Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another Reason Why You Should Get Facebook: It's a the Best News Agency

Most of us would agree that being in the know is essential, especially in this fast-paced, digitalized world. These days, you’re simply expected to be aware of what’s going on in the world; newspapers and magazines litter every corner, in honor boxes, coffee shops, and street vending stations. TV and radio turn on with the push of a button. But above all, the internet means you can browse all your favorite papers with a few clicks of the mouse, while the dawn of the smartphone era means that you can be fed an incredible amount of information no matter where you are.

The fact in the matter is, if you don’t know which Congressman just visited where, which technology upstart just got taken over, and which superstar just won the Grammy for “Best New Artist,” your survival is at question. But there’s a dilemma.
Sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in a day to spend two reading the Times, online or otherwise. That’s why I’ll rarely read the news more than once or twice a week. I seem to have a more efficient method. It’s called Facebook.

Yes, along with stalking co-workers, finding long lost friends, and sharing your latest break-up story, Facebook has yet another function. I mean, think about it. Why is being informed so important to you? For most people, it’s all about being socially accepted and being able to hold a decent conversation with your neighbor on the subway.

And this exactly why it’s a good idea to trust your friends as your most reliable news agency. They’ll post all the things that go on in the world that they’re happy about, sad about, mad about, etc. And if your friends are, to some extent, a good representation of the average person, what’s on their minds is probably what’s on a lot of other people’s minds. Suddenly, after your friend posted a rant about her disdain for Tea Party-ers, you’ll know what’s basically happening when somebody brings it up in conversation.

Brilliantly simple but incredibly effective.

Hackers Control Apple and All of Technology: Will the Blackberry Playbook Embrace Them?

The moment the iPad was released, computer geeks, amateur and professional alike, began their determined endeavors to hack the new gadget. And if you think about it, we can say the same thing for pretty much every piece of technology― that has achieved even marginal popularity― that has been released in the last 3 or 4 years.

Let’s face it, hackers control our technology. Companies spend millions of dollars and thousands of man hours trying fruitlessly to thwart the efforts of these people. But why?

Even if Apple has 100, 500, or even 1000 of the most capable programmers in the world working on solutions to hacking, there are probably hundreds of thousands of people contributing to solutions to those solutions. Sure, they don’t have fancy Ph. D’s in computer sciences from MIT but 500,000 novice programmers beat a thousand experts any day.

So my question to the mighty Steve Jobs is:

Why waste all these resources on trying to prevent the inevitable? Besides, so many users are drawn to Apple products just because they can be hacked, then decked out with some sort of custom operating system. If Apple is really all about satisfying its users at any cost, shouldn’t they be working with hackers to create better products? And shouldn’t they be open to “hacking” if in reality, it only improves their products?

And now, as the Blackberry Playbook was announced yesterday, I’m looking forward to seeing how RIM will respond to its hackers. The first company to embrace them might be the one to see profits stacking up like firewood, while its competitors wither in the background.

Didn’t I say that hackers were the most powerful people in technology?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Most Ethical School Fundraising Program: An Idea for School-Friendly Fundraising

Last year was the first year that I really got involved within my school, joining every last club I could get my hands on. And looking back now, it was a hugely rewarding experience in every respect; I learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and got to do my part to make the world a better place.

One of the groups I joined was “Free the Children”, which was basically our school’s chapter of the international humanitarian organization. So just another one of those fundraising groups. But not really.

From the beginning of the year, we were faced with a hurdle. The administrative team at our school was frankly, not too thrilled about another lengthy line-up of fundraising initiatives. This was because in previous years, some groups had gone over the top, forming irritating little clusters of fundraising events. Every week they’d ask the student body to bring in five dollars for freezies or ice cream sandwiches or cookies, often to benefit highly selfish causes. Thus, we were naturally not aiming to follow in these footsteps, and so we asked ourselves this question:

How can we get money without asking for money?

