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Dishing up Science to the Public, One Project at a Time: The Innovation Interview with’s Matt Salzberg

If you had been given an opportunity to be part, in some small way, of the Apollo Missions, would you have jumped at the chance?  Personally, I’d have been over the moon!  

Unfortunately, it has been rare indeed for the general public to be invited to become involved in scientific research.  That has now changed with the launch of, a website designed to crowdsource funding for scientific research projects. 

A true Innovation in funding scientific research I recently spoke to founder Matt Salzberg about the passion, potential and possibilities that PetriDish encompasses.

Matt SalzbergCapital I Interview Series – Number 17

Your path to this crowdfunding project is not necessarily a standard one.  How did you get involved with PetriDish?

I used to work at the Blackstone Group doing large media and software buyouts. Then I went to Harvard Business School as I really wanted to do something more creative, more innovative with my career.  I explored a couple of different business ideas and decided that the best way for me to get a good overview of the technology world, and what’s going on in innovation, was to join a venture capital firm. So, I joined Bessemer Venture Partners, which is a big international venture capital firm.

For about a year and a half I worked on investments in mobile digital media, the internet, etc.  And one of the things I observed there was that a lot of really, really transformative businesses were being created using the internet as a reach medium to pool the collective actions of many small people to make bigger things happen.

There are a couple of examples of this.  Groupon is an innovative company that pools the collective buying power of people to get deals on stuff.  Kiva is a good example of a company that’s pooled the collective actions of small people to microfinance in the developing world.  DonorsChoose is another example of an innovative company that has pooled collective resource to help fund classroom projects.

There had been nothing really done applying this to science and research; and they’re obviously areas that dramatically need greater funding. Science and research fuel future innovation; the advancement of society is very dependent upon new discoveries and advances in a variety of fields.

This has always been a passion area of mine.  I wanted to take this business model, which I had sort of seen being applied in other areas, and use it to transform the way that research and science is funded.

Do you see it as a business model that is focussed on profits or is it something that you’re doing from a position of altruism?

It’s somewhat a combination of both.

We’re a very small, lean team at the moment, with a small group of investors. We just launched at the end of February, so we’re still putting a lot of the pieces in place to continue to scale up quite frankly.

We wanted to create a sustainable organisation and we think the for-profit model, for this particular business, is the right one because it allows us to take on investors and be self-sustainable over time.

But, the reason we’re doing it is because of the mission, which is to help accelerate the pace of innovation by making the funding process more researcher-friendly.  Right now to get funding is a very long, bureaucratic and difficult process.

Isn’t it just.

It could take as much as a year and for many reasons, including political ones, certain areas of science don’t get funded as they should.

The public is very interested in these things; there is an educational component wherein the public can get involved and learn about science and be involved in new discoveries.  We’re very mission-focused in that sense. Our goal is to really transform the way science is funded in order to accelerate innovation.  We chose the for-profit model because we think it’s the right way to bring the proper resources to bear.

We take a five percent share of the money being raised to help fund our ongoing operations.  That’s in comparison to a typical charity, which  takes 20 percent or more in terms of overhead because of all the inefficiencies that exist within a non-profit infrastructure.  We are able to attract more talent and more resources and then allow more money to go to the end researcher.

You mentioned politics and it brought to mind that there are groups within America, where you are based, that bring to bear their own beliefs, be it religious or political, in determining what research can and cannot be funded – stem cell research comes to mind.  Is that something that you are going to have to deal with?

I think that’s one of the inefficiencies that exist in the current funding process.  I think stem cell research is one example of a really interesting area of science that is underfunded because of political reasons. And that’s okay.  I think it’s totally acceptable for a government that has multiple agendas to not fund science that, for one reason or the other, they aren’t a good fit for.

That just means there is an opportunity to pick up the slack there, and we’re trying to facilitate that for the private individuals who do want to see stem cell research. Though we haven’t done a stem cell research project yet, we would.

There are other areas as well, like certain kinds of areas of social science or climate change research or ecology, which are relatively underfunded areas.  The government has, in some cases, very different priorities than individuals may or may not have depending on the project at hand.  We’re here to democratise that decision where individuals can step up and say: “I want to see this project happen.”  We provide an avenue to make that happen.

You’ve already got some extremely reputable institutions onboard, such as NASA and Stanford.  How did you involve them so early on?

We appealed directly to the researchers.  As we bring the researchers directly to donors, we don’t have to go through a process of specifically working out of partnership with the whole organisation or institution.  We post the project and if people want to connect directly with the researchers, they can; it allows us to do it much faster that way quite frankly.

What is the average age of your research participants? Are they very established researchers or are they students?

It’s a big range. We have projects from very established tenured professors who are somewhat older to graduate students, and we have everything in between. We have post-docs, young professors, full tenured professors, all across the board. And everyone comes to us for different reasons.

Some come to us because they are a grad students and they want to raise a small amount of money to do something and they don’t have access to capital.  Or  they’re a tenured professor, and already have funding, but they want to do an incremental piece of work that their current funding doesn’t allow for, or they want to share their research with the public and get the public involved.  There’s a ton of reasons why people do it.

How do you look to involve the public; for instance, would you look to connect with schools?

We’re trying to get the public involved in a variety of different ways. Right now our awareness efforts are mostly focused in the online sphere, thanks to people like you who are helping us get the word out there.

Via a variety of other channels such as the press, online social media and other kinds of marketing we’re getting the word out.  In the future we expect to be doing organisational partnerships and maybe even some partnerships with schools, as you suggest.  But right now we’re very focused on press, social media and online marketing.

And how do you envisage funders getting involved? 

There are a lot of things that the backers get. In the minimum they receive updates and information on the research over time, so they can hear about the latest discoveries and interesting things happening there.  That’s a cool experience in itself.

Then there are different rewards that they can get for backing projects at different levels.   They might get naming rights to a new species of animal… we had people do that on our site.  We had one project, which was a Harvard astronomer [Dave Kipping] doing a search for an exomoon  outside the Solar system.

The person who backed his project [Mike Dodds] at the highest level was able to name the supercomputer Dave bought.

We have another researcher who is doing research on the size and composition of algae spore structures, and if you back his project he’ll do a pressing of a dried algae specimen for you to hang up in your apartment or your house. The public gets all sorts of things.

And there is a field component too, if the public wants.  If a researcher is able to offer in-person lectures or a trip into the field with a researcher, the public can get involved that way as well.  There are a lot of different interesting things there.

I can imagine people getting very excited about things like that.  Do you think at some point it would be possible for people who are supporting PetriDish projects to nominate research projects that they think would be of interest?

Absolutely.  We’ve already had people suggest projects to us they think we should work with.  If the public has a research project they’re aware of, we’d love to hear about it; we’re very open to that.

I know that you recently launched some new projects covering such varied areas of research as the redrawing of an ancient supercontinent, decoding hyena calls in the Maasai Mara, saving Nicaragua’s last population of jaguars, and investigating estrogen levels in back yards. How do you choose which projects you get involved with?

Fundamentally we want to be a place where the public can decide what project they want to see happen.  Our fundamental philosophy is one of the democratisation.  However, we do screen projects to some extent and the projects we choose, we choose on basis of a couple of things.

First, the affiliation and quality of the researcher, they have to be from a reputable university or institution.  The second screening is on the project itself.  Is this project interesting?  Is it meaningful science?  Is it accessible to the public, so that they can understand it well enough to decide if they want to get involved?  And thirdly, we do a little bit of screen when we weed out obvious junk science: things like perpetual motion machines or paranormal activity.  But, aside from that, we really want to be a place where the public acumen finds interesting projects and decides what they want to see happen.

Do you have a pet project? Something that you personally would like to see funded?

Well, there are tons of them. I’d rather not name one of them at the risk of eliminating someone else.

You don’t want to admit to having a favourite child.

Exactly.  But in many ways some of the projects are a little bit of a reflection of the areas that I personally am very interested in.  We focus on field work, astronomy, biology, ecology, archaeology…. we have some very cool archaeology projects coming up.  We’re going to have some medical and biotech projects coming up, too.

Were you a science geek in school?

I was.  I wasn’t a scientist but I was definitely very interested in doing research.  I was an economics major and did a lot of economics research when I was an undergrad.  I’ve always been personally passionate about science.  I’m the kind of person that consumes a lot of content, I always loved reading about the latest discoveries.

Can I assume it’s not important for these projects to have the potential to become profit-making enterprises?

It’s not important at all for us.  In fact most of the projects are not going to be profit-making enterprises at all.  People back the projects so that they can be a part of the story, learn about the research and feel like they’ve helped make a new discovery happen.

So the funders are, in essence, patrons of science rather than investors.

Right.  Our backers don’t get equity in the projects.  They get an affiliation with them, a reward and a great story out of it.

Is there a minimum or maximum amount of funds that you’re generally seeking?

There’s no minimum for PetriDish projects and technically there won’t be a maximum, but we don’t allow projects that are so large that we don’t think they will get funded because of their size.

If someone came to us and said, “I need 100 million dollars to build a particle collider,” we’d say “This is not the right place to raise that money.”  Right now we’re focusing on projects that are less than $15,000.  Although if a project comes to us that  we think is so exciting, and the people behind it really understand this medium and how to raise awareness… We actually have a couple of projects we’re going to take a little bit higher.

How do you measure success for a project? 

Well, there’s a timeline.  At the outset, the project creator sets a timeframe and the goal they have to hit.  If they hit the goal by the end of the time, then the project gets funded; if they don’t, it doesn’t.  That’s a very clear metric of success.

So you see a successful endeavour as getting the project funded rather than measuring on the successful conclusion of the project itself?

Well, there are two components.  We’re trying to help these projects get funded and get off the ground.   We don’t get involved after the projects are funded in terms of doing the science.  Though, of course we would love to see the science find useful and interesting results and great discoveries.  That would certainly be another element of success… that would be wonderful!

Are you involved in building an ecosystem around the project?

Once we, hopefully, get the projects funded, we don’t step away.  We’ve built this community around the projects, where project creators can provide updates and people can learn about the results over time.

On the PetriDish website.

We stay involved, but we don’t contribute to doing the science per se.  Perhaps the community we’re building can help in some ways.

And the website enables people to keep up to date with the projects and see how they’re moving forward.


If intellectual property is created during the project, is that solely owned by the researchers, or the organisation that they’re working with?

Yes.  Backers don’t get any intellectual property. It stays with the existing structure.

And nor does PetriDish?

We don’t either.

That’s very altruistic of you. 

How would you characterise the people you think will get involved in the funding, as I think they may be somewhat different to typical investors.

The kind of people that back our projects are the ones that get excited about being part of new discoveries, that want to build relationships with researchers.  They’re your typical viewer of National Geographic or Discovery Channel and ScienceMedia.

