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Innovating by Fusing Reality and Virtual Reality: Joe Pine #3DXForum

Point: Looking at the opposites of everyday constraints yields new opportunities for innovation.

Story: Companies typically see time, space and matter as constraints. That’s not surprising — those three elements define the boundaries of our everyday reality. But what if we  saw them not as constraints but as malleable resources for innovation?

That’s the mind-bending proposition Joe Pine presented at Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Forum. Lest you dismiss Pine as a wide-eyed dreamer, recall that his book, Mass Customization, introduced a seemingly impossible paradox when it was released in 1992, but that concept is now so widely implemented that it’s a de rigueur business practice.  The fusion of opposites provides opportunities for innovation.

So how do we utilize time, space and matter for innovation? Pine lays out the steps in his latest book, Infinite Possibility. The way forward, Pine says, is to play with the opposites of time, space and matter, namely no-time, no-space and no-matter.  Whereas time, space and matter constitute our usual realm of Reality, no-time, no-space and no-matter constitute a new realm of pure Virtual Reality

If we fuse reality and virtual reality in various mix-and-match combinations, then we can come up with a host of new products, services and, most importantly, customer experiences.  Using these three dimensions, Pine details an eight-realm new universe (“multiverse”) that pairs eight combinations of time vs. no-time, space vs. no-space, matter vs. no-matter.

Let’s start by exploring a realm that is only one step removed from reality, what Pine calls “Augmented Reality.”  Compared to reality, which has time, space and matter, Augmented Reality has time, space and no-matter.  The “no-matter” condition refers to the information that is overlaid onto reality.

Here’s an example: say you’re driving down the street in a city unfamiliar to you. You are in a real space and in a real time. But, you can use a device to overlay information (“no-matter”) onto that current reality. That is, you can use a GPS navigation aid to show you where the nearest bakery is.  The GPS gives you data (“no-matter”) that you can’t see yet in the real world (a bakery around the corner a few blocks away). With that information, your reality is augmented — you can navigate to the bakery and get the cupcake you crave. 

Companies can apply these concepts to new product development. For example, what new products or enhanced experiences could you create in Augmented Reality? Dassault Systemes’ CEO Bernard Charles demonstrated one such product, 3DParis.  With this app, you can stroll the streets of Paris and see an overlay of your current street in olden times — 2000 years of Parisian history showing you how the street you’re walking down looked, say during the time of the French Revolution in 1789.

That’s a playful consumer app; the same principles apply to hardcore business operations, such as airplane repair.  Consider an app that lets mechanics point an iPhone at a distant airplane on the tarmac and get an immediate overlay of the maintenance and repairs that need to be done for that specific plane. 



  • Look for ways to virtualize your product, service, or business along one or more of the three dimensions of time, space and matter.  Break the constraints on the “when,” “where,” and “what.”
  • Consider ways to replace or enhance the matter of a product, service, or business with data, graphics, and manipulated versions of reality

1 Comment »Growth, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Social Media, Software tool

Collaboration Curves Improve Innovation and Performance

Point: Unlike the diminishing returns of the Experience Curve, Collaboration Curves offer continuous, exponential improvement and innovation through knowledge sharing and interactions among a group of participants.

Story: Most of us have heard about the Experience Curve, which traces how a company’s rising experience in making a product leads to declining cost of that making a product.  On average, the cost declines 20-30 percent each time that a company’s experience in making that product doubles. The Experience Curve, which has been systematically studied since the 1960s, holds true across a wide range of industries.  The sad flip-side of the Experience Curve, however, is that the rate of improvement declines over time because it takes longer and longer for experience to double.  It has diminishing returns.  Can anything be done to sustain the rate of improvement? Is there another way to keep on advancing? There is: Collaboration Curves.

Collaboration — in the form of knowledge sharing and interactions among a group of participants — improves the performance of all.  Before the internet, collaboration took place primarily face to face, along with some letter-writing between participants.  For example, in the 1870s, the art movement that came to be called Impressionism arose.  A group of young painters — Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir, Camille Pissaro and others — started meeting in cafes, talking and visiting each other’s art studios. They became a collaborative group; that is, they’d share their work in progress, talk about painting techniques, experiment with colors, and help each other learn and improve.

For example, the group broke with the tradition of black shadows.  They experimented with shadows painted in purple, deep blue or a mix of other colors.  Sometimes the shadows weren’t even that dark. This was a radical idea — no one had painted shadows in a different color before, but once one of the group came upon it, others adopted it as well.  They also expanded the notions of what could be painted. The subject matter needn’t be a religious icon, mythological scene, portrait of a nobleman or an allegorical landscape — it could be something as simple as a haystack or water lilies, painted over and over at different times or day or different seasons, showing how the light and color changes with the times and seasons.  Combining their experiences accelerated the Impressionists’ innovations in color, composition, brushwork, and subject matter.