And by this, we didn’t mean that we wanted to use some subtle combination of psychological warfare tactics, to pressure our classmates into giving money. Rather, we actually wanted students never to have to bring in money to buy this or buy that. We needed some sort of alternative…

Then, voila! We came across an organization called Bag2School and what these guys do is that they provide your school with a bunch a blue garbage bags. You will fill these bags with clothes and for every tonne of material you collect and hand over, they will give you $200.

Now, at the time, that seemed like a whole lot of material and I didn’t believe we’d be able to get even half a tonne. However, in the end, we collected almost 1.5 tonnes of clothing and got a generous little bonus, so they gave us a little more than $300.

And we were an elementary school. Think about what a high school or college would be able to do.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How to Easily Make a Million-Dollar Company and a Global Brand

One Million-Dollar Brand
I love having fun. I attend every little festival or celebration I can get my hands on and regular the local cinema with various groups of friends. It’s become a bad habit. Or maybe a good one.

To this day, I’ve never been disappointed in my grade average, which consistently hovers around 86 and 87. However, after every semester, when everyone loves to fervently compare their averages, I will never be on top. There are always those passionate students who commit themselves unconditionally to acing every test and crafting a masterpiece out of every assignment. They are almost dutiful in their devotion to whizzing through every 600-page philosophy book and then reading ahead in the history textbook in whatever time’s left over.

And honestly, I have the utmost respect for these people because of how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to reach their goals. Probably, by the time they’re 25, they’ll have amassed a degree at Harvard and a $2 million contract at some Wall Street investment firm.

But in this day and age, it’s not the all-out bookworm that founds the billion-dollar brands; it’s the intelligent socialite who was able to take in all the culture around him and make something of it.

Take Maureen Kelly, the CEO of one of America’s fastest growing cosmetics companies, Tarte Cosmetics. She operates strictly off instincts, never exploring price models or running cost analysis. Her brand’s latest product launch is a groundbreaking line of cosmetics formulated with the highly-touted Amazonian clay. But she didn’t read about this secret ingredient in The Economist or some century-old book on principles of warfare. She discovered it while on an eco-vacation in Brazil.

Now that’s taking “getting out more” to a whole ‘nother level.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Life's Guilty Pleasure: Lollipops with Gum in the Middle

As a kid, you would spend half your allowance on little toys and the other half on candy. But at the candy shop, it was always a difficult decision. Do I want that lollipop or that stick of gum? Well, it was a great day when you went in that door, and right after you heard the little chime, you witnessed history. It was a shelf full of gum-filled lollipops!

Could it really be possible? Yes! Now, you get gum and a lollipop all in the same package. How could you not love that?

And these gum-filled lollipops, well they started a revolution. A revolution of thing filled things. Jelly-filled donuts came after and now, decades later, we email-filled phones and game-filled MP3 players. So want to create a cool new product? Just combine two cool old products and voila, you have a creative hot banana pepper.

All great products are weird at first. Just take a look around this blog and you'll see that every post highlights something weird. Weird is awesome!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why Angry Users are Good Business for New Twitter

A few days ago Twitter decided to re-dress its site in an entirely new interface that it claims is “an easier, faster, and richer experience.” I love that. I love an easier, faster, and richer experience. However, the folks at Twitter have opted to use a gradual roll-out strategy where only a limited number of users get to try the new Twitter. Eventually, everyone will get a look out the new outfit, but for now, only a few chosen ones are lucky enough.

And that’s cool and all, as long as you include me. But unfortunately, I happen to be one of those kids whose friends all still use Facebook and therefore, is stuck with a follower count of about 35. So I don’t exactly qualify as a VIP member, and so me and my miserable follower count remain trapped in old Twitter. Sob…
Still, despite the fact that I’ve joined the ranks of countless users, frustrated that they don’t get new Twitter, the site may be making a good business decision screwing with everyone.

Remember when the iPhone came out in its raw, primeval form? And remember how pretty much nobody could possibly get their hands on one, unless they camped outside of the Apple store at 3 AM? Do you really think the all-knowing Steve Jobs couldn’t have predicted that Apple would run out of iPhones within the first few hours of its release?

Obviously, he planned it.