You’re buying an experience by being a part of the research in action and in many case you’re getting tangible rewards.  Those are the kind of people who back stuff on our site.

PetriDish may also be the thing that begins to make science sexy again.  It’s been a long time since science was something that students yearned to get into.

Absolutely; that’s part of the hope.

You’re based in the US, but will you be looking at funding international project as well as US-based projects?

Yeah, absolutely.

So, researchers from around the world can connect with you?

Yes. We’ve already talked with many of them who reached out to us and we have a couple of international projects in the pipeline.

What is going to define success with regards to PetriDish for you personally?

My hope is that over time we transform the way science is funded and allow new capital to come in, which enables new discoveries to happen that otherwise wouldn’t be. We’re raising hundreds of millions of dollars a year for science and research projects.

You can learn more about, and get involved with, and their many research projects via their website and follow Matt on his Twitter account.  

[Kim and Matt Skyped from their homes in Sydney and New York.]

—  MORE —

Curious about some of the researchers? Well I had an opportunity to ask a few of them some questions:

JOHN VUCETICH: Associate Professor at Michigan Technological University, John is working with the wolves of Isle Royale National Park

With the Wolves of Isle Royale in an extremely precarious position, how important is a successful Petridish round of fundraising to the your project?

The wolves of Isle Royale have never disappointed – when we observe them carefully they always teach something valuable.  In the past, these wolves and their DNA taught us about “the old grey guy,”  – a wolf that had immigrated from Canada in 1997, when it crossed an ice bridge that had formed that year.  The old grey guy – and his infusion of new genes g the population with of new genes – changed the history of wolves on Isle Royale.  The details of that finding contained insight that has been of valuable for the conservation of many endangered species.

Isle Royale wolves have survived many tough times.  And when they survive this threat it will almost certainly involve a great comeback.  And DNA from wolf scats will be the only way to know the details of that comeback.  Help us be a part of discovering what happens next to this historically and scientifically important population of wolves.

This project will either be a remarkably detailed case study of how a population goes extinct (if that’s what happens), or it will be a remarkably detailed case study of how a scientifically and culturally important wolf population comes back from the edge of extinction.”   Either outcome is scientifically important

RACHEL ARONSON:  Master’s Candidate at the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington and currently a Science Writing Fellow at Washington Sea Grant

I believe that your project, ‘Climate Refugees: Don’t let their culture melt away‘ will resonate with people from all over the globe.  Along with funding, how else could people assist you with your research? Would you be interested in hearing from Climate Refugees from around the world?

I am actually in Iceland for a seminar on Inuit sovereignty, writing a paper on Inuit-led education reform as an adaptation to climate change. So I’ve been thinking a lot this week about my petridish project!

Shishmaref (Alaska) Graveyard

Climate change is a global issue that affects every living being. “Climate refugees” are just some of the first people to experience some of the worst effects of climate change, the physical loss of their home places. Through accidents of geography, economics and culture, it could really be any of us.

I think every person on the planet has a valid story to tell about the effect of climate change on their lives. I would love it if people sent me their stories (great idea!), especially since I plan to use interviewing as my primary research technique for this project. Right now, I think I’m the only Petridish researcher in the social sciences, and I really want to explore what that means over the next month of funding time– maybe I can share climate stories from people around the world!

GEOFF GILLER: Graduate student at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Funding for your project ‘Are there Estrogens in Your Backyard‘ is progressing very quickly – over half way there in only four days! – and you’re welcoming donations ranging anywhere from $1 – $1,000.  For $1,000 donors are invited to come and spend a day in the field, “flipping logs and getting muddy” with you and your team. How important is the PetriDish funding to your research?

We’re thrilled by the rapidity of our fund-raising. Part of the reason is where the donations are coming from; naturally, the first people to hear about this project are our family and friends, who are more likely to donate because they know us personally. But as the project gets re-posted and re-Tweeted and forwarded, the circle of supporters has expanded; there are several donors on the page that none of us knows. That’s one of the great things about this site: on top of raising funds, we’re also raising awareness about our topic of research. Since we’re dealing with contamination in residential areas, it’s something that is pretty universally relevant.

Taricha rivularis and researcher Max Lambert

For our project, this money is extremely important.  Water testing for chemicals like these is extremely expensive. We’ll be purchasing specialized devices that are designed to be used in situations like these, when the concentrations of the chemicals in question are quite small. The devices remain in the bodies of water for extended periods of time, which concentrates the chemicals we’re looking for and increases the likelihood of their detection. The problem with these chemicals is that they can have health impacts at very low concentrations, so we need more specialized equipment to detect them; typical water sampling might not detect them, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not present or causing health problems for humans and wildlife.

Speaking to the Future: What Got Caught in the Safer Internet?

[I’ve recently been asked by several readers to share a piece I initially wrote, for young teen readers, to commemorate and celebrate Safer Internet Day 2012.  This piece was written with a view to instigate and enable conversations between young people and adults, parents and children, about the problems and potential solutions surrounding internet safety.  Here is that piece, which is not part of the ‘Capital I’ Innovation Interview Series:]

When I was asked to write a piece about the future of internet safety, I realized that I am not generally one to give my opinion – on paper at least.  Generally, my job is to interview people and note their opinions.  With that in mind, I decided to interview the future me, the me of 2022, ten years hence, and hear her opinions about the then, current, state of security on the net.

An interview with Kim Chandler McDonald, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of KimmiC, futurist and hyper-technology expert: February 8, 2022 – Sydney, Australia

Kim Chandler McDonald (as she hopes to look in 2022)

What led you to become involved with Safer Internet Day?

I first became involved over ten years ago when I was asked to write a piece about my views on the future of internet safety, a subject I was, and still am very interested in.

Why the interest?  Surely now, after ten years, the internet is much safer.

Oh yes, certainly compared to 2012 the difference is quite striking – especially when it comes to personal data. When I first became involved with Safer Internet Day, the internet was a place with few ‘walls’ and almost no one was able to ‘lock the door’ to their data.

Very few people were aware that they owned their own data. Though the data wasn’t owned by social media sites, they did borrow it – often without permission – and they made money from it, either by selling the data itself, or by using it to sell us things.

That borrowing often led to random strangers being able to access information about us which they shouldn’t have been able to get to.

You make it sound a little like stealing.

I wouldn’t go that far, but… well, lets just say that I’m very glad we now have the power, the the responsibility, to guard our ‘property’ – the place we live on the net – and the stuff we have there… our data.

How did that happen?

It started with IdentityTech authentication protocols.  Once authentication of parties involved in a communication stream became necessary, and individuals were able to control this process themselves – i.e. you decided who had permission to contact you, be it individuals or companies – the common ‘phishing’ communications (or spam) of the first 10-15 years of this century soon dried up.

It’s funny, because we now look back at that time, without permission based contact and authentication, as anarchy.

Was it really that bad?

In some ways, worse than bad.  Lets look at it this way, IdentityTech gave us the power to protect ourselves and our property, so that strangers couldn’t get at it. Lets think of the internet like a house – your online house.  Can you imagine someone you don’t know wandering into your house and rummaging through your things?  Essentially, that’s what was happening on the internet.

IdentityTech gave you a lock and key to your online house.  Now strangers can’t barge into your house and start looking at your pictures and reading your diary.  Anyone who wants to do that has to have your permission. Its sounds like a small change but it actually had a very big effect, on individuals and on some very large companies and industries as well.

How did it change things for individuals?

I’m sure there are countless ways, but a few that come to mind are things like the reduction in online predators (people preying on the vulnerable or less experienced), cyber-bullying, identity theft, and the reduced proliferation of violent/hate sites.  All these things had a huge effect, not just for individuals, but for communities as well.

A safer internet seemed to spread out and be reflected in safer neighbourhoods, town, cities and countries.  I think that’s part and parcel of us deciding to take more responsibility for what we allowed in our lives via the net.

You mentioned changes to companies and industries as a a result of this IdentityTech, can you give me an example?

Well, lets take social media as an example.  Certainly there was a time when social media companies would collect and use information about people.

You make it sound like something out of a spy novel.

That’s funny.  No, that’s not what I meant.  But, it is true that these companies took your data and used it to make money for themselves – they acted like they owned it.  I guess we, the public, didn’t know better at that time… and maybe we were a bit lazy too.  But this changed as the new digital economy matured.  That was already beginning to happen by mid-2012.

One of the consequences of the new digital economy, which IdentityTech enabled, was the realization by individuals – people like you and me – that our data is just that, OUR data.  It didn’t belong to anyone else, and it certainly couldn’t be used, or sold, by anyone else without our permission.

Once people realized that they owned their data, that it had value, and that they could have control over who, when and where this information was provided to other parties, things began to change rapidly.  Data was acknowledged to be a unit of the connected economy, and though it could be available 24/7, it had to be done so in a universally secure and non-proprietorial way – hyper tech enabled that.

But social media companies are still here, and some are still flourishing.

Of course they are, but now they have to share revenue from any profits they make from using our data.

Okay, I don’t get a personal cheque from them each month, but I am pleased that they have to deposit ‘our’ money into trusts, which have been set up to put money back into the public domain and pay for things like the free broadband connectivity which everyone enjoys today.

How the eConomy becomes the meConomy:

The Internet of Things Council recently asked: ‘What is the opposite of Panopticon?’  Here is how I answered their question.

How the eConomy becomes the meConomy:

I propose two things:

1) Individuals are responsible for themselves, and as such, must guard themselves and their ‘property’ – the place they live on the net – and the information kept there. And

2) Perhaps more importantly, THEY own their data. They are the ME in the meConomy.

Currently, few people seem to be aware that they own their data. Instead, it is perceived that organizations such as social media sites and eCommerce businesses either own said data, or have a right to ‘borrow’ and making a profit from it. This situation is not unlike allowing a random stranger to walk into your home, rummage through your drawers, read your diary to find our what your likes and dislikes are, and then sell you items they think will appeal to you. This situation will soon change as the new digital economy and the internet of things matures.

We [KimmiC] see a world in which, an individual’s information etc. is securely stored separately from applications. Said individuals will be responsible for giving explicit authentication and authorization to access any of their information in an audit-able, secure, and granular method.

To date, one part of the web which isn’t being utilized greatly, except in corporations, is authentication and authorization. There is no reason to assume that once people can control access to their information, via authentication and authorization, that they will choose allow the Facebooks, Groupons, etc., along with any and all smart devices, to broadcast their information to anyone concerned. Information will become the new unit of currency on the web and will be traded and valued as such.

In addition, once individuals realize their information is of value – they will not participate in “lurking” businesses that try and profit by utilizing/mining their data for free and take no responsibility for how, and to whom, they distribute this information.

