Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

by Andrew Winston

As a car, the all-electric Nissan Leaf has received mostly great reviews. But as a positioning statement, Nissan has, in many marketers’ eyes, missed the boat. After some missteps, Nissan may now be on the right path. An ad I pulled from Fast Company recently hits all the right marks.

The debate — or more accurately criticism — began last year with a now infamous ad showing a polar bear lugging himself from the Arctic to some guy’s suburban driveway to hug him for buying a Leaf. The ad was gorgeous, no doubt, and the YouTube version has been viewed 1.3 million times, which isn’t bad. But some green marketing leaders, such as Jacquie Ottman, found it a bit heavy-handed and way too focused on the hyper-green benefits vs. driving experience.

But even before getting to ads, some have pointed out that the name itself is a problem. A “Leaf” doesn’t exactly speak to the same part of the male brain that car ads usally target — the caveman lobe that asks, “How will this car make me sexy and powerful?”.

As one ad agency exec with a specialty in green marketing told me, “What guy is going to the pub and saying, ‘Hey, I test drove a Leaf’?” As she pointed out, the print ads have focused on images like seals and kelp — it’s basically the worst of green marketing, “like it’s packaged in burlap.”

Instead, experts suggest that the Leaf should be positioned in a much more exciting way, as the first electric car for the masses and a true innovation. This, Nissan could trumpet, is a new era of mobility!

So skip to the latest print ad, in which Nissan does something new. A fascinating, colorful graphic shows different cars on a spectrum of fuel efficiency. The axis is not, however, miles per gallon, but “miles traveled for one dollar.” As the ad says in small print: “comparing miles per gallon is suddenly irrelevant.”


The traditional mpg metric has always been really odd: who thinks that way? And the government has had a devil of a time plugging (forgive me) electric cars into their normal rating system. What the heck does miles per gallon mean if you use no gallons?

But showing how far I can go for each dollar I spend? Now that’s dead on. This is brilliant marketing, in tight economic times or at any time. Nissan has declared a new metric for a completely new model of transportation. Bravo.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

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Today on Sequoia Lab Blog, Gwen Ruta discusses how we can spread the principles of sustainability beyond the Fortune 500.

Recently in Harvard Business Review, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer wrote about “The Big Idea” – that companies must take the lead by “creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges.”   Driven by win-win success stories, by a vacuum in policy leadership, and by the embrace of thought leaders like Porter, this idea has surged into the mainstream.  Even in the grip of the recession, companies across the Fortune 500 – from Walmart (#1) and GE (#6) to Owens Corning (#431) and SunGard (#472) – are actively pursuing a sustainability agenda.

