Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Neuroscience must read for change leaders

Note for strategists and change agents: I make a strong recommendation that you read the article “The Neuroscience of Leadership” by researchers David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz in the latest Booz Allen Hamilton online magazine Strategy + Business.

In short the authors espouse that: “Managers who understand the recent breakthroughs in cognitive science can lead and influence mindful change." Rock and Schwartz use compelling examples backed by clinical research to offer managers a portfolio of tools to better understand, lead and make change.

Thoughts: Particularly interesting is the discovery of the powerful role that our mental models or dominant logic plays in driving our current perceptions. And the corollary logic that "large-scale behaviour change requires a large-scale change in mental maps."

KEY WORDS: Change; Organisation; Leadership; Organisation; Strategy

Teledildonics and avatar sex

While hunting out emerging future trends and disruptions associated with robots and robotics I ran across a fascinating convergence of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robotics – avatar sex and teledildonics.

  • Sinulate Entertainment offers products which enables people at two distant computers to manipulate electronic devices such as a vibrator at the other end. The emerging field is called ‘teledildonics’.
  • XStream3D Multimedia offers a web game called "Virtually Jenna" in which the player has simulated sex with realistic cartoon of porn star Jenna Jameson.
  • Visitors to RedLightCenter.com can adopt virtual characters called avatars and use them to live out their sexual fantasies, including having 'intercourse' with another avatar

Thoughts: At first glance this may all seem a little perverse, but this joining of social, physical and virtual worlds signals yet another play out of the merging of humanity and its own technology. Science fiction has well explored such 'social virtuality' ideas: for example in the movies Total Recall (1990) and The Lawn Mower Man (1992). Some questions arise - will the ability to move from relationship development via email, chat and dating services, to full virtual consummation be good or bad for us? Will it become the safer and even the preferred norm?

KEY WORDS: Avatar; Communications; Internet; Robots; Sexuality; Society; Virtual reality

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Scenting food packaging drives a new dimension

American company Scentsatonal Technolgies has commercialized a way to allow food grade flavours to be imbedded into plastic packaging materials. Now food manufacturers will be able to entice consumers to their shelf in the supermarket with compelling aromas. As their website says “ScentSational Technologies adds another dimension to your marketing with CompelAroma®. Nothing rivals the sense of smell for making an immediate impression about a product's flavor and freshness.”

Thoughts: This new aroma packaging technology has potential in markets other than food – Socks Allure, Keyboard sur la Plage and even Book Scents.

KEY WORDS: Food; Packaging; Marketing; Consumer

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Dance of the Internet giants great for consumers

Google have just signed up with the world's largest PC seller Dell, to factory pre-load a suite of Google web and desktop search software on Dell’s PC’s for consumers and some corporate customers. This deal is a real challenge to Microsoft’s decade long dominance of the user experience with software pre loads.

At the same time Yahoo and eBay joined forces in a multi-year deal to counter Google’s rise and Microsoft’s renewed web aspirations. Yahoo and eBay will share search and graphical advertising, online payments, a co-branded toolbar, and the testing of a click-to-call functionality.

Thoughts: This partnering dance of the giants feels like serious competition (= drives innovation) and potentially great for me the consumer. Has the music stopped and is that Microsoft still standing?

KEY WORDS: Software; Internet; Advertising; Innovation

Monday, May 22, 2006

Oil industry ads drive uncertainty stake into heart of climate change debate

A public-policy group financed by oil company Exxon Mobil Corp. and automakers General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co began broadcasting two sixty-second ads across 14 US cities last week. The ads challenge the validity of current climate change science. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a nonprofit conservative business friendly think tank, have timed the ad campaign to coincide with the release of a documentary called “"An Inconvenient Truth," which is about the threat of climate change that features former Vice President Al Gore. Check out the ads here. The CEI ads defend carbon dioxide as a beneficial natural resource rather than a dangerous pollutant. Each 60-second ad ends with the line, "They call it pollution; we call it life."

It’s hard not to see this CEI action as a cynical continuation of the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) propaganda strategy, which was first exposed by the New York Times in 1998. The New York Times published an API memo outlining a strategy to invest millions to “maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours, with Congress, the media and other key audiences.” The document stated: “Victory will be achieved when…recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’”

Thoughts: My tracking of global warming and climate change science research over the last 2 years signals that humanity’s use of fossil fuels is having a dire and dramatic impact on Earth. When oil industry funded ‘research’ comes up with the exact opposite finding, and seeks to manipulate public opinion, you have to laugh at the absurdity. And cry, because of the power such big oil interests can bring to morph the truth into such self-serving, and environmentally dangerous spin. Having ‘outed’ the lies and deceit of the tobacco industry, it’s now time to uncover the untruths and manipulations of the fossil fuel barons and their political stooges.