Once authentication and authorization of parties involved in a communication stream becomes necessary, and individuals are empowered to control this process themselves, ‘phishing’ communications ceases. Other results include a reduction in internet predators, cyber-bullying, identity theft, and violent/hate sites. A safer internet in turn reflects safer neighborhoods, town, cities and countries; perhaps because of individuals deciding, naturally, to take more responsibility for what they allow in their lives.

There will be, to my mind, one more consequence of individuals taking back the ownership of their data as a unit of the connected, digital economy, which is available 24/7, in a universally secure and non-proprietorial way.

While social media companies and eCommerce businesses will continue to flourish, market forces will compel them to share revenue from any profits they make from using this data by maintaining monetary trusts – set up by the UN as part of their project to ensure internet connectivity as a basic human right – to put money back into the public domain and pay for things such as free, international, broadband connectivity.”

How the eConomy becomes the meConomy: A response to ‘Panopticon as a metaphor of the Internet of Things – why not? But if it were the opposite?’
By: Kim Chandler McDonald, Exec. V.P. and Flat World Navigator, KimmiC – January 2012

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Chewing on Black Swan for Christmas

Rather than looking back at 2011, we chose to talk to Doug Vining – chief technology adviser to the FutureWorld Global Think Tank and Editor of MindBullets: News from the Future – about the future, and his hopes for it, in this, the last Innovation Interview of 2011.

Doug Vining: Capital I Interview Series – Number 9

Futurist, entrepreneur, guru, writer and editor – these are only some of the words used to describe Doug Vining.  With an eclectic career which has encompassed advertising, corporate consulting, and working for tech titans such as IBM, Doug has had his finger on the pulse of Innovation and its commercial applications – along with its potential for solving real world problems – for many years.  With 30 years in ‘the game’ and three business degrees, Doug is a tech and strategy consultant, with a particular fascination for emerging technology .

You define yourself as a futurist… what does that term mean to you?

Well, I’m part of a group called ‘FutureWorld‘.  What we do is teach companies and organisations how to learn from the future.  They call us ‘futurists’, but we don’t predict the future, the future is impossible to predict.

Life is not perfect, reality is messy, that is what you should expect.  Anything is possible in the future.  What is needed is an attitude of durability and adaptability… expect the unexpected and learn from what could happen.

We look at scenarios.  We don’t say, “This is what will happen.” We say, “This is the kind of thing that could happen.”  Even if some of it would seem to be improbable.

Very often it’s the  least likely scenarios that occur.  Looking at the opportunities in those scenarios and planning a strategy today, that will help you in the future, that’s what we mean by ‘learning from the future’.

Your fellow FutureWorld gurus are very impressive.

Yes.  For over twenty years “Future World” has been in operation, so we have quite an impressive group of gurus.  There are four core members (I’m including myself) who have been involved with the business for about twenty years, and then there are others who come and go, or get involved in one stage or another.

Your fellow core members are Wolfgang Grulke, Anton Musgrave, and Neil Jacobsohn.

That’s exactly right.  Wolfgang started this whole thing when he was still with IBM.  Many years ago he said, you can’t look to the past for strategy.  Strategy has got to be about the future; strategy and innovation are tied together in that future perspective.

“In this warp-speed world it is no longer enough to learn from experience, we must learn from the future.” Wolfgang Grulke

Anton Musgrave

It’s about agility, adaptability and flexibility.  If you expect everything to be ordered and measured, then unfortunately, you’re going to be wrong.

That sounds like one of your MindBullets.

MindBullets: News from the Future‘ was one of several that Wolfgang came up with. The idea was to present a scenario in the form of a short, sharp news story that would make business executives sit up and think. Executives are often far too focussed on operational issues, and need a jolt to get them to think strategically and consider the future.

The mind bullets are little news stories from the future.  We produce one every week, we’ve been doing it for years.  Because we have been doing it for so long, some of those ‘futures’ have become the present, or the past.  It’s quite interesting to see how many of those MindBullets, which we thought were crazy ideas at the time, actually look pretty normal in today’s world.

Such as?

A big one must be world-wide communication and the adoption of cell phones, and smart mobile devices; it’s completely changed the modern world.  We said that these sort of things would become commonplace.

Another example is an article we wrote four or five years about communication becoming a basic human right.  Just last year the United Nations said that internet access should be considered a human right, and countries are starting to put in broadband for their citizens.  Those are the kind of trends that we considered futuristic at the time, and now they’re commonplace.

Would you say that is something like the smart/mobile phone, which enables easy communication, is the most important piece of innovation in your lifetime?

Absolutely.  In my life time I think the most profound piece of innovation has been the internet and the convergence of the internet, cellphones, and smart mobile devices.

The mobile phone on its own has completely changed the way the world works, especially in places like Africa and Asia.  In the past, for example, a manager, or someone with some product, would have to travel to another town to find out if there was a market for their goods, or their labour.  Often that trip would be a fruitless waste of energy and they would miss other opportunities by making it.  Now, with cell phones, they can find out where there is a demand for their services or products.  That completely changes economic opportunities.

And, of course it’s become more pervasive, more into the realm of social communication. We’ve seen what’s happened in Egypt, and Libya and Tunisia.  The catalyst has been the ability to communicate and organise socially, and to be heard.  People who were powerless have been given power.

Speaking of power, FutureWorld has a very impressive list of clients: huge companies and multinationals such as British Airways, Cisco Systems, The Financial Times, Gartner, IBM, Kraft, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle. 

There’s a number of reasons for that.  When we engage with clients on a formal basis we are quite expensive, so start-ups can’t afford us.  And, start-ups normally already have that innovation… that future-looking, crazy-idea mentality.

Therefore, yes, most of our clients are big corporates who are kind of set in their ways and very static.  They need the intervention from FutureWorld to get them to consider programs of innovation such as setting up a separate a business unit to take new ideas into the future.  Start-ups don’t need us and can’t afford us; big companies who can afford us definitely need us.

I suppose one of the ways that a start-up, or an individual, could gain access to you and the rest of the gurus would be to sign up to MindBullets.

Absolutely. There are a number of entrepreneurs who’ve been subscribing to MindBullets for years.  There’s a lot of intellectual property, a lot of our thinking, available for free on our website.  We also started a discussion forum; everyone that subscribes is free to comment and enjoy the conversation.

And the controversy?

That’s the point.  The future actually awards people who stand out.  I mean, look at Steve Jobs. He was the obvious example of the unreasonable man.  He wasn’t part of the crowd; he was a maverick.  He expected the impossible and he often got it.  There’s an old saying: “To change the world all you need is an unreasonable man”.

There’s a book called “The Black Swan“, written by the international speaker Nassim Taleb.  Now, a black swan is an inventor or invention that is unreal, unusual, and appears to be random.  But, it – the black swan – completely changes the landscape and the status quo; so much so that things are never the same again.

The origin of the black swan was from the time in history when all swans were thought to be white (because all swans in Europe were white).  This thought prevailed until someone from Europe went to Australia and ‘discovered’ the black swans there.  Of course the discovery completely changed the previous volume of knowledge… the certainty that all swans were white.

There are so many obvious examples of black-swan events, like the 9/11 attacks, the Fukushima tsunami, and earthquake.  Even the global adoption of mobile phones is a kind of black swan thing.  People didn’t predict it, they didn’t expect to be quite so dramatic, and so profound in its impact.  The key thing about the black swan is the world will never be the same again; we can never go back to the way it used to be.

With that in mind, do you think that movements such as OWS (Occupy Wall Street) are Black Swan events?

I do.  I think that they are important events.  I think they’re also a symptom of a shift in mind-set.

There are a number of themes around this kind of thinking.  The first one is the rise of the individual.  One of the lessons from the future is that the individual becomes much more powerful than institutions, and corporations.  The individual has the power to connect, to communicate, to organise and to make big changes in society, and economies.

A more recent theme, which Niel (Jacobson) and I put together over the last year or so is called “Naked Leadership“.

Neil Jacobsohn

This theme has proved to be very popular with our clients in the last few months.  It looks at social media bringing about things like the Occupy movements, and the uprisings in Egypt, and Tunisia.  There are number of factors playing there: communication, the power of individuals, the transparency that people demand, and the fact that institutions, countries, governments, big businesses, and big brands, are no longer in control.

I wouldn’t like to predict where it’s going to, as it does change from day to day, but there is the argument that Occupy Wall Street is the manifestation of individuals demanding their rights, and their freedom.  On the other hand, there’s a feeling that this could be a kind of socialism which could subjugate individual desires of to those of ‘the group’.  Once the 99% are in power, where does the individual stand?

How very Ayn Rand-ian.

Exactly. It’s about individual rights being under threat.

Speaking of individuals, who inspires you as an Innovator?

One of the innovators who I truly, truly admire is a young chap called Elon Musk.  Elon is a multi-millionaire entrepreneurs living in California, but he is originally from South Africa. He helped found PayPal, which he sold for hundreds of millions of dollars.  He’s currently involved in three things: Tesla Motors (electric cars); SpaceX, his private company, which is the first private commercial company to launch a space craft into the atmosphere and orbit Earth; and, he’s also very interested in the concept of green energy.

Elon Musk

This year [2011] he was awarded half a million dollars for the Heinlein Prize, for ‘accomplishments in commercial space activities’ – which is no mean feat; and apparently (according to Wikipedia and Jon Favreau) he was the inspiration for Tony Stark, of the ‘Iron Man’ movies.

He’s an amazing guy.  And, it just shows you that innovation can come from strange places.  I think Elon epitomises what I consider to be a ‘Capital I’ Innovator.  At FutureWorld we talk about Radical Innovation, which think that ties into your view on “Capital I” innovation.


Radical Innovation creates new products, new businesses, new business units, and creates a steep difference in the performance of a company.  That’s one of the truths you learn from the future… to create radical innovation in your businesses and in your life.

Radical Innovation is about expecting and getting ready for what’s next…  the next big, radical, exponential increase.  Sometimes that means you have to kill off your old business to make room for your new one.

An example of that, of course, is the iPod.  Sony could have had the iPod years before Apple did, but they said: “No! It’s going to cannibalise our Walkman business”.  Of course it did; except Apple did it for them!

That’s just a typical example.  That’s one of the lessons from the future: eat yourself before someone else does.

Its about consistently, and continuously are editing yourself.  Very Darwinian.

Certainly radical innovation is all about taking risks and finding those opportunities that are going to be the next big thing, even if it does mean killing off existing things.

When we go to companies, we try and help them to engage in programs of radical innovation.  We say that they should look at using their existing businesses, which hopefully include some cash cows, to produce the revenue necessary to invest in risky ventures for the future.  It’s like taking some of your mature business lines and nurturing them, while at the same time pouring money into more risky things that may be the next radical businesses of the future.