Why? Because if only a few people can get their hands on it, they’ll be quick to flaunt their good fortunes. And what happens then? Well, everyone else just wants the iPhone even more because one of their friends has it.

As a matter of fact, it appears that Twitter is executing this same strategy to perfection with its new site. All the users who have gotten new Twitter are conveniently tweeting about how much they love it, making us non-new-Twitter users green with envy. Hence, when we’re finally invited to the party, the satisfaction will be so great that we’ll have the urge to, yes, tweet about it. And maybe, two Twitter users will be so happy about getting new Twitter, that they’ll actually talk about it (yeah, REAL talk) and a non-Twit will be listening in. Then, the non-Twit might even be so intrigued that she’ll join Twitter.

And soon, Twitter will take over the world. The end.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How to Boost Creativity and Innovation in Your Business

First Date Dress Code
Today I was quite pleased to find out that I was granted an interview to join the DECA group school. However, what I was not too pleased to hear was that the group would enforce a dress code for the interviews; it was announced that we would have to don “appropriate business attire”. At first, I didn’t really make much of it. Fine. I’ll wear a dress shirt and some dress pants.

But what really got my eyes rolling was when I was informed that my definition of “appropriate business attire” didn’t entirely match theirs. No less than a full-out suit would be accepted. So on Friday, I’ll be bringing a suit to high school…

Neat, huh?

I’m still wondering why they’re so bent on seeing their applicants in such formal attire. I think it may be the need for “extreme professionalism”, which frankly, I believe is becoming outdated. Now, this by no means is a hit on the value of overall professionalism. It’s great to be considered professional.

On the other hand, what I’m talking about when we try a little too hard…

These days, you’re seeing more and more of those generation-y-driven, Fortune 500 companies that go with a more lax dress code. I’m a huge fan of this “first-date dress code” phenomenon that the best companies are gradually adopting. What I think this sort of dress code does is that rather than having an uptight and uncommunicative atmosphere in the office, it creates an air of friendliness, mutual respect, and most of all, creativity.

When you see your boss frowning in a suit and tie, you’re scared. You don’t want to mess up and you don’t want to share your semi-weird idea that might make him mad. The problem is, semi-weird ideas are the ideas that transform million-dollar companies into billion-dollar companies. Now, what if your boss is smiling with a dress shirt or maybe even just a polo on? In many cases, that will change your mindset a little bit.

Think about it. When you scan through those lists of the world’s best places to work and read the descriptions, you’ll often find very lenient dress codes. And often, these very lenient dress codes will be attached to companies with more relaxed, cool, hip, young, and creative brands.

Doesn’t that sound like a good brand?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Marketing Your Product to Kids: The Strategy of the World's Most-Loved Eraser

Erasers for Big Mistakes!
Browsing through any good office supply store, you’ll find a row of erasers featuring so many similar-looking pieces of rubber that you might think you’re at a tire store (but only if you’re blind, can’t smell the papery-ness, and can’t distinguish a nerdy voice from a tough-guy mechanic voice). But honestly, what’s the difference between them? They’re all in the same size range, have the exact same purpose, and I can’t say I’ve heard of a “luxury-level” eraser. The only thing that sets them each apart might be that some are white, some are pink, and some multi-colored (ooooh... you’ll be the envy of every one of the teacher’s pets). They don’t even include a little feature list on the package, just for the terminally analytical people in the world.

All in all, there is literally, no differentiation between the various brands of eraser. And no differentiation means really bad marketing.

That’s except for the revolutionary “eraser for big mistakes”. The eraser for big mistakes is a painfully simple concept; it’s just a bigger version of that generic pink eraser, positioned as a more effective solution for those really big mistakes that we make sometimes. However, is it really that much better than a Pink Pearl for fixing your pencil-related tragedies?


But is it finally a brand that is slightly different, amusing, and maybe even cool in the eraser marketplace? You’d better believe it. If you’re a little kid going into the 1st grade, are you really going to be looking for the best-quality eraser? Or are you going to be looking for something that is unique, fascinating, and something that you can show off to your friends (trust me— kids love just this sort of humor… Why do you think SpongeBob’s so popular)? I think it might be the latter.

