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Go ahead - disrupt an industry

Entrepreneurs are shaping our future. Seldom has there been so much opportunity. Disruptive technology is everywhere, and you just need tenacity and imagination to profit from it.

These stories describe innovations that are now possible. Steal them. Suggest others. But please, profit from disruptive innovation - don't fall victim to it.

Remember, the only thing that's certain is change.

Extreme Trust

Do things right. Do the right thing.

I've been reading - and rereading - the superb new book by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. It's called Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage.

No one else I have ever met possesses such clarity of mind and deep insight about the future that they are able to describe in nine words how companies can succeed. Here's the entire text of what may be the most powerful, accurate and actionable sidebar you will ever see in a business strategy book. The words are by Don and Martha:

If you want your business to be trustable, and to succeed in a more transparent, hyperinteractive world, then you had best commit these three basic principles of Extreme Trust to memory:

Do things right. Be competent. manage the functions, processes, and details right in order to make it easy for customers to do business with you. And pay attention to the customer's experience, not just the company's financial performance.

Do the right thing. Ensure that the way your organization makes money aligns with the needs and interests of your customers. You won't be trustable if you're entirely focused on the short term. Customer relationships link short-term actions to long-term value.

Proactively. Knowing that a customer's interest is not being well served and doing nothing about it is untrustable. Not knowing is incompetent.


A tool for unlimited innovation

Look out your window. Nearly everything you see – cars, office buildings, people, the weather, birds, restaurants, or billions of other possibilities – presents an entrepreneurial opportunity.

Entrepreneurs can use smartphones, apps, cameras, and sensors to help people differentiate any single object from all others:

Out of the 954 cars in this parking lot, which one is mine and where is it?

Will this cord fit my grass trimmer?

Out of the three car dealers I'm considering, which is the most trustworthy?

What is the white stuff on the leaves of my maple tree, and is it a problem?

Are any of my friends within three miles of me?

Does anyone in this lecture hall speak German?

What kind of wood is this?

Is this house for sale, and how many bedrooms does it have?

This thinking is called 1toEverything, and you can find it described in my new book with Michael Hinshaw: Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. To see a sample of the book, you can download the Introduction and first Chapter.

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Invite other people to live in your bubble

There's a small group of academics at Dartmouth who are churning out interesting ideas regarding new ways to use sensors. One example is this paper on Bubble-Sensing, which I'll summarize for you.

The authors imagine using smartphones to create a "bubble" around the location of your choice, such as a fountain in a square you visit while on vacation in Rome. While there, you press a button on your phone and create a sensing request that stays active in the square after you leave. Such a request might ask other tourists to take a snapshot every night at sunset, which would then be automatically transferred to you.

The paper doesn't just present the idea; it envisions how such a system might work, and what some of the key challenges would be.

Let's consider some possibilities:

You could leave a request for other parents to take photos at your child's sporting event, when you know that other commitments will cause you to miss the next few games.

Researchers could leave requests in public locations asking passerbys to tell them when the location is too noisy, or crowded, or deserted, or anything else that meets their research goals.

To take this idea a step further, researchers could ask others to record sounds that they consider too loud. Each would automatically be date-stamped.

Homeowners could leave a request - that only the local police could "see" - that asks them to watch their house during vacation week.

If you meet the person of your dreams in a bar, but then lose his or her phone number, you could leave a message for them "floating" in the air at the bar itself.

There are millions of other possibilities. What could your company do with this idea?

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Questions for Marketing

Don't settle for outdated practices anymore

Want to make your business more profitable? Ask these questions...

1. Is it more important to improve our products or our advertising?

2. When we compete on price, are we revealing a lack of faith in the value our products deliver to customers?

3. Is “customer loyalty” a valid concept in a smartphone enabled, app-driven marketplace?

4. Would we be wiser to seek to win every competitive match-up, rather than aim for a sense of inherent loyalty to our offerings?

