Yelp’s Monocle: An Augmented Reality iPhone App

Talk about a purple cow.

Yelp just released a new version of their Apple (AAPL) iPhone app with an easter egg: Monocle, an Augmented Reality (AR) feature. This feature is only available on the iPhone 3GS.

According to Robert Scoble, to get this app, follow these steps:

  1. Download the latest version of the Yelp iPhone app.
  2. Enter the app.
  3. Shake it several times. Although Scoble says to shake it 3 times, I had to shake mine like 10 times.
  4. A message will appear saying Monocle was activated. Touch the OK button.
  5. Touch the Monocle button at the top right corner of the screen.

And that’s it. If you hold the phone vertical and point the iPhone around the room, you’ll see the camera working. An overlap of Yelp reviews will appear in the direction of that particular business. If you need more help, Mashable also has step-by-step instructions, along with screenshots and this video:

It’s a pretty neat feature. Major props to the Yelp team for pulling this off. They earn loads of geek cred for this.

If I lived in New York City, I could see this being somewhat useful. The compass-based directional map on the Google (GOOG) Maps iPhone app is more useful though. The prime benefit of Monocle is letting me know which direction a restaurant is located. Google Maps does that too, plus it includes zooming in and out. Sadly, the Google Map on Yelp doesn’t have the directional feature. Maybe Yelp should add that as their next feature.

Another nice benefit of Monocle is letting me know which restaurants are near me. That’s pretty nice, if I want any ole’ restaurant. But generally, I use Yelp to find me a good, high-quality restaurant. Being a little bit further away is fine because I’m looking for good food. I’m not sure what Monocle’s distance limit is, but what if a great place is just ten steps to my left? Would I miss out on it because I wasn’t standing close enough for Monocle to display it?

To be fair, the same could be said about Google Maps if, say, a great restaurant was just off the left edge of the screen. But it’s easier to scroll the screen to the left than it is to know to walk ten steps in some direction.

But enough criticism. Geek-cred-wise, this is pretty cool. Lots of people are talking about it too, which is even more cool. Awesome demonstration of AR technology, guys. I’m looking forward to other AR applications soon.

Business Ideas from Nature

Need a cool product, technology, or business idea? Turn to nature! After all, it’s given us major advances in aviation, maritime technology, architecture, etc.

Two talks from TED also offer some examples of how nature can offer great ideas:

The next time you watch TV, flip to the Discovery Channel. Maybe you’ll find your next big idea there.

If You’re Not Failing Regularly, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough

I love great quotes. I’ve been reading the fantastic & inspiring book, Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston.

The book is basically a collection of interviews. In it, Livingston speaks with the founders or founding members of companies like Flickr, del.icio.us, PayPal, Hotmail, Blogger, Bloglines, Craigslist, Firefox, Six Apart, 37Signals, Hot Or Not, TiVo, WebTV, Adobe, Apple, Lotus, Groove Networks, Fog Creek Software, Lycos, Yahoo, and more. Quite a list, huh? Yea, I know.

I’m currently reading the interview with Stephen Kaufer of TripAdvisor. One line Kaufer said really struck me:

If we’re not failing at something on a regular basis, we’re just not trying hard enough.

He’s not saying you should be coming up with failures all the time. He’s saying you shouldn’t be afraid of failure. Let go of the fear. Be bold and try something crazy.

On the Web, you’ll soon know if a crazy idea is good or bad. It’s relatively easy to quickly deploy a new feature, get feedback, then pull it if it sucks. But if you hold back the idea because you’re afraid of, I don’t know, whatever, then you may have just held back a revolutionary idea.

Fortunately, companies like Blogger, del.icio.us, and Flickr didn’t do that. If they did, think of what they would have missed. What we would have missed.

Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike

Homer Simpson It’s known as the Curse of Knowledge. Once you know something really well, it’s hard to imagine not knowing it. That’s why many experts have a hard time explaining their field to someone outside their field.

This curse also effects the ability to be creative and innovative. It’s quite a paradox. The more you know about the box, the less you’re able to think outside of it. Sucks, huh?

I was just going through some old clipped news articles, when I came across this one from Janet Rae-Dupree of the New York Times: “Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike” (from which I stole for this blog post title). And it got me thinking about innovation again.

In the book “Made to Stick” by Chip & Dan Heath, they wrote about some research Stanford PhD candidate Elizabeth Newton did for her dissertation in 1990. In it, she asked participants to tap the rhythm of well-known songs like “Happy Birthday to You,” then asked them to predict how often a listener could identify the song. They predicted around 50%. But in reality, listeners only identified the songs 2.5% of the time. The tappers were incredulous. “How could you be so stupid?” some said.

In a similar study on email communication, researchers from New York University, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that readers of emails don’t pick up on subtle nuances (like sarcasm) as much as the writers believe they will. They even consider it a kind of an egotistical behavior. Sounds like common sense when you hear it stated this way, right? But I’m sure you’ve had a few cases where a friend or colleague misunderstood your sarcastic remarks as an attack of some kind. That’s sure happened to me.