Now, don’t you think that this exact strategy can be applied to almost anything marketed to kids? Kids love something different and cool. Why do you think flexible pencils, smelly markers, and light-up shoes sell so well? Think about it. Can we do anything to change other brands for kids?

How about talking calculators? Now that's some real marketing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why People Love Searching for "9/11 Pictures" on September 10th

Occasionally, I like to take a quick scan of Google Trends to know what’s going on, as a sort of idle alternative to reading the Times. And today, I came across a hot search list headlined by a few celebrities, Stand up 2 Cancer, and “9 11 pictures”. This was a curious trend to me. Why are people searching for 9/11 pictures?

I’m almost certain that millions of people don’t just want to refresh their memories of this horrific tragedy. Also, in the hot searches, “911 memorial” ranks eighth (three behind “9 11 pictures”), while “September 11” is all the way back in the eighteenth spot: You’d think that people who were looking to remember fallen ones, would be more prone to search for “9 11 memorial” or at least “September 11”, rather than looking for pictures.

So why are 9/11 pictures so popular?

Well, I believe that it’s not because people particularly want to view these photos, but because they want to publish and use them.

As soon as an anniversary of 9/11 arrives, the blogosphere lights up with posts regarding the terrible loss of lives, charities benefiting victims, and the “truth” about 9/11. In fact, according to Surchur, a web trends site, the popularity of “September 11th”, “9 11”, as well as a number of other terms relating to 9/11, are a 10 out of 10 in blogosphere popularity right now. Of course, naturally, photos of the event are an essential element in postings about 9/11, so every blogger is looking for appropriate photos to use.

At the same time, school has started and teachers are all preparing to assign the first homework of the year. I’m sure that many teachers would turn to 9/11 as a topic for an essay or study project, which many students will want to include photos in.

But why is it that “9 11 pictures” is such a popular search term on September 10th? Well, I believe this is the answer:

Think about it. If you’re a blogger wanting to take your blog viral, you’re gonna want to be the first one to post about everything. And the best way to be the first one is to post before things even happen. Numerous bloggers are either publishing or working on their posts today, in order to “stay ahead of the game”.

So that’s my explanation to this phenomenon. Just look at things in a different, more creative way, and you’ll start seeing explanations to everything.

Sharpie Has Permanent Pencils, I Want Self-Erasing Pens...

About a month ago, Sharpie came out with its brilliant “liquid pencil” idea. Basically, the appeal is that it’s a pencil that uses liquid graphite to mimic the sensation of writing with a pen. At the same time, the liquid pencil is also erasable for roughly the first three days, and then becomes a more permanent marking (quite practical if you think about it).

Now, I’ll admit that I’m no school supply nerd (and to those of you that are, I’m sorry your life had to turn out that way), so I only just found out about this. And here’s how I did:

So I’d just watched Agent Cody Banks for the second time (in widescreen though this time) and I was feeling inspired. I pictured how life would be as a spy… You’d go on missions to save the world, no one would ever be able to know where you were, and no one could ever find out about the secret messages you sent to fellow spies.

Wait. If you never wanted anyone to see those secret messages, how could you prevent them from being seen? What if you wrote the messages in ink that erased itself?

Sounds straight out of Harry Potter, eh? Well, frankly, I think it’s very possible to formulate a substance that would quickly disappear from any paper. Maybe the ink would be able to evaporate after a certain period of time. Or maybe the ink could dissolve into the air or the paper after a week. Or maybe the ink could gradually blotch until it became utterly illegible after about a month.

This would ensure that very few people other than the desired recipient would get a chance to read the message.

And think about all the other uses… What if a negotiator was in a tight situation and could only get out by signing an undesirable contract? He could use his trusty temporary pen to satisfy his counterparts for the time being.

Wanting to see if such an invention already existed, I googled “temporary pen” and landed on this page about the Sharpie liquid pencil.

