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What Drives Social Innovation?

April 6th, 2014 by admin No comments »

The Rise of Global Social Entrepreneurship

1971-4 were big years for global social reform…but it took us 40+ years to fully realize how big. It was in the early 1970′s, that two new enterprises were formed, one in the U.S. And one on Bangladesh, that would go on to positively affect the lives of tens of millions of individuals around the world. Opportunity International (founded in 1971 by Al Whittaker, Bristol-Meyers President) and Grameen Bank (first loan  in 1974 by Bangledesh university director, Mohamed Yunis) formed  “micro-credit” organizations, offering loans, credit/savings, insurance and training for impoverished families.  These two organizations were early to innovate in the “social” or “impact” sector. Their focus as organizations.

In 1981, Ashoka was founded by Bill Drayton who recognized that entrepreneurs through a social venture capital approach could impact many aspects of society, addressing the needs of the poor, marginalized and under-represented. Ashoka today operates in over 70 countries and supports the work of almost 3,000 entrepreneurs, chosen and mentored as “Ashoka Fellows”.  Drayton calls these workers “social entrepreneurs”.  For the past 30 years, Ashoka, and others that have followed their path, have sparked a movement toward the citizen-driven social innovation.

Other organizations, such as Echoing Green, The Acumen Fund, Omidyar Network, Skoll Foundation, and many more have followed Ashoka’s lead in supporting social entrepreneurs around the world.

What’s Fueling Social Innovation?

What’s fueling the move toward Social Innovation in our world today?

Chasms and “Bankers”: first, we can all agree that there is a growing chasm between The Have’s and The Have-Nots – the disparity between wealthy and lower income classes is growing each year.  This chasm has forced Those Who Have a Lot to re-think the meaning of work, life, and philanthropy.  Many of the richest Have’s earned their money from technology and  innovation – Bill Gates through innovation in the software space; Warren Buffet in financial innovation;  Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll in e-commerce innovation; Marc Zukerberg in social media innovation; and Marc Benioff in enterprise business model innovation.  Their form of philanthropy is ENTREPRENEURIAL.  “Let’s apply entrepreneurship to the world’s greatest problems and see if we can’t make a dent.”. The Chasm is creating consciousness and this consciousness is manifested in new social innovations.

Technological Shifts : are making the world a smaller place.  New advances in communications, networking, social networks, and other technologies have created an unprecedented array of new opportunities and have disrupted just about every business, government and learning institution on the planet.   The falling cost of Internet access and mobile communications has opened up the Developing World to instant knowledge and information, often disrupting the old ways of thinking.

Citizen Sector:  one big outcome from technological shifts has the rise of the citizen sector – people around the world are able to compare themselves with others, and see the differences. Boundaries are broken down, and real needs become well know and exposed to the world.  The Have-Nots suddenly are exposed to what the Have’s have.

Governments Failing to Keep Up: unfortunately in the conscious and technological shift we are facing, large organizations, like the government and corporate entities are falling behind – they will be forced to innovate or perish. It is becoming clear that large-format government is not going to be able to innovate quickly enough to solve our growing social problems on which they are expected to act. Something has to augment government and large corporate understanding and efforts in order to keep up with the pace of change.

Corporations Waking Up : Perhaps due to increased popular and governmental pressure (think: environmental issues and greenhouse emissions), or perhaps due to leaders of our global corporations “awakening” to the realities of pure profit motives, most global corporations have focused some attention to social issues in the past decade. Many have formed internal task forces, departments of “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

A few leaders have made social give-back a part of the corporate culture – notable examples are Toms’s Shoes, Ben & Jerry’s, and Salesforce.   A few corporations have grown due to the focus on social issues, such as Triodos Bank,


Global Urgency: Against the above background, it is becoming clear that our Earth’s resources: oceans, forests, food & water supplies are in jeopardy.  An urgency in such matters as democratic change, environmental hazard/waste, global warming threats, and more – has come to the forefront of our consciousness as a people.

The New Era of Innovation

In  the last decade, a dramatic confluence of economic, technological, political and spiritual shifts appears to be  shifting global consciousness on social issues such as poverty, education, human rights, environment, and basic human needs.  In my opinion, we are now entering a new global Era for Social Awareness and Innovation never before experienced.   These innovations turn new leadership styles, business models, processes, technologies and products/services into forces of good to address the world’s most challenging needs.

