Products That Get You Thinking

We can become so completely engrossed in what our business is doing today that we fail to know much about the rest of our industry, much less adjacent or completely unrelated fields. However, I enjoy scouting for new products and services as a means of inspiration. Innovative new products, and those about to come to market, help me stay current and stimulate ideas that might help the businesses in which I am involved. They often get me thinking about how to apply technology or solutions differently, or help me personally in some way. The following are several that have got me thinking recently. Hopefully they will do the same for you.

After being blown away by “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” (a must read) some time ago, I’ve been fascinated by technologies that many of us take for granted. Electricity and lighting are things we rarely give pause to, but the absence of these technologies in many countries effects well over a billion people. Twenty-one percent of the world’s population does not have access to reliable electricity. Many still use kerosene for light. That is why I was amazed at the simplicity and execution of the GravityLight. The product is now in production.

Pong Case – A new phone case, so what’s the big deal? This one definitely makes you wonder if they can back up their claims – increased outbound signal by 44%, increased range by 20%, reduced SAR exposure by 82%, built-in antenna that instantly pairs with iPhone 5s when snapped on, and can take six-foot drop. All this with a 60-day, money-back guarantee. Does this product live up to even half its claims? I intend to find out when mine is delivered later this week.

A cardboard bicycle made for only $9? I had been following this story for some time and was amazed at the possibility of a functional cardboard bicycle which could be made for $9-12 and sold for around $60-90. With bicycles providing a major form of green, economical and practical transportation for people worldwide, I was interested to see what would come of this. Check out one of the stories from earlier this year on the cardboard bike. Unfortunately after gaining some early momentum this crowd-funded project hit some potholes especially in light of the much higher than expected price. Regardless of what comes of this, and if or when we ever see a cardboard bike come to market, it’s an amazing demonstration of how powerful crowdsourcing can be from a variety of perspectives.

Another concept that fascinates me are wearables—computer-powered devices that can be worn—as we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of this space. While many of these technologies need time to be refined, it’s interesting to see how vertical a device might be, such as a watch made for the hard of hearing or deaf. On the other hand, some of these applications have endless uses such as Bluetooth Tracking Stickers. These have mixed reviews but I am definitely intrigued by the idea.

Did any of these products resonate with you? What gets you thinking about new ideas? Where do you look for inspiration? I would love to hear from you if you come across an interesting solution or product that is still out of the mainstream.

Being Green Part III: Interesting Thoughts on Paper versus Cloud

This is my third installment of “Being Green.” In it, I reference two fairly recent pieces of research to show how conflicting these reports can be. One illustrates the benefits of reducing paper and moving to digital services, while the other hits on the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions due to increased data center usage.

Helping to Reduce Paper

First the good, if 20% of us switched to electronic services, it would save more than: 151 million pounds of paper, avoiding the creation of nearly 1.5 million gallons of wastewater, save 1.8 million trees, eliminating the production of nearly 4 billion pounds of greenhouse gases and avoiding the use of nearly103 million of gallons of gasoline each year. Nice, right?

Yet even with these benefits, consider a counterpoint (though not an apples-to-apples comparison) below.

Cloud Update

The cloud is now getting attention from an unusual source. Greenpeace, in a recent report, links growth in the cloud to future sharp rises in greenhouse gas emissions and is calling on companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google to do more to help the environment. This report seems to lump data center services into the cloud. Though data centers represent just a small percentage of worldwide power consumption, Greenpeace estimates that the amount of power consumed by the world’s data centers and telecom networks will triple from 2007 to 2020.

So what do you think? Is a digital world really better for the environment or not?

These types of reports are often somewhat vague and leave readers pumped up one way or the other… until they read yet another piece of research with yet another perspective. The point is, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems. And herein lies an example of unintended consequences—reports and statistics such as these don’t fully show how all variables are factored and what the offsets are on either side. Continued misinformation and confusion result.

My advice is to understand multiple perspectives, but tune out the noise and continue to focus on solutions that offer multifaceted benefits along with good ROI.