Even Fred Wilson, Nick Denton, and Clay Shirky touched on this issue when they debated the optimal age to be an entrepreneur. Shirky weighed in with the conclusion that inexperienced minds are better able to make connections and think creatively that more knowledgeable minds.

These are examples of the curse of knowledge. It doesn’t just effect experts; it effects us all. When we form mental maps of the things we know, then assume that other people have a similar mental map, it can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. (Oops, did I just assume you knew the term mental map? My bad.)

Fortunately, there’s a way around this.

In the book “The Innovation Killer“, author Cynthia Barton Rabe suggests bringing in someone new. A fresh eye and a fresh perspective. One anecdote she shares is about Eveready and their flashlight business, which was foundering in the mid-1980s. One of Rabe’s colleagues came to the team with no flashlight experience, but plenty of consumer packaging and marketing experience. So she decided to revamp the flashlight product line (with the inclusion of bright colors, like pink, baby blue, and light green) and revise its distribution strategy (by selling them through grocery store chains). Until then, flashlights were dull colored, sold in hardware stores, and aimed solely at men. This new move, which would have never occurred to the old team, brought huge success and new customers, especially women.

Another way is to train your mind to think creatively. Fortunately, there are a number of brainstorming techniques you can use to push your mind toward innovative thinking. First, it involves realizing that you need to think creatively and opening your mind to all new ideas, no matter how “stupid” they may seem. If your mind is truly open, then no new idea is stupid, you know. Then it involves redefining the problem, looking at topics outside of the subject matter (lateral thinking), and changing your perspective.

I hope this helps the next time you’re struck with the Curse of Knowledge. Good luck!

Brainstorming Business Ideas

Coming up with business ideas is easy. Relatively speaking, that is—relative to setting up a business and keeping it profitable.

Here are several brainstorming methods you can use to come up with business ideas.

The Problem & Solution Method

Examine your life and your everyday activities. Are there tedious chores that could be made easier? Are there complicated actions you can’t do, but wish you could do? Are there undesirable activities that could be done by someone or something else?

Carry a notebook with you everywhere for a week. Write down every painful problem you see. Ask your friends about problems they face too. Every problem is a potential opportunity, ripe for solutions that could be made into profitable products or services.

The Market-First Method

Choose a specific target market you want to serve before even thinking about a product or service. Understand that market’s demographics, psychographics, behaviors, beliefs, needs, wants, and problems.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you can, try to live and breath their lifestyle for a week. Immerse yourself in that target market. Watch them, study them, interview them. Take note of everything they say. How do they think? What problems do they need solved? What do they need, what do they want? Keep an open mind for potential opportunities.

The Personal Strengths Method

Analyze your innate talents, learned skills, and experiences. If you’re working with others, analyze your collective strengths. Take psychological tests (like those offered in Now, Discover Your Strengths and other similar sources) to help determine your core aptitudes.

What kinds of products can you build, or services can you offer, with this collection of strengths? What kinds of businesses play to your assets? Chances are, you will be much more successful with a business that utilizes your strengths, even if the idea already exists.

The Mix & Match Method

Take two seemingly unrelated concepts, products, or services and see if you can combine them. They can be across distribution channels, packaging styles, branding styles, ergonomic designs, target audiences, core features, core attributes, and even base materials. Make a list of existing concepts and mix & match them systematically, analyzing each pair for viability.

For example, mix the concept of fast food and package delivery and you have overnight shipping services. Match a photocopier and a telephone and you have a fax machine. Add friend networks and the internet and you have online social networks.

The Importation Method

Travel the world. Take note of all the products and services you see. Consider how each could be imported back to your country. You could create a whole new company doing the same thing. Or you could become the sole distributor/provider in your region for the original company.

The world is rich with ideas, especially in cultures very different than yours. Some imported ideas will need adjustments to adapt to the local market. Others will need experts from the original country to make it happen. Be aware of potential international copyright laws as well.

The Lateral Thinking Method

Look at an existing problem and apply lateral thinking principles to its solution. Shift your thinking and redefine the problem. Consider alternate possibilities, no matter how far-fetched or frivolous they may seem.

This riddle is an example of lateral thinking: “A man and his son are in a car crash. The father is killed and the son is taken to hospital. When he gets there, the surgeon says ‘I can’t operate on this boy—he is my son!’ How is this possible?” The answer involves shifting perceptions to allow alternate possibilities. One such answer is: the surgeon is the son’s mother.

The Godin Method (or The Edgecraft Method)

Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside, writes about creating remarkable products or services and the art of Edgecraft. For many businesses, remarkable marketing and branding help garner success, even with products and services that aren’t new.

Edgecraft is the concept of “going all the way to the edge” of an existing product or service. It means looking at an idea and adding a special twist, a unique element, that makes the original idea remarkable. Godin says it’s more than just a gimmick or product differentiation, it’s turning the idea into a Purple Cow (something that people will remember and talk about).

The Christensen Method (or The Disruptive Innovation Method)

Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, and Seeing What’s Next, writes about sustaining and disruptive innovations in the high technology markets. His definitions of disruptive innovations can be a great source of ideas as well.