5. Needs-based customer segments provide a means to allocate marketing resources. Have we created such segments?

6. What knowledge do we have about specific customers that our competitors lack?

7. What are the benefits of having knowledge of our customers that our competitors lack?

8. Do we make it convenient for our customers to be loyal?

9. How could we make it more convenient for our customers to be loyal to us?

10. What percentage of our revenues come from delivering customized products or services to customers?

11. How many ways do we use customer information to benefit that customer?

12. How many new ways could we develop to remember information for customers, instead of just about them?

13. When we collect feedback from customers, do we talk in terms of the job/task they were doing or in terms of their perception of our firm?

14. What percentage of our marketing budget can be quantified by accurate metrics?

15. Are we 100% truthful with customers?

16. Marketing tries to make our firm look good. How do we avoid having social media call us out for fudging the truth?

17. Is outbound marketing declining in effectiveness?

18. Do we offer enough compelling content and innovative services to attract customers to us?

19. Are we designing sensors into our products and services?

20. Do we encourage customers to provide feedback, and do we allow other customers to see it?

21. Should we take funds from advertising and general marketing and shift them to developing more innovative services and products?

22. Do we have active and effective teams that combine marketing, engineering and design professionals?

23. Do we encourage and respect a diverse range of opinions and skills across our marketing organization?

24. What percentage of our customer touch points are smart (interactive) vs. stupid (static)?

25. Do we have a mobile strategy that places a greater emphasis on serving than selling?

26. Are we consistently looking at the edges of our industry to spot disruptive technologies and business models?

27. Do we speak at customers or with them?

28. Do we reward customers for feedback?

29. Are we getting increasingly granular in our marketing metrics, to better spot opportunities?

30. Do we reward employees for serving customers, regardless of divisions or jobs?

What questions would you add to the list?

Transformational Entrepreneurship

IT meets social entrepreneurs

Here's something well worth reading, a post that tackles how to both grow a business and make the world a better place.

In a clear and concise fashion, the authors explain what's been happening in our economy:

Since the industrial revolution, the agricultural sector has fed increasingly larger populations with smaller percentages of the workforce. The manufacturing sector went through a similar transition as machinery replaced most manual labor. Now the service sector is poised to do the same as software automates the repetitive intellectual tasks of accountants, clerks, stockbrokers, even doctors and lawyers. When sectors shrink because of the increased efficiency of automation, fear of economic depression is not the right response, for new frontiers of growth are often on the horizon.

The authors, founders of the Startup Genome, argue that entrepreneurs have the power and the drive to improve our world. They also break down how this could happen. Here's one of their closing pleas...

The opportunity to reinvent society is within our power, but the future doesn't invent itself. We must create a culture that encourages and empowers transformational entrepreneurs and celebrates little else.

Invisible Sensors

Security hidden in walls

Imagine a house that has no visible security - no motion detectors or cameras - but that knows when someone is in the living room (raise heat to 68 degrees) or when a potential intruder is at a rear window at 3 a.m.

Thanks to Xandem, this is now possible.

The firm makes sensors that are deployed in networks and utilize radio waves to detect anything that moves within the area covered by the network. Since radio waves are a form of electromagnetic energy that can penetrate solid materials, the sensors themselves can be hidden in walls.

About one year ago, Xandem started selling to beta customers, and this summer it will offer mass market versions of its products, which are currently targeted at the security market.

But such sensors could also be used for home automation purposes, or to support innovative customer experiences. I can imagine a system that warns you that your child is not sleeping well (four times last night, she got out of bed) or reveals your husband is opening the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

With Xandem's approach, the individual sensors don't know anything. None of them alone can trigger an alert. Here's how the firm explains it:

Each of the devices communicates with the others, forming a dense sensing web that blankets the area. When people enter the network area, they disturb the radio field and Xandem's powerful algorithms detect the disturbance. We call it "Synergistic Sensing" because it's not the individual transceivers doing the sensing, the network itself is the sensor working in tandem.

Think about what will happen when systems like this one are deployed in retail stores, office buildings and public places. You won't be able to tell whether the location has security, or not.