The market term for this new form of innovation is Social Innovation.

Seven Forms of Social Innovation

The late Peter Drucker, in his book Entrepreneurship and Creativity, discusses 7 forms of  innovation. These 7  explain  the background for nearly every innovation that has occurred in modern times. Today,  we are seeing social innovation occur in all seven of these areas.

1. Unexpected occurrences (serendipity, chance & surprise) – Drucker believes some inventions and innovations have come from surprise, and of course this is true.  A famous example of this is Art Fry, at 3M, who came up with the idea of Post-It Notes from the unexpected failure of a new glue that the company had experimented with.  Today, social innovations also come from serendipity – or “being in the right place at the right time”.  An example I like to use is  Founder Charles Best invented his service when, out of frustration for lack of resources,  he created a simple internet site to post the local needs of teachers at his school.  By chance, others outside the school system found it intriguing and DonorsChoose became a phenomenon after Best was featured on the Oprah Show nationally.

2. Incongruities (e.g. growing market, falling profits) – One of the most common birthing spots of innovation is Incongruity – when markets or situations are simply out of alignment, and something new is called for to take advantage of the situation.  I’ve witnessed many times, as a venture capitalist and angel investor, the affects of . An case study and example, which I use in my class at UC Berkeley is Reply Inc. Founder, Payam Zamani, realized in 2006 that hisprimary target markets (real estate and automobiles) were suffering in the economy, and his company needed to re-organize it’s business model to make products and services easier to use. Incongruities are a major driver of Social Innovation, of course, because the incongruities in many developing nations expose underlying political, economic and societal issues.  A favorite example of mine is Napo Pharmaceuticals (South SF), founded by consultant, Lisa Conte.  On a trip to Africa, Lisa saw children suffering from diarrhea and dying.   With further research, she found out some 2+ million children die each year from diarrhea-related maladies.  Yet most major drug companies found this “niche” too small and unprofitable to address.  She formed Napo to address this incongruity in the market. The company went public in , and today assists children all over the world.

3. Process Needs (e.g. linotype & advertising = desktop pub) – As a new worker at Apple Computer in the 80′s I witnessed a great example of process innovation – the rise of “desktop publishing”.   The Macintosh computer, released in 1984, represented a new way to interface with computer hardware – the roll of a mouse, the fonts on the screen – all approximated the realism of a printed page in a magazine. But the Mac went on to revolutionize the concept of self-publishing and advertising by allowing individuals to approximate the same things that expensive Linotype could do in upscale advertising, for a mere fraction of the cost using a computer and laser printer.  Today, we take this innovation for granted.  In the social innovation space, my favorite example of process innovation is happening today in learning and education.   Sal Khan (founder of Khan Academy) and others in the “blended learning” category have shown that education can be changed by bringing the homework into the classroom, and bringing the lecture to the home (videos that students can watch anytime, anywhere).  This reverses the thinking that teaching takes place in the classroom only. There is currently a revolution taking place in Education where the “old” process of teaching is being replace by the “new”, personalized process.

4. Industry and Market changes (e.g. Shifts, catastrophes, competition) – a classic example that fits this area is  In 1998, Marc Benioff attempted to convince his bosses at Oracle Corp that a new business model for providing software would address the needs of customers who were tired of paying huge prices for internals software installation and maintenance.  He was unsuccessful, so he started his own company to address the needs of mid- and large-sized clients.  His business model, today referred as “SaaS” (software as a service) is now used by most software companies on the planet.  In the social innovation sector, market and industry changes in Developing nations have prompted extraordinary new innovations.  For example,

5. Demographic Changes (e.g.changes and shifts in the world’s demographics) – the world is in constant change, and many innovations take advantage of shifts in the world’s population. An enormous demographic change in the US for our present generation is the aging baby-boomer segment of the market, who will soon be senior citizens, creating a vast array of needs in elder-care, housing, health and medical needs.  New innovative ways of addressing this demographic shift are underway.   My favorite example for “demographic change” that drives innovation in the social innovation space is SamaSource, founded by Leila Jonah. Samasource has created an innovative piece of software that disseminates work electronically to impoverished areas of the world, where qualified, but otherwise unemployed workers can earn a wage completing the work virtually.  This takes “outsourcing” to a new level. The company prides itself on bringing work to impoverished areas of the world where people can be quickly trained and made ready for meaningful jobs.

