The new book is out on Tuesday. I think it will resonate with you and your work.
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Hotel robbery

A new favorite, a new all-time low. This is in Mexico, so drop a zero to translate to dollars. Who knew your skin needed an Oxygen spray?


Do a google search on Tea and you’ll find 196 million matches. The first match is the Texas Education Agency.

Check out and you’ll find this list.

Go to squidoo and look for tea and you’ll find this lens.

Do one on flickr and you’ll find these pictures.

Am I missing something? Handbuilt search just seems to work better, unless you’re really good at boolean searches or looking for something really specific. Is more always better?

It does!

Thanks to Chris Clark who found it.


Daniel Rudd sends us this photo. My question… does the handle glow in the dark?

That vending machine down the hall

Mark Polino wants to know why the ubiquitous Coke machine down the hall from every hotel room doesn’t take room keys.

With all the technology and information packed into a hotel room key, it’s not particularly difficult to imagine how this would work. Hotels have done almost nothing with this ability. Once they see how they can personalize and customize the visitor experience, there are countless ways both sides can profit.

Real creativity

Where does it come from? What is it?

Well, if you’re disheartened by my previous post about licensing your idea, here’s the punchline: Real business creativity comes from boundaries.

Inventing something cool that can’t be implemented isn’t creative. It’s mostly a waste.

I think that inventing the unimplementable is a fine hobby, but it’s also a bit of a crutch. Yes, of course we need big visions and big ideas, but not at the expense of the stuff you can actually pull off.

So, let’s get specific:

If you’ve decided you want to create a breakthrough in your area of expertise (say Ajax coding), then either be prepared to launch and run it when you’re done, or have a clear licensing strategy in mind, one where you’re not the first person in history to pull it off.

If you’ve decided to invent a great idea for a book, better be ready to write it too, and either find a publisher or publish it yourself. There’s no market for book ideas.

If you want to do creative ads, it helps to have clients willing to run them.

These constraints are the best part of being creative, as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t imagine writing Superman comics. The rules are too vague. There are too many choices. In non-profits and organizations and even in politics, the rules are pretty obvious (sometimes they’re too obvious). So the real creativity comes in navigating those rules in a way that creates a breakthrough.

One of my favorite triumphs of all time happened on my first day of work at my first real job, 1984, Cambridge, MA. No voice mail in those days. I was employee #30. I walked in and there was a plastic carousel, about 18 inches in diameter, with 40 slots in it. Like thin slices of pizza, but 4 inches deep. Each slot had a sticker with a name typed on it. Not in any order, particularly.

Every day, when you went into work, you had to spin the carousel around and around until you saw your name, and then grab whatever pink slips had your phone messages on them.

Now, there are 100 better ways to do this system. Faster and easier. But 99 of them required getting a new carousel or device.

Instead, I grabbed a paper clip and put it on my slot. I could find my slot in a heartbeat now.

Within a day, the carousel was covered with flags and widgets and more. Problem solved.

See the rules. Keep most of them. Break one or two. But break them, don’t bend them. (thanks to Curt for various inspirations).

Q. How do I license this great idea?

A. Well, it depends.

It’s a classic story: basement inventor dreams up an idea, a product, a concept for a movie or even a new slogan for a company. He’s sure, certain, positive, that the idea, in the right hands, has huge legs. And it’s the idea that matters, right?

"This fishing lure is dramatically better than what’s out there."
"This swoosh logo is really dramatic."
"This promotion for a bar in town will make them a huge amount of money."
"If I could just get Mark Burnett to listen to this idea for a Survivor sequel…"

And most of the time, you’re right. Your better UI/software/concept would make more money in the right hands.

This disconnect drives people, especially engineers, crazy. The processes of improvement and ideation demand that you take things that aren’t so good and make them better. If someone has go to market power or even better, sales and influence power, then why wouldn’t they want to improve?

The problem is this: 99% of the time, they don’t.