Today, these collaborative groups can extend online, enabling people to talk and share with others anywhere, any time, thereby greatly — indeed exponentially — improving the group’s capacity to produce.  In the old model, the experience of any one person (or company) grew linearly with time, which created an Experience Curve with diminishing returns.  But a collaborating group can multiply experiences by combining lessons from the successes and failures of all to create a Collaboration Curve that sustains performance improvement.  The internet, social media, and collaboration platforms greatly enhance the Collaboration Curve by increasing the number of people who can collaborate, increasing the geographic span of people who can collaborate, and increasing the access to the accumulated experience of the collaborative group.

Collaboration Curves were first identified by John Hagel, who heads consulting firm Deloitte’s Center for the Edge in Silicon Valley.  “We’re seeing the emergence of a new kind of learning curve as we scale connectivity and learning, rather than scaling efficiency,” says Hagel in his Harvard Business Review blog (coauthored with John Seely Brown and Lang Davison).  “Collaboration curves hold the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.”

So far, examples of internet-enabled Collaboration Curves are more anecdotal rather than rigorous because of their nascency.  But Hagel has found that collaborative environments like the popular online game World of Warcraft offer participants a way to continue improving beyond what individuals could accomplish alone.  In the business world, similar collaboration curves take place on SAP’s software developer sites, and large open source projects such as the Eclipse Foundation.  What’s exciting is that “Collaboration curves may reverse the diminishing returns dynamics of the experience curve and deliver increasing returns to performance instead,” Hagel says.  The opportunity for interactions among the many participants lets performance continue improving through the continuing contributions of ideas by other participants.

Action: Hagel found that there are three prerequisites for these online collaboration groups to work and generate the Collaboration Curve effect.

  • Attract Participants: First, you need people. That’s pretty obvious, that you need people to make this work. But what’s exciting is that the people don’t all have to be talking or active all the time – it’s perfectly ok to begin by just being an observer who lurks and learns from others. Indeed, in SAP’s software developer network (SAP SDN), most participants do just that — learning by reading the discussion forums before they contribute anything themselves.
  • Interact: to get better results, you start interacting with others, in discussions — in person or online — sharing experiences, making suggestions, giving feedback. The more interactions, the faster the performance improvement.
  • A supportive, multi-layered environment: Supportive means friendly and online.  It also means that the technology supports the interaction through discussion boards, archives, live chats, video.  Interaction must be easy not only among peers but among all cross-cutting groups. Digital infrastructure lowers interaction costs, enabling large, diverse groups of people to share information and learn from each other, driving performance improvements for all.

13 Comments »Growth, How-to, Innovation, Productivity, Social Media

Make Your Product a Narrative — #BIF7

Point:  Technology and innovation enable greater customer engagement through open-ended customizations, apps, add-on, and social features.

Story: At BIF7, John Hagel, author of The Power of Pull, highlighted what he saw as a distinction between story vs. narrative. A story is complete, self-contained, and has a beginning, middle, and end. Stories have audiences: people who passively consume the story.  In contrast, Hagel defined a “narrative” as an open-ended, unfolding sequence that continues into the future.  Narratives frame the world and the people in it.  Under this definition, narratives create participants: active co-creators in the evolving timeline of current and future events.  Whether you agree or disagree with Hagel’s particular choice of words, the key is in the interesting distinction between a closed-ended tale and an open-ended dialogue — and what that distinction means for product innovation..

Although Hagel didn’t say so directly, the concept of story v. narrative can be applied to product innovation: some products are like stories and some are like narratives. Some products are meant to simply be bought and consumed, like the beginning-middle-end of a story.  It’s a “once upon a time, someone used the product and they lived happily ever after” story.

In contrast, other products are like narratives, in which purchasing the product is just the start of a long series of interactions with that product, with related products, and even with other people. Such products let people customize, individualize, and enhance the product. Customers can tap into an ecosystem of add-ons, apps, tracking, feedback, and engagement. Customers can interact with other customers or with the company’s services for on-going enhancements.  In short, the customer joins the narrative and extends it, too..

The most obvious example of the narrative-style product is the Apple iPhone, with its “there’s an app for that” opportunities for customization and engagement. Similarly, Nike converted a consumer good — shoes — into narrative-driven product with strong participant engagement through Nike+.  A sensor in the shoe and wireless connection to an iPhone, iPod, or special watch lets users of its shoes track their exercise. People can then share their runs with others, participate in virtual races, and learn about great running routes from others..

Technology enables more and more of these kinds of narrative products. Companies can now leverage low cost or existing electronics (e.g., smartphones), low-cost software, and low-cost web/cloud services to create an ongoing customizable social experience.  Companies can also use existing social platforms (like FourSquare, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to create a narrative environment for their product or service.


  • Is your product like a closed-ended tale or can you make it like an open-ended dialogue with your customers?
  • Create a brand to encompasses the customer (vs. simply defining the product or the company)
  • Create optional tracking or feedback that lets customers record their piece of the narrative.
  • Create optional add-ons or apps that support customization or ongoing enhancements.
  • Create an ecosystem of partners and encourage open innovation around a narrative product platform.
  • Create social engagement that lets customers not just use the product but also interact with the people behind the product and the other users of the product.

No Comments »Customers, Innovation, New Product Development, Social Media

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