Thought Starters: innovation, intellectual capital & circular economy

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at questions over the pace of innovation, the growing portability of intellectual capital, the American presidential nominations and the circular economy among other things, all making for great weekend reading.

David Rotman profiles the work of economist Robert J. Gordon who takes a relatively dim view of the productivity gains over the last ten years. A valuable perspective although one focusing on economic gains doesn’t necessarily encompass other benefits enabled by new technologies and innovations:

Peak innovation

An interesting complement to the Rotman’s article is Prashant Gandhi, Somesh Khanna and Sree Ramaswamy’s review of the levels of digitisation across different parts of the US economy. Information technology inevitably leads the charge but it’s more valuable to look at the laggards where we’re likely to see considerable changes and innovations in the coming years:

How Digitally Advanced is your Sector?

One area that we have seen substantial advances recently is technologies that enable remote teams to more readily collaborate (eg Slack). Samuel Hammond points to a world where intellectual capital is increasingly portable even if immigration barriers mean that this mobility is more virtual than actual:

Consistent with the premature futurism thesis, smart writers have been predicting large and looming social implications from telecommuting and remote work for decades, only to have their visions stymied by some unforeseen technical or psychological barrier. While hiring international freelancers has gotten a lot easier, for many jobs people just prefer face to face contact. Yet we seem to be finally reaching a critical point where video streaming, virtual reality, and collaboration tools are converging to make even the most complex team production viable across borders.

Uber is one of the shining stars of the startup sector with its growth and funding leading many entrepreneurs to pitch their business as ‘Uber for ____’. Farhad Manjoo points out that we should be wary of trying to draw direct parallels between Uber and other business use cases given the particular characteristics the ridesharing:

But Uber’s success was in many ways unique. 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. Other businesses funded in low-frequency and low-value areas “were a trap,” Mr. Walk said.

Dan Lyons’ rather humourous account of joining HubSpot provides a valuable antidote to some of the overinflated hubris sometimes associated with startups:

The truth is that we’re selling software that lets companies, most of them small businesses like pool installers and flower shops, sell more stuff. The world of online marketing, where HubSpot operates, though, has a reputation for being kind of grubby. Our customers include people who make a living bombarding people with email offers, or gaming Google’s search algorithm, or figuring out which kind of misleading subject line is most likely to trick someone into opening a message. Online marketing is not quite as sleazy as Internet porn, but it’s not much better either.

A lot of noise has been made about younger consumers fleeing Facebook for the newer social media platforms but comScore data from the US points to the platform maintaining its appeal among millennials – suggest we’d  see teenage audiences telling a rather different story:

Age 18-34 Digital Audience Penetration vs Engagement of Leading Social Networks

Snapchat updated its mobile messaging platform recently providing a richer range of features for users as well as changing its privacy policy which is likely to see a broader array of targeting options for Snapchat advertisers. It’s worth reading Ben Thompson’s piece on Snapchat if you want to take a broader look at how the platform has evolved since its launch in 2011.

Virtual reality is now well and truly out in the open with Oculus Rift now available to the general public. Brian X. Chen’s review of the headset suggests that in its current state, it’s one for the early adopters:

The Rift’s graphics, sound and head tracking, which is the device’s ability to follow where the viewer looks, do feel like something out of science fiction. While the system’s setup is somewhat complex, the smoothness of the graphics and the high-quality design of the headgear make virtual reality feel ready for prime time.

And yet there may be a higher reward for those who wait to buy the Rift.

Soundcloud Go launched on the 29th of March in the US, adding to the list of streaming providers that are offering a subscription service for music consumers. Another route to monetise content might sound great for musicians but Dave Wiskus’ review of the service suggests something much more insidious:

You can slice it, package it, or spin it however you like, but the bare fact is that you’re making money off of songs you aren’t paying for. Worse, you’re doing it while perpetuating an air of exclusivity around the concept of making money. All while you’re pretending to be a friend to the little guy. There’s nothing artist-friendly about this approach.

Sven Skafisk’s overlaying of smartphone sales on top of traditional camera sales illustrates how much mobile phones have come to dominate how the majority of consumers experience photography – click through for the full length chart which really puts things in perspective:

CIPA camera production

The success of Amazon’s Alexa highlights the significant market opportunity for user friendly smart home solutions, which has even led to religious authorities offering advice on its use during Shabbos. What consumers may be less aware of is that in many cases they are buying into a service rather than a piece of hardware with the demise of Revolv leaving consumers in the lurch (although it looks like Nest may be stepping in to address some of these concerns now).

With the release of the Panama Papers, it’s worth revisiting which countries enable financial secrecy. One of the interesting insights to come out of the reports is the relatively limited number of Americans caught up in reports reflecting relatively lax controls in some states. The US falls in third place in the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index.

NPR’s Planet Money (well worth subscribing to their podcast) has looked at the changing structure of employment in the US where you can see changes both in terms of the number of jobs and as percent of the total. No huge surprises but it will be interesting to see how the chart changes as machine learning and artificial intelligence make inroads into white collar professions which have traditionally proven more immune to automation:

The Decline of Farming and the Rise of Everything Else

Another podcast worth recommending is Vox’s The Weeds, providing a valuable window into American politics and policy. A recent episode looks at the tax implications of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ policies (from 34:20). One of the interesting conclusions is how comparatively robust both Democratic candidates proposals are compared to the leading Republican candidates despite Clinton and Sanders taking rather different policy approaches:

One area where Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump do seem to have something in common is their relatively protectionist approach to trade. Whilst I am all for ensuring employees gets appropriate protection around the world, it could put a real dampener on emerging markets’ economies as Jordan Weissmann points out:

With those last few words, Sanders has effectively written off trade with any country that is not already rich and prosperous—which is simply inhumane.