On the contrary, if you think about it, my idea was the exact opposite of Sharpie’s: I want a pen that becomes temporary while Sharpie wants a pencil that becomes permanent.

Neat, huh?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Get People to Donate Money: Use the Nike+iPod Business Model

So I got a Nike + iPod sensor for my birthday this year and I have to say that it was a pretty sick birthday gift. What made it even cooler was the fact that I’d just read about it in “Brand New World” by Max Lenderman (a great book by the way) and had been salivating over product reviews like they were Sarah Roemer movies.

Basically, the Nike+iPod is a beefed up pedometer that you can put in your shoe. And not only does it compute simple stats like distance, calories, and pace, but it gives you spoken feedback, lets you set goals, and records a history of your workouts. However, the system is really only half the equation. The really funky part is the online capability. From the Nikeplus website, you can create a profile for your fellow runners to see, and deck it out with your workout statistics (all neatly graphed out to chart progression), which you can easily upload by syncing your iPod to iTunes. This allows you to challenge friends as well as the biggest running fanatics all over the world, to see where you rank.

And after a few weeks of using the Nike + iPod, what I noticed was that suddenly, I was running much more frequently. It seemed that a number of things, all having to do with owning this new thing, contributed to my newfound love for running. The satisfaction of simply navigating to the app and watching it work its magic was great, while the thought that my efforts would be both recorded and shared with the world (you can share your workouts with Facebook and Twitter as well) also gave me a little boost. How about how I could actually see my improvements in solid numbers or how I could admire the “total workout distance” (the sum of all workouts) meter slowly inch up?

The Nike+iPod model was, in general, a fitness motivator.

So why can’t other products mimic this model? What if high schools and colleges did this with grades? When teachers entered marks into a student’s report card, they’d be automatically sent to a site that could track progress. We’d be able to track our progress in various subjects, over multiple years, and maybe even get advice from our teachers over the web. People could compare their progress to others and maybe, there could even be a leaderboard.

And what if a fundraising organization did this for donators? Users could track how much money they donated and their progression, thus putting pressure on them to slowly donate more to beat their own records. There could be a leaderboard in this sort of community as well, while rich folks would definitely get a kick out of challenging friends to donation competitions. I think people would really be happy about publishing their donations on social networks to add to their reputations.

What an idea!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Adjust the Size of Your Hockey Skates: Reebok Pump Skates

Reebok Pump Skates
Watching the Blue Jays lose the other day, I was thoroughly fascinated by one of the ads I saw. It’s not that the ad was all that impressive; it was just one of those where the narrator— who sounds too professional for his own good— talks to you about important considerations to make before doing something. Yeah.

But the product did seem pretty awesome.

So say your son plays in his neighbourhood house league for ice hockey, and because he’s a growing boy, you have to buy bigger skates every year. And because you aren’t making the money that Ilya Kovalchuk is now guaranteed with his new contract, you’re not too thrilled about dropping a hundred bucks on skates every year.

Now, you can spend a hundred bucks, but every two years with the Reebok Pump skates. I’ve never owned a pair of these babies but the concept sounds pretty idiot-proof. The size of these skates is adjustable so you can actually customize them to your son’s feet.

How it works is that apparently, they’ve decked them out with inflatable air cushions on the sides, which, when you inflate, make the fit a bit tighter. And the best part is that, despite how his grade 2 teacher is always quick to point out his lack of fine motor skills, your son should be able to easily inflate the cushions. All he has to do is press this button-like pump a few times and voila! It fits!
It’s a miracle. He’s more comfortable, and not to mention a bit safer. But the truly miraculous part is that you can buy the skates a size bigger for him to grow into (saving YOU money!), without hearing his whiny complaints every time you drive him to a game.

The thing is though, I don’t see why this sort of pump technology isn’t on everything these days. Hats, shoes, gloves, knee pads, headphones, etc. etc. can all have this pump to make the size customizable. Instead of having a small, medium, large, and extra large, everything can just be one size fits all.

That would truly make the world a better place to be, especially for the terminally lazy race we’ve become.