6.Changes in Perception (e.g. Health, fitness, education) – in time, human beings perceptions of life and the world we live in change. Racial, sex, sexual norms have changed in various societies.  Here in the US the perception for “Fast Food” has dramatically shifted in the past 20 years, going from a “convenience” to a national health driver. This has led to new innovations in “healthy” foods, as evidenced by new restaurants, innovative food distribution (think: Whole Foods) and new forms of weight control.  In the social sector, innovations are also driven by changes in perception.  The empowerment of women in the developing world is a good example.  In many cultures where women have been “second-class” citizens in the past, new social innovations are allowing them to become the bread-winners for their family, the leaders in their communities and even political heroes of social change.  Opportunity International, for example, supports over 2 million loans per year to family “entrepreneurs” – 85% of the recipients are the women in the family.

7.New Knowledge (e.g. computer chips, batteries) – Moore’s law, applied to chips, communications means that new technologies are coming on the market every 2 years that are doubling in capacity and power.  Adoption curves for new technologies seem to become steeper and steeper with each successive wave. It took 20 years for telephones to become popular;  it took 2 months for Instagram to catch on fire. An early pioneer in social entrepreneurship,, is a great example of how new technology can be used to bridge social gaps, match Have’s with Have-Not’s.  Today, Kiva is on track to transact $1 billion in loans between the developing countries and wealthy US/European families.  This new innovation has disrupted the common form of lending by banks, and has spawned a new generation of social innovations linking those in need with those who have via the internet and mobile

We are awash today in innovations in the social sector.  So much so, that attention has shifted from large monolithically non-profit organizations (think: American Cancer Society) to a new era of “social entrepreneurship” (think:  which encourages “lean” thinking and enterprising approaches, both in for-profit and non-profit formats.

Have your own example of social innovation and where it fits with Drucker’s 7 forces?  I’m interested to hear it!


Google Glass & the Wearable Computing Revolution

June 9th, 2013 by admin No comments »

An investor’s perspective on the future for Glass


Over the past 3 months, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking at Google’s Glass offering, from an angel and investor point of view, and considering what the next 3-5 years may hold for this new innovation in the “wearable” computing world.  There is no doubt about it, the wearable computing revolution has taken off – initial applications are in the Games, Fitness, SmartWatch and Eyeglass areas. Early-stage companies like Occulus (raised $2.5M on Kickstarter),  FitBit (funded by True Ventures and VCs) and Pebble (which shocked the “crowd-funding” world by raising over $12M on Kickstarter and recently another $15M from CRV).  But we’re not all ready to turn into  Jordy from Startrek…just yet.

A good article on the emerging market was published by Juniper Research late last year. It predicts a market of $1.5 billiion in 2014. Other studies predict $3-6 billion in next 3 years.  I’ve been tracking this research, and have also spoken with several of the analysts predicting and tracking the market.  It is very early.   Most predictions are based on Google’s recent press around Glass, which is not due to ship to the public until 2014.  So, much of this is speculation.

In May, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, and Marc Andreesen’s firm announced a “partnership” called the “Glass Collective” to fund projects related to wearable computing, particularly Glass application developers.  Others have not followed officially, but you can be sure there are dozens of VC partners who would like to find the “right project” to back and be part of the trend.

The most detailed review I’ve seen on Google Glass is here. While the demonstrations of Google Glass, and examples of how it can be used, are compelling, it is too early to know whether consumer adoption will take off quickly, or require some “killer apps” to get it going.  So, in my mind, an investment horizon of 3 to 5 years for hardware-related start-ups, and 6 to 9 years for solution-related start-ups is not unreasonable…unless Google’s offering takes off like the iPad did when it came out.  Given the much more limited functionality, my guess is that it will take a slower, but steady ascension, until several software creators build compelling apps.

Is anyone else at home?

So far, only Google has made major public announcements, only Google is taken a developer/partnership approach of seeding the market with a “platform” to work from (just like Apple did for iOS and the iPad to capture the early market), and only Google seems to be building any passion around this space.  Several smaller players in the occular market are also making stirs, the most interesting of which is Vuzix, which has developed a light-weight unit similar to Google Glass plus additional options for for full-field view (Google Glass does not place a viewer directly in front of the eye).