As a futurist, do you have any thoughts or lessons to share for 2012; what do you think we should be looking out for?

Well the problem is that, for me, 2012 is almost yesterday.  We’re looking beyond 2020, because what’s going to happen next year is already old hat… it’s kind of discarded and even obvious.  The longer view is much more important and much more interesting.  Having said that, there are lots of thing that I expect, maybe not to happen, but to start becoming much more mainstream.

One of the things that I’ve been talking about for years is solar energy becoming cheaper and more efficient.  To the extent that, ultimately, it will probably dominate as a primal form of energy world-wide.  Now, there are many reasons why you might want to debate that, but it certainly seems to be emerging as highly probable.

I’ve got a blog where I talk about ‘The New Energy’.  Whether it’s solar, biofuel, bacteria [microbial fuel cell], genetically-modified organisms or organic waste [pyrolysis], I think it’s definitely in the future.  When?  I don’t know.  But the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned, because it will offer so many opportunities and solutions to problems that everyone assumes can only get worse.

This is the big thing about the future: futurists are very optimistic.  You have to be!

Image: Peter Griffin

I think we will see black swans in climate change, in energy, in communication, and all sorts of things.  I believe that the future beyond 2020 will be a bright future.

(Kim and Doug Skype’d from their homes in Sydney and Johannesburg.)

This is the last Innovation Interview of 2011. I’d like to take this opportunity, on behalf of Michael and myself, to thank all the Interesting, Insightful, and Inspiring ‘Capital I’ Innovators who have given their time so graciously and who’ve been so enthusiastic in becoming involved in the Innovation Interview Series this year.

We’d also like to send our thanks to the thousands of people who have joined us on this journey, as readers, supporters, commentors and influencers.

To all of you we wish a very happy holiday season and an Innovative 2012!


Enabling Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets – The Dream Of Kalsoom Lakhani and i2i

Kalsoom Lakhani is the Founder & CEO of Invest2Innovate (i2i), a global social enterprise intermediary that matches investors with social entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Today i2i celebrates its official launch and we celebrate the opportunity to learn more about it, and its Innovative founder.

Capital I Innovation Interview Series – Number 6

How essential has innovation been in your career to date; and how important do you envisage it being going forward?

Innovation is a very intrinsic part of Invest2Innovate – we even use the term in our company name! The nexus of business and charity is an evolving and disruptive idea, and it’s not always applicable, nor is it always perfect. But it is challenging traditional notions of giving in order to magnify social and environmental impact. That fundamental idea lies at the core of i2i and the ecosystems we are attempting to build in emerging markets.

i2i also works with dynamic entrepreneurs who are introducing innovation into their respective sectors – agriculture, energy, housing, health, the list goes on. We are, and will always be, looking [at] how to incorporate innovative thinking in order to alleviate poverty, and will always support entrepreneurs who are taking similar approaches in these societies.

What do you think is imperative to allow ‘Capital I’ Innovation to occur? 

I think the broader ecosystem is a necessary component for Capital I innovation to flourish. Government support and policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovative ideas are key, but so [is] the support and empowerment of grassroots organizations, business incubators, universities, etc.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of innovation?

When governments suppress freedom of speech and halt the free-flow of information and ideas – innovation comes from collaboration, listening, and learning. That process is halted when there is no freedom to challenge the status quo.

If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? 

Wow, where to even begin? Steve Jobs from Apple, Bill Gates for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the attention he has brought to vital poverty-related issues, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Mohammed Yunus from Grameen Bank, Jacqueline Novogratz for Acumen Fund, Jack Dorsey who founded Twitter, Jeff Skoll, Hasan Abed from BRAC, Mukhtar Mai from Pakistan, Gloria Steinem, the list goes on.

Do you think that location matters? 

These days, I don’t think location matters since we are so globally interconnected. But having more open societies definitely allows for the freer flow of ideas, and the ability to come up with innovation. We definitely see “hubs” of social innovation in the world due to more well-developed ecosystems in those countries (India, East Africa, and Latin America).

What was your impetus for founding Invest2Innovate?

I founded Invest2Innovate, or i2i, because I wanted to address what I perceive to be a space in the growing social entrepreneurship field. Invest2Innovate’s core model provides tailored services to entrepreneurs to maximize their social impact and match them with investors/funders.

But more broadly – i2i believes in the larger ecosystem approach to the markets we work in, and we focus specifically on the “untapped” emerging markets – countries where there is potential for the growth of entrepreneurship, specifically enterprises that take market-based approaches to poverty alleviation, but where the broader ecosystem is still underdeveloped.

In markets like India, East Africa, and Latin America (Brazil and Mexico especially), we have seen an impressive flow of capital, matched by the growth of business incubators, accelerators, consultancies, even in some cases government policy that allow for innovation to truly flourish and succeed. It is not perfect and is still evolving, but it is inspirational.

i2i aims to cultivate similar ecosystems in the markets that are “untapped,” beginning in Pakistan, fostering local networks and collaborations, as well working with regional and global partners to help entrepreneurs achieve and maximize their objectives.

What do you hope Invest2Innovate will accomplish?

I want to help change the conversation happening on the ground regarding the nexus of traditional charity, development and business. There are certainly instances where traditional development is more appropriate, but I hope to help jumpstart dialogue on what has and hasn’t worked, and how entrepreneurship, through job creation and income generation, can ultimately serve in poverty alleviation and provide services with dignity to low-income communities.

i2i won’t be able to do this alone and this will not happen overnight, and we strongly believe in the power of collaboration and partnership to help achieve these goals. At the end of the day, we can only serve so many social entrepreneurs every year. But, if we can help construct the broader environment, our impact will be magnified.

Have you already got investors and social entrepreneurs lined up to take part? If so, can you tell us who?

Sure – so far, i2i will be working with EcoEnergy Finance, a non-profit that provides clean energy solutions to the rural poor in Pakistan, and Milk-Op, which  is a for-profit social enterprise that provides income generation opportunities for small-scale dairy farmers and aims to improve the dairy cold chain in Pakistan. I have a few other social entrepreneurs (and investors) in the pipeline, but I don’t want to jinx since they are in the process of being solidified!

How do you see i2i differing from the traditional micro finance model?

Micro finance as a whole is going through so much flux, and its definitely part of the industry. Micro finance does smaller loans, and focuses on those smaller businesses. But there seems to be a missing ‘middle’ between big businesses and micro finance, for SMEs who are looking to grow their own businesses. That’s where we see the potential for job creation.

Does that mean you are, in essence, looking to grow a ‘middle class’ of business?

I think that it already exists to some extent in some of these markets. But, they don’t have the support they need to really flourish and to maximise their potential or even know how to attract capital.

While I wouldn’t take the credit and say that we’re going to grow a middle class, I would say that we would love to be contributors in order to provide the support that a lot of these businesses need. And then by providing that environment, by doing workshops and helping with broader media campaigns, to help inspire others to go into this field.

How is Innovation viewed in Pakistan?

Considering we continue to recycle the same political parties over and over again, and can never have an honest conversation about what’s wrong in the country without pointing fingers, I’d say we have an uphill battle to climb when it comes to innovation. That being said, I know so many amazing and innovative individuals in the country who are truly changemakers – they keep me inspired and hopeful.

Saba Gul Co-Founder/Executive Director of BLISS

Shazia Khan Founder/Executive Director of EcoEnergy Finance talking to villagers

Do you have examples of Innovative Pakistani companies and organisations?

Yes! Naya Jeevan is a social enterprise, providing microinsurance to the urban poor of Pakistan; Monis Rahman launched, the largest jobs site in the country, Seema Aziz is the female entrepreneur behind Bareeze but also Care(schools), Saiban and Ansaar Management Company (AMC) are providing low-cost housing in the country for the poor, the Kashf Foundation is one of the larger and more successful microfinance organizations, Telenor Pakistanpartnered with a microfinance bank to launch a successful mobile banking initiative, the list goes on!

One could imagine that it is a difficult time to be trying to create a positive bond between the US and Pakistan with, at least certain parts of, the media painting a a strange and convoluted picture of the relationship between the two countries. 

Its interesting because I’m part of this network of young innovators in their early twenties called the Sandbox network. About a month ago I was able to pitch i2i to them and present challenges which the group answered.

A few people in there were really swayed by the news, saying, “Well no one is going to want to invest in Pakistan.” That tends to be what a lot people say. It’s obviously disconcerting as things appear increasingly more volatile on the ground; but my experience has been that there’s a lot  of opportunity in the country that I really want to highlight.

When you’re in the country itself there’s such a palpable energy and there’s such potential for change.  There’s such a large percentage of the population that’s young and really wants to work for the betterment of the country.

I don’t feel that we’re going to get a huge influx of US investment overnight, and that’s where I see the challenge and the opportunity to help change perceptions. But I also believe in the idea of building indigenous networks first… being able to build local investment capacity, as well as the diaspora network. A lot of the issues facing Pakistan have forced me to think pretty creatively about the process.

I think there’s a lot of opportunities in Pakistan BECAUSE there are so many issues facing the country and that 66% of the population is living on under $2 per day. Because of those statistics I really feel like there’s a huge amount of opportunity that entrepreneurship can bring, and there’s a lot of movement within the government.

The Planning Commission of Pakistan has been making a lot of moves and recommendations to the government to allow for a more productive environment for entrepreneurship. Its not going to be easy, and there’s obviously a lot of obstacles, but I think that the window of opportunity is right now.

Congratulations on your launch. Can you give me some details on it?

I decided to launch in September because I wanted to time it withSoCap. We won one of the scholarships to SoCap, so we’re going to be blogging throughout the conference for their blog. We hope there’s going to be opportunities to get more visibility at the conference.

And then I go to Pakistan right after, where we’re going to be doing a lot of meetings and developing our local mentor networks. We’re going to be doing mini launches and panels with our partners on the ground. There’s a lot of great platforms we’re going to be looking at, like round tables, to be able to explain what i2i does. We’ll also to be able to give a platform to a lot of the social entrepreneurs that are already in the country. Its almost like doing a road show while I’m there, as well as starting up a local entity and hiring someone to start the [local] team.

Then I come back to DC in October where I’ll be doing our launch here to help create a community that’s based in D.C.

As well as your blog for SoCap, will you also be blogging through your time in Pakistan?

Yes, I’m one of the managing editors of Think Change-Pakistan which tracks the social entrepreneurship and innovation space in the country. What I’m hoping to do is daily dispatches from the ground as I experience different things. My tumbler account is much more informal, where I’m posting videos and quotes, looking at the things I go through in the process and things that inspire me every day. But I look for the dispatches to be more formal as I go on the ground and work more closely with our clients, develop our mentors and keep people informed. I believe in transparency and I want people to feel invested in Invest2Innovate.

