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


H2 Workforce eases the pain of hiring the wrong people by Nheeda Enriquez

flickr photo credit: woodleywonderworks

As if small business managers didn’t have enough on their plates, local Charlotte firm H2 Workforce built a solution around a common pain in the hiring process.

After selling their previous company, WorkWireless, to its next biggest competitor, serial entrepreneurs James Gray and Austin Stonestreet translated their expertise from running their own business into a springboard for a new one.  H2 Workforce offers a lifeline to hiring managers in small businesses (who don’t have the luxury of a dedicated HR department,) by bundling a menu of services to screen potential candidates through drug screens, background checks, and even skills tests.

Sure, it’s not rocket science, but Gray understands how a simple solution like this can save customers tons of time.   He’s felt the challenge of finding the right candidates for a sales force himself.  He shared a story about a hiring mistake he made after overlooking some basic skills (I’ll have to leave the details out to protect the innocent!)

What’s next for them?  They want to tackle the pains in the rest of the process: managing documents and interview feedback amongst a distributed team.  Stay tuned for more innovations in their arsenal.



Agastha continues to improve the health care experience for all by Nheeda Enriquez
agastha

screenshot via Agastha

Last month, I connected with Mohan Korrapati of Charlotte-based Agastha to learn more about his quest to lead the field of electronic medical records.  The health care debate brought renewed focus on the category, but Agastha’s been improving their product for over 7 years, implementing their software in Charlotte practices and elsewhere.

5 minutes into a conversation with him, you realize that Korrapati has experienced the pains that patients face.  He just wants to simplify the complexities that make existing record systems annoying and inefficient.  At practices who use an Agastha solution, you probably don’t have to fill out forms over and over, or maybe you’ll get a message to let you know that an appointment is coming up.  And for the staff, the system might alert them if a patient has missed a critical appointment or has been prescribed a dangerous combination of medicines.

Where other major companies like Microsoft or Cisco have just been talking about electronic health records for years, Agastha credits their fast progress to its agility and a feedback loop from providers.  They seem to have built a culture of frequent prototyping and learning often found in truly innovative teams.



Searching for the familiar: A parking lot delighter! by Nheeda Enriquez

IMG_0210

I saw this lovely sign over in the Green Parking lot in Uptown Charlotte the other day and I couldn’t help but smile.  It was an unexpected yet ever-so-helpful delighter designed to help me remember where I parked.

Sometimes I’ll type a quick note in my phone to remind me where the car is. Or, in especially confusing lots like the Long Term lots at the airport, I’ll even GPS-tag the location.  But when you’re in a hurry, nothing beats a simple picture with a caption, “It takes two to tango” to burn the image in my head.

Besides helping me find my car, this sign also reminded me of two NY Times articles I had seen recently:

  • I find myself thinking often about how to make it easier for people to try a new product or service, and sometimes it’s appropriate to bring in something familiar to help transition folks from an older mental model into a new one.
  • Of course, in the spirit of planning for unintended consequences, an article about the sad possibility of losing your navigational prowess when of adapting a common technology like GPS into one’s everyday life.


A quick visit to a recent past: Part 1 by Nheeda Enriquez
September 23, 2009, 4:28 pm
Filed under: design research, empathy | Tags: , , , , ,

I’m off traveling for a week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to revisit three “timeless” posts on broader innovation topics.  The first is about the importance of empathy in user-centered design.

Enjoy!
Nheeda

_______________________________________

Feeling your pain: the role of empathy
June 1, 2009

There’s lots of talk of the word “empathy” right now, whether it’s the selection of a new Supreme Court justice or, in the design + business circles, the release of the book, Wired to Care, by Dev Patnaik.  Empathy is an important tool in a design researcher’s toolkit, as it forces you to see a situation from someone else’s point of view (your users, your co-workers, your suppliers.)  Immersion was one of the phases of our Innovation process at Wachovia, and we never failed to see something new each time we went out into the field to walk in the steps of our customers.

This past weekend, I brought that approach home as I found myself quickly losing patience with my boyfriend.  Brian broke his hand about a week ago, and I began to get irritated with tying his shoes or waiting for him to put his wallet away or attach the leash on the dog.  So for two hours, I borrowed his extra brace and sling and carried about my morning.  Not only had I taken the second hand for granted, I sure did realize how unsympathetic I had been.  Washing a pan or fixing my hair was a nightmare!

We’re always talking about putting customers first.  Sometimes it just takes a serving of our own medicine to remind us what that really means.  And then seeing the opportunities within those moments to inspire the next big idea.  Perhaps that one-armed dog collar is not a niche product after all.

It doesn’t take much to try it.  Here’s a lovely primer on ethnography.



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.