KEY WORDS: Sustainability; Climate Change; Politics; Ethics

Sunday, May 14, 2006

How romantic…blue cheese perfume!

You’ve got to give credit to the UK Stilton Cheese Makers Association for pushing the boundaries of industry innovation. They have just launched ““Eau de Stilton” which it claims to "recreate the earthy and fruity aroma" of the pungent blue cheese "in an eminently wearable perfume". Apparently Shazia Awan, 24, of Manchester agreed to try the scent for a day. And she reported that none of her office mates complained.

Thoughts: It’s actually not as strange as you might think. In author Patrick Suskind’s bestselling novel “Perfume : The Story of a Murderer”, the abominable 18th Century French hero Jean-Baptiste Grenouille wove a mixture of rat mouse droppings, cats urine and sweat into a perfume of invisibility.

KEY WORDS: Lifestyle, Marketing, Milk

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bush’s Watergate?

The scale of the USA Today’s exposure of the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) confidential tracking of the phone calls of tens of millions of Americans, ‘authorized’ by a secret Presidential executive order - is breathtaking. The content of the calls has not been recorded. Rather the NSA has been collecting and using call data to “analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity.” The tracking began shortly after ‘9/11’ when three major telcos – AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. starting handling over customers' phone calls records to the NSA. Apparently one big telecommunications company, Qwest Communications International Inc., has consistently refused to turn over records to the NSA, citing privacy and legal concerns. Washington is going ballistic. Senior Democrats and Republicans are screaming blue murder.

Thoughts: Shades of Watergate and impeachment in the air. In peacetime this phone tracking of millions of citizens would be outrageous. But at a time of this ‘War on Terror’ where should you draw the line, when you are trying to protect your own citizens? When combined with recent exposures of secret CIA prisons and abuses in Iraq, the unfolding picture is one of a completely unfettered security apparatus. And you have to assume that the press is only seeing a fraction of the secret picture. So the question is – when does Bush push America across the spectrum line of defending the principles of democracy to becoming itself a totalitarian state? I think this did it.

KEY WORDS: Democracy; Politics; Security; Globalisation

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Global wine bust and boom

A recent 2005 Deloitte Wine Industry Benchmarking Survey shows Australian wine export prices are down by a massive 33% since 2002 and 40% of Australian wineries are making losses. "The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports the average selling price of Australian wine exported in January 2006 was just $3.78 per litre. The Australian Business Weekly (subscription required) summarises the problems in their May 4th article “Wine: The grape squeeze”:

  • Production of wine exceeding demand.
  • Panic selling by inexperienced growers.
  • Strong $AUD making exports less competitive.
  • Retail consolidation hurting boutique wineries.
  • Slow growth of 2-3% a year in domestic demand due to high tax on alcohol.
  • Poor understanding of demand trends.
  • The number of wine companies growing from 892 to 2000 in the past decade.
But wait…it’s not all gloom and doom. Union Tribune Staff Writer Frank Green reports that in a recent Gallup Poll, “39 percent of Americans said they drink wine more often than any other alcoholic beverage – the first time wine has outpaced beer, at 36 percent, in consumer preference”. U.S. wine sales have boomed in the past 10 years, and they rose 8.3 percent last year to an estimated $26 billion. Part of the continued growth, and sales spikes in the US market is attributed to “increased quality of imports from Chile, New Zealand and other countries.”

Thoughts: This boom and bust is very tough on the rapidly growing number of small wineries which lack cost scale, and very challenging for the volume producers of average wine. The strength and growth of the US market will eventually pull the Australasian industry out of trouble…there will be a whole lot less boutique players in the game by then. For consumers operating on the ‘24 hour cellar’ this wine bust will be great news for the next few years. Pass the bottle!
KEY WORDS: Wine; Globalisation; Lifestyle

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Anticipation goes mainstream

A Milwaukee based business group called “The American Society for Quality” has run a survey of 62 selected international business executives s to identify six leading factors shaping the future. Intended as a tool to prompt business execs into developing adaption strategies, the selected six in priority of importance are: Globalization, Innovation/creativity/change, Outsourcing, Consumer sophistication, Value creation, and Changes in quality.

