Friday, July 22, 2011

Adding 3D to Tech Innovation

Just got back from Fortune Brainstorm Tech, a gathering of innovators from all walks of technology, hosted at the stunning Aspen Institute. A super event put on by a great team at Fortune Magazine. I felt lucky to be among the speakers.

Tossed together were investors, large-company executives and start-up entrepreneurs, all in search of the best technology ideas. I can't capture it all here. We talked gaming, gadgets, security, social, mobile, media, clouds, commerce, and much more. Here are three new companies that stood out for me and epitomized the spirit of innovation I found there:

1. Sound Cloud - youtube for sounds.
2. Clever Sense - pandora for everything except music
3. Lytro - a camera that lets you take a shot and then, with ease, re-focus any part of the shot and create 3-D perspective. You could hear the "ooohs" and "ahhhs" during that demo.

On the final evening, two beers into a reception surrounded by blue-maroon peaks and lavender, our host greeted us with what felt something like a challenge. "You are change agents," she said. "You have the unique ability to change the world." Standing there at the height of dusk, shoulder to shoulder with some of the brightest entrepreneurs on the planet, it was hard not to feel like the possibilities were endless.

But here lies the rub. During two full days of seeing the coolest apps, games and devices under the sun, I can't recall one panel discussion or demo focused on this goal. I kept waiting for it. Instead, there was this recurring theme, playing over and over again: "we make the coolest stuff, which will make a ton of money, which we'll use to make cooler stuff that will beat our competitors, which will make us even more money." Coolness and riches reverberated through the hills like the sound of music. It was fun and addictive, but it was, in a sense, just hurling pigs at birds.

I found myself wanting more. Couldn't PhDs who had locked themselves in rooms for two years dreaming up ideas come up with ones that would inspire us and make the world better while making bundles of cash? The answer had to be "yes."

"Hey," I said to the CTO of Clever Sense, "what about using your app to serve up causes that match peoples' tastes as seamlessly as Pandora serves up their favorite tunes?" "We could do that," he said with genuine interest. To the hip, boyish founder of Sound Cloud I asked, "Could you guys crowd-source every bird call and capture the voices of refugees?" "Yes!" he declared, a grin revealing every one of his teeth.

These were change makers to be sure, and yet the whole conference seemed stuck in a two-dimensional world of coolness and wealth, when it could have achieved 3D vibrancy simply by adding the dimension of social consciousness. (In this regard, Katzenberg was both there and not there.) Fusing strong business models with strong social missions is one of the most important innovations in business today and companies young and old must explore this dimension if they hope to become and stay great.

Next year, I would like to lead a panel of three innovators who use their technology to address social issues that they are uniquely positioned to address. The questions I will ask are: 1) what issue(s) are you addressing? 2) how do you measure your social impact? and 3) how does your social mission affect your brand and your culture? I expect it will be a lively and inspiring conversation. I cannot wait.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Organizations Must Incorporate Sustainability Within Their Business Models in Order to Strengthen Their Brand and Create Efficiencies

On June 28, 2011, FedEx announced that it would release 4,000 new fuel efficient vehicles as part of an effort to decrease pollution and become more energy efficient. Dan Beal, the vice president of Global Vehicles at FedEx, stated that “Our goal has always been to optimize and operate our vehicle fleet in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner so that emissions are reduced while serving our customers in the best possible manner.” FedEx, like other leading organizations (including GAP*), understands that aligning CSR strategies to improve their business model efficiencies is a means to create both a reputable and profitable brand.

For a company to be sustainable, it needs to be environmentally conscious in making its business decisions, as well as energy efficient and more resourceful than its competitors. Companies are adapting their business models to become more sustainable because it gives them a competitive edge and consequently improve their profitability. When reading about “The impact of CSR on brand reputation and sales,” I saw that 56% of people are more loyal to a brand that shows that they care about the environment which has become a hot topic due to the increased scare of global warming. The article also shows that 61% of people are more likely to buy from a company that has a good reputation with respect to being genuinely committed to help improve the planet. This shows that sustainability and success are very strongly correlated since sustainability leads to reputation and reputation leads to more loyal customers.

Due to the economic downturn, and increased global competition, it has become crucial for companies to be sustainable. During this post-recession time, by becoming more sustainable, companies are being able to save energy and lower consumption of resources, and perhaps most importantly, boost productivity and increase brand awareness. Companies that don’t understand the business value of sustainability run the risk of impeding their growth and being hurt economically in the long-term. Small to large enterprises are digging their own graves by neglecting to take advantage of sustainability as an essential strategy to reduce costs and enhance efficiency because they are too engrossed in the short term outlook and profitability. The sustainability framework follows the rule of “less is more” by using fewer resources to produce the same, or more, outcome and during this process they will create efficiencies and reduce costs in the long term. Sustainability fosters resourcefulness and gives customers what they want while leaving behind small environmental footprints.

In summary, becoming a leading organization in any industry today means finding ways to become more sustainable. For some companies, this means producing more with less to cut costs while sending a strong message of conservation to customers. A recent survey release by Packaging World shows that 72% of businesses' sustainability initiatives exceeded their expectations in terms of benefits. Sustainability is considered in 68% of business decisions due to the advantages of cost reduction and brand enhancement. The profound effect that sustainability has for a business goes beyond profitability, making a lasting positive impact on the balance sheet, the community and the planet.

Related Links:

DHL also following the trend of becoming sustainable --

Initiatives eBay is taking in order to be energy efficient and sustainable --

*What GAP has done to be successful in its sustainability programs --