Encouraging the circular economy is likely to be a more appropriate way of encouraging local employment. Walter R. Stahel profiles this closed loop approach to production which offers benefits in terms of reduced emissions, increasing in employment and reduction in waste:

Closing Loops

As UK fast approaches the Brexit referendum, immigration and the country’s health system lead concerns facing Briton’s – issues not unrelated given the reliance Britain’s NHS has on foreign born staff:

What do you see as the most important issues facing Britain

Potentially allaying the concerns of immigration opponents is research from Mette Foged and Giovanni Peri in Denmark which points to the benefits of immigration, even for the low skilled populations:

Instead of a small negative effect on the local native-born — as most studies in the U.S. tend to find — Foged and Peri found a positive effect. That’s right — low-skilled immigrants actually raised the wages of their less-educated native-born counterparts in the surrounding area. The data followed the native-born workers for a long time, letting the authors confirm that the change was durable.

The featured image is a Nelio mural made for the Marion gallery in Panama.

Messages That Resonate

This is part of an irregular series of blog posts looking at marketing and digital communications which have caught my attention. This will complement Thought Starters which will look more at trends, strategies and ideas.

BMW has joined the wide array of brands looking to use Vine as a branding medium with a series of short videos to promote its  new i3:

Monster Energy isn’t one known for using subtlety in its brand communications and their latest video is no exception:

The launch of the new iPhone has prompted a lot of talk on what is the appropriate size for a smartphone. KPN in the Netherlands has looked to take advantage of this buzz with an experiential campaign offering to enlarge the size of customers pockets:

Whilst we’re on the subject of Apple’s iPhone 6 launch, KitKat showed a smart piece of real-time marketing to suggestions that the new handset was prone to bending:

Etienne de Crécy has looked to promote his Hashtag My Ass album with a music video which integrates users Instagram and provides users with the ability to share their personalised video:

There’s been a lot of talk about multiscreening over the last couple of years and we’re beginning to see interesting possibilities emerge although I would argue, we’ve still got a long way to go. Kenzo have released a microsite which asks users to synchronise their computers and smartphones as a means of navigating around their fall collection:

Kenzo

Orange have attempted to give consumers a window into their future with a campaign which imagines what you will look like in 20 years time. Interesting to see how you might look although the microsite is let down by poor voice recognition:

User generated campaigns are seemingly everywhere, but it’s not often you see a site as well executed as McDonalds‘ which looks to celebrate 40 years in the UK. Great use of typography, user input by voice or text and a webGL based site that provides users with the ability to readily filter content by time period or theme.

Celebrating 40 years together The Topography of Terror Foundation and the Warsaw Rising Museum have commissioned a wonderful website commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising:

Warsaw Rising

Creative Review profiles the work of TrenchOne, Elph and Purshone as they use giant projection covers a house, a barn and group of log cabins in the lead up to the Scottish Referendum. Dazzling stuff…

Leyden Farm

Whilst vinyl has made something of a resurgence in sales lately, music is now increasingly a digital medium, so why isn’t cover art animated GIFs? The Inspiration pulls together a collection of covers from jbetcom’s Music:

Random Access Memories

Stef Lewandowski has pulled together an interesting illustration of the Internet of Things by visualising the digital signals around you. You can see a demonstration of the process below although go to his website to see this demonstrated in your own environment.

The featured image is a piece by Nelio in Besançon

 

Thought starters: content that has got me thinking 9

The following provides a roundup of some of the articles, thought pieces and content which have got me thinking recently.

Organisational intranets are too often where content goes to die. SmallWorlders look at how to get colleagues interacting more with their organisational intranets.

The Atlantic looks at the difficulties in choosing metrics that give a true representation of website traffic – no one measure is going to provide a cure-all.

Russell Holly gives his verdict on Google Glass – good but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

The rapid growth of the mobile based social network Secret (currently iOS only) has seen a growing interest in user anonymity online. Wired and PandoDaily profile Secret and the the anonymous trend (and Secret’s pseudo anonymity) whilst Chris Poole and Sam Altman give arguments for and against anonymity.

Secret

Wired profiles Amazon’s Flow mobile app which uses image recognition to reduces the hurdle to purchase for mobile users.

The New Yorker takes an extended look at Amazon’s effects on the book industry for consumers and for the publishing sector.

Maserati’s Superbowl television advertisement didn’t exactly send a stampede of customers in the direction of their local Maserati dealerships. Advertising Age has done an interesting analysis on what else Maserati could otherwise have bought with their media budget.

Bitcoin payment solutions are looking less and less like science fiction, so it’s valuable to hear from an ecommerce retailer about their experiences in using the alternative currency.

McKinsey reviews the growth in mass customisation which has been given a boost by various technological innovations and is allowing companies to better engage with their audiences.

Europe’s stalled economic performance has prompted a lot of hand wringing, with the region often criticised for its lack of innovation. INSEAD’s Bruce Lanvin puts this idea under the microscope and provides a rather different conclusion.

Featured image comes from French artist Nelio.