But where is Sony? Where is Apple? Where is Amazon?  Where is Samsung? These are all players who have capability of creating a platform that combines the best of wearable/small hardware with systems for constructing applications on top of it.  My research shows they are all QUIETLY working on competiting devices in the labs and with Skunkworks teams, but even within each of these companies, few executives are aware of what the plans may be or how they will challenge Google if the market takes off.  Count on Google, with its strong Android developer base to capture an early lead, based on its boldness today, unless someone comes along to challenge in the next 6 months.

The place to look for competitors is is based of Android and iOS — there are thousands of developers for these two platforms.  Given that Samsung is a major Android player, and known for its innovation, you may want to keep your eyes peeled there for future entries.

What is the opportunity?

There are several areas that you can expect to see investments in the coming two years:

1) Software platforms: or developer environments that allow developers to more easily create overall solutions that involve Glass, for example solutions that allow for mash-ups, platforms that make development easier, and platforms that allow for extensions to glass in the voice, video, eye-tracking, and other areas,

2) Solutions/applications: this is what developers for Google class are currently working on, and will include a wide range of horizontal and vertical applications that further enable class to do a series of specific manipulations with images, video, sound, touch, etc.  A variety of applications fall into a class called “Augmented Reality“, which I view as a “catch-all” category for companies that are not sure WHAT they want to be when they grow up.  (Note: I’ll write about this more in future blog posts, as it’s occupying much of my life right now thinking this through)

3) Augmenting Hardware: this area will be less populated, as these days there are fewer hardware plays in the market, but expect to see several entrance, particularly in the area of “eye-tracking”, video/photo capture, and sound/voice.

4) Existing software extensions: I think we will see a variety of extended applications for current players, including players such as: Local services (Example: Yelp, FourSquare), Photo/Video services (Examples: Flickr, YouTube, Shutterfly), Language/translation (Examples: Rosetta Stone, Google Translate ).

In addition, expect to see a variety of vertical applications to help for specific use in areas such as retail, warehousing, facilities management, shopping, etc.

The applications that interest me, personally, the most would be those that impact a wide horizontal “functional areas” such as reading, scanning the environment, and travel.   In these instances, I think that glasses and play a central role in. Fundamentally changing the way that we approach the task –  thus changing the overall experience of the user.  THIS IS THE AREA WHERE WE CAN EXPECT TO SEE DISRUPTION.

What would an investor look for in this space?

As with any start up, the best place to start is with the Team.  A CEO/Founder who has been a pioneer previously in bringing the technology/IP  to end-user oriented solutions will have an advantage. Teams with prior deep knowledge on particular application or solution areas that they want to add wearable computing to will shine… compared to those who have simply “a good idea.”  Teams that include a bit of experience with hardware they also have an edge, and working with a device such as Glass, since control of the Glass is a key component of making it feel seamless to the end-user.  Finally, Designers with background in mobility, would clearly be an asset.

Investors will also seek innovative solutions using wearable computing that go beyond what one could do with a phone, tablet or computer.  The solution needs to blaze trails in new use of computing in every-day or business life.  For example, being able to shop with glasses, such that your wearable device provides information on products you are looking at, comparative pricing, ability to see the product in use, and other “augmented” tags (promotions, similar products, cost to build, etc), would allow for a shopping experience never before available.

Lastly, I think we’ll be seeing some new/emerging business models that focus on wearable computing’s ability to access the cloud on a pay-as-you-go basis, as well as seek/look-up information on real-time.  With present Google Glass, I don’t forsee that banner advertising will work well, because of the size of the display, but approaches that allow advertisers to promote their products or information about their products will abound.  Google itself is currently trying to figure out its best model – as it had to with Android.  Of course in Google (or Apple, Sony or Amazon’s case) there is more content and advertising sold by having the user using new wearble technology, so a direct business model will not be needed.


Follow this blog for more articles in the coming year on this space, as I dive deeper.