It seems that there is a long tradition of community collaboration in Pakistan. 

Very much so; that’s also evident in the Diaspora network. A lot of money that flows into the country is actually coming from remittances from the Diaspora network.

I assume that that tradition will assist in fostering the business collaboration you look to engender.

I’m really hopeful for that. One thing that’s really wonderful about the social entrepreneurship space, as opposed to just the traditional business space, is its much more of a collaborative space. Everyone I’m partnering with is so open to the idea of fostering a community. Because I have such open partners and such amazing potential collaborations already in place I feel really confident that we can help to develop this community.

This how we aim to enter every community we work in. Obviously we’re starting in Pakistan but if we look at scaling to Sri Lanka or Egypt, the way that we do it is by developing these local networks.

Why is Invest2Innovate focussed on emerging markets in particular?

The need is great in emerging markets – particularly because they are still developing and the percentage of the population living under the poverty line is relatively high – in Pakistan 66% of the country lives under $2 a day. By virtue of taking these market-based approaches, entrepreneurs can ultimately create jobs, generate income, and provide much-needed services to a very large percentage of these societies, and contribute to a much larger economic impact.

Do you see i2i having a footprint in Egypt, with its huge potential market, and Libya, which has been in the news so much recently?

I was recently at an event where I was asked, “If I got you investment tomorrow, would you go in [to Egypt] now, rather than in three years?” My answer was No.

I think that Egypt has some figuring out to do right now, as does Libya. There’s a huge surge of energy, but there’s a lot that needs to be done before they can be considered to be emerging markets. I’m really excited about the opportunities that Egypt could have in the next year or two, but I’m waiting to see which direction it goes in before I commit.

Sri Lanka is a really interesting case as its post conflict. Though conflict has been an intrinsic part of that society, the government is really open to businesses to come in. Its a very open society in terms of entrepreneurship, so there’s a lot of opportunity there that I’m really excited about.

What are your long-term plans for i2i?

I have a five year and ten year plan. I would love us to be the intermediary or first mover in every untapped market in the world. I’m focussed on Pakistan for the next three years but I’m already thinking about where I want to scale in the next five to six years. I’d love to have a lot of legitimacy with investors but also a lot of credibility within the markets that we’re working in. We’d like to be in at least two or three markets in the next five years.

If someone wanted to get involved in i2i, what should they do?

The can email me. I’m always available to accept help. I’m at the stage right now where its kind of overwhelming, in an exciting way. I’d love to have people who are excited and impassioned about the idea get involved.

You can follow Kalsoom on Twitter, join the i2i Facebook page, or email her at 

Prior to i2i, Kalsoom was the director of Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of ML Resources, LLC, a private investment firm based in Washington, D.C. Social Vision provides seed grants and hands-on support for social enterprises and innovative initiatives in their start-up stages, mainly in Pakistan.

Kalsoom is a managing editor and helped launch Think Change-Pakistan, a blog that tracks the social entrepreneurship and innovation space in the country. She also founded and runs the popular blog, CHUP, or Changing Up Pakistan, which was established in January 2008 and aims to raise awareness on the issues affecting Pakistan through news analysis, interviews, and contributions by young Pakistanis. She has written for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, and Pakistan’s Dawn Newspaper. Prior to her work at ML Resources, she was a senior analyst at Lincoln Group, LLC, a strategic communications firm based in Washington, D.C. 

Kalsoom has a B.A. from the University of Virginia in Foreign Affairs and Middle East Studies, and an M.A. from The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in International Affairs/Conflict Resolution. She is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Do Fries Go With That Business Shake(up)?

Capital I Innovation Interview Series – Number 5

Vincent Hunt is a man on a mission. And what is that mission? To make change. With his  tool box including the skill sets of lateral and creative thinking along with design, he is an enthusiastic, some might say evangelistic, proponent of the newly emerging role of CIO – Chief INNOVATION Officer.

Now I must be honest and say that, first off, that after ten years in the Netherlands, and two years in Sydney, sometimes the only change  – let alone innovation – I’m looking for in the hospitality industry is, well, some hospitality. That said, there is definitely a a scent of change in the air, and there are those that are leading the way. One such leader is Vincent Hunt.

Vincent is Co-founder, Chairman & Chief Innovation Officer at Kind Intelligence, which leverages cloud, mobile and social technology to bring Innovation to the hospitality industry through Hospitality Intelligence.

Vincent, how essential has innovation been in your career to date; and how important do you envisage it being going forward?

Innovation has been, in essence, the foundation of my career for quite some time, I can not remember a time where innovation has not been a factor in my professional development.  As individuals, I believe that we each have a responsibility to ourselves to continually challenge ourselves through rethinking, redefining and re-inventing who we are. EVEN as it pertains to our career, in-fact, I believe that this is one of the areas of our lives, more now than ever, that we should be exposing ourselves to “internal innovation” – evolving, and growing in a time where our historical perceptions of work are being challenged .  So not only has innovation been important in MY career, innovation has quintessentially shaped my career.

What do you think is imperative to allow ‘Capital I’ Innovation to occur? reform

I’m totally anti-politics, so I am going to steer away from that end of the question, BUT what I am going to do is dig in where my heart resides. Education.

I believe that if we are to see and benefit from one of the greatest paradigm shifts in innovation we will ever see in OUR lifetime, and if not this lifetime, one shortly after… We MUST authorize, and unleash one of the greatest and most powerful innovative forces the world has ever seen… Generation Y, the Echo Boomers and post Echo Boomers, and I think it starts with the education system.

This generation is growing up in a post-industrial world, and experiencing an industrial education system. While there is little emphasis on the arts, creativity in equal parts, and we are seeing children as young as 7 or 8 years old being diagnosed ADHD and sedated out of their creative potential, simply for the sake of conforming to  a system that was pretty much designed to produce industrial minded contributors, citizens… We have to not only evolve the education system, we have to turn it on it’s head and start exploring the creative capacity of our children.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of innovation?

Some of the main barriers to the success of innovation, in my humble opinion are, and some of these may overlay one another…

1. Resistance to change

2. Rigorous conditioning by the collective mind

3. Fear

4. The protest of “play” within the workplace

5. Habit/Routine

8. If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? 

This one is tough because I believe in so many of the Capital I Innovators… So can I give two? Please??!!

1. Tom Peters and

2. Apple …

Tom Peters, has, in my opinion, single handedly turned the business world upside down for the better. In his provocative book Re-Imagine (2006), Tom Peters gave us a Manifesto for the way we should view work where, not only was he Visionary and concise, BUT he ushered in a whole new way to think about business. Tom Peters talked about Social Media well before the phrase “Social Media” existed.  And TO THIS DAY, Tom Peters continues to define the foundation of business from a radical new paradigm, that gives Innovators a roadmap to navigate by…. Revolutionary.

Apple… Not only does Apple have the “chops” to create incredible products, the iPhone (game changer), the iMac (simply beautiful, and oh yeah… powerful), the iOs (revolutionary)… BUT they also believe in Design Thinking like no other company that I can put my finger on today (besides the champions of the thinking, Ideo, Frog, to name a couple), and it’s this “difference” that leads them to design and innovation excellence.

As it pertains to their “Capital I” contribution… one product that really rings true to me is the iPhone, and later the iPad.  I can remember when the iPhone first came into the marketplace, and I clearly remember the competition saying things like “It’s just another cell phone, with an oversized screen and touchpad… Big deal…” AND big deal it was… Because it was not only the beautiful aesthetics that made the iPhone amazing, it was the thinking behind the iPhone that was the “Innovation”.

The iPhone was the first hand-held device that gave the users the power to create the experience THEY wanted, and that was, and is, magical. Apple totally rethought the cell phone, and what it meant to us as a people, and the “mobile device”  (surely we can’t keep calling them cell phones now… right) will never be the same.

How do you see Capital I Innovation changing the hospitality industry?

The Hospitality Industry is going through a major shift right now, greatly in-part to the emergence of what I like to call the “Connected Consumer”.  Consumers have more opportunity than they have ever had, to shape, and re-shape, their experiences.

For the first time, the voice of the consumer is richly audible and influential, and brands are starting to understand that their brand experience is in large part, at the mercy of the consumer voice [via] Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Urban Spoon, Foodspotting… enabling technologies that are a direct line of influence on the hospitality industry.  If one person has a bad experience at a hotel, that one bad experience can instantly change the perception of thousands upon thousands of people that MAY be thinking about visiting that hotel, and one tweet, retweeted can make that happen.

At Kind Intelligence, we conceptualize and develop breakthrough ideas that 1. help hospitality industry professionals streamline operational efficiencies, but more importantly, 2. we are feverishly thinking about ways that we can turn the hospitality industry on it’s head to deliver rich, and meaningful customer experiences.  Our innovations rest in “delivering better ways of doing things based on new sets of data”… new, deeper, demographic information (Hospitality Intelligence 2.0).

We think about empathetic intelligence. I can learn more about you. I can learn your mood at any given point of the day, and for the first time, I can market to moods. The Connected Consumer is giving us more data than every before, the question is how do we leverage that data and how do we make solutions that improve the customers experience. Does this means that one day you’ll be able to walk into a restaurant and be offered a completely unique experience, could that be possible? Absolutely.

I can see Capital I Innovation shifting how consumers connect with hospitality brands, but more importantly, how hospitality brands connect with the consumers.

Do you think the ‘Groupon Effect’ emboldening innovation in the industry?

I think that Groupon is a great idea, from the consumer side of the house, as they’re are able to get deals and save a lot of great money. But I think it hinders the growth and potential of some restauranteurs and other companies because they discount their products and services and reduce the value of their offerings.

What is the difference between ‘Possibility Thinking vs Competition Thinking’?

This is something that I am fanatical about, and it’s become the foundational thinking that we embrace at Kind. We don’t think in terms of  ‘competition’ because we feel that that only leads to incremental (at best) change. We lean towards focusing on what is ‘possible’, which often leads to a more disruptive form of innovation.

Right now we are working on a massive project with Mutual Mobile out of Austin Texas called Menulus, that we feel will totally reinvent the dining experience. Menulus, [which we’re launching in the first Quarter of  2012] was designed based on possibility thinking, and some of it’s abilities are going to “shake up” the mobile space in a very profound way.

‘Possibility Thinking’ is innovating based on what is possible in todays marketplace vs ‘Competition Thinking’, which suggest that we simply innovate, a little, to beat the competition. It’s the difference between taking an ‘innovation’ stance vs a  ‘disruptive innovation’ stance.

It sounds like Menulus is going to enable Micro-pitches to the consumer. 

Through micro-pitches we have ways of extending Kindness, and that’s where the name of our company comes from.  Kindness is a choice, but I need tools to help me make better choices and that’s where the semantic web and Web 3.0 really empowers what Menulus is all about.