Disruptive innovations are new products or services that fundamentally change an industry, oftentimes shaking the top companies from their pedestals. There are two types of disruptive innovations: low-end disruptions and new-market disruptions.

Low-end disruptions
These serve less demanding customers with low-priced, relatively straightforward offerings using low-cost business models. Look for markets with over-served customers and offer a simpler product or service.
New-market disruptions
These serve new customers by making it easier for them to do something that previously required being or hiring specialists. Look for unfulfilled needs and create new products or services for them.

The Borrowed Ideas Method

There are lots of sources of free ideas all around you. The web is especially full of them. Some sources are:

See, isn’t that easy? What are other methods or sources you use for your ideas?

How to Sell Your Ideas

Trying to sell your ideas within a corporation isn’t always easy. You have to contend with politics, egos, bureaucracy, and other assorted barriers.

With that in mind, I put together the following information a couple of years ago for my team. Some of it is influenced by Seth Godin’s book Free Prize Inside, which lists lots of great idea promotion techniques.

Introduction

  • This is not about how to come up with great ideas
  • This is about how to promote your ideas
  • Your job is to come up with great, viable, & successful ideas

Ideas Are Easy

  • There are a million great ideas out there
  • There are a million bad ideas out there too
  • Lots of websites give you free ideas almost every day
  • People at your company may be bursting with ideas already (maybe)
  • Your company’s problem isn’t generating ideas, it’s choosing which ones to implement
  • Your problem isn’t how to sell your idea, it’s getting your idea through the clutter of other ideas

Be an Idea Champion

Understand People & Politics

  • Understand the other person’s point of view of life, frame of mind
    • Consider the person’s background, culture, social standing, economic status, religion, family, ethnicity, etc.
    • Consider personality typing tools (Jung, Myers-Briggs, Keirsey)
    • Be aware of non-verbal communication & cues
  • Understand the other person’s goals & motivations
    • Be aware of what the pesson wants from life, from you, or from this particular deal. What matters to this person? Money, fame, reputation, a promotion, etc?
  • Find out who the true influencers are; these aren’t always the top executives (though usually they are); sometimes, it can also be a project manager or a low-level product manager, or even an administrative assistant
    • E.g. The executives of a major company wanted innovation. Unfortunately, below them were some senior managers who were afraid of upsetting the status quo and hurting their stock options because they were already making a fortune on them. They wouldn’t let any new ideas through if they hurt the status quo. These senior managers were the true influencers, not the top executives. A way to approach them is to understand their motivations and show that, by not embracing this idea, the status quo would be broken because competitors would do it better.

Convince Others That Your Idea is Great

  • Not just good, but great
  • Do some research and gather statistics to back-up the potential success of your idea
  • Show them your vision, describe the future where your idea is a reality
  • Tell them the emotional impact of your idea, get them energized about it
  • The goal is not to prove beyond a doubt that your idea will work; that may be impossible to prove. The goal is to go through the necessary steps for your colleagues to believe that your idea will work
  • Understand what motivates people (which ties into politics)
    • Some want a cool challenge
    • Some like the geek factor of new technology
    • Some like being the first-to-market
    • Some want to push the stock price up
    • Some like making their own jobs more secure
    • Some want to make the world a better place
    • Some want public recognition

Convince Others That You Can Make This Happen

  • Build your reputation as a leader, an Idea Champion
  • Start small (plan a small event, like a team lunch)
  • Increase your responsibilities (take on increasingly more difficult tasks)
  • Take ownership of difficult, complex problems (own them from identification to resolution)
  • Be proactive about problem-solving (if you notice a problem happening frequently that no one else has identified yet, step up to find a solution)
  • Consider volunteering to champion someone else’s idea (to help prove yourself and gain a political ally)
  • Consider learning about project management, marketing, engineering lifecycles, etc; (give yourself the right skills to see your idea through)

Good luck, champ!

Ideas from Ironic Sans

Ironic Sans Now for some Friday fun. David Friedman of Ironic Sans has had some great product ideas, and some not-necessarily-great, but oh-so-funny ones too.

Of the latter kind, here are my top picks:

Is this guy a genius or what?

Annoyancetech

Trend Hunter Magazine Over the weekend, a friend told me about a device that scrambles mobile phone signals. That means that no calls can be picked up by the mobile phones within this device’s range.

He knows a guy who regularly carries such a device into movie theaters and restaurants, so that he can enjoy a nice, quiet, mobile-phone-less evening.

Before you rush out to buy one, I should let you know that this device is illegal in the United States (sorry).

But don’t lose heart. There’s a new trend of devices called “annoyancetech” that basically provide relief from annoyances, according to Trend Hunter Magazine.

A slew of gadgets have been invented recently with a range of social applications, from a jacket that zaps gropers on the subway to a harmless device that gets dogs to stop barking, to the Xcuse box, a contraption that produces background noise for phone conversations to let you fool other (sic) about your actual whereabouts.

Think of all the great social applications! The next time someone tailgates you on the highway, there’ll be a device that starts flashing bright red warning lights saying “Back Off!” Or, the next time someone farts, there’ll be a device that emits the gentle counter-balancing scent of flowers. Or, gosh, the possibilities are endless!