But for the companies that make up mainstream corporate America, environmental issues may still largely be seen as a cost center rather than a competitive edge.  What will it take to show these companies that environmental innovation can be an opportunity rather than a burden?  How can we spread the principles of sustainability from the Fortune 500 to the next 5,000?
  • Start with energy efficiency
Every company uses energy, and can do so more efficiently.  The consulting gurus at McKinsey & Company calculate that by deploying an array of NPV-positive efficiency measures, commercial and industrial users could generate $732 billion in energy savings by 2020 while avoiding some 660 million tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions.  In other words, we can make a lot of money and cut a lot of emissions simultaneously by using proven technologies.
But, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.  Companies fail to reap the benefits of energy efficiency for reasons that have nothing to do with what we learned in Econ 101.  In the real world, managers are overburdened, useful information is hard to find, lease arrangements stand in the way of smart investments, and competition for corporate dollars is sharp.
Sometimes it takes “fresh eyes” to overcome the barriers to change.  Our EDF Climate Corps program uses business students to find energy savings opportunities at participating companies.  In just 10 weeks at 50 companies last summer, we found $350 million in potential operating savings.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Stimulate innovation
Environmental goals, combined with open networking, can be a great way to stimulate innovation that can lead to new products and greater market share.  The impetus can come from the top, because when executives set rigorous goals and metrics for measuring them, they unleash innovation throughout the company.  GE’s Ecomagination program, which generated $18 billion in revenue on $1.5 billion in investments, is a good example of this approach.
Innovation can also come from the bottom up, as illustrated by Toyota’s “Treasure Hunt” process, which uses operators, engineers and maintenance staff to find process innovations and energy savings.
And innovation can come from the outside.  Breakthrough ideas can – and often do – emerge from bringing a new and diverse perspective to a familiar problem.  Environmental Defense Fund recently teamed up with InnoCentive, a global leader in crowdsourced innovation, to work with companies to create business breakthroughs that deliver environmental results.  InnoCentive’s web-based platform gives over 250,000 entrepreneurs, inventors and scientists around the world the chance to solve them.  With the likes of Eli Lilly, NASA, and Procter & Gamble using the platform, it’s redefining the innovation process. 
  • Capture operational excellence
For most companies, including those that provide business capital, environmental issues are still thought of as a liability rather than an opportunity.  To build value, firms must think beyond compliance.  Smart companies are positioning themselves to compete in a resource-constrained world, where efficiency and innovation trump risk management.
Working with private equity giants The Carlyle Group and Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co., EDF has developed tools that are available to any company for systematically identifying opportunity and measuring improvements in environmental and business performance.  In just two years, those tools generated $160 million in operating savings for companies including Dollar General and US Foodservice.
  • Drive supply chain improvement
Companies will want to focus first on their own operations, but for many small and medium-sized businesses, their biggest impacts lie not within their own fencelines, but in the lifecycle of the products they buy and sell.  And while smaller companies may not feel that they have the clout to create supply chain mandates, they do have ability to ask pointed questions and shop around for the best prices.  Why should your company be paying for the extra energy or water or wasted raw materials embedded in products made by another company that has not yet embraced sustainability?
There are several good examples to work from. Walmart’s Supplier Sustainability Assessment questions are simple, straight-forward and a good place to start.  Procter & Gamble has a similar supplier scorecard designed to track and encourage improvement on key environmental sustainability measures in P&G’s supply chain.  The company reports that about 40% of the completed scorecards it receives have offered at least one innovation idea.
Today, we are all feeling the stress of a pinched economy, resource constraints, volatile fuel prices and global competition.  At the same time, we’re seeing examples every day of companies that have successfully turned environmental sustainability into competitive advantage.  By building capturing energy and operational efficiencies, stimulating innovation through aggressive goals and creative networking, and driving lifecycle change through the supply chain, we can bring Porter’s big idea to life.

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by Simon Kavanagh

 From managing this:                                    To managing this:


[B. Lawson, 2006]

‘One of the essential difficulties and fascinations of designing is the need to embrace so many different kinds of thought and knowledge’ [Lawson 2006:13-14]

The realisation has arrived; that the degree of complexity of the ‘wicked’ challenges we’re facing in the world today requires multi faceted and experiential teams of people. At the KaosPilots we have stepped up our research into how best to train our students to play a significant role in the leadership of such processes, adding it to an already strong change making competency and methodology. We want to produce KaosPilots who can facilitate, nourish and create the safe spaces for these multi-disciplinary processes to take place and evolve, ensuring a high level of innovation and collaboration, where ego is left at the door, aiming at solving ‘holistically’ and authentically the need at the heart of the problems we face.

In doing this, we are exploring in many ways and through many collaborations spanning the 3 sectors and design disciplines, with the sole purpose of learning and co-creating hybrid creative and innovative processes whilst anchoring and developing the KP core disciplines of leadership, project management and process facilitation and social enterprise. One such collaboration is with Ideacouture who believe:

“What matters most in today’s business climate is the design and delivery of innovation value. Meeting this goal demands the simultaneous application of design thinking, creative thinking and analytical thinking.” Ideacouture

It is true that design institutions, (generatively speaking) are waking from their long slumber, realising and acting upon the future needs of their students and their potential employers. To be a creative designer is not enough anymore. Employers are looking for that creativity, but across multiple competencies and skills including dynamic project and authentic leadership, social engagement as well as a working knowledge of soft skills. This is the reality for students, not in the future, but now. We teach these skills in abundance at the Kaospilots and want to share and expand our methodology and approach.

Three major shifts occurred in the last 2 years that have increased exponentially the opportunity and necessity of design students to graduate with a more realised and practiced skill set and talent supported by enterprise and leadership that is relevant to the needs of the world today.