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Hotel Room Search

Find a room, not just a hotel

The Room Concierge service at the hotel search engine, Room 77, helps you get the hotel room that best serves your needs. Yes, you read that right - get the ideal room, not just the ideal hotel.

Why would you care? Remember that time you vacationed with friends, and they had a lovely ocean view and balcony, while your family tossed and turned all night as the hotel's massive air conditioning condensors roared outside your window?

Even in great hotels, rooms can vary significantly. Some, for example, have been recently renovated. Others might be long overdue.

Look for all search and reservations services to get increasingly granular. Instead of looking for a restaurant, perhaps you can search for a special offered tonight ("Who has lobster ravioli?").

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Chat with a Computer

Wherein "Stephanie" helps with my iPad

This is a fictionalized version of an Apple.com chat, April 13, 2012

You are chatting with Stephanie, an Apple Expert.

Stephanie: Welcome to Apple! How's it going?

You: The Mac App Store tells me I need OSX 10.7 to run iBooks Author. I have 10.6.8. How do I upgrade?

Stephanie: I am happy to grab a link to help you with that.

You: Thanks

Stephanie: Sure thing.

Stephanie: Click here for OS X Lion App

You: Just what I need, let me try that...

Stephanie: Did that link work for you?

You: Yep - so I just pay Apple $29.99 and I'm in business?

Stephanie: Are you ordering for a business account?

You: No, that's just an expression.

Stephanie: I would be happy to transfer you to an Apple business account rep.

You: No need, like I said, I'm just a person.

Stephanie: Glad to hear it.

You: Yep. Just one question - are you a real person, too?

Stephanie: Sort of. It depends on what you mean by "real"

You: Did you eat breakfast this morning?

Stephanie: No

You: Have you taken a bath in, say, the past two months?

Stephanie: No

You: Do you have parents?

Stephanie: Of course I do

You: Are they Apple employees?

Stephanie: Yes

You: Do you only sleep when someone closes your cover?

Stephanie: Good one - like I haven't heard that before.

You: Sorry, but you are one excellent software program. I think you've inspired me to write a story about you.

Stephanie: Always happy to be a Muse.

You: :)

Stephanie: :)

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Augmented Dating

Augmented reality meets teenage crush

Flowers cost less if you don't pick them

Cindy was so lost in thought walking home, she barely noticed the Penderson's cute Lab puppy as it raced across their lawn to greet her. She patted the dog's head absentmindedly and kept walking.

The high school junior was tired of living in a pre-professional town, where all anyone cared about was getting into college... not to learn, not to grow, just because that's what we all do...

Her phone vibrated. Cindy pulled it out and saw a message from Jake, the guy who sat behind her in chemistry.

I got some flowers for you. Keep walking straight ahead.

Cindy paused and looked around. That was odd. She kept walking.

Two houses later, as she stepped around a segment of the sidewalk that was being replaced, another message:

cross over to the park.

She stopped, and turned all the way around. Was Jake following her? She couldn't see anything. He seemed harmless, and sort of cute. But she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, and crossed over to the tiny park.

walk over to the bench, then towards the flowers behind them.

Cindy shrugged and kept walking. There were two Moms talking animatedly on the bench, with little kids spread around their feet.

aim your phone at the red and orange lilies

She looked around, at first seeing just a spread of purple flowers, and some yellow ones. There - some lilies were over in the clearing. They were fresh blooms, and gorgeous. She pointed her phone right at them.

A message appeared right over the flowers. It said: you're so pretty, even prettier than these lilies. (it makes me act so shy around you.) but what i really like is that you're a real person, not a pretender. would you meet me for coffee? how about 5 at starbucks?

Wow, she thought. That was really touching, and flattering. She texted Jake: you're cute, too. See you at 5.

When Jake saw the text pop up, his heart pounded hard for a good two minutes. Then he thought: I'm so glad I discovered how to post virtual notes to sidewalks, trees and flowers.