It’s not that they’re stupid. It’s just that they’re not organized to turn your big idea into something that actually works.

They don’t have someone on staff who will get promoted for finding you.
They don’t have a team on staff who can develop your idea and get it out the door.

There are exceptions (book publishers, for example, are good at publishing new books). But most of the time, that’s not the business they are in. They are in the business of doing their job, and their job rarely includes taking the time (and the risk) of hunting for new big ideas outside the organization.

First, there’s the huge problem of NDAs and being accused of stealing stuff. If you want me to keep something a secret, and you won’t tell me the secret before I sign a piece of paper, my risk is huge. On the other hand, if you tell me an idea (almost always non-protected) before I sign the paper, why sign it? Big paradox.

Second, there’s the problem of what it’s worth. What is the basic idea behind Star Trek or Mission: Impossible worth? Would a different two-paragraph treatment really have made the difference between success or failure? The producers of those shows would tell you it was the 10,000 little things that happened after the original idea that made the difference between success and failure.

In other words, it’s how you tell it.

If you think your idea is worth a lot, and the producer of the product (whether it’s a widget or a business process) points out how many choices she has and how little the original idea is worth–you guys are stuck.

True story: I helped invent the first fax board for the Mac. Pitched it to a dozen companies. No one nibbled. Apple launched it soon after seeing ours, and the product quickly became a low-profit commodity. I’m confident that if we had created a substantial organization and built a marketing aura and system around the product, it would have worked. The idea itself… nah.

Just because you’re a good cook doesn’t mean you should run a restaurant. And a restaurant that succeeds rarely does because they have special recipes. All the recipes in the world are free online. That’s not what makes a restaurant (or a business, for that matter) work.

I wonder what the mileage is?

Peter Zapf sends us this remarkable product: Brammo Motorsports – Ariel Motor Company for USA. The edge? Once you decide to remove every single unnecessary element of a car, you can create something that’s not for everyone… but exactly what some people dream about.

“Hey, let’s go to Budapest!”

Exporte_02This phone booth sign so clearly captures the new divide between old and new marketers that I couldn’t resist.

Delta, an airline teetering a knife’s edge from insolvency, just added service to Hungary. So, naturally, they need to alert people and get them to fly there.

"I know!" says the old-school marketer. "Lets copy the format of Continental’s wordplay ads and buy thousands of dollars worth of ads. Maybe we’ll run into someone about to fly to Hungary who doesn’t have a travel agent or use an online travel service–we’ll get them at just the right moment and make a fortune."

Why not spend the money on the plane?

Why not change the service itself, change it in some way that the community of travelers to Budapest will talk among themselves about how Delta is the very best way to fly there. Maybe even the bloggers and the travel editors will talk about it too.

Just because this ad is purple doesn’t mean it’s a Purple Cow. It’s precisely the opposite, in fact. PS, what does "fly to pest" mean? [answer: Espen points out that ‘Pest’ is the city across the river from Buda, sort of like St. Paul is to Minneapolis. Thanks. But why put the cities in lowercase?]

Different kinds of broken

but the same cause.

The first picture is of the conference room schedule at the Venetian Hotel. Microsoft booked a whole bunch of breakout rooms, so of course, someone followed policy and entered them all into the computer. This creates many many screens showing the same thing again and again. The person who typed in the list was following instructions. Missing was any judgment, anyone saying, "Why don’t we either put a different description for each breakout, or not bother listing them at all?"

The second picture is of a sign at JFK. It’s right next to the one and only electrical outlet. Apparently, people plug in their laptops and lean against the phone booth to use them.

Instead of going to all the trouble to make a permanent metal sign ("do not sit on ledge"), why didn’t someone put a chair there? Or requisition some more electrical outlets? Or build a stronger ledge? By "solving" the problem by telling people not to do the convenient thing, they haven’t helped the airport or the traveler. Of course, that’s not the signmaker’s problem. Someone is asssigning tasks instead of solving problems.