Innovation, Coffee and German Philosophers

I’ve been thinking about coffee lately. And innovation. And, of course Nietzsche. Who doesn’t, after all?

Coffee has two roles in innovation. The obvious one is in keeping people awake so they can think of new ideas. The mathematician Alfréd Rényi called a mathematician a “device for turning coffee into theorems.”

But it also has a historical role. By the late 17th Century coffee had taken hold of Europe, and with it came the coffee house: a place where people of different backgrounds get together and talk, argue, exchange ideas, and pass the sugar. When Hobbes, Voltaire, Madison, Paley broke the intellectual ice with their startling new ideas, coffee houses were the perfect place to spread and refine them. The British called coffee houses “penny universities,” since you could rub shoulders with prominent people for the price of a nonfat caramel macchiato.

I’m not sure what Nietzsche’s drink was, but he proposed that truth was relative – what is true depends on a person’s perspective. Different people bring different perspectives. What the coffee house did was bring those perspectives together.

The power of open source is that it brings people with different perspectives together. Sure, Eric Raymond said that with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. But it’s not the numbers, it’s the perspective – a million identical eyeballs won’t make a dent in a problem – they need to contribute from their own context.

The moral – when you’re innovating, bring in not just more people but ones with different perspectives. And don’t forget the coffee.


December 7, 2013 at 7:59 AM Leave a comment

The dawn of the digital renaissance

Screen Shot 2012-12-17 at 3.03.26 PMI am beginning to see the future. Working with high school students helps you do that. Our business and political leaders are not the future, it’s the newly minted young adults that are. And they live in a world that is very differently from ours.

I have heard the complaints about this younger generation – that they are unmotivated and lazy. Or that they are not willing to pay the price of admission to success that we paid, but, instead, are impatient and want it all now.

The more that I spend time with this generation the more that I realize the disconnect between their world and ours. They are the first true digital generation whose fluency with electronic devices makes our heads spin. But we continue to teach them the same way that we did fifty years ago, in a slow, plodding and often painful journey with unclear goals. No wonder we have a crisis of relevancy and our graduation rates are suffering.

That is not how they are wired. As never before in the history of mankind, they have access to tool sets that allow them to quickly acquire knowledge they need on the fly or, with a click, connect themselves to someone with expertise they need.  But what they are missing is often a purpose to focus their potential. Put that piece in place, I believe, and we will be able to help them unleash an amazing creative genius which will underpin a new age, birthing a digital renaissance.

So I did an experiment. We took five students who did not know how to write a single line of software code, matched them up with a developer who had never taught kids, threw them at a problem that was really important for them, and watched what happened.

This was a classic information problem. In high schools, kids don’t know what is going on. There are so many announcements, both general ones and for clubs, sports, etc, that the information flow is overwhelming. On top of that, the primary means by which announcements are communicated are incredibly ineffective for reaching kids. Announcements are emailed to them (but no one reads email in this generation) or they are read over telephone speakers in the front of the classroom (where they are almost impossible to hear).


The kids said, look, we need to have our announcements on our mobile phones with easily customizable filters so that we are able to focus on those that are relevant to us.

In two short meetings, they mapped out the solution for a new mobile app and an underlying management system for the announcements and then started coding using agile methodologies and putting together a solution using readily available technologies and platforms. Six months later they are ready to release their beta version in what may be the most sophisticated dynamic messaging solution for any high school in the country.


Never underestimate these kids. They are going to transform the world.

December 17, 2012 at 3:18 PM 2 comments

Innovation and the Struggle for Control

You’ve probably known for a while that Firefox is moving to a faster development cycle, and a lot of corporations are peeved.

The complaint of the big IT departments: “We can’t keep up your release cycles. Slow down your innovation, if you please.”

What’s going on here? It’s a fundamental struggle – don’t we love fundamental struggles? – between Control and Innovation. Firefox is doing the innovating – making their tool faster, more adaptable, and more secure with every release (at least, we hope they are). Corporate IT departments want to keep control of the tools they use. They’ve established what Firefox calls “effort-intensive certification policies.” You can’t control something when it changes every week, and you’re not notified till it’s a fait accompli.

The IT guys can’t keep up with Firefox, which is doing its job trying to keep up with the market. I’m with Firefox here. If a corporation’s culture can’t adapt to others’ innovation, how’s it going to keep up with the increasing demands for rapid innovation from its customers? These companies are hobbling their employees with old tools.

It’s time for them to adopt a new model, including a new take on certification. And its time that we expeted our IT departments to get ahead of the innovation curve instead of dragging it down.

July 12, 2011 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

When Customer Satisfaction Harms Customer Loyalty

Satisfied customers are loyal.

Says who? Not hoteliers. According to a new study, satisfaction across the hospitality industry is rising, but sales aren’t. That’s because customer loyalty is sliding.