Could we potentially have a POS (Point of Sale) System that’s integrated into the menu in real time? Could we have consumer facing tools that allowed us to discover food and restaurants in completely new ways that are more catered to our preferences – all the way down to our calorie counts? Can we do that? Absolutely. And we did it.

Tell me about The Hospitality Intelligence Company.

Kind, The Hospitality Intelligence Company focuses on conceptualizing and developing breakthrough ideas that streamline operational efficiencies and improve customer experiences within the hospitality industry.  Our value proposition rest in our  “thinking” vs our “doing”.  We work with really creative people to develop new products, services and brands that can fulfill our companies objectives and ethos… The pursuit of design and innovation excellence.

When we formed Kind Intelligence I knew I had to take the position of CIO, Chief INNOVATION Officer, as I wanted the ethos of the company to reside there, in design and innovation excellence. I oversee the Innovation Initiatives of this company, I drive that. Its interesting to be in this role at such a critical time in our economic transition, going from the Industrial Age into the Creative Age.

Here in the US the role of Chief Innovation Officer is fairly new. You have them, but you don’t have that many of them. The other component to that is that I am African American. I think I am one of only a few African American Chief Innovation Officers in the country.

Why do you think that is?

If I talk to 10 colleagues and ask them what a CIO is, they’ll all say ‘Chief Information Officer’. They just don’t know that this position exists, so they don’t know to pursue it.

That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to be in this role, because I plan on championing it and bringing it to the forefront. Saying, “This is what a Chief Innovation Officer does; and yes, you can be one!”

Its seems that in his role as Chief INNOVATION Officer, Vincent Hunt is shaking up more than the hospitality Industry. I know I’m not alone in seeing where his enthusiasm and expertise lead.

[More information on the Semantic Web and business here.]

Vint Cerf: Father Knows Best!

Capital I Interview Series – Number 2 (Part 1)

KimmiC chats with ‘Father of the Internet’, Vinton ‘Vint’ Cerf

(Along with our particular questions, we invited some of our readers to submit their own queries to Vint, which he was happy to answer. Thanks go out to to “e-Patient Dave” Dave deBronkart, Brent Hall, and Roger Kermode for taking part!)

Imagine having the opportunity to ask Johannes Gutenberg about his thoughts on how his printing press would change the industry – let alone his opinion on how his press would change the world. Well, essentially, that’s the chance that I’ve had this morning, when I was given the opportunity to speak to Google‘s VP and Chief Internet Evangelist, Vinton ‘Vint’ Cerf, known around the world as one of ‘fathers of the internet’.

When looking for a ‘poster child’ for Capital I Innovation, Vint is, to many – myself included – at the top of an impressive, international list. His list of awards and medals from around the globe is vast, as is his experience and range of interests. I do believe, in this instance, it is fair to say that when discussing Capital I Innovation – especially as it relates to the internet – ‘Father really does know best’.

As this series is based on Capital I Innovation, Lets start with how you define Innovation?
I think capital “I” innovation happens when something new is invented that has very large potential for cultural and/or economic change. However, it is important to appreciate that some innovations are stillborn if they are not, in fact, taken up widely.

In a recent book entitled Why the West Rules – For Now by Ian Morris (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York), evidence is given that strongly points to the long term evolution and adoption of agriculture ultimately replacing a hunter-gatherer way of life. The process is not instantaneous but it has dramatic effects on culture and economy.

We sometimes think of Innovation as a sudden invention but often it takes decades and even centuries to have an effect. The printing press took centuries to have its primary effect. The telegraph, railroads, highways, radio, television and even the Internet took decades but those are a blink of the eye in terms of human history, which is fairly short itself (a few tens of thousands of year for prehistory, perhaps 8,000 for “history”).

Do you see a difference between ‘little i’ and ‘Capital I’ Innovation?
Yes, I think of the lower case instance as sequential refinement and adaptation while the basic Innovation might be a dramatically different way of doing something.

The Industrial Revolution is capitalized because of that – a shift from manpower or animal power to harnessing non-biological forms of mechanical energy (water power from rivers; steam from coal and wood; hydro-electric, oil, gas, wind or solar generated electricity; internal combustion engine; fractional horsepower motors).

The Transistor (and reed switches or vacuum tubes) ushered in the harnessing the power of “mechanical” thought using computers and programs. The Telegraph ushered in new forms of communication that eventually lead to the telephone, radio, television, optical fiber, coaxial cable, microwave, etc.

Printing Telegraph

The combination of computing and communication, once the economics reached a certain level, created the conditions for the invention of packet switching and, eventually, the Internet and many other kinds of computer-based networks.

With that in mind, do you think that Cloud Computing is big enough – different enough – to be capitalised?
Yes I do, for a couple of reasons. I’ve been jokingly saying that it is like time-sharing on steroids, as, like time-sharing, it does share the same resources. However, the scale of a Cloud system is so dramatically different than any time-sharing system that’s ever existed that it does deserve to be Capital I. There is a common belief that once you scale up by a three or four orders of magnitude you are in a different space than you were before.

Of course, this raises a very interesting question about the internet, because the internet is now 6 orders of magnitude bigger than it was when we first launched it in 1983. You have to ask yourself, is it still the same architecture, the same protocols? What’s different?

Of course one thing that’s different is that there are two billion users. Another thing that’s different is that the world wide web wasn’t there, and now it is – that [came] 10 years after launch. Its also available on mobiles, which didn’t exist. So, there are a whole bunch of things about that scaling up, including data and video, which could allow you to argue that this is a whole different beast now.

The meeting I just came back from in Paris suggests this. If anyone had suggested to me in 1983 that in 2011 there would be a meeting of 50 or so countries in the OECD, for two days talking about the internet economy, concerns about intellectual property, crime on the net and so on… I would have scratched my head and said, this thing is for the military, and the research community.

You’re called by many, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. What do you think of your baby now?

  • Astonished at its evolution and growth,
  • Hopeful that it will reach well beyond the present 2 billion users,
  • Amazed at the response to the WWW infrastructure,
  • Worried about government intervention that might seriously harm the openness that has driven innovation in and around the Internet,
  • Excited by the possibility of extending its operation across the solar system to support manned and robotic space exploration,
  • Envious of kids who get to use it at age 5 when I had to wait until I was 28… and we had to invent it first!

What is the most important piece of innovation, which has launched in your lifetime?
The obvious answer for me is, of course, the Internet, but in fact it depended on the creation of conditions that allowed this idea to be explored and, ultimately, exploited.

The ARPANET, the successful invention of packet switching, the invention of the Ethernet, the invention of the Unix operating system, the invention of the mini-computer (ie. something that could afford to be replicated and used as packet switches or routers), the invention of high speed, long distance communication technology (wired, wireless, satellite, mobile…). Those, and so many more technologies, all had to be readily available for the Internet to grow.

Business models had to be invented, not only to make and sell the equipment and software needed for the Internet to operate but for the support of the enterprises that grew up around the World Wide Web (WWW). The WWW itself would not likely have amounted to much had it not had an Internet on which to be supported. It was invented or at least became operational in a single node in December 1990, six years after the Internet became available to the academic and military communities and contemporary with the development of a commercial Internet service.

I was born in 1943. I grew up using a three-party, black dial up telephone with long-distance operators. There was no television to speak of. Jet planes were purely military. Early in my life, the atomic bomb was invented, tested and used. Microwave and radar were military systems. Sputnik happened when I was 15 and just entering high school.

We landed on the moon when I was 26. At 18 I worked in a small way on the F-1 booster rocket engines used in the Saturn V rocket that put the astronauts in orbit around the Earth.

The microwave oven became a commodity in my lifetime as did jet travel. The computer was very new during my early lifetime and I was introduced to the tube-based SAGE system (Semi-Automated Ground Environment) when I was 15.

Lasers were invented in my life time and have myriad uses today. Robotic surgical systems such as the Intuitive Surgical Da Vinci system were invented in my lifetime. So was the Pill (by Syntex and others, for birth control). The discovery of the structure of DNA occurs around 1953 when I am ten years old.

While relativity and quantum theory were already a few decades old when I was born, the existence of quarks wasn’t really demonstrated until 1968 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), at about the time I am working on the ARPANET at UCLA. The cochlear implant, invented by Graeme Clark beginning in 1973, was a long process, but had utterly spectacular results. My wife, who was profoundly deaf for 50 years, has two implants and is living a second life as a result!

What piece of innovation did you expect to happen/take off, that didn’t?
Two things were really disappointing. When I was working on the Saturn F-1 engines in 1962, I really did think that we would have regular, weekly space launches in 20 years, maybe out of the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles where the famous Lockheed “Skunkworks” is located. I also thought that we would be flying personal helicopters by then, too.

I also thought 20 years was a long time (more than twice my lifetime at that point). I was wrong about all three, but I am not disappointed to have outlived thrice my lifetime at age 19!!

Where does the Interplanetary Internet project stands at the moment – and why do you think it is important?
The standards are firming up well. There are implementations of the Bundle Protocol and the Licklider Transport Protocol that realize the Interplanetary Internet architecture. Instances are on board the International Space Station and the EPOXI spacecraft. Discussions are underway in the Consultative Committee on Space Data Systems to standardize these protocols for international use.

If all space-faring nations adopt these protocols, then all espacecraft will be able to communicate with each other. Once they have completed their primary scientific missions, they can be re-purposed to become part of an interplanetary backbone network. One can imagine the aggregation of a solar internet over a period of decades, in support of both manned and robotic exploration.

Here on earth, are entrepreneurs born or made?
I think there has to be a combination of conditions to allow entrepreneurship to happen. A person has to be willing to take risks, and that often has a genetic component. But a person’s experience with risk also has to have had some positive feedback effect. If you are never successful at taking risk, you are likely to learn to be very conservative.

Conditions also have to be right to allow the risk-taking to go on long enough to produce results. This is the so called “runway” needed to go from the idea to a successful, profitable or at least self-sustaining business. It should be noted, however, that not all inventors are entrepreneurs. They may take risks in the technical sense but not necessarily in the personal (livelihood) sense.

Conditions for invention may actually require that the inventor be shielded from economic risk while exploring ideas that may have a high pay off in some sense, but such high risk that no one could afford to take the personal risk needed to explore them.

This is one reason that it is often a government that has to make the investment in research in high-risk area,s since no business or inventor would take the economic risk. It is also why inventors often die in poverty (think of Tesla) [while] others harvest wealth in addition to technical success.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of innovation?
Sometimes they are technical (can’t process that much information in a timely way, can’t store it, can’t build a big enough data platform, uses too much power) or economic (can’t deploy the necessary infrastructure, devices out of consumer reach) or operational (too bulky, battery life too short, displays don’t work in all lighting conditions). Sometimes the major barrier is that the private sector doesn’t give innovative employees the freedom to fail.

