It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond


Create a bigger pond to fish for ideas: Serendipity and innovation by Nheeda Enriquez
photo via wikipedia

photo via wikipedia

In an article for Charlotte Viewpoint about social media in Charlotte, I hinted at a downside of relying solely on one’s networks to mine through an ever-growing plethora of information.  We risk being too narrow in our interests and lose the potential to discover something completely new, whether that be a new author, a new product, or a new recipe for dinner.

Though sometimes it’s difficult, I always advocate trying new things just for the sake of it.  You never know when you might call that experience to inspire a new idea.

Everyone has their own way to introduce serendipity, but my boyfriend Brian has a painless way to do it at his own desk.  When he needs a diversion from a hectic workday, he’ll poke around wikipedia for a few minutes just to see what’s there.  They’ll have a featured article that’s different every day, and you never know what it’ll link you out to, and that helps create a bigger pond for you to fish ideas from.

Thought it’s old, I offer this Wired interview with Apple’s megamind Steve Jobs.  Towards the end, he describes the value of new experiences in innovation:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”



The Center for Design Innovation’s Idea Exchange by Nheeda Enriquez

cdiI recently learned about the Center for Design Innovation, a collection of inter-institutional research based in the Winston-Salem area that is dedicated to economic development for the design industry.

Apparently they host a Tuesday night series called the “Idea Exchange,” where different presenters share their thoughts on “design processes, digital media, business strategies, and other interests related to the growth of creative enterprises in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad.”

CDI’s website is kind of light, but the schedule for the upcoming Idea Exchanges can be found in a PDF here.  The first one is on 9/22, and is about digital imaging used to study the biomechanics and swarming behaviors of bats!



Professional development at a bargain price: Triad Design Leadershop by Nheeda Enriquez

leadershopI recently learned about an impressive series of workshops in nearby Greensboro at NC A&T State.  The workshops take place over 5 weeks and is $500 for the lot, but even if you can’t make every single one, the free keynote addresses each week might prove to be worth the drive for anyone looking to inject a little design thinking into their everyday business strategies.

According to the website, The Triad Design Leadershop is “a transformative series of lectures and workshops based around best practices for the design and business communities.”

Perhaps the biggest name in the bunch is Claudia Kotchka, who was cruicial in helping AG Lafley and the folks at P&G execute their big turnaround through innovation and design.

If anyone’s interested in carpooling…



Imagining life in 2059: Call for entries deadline extended by Nheeda Enriquez
photo via inventorsdigest.com

photo via inventorsdigest.com

In addition to partnering with individuals and companies to bring new product ideas to life, publishing Inventor’s Digest is one of many innovation activities that Charlotte entrepreneur Louis Foreman and his team tackle over at Enventys.

If you can get your hands on the printed edition of the magazine, do it.  The editors have done a bang-up job of reinventing the look and feel of the layout and the articles.  (They’re still working on getting the web presence is waiting to match.)

In honor of National Inventors Month, the magazine is sponsoring a contest inviting young readers to submit 500-word essays on what technology, tool, product or service will be an important part of our lives in 50 years.  The new deadline is September 30th.

I feel like the world has changed quite a bit in the lifespan of the kids that are eligible (ages 12-17,) so it will be fun to see how they envision the future.



Dissecting the health care debate for the rest of us by Nheeda Enriquez

photo via the back of the napkin blog

photo via the back of the napkin blog

If there’s anything everyone can agree on, it’s that the issues surrounding health care reform are complex.  I personally find this topic fascinating with all its history, the players, and the fact that Obama is in a long line of presidents who have tried to tackle this monstrosity, at the end of the day, all most people want to know is “what’s in it for me?”

I came across two wonderful resources today that attempt to put the health care debate in perspective in a simpler, consumer-centric way.

  • On its own, Dan Roam’s book, The Back of the Napkin, is a great read for anyone who wants to learn to communicate ideas using compelling, yet ridiculously simple, sketches.   He takes on the complexity of health care in a “series” of 4 napkins.  Sure, it doesn’t capture everything, but he introduces it a viewpoint from which most can easily relate to.
  • I’m clearly a huge fan of NPR’s Planet Money podcast (it helped me survive the banking collapse last fall,) and they’re amazing at finding everyday analogies to present difficult economics material to non-economists.  With health care in so much focus, they’ve dedicated recent episodes to explain the different players in a digestible format.


Lessons from a Chicago Innovation Summit by Nheeda Enriquez

2510458878_6e28d9ba64_mI just spent the weekend visiting family in Chicago, reminiscing over my time in graduate school at the Institute of Design.  This past May, the school was integral in putting on an Innovation Summit, bringing together innovation celebrities and city business leaders, including BusinessWeek‘s innovation guru, Bruce Nussbaum, Steelcase Chairman Robert Pew, and Exelon CEO, John Rowe.

