The Trendwatching Brief should be considered mandatory reading, providing a refreshing perspective on international creativity and challenging you to rethink consumption, values, and human behavior. So it was with great interest I opened the latest Brief titled "Innovation Insanity." It presented 67 innovations from around the world that were "on trend"—perfect for living better, saving the planet, or just plain looking cool.
My interests lie at the intersection of green, brands, and innovation. With these filters in place, I scanned the new ideas. They generally fell into four buckets:
1. Revolutions—According to the theory of creative destruction, revolutionary innovations lead to the undoing of the status quo. Digital usurped analog, Walmart displaced Woolworths, and so on. These ground-breaking ideas don't come along every day, and they're difficult to predict. But I thought there were a few in the list that might qualify.
2. Evolutions - The "Reality TV" of innovation. Take a successful idea, give it a minor twist, and position it as something new. Familiar enough to be comfortable, different enough to be talked about, these 'purple cow' ideas comprise the vast majority of innovation. They keep us consuming while we wait for the next big thing.
3. Differentiators—Differentiators lie somewhere between revolutionary and evolutionary ideas. These innovations make us sit up and take notice, but won't inspire us to tattoo the company's logo on our head.
4. Fast Failers—It took Thomas Edison 3,000 failures to invent the electric light. A number of the ideas I reviewed seemed like they'd fall into the fast fail category, destined to be more valuable for their learning than their success.
And what innovations presented fit these categories?
Solar panel windows—As aesthetically pleasing as they may be, windows are typically a drain on a building's energy. These windows from the Netherlands, however, are the opposite. Not only can they be set to filter out light (preventing heat from entering the building on sunny days), but they act as solar panels, feeding power into the home or grid. When you consider how many windows are in the average building, this take on solar power seems to come with a brilliant insight to match its technological breakthrough.
Mobile laundry / clothing donation—Leave it to the folks at Method to create a completely brand-centric, unique, and fun way to donate your clothes. Their glass-walled washmobile cruises the streets of NYC, offering to take the clothes off your back, wash them and donate them to local charities. Expect impulse fashion buying to go through the roof, as people selflessly give up last season's jacket to justify getting that cute little piece in the boutique window.
Organic soups delivered by bike—Can't quite see the innovation here. Anyone who's lived in Asia or Europe has seen the same concept countless times. Now, if they actually made the soup while cycling, that would be worth sitting down and looking at.
Cardboard boxes with seeds built in—Every eco-consultant in the world has their business card printed on seed paper. Last Christmas, I received a half dozen greeting cards printed on same. Now, my refrigerator will come in a box impregnated with tree seeds. Not that new. That said, perhaps the cardboard box concept will be a differentiator—taking a niche product to the mainstream.
ATM Giving—I can round up my bill payment for a good cause already. I can give to charity as part of my purchase at some boutiques. Now I can send half my ATM transaction fee to a cause of my choice. Nice idea, convenient, and only half as annoying as paying full service fees for the privilege of withdrawing my own money from a machine.
Buy-one-get-one eyewear—When Tom's Shoes created its "buy a pair of shoes, and we give a pair of shoes" program, it was fresh and inspiring. So much so that pretty much everyone is doing it now. WarbyParker is giving a pair of eyeglasses for every pair you buy, a wine vendor is giving water for every bottle of wine you buy, and a tie-maker giving a school uniform with every tie you buy. Nice, yes. Innovation, no.
Carbon footprinting on menu items—Tesco has introduced shelf displays that document the carbon footprint of food items in the U.K. Walmart is working on the same idea in the U.S. But now, Australian restaurant Otarian is introducing the idea to its restaurant menu. If nothing else, this should boost liquor sales as diners experience the stress of trying to find entrees that are local, organic, solar-powered and ethical.
Solar purchasing collective—I met the folks from One Block Off The Grid at last year's Sustainable Brands Conference, and thought their idea (essentially, ganging solar buyers together by geography in order to negotiate favorable deals from suppliers, installers and financiers) was a great one. Plus it addressed several real consumer needs. Glad to hear they're doing well. Look for this model to set the tone for how clean energy is sold to consumers in the future.
Eco-coach in your car—Fiat came up with the idea of eco-tips for drivers with their ecoDrive software. The follow up includes coaching in real time, in your car. From giving you the most efficient routes to telling you to lay off the leadfoot, this innovation taps into the insight that modifying consumer behavior can create incredible efficiencies. Expect this idea to be copied by all when it's introduced.
The crowdfunded lamp—Dutch designer Daniel Schipper will show you online pictures of his '100 x 100' lamp. But he won't produce one for you to buy until he's received a hundred orders. Not only does this planned scarcity provide a good status story, but it allows Schipper to tweak his design until he gets one that really triggers sales.
What innovation to which developing nation?—Kopernik is a go-between connecting inventors, donors, and non-profits in developing countries. Inventors pay to display their technology on Kopernik's site. Non-profits write proposals outlining how they would use those innovations. And donors pledge money to the proposal / invention they believe has the most merit. Although Kopernik's business model isn't a fast failer per se, it has the power to weed out all but the strongest innovation ideas for those in need.
Thermoelectic recharge rubber boots—I've seen solar recharging backpacks. I've seen power generating dancefloors. Now there's rubber boots that recharge your iPod using the heat of your feet. Expect this idea to either join the ranks of the 'nice novelties' and quietly die, or explode as the next 'must have'. My bet is on the former.
Only time will tell if my insights into these green innovations hold water. If I get it wrong, I'll buy you a solar powered, locally brewed, ethical beer at Otarian.