Writing of the top six, John Schmid of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel comments. “What's interesting are the topics that didn't rise into the top six: the aging of America, global warming and various geopolitical factors and medical advances.”

Thoughts: Have you noticed that over the last year words like future, trends, scenarios, uncertainty have increasingly crept into both business and lifestyle language. This business of anticipation has moved from the realm of magic to mainstream.

KEY WORDS: Trends; Strategies; Future; Anticipation

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Coffee gets us to yes

At last some research that supports my coffee habit. Some Australian researchers have found that “a caffeine hit improves our increases our ability to scrutinise the content of a message and increases the extent to which we listen to and take on board a persuasive message.”

Advertisers will perk up on this news…but apparently there is a downside: excessive coffee will lead us into a distracted state. So “if you're looking at an advertisement you may be more distracted by the attractiveness of the person selling it than the actual product."

Thoughts: Food; Augmentation; Advertising

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The most important speech of his life

Every time I fill my car's petrol tank I wonder how bad the current situation can get? Peak oil advocate Michael C. Ruppert has just made a speech in New York to the conference on Local Solutions to the Energy Dilemma titled “The Paradigm is the Enemy – The State of the Peak Oil Movement at the Cusp of Collapse”. On his website Ruppert rates this speech as the “This is the most important speech of my life.”

You will be shocked by it. But there is no doubt there he has built a compelling argument founded in a deep understanding of the unfolding geopolitical dynamics surrounding fossil fuel. It’s definitely worth reading – a powerful tool to test your own assumptions about the current(?) energy crisis. Ruppert quotes his friend Dr. Faiz Khan, “A paradigm is what you think about something before you think about it.”

Monday, May 01, 2006

From taste-free calories to calorie-free taste

Here's one for your jaded palette! The latest consumer offering for calorie-conscious Americans – Flavor Spray Diet. These FDA approved enhancers come in 32 flovours including Parmesan, Raspberry Chocolate Truffle and Memphis BBQ. Read all about it in “One spray away from a tasty meal” - West Central Tribune - 26 April 2006

Thoughts: What next? spray on youth?, sex? music?

KEY WORDS: Consumer, Food, Lifestyle

Sunday, April 30, 2006

An Australian climate change strategy for planet

Check out the climate change piece in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald “People in greenhouses should turn up the heat” . The author is Peter Singer, a native born Australian, now a professor of bioethics at Princeton and author of the about to be published book "The Way We Eat : Why Our Food Choices Matter".

For some time I’ve been searching for an effective approach for Australia to help turnaround the mounting global (and Australian) climate change disaster...I like the pragmatism of Professor Singer’s approach...show national and regional leadership in climate change and earn the credibility to challenge/shame gross over-consumption in the US which is responsible for 25% of the planet’s greenhouse emissions.

Thoughts: Makes good sense…but on Australian PM Howard’s watch? Is it realistic to expect Howard would ever seriously challenge his good friend and ally US President George double-YA?

KEY WORDS: Climate change; Australia; Ethics

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Rising diesel prices sinking fishing industry

Rising diesel prices are forcing fleets around the world to stay in port.

  • The Nation paper article “Fishing fleet left stranded” reports that 2,000 fishing trawlers operating in the Gulf of Thailand can’t afford to go fishing.
  • The Dominion Post article “Fuel rises sink NZ fleets” says that almost 90% of New Zealand’s national inshore fishing fleet of 1700 boats is up for sale. The diesel price has risen 316% since 1990.
  • The Japan Times reports in “Oil-price spikes hit deep-sea tuna fishing industry” quotes a fishing industry source’s forecast of an ‘avalanche of bankruptcies at tuna-fishing bases in Japan’.

Thoughts: Although tough on the fishing industry participants, high fuel prices could be great for already decimated ocean fishing stock. Fish may well become a luxury. It may even force Japan to reconsider it's 'scientific research' harpooning of southern ocean whales.

The convergence of global warming and accelerating fossil fuel prices mean it might be now time to dust off plans for sail-assisted fishing boats. Have a look at Yasuo Yoshimura’s short insight called “A Prospect for Sail-Assisted Fishing Boats”(PDF) for a short 4 page upload.

KEY WORDS: Peak oil; Fishing; Energy; Wind; Food

Friday, April 28, 2006

Global nano-arms race underway?

