business Lots of blogs write about how to innovate. I’ve written about it. There are whole blogs devoted to it. But I’ve been spending a lot of time in business travel and business meetings lately, and that’s given me some ideas on what to innovate. So if you’ve got the inclination, the time and the know-how, but aren’t sure where to apply it, here are a dozen aspects of business in desperate need of innovation:

Paper: As a colleague of mine once said, “paper creates offices”. He was right. We need it, but in its current form it’s wasteful and horrible to organize and share. It needs to be erasable, and self-scanning. Kind of like an Etch-a-Sketch with memory and better resolution. Surely we can do better than this ancient product, and save a million forests in the process.

Offices: They’re places to store paper (see above) and (not very good) places to hold meetings. They hamper mobility, face-time with clients, waste a ton of time getting to and from them, cost a lot, are hard to reconfigure, and are unhealthy. Our office belongs in a (small) briefcase. Someone please make it so.

Meetings: We live in a mega-channel universe, yet we go to meetings that have only one channel. Absurd. We need an alternative that allows for multi-tasking and being in several plaves (virtually) at once. We need a fast-forward button for meetings. And an off switch.

Employment Contracts: There used to be two-way loyalty between employers and employees. Then there was someting to contract, some give-and-take. Not today. You’re likely to keep your hairdresser or your dentist longer than your employees these days, and you don’t need a contract with them. So, either scrap them, or put something interesting, and valuable, to both parties in them. Like an ability to draw on future salary today, when you really need the cash (kind of like a retainer). Or a clause on residuals. Massages. A volunteerism commitment. Whatever. And don’t let lawyers write them.

Job Titles (& Business Cards): The business card needs a bar code or a mag stripe so we can just zap it into our address books. That will free up the front of the card for stuff more interesting than addresses and phone numbers. Like miniature art. Favourite recipes. Haiku. And if you have to have job titles, why can’t they be what you really do, like “Helps lawyers find precedents about intellectual property and information technology”?

Reintermediation: This is the longest useful word in English. It means adding back a service that was eliminated by ‘self-serve’, but in some new, interesting, valuable way. Like car-hops instead of drive-throughs at fast-food restaurants, just for the nostalgia.

Convenience: We make things harder than they need to be, precisely when we have the least time. We need hairdressers that come to you. Restaurants in movie theatres. Things that save time, and let you do two things at once.

Clothes: Talk about high-maintenance. They should be self-cleaning like other appliances. Change colour at the flick of a switch. And modular, so you can add sleeves, make shorts into long pants. Self-adjusting. And no wrinkles please. And with practical stuff, like zippers that go all the way around. And cod-pieces. And solar panels for temperature control.

Mass Transit: Mass transit has lots of people, so it should be fun, like cocktail parties, raves and art openings. We need live music. Theatre. Coconut shrimp. Wine tastings.

Accommodation: In both senses of the word. Hotels where every room is different, an adventure, configurable, connected, portable. Restaurants that allow pets, bicycles, naps.

Books and Magazines: The technology is still pretty mundane. Needs cut-and-paste capability. A sound-track. And waaaay too sequential. Bulky. The shape’s a problem, too.

Sex: OK, this has nothing to do with business, but it still desperately needs innovating. I mean, vibrators for women — who designed these things? And the movies — how can anyone make sex this boring and unreal? And reality shows, they’re all about voyeurism, so why not stop pussyfooting around and actually show the sex? Some more imagination is also needed in Victoria’s Secret, aural sex (with and without phones), lingerie, car design, and ‘furniture’. Hmmm, maybe it does have something to do with business.

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  1. mrG says:

    One more, and this one the most desperate: Let’s put our heads together and find some way to help all those poor Nigerian ex-officials to launder their booty.

  2. Rob Paterson says:

    I am willing if you can help me with the size of my Ps.Seriously, sorry about this Dave but I can’t help myself now that Gary has unlocked Pandora’s box here, how can any one fall for any of this spam? But some people must respond or why else would there be so much traffic?

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Well, since we’re OT, they interviewed a self-proclaimed “king of spam” the other day and he said he sends between two and five million spam messages a day and gets, on average, 50 paid responses at about $35 a pop. That means a 0.001% response rate will gross you a cool half million dollars a year. If it takes the average reader 5 seconds to delete and their time is worth $50/hour, the cost to the users is a quarter million dollars a day.

  4. No high tech solution needed for paper. Just make it out of hemp, the way G. Washington did. The stuff grows like a weed (NPI), doesn’t need much processing or bleaching, and will put all those tobacco farmers back to work doing something useful. Using trees for paper is like using using mink for dusting.

  5. Rob Paterson says:

    I recall that Hearst was a big backer of the anti hemp group – of course he had a conventional source of paper. Much of the anti weed fuss in the 20’s was an excuse to drive hemp off the tree based trail

  6. Martin Wisse says:

    Skeptical whether most if not all of your suggestions are actually needed. Certainly everybody who ever tried to “innovate” the office into something similar to your suggestion has failed.An office is more than a place to store paper or hold meetings; it’s a place to bundle knowledge and expertise, as well as a place where you _work_ as opposed to a place where you live or play. That distinction is important to most people; anybody who takes their cues from the minority of people who actually like to have their homelife and worklife blend is going to screw up.Also, not everybody works with clients. I don’t.

  7. Steve Sawyer says:

    About the “paper” thing, Dave…Ever heard of a Wiki Web?If not, drop me an email and I’ll send you a link to a demo wiki I have on my website (there isn’t a public link to it).My partners and I have heatedly discussed the use of this technology in business for years. Two of us are convinced that with a smidge of training, this could be a fabulous tool that could go a long way towards making our offices “paperless”. The other one thinks that it’s way too difficult, and that the average (i.e., non-technical) user would never “get it”.What do you think?Anyone else who’s interested can pop me a message too.

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