Entrepreneurship Is Fueling Global Change

April 21st, 2013 by admin 2 comments »

Ah, Entrepreneurship…

Entrepreneurship is now fueling the world’s quests to end epidemics, resolve inequities and poverty, increase education and care for our natural resources.    Three forces – government environment, bottoms up desire for skills/learning, and conscious capital — have come together to create this sea of change.  The Millennials will cause changes like we’ve never seen in the world.  In general, there is a growing consciousness that we CAN change our world for the better and entrepreneurial thinking is the key to this change.

For the past two years, we’ve had an amazing set of innovators/entrepreneurs share their experiences @ The Intersection Event on how their work impacts the world. Some of the most memorable moments…

–> Leila Janah, Founder/CEO of Samasource spoke at our event inside Pixar about how her company is creating mico-work opportunities for impoverished women and children around the world

–> Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn, and Ev Williams, Co-Founder of Twitter have talked about the impact of their game-changing social networks

–> Barry Zito, SF Giants star pitcher, spoke @ Google about Strikeout for the Troops, his entrepreneurial endeavor that supports our nations military families

–> Kushal Chakrabarti, Chairman of Vittana, gave a passion-filled pitch at 2013 The Gratitude Awards for ways in which his company has enabled young people in Africa to complete their educations with help from those of us who care

These …and many many more memorable moments at The Intersection, have reminded us that innovation that impacts social change is not coming from the large NGOs – it’s coming from the ingenuity of the entrepreneurs.

How popular is Entrepreneurship today around the world?

If measured by televisions sets in our homes in the US, Entrpreneurship has reached the pinacle of popularity…shows like Shark Tank, a TV show  developed by Mark Burnett (executive producer of Survivor, The Bible, The Voice, and Celebrity Apprentice) and featuring 5 angel investors who love (or shred apart) various entrepreneurs who “pitch” their wares. Thanks to this program, millions of people around the world now know how to calculate the valuation of a start-up, how to evaluate a team, what sales are needed to impress investors, and how to negotiate a term sheet (…and for this I went to Harvard Business School???).

Around the world, Big Governments is encouraging Entrepreneurship. This trend started 10 years ago and has reached a crescendo in recent years.  My former professor at HBS and colleague, John Kao, authored Innovation Nation in 2007 to “pour some cold ice” on the US government about how the US is losing its edge as an innovation leader.  New institutions, laws, cultural norms will enable other countries to surpass the US in innovation, posits Kao, if we don’t embrace entrepreneurship and ingenuity in new ways in the US.   Regardless, with the recent

entrepreneurship in internet search, mobile software and human interface design,  the SPIRIT of ENTREPRENEURSHIP still seems embedded in our culture I don’t see it going anywhere in the coming years.  Initiatives, under Obama, like the Steve-Case-headed Start-up America are looking for ways to turn around our competitive situation

Grass-roots Desire

While Mr. Burnett is raking in the ratings, there is clearly a grass roots, bottoms up desire for Entrepreneurship among tomorrow’s leaders – who are today in undergrad and graduate schools around the world. I see this with each year that I teach at UC Berkeley and U. Cambridge – more and more students are asking me how they can “do well” AND “do good”.

General Entrepreneurship is taught at every major University around the globe; three dozen of the top business schools now offer a “Center” for Entrepreneurship” or program – without one they are no longer competitive players in the college market -  many students are looking to build their entrepreneurial skills as part of their core learning experience in college.

Social entrepreneurship is now the hot new area: courses at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Management illustrate the case. In the past few years, numerous course on innovation, entrepreneurship and now social entrepreneurship have proliferated – and most students take at least one of these electives in pursuing their degrees.  These offering  have spilled over into the 3-year (“weekend/evening MBA program”) which takes in students who for the most part also have full-time management-level jobs in the Bay Area. According to February 2013 blog on HBR between 2003 and 2009 the average course in US MBA schools has skyrocked over 110% per year.

A recent Fortune article on higher ed illustrates the points:  The latest trends in undergrads are programs that develop students as social entrepreneurs.  Already Berkeley (Haas), Yale, Stanford (GSB), Harvard MBA, and Duke (Darden School) have entire programs around teaching social entrepreneurship. Abroad, INSEAD has led the way and Oxford (Saïd School) has sponsored The Skoll Foundation’s annual trend-setting conference called Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship.

Not Just the MBAs

Turns out the social entrepreneurship movement is gaining momentum in many undergraduate schools as well – from Dartmouth to Azusa Pacific.  For example, at Brown University, undergrad students are leading the entrepreneurial charge.  This bottom up approach has led to the continued success of the Entrepreneurship Program, or EP, a 15-year-old student run entrepreneurship initiative, which is now thriving as both an engagement program for blossoming entrepreneurs, and an accelerator program for more experienced founders.  In addition, EP has recently formed a partnership with E’ship, the student-run entrepreneurship club at the Rhode Island School of Design.  Through partnering RISD designers with Brown coders, engineerings, and creative thinkers, the Brown-RISD entrepreneurship initiative could assert Providence’s College Hill as one of the nation’s top entrepreneurial breeding grounds, all thanks to a grass-roots approach to entrepreneurship. Brown was also ranked recently by US News & World Report as a leader in the area of Social Entrepreneurship, with its unique programs at the Howard Swearer Center including the Social Innovation initiative and a Seed Fund for social ventures.

The Intersection of Need and Talent and Money

The third component, MONEY, completes the puzzle.  Over the past 10 years there has been a steady rise in funding sources available to social entrepreneurs. There are angel groups (for example, Investors Circle), foundations (Skoll Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Kauffman Foundation), social-impact banks (such as Triodos Bank in Europe), and a variety of emerging venture firms (see a great list here, from Olivia Khalili of Cause Capital blog).

At UC Berkeley, my students and I have completed a “Note on Social Impacting Investment” that can be used with MBA students to provide an overview of the options available.  The Note, written in 2012, provides an overview of the wide range of emerging options for philanthropic and impact investing, along with overviews of 8 of the top funding organizations.  To download and read the Note, click here: A Note on Social and Impact Investing

Put them all together they spell “C-H-A-N-G-E”

Put these three trends together — top-down government policy, rising desire of the Millenials for social entrepreneurship, and Conscious Capital –  and one gets a very encouraging picture of impact that global social entrepreneurship is likely to have in the next 20 years. Scores of young minds desire to understand how they can become social entrepreneurs,  governments (in the US and abroad) are likely to legislate in favor of the entrepreneurs and capital is becoming more available.

The Gratitude Network and The Intersection community are ready for this change.  Are you?

The Click Moment – great innovations and serendipity

November 4th, 2012 by admin No comments »

Frans Johansson’s book The Medici Effect, is a work about innovation that speaks truths about the way that inventions and innovation have come about over history. Frans points to examples throughout history in which the INTERSECTION of diverse ideas, cultures, disciplines and/or minds yielded a creative or innovative solution or creative work. Frans aptly named his book after the success of the 15th century House of Medici in Italy who brought together a diversity of cultural and artistic talent from around the world. The result birthed The Renaissance.

In his second book, The Click Moment (Penguin Publishing, 2012) Frans goes beyond the observation that diversity yields innovation. He set out to better ask the question: are great innovations and/or creativity the result of careful investigation, strategy and action – or could they often be the result of chance interaction, serendipity or luck. And, if a new discovery or innovation is due to serendipity , then was there a set-up or something that the inventor(s) did to be better prepared for this momentous occasion?

In the book, Frans points to many inventions that actually appear to have been born out of serendipitous moments: the Twilight book series, Starbucks Coffee, Facebook and the Apple Macintosh…and many more examples. These “aha” moments of serendipity that produced at the intersection of diverse opinions, cultures, or disciplines are what Frans calls “Click Moments”.

“….a serendipitous encounter, an unexpected moment of insight or an unplanned culmination of events.There was one instant in which fate turned their way, a moment they can look back at and say ‘that was when it started’. We all have this ‘click moments” – Frans Johnansson, The Click Moment

There is one story that is not told in The Click Moment, but might have been. It’s the story of Twitter — one of the most intriguing cultural and global innovations of the 21st century. The story behind the serendipity of Twitter, like many future inventions that  will undoubtedly come, will be told at The Intersection, on January 19, 2013 at Google. At The Intersection, Frans  will discuss The Click Moment and will interview Twitter Co-Founder Ev Williams in a unique dialog about what really happened at the creation of Twitter and how a string of failed applications and investments led the team to notice the simple internal tool that Jack Dorsey had developed…and how that tool went on to become one of the great innovations of the 21st century.  To come see Frans and 14 other incredible speakers on Innovation, you can apply at:

Innovation for the Fashion-impaired (Fanny packs save lives)

September 8th, 2012 by admin No comments »

I was strapping on my Fanny Pack (FP) last week, and my youngest (college-bound) daughter looked horrified …”Oh, my god Dad, whadaya doing?”, shes thinking, as she rolled her eyes upward.

Daughter #2 had less kinder words for me…”yeah , it’s practical, but it’s FUGLY Dad…”.

Designed for Practicality:  the Fanny Pack

Wikipedia’s definition is: is a small fabric pouch secured with a zipper and worn by use of a strap around the hips or waist.  They are also known as buffalo pouch, belly bag, belt pack, bum bag, banano, pochete, and moon bag (my favorite descriptor).

I maintain that The FP is one of the all-time great inventions for the male gender of the species.  Sure, bows and arrowheads were helpful, Chinese gunpowder was an impressive achievement, and even belts and suspenders helped keep us on the up-and-up.  But The FP solves many dilemmas for the modern male.  I fail to understand how this modern innovation has been killed by eye-rolling teens and dismissive spouses.

What’s in Your Fanny Pack?

My own FP allows me to:

  • remove the bulky wallet from back pocket
  • keep me from losing my umpteenth pair of sunglasses
  • hold my compact camera safely
  • contain bulky house/car keys  (they look horrible in pants pockets)
  • organize 4 sets of business cards (that’s right , four….don’t ask) for quick presentation
  • keep foreign currency organized, and hold various sizes of foreign money (I have traveled all over Europe and China without missing a Euro or a Yuen)
  • hold my iPhone safely, along with several iPhone peripherals
  • keep tickets, admissions and discount coupons organized
  • store maps freshly (I hate wrinkled/torn maps on an excursion through )
  • hide earphones and  – choose from among 3 types
  • iPad AC adapter  (that damn iPhone runs out of juice by mid-day if you REALLY use it properly)
  • keep hotel keys safely
  • hold loose change (keeps falling out of my pockets)

The FP is good for city use, sports workout use, travel, in-car coordination, airports, and weddings.

Oh sure, I could wear cargo shorts, but who wants to distribute this loot across my derrière?  Or, I could get a shoulder bag, but most are built for computers or iPads , not 3-dimensional items like keys, phones, wallet, or headphones.  And, in my case, that solution would clearly balloon over time to a 5-lb fiasco.

In short, the FP saves lives.

Excuses, excuses…

Need I say, as we get older, we are already testing the limits of our clothing – hanging on to old pants, jeans and shorts that USED TO fit (and what has happened?).  Who needs this additional bulk to highlight those few extra pounds we’ve gained.  The FP saves clothing.  It extends the use of those jeans we have from college years, those slacks that looked trim on our first job, those shorts that have been to Santa Cruz and back dozens of times…

Innovation trumped by fashion?

Why are  millions of men now suffering from innovation-deprivation at the expense of fashion? When is the last time you saw a woman without a purse, pocketbook, or shoulder bag nearby or on her body?  To be human is to juggle possessions no our bodies, to hold on to things that nobody else wants, and to walk on 2 legs, carrying our lives with us.

I noticed that many men are still wearing watches (look for a future blog post by me on the stupidity of this).  Our cell phones track the time better than most watches, and can display it in 20 different variations, voice-synthesis, any zone in the world, stop watch format, and timer.  Why are men still porting watches.  This is vanity at its worst.  Society has pushed these poor men to wear a watch that is no longer necesary, yet give away their Fanny Packs to good will.   This seems perversely reversed.

I can not make it in a foreign city without my FP. I cannot hit the gym properly without my FP.  I cannot go on a weekend trip to Napa without my FP.  The Fanny Pack has fallen pray to the fashions of the millennium .  It isn’t COOL to wear this anymore, I’m advised , or one could be dated back to the time of cavemen (or at least to the time of ABBA or the Bee Gees) .

Perhaps I’m getting old (or just losing too many sunglasses per week) but it seems to me that we’ve lost one of the greatest innovations know to man.  So, who will invent the next FP?  Will another “Wright Brothers” or serendipitous “click moment” occur for the fashion impaired.

I hope this happens in my lifetime.

In the meantime, roll your eyes all you want. I’m opting for practicality.