Citing emerging threats in a dynamic geopolitical environment and the changing nature of warfare, Malyasia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, told a nano-materials conference on Thursday, that the Government was committed to support innovative R&D in nanotechnology and composites technology as an essential component of Malaysia's economic and social well-being, and military strategy.

Reading between the lines, it looks like Malaysia is signaling it will invest to become a global player (and partner) in nano materials research for both commercial benefit, and to ensure it’s own military capabilities are not left behind in the rapidly developing ‘smart soldier' space.

Thoughts: When we see a country ranked 84th by GDP/capita (2004), investing in nanotech research to ensure military preparedness, is it a signal that we already in the midst of a new global arms race? Will the relentless acceleration of NBIC (nano-bio-info-cogno) technnology advance place such capabilities in the hands on citizens - and not country states - anytime soon?

KEY WORDS: Nanotechnology; Defence; Materials; Geo-politics

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Compelling insights from BBC's Global Business and new mag REALBUSINESS

Yet another Thursday night ritual~ my wife Andrea is ensconced in Coronation Street on TV (visions of that movie Groundhog Day -1993 and Bill Murray [me]) and I’m taking refuge listening (via RealPlayer) to Peter Day’s weekly BBC radio documentary series Global Business.

The focus this week – an examination of the new entrepreneurial spirit emerging in Britain. Peter began the documentary by interviewing Charles Orton-Jones, a writer with the newly published monthly magazine REALBUSINESS. I checked the mag out online…looks good...lots of interesting case studies.

Thoughts: I recommend BBC's Global Business by Peter Day as a great weekly insight on global trends. It has been particularly helpful in providing a high level view of the emerging global importance of India and China. This whole online broadcasting/podcasting medium is becoming a highly convenient and compelling alternative to free to air TV and radio.

KEY WORDS: Business; Entrepreneur; Globalisation; Media

The value of trees is more than just shade

I just read a fascinating piece on the value of trees in suburban environments. Ethan Gilsdorf reports that just one shady tree can save a homeowner US$80 a year in energy costs. “Yes, humble street trees cool the air, reduce pollution, and absorb storm-water runoff. But the benefits aren't only ecological” says Gilsdorf. “Property values are 7 percent to 25 percent higher for houses surrounded by trees. Consumers spend up to 13 percent more at shops near green landscapes. One study even suggests patients who can see trees out their windows are hospitalized, on average, 8 percent fewer days.”

I checked a little further and found several other web articles leading up to the National Arbor Day in America on 28th February 2006. One such piece details statistics supporting the value of trees to a community.

Thoughts: In our increasingly plastic, steel and concrete environment – Arbor Day comes as a timely reminder of our natural heritage and responsibility...as well as the commercial benefits of tree planting.

KEY WORDS: Sustainability; Cities

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rich rewards for extraordinary worker efforts at Nucor

This afternoon I read a fascinating article, ‘The Art of Motivation’ by Nanette Byrnes on Businessweeks Innovation website. It's all about Nucor the American steelmaker. Nucor's 387% return to shareholders over the past five years tops the performance of almost every other company in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.

Businessweek reports that what makes this rust belt industry player a star, is that it “treats its workers like owners”. A key driver of worker buy-in to the com (pany and ongoing innovation is Nucor’s pay system. Almost every worker is paid relative to their performance or value contribution. Specifically a steelworker at a different mill company can clock up $16 to $21 an hour. The base rate for a Nucor worker is nearer to $10 and hour, but a production bonus for defect-free steel by a worker’s whole shift can deliver three times the average steel workers disposable income to the Nucor employee. The late F. Kenneth Iverson, founder of Nucor, summed up his then radical business approach “Employees, even hourly clock-punchers, will make an extraordinary effort if you reward them richly, treat them with respect, and give them real power.”

I found a fascinating case study published by Dartmouth College in 2000 which describes Iverson's employee relations principles which underpin Nucor's success. (PDF here)

Thoughts: With ageing baby boomers beginning to retire in bulk numbers from 2010, there is fertile ground here for companies looking to build employee motivation and retention strategies. And why is it that such powerful and innovative ideas seem so practicle and obvious in hindsight?

KEY WORDS: Business style; Alignment; Work

PC to landline phone calls to virtually anywhere – for free!

My very tech-literate French brother in law Sylvain Filliol just turned me onto another cool Voice over IP (VOIP) offering called VoipStunt. I’ve been a Skype user for over a year and it’s halved my mobile phone bill. VoipStunt is a great complementary service to Skype. It allows you to call any landline in a vast number of countries for virtually nothing. I checked out some online reviews and VoipStunt get’s the thumbs up. For example see Anders Jacobsen's blog.

