Innovative Ideas to Watch in 2012

The following six ideas emerged this past year as powerful “innovation invitations.” They seem certain to intensify in power and influence. They’ll be sources of — and resources for — innovation differentiation this coming year. If your organization doesn’t find them innovatively interesting, then be careful: they may be wielded by the competitors you most dread.

1. The Slacktivism Co-Opt

As much a term of derision as global sociological phenomenon, slacktivism has emerged as social media’s way of making support for a cause as easy as a re-tweet or clicking Facebook’s “like” button. Critics insist that this “path of least resistance” mechanism for saving the whales/the earth/indigenous tribes or supporting the fight against breast cancer/prostate cancer/muscular dystrophy better represents an impulsive twitch of a finger than thoughtful commitment. But that doesn’t mean savvy marketers aren’t supremely well-positioned to embrace slacktivism as an outreach to customers and communities alike. The growing desire of large organizations and global brands to align with — or be seen to be aligned with — causes that matter assures that we’ll start seeing market leaders seek a higher profile in making it easy for their communities of customers to show their support.

2. Counting on Self-Quantifiers for Growth

Mobile, digital and networked devices have created a global sub-culture of self-quantifiers — that is, individuals who rigorously count every step they take, ever calorie they eat, every minute they sleep, every email/text they send/receive and every schedule change they make. The even quantify how often they self-quantify. Some think of this as networked narcissism. But individuals hewing to Thales’ admonition to “Know thyself” believe self- the greatest innovation in the history of introspection. Organizations like Weight Watchers and LiveStrong already offer calorie counter apps for overweight SQers but it’s clear that self-quantification offers a remarkable marketing opportunity for firms that want their customers to count on — and up — the value they get. Health care, nutrition and energy consumption are only the most obvious marketing opportunities for Innovative Self Quantification Marketing Opportunities. Transportation, mobile communications professional development and — yes — parenting are also rife with opportunity. Given ongoing trends, consumers will soon find self-quantification apps and options as ubiquitous as “Like” buttons and QR codes.

3. Gerontabletification

Demography is, indeed, destiny. The world — particularly the wealthy OECD countries — is growing older. This creates enormous fiscal strains for social welfare states but fantastic market opportunities for device-driven innovators. Mobile phones are too small; their screens too tiny and keyboards too minute. But tablets have emerged as ideal media platforms for those requiring larger fonts and bigger keys. The iPad — originally marketed as the hip & cool media consumption device — has ceased to be a symbol of youth and vitality. It’s now how silver haired executives — and 75 year old grandmas — read the news, manage their email and play games with the kids. When this reality is linked to emerging medical research indicating that mental exercise can delay the onset and impact of cognitive diminution, it’s clear that there are more reasons for the aged population to have tablets than not. Any company with older customers that doesn’t customize apps and offerings for their 60+ users are guilty of brand-destructive age discrimination.

4. Globalizing Grand Challenges

The X Prize Foundation has transformed commercial space entrepreneurship with its innovative X Prizes. DARPA — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — has transformed robotics, autonomous vehicle design and real-time social media network utilization with a series of provocatively produced “Grand Challenges.” Over the past decade, America has been a leader in the design, development and marketing of competitions and prizes for technical innovation. But it’s time the so-called emerging economies stepped up. Brazil is a vibrant, eco-conscious, increasingly entrepreneurial and innovative economy that has the money and the brains to design a that inspires attention and excitement from innovators worldwide. Should it be Amazon or Flex Fuels related? Or might agro-biotech be the better offer? India desperately needs more innovative ways of handling education, health care and — especially — infrastructure. Which Indian state or ministry — or billionaire! — will design the right kind of stimulative competition or prize? China, of course, is China. Who is better positioned to exploit “not-quite-market” mechanisms to bring high impact innovation to the middle kingdom? China wants to spur innovation. This is one dramatically cost-effective way to do it.

5. Handheld

Even in an increasingly virtual environments, physical space matters. The rise of accessible augmented reality technologies makes physical location matter more. Place-based social media like Foursquare have done tremendously well in attracting both users and attention. Who, or what, will be the Foursquare of Augmented Visualization and Interaction? Companies like Layar are taking an active stab at it. But Apple’s IOS and appstore ecosystem — as well as Android’s and Microsoft/Nokia’s new innovation efforts — now makes it far easier to link visual overlays, “enotations” and virtual Post-It notes to geo-spatial coordinates. In other words, don’t just read the Foursquare comments but “see” graffiti, sketches, maps and comments simply by peering through your tablet or mobile phone. Instead of “taking” pictures and images, it lets you “see” them as a function of the “augmented reality” layer of data and information stored in the digisphere.

A store like Macy’s or Home Depot could use augmented reality layers to let people see underlying details of clothes or tools that a simple tag or QR code might not. Indeed, expect a tussle between retailers and product suppliers over whose “augmented reality” deserves in-store primacy. We may see “augmented reality” fees replace stocking fees as part of physical retailing business models. But that’s a battle for beyond 2012. What’s next is the first wave of mobile devices becoming augmented reality viewers for their users. Expect to see QR code/augmented reality mashups as a 2012 investment to facilitate the virtual transition.

6. The Greenlash Arrives

The ban on incandescent light bulb sales in America is delayed. The costs — and unwieldiness — associated with energy efficient devices turn out to be greater than expected. BP’s solar shut down and solar power company bankruptcies in Silicon Valley and Berlin surprise. The failure of Spanish and Scottish wind farms to deliver disappoints. The economic opportunities from “tight” gas and oil finds in America and China impress. The rate of technical innovation in horizontal drilling and fracking continues unabated. The Chevy Volt is a hot car (but in the wrong way.) The economic growth debates around the proposed Keystone pipeline intensify.

Is there a Greenlash emerging that’s pushing populations worldwide to reconsider so-called fossil fuels as better, safer and more reliable than their renewable counterparts? There’s little doubt that they’re proving to be cheaper.

Vibrant innovation worldwide in natural gas and petrochemical technologies has come to rival — both in perception and reality — innovation associated by Greentech. Certainly, the global oil industry seems more excited by its most recent advances than the “green VCs” see in theirs. Instead of being technologically moribund and creatively dull, an established industry has challenged the eco-myth of “Peak Oil.” Conversely, the green promises of eco-tech are taking longer and costing more than many of its champions promised. As energy-dependent economies chug along with growth far lower than expected or desired, green options are looking rather gray. Fossil fuels are being rebranded as organic. Expect 2012 and its associated elections in America and Europe to spark vicious debate about which industries are more innovative, cost-effective and best for the environment.


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