For any particular innovation, the conditions for its sustainable growth and use may simply not yet be ready.

What do you think is imperative to allow ‘Capital I’ Innovation to occur?
Not all Innovations require government support, but often this is the only path to initial success because the risks are too high for the private sector, even venture capital or angel investors to take.

Google was essentially entirely private sector funded and that’s something of an anomaly, given its stunning success. In that case, angel investment was an important component.

Economics is another critical factor. It is possible to have a breakthrough invention that is simply too expensive for widespread adoption.

Mobiles have been stunningly successful but took many years to emerge because the costs and the physical size, battery life, and infrastructure were a long time in development. Tax breaks can be sustaining but generally don’t lead to capital I innovation, to first order.

If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? This could be individuals, organizations and/or companies (it could also be yourself!).

Does Innovation have a nation?
I think there is no country that has a lock on innovation but some places, like Silicon Valley, have conditions that support it better than many other places. You have:

  • a continuous stream of trained, high technology graduates,
  • experienced business people,
  • venture capitalists,
  • a liquid stock market,
  • mobility from company to company, and
  • a community of players that know each other.

It is a potent brew. There are more smart people, in absolute numbers, outside of Silicon Valley than inside, but the conditions in SV are remarkable.

Is innovation an overused term?
Yes in some ways. It is too much the focus when one should be asking “under what conditions can innovation take hold and become a real driver of economic growth?”.

It could be said that a huge amount of the core innovations that we use seems to have come out of either government funding and/or telco’s (for instance MCI and AT&T). Do you agree with this? And if so, do you think it was past structural, political and economic situations that made these innovations possible.
I think we should be very careful to distinguish between innovation and participation within the infrastructure. MCI supplied point-to-point high speed pipes to build the NSFNET backbone, to build the vBNS network, and to ultimately build Internet MCI a publicly available internet service.

Where they DID pioneer was in the commercial use of optical fibre. You have to give them credit for that, and for participating in the National Science Foundation Network by contributing underlying transmission resources. The fact that they were willing to get into the game is different than them being the inventors of it.

The real innovators for NSFNET were Merit and IBM. Particularly IBM, which designed and built the original routers; though they didn’t really follow up on that. Ironically IBM built the routers for the NSFNET back bone but Cisco systems, Juniper and others turned out to inherit all the commercial value from it.

AT&T, as a very successful monopoly, had an enormous amount of resources, which they put into AT&T Bell labs. Bell Labs was absolutely one of the most innovative places anywhere in the world. Nobel prizes have come out of there, the transistor came out of there. There’s no doubt in my mind that something was lost when AT&T was broken up.

The one thing about MCI which was interesting was that, instead of doing research, they would dangle a $250m dollar cheque in front of company and say, “If you can do this, I will buy a quarter of a billion dollars worth…” Its amazing how much R&D you get out of people when you do that. So, rather than taking all the risks themselves MCI simply said, we’ll buy a lot of stuff if you make this happen.

And yes, there’s no question in my mind that government sponsorship for this kind of high risk research is important.

Many nations are in the midst of debates about Broadband. You were recently quoted as saying that you believe” internet bandwidth can increase exponentially,” adding that this would, among other applications, “enable greater access to high-def video.” Other than being able to get the latest blockbuster downloaded in no time, where else do you see it being of use?
The term “exponential” is not one I would use (a reporter put that word in my mouth). However, I do believe we are far from fully taking advantage of communication technology to achieve many gigabits per second, end-to-end on the Internet.

These speeds have a transformative potential because they dramatically reduce the cost of moving information in large quantities from one place to another. It allows replication for resilience and safety. Large files like MRI scans will be easily retrievable and processable with higher speed transport.

We can build much larger data processing systems when we can interlink the processors at terabit and higher speeds. In a recent technical session, serious mention was made of 1000Tbs (that’s a petabit per second). Holographic simulations will benefit from speeds of this kind.

By the way, Stephen Conroy was in Paris with me for the OECD Conference, and I have to say that I continue to stand in awe of the Australian Government decision to fund the fibre network.

Stephen Conroy launching the Digital Strategy 2020 (

This is the kind of infrastructure investment that probably would not ever be made by the private sector. There would be parts of the community left out, there would be economic decisions that would reduce capacity….

This is a very big deal and I’m hoping that it all works out. If it does, it would be a bell weather example of why government investment in fundamental infrastructure is so important.

This leads neatly to Roger Kermode‘s question: What advice would you give Australian ISPs, governments and businesses to take best advantage of the NBN?
First of all, because its a Level 2 infrastructure, anybody who wants to is free to put up a level 3 routing system on top of it. That means they can all compete for any business or individual subscribers service. Then on top of that you have the enabling effect of the broadband capability. This means that people can put applications up there that they would never have put up without such a broadband infrastructure.

Next, with the fact that everybody is online, or very nearly everybody, you can begin to say, “We are going to do ‘X‘ for the entire population,” and have a reasonable expectation that you will, in fact, reach the entire population.

For example, when it comes to healthcare, and the possibility of remote diagnosis and things like that, you’d be in a position to actually exercise that idea. Whereas, most other places, including here in the U.S. would not.

I anticipate that if this infrastructure goes into place and it operates reliably that you will be exploring a space of ‘online-ness’ which no other country has ever experienced.

End of Part 1 – Follow our blog and Part 2 will be delivered to your in box next week!

Part 2 – Next week we talk about net neutrality, eHealth, Telcos, Google, the Open Government Initiative and more (including a message to Australian Senator Stephen Conroy)!

(Kim and Vint Skype’d between from their homes in Sydney and Washington D.C.)

[This interview has been translated into the Serbo-Croatian language by Jovana Milutinovich of]

Innovation in Marketing…. Cannes Do!

Capital I Interview Series – No. 1:                                                              

KimmiC chats with multi-award winning, ‘Capital I’ Advertising Innovator, Matt Batten

Each day the average person is exposed to hundreds – some say thousands – of advertisements. Generally they range from boring to the utterly banal. In fact, I’d posit that most slide out of our consciousness without us realizing what it is they’re actually advertising.

However, occasionally there are a few fantastic pieces of artful, magical marketing, which embed themselves in the psyche of a nation – sometimes a generation.

Personally, when I think of favourite commercials, and yes, I have a few, each of them tends to reflect the times in which they were created – be it for bologna or beer. I know I’m not alone in thinking that occasionally the commercials are more entertaining than the purported entertainment they are slotted in around.  There are, in fact, a myriad of websites dedicated to these entertaining, award winning ads from around the world.

Without doubt, the preeminent award ceremony for the advertising industry, is the annual, week-long, Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Its a time when global Innovators in advertising and marketing gather together to celebrate excellence in their industry and honour the most creative campaigns from around the world – in 2010 more than 24,000 entries were received.

This year, for the first year, Matt Batten, the Executive Creative Director of Wunderman Sydney, was invited to be a judge on the Cannes Lions Direct jury. On his return from Cannes we grabbed the opportunity to explore his thoughts on ‘Capital I’ Innovation in general, and how it applies to his creative  industry in particular.

Matt’s impressive bio includes:

  • Creative of the Year 2010, APAC – Digital Media Awards, Beijing.
  • Collecting more trophies than any other Australian creative at the 2008 ADMA Awards.
  • Being the only Art Director in the world with two campaigns in the Top 10 of Won Report’s World’s 50 Best DM Campaigns 2005.

A man with a myriad of interests and talents, an intelligent eclectic, Matt is probably never short of a dinner party invitation. His many interests include antique books, all things old (and French) swordplay, archery, photography, screenwriting and winning – yes, definitely winning.

Matt, do you think that having a wide range of interests has helped you as a Capital I Innovator?
I’m a curious mind. I have a head for mathematics and science and often investigate the hidden relationships between numbers or objects. To that end I will always endeavor to find out the answer to something I don’t know.

This job is all about problem solving. Which is why my fellow Direct jurors and I
unanimously selected the ‘Rom‘ campaign for the Grand Prix. As did the separate Promo jury, totally independent of us

When it came down to three contenders (don’t ask who the other two were), one was an example of the technology and future of advertising, one was a perfect embodiment of the brand’s higher positioning, while the third, Rom, saved a business. And that’s what we do as advertisers. Every communication is to solve a business problem and prevent it from losing market share.

How was jury duty – what were the perks and the pesky problems?
This was my first time as a Cannes Lions juror. I found it exhilarating and draining at the same time – a 14 hour day followed by a 12 hour day.

The biggest perk is being in Cannes throughout the whole process in the lead up to the Festival and witnessing this town metamorphosis from sleepy seaside town to the largest and most opulent celebration of creative advertising. Following that is the honor of meeting and working alongside my fellow judges from around the world, all of whom are talented, interesting and funny people. Of all the judging panels I’ve been lucky enough to be part of, I have never laughed so hard than in the past five days with the Cannes Direct Lions jurors.

I like to think that the Cannes Lions crowd will be inundated with Capital I Innovators… am I right?

I hope so. These guys are our peers, and our future replacements who’d better be
twice as innovative as our generation of advertising Creatives has been.

What was your favourite campaign, and your favourite win?
When I first saw Ogilvy Argentina’s ‘Friendship Machine‘ for Coca-Cola, I thought I had found my pick for the Grand Prix. It’s honest, emotional, beautiful and effective.  Then I saw Ferrorama’s campaign and suddenly had two choices for Grand Prix.

But when I thought hard about the campaign for Romanian chocolate bar ‘Rom‘, I knew the issue was solved. Here, an agency solved a true business issue in a creative way.

How do you define Innovation?                                                                Innovation is being the first to do or create something using the tools currently
available. In this way it differs from ‘invention’ which would be to create
something which doesn’t rely on existing technologies or understandings.

Do you see a difference between ‘little i’ and ‘Capital I’ Innovation in your field?                                                                                                                           A little i innovation is a small improvement on an existing technology that could
lead to new and useful ways of doing things. It doesn’t necessarily fundamentally
change the world but it could lead to change.

A Capital I innovation is when someone makes an enormous leap forward from the status quo and manages to change the world in some way.

Do you think innovation is an overused term?
That’s why I prefer ‘world first’.

How essential has innovation been in your career/business to date; and how important do you envisage it being going forward?  Innovation is core to creativity. It’s about understanding the existing thinking and technologies and pushing them further to create originality. A lower case innovation isn’t different enough and is often met with the sentence “that’s just like…”

A Capital Innovation makes the idea transcend everything we have done to date. It is ‘gold’.

While most Creative Directors and their Creatives are always looking for ‘original
ideas’ – the little innovation – I’m constantly on the hunt for ‘world firsts’.
Capital Innovation.