The first was the economic downturn, forcing universities who have squandered so much cash in the past 10 years designing courses and faculties on a whim, to hire part-time lecturing staff out of necessity. Finally!, students are being tutored by the experts in their field, introducing them to the latest designs, trends and problems in their industries, and in the process putting an end to ‘case study brief’.

The second is the fact that the students who are graduating now are competing on a global scale, as are companies. The smart companies know who and what they need in terms of creative sustainable innovation and growth, but the current educational system is letting them down and missing the opportunity to produce more confident design students. More and more companies are outsourcing or developing their own internal programs to enhance personal and professional leadership and creativity skills as well as project and innovation management. The KP have answered this particular call with the development of a Creative Leadership program.

The third shift, if it is indeed true in practice, is the most positive. Experts now say that for the first time since the industrial revolution the mindset has overtaken the skill-set in terms of employer focus. When asked, “… which would you be more comfortable predicting, the mindset of the staff you will desire in 10 years form now, or the skill-set. In the UK, 97% said mindset”1. As companies face an uncertain future in terms of their product and service offerings & development in the next 15 years, we are doomed if design schools are simultaneously facing the same question!

Meanwhile, design colleges are trying to keep up with demand for something new, but by scrambling over each other to create the next big Master programs in everything from trans-disciplinary design to social sustainable innovation they are missing out on the support needed for the students around professional and personal leadership, management and facilitation of creative multi-disciplinary people and multiple stakeholders in the multitude of new and existing challenges that need to be solved. Skills to enable them to participate in and towards global careers and positive change. This is what we do at the Kaospilots!

The Kaospilots are positioned to strike and create from this ‘shift’ across the board. It seems that now, a lot more people are talking our language, or at least understanding it better. We are offering well developed and tried approaches to some of the challenges that companies, NGOs and the public sector are facing and that our students and the school have experience facilitating and delivering results within and across. At the kaospilots, we follow a very simple mantra, everything starts with 3 questions.

As a result, some major organisations across these sectors are looking to partner with our school and students for inspiration and innovation to solve problems related to products, services, business, organization or innovation development. Some examples of these are Unicef, to develop ‘out of the box’ solutions to their supply and demand challenges, IE school of Business in Madrid, to co-create a more social facilitation and process orientated skill-set for their social entrepreneurial MBA students, and companies such as Wolff Olins to continuously develop their creative social brand tools and methods.

What does all of this mean? Well I think the reset button has been pressed on everything and that we are now entering a time of amazing potential to alter and improve the system, especially within design education and professional growth.

We have the opportunity and the technology to bring already existing and working initiatives and institutions to a new level of cooperation across sectors, not only to create new and more sustainable solutions, but in the process create new approaches to multi-disciplinary team work, leadership, (social) enterprise and organisational development and perhaps even an “economy of happiness” Bordieu

So here is the call, what would it look like if the KP in developing these processes and facilitative skill sets could share them real time between staff and students from multiple institutions who are trying to increase their leadership and enterprising competencies. This is an invitation to design and business schools everywhere to work together with us and our students in deepening the training and methodology around solving these ‘wicked’ complicated, multi system challenges. Perhaps taking them to a new level of consciousness! Our first step in this process is to completely open-source our curriculum, content and methodology to everyone, and hope that those who hack it will feed back to the system….

1. NEW findings on the mindset / skillset shift: “Putting your mindset to work” James Reed – http://www.reed.co.uk/



  • Hansen, H. T. R. 2007:SENSITIVITY ANALYSIS as a Methodical Approach to the Development of Design Strategies for environmentally sustainable buildings. PhD thesis, Aalborg University Denmark. (chapter 7)
  • Lawson, B. 2006: How designers Think – the design process demystified. Architectural Press/Elsevier, Great Britain.
  • Schön D. 1983: The reflective practitioner – how professionals think in action. Basic Books Inc., USA
  • Trebilcock, M. 2009: Integrated Design Process: From analysis/synthesis to conjecture/analysis. Conferencepaper – PLEA 2009 conference, Canada
  • U-Theory by Otto Scharmer etc.

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