Category Archives: innovation

Conversational UI

QZ have recently released a news reader app which uses a conversational style UI – mimicking the interactions that more normally take place in a person-to-person text or chat. Thanks to Rainer Wessler for pointing it out to me.

I’ve been fascinated by this sort of interface for a while – wondering which scenarios it would work best in – so it’s great to see QZ having fun with this. 


The app delivers news stories in text and image fragments with links through to QZ web articles, with cute prompts in between to keep you engaged and reading. Great fun to use and a really different approach to news delivery. 



high-res 3D scanning meet high-res 3D printing

via core77

This amazing, thesis-worthy work to scan old-master paintings for preservation purposes, has become the feed into a demonstration of the level of detail that a 3D printer can now create.

Using a built-for-purpose 3D scanning rig, which employs regular DSLR’s and a projector, paintings have been captured down to the micro-metre level to capture the actual formation of the paint using brush strokes and finger daubing.  I recommend watching all of the videos to get the full impression.

As I proposed in an earlier post (where I failed to imagine this level of detail) the possibility of replication becoming widely available will create a whole set of new issues relating to protecting the ownership and Intellectual Property of existing works and force a rethink of copyright laws. It’s even conceivable that we could soon see legislation to limit what a 3D printer is capable of.


Public transport suddenly makes sense

Over the past few years I’ve found myself using Taxis more and more to get around the city, steadfastly ignoring the fact that using the most expensive form of transport, in a grid-locked city like Sydney, one of the most expensive cities in the world, was becoming frustrating and digging a big hole in my wallet.

More than that, I found that in a Taxi I could never quite relax – always feeling somehow responsible for helping the Taxi driver navigate the best route, and always aware of the traffic jams around me. A minor comfort point is that I could never use my phone or ipad in a Taxi even on a short journey without feeling a bit queasy – not exactly the state I like to arrive to meetings in.

Over the past couple of months this situation has changed … a lot … since I took the time to recognise the brilliance that is Google maps + Public transport. I’ve been using maps for a long time, but typically while driving. Now I’m using them all the time during the day and the only downside is that my phone battery doesn’t like it so much.

From a user perspective using maps with public transport couldn’t be much easier :

Open Google maps on your phone. Tap on the directions button (circled red here).


Use the default of My Location and add the destination. Tap the button that looks like a bus – for public transport, then either use the default of “any transport mode” or select bus, train, ferry etc from the drop-down list (all circled in red).

Click Get directions. See a list of trips which include the walking time between stops, details of the stop number, bus number and time to complete the journey.


Details of each trip can be viewed as a list or map. So far, apart from buses being late (only occasionally) this has worked beautifully.


Now, with my additional discovery that there is a free shuttle bus around Sydney city, I’ve become a total advocate for public transport.

The utility of this becomes more amazing when you compare this to the official offering from the local transport companies, which has the same information presented in a much less simple way, and it is impressive that Google can plug all of this data into their maps and make it make sense. Good job Goog.

Innovation Blockers – Talk to the Hand

GesturesThere are a couple of key phrases that I’ve learned to recognise when I’m proposing that a group of stakeholders look at a new idea or approach :

  • We’ve already tried that
  • We’ve already thought of that

There is a third – “We were going to do it, but the business case didn’t stack up” – which I’ll deal with in a separate post.

These phrases, or variants on them, are often coded avoidance and could be re-written :

  • We’ve already tried that, it was a long time ago, didn’t work out how we expected (though we can’t  remember why) and now it’s part of our history that we’d rather forget.
  • We have something a bit like that somewhere on our plan – to be delivered in 3/5/10 years time. It’s a bit scary so we’ll continually de-prioritise it and subconsciously make sure it never gets done.

It is definitely really important to treat past experiences as real, and to explore how perceived failures can be treated positively – to be learnt from and built upon. It’s also important to resolve or remove these blockages (if that’s what they are) to make sure that the people who made the comment can be brought on board, and not be allowed to undermine a new idea. Try exploring the real underlying issue behind the comment – maybe this can be achieved by very clinically dissecting the past experience and breaking down why it was deemed a failure, then contrasting this with the aims and measures which will be used to assess the success of the new idea. You might also consider giving an old failure a metaphorical wake, or Viking funeral – a heroic sendoff that signals to all involved that the old idea is gone, and now its time to move on to something new.

Likewise, when “we’ve already thought of that” is the cry, the responding question has to be “well why haven’t you done anything about it ?”. Having ideas is easy, while executing the idea can often be really hard. A roadblock can be as simple as an anecdotal misunderstanding that just needs some new eyes and ears to unpick it to remove the roadblock. For example, in one company, a junior Lawyer made a disparaging comment about a concept that came to be eventually be distorted into “Legal won’t allow us to do it”. This put the concept into limbo for years before a new employee challenged the common misconception and brought the concept to life again.

Sometimes an idea just needs to be at the right time. Reasons for not proceeding with an idea can change due to external factors … customer expectations and habits change, laws & regulations change, technology and the competition all change, so why wouldn’t some older ideas be worth revisiting in light of all this ?

Good luck with getting around those roadblocks

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Building a business case for innovation

Yesterday morning I got out of bed at 4AM Sydney time to attend one of a series of free webinars on innovation run by Stanford center for professional development. 10AM in California doesn’t seem to be good for anywhere else as far as I can tell, yet there were 600+ people in attendance.

Being free, these are (as you might expect) not terribly deep – being aimed at recruiting students into the paid courses by offering a brief intro to the course, however they do offer good insights into the topic, and also of Stanford itself. Particularly impressive is the calibre of the presenters and guests.

The topic of “business models for innovators” was kicked off by professor Haim Mendelson, quickly moving to introduce the perspective of VC Howard Hartenbaum who described what, for him, makes a venture interesting enough to invest in, and also some of the indicators of a less interesting new business venture. Some of these seem a bit obvious (requires a lot of investment is a turn-off apparently), whereas the suggestion that click-based business models, or those in industries where acquirers don’t place a lot of value (services-oriented or relying on integration to legacy systems) were less obvious.

The case study on RelayRides from CEO Andre Haddad caught me out as it is already a step ahead of what I thought was the quite new innovation of short term car rental (such as Goget in Australia). The business model – leveraging off the Sharing Economy, and increasing tendency of young people to not buy cars – cuts through the traditional car hire model by completely removing the need for RelayRides to own any cars at all. Very smart, and successful.

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