Thoughts: As PC and broadband penetration accelerates through business, home and the mobile space…time is shrinking for traditional telco’s to remain relevant in the communications space. In the same vain Juha Saarinen's blog pointed me to a recent Sydney Morning Herald article describing Telstra's competitive response to VOIP...which again look's like too little too late to me.

KEY WORDS: VOIP; Telecommunications; Communications; Internet

Monday, April 24, 2006

Wildly exciting food innovation in Chicago

I just read Jennifer Reigold’s article in FastCompany on wildly exciting food innovator Homaro Cantu Jr. and his Moto restaurant in Chicago. If this is the future of the cuisine experience…Let it roll.

In the same magazine there is an almost unbelievable reference to how successful the growth in fine food and beverage sales in Las Vegas. “Vegas food and beverage operations managed to extract $238.32 per person per day from visitors in 2004, for a stunning $2.3 billion in revenue.”

Thoughts: For affluent economies the ‘Experience Economy’ looks like it’s exploding in the fine food and wine sector.

KEY WORDS: Food; Lifestyle; Experience Economy; Innovation

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Skype me from 30,000 feet!

A colleague ‘Skyped’ me (made an Internet call) from 30,000 feet recently. He was aboard a Singapore Airlines flight back from Signapore to Australia. Amazing! This ‘Connexion by Boeing’ wireless broadband Internet service is now provided to passengers on selected flights of ANA, Austrain, Asiana, China Airlines, El Al , ETIHAD, JAL, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SAS. The The cost of accessing the Internet is determined by each carrier (Lufthansa, for example, charges $9.95 per hour or $26.95 per flight).

A recent survey of 3,200 passengers who have used the service, reported in-flight Internet is changing traveler behaviour: 83 percent of those surveyed said that the availability of the Connexion by Boeing service will have an impact on future travel plans and their choice of airline carrier.

Thoughts: If you travel often then battery life is finally going to mean something. Let’s also hope that this innovation might drive the seats a bit further apart in 'cattle class'. The combination of most ageing baby boomer bellies and cramped space generally means the only possible viewer of your laptop screen currently is likely to be your crotch!

KEY WORDS: Communic ations; Internet; Travel; Byusiness style

Saturday, April 22, 2006

At 75 dollars per oil barrell is this the beginning of the storm?

On the back of increasing uncertainty about the consequences of the escalating Iran nuclear program standoff, crude oil hit an all time record of US$75 a barrel on Friday (21st April 2006). Whatever your view is on how close or far away the planet is from unaffordable oil, I'm guessing the scenario played out in the film The End of Suburbia” was right on the button.

Thoughts: Is this the opening of the end of the oil economy? Can we afford to assume it isn’t? How fast and strong will the storm come? What can a citizen do to prepare, or get ahead of the wave?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Abandonment of trad media by youth signals new ad channels sought

In November last year the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet could be considered Content Creators. “They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.”

The latest Economist Media Survey reports that Paul Saffo, a director at the Institute for the Future in California, says people no longer passively “consume” media (and thus advertising, its main revenue source) but actively participate.

The Ecomist article also quotes David Sifry, the founder of Technorati, a search engine for blogs, one-to-many “lectures” (ie, from media companies to their audiences) are transformed into “conversations” among “the people formerly known as the audience”.

Thoughts: If TV and newspapers have lost their relevance to younger generations, more intent on creating and sharing via blogs and the web, what will become the new dominant advertising channels? Google ads? Word of mouth ceding? Sponsored podcasts or games? Mobile minute incentives? Picking or creating the winning channels in this new electronic tribal world is a significant opportunity. And the fastest growth market in this space has to be CHINDIA’s exploding middle class.

KEY WORDS: Media; Blogs; Generation Y; Advertising; Communications

San Francisco leads US cities to Peak Oil strategy

The Board of Supervisors of the City of San Francisco has shown real leadership in voting unanimous support for a resolution which acknowledging the threats posed by peak oil, urging the city to develop a comprehensive plan to respond to the emerging global energy crunch. San Francisco has become the first U.S. city to pass such a resolution.

Thoughts: Will city-states become the primary drivers of sustainabilty change, as so many country-state politicians either a) struggle to develop coherent national sustainability strategies or b) continue to serve the narrow partisan interests?

KEY WORDS: Energy; Peak Oil; City; Leadership;