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36 posts from February 2005

Why a Biologist Can't Fix your Radio

Want an opportunity to think about how you think? Then read this great article. I don't understand it all, but I frequently laughed out loud, and I know if holds the secret to my current frustrations with solving a marketing problem: I just haven't invented the right tools!

I try not to link to PDF files, but it's the only simple way to get to this article: Thanks to danah boyd for a heads up.

I've never heard this before? Why???

At this stage, the Chinese saying that it is difficult to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat, comes to mind too often. If you want to continue meaningful research at this time of widespread desperation, David said, learn how to make good tools and how to keep your mind clear under adverse circumstances.

Must remember...

Researching the Plans of the 'Retiring' Boomers

Nationally syndicated columnist Scott Burns shares my curiosity about the career plans of the aging baby boomers, and he's taken the right step: asking them to contact him and tell him what their plans are! If you 55 or older, you should participate.

Link: - Scott Burns: The silver-haired and their silver lining.

So far, this [demographic] change [of baby boomers aging and retiring] has been discussed as though it would be a dead-weight loss [to the economy]. I think that's wrong, but I can't tell you how we will benefit. I also can't tell you how, or if, that benefit will be measured anywhere. We know how to measure formal employment. We know how to measure what people do for money. Economists do all of that pretty well. What economists do poorly, if at all, is measure the human economy that makes the money economy possible.

So, readers, help me with this. If you are 55, 60, 65 or 75 and have retired or have otherwise found a need to reinvent yourself, write and tell me what you did, how you did it, and how you think it adds value to our society and economy. SCOTT BURNS, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas 75265; e-mail can be sent to [email protected].

A Market to Watch: Senior Workers

I've heard a lot of presentations about the coming labor shortage, but I haven't seen enough studies about the changing demographics of the workforce. As the baby boomers age, they will NOT leave for retirement and be replaced by a similar workforce. The new workforce will be much, much more diverse. We will have many more instances of older people working for younger people. It's going to be very unpredictable because I don't think employers are getting prepared.

In the LA Times, Catherine Saillant shares some observations, statistics and signs of disconnect:

In a 2003 survey, the AARP, the nation's largest senior citizens organization, found that 68% of those between the ages of 50 and 70 said they expected to work past normal retirement age. Financial need was the No. 1 reason cited.

In California, 523,000 people older than 65 are still working, said Bonnie Parks, of the state's Employment Development Department. Of those, 144,000 are in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Parks said.

Companies are more open to hiring older people because of labor shortages, Parks said. Recent retirees are being coaxed back to work in the fields of nursing, accounting and retail, she said.

But once workers reach about 75, finding work becomes much more difficult. Employers worry that those in their 80s and 90s might not have the strength or mental capacity to get the job done, said Parks, who runs the employment department's Senior Advocate Office.

A Good Idea Finally Finds a Good Home

One of the reason that market research seldom produces breakthrough innovation is that you seldom find a good idea in the place you're looking for it. Recently I started paying attention to how long I brush my teeth myself, and two minutes is hard to do. I can't wait to get one of these...

Link: - Got a Song Stuck In Your Head? Try Brushing by Joseph Pereira (subscription required)

Toy maker Hasbro Inc. has been trying for more than six years to find a use for its clever invention of a pea-size device that transmits sound through enamel and bone. At first, the company tried marketing the technology in a lollipop that, when sucked, would play a catchy tune. But parents choked on the $10 price tag, and the product was discontinued. Unwilling to give up, Hasbro considered spoons, forks -- even pens -- that would play a musical ditty in the mouth. Those ideas never made it out of the lab. Now, Hasbro has a product it thinks it can take to the bank: a musical toothbrush. When pressed to the teeth, the toothbrush renders a recorded riff from a pop star that lasts two minutes -- precisely the amount of time dentists say children should spend brushing their teeth. Hasbro plans to highlight that advice in marketing for the new toothbrush, which also has a suggested retail price of $10. Called "Tooth Tunes," it's getting a thumbs-up from dentists.

