Archive for Inspiration

Beam me up: Lessons from Star Trek

I’m a huge fan of Star Trek. I first saw the original series on a black and white TV in the early 1980s when they first aired on Sunday morning DD. Since then, I’ve given everything in the Star Trek universe a try – I’ve watched and enjoyed all 7 seasons of ‘The Next Generation’, most of the movies, hated ‘Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Enterprise’ and liked some episodes of ‘Voyager’.

I think the rise and fall of the Star Trek franchise holds some useful lessons for marketeers:

1. Unsuccessful? Maybe you just haven’t found your audience/market yet.
The original run of Star Trek was cancelled after just three seasons. But it became a cult favourite when it was re-run on late night television – a channel that helped it to find an audience that was large enough to justify further investments in the franchise such as Star Trek – The Animated Series and the first Star Trek movie.

2. Successful but ageing? Hold on to the core premise but refresh everything else.
Star Trek – The Next Generation is set in the same fictional universe as the original series, but it takes place a hundred years later. This allowed the creators to bring in an all-new cast as well as bring the special effects up to modern standards.

3. How to make spin-offs or extensions successful.
Spin-off shows like Deep Space Nine or Voyager ran for seven seasons each. Both held on to the core bits of Star Trek – strong characters with interesting back-story, intelligent scripts and good crew chemistry – while pushing the boundaries of the universe in which they existed and telling new kinds of stories in that setting. The most recent show – Enterprise – was a failure. The best special effects can’t make up for weak characters and really bad scripts.

4. How long can it last? Until the 23rd Century.
Even the failure of the most recent Star Trek movie – Nemesis – and the cancellation of Enterprise don’t spell the end for the franchise. A new upcoming movie and a fan-created series testify to the thriving equity of Star Trek. Even a couple of duds can’t keep it down so long as the franchise owners learn the lessons from previous incarnations and spin-offs.
5. What about all those hi-tech gadgets?
Well, I’ve said before that science fiction is a big source of innovation and clam-shell cellphones have been mimicking Captain Kirk’s handheld Communicator for several years now. Here’s some more Trek Tech that scientists are actively working on:

It’s the 40th Anniversary of Star Trek. Beam across to StarTrek.Com for the celebrations!

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Science Fiction inspires modern innovation

I’ve often felt that many of todays taken-for-granted technologies were invented in 1970s science fiction novels. Now for the first time, I’ve come across an innovation that may have been first invented in a 1990s fantasy novel. In their book Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett describe a diabolical fast-food tycoon who creates CHOW – tasty food products with “the nutritional value of a Sony Walkman. It didn’t matter how much you ate, you lost weight”

Chef / inventor David Burke has created Flavor Spray Diet – a range of spray-on artificial food flavourings that contain zero calories, zero fat, zero cholesterol and zero carbohydrates. With recipe tips like Chocolate Flavor Spray on strawberries or pineapple or Tomato Basil Flavor Spray on crackers, this could be the answer to many a wannabe dieter’s dreams.

Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park describes the resurrection of long-extinct dinosaurs by scientists working with DNA from fossils.

Now, the US Agricultural Research Service has resurrected some of the extinct varieties of carrots. Carrots used to naturally occur in many colours including yellow, white, dark orange, bright red and even purple. Orange carrots captured the world market decades ago, but carrots of other colours contain pigments with distinct health benefits. The best part is they all taste the same!

From Communication Satellites (Arthur Clarke), to Clamshell Cellphones (Star Trek), to Virtual Reality (Neuromancer), many of the late 20th and early 21st century’s innovations have their origins in science fiction.

The lesson is clear: marketeers looking for new ideas should read lots of science fiction. 😉

PS – To illustrate the point from my previous post, I’ve renamed and re-posted this article! It used to be called “Fantasy foods come to life”

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Cook’s Recipe for Corporate Innovation

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Scott Cook of Intuit recently spoke at CHI 2006 on Corporate Innovation:
Here's his recipe – the five models of innovation:

  1. The lone genius
  2. The boss is a genius
  3. Copy competitors' inventions
  4. Cloister the geniuses in a lab
  5. Make your people the geniuses

Nope, 1 – 4 aren't from Dilbert.com – they are real life approaches used by many firms. Mr. Cook believes that only No. 5 works in the long term.

"The source of invention is unlikely to be the big executive: innovation comes from where the business connects to customers. It scales, because it allows the company to create many "contact" groups between the company and the customers."

In many firms, the only "contact" group is the sales force, which is usually far removed, if not totally disconnected from the innovation process. Sales people are supposed to sell and "execute", not "think". McDonald's – one of the big success stories of the 20th century – was created by a 60 year old milkshake machine salesman. How much innovation potential lies undiscovered in your sales force? Start harvesting those ideas now!

Thanks to Antonella Pavese for writing about Scott Cook's speech and for the cool collection of stories about innovation.

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Benefit Packages & Use Value

“Today’s smart marketers don’t sell products; they sell benefit packages. They don’t sell purchase value only; they sell use value.”
– Philip Kotler in Kotler on Marketing

So what’s a benefit package anyway?

Build-a-bear is a great example. Instead of offering a basic mass market teddy bear or even a super-premium-luxury-handmade teddy bear, Build-a-bear offers kids and their parents the heart-warming experience of finding a friend, from choosing a bear-skin, stuffing, putting in a heart (and making a wish), dressing him up and coming back for bear parties, shopping for accessories for your bear… the fun never ends!

Build a bear process

Thanks to Abhishek Rawat for telling me his Build a Bear story!

Cement Truck Can this concept be applied to your business? What if you’re in an old, staid industry like, say, cement? Cemex is a good example of how this concept works: they don’t just sell cement – they custom-make it in varieties like high-strength cement and anti-bacterial cement, deliver it to your doorstep, train your people at their construction schools and enroll you into their frequent cement buyer program!

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Paper Napkin Sketches

Have you ever scribbled an idea onto a paper napkin over a hot cup of coffee? Well, next time, send it in to the Catia Napkin Sketch Contest over at Core77. Check out the winners of last year's contest at the site.

And here's another great example from the d.school at Stanford:


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