish yourself from the masses by emphasizing the tangible - to wit, design."

Re:office by design

"I think space design is arguably the most powerful organizational, culture-shaping tool."

"The real world of enterprise, whether it's serving customers or developing products, is about risks and blood and passion and life and human beings. It makes no sense to me that the places where we are supposed to do productive work are incredibly impersonal."


brilliance / World Creativity Center / change perspective

Doug Rushkoff, who I'm liking more and more, has a great post on a design charrette he saw at Columbia University. He noted one design in particular, that ... well ... here's his take:

"One of them (the one I liked best) explored the various perspectives from which picture postcards were taken of the original WTC. Most seem to come from the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or the Brooklyn Bridge. So, this architect came up with a design that would make the buildings look just like original WTC from those three angles. From any other angle, however, they appeared to be either imploding or emerging from the ground. I'm not exactly sure of his intent, but for me it represented the WTC in various moments of linear time. Before the attack - as a static icon; during the attack, as an imploding form; and after the attack, as an emergent form."

He waxes eloquent about the WTC in general, and then finishes with this gem:

"If it were mine to do, I'd replace the World Trade Center with some kind of World Creativity Center. I'd make a building that both stands for and promotes imaginative new solutions to problems of all sorts. It's not a building to conduct or perpetuate business as usual, but to imagine, foster, and generate entirely new forms. The tenants bold enough to rent space in it immediately identify themselves as engaged in the most valuable (and wealth-producing) pursuit in the Western World: new ideas.

Talk about urban renewal."


birdwatching in Europe

An 8/5/02, WSJ article by Todd Zaun tells the great story of how the major Japanese automakers are engaged in an extremely tight battle for market share within Japan's subcompact car market. Top car manufacturers are waging this battle with a strategy based on sales of multiple, subcompact models. Toyota has six models, Honda has five and Nissan has two, with a third on the way.

The article tells the story of the Honda engineering and design team charged with developing a small car for Honda to sell in Japan, Europe and elsewhere. The team traveled to several European countries to study the world's most sophisticated drivers of small cars. They hung out in parking lots, taking pictures of people in Fiats, Renaults, and other munchkin mobiles. They took pictures of what they saw, including that of an elderly couple struggling to cram a bicycle in the back of a small car. The pictures convinced the team that they could sell more tiny cars if those cars felt more spacious. The team created a car design that moved the fuel tank forward, under the front seat, instead of in the rear: the first time that solution had been tried on a car. That design innovation allowed the team to create a roomy luggage area and back seats that fold flat on the floor and they did all this without making the car bigger or heavier overall. The result was the "Fit," Honda's fastest selling subcompact ever in Japan.


it takes the universe to keep me inspired

last week, Dr. Kenneth Bloom, a researcher in experimental high-energy particle physics at the University of Michigan, posted a weeklong diary in Slate. In his Monday, 8/5/02 entry, he wrote about what keeps him inspired during the often less than exciting days that are part of the long and gradual process that is particle physics research.

"To stay inspired, one must maintain a sense of amazement about the work. When I find myself getting frustrated, I try to remember three amazing things about my work. The first is, plain and simple, a triumph of civilization--we have managed to put together a theory that successfully predicts the behavior of the universe from the incredibly small to the cosmically large-scale..."

"The second is that we have the technology to test these predictions."

And finally, Re: his physicist colleagues,

"We don't keep to ourselves in little rooms...We're spread all over the world...We all tend to be independent-minded, so we have had to learn how to work together toward common goals and to make sure that our complex projects stay on track. And we are all very interested in seeing that we learn something about nature and that we communicate correct results to the rest of the world, which means that publishing those results is a process (sometimes a political process) involving much discussion and review within our collaboration to achieve consensus."



no parking on the dance floor

i thought i was smooth. i knew "the lawnmower," "the moonwalk," even the "spontaneous consumption," but recently i was exposed to a new world of dance: the world of freestyle dance. freestyle dancing is what you'll find at most dance clubs or raves. it is a distinct style of dance in which people move according to how they interpret the music. Their moves are personal, open to the dancer's physical interpretation of the music.

this summer, Trenholm, embarked on crusade to open our eyes to the wonders of freestyle dancing. not only were his spontaneous, freestyle dancing exhibitions, invigorating and wildly entertaining, but they gave us a new perspective on the importance of collaboration in a community, whether it be business, social, or dance.

within cities across the US, the freestyle dance communities that flourish are those that have a healthy spirit of collaboration between their members. from styles of dress to ways of dancing, the best freestyle dance communities embrace everything they create as something to share. To keep new ideas flowing, people take what they like from others and develop their own styles.

this same spirit of collaboration is a vital part of any business culture. without an open environment for communication, sharing of ideas, and collaboration, the flow of ideas is reduced to a trickle and innovation stops. next time your looking for a new business solution, don't keep it to yourself. pull some colleagues together and bust some power moves on them.



value innovation

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne authored a great article on innovation and strategy: "Strategy, Value Innovation, and the Knowledge Economy," Sloan Management Review, Spring 1999.

