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29 posts from March 2005

Houston gets Recognized for Technology, Some

Popular Science magazine has developed a totally new scale for measuring how "high-tech" a city is, and Houston did better than it usually does...

Houston Business Journal: Popular Science ranks Houston a top 10 tech metro - 2005-03-09.

Popular Science ranked cities in six categories. Houston placed:

  • 2nd in use of technology in education including research and development spending by local universities and the number of students using computers in school;
  • 2nd in transportation innovation, including the efficient use of mass transit and the prevalence of alternative fueling stations;
  • 17th in the smart use of energy;
  • 23rd in hospitals and in emergency response, including the number of clinical trials and the use of GPS by emergency-medical personnel;
  • 68th in high-tech job opportunities per capita;
  • 86th in connected citizenry, including the use of high-tech gadgets such as cell phones, HDTVs, computers and satellite cable.

Ouch! on high-tech job opps. Read the original Popular Science story here.

Another Example of Useful Advertising

Link: MediaPost Out to Launch by Amy Corr (subscription required)

The "World Poker Tour" Season III returns to The Travel Channel and to celebrate, created an online campaign that allows surfers to test their skills at Texas Hold 'Em. After the hand, the banner tells players what the right moves were, so they can become more skillful players. The ads then direct users to the Travel Channel Web site, for more game playing and additional tips.

Wharton Professor Takes Innovation to Every Level

Wharton professor Karl Ulrich is a wonderful role model for innovators, not only inventing but constantly tinkering with everything in his life to find new and better ways to do things. He invented an adult scooter called the Xootr. He designed his own personal 'Kyoto Protocol' to make sure he invested at least as much in renewable energy as would offset the driving of his pickup truck, and then he decided to assign innovation to his students:

Link: Getting Credit for a Novel Approach to Offsetting Auto Emissions - Knowledge@Wharton.

Ulrich suspected other people might be willing to pay to offset their auto emissions but realized that most of them wouldn't take the trouble that he did. The key, he knew, was making it easy. Enter TerraPass. Ulrich figured that the company could sell memberships -- the price would be based on the amount people drove -- and then invest its revenues in clean power and pollution reduction. Ulrich didn't have time to work out the details himself... [so] he decided to turn the challenge over to the 41 students in his "Problem Solving, Design and System Improvement" class this past fall. In October, when the half-semester class began, he presented the idea and announced that the students' assignment for the semester was turning it into a business.

Tom Arnold, a second-year MBA student in the class, remembers surprise sweeping through the room. "It was the initial shock of, 'We are not actually going to launch a business in six weeks,'" he says.

On November 23, 2004, TerraPass, incorporated as BenVen LLC, began selling annual memberships. Customers pay $30 to $80 a year, based on how much carbon dioxide their cars emit during 12 months. Owners of gas-electric hybrids pay the least; owners of SUVs and trucks, the most. "We really forced the launch, and it wasn't pretty, but we came out, had a test and got some nibbles," Arnold recalls. By the time the students made their final class presentation on December 9, they had sold 149 memberships, mostly to friends and family members.         

Many class projects would have been declared a success at this point and the project would then have been dropped. Some of Ulrich's students, however, decided to continue developing TerraPass. This spring, a group of nine, with Arnold as coordinator, is pushing ahead on the company. By early February, the students had sold about 300 memberships and were aiming to raise money from investors. 

Houston has Access to the Future

This month's issue of the design magazine I.D. has an article by Tom Vanderbilt on futurists and includes wonderful insights from Peter Bishop who heads the soon-to-be-resusitated Studies of the Future program at UH/Clear Lake.

The Houston Company of Friends was started by Kaye Patterson and one of Peter's students, Christian Crews, whose career as a futurist is profiled.

Link: I.D Magazine.

The future may be anyone's guess, but corporations still want a heads-up. That's why you can find people like Christian Crews now serving as the director of "futures strategy" within Pitney-Bowes, the company best known for postal technology. "Snail mail" may not seem as if it has much of a future, but that's precisely why a futurist can be so vital for the company.

Thanks, danah, for Explaining the Overlap between Blogging and Journalism

One of the reason I like to read blogs is to see new and interesting points of view. I also scan the editorial page of the paper, but I never find anything as insightful as this.

Link: apophenia: Are Bloggers Journalists? Wrong Question..

Paper. What do people use paper for? They take notes, write lists, document their lives, and publish things. Hmm. These practices sound a lot like some of what people do with blogs, only using a different medium. Of course, i'll be the first to argue that blogs and paper are architecturally very very very different - that have notably different affordances and result in entirely different culture. But they both have an array of practices associated with them. And thus, you would never ask something like "Are paperists journalists?"

We know that not all bloggers are journalists. The question then becomes - are some? Well, this is where it gets interesting. Who gets to determine who is and is not a journalist?

The Replacement of Consumers by Participants

Marketers are under increasing pressure to serve up a customer experience in which the customer can participate.

Promo Magazine: Live from IEG: The Rise of 'Culture Marketing'.

"The relationship between brands and society will be a major opportunity and chafing point for the next century," said Zolli, founder of New York-based think tank Z Partners. "People deeply resist the idea that they're merely consumers. They are participants—and what's more, they are in control."

"Rather than interrupting consumers' experiences, companies have an opportunity to enhance them," she said. "The big opportunity is to make people feel better about themselves because of a sponsorship."

Strike a balance between "broadcast, where the media happens," and "conversation, where culture happens," Zolli said. Brands need to balance both kinds of marketing messages while remaining culturally authentic.

Understanding the Decision-Making Challenge

In my business, I often find that customers avoid making decisions because they are overwhelmed with confusing information and competing pressures to perform along many dimensions--keep costs down, anticipate future problems, exploit existing resources, etc. Jeff Thull seems to have a handle on the situation. In this article he explains how to anticipate and deal with pricing pressure. Driving Forces of Commoditization by Jeff Thull of Prime Resource Group

The oft-ignored reality of the complex sales environment is that our customers need help. They need help understanding the problems they face. They need help designing the optimal solutions to those problems, and they need help implementing those solutions. It is your responsibility to advise your customers, give them a process to make quality decisions and help them succeed. Your competitive advantage will rapidly erode if you don't take the critical steps to help them get there.