Beware of innovating against old metrics by Nheeda Enriquez
July 24, 2009, 11:43 pm
Filed under: empathy, innovation trends | Tags: , , , , ,

stitchesDuring a family brunch back home in NJ, my sister the ER doc bemoaned how police investigators would get in her way when she treated violent lacerations.  They’d be in her face, demanding to know “HOW MANY STITCHES?!  HOW MANY STITCHES?!” so they could include the number in their reports.

Lack of compassion for a busy hospital aside, we agreed that the number of stitches was a terrible way to measure a stab wound’s severity.  My sister said that the number required to seal a cut had more to do with its location than its length.  (Faces require more.)  And in some cases, you might use adhesive to close it instead.

The story makes me think of how an outdated or inappropriate metric is sometimes used to evaluate whether or not an innovation is worth doing.  Many companies look to traditional ROI or NPV calculations to determine financial return, as they should.  But for really new initiatives that may not have been tried before, don’t forget to brainstorm the non-obvious key performance indicators.

It’s actually be a fun exercise to ask: “If this wacky new bike merchandising solution is successful, how might we know?”  The first answer is always, “we sell more bikes.”  But it might also be “increased time spent in store by customers,” “number of cell phone pictures taken of said bike rack showing up google maps,” or even “number of complaints by annoyed employees having to deal with telling the story of new bike display.”



Charlotte’s Mission Possible uses crowdsourcing to solve a local problem by Nheeda Enriquez
logo via missionpossible

logo via missionpossible

If you haven’t caught it already, a local media coalition under the umbrella name Mission Possible is collecting public ideas to answer the growing need of charitable groups feeling the pressure of a challenged economy.  Soliciting ideas from a local constituency is not necessarily a new concept, and it definitely falls in the category of crowdsourcing.  Even the Obama administration has been putting structures in place to ensure the transparency of their multiple agendas.  Leveraging the collective wisdom and expertise certainly can’t hurt, especially in a time when more radical thinking is required.  From the website, some of the areas they’re exploring are:

  • New ways to conduct fundraising
  • New ways to administer programs
  • New ways to let individual citizens make a difference through volunteering
  • New ways that an individual personally could make a difference
  • New ways to use technology to help meet charitable needs
  • New ways for potential donors to learn of charitable needs and what assistance is needed
  • Wholesale changes in how charitable needs are met

Start by submitting your thoughts and ideas here. (Via Charlotte’s own innovation connector, Edison Nation)



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.



Feeling your pain: the role of empathy by Nheeda Enriquez
June 1, 2009, 3:00 pm
Filed under: design research, empathy | Tags: ,

There’s lots of talk of the word “empathy” right now, whether it’s the selection of a new Supreme Court justice or, in the design + business circles, the release of the book, Wired to Care, by Dev Patnaik.  Empathy an important tool in a design researcher’s toolkit, as it forces you to see a situation from someone else’s point of view (your users, your co-workers, your suppliers.)  Immersion was one of the phases of our Innovation process at Wachovia, and we never failed to see something new each time we went out into the field to walk in the steps of our customers.

empathy This past weekend, I brought that approach home as I found myself quickly losing patience with my boyfriend.  Brian broke his hand about a week ago, and I began to get irritated with tying his shoes or waiting for him to put his wallet away or attach the leash on the dog.  So for two hours, I borrowed his extra brace and sling and carried about my morning.  Not only had I taken the second hand for granted, I sure did realize how unsympathetic I had been.  Washing a pan or fixing my hair was a nightmare!

We’re always talking about putting customers first.  Sometimes it just takes a serving of our own medicine to remind us what that really means.  And then seeing the opportunities within those moments to inspire the next big idea.  Perhaps that one-armed dog collar is not a niche product after all.

It doesn’t take much to try it.  Here’s a lovely primer on ethnography.



New needs in the air: Charlotte’s smoking ban by Nheeda Enriquez
May 21, 2009, 12:35 am
Filed under: empathy, retail and restaurants | Tags:

To the delight of many and the chagrin of others, the state approved a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants yesterday.  In January of 2010, I’ll have witnessed the ban go into effect into 3 different cities, including New York and Chicago.  At a high level, establishments worry about losing smoking patrons (or for some, winning back their non-smoking ones.)  On a more detailed level, new needs will arise when smokers must step outside to have a cigarette.  I went ahead and defined a few of those needs from prior observations and discussions with bartenders and their regulars.  Breaking it down into pieces helps answer the bar owner’s larger question: “How do I keep customers happy?”

smoker3One amusing solution comes from a friend from NYC, who places this sign on his glass when he steps out.  And for those who think the market should determine how much smoking should be allowed, here’s a proposal for a pollution cap and trade plan per bar.




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