Companies that value innovate pursue innovation by offering fundamentally new and superior buyer value, thus putting the buyer, not the competition at the center of strategic thinking. Calloway Golf's launch of the "Big Bertha" golf club serves as a great example of value innovation. While the competition focused on offering consumers better to hitting the ball farther, Callaway created the oversize, "Big Bertha" club after redefining the consumer's need to hit the ball more easily.

In 1997, the authors conducted a study of a hundred new business launches. They found that 14% of the new business launches were value innovations (launches not aimed at matching or beating their competitors), but the value innovations generated 61% of the total profits of all of the new business launches.

How do companies spur value innovations? Knowledge and ideas. "Whether an executive or a factory worker, anyone can have a good idea; value innovation can occur in any organization and and at any time in a sustainable manner with the proper process."

Can I get a witness?



Pure Content Street Team member Rich Schaffer sent us a link to the most recent issue of Inc. It's all about innovation, and there are some great articles in it, including one by Rob Walker that I can't wait to read. The issue's focus is on innovation, and Inc. seem to stick to the techy / patent side of innovation, but there's some solid stuff in it. We'll do a quick rundown of the articles, so you can jump to the ones that most interest you. It might take a while to get to them all ... but check back in.

The Innovation Factor: Inside the Idea Mill: What's better than one blockbuster innovation? A company designed to crank out innovations one after another.
Addressing the crucial role that innovation plays in the medical device company Augustine Medical, this article looks at the mindset and mechanisms that allow the company to bring innovation to the forefront of their daily practice. Highlights: the bringing together of disparate backgrounds (like theater prop building) into an organization to bring different skills and perspectives; giving yourself flexibility (in time and place) to think in new ways (like while jogging or fly fishing); the importance of using creativity and innovation in every aspect of the organization ("how to shuffle paper faster or how to eliminate a step in manufacturing"); intellectual property management ("If you can't protect it, you shouldn't make it." ... which I don't totally agree with, but which is an intriguing point); the role of an "innoavtion midwife," who assists those who struggle with creativity to explain what they do; Socratic dialogue! Lowlights: they use a lightbulb for a logo (ugh); a slight confusion of "wacky" and "creative"; although it seems like a flat hierarchy with distributed ideation, it seems to have an underlying principal-centric culture, which can be dangerous.

Tune in soon to see the next highlights / lowlights. Or just go read the articles yourself.


tan, rested, and ready for more

I'm back from the beaches of North Carolina, ready for a posting fury before I head out again. The first article I want to link to is this: Buzz Marketing Ruining Private Space?. In this Bloomberg article, commentator Matthew Lynn brings up a recent trend in viral marketing: "Sony Ericsson last week unwrapped an intriguing campaign to create some word-of-mouth momentum for T68i, a mobile phone that doubles as a digital camera. In one stunt, actors will cruise around tourist spots asking people to take snaps of them with the T68i and then try to engage them in conversation about what a great device it is. In another, actresses and models will hang out in fashionable bars, supplied with phone-cameras, and pre-scripted conversational gambits. In one script, a girl receives a picture over her phone. In another, two girls sit at opposite ends of the bar, playing a game of battleships."

The concept itself isn't as new as Sony Ericsson might think it is ... Vespa was doing it at least two years ago with their new lines of scooters. But it's still pretty cutting edge, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The article is pretty good, and it leads to an interesting question: The people who will be hired to do this job are probably going to be urban, hip, and young. As Lynn notes, "Pause for a moment to reflect on the oddness of those Sony Ericsson girls hanging out in bars with their cool, new phones. There is no way of knowing for sure, but is it possible their hiring policy is biased toward the young, slim and attractive?" Where does the line get drawn? Is it like modeling (which, as far as I know, has no hiring requirements)? I imagine that there will be a lawsuit sometime soon where a disabled plantiff sues a marketing firm for not hiring him. Has anyone heard of something along those lines?

who / what / why

At Play we create brands, strategies, new products, and better cultures for Fortune 100 companies. Our formula for creativity: "Look at more stuff. Think about it harder." Pure Content is one place where we do that, daily.

the cool kids' table

Ben Domenech
(politics, football, and a boatload of know-how)

Creative Generalist
(if Pure Content had a doppelganger ...)

Heath Row
(punk + business
+ creativity = Heath)


go go gadget google:

stuck in an airport

A Pattern Language

Creative Company
Orbiting the Giant Hairball
The Ultimate Book of Business Creativity

The Little Prince

Wittgenstein's Poker

The Dancing Wu Li Masters

The Tipping Point

new to you

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see our neighbors
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