I can’t wait for the day Charlotte hosts a conference like this.  Design thinking in business is just starting to seep its way into the city’s fabric, especially with programs like the Innovation Institute at the McColl Center and (hopefully in the) the newly forming Creative Industries task force at the ASC.

Unfortunately, I didn’t attend the Innovation Summit in person, but here’s a great place to catch all of the video.  If you’ve got a half-hour to be inspired, be sure to watch Doblin‘s Larry Keeley; his classes at the Institute of Design were challenging and thought-provoking, and I am always re-energized by his presentations.



A viewpoint about Charlotte by Nheeda Enriquez

flickr photos combined: ioupioute & jameswillamor

flickr photos combined: ioupioute & jameswillamor

“Wow! You’re practically a native,” is a phrase I’ve heard (and stolen) about the few individuals that have lived in this transplant town for over five years.  Natives have seen Charlotte’s role as banking center transform the city, and they often describe Uptown as a center of crime and tumbleweeds just ten years ago.

I assign the “Native” label to Charlotte Viewpoint, an arts + culture publication where a smattering of leaders and local visionaries contribute thoughtful columns and stunning photos.  It definitely stands out in an era of fragmented new media and 140-character upstarts.  CV’s founder and publisher Mark Peres says this is intentional:  “When everyone else goes wide, you have to go deep.”

The magazine’s mission is to spread ideas so that Charlotte leverages its own creative class to define its future, rather than continuing to consume the outputs of other cities.  We’re all wondering what lies ahead in the next chapter: will we fall into secondary-city status or become a new hub of energy/medicine/transportation/new business model innovation?



Innovation in the news by Nheeda Enriquez
photo via charlotte magazine

photo via charlotte magazine

This week, Charlotte’s put some focus on local innovators and its impact on our town.  Charlotte Talks hosted three Innovation Leaders on its program on Tuesday.

  • Monty Montague – Co-founder and Design Principal, BOLT Group
  • Paul Wetenhall – President, Ben Craig Center Business Incubator, UNC Charlotte
  • Barbara Spradling – Director, Innovation Institute, McColl Center for Visual Art

Also, Charlotte Magazine’s August issue is dedicated to local “Geniuses” that “will change this city forever.”  Though the stories aren’t on the magazine’s website yet, some of the individuals featured include PreGel‘s Gelato King Marco Casol, soccer innovator Akbar Majeed, and the Know Your Farms‘ Christy Shi.



Taking your own medicine: Creativity in Advertising by Nheeda Enriquez

I was flipping through the Charlotte Business Journal a few weeks ago this ad struck me.

[ click for larger ] photos credits: Lee Stewart, Charlotte BizJournal

click for larger

I stopped partly because it contrasted the busier, text-heavy ads, but also for its tagline.  No one questions the spending power of the boomer generation and its impact on our economy.  But so many advertising dollars are spent on the young, so I contacted Lee Stewart to learn more about his company’s unique positioning.

“It’s easier for a boomer to understand a 25-year old than it is for a 25-year old to understand a boomer” he said.  He reflected on the advertising heydey of the Madmen-era, and the cleverness of Volkwagen’s 60′s campaigns.  Stewart suggested that today’s ads are geared towards shock value and may insult the intelligence and value set of the Boomer market.

Career accomplishments aside, I was equally impressed that Lee Stewart practices what he preaches.  Contrary to instinct, a down market is when advertising sees greater penetration.  Follow up ads in this series will run in July and September.



Bernie Madoff: Using extreme constraints to find ideas by Nheeda Enriquez
original photo source: sf gate

original photo source: sf gate

The recent Madoff sentencing has left many scratching their heads, questioning “How is it possible to for a 71 year old man serve a 150 year sentence?!”  Some agree that it’s merely gesture to illustrate the severity of the crime, but it also presents the opportunity to ask >> What if…?

I advocate the use of extreme constraints as a tool for ideation, because they force new ways to think about a problem and get us beyond the obvious or incremental solution.  Clearly, Mr. Madoff’s punishment will outlive him, but if we allow ourselves to get crazy for a second, how might we find an alternative means to serve a full sentence?

  • Keep his clones in jail
  • Break up the sentence into lots of little segments and find a way to distribute the punishment to co-conspirators
  • Make him conduct random acts of kindness to pay it forward, a la Akoha cards
  • Make him spend a majority of his time doing work that will certainly pay benefits over time, like plant 1000 trees by hand
  • Force him to start an investment fund for one of his least favorite charity, a la stickK, and let others contribute to it

These become the kernels of a larger solution that others can build upon.  What other ideas are out there?




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