How can satisfaction be up and loyalty down? Because the pickings are too good. Hotels have been promoting low-price deals. Instead of choosing their favorite hotel, consumers know they can always search for something cheaper. So yes, they’re satisfied. At those prices, who can complain? The study’s author calls this “Price-induced satisfaction.”

Hoteliers have found a way to increase satisfaction while deep-sixing loyalty. Nice work, guys.

What’s really going on? Well, customers are getting more value these days. But you can increase value two ways: offer more for the same money, or charge less for the same product.

Charging less for equivalent products creates tangible, monetary value. But creating delightful experiences defines intangible value – and that’s where loyalty lies. The intangibles – a hotel’s reliability, friendliness, efficiency, the extra effort they put in to know you personally – these are what spur loyalty. They give customers a sense of belonging. When people feel they belong to something, you can deepen the relationship. When people feel they’ve made a great bargain, that’s all they get.

In sum: manipulating your tangible value can undermine your intangible value. You’re commoditizing your customer relationship – essentially, you’re buying customers.

Creating intangible value is harder than creating tangible value. You need to understand in what areas your strengths lie, and excel in those. It can be a long, hard road.

But it has rewards. People are not only loyal to products with intangible value; they pay a premium for them.

July 5, 2011 at 1:34 PM Leave a comment

Phony Assets vs. the Trusted Advisor

As a marketer, the first two items on your to-do list are making people aware and then engaging them. The first task is easy to understand. The second, not so much. And that’s a problem, because engaging your customers is the key to establishing a relationship with them. And relationships are everything.

Customer Experience Crossroads has been exploring the idea of customer relationships lately:

…most relationship marketing strategies are hollow at the core, and are really a pretty label for direct marketing tactics. Which is fine, but don’t call it a relationship.

Exactly. One relationship that’s not hollow, if you can achieve it, is that of trusted advisor. This is not a brokered relationship – exchange is not the point. When you are a trusted advisor, you’re giving your prospects and customers, without any immediate recompense, information that helps them do their job.

If you’re advising via media such as white papers, your content should be of value to your audience. That sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many companies just throw any old stuff that’s lying around onto their site and call it a “resource center.” What your customers want is content conceived from their perspective, that will make them smarter and more capable.

It won’t work if your intention isn’t the welfare of your prospects. After all, you can probably smell a phony a mile away; do you think your prospects can’t? If you promise 5 Ways to Improve your Bottom Line and you give them five product descriptions, you’re a phony. Pure and simple.

If you put out resources that you feel are truly helpful, you’re on your way to building a relationship that will benefit both of you.

June 28, 2011 at 10:05 AM Leave a comment

Marketing and the Sense of Belonging

I read a fine post on Only Dead Fish the other day. It dealt with the question of how we find community in our fragmented world. Another question occurred to me: what does the fundamental human desire for community have to do with marketing?

Belonging is in our DNA. The instinct to congeal into tribes and villages is powerful. But it’s not unconquerable: post-war American society did a great job quashing it. For generations we were told that happiness equals stuff rather than happiness equals belonging. We moved to suburbs where we could set ourselves apart, with lots of room for our possessions. It didn’t really work out.

Now belonging is back. Open source aligns programmers and users in a shared purpose. The Internet and social media allow disparate people to form communities despite boundaries that would have kept them in different universes a couple of decades ago. People share information, opinions, and ideas. And sharing is the basis of open innovation, and the basis of community.

What’s the implication? How can we build communities in ways that help us build our business?

We need to realize that the old marketing model, by which I try to persuade you to think the way I want you to think, is on the wane. In the new model, we empower and share. We have knowledge, and we want to share it, to make you smarter and more able to do your job.

When we market, we need to be conscious of the community we’re creating. When you share knowledge and empower people, you build trust. And trust is the basis of community – and business success.

June 23, 2011 at 9:19 AM Leave a comment

The Problem With Lists

A very worthwhile post on Marketing Sherpa about third party lists appeared recently. Adam T. Sutton rightly points out that most business rely heavily on them, and shouldn’t. He also reiterates Brad Bortone’s wise words:

…effective email marketing is based on relationships. These relationships hinge on expectations, promises, and trust.

In truth, third party email lists are a piece of the puzzle, and they’re sometimes appropriate. But the core of marketing is establishing trusted relationships. Which is why, most of the time, you’re better off investing in your own database.Domesday Book

When you do use a third party list, the hardest nut to crack is profiling. A lot of marketers profile based on description (“he’s an engineer, works for a 8 billion dollar company”). Instead, you need to profile their persona – find out the problem they want to solve. Knowing their company’s annual revenue won’t get you closer to a sale.

With the right persona, you can gradually increase the relevance of your communications to the people on the third party lists, until they begin to trust you.

Until then, they’re just another name on a list.

June 20, 2011 at 7:07 AM Leave a comment

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Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at


"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters