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What's happening in innovation

Posted by Chad O'Connor  December 7, 2012 11:00 AM

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Innovation in Boston is special. At Continuum we work around the world in hubs of innovation: Boston, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Seoul, and Shanghai; but Boston has a very particular take on innovation. We are not the wild and crazy guys – you can go to Milan or LA for that – but in Boston we know how to think clearly about a business challenge and get the idea right. Boston is the creative brain of the innovation economy. It is amazing how many ideas start here.

For most of our clients the challenge is growth: they are getting very creative about new ways to grow. Our innovation work is confidential, of course, until it is in the market, but if I step back, squint my eyes and look for a pattern in what we are doing this year, then this is what I think you will see next year:

1. Human-Techno Hybridization
Not cyborgs, but that basic idea built into a business. Next year you will see a profusion of new restaurant formats, bank formats, retail formats, and you name it formats all looking to appeal to tech savvy consumers – young and old - founded on more efficient business models, but delivered in a very human way. Food designed for sharing. Online in-person banking, personalized customer service. The common thread is to enable better connection with people - sometimes your staff, and sometime other customers - to make your product or service more engaging. As we are inundated with technology real connection with people is becoming even more valuable.

2. Elbow Wars
Globalization is making markets very crowded so companies are looking outside of their core business to find new ways to grow. Car companies are moving into the rental business. Banks are moving into healthcare. Insurance companies are moving into banking. Adjacencies are where it is at. Everyone is getting into everyone else’s space, and we are having a blast helping our clients figure out how to do it in new and interesting ways. This is great for consumers because when a beauty company enters a medical business, for example, they bring fresh thinking, a different business model, and they demystify it. The new entrant has to simplify the experience so that customers will have the confidence to give them a try.

3. Self Care
This drive towards simplification is especially important in healthcare. It may not be true that “all problems are caused by solutions,” but it is certainly true of healthcare. The more we invent new ways to improve our health and extend our lives (many of them invented in Boston, of course) the more our healthcare costs. But it is often not the technology itself that is the problem so much as the associated medical staff needed to prescribe the treatment, operate the technology, analyze the results, dispense the drugs, etc. We are seeing companies bringing the ways of thinking of consumer products to the healthcare business. People are calling this the “Hospital of One” or “Self Care." But the basic idea is to knock healthcare off its pedestal, and get more diagnosis, treatment and monitoring into the hands of regular people so that they can take care of themselves. This gives people more control over their health, a better quality of life, and will reduce cost. And a side effect is that this trend is trickling up into hospitals. There is expectation and even regulation demanding that systems are simple to use. Today when something is complicated and can only be used by a professional we don’t think it is sophisticated, we think it wasn't designed right.

This is just some of what we are seeing with the companies we are working with: creative ways to deliver services with the reliability of a machine and the charm of a friend. Creative ways to get into new SIC codes and beat the incumbents, creative ways to simplify and humanize medical technology. We want them all to win.

Harry West is the CEO of Continuum, a global design and innovation consultancy. Continuum partners with clients to discover powerful ideas, and realize them as products, services and brand experiences that improve lives and grow businesses.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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