Thanks to Tim Manners of Reveries for a heads-up on this story.

Unexpected Activities in the Usual Places

Today's Trendcentral email newsletter from Youth Intelligence has observations of two fashionable hot spots where the unexpected happens. First at the boutique:

Owned by designer/artist Kime Buzzelli, this Echo Park style incubator is one of the most creative stores we’ve encountered in our travels. Each month, themed installations (e.g. dolls, circus, sleep) fill the store with new, and usually handmade, clothing and objects. For the opening parties on the first Saturday of every month, people arrive in hip, fancy dress and DJs spin records. While Show Pony is more about art than commerce, we won’t be surprised if alumni of this shop end up at New York Fashion Week someday.

Show Pony, 1543 Echo Park Avenue, Los Angeles, CA (Echo Park)

They're also spotlighting a Japanese bar called SuperDeluxe which seems to release its space for artists to take over and create events after-hours. (

How can we apply this idea? Maybe the Brown Book Shop would let us party there...naah.

What Really Matters is Making a Difference

During my first 20 years of working, I struggled to make a contribution. All around me, my mentors, bosses and co-workers kept saying 'it's just business--you're taking it too personally--just do what you're asked to do.' But that was never enough for me. I tried starting my own business but my lonely efforts never built enough momentum to make a difference.

I met Cliff Kurtzman because at one point we were both reading Fast Company magazine, the first business to boldly declare on its front cover 'Work is personal.' All through the pages of the magazine were stories of people who were working for one thing: to make a difference. Well, Cliff doesn't read Fast Company anymore, but he still cares about the same things, as evidenced in this interview about his experience creating the web site

Link: Then - Now from Razor Magazine's February 2005 issue, quoting
Cliff Kurtzman of Adastro:

When the clocks prepared to roll over on the eve of Y2K, the mood was almost anti-climactic. As the new-year came and went, everything worked! There were very few reported instances of serious problems caused by the Y2K bug. Looking back, I'm proud to say that we were able to demonstrate an ability to use an Internet venture to make a significant change in the world and to avert a very real and tangible crisis that threatened to cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. It is not often that one has a chance to make a worldwide impact on that scale.

U.S. Innovation Priority for U.S. Businesses?

Glad to see that Fast Company magazine covered the National Innovation Initiative Summit last December, since none of my friends attended! Ryan Underwood found the business leaders to be hypocritical, talking about supporting U.S. innovation while they were busy chasing lower-cost innovation resources from other countries.

Link: Walking the Talk?.

In Beijing, just as Palmisano was opening the event, executives from China's Lenovo Group Ltd. were wrapping up a meeting with analysts to discuss their acquisition of IBM's personal-computer division eight days earlier. As Jerry Sanders, cofounder of Advanced Micro Devices Inc., was warning that America "just has to move faster than everyone else," his company was announcing a deal to develop next-generation flash-memory technology with Taipei-based Macronix International Co. Ltd. Wagoner's General Motors had just agreed to let Taiwan's Yulon Motor Co. make cars under GM brands. All of which made the council's event and the NII report -- despite its 37 precise and considered policy recommendations -- seem little more than a grandly staged but perfunctory exercise in lip service. The CEO heavies mouthed the politic words, but their companies showed that today, innovation isn't bounded by national borders.

I don't disagree with Underwood, but if you read the report (confession: I haven't finished it yet), it's not so hypocritical because it's all about what the U.S. government ought to do to support U.S. innovation. These companies don't feel responsible. Maybe they should, but considering they expect to have growing revenue streams from these foreign countries, it's not unfair for them to employ their innovators as well.

Personally, I'd rather see U.S. corporations investing energy in getting socially responsible behavior from their foreign suppliers rather than growing more local innovators. Guess I've gone global, too.

One thing I do recommend about the report is using it as a terrific source for facts and quotes about the state of innovation. If your job involves selling innovations, then you should download a copy of the report (pdf).