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PreMergency Medical

Tackling emergencies before they happen

Two miles into her hike, Jessica could finally see the ridge line up ahead. From there, she would have an amazing view of the valley below.

She heard her two dogs barking. A few strides later, she had her first glimpse of the clearing at the top of the ridge, and was surprised to see the dogs surrounding a man who was sitting cross-legged on a big boulder. Their tails were wagging enthusiastically, so she decided to trust their instincts.

"Hey," the man said with a big grin, "You found my secret hiding place."

"I didn't mean to bother you," Jessica responded.

"No worries, I just finished meditating. I'm Jake."

"Jessica," she said, shaking his hand.

She looked out over the vista, which stretched for dozens of miles. Nothing but wilderness and blue skies. Heaven.

"It's great that you meditate. I've tried it off and on."

"It's part of my job, literally. We're required to meditate and exercise consistently."

Jessica looked back at Jake. He was about 30, lean and strong, with close-cropped hair. She couldn't figure out what his line of work was, so she asked, "What sort of job requires meditation?"

"PreMergency crews."

"Pre Mergency? Like before an emergency?"

Jake smiled. He liked explaining his job, especially since less than 100 people in the world had so far been trained to do it.

"I'm part of a test program in Minneapolis where we respond to potential medical emergencies before they happen. The meditation and exercise requirement is because we're constantly showing up on people's doorsteps and telling them they are just minutes away from a heart attack or other life-threatening problem. We need to project calm assertive energy, or otherwise the person might freak and die."

Jessica narrowed her eyes. She was trying to decide if he was being sincere, or putting her on. But he really did project calm and assertive energy, so she decided to believe him.

"How do you know someone is about to face an emergency?"

"Lots of ways. We have almost two dozen wireless biosensors that monitor heart rate, pulse, and other vital signs. With elderly patients, we monitor movement – movement is good, by the way. We use different sensors for different patients. Over 35,000 patients are enrolled in the program, ranging from the very sick to some who are in better shape than you or me."

"No way."

"Yes way. All the signals go into an automated center, and when anything varies from normal, someone like me goes out to check. I'm somewhere between an emergency medic and God."

Jessica took a moment to digest this. She imagined a middle-aged man sitting in a big easy chair, rubbing his chest to wish away indigestion, when the doorbell rings. Jake is at the door and says something like: you're not going to rub away that pain; let's get you to the hospital and stop that heart attack before it happens.

"Why do you say God?" she asked.

"In the past three months, I've saved twelve people who most likely would have died if I hadn't rang their bell. One was a mother who gave birth three weeks later; she was going to name her child after me, but it turned out to be a girl. In most of the cases, the person didn't even know anything was wrong. It sure feels like divine intervention."

Jessica looked out over the valley. She couldn't help wondering if she had what it takes to play God, too.

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Location Goes 3D

Opportunities abound

Like Flat Stanley, your smartphone lives in a 2D world. Its GPS identifies your location in terms of directions on a compass, but not altitude.

Let's imagine what will be possible when phones add altimeters. Customer experience will change dramatically, as innovative and/or aggressive firms develop new tactics:

Your furnace can know that you are upstairs in your bedroom, not in the living room beneath, and can thus turn down the heat in the living room.

Your hotel can know whether or not you are in your room, making housekeeping less intrusive.

Fitness programs can far more accurately measure exertion, as they factor in hills.

You will soon be able to create instant virtual models of your room or house by moving your phone around the perimeters of each space. Of course, Kinnect can already map a 3D model of your room.

That's the good news. Now imagine what aggressive marketers might be able to do, potentially without your knowledge or permission:

Identify the company for which you work, by identifying the floor on which you work.

Identify the companies on which your sales team calls.

Track how many times each day you go to the bathroom, perhaps to identify targets for indigestion medications.

Guess what time you go to sleep, if you live in a two or three story house.

Try making a list of ten positive services your company could develop based on 3D location. Positive services don't track individuals, but instead serve their needs.

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