In fact, my own office of Wunderman Sydney has produced several world firsts in the past year alone.

Wunderman prides itself “on being at the forefront of technology and creative thinking.” Why? Can you tell me about your favourite examples of this?
You don’t get to be one of the world’s largest agency networks without applying

Coupled with insights and knowledge from our vast array of tech clients, including Microsoft and Nokia – two of the world’s leaders in technological innovation – Wunderman is well placed for applying creative muscle to future technologies in order to truly stay at the forefront.

In terms of Wunderman’s innovation, our work includes burying cash on the Internet in a world first campaign for Microsoft, inventing a media channel and whole new ‘fertilising’ printer’s ink for Earth Hour, and the world’s first audio-based Facebook app for Nokia – a campaign that simultaneously provided the social network with a whole new technology they hadn’t done themselves.

Can you be too innovative in marketing?

But you can get too complex with the marketing that envelops the innovation. You often see overly complicated campaigns wrapped around some technology, and the innovation gets buried under the complexity. There must always be a simple, relevant idea that requires the innovation – always idea first.

Are there agencies who stand head and shoulders above others with regard to how the incorporate Capital I Innovation?                                     I think there are several agency networks with a proven track record of having a
great sense of applied innovation, including Weiden + Kennedy, Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, Crispin Porter, and DDB.

How have recent technological innovations changed the way you approach digital strategy?
There is a danger in using someone else’s innovations of simply replicating – the
original innovator and all the OTHER Creatives who also use that technology in their advertising. We must be inspired by innovation rather than re-use it. Inspired to either create our own or push existing technologies even further than anyone else ever has, or could.

Two years ago, when everyone else was using Augmented Reality to create pretty 3D images, we added geo-coding, personalization, live data streaming, and social
sharing to take the technology further than it had ever been, innovate a world
first, and create a totally immersive experience for our client.

The best way to approach a brief is to start the proposed solution with “what
if…”. And then find a way to make that crazy idea a reality. Sometimes that
involves researching for existing technologies and innovations that can achieve it, either in whole or in part and then extending or repurposing the technology to suit the campaign idea. Or create your own innovative solution.

And at the Cannes Lions awards, Ogilvy’s gold-winning ‘Watson’ for IBM campaign is a superb example of utilising existing technology AND creating your own innovation to make a brilliant piece of communication.

Where do you see Social Media being used most effectively?            Social media is a tool through which brands can have a relationship with consumers, and through which consumers can share brand content.

This can bring a greater immediacy to the product being in the consumer’s hand when they want it. And it provides massive potential to spreading communications faster than ever before.

But with it comes a price. The consumer now controls the conversation. And as fast as brands want positive socio-viral spread for their comms, negative socio-viral spread will always be faster.

Brands cannot afford to do any wrong.

What piece of innovation did you expect to happen/take off, that didn’t?                                                                                                                          Tough question.

We live in a world that moves at such a fast pace, and advertising moves
considerably faster, especially in creativity. So what was an Innovation yesterday
is instantly de rigeur today, observed with the all too common “that’s been done
before.” This means that even the best Innovations (after winning an award or two) are no longer useful for original creativity and therefore they never ‘take off’.

However, there will always be capital Innovations that continue to be used as
Creatives attempt to squeeze every bit of life out of then with little innovations.
For example, Augmented Reality was a capital Innovation about 4 years ago and
continues to surface in award shows.

And QR codes will continue to be used by brands to show digital superiority and try to engage consumers, but in most cultures the QR code is ignored by consumers.

In judging the 2011 Cannes Direct Lions, we did discover a truly relevant and
superior use of QR codes in a Korean campaign for Tesco that the jury unanimously agreed was worthy of double gold.

But now that the QR code has been used so extensively by brands (and so successfully by Tesco), they will be the furthest thing from the minds of most Creatives.

If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? This could be individuals, organizations and/or companies.                                                                                                                  Many would be quick to name Apple as an Innovator. But I think Microsoft is by far the greater Innovator. You may think I’m doing my duty of defending one of
Wunderman’s primary clients, but as Malcolm Gladwell said in his Cannes Lions
seminar, “Apple win by being late to every innovation. They perfect, not invent.”

Whereas, Microsoft invests serious money into R&D to produce technologies far beyond their competitors. Most consumers just don’t realise it.

I also think HBO is an innovator in terms original, quality and highly-watchable

And there is probably no bigger innovator than Facebook. We’ve seen the movie and we’ve poked our friends and this brand continues to find new ways to engage and connect people and serve as a content and communication provider.

Do you think that location matters? Does Innovation have a home/nation?

Innovation exists in just one place in the world. The human mind. While that means location is irrelevant, there is obviously greater stimuli for the human mind to use for innovation in some cultures more than others. But to counter that, developing nations have a greater need for innovation and therefore potentially have a greater effort to achieve it.

On a personal note, there are two Wunderman campaigns in particular which I’m very fond of, one is the Legacy pitch for the Gruen Transfer – its aim, “to convince the Australian public to allow refugees arriving by boat into the country” –  and one for one of Melbourne’s best kept foodie secrets, the Taco Truck , which turns up on random street corners, and purports to serves up “some of the best tacos this side of East LA” . What I want to know is – and I know its a purely selfish question, but:
Is the Taco Truck coming to Sydney? Please!

I’ll see what I can do.

Sí, sí, sí por favor!!!

For more information about Matt and his adventures, visit his website.


If you could ask Vint Cerf ‘father of the internet’ any question, what would it be?

I am very pleased to announce that I will soon be interviewing Vint Cerf, known as ‘one of the fathers of the internet’, for the Capital I Interview series.

In the spirit of collaboration, and net neutrality, which Vint supports, I am offering followers of the KimmiC Blog the opportunity to ask Vint a question of their very own.

All you have to do is sign up to be a blog follower, and then post your question in the comment section below. The three best questions will be included in the interview. (Of course I will credit the person who asked the question!).

I look forward to exploring your ideas!

Capital I Innovation Series Introduction

‘Capital I’ Innovation (Part 1)

Recently I read an article on, ‘Innovation: Australia is screwed without it. Really, really screwed. One of the premises the article and its accompanying video put forth was that, while 95% of Australian businesses claim they’re innovative, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics only 40% actually undertake any form of innovation activity. Hmmmmm. Somebody’s got some ‘splaining to do.

Unsurprisingly, I was a little confused, and I started to wonder, what’s up with Australia and innovation? Now I don’t mean ‘little i’ innovation… I mean ‘Capital I’, game changing, in your face Innovation. We’re not talking ‘lipstick on the bullfrog’ here people. We’re talking a whole new species. Or at least we should be. And we should be talking about it together.

My questioning led me to explore the GE Global Innovation Barometer for 2011 and, globally at least, the facts are quite heartening. For instance,

  • 95% of respondents believe innovation is the main lever for a more competitive national economy.

As encouraging is that the vast majority of respondents believe innovation can improve the lives of their country’s citizens in the next ten years.

  • 74% believe innovation can improve housing quality;
  • 77% believe innovation can improve the quality of education;
  • 82% believe innovation can improve energy security;
  • 87% believe innovation can improve health (care) quality;
  • 88% believe innovation is the best way to create jobs in their country; and
  • 90% believe innovation can improve communications.

All of these illustrate excellent reasons for individuals to buy-in to the necessity for ‘Capital I’ Innovation.

GE Global Innovation Barometer: Positive Perceptions

But what about business? Well, 75% of the global respondents believe:

  • SMEs and individuals can be as innovative as large companies;
  • The greatest 21st Century innovations will bring value to society as a whole, not only to individual consumers or citizens; and
  • The majority of innovation in the next ten years will be driven by a combination of players partnering together.

So what’s the Aussie problem? In a nutshell, only 2% of respondents saw Australia as a leading innovation champion. This is in contrast to the US (67%), Germany (44%), China (35%), and India (12%). I’m reminded of the quintessential line from the classic film Cool Hand Luke, “What we got here is… failure to communicate.”

GE Global Innovation Barometer: Optimism Index Country Ranking Chart

The bottom line that we need to be talking about is that Impactful Innovation in the 21st Century will require incorporating Partnerships who Integrate Solutions which focus on Individuals. However, this takes vision and an ability to factor in risk. And risk or the unwillingness to take it is, as some would see it, Australia’s problem.

The thing is, Australia is a traditional country. Now first let me hasten to note that there are, of course, exceptions to this rule. But, generally speaking, Australia wants to protect what it has rather than taking a risk by betting on something new, something they don’t know. It can be scary to switch to a knowledge based economy.

GE Global Innovation Barometer: Most Negative Perceptions

Peter Riddles, CEO of ViciBio Pty, has recognized this problem for years. Riddles works with governments and economic regions on innovation and strategies for industry growth, and with new ventures and universities in innovation and commercialization. To his mind, “Australia is a commodity and services based economy and is therefore not necessarily geared to be a knowledge based economy.” Agreed.

However, if Australia – in both the private and public sector – doesn’t support its own entrepreneurs endeavoring to launch ‘Capital I’ Innovation, some other country will, and will profit from it. As noted in last week’s blog, there is a multitude of multinational companies drooling to drink at the well of profit that the NBN scheme is likely to provide them. Regrettably, it is likely that only droplets will be left for any local businesses – unless, of course, they come in under the guise of a foreign flag.

All is not lost though; there is still time, and certainly a degree of opportunity, for Australia to lead the way in some form(s) of ‘Capital I’ Innovation. This is particularly true in the realm of health care. I have long said that I believe it is part of the Australian psyche to provide sustainable health care to its citizens, regardless of how rural and/or remote their location.

True, up to this point there has been a reliance upon ‘little i’ innovation but, to date, this has stood them in good stead. Australians took the international ‘Capital I’ Innovations of radio and airplanes, and created the ‘little i’ innovation that became the world renowned Flying Doctors. Huzzah! However, these are laurels that can no longer be rested upon.

Australia must support and cultivate a culture of ‘Capital I’ Innovation and, balanced with its need for security in a traditional economy, it must become a nation which supports and encourages entrepreneurship and a knowledge based economy.

As Peter Riddles noted in our chat this week, “Innovation is what entrepreneurs do.” And with some of its most innovative and entrepreneurial minds finding it easier to do business off the ‘Big Island’ Australia is not only suffering from a ‘brain drain’, but also from a sizable loss of potential profits. When your entrepreneurs know that it makes more sense for them to sell their wares to an American company, and then have the Americans sell it back to Oz – there is a fundamental problem in the plan.

Australia has the brain power to create ‘Capital I’ Innovation. What it needs is the courage capitalize on this. Australian entrepreneurs must be empowered locally to think and act globally. It is then that they will begin to take the lead in ‘Capital I’ Innovation rather than creating yet another iPad application.