Boston Blog

     Creativity: It’s Not Just About the Front End of Innovation

    The Boston Chapter of PDMA kicked 2015 off with a successful seminar on deliberate creativity by innovation and creative problem solving consultant, Courtney Zwart at the Microsoft NERD center, Cambridge MA.

    Courtney Zwart, Independent Innovation & Creativity Consultant at the Microsoft NERD center, February 25th, 2015

    Courtney is a seasoned innovations solutions expert with many years of experience in new product development. During this talk, Courtney shared her insights on the importance of creative thinking after front end research in launching a new product. The seminar started off with a brief overview of the definition of creativity and how it operates in coming up with a solution for challenging problems.

    A real life example that Courtney used to illustrate how crucial creativity is to overcome challenges in new product development was about an orange juice manufacturer whose goal was to introduce new compact packaging that would enable frequent juice drinkers to consumer orange juice beyond the breakfast table. In this scenario, although the insight for introducing the new product is well established and the steps that are to be taken in order to launch the product are clear, a host of challenges showed up along the path to market:

    At this juncture of product development, when many challenges are tackled but some still remain, exercises in creative thinking could come in very useful. One such mental exercise is generating a random image and trying to connect the dots between the image and the problem at hand.  This facilitates our mind to think beyond the usual line of thought and gives rise to new ideas. In relation to the orange juice case study at hand, let us say an image of a buffalo was generated. The first notion that would come to our mind is that a buffalo is completely unrelated to figuring out a way to print the legal disclaimer on the orange juice packaging. However, if we continue thinking about the attributes of a buffalo, we may remember that the Native Americans made use of every part of the animal from toe to tail. This in turn may prompt us to ask ourselves – what if we use every part of the juice packaging efficiently, what if we print the disclaimer on the straw attached to the packaging? Thus a seemingly limiting challenge could be overcome by training our mind to think in non-linear paths.

    The next part of the seminar revolved around the definition, mischaracterizations and the myths involving creativity.

    One of the group exercises in this seminar was identifying the most common myths associated with creative thinking. It was clarified that people are not born innately creative since creativity is more about training your mind to generate novel ideas and come up with solutions. Similarly, creativity is usually associated with the arts and other fields of self-expression. It is common for people to identify themselves as creative if they are good at art forms and the humanities. However, creativity transcends all fields in that an engineer or doctor are equally creative in coming up with answers to overcome challenges. Another common myth that we hear often is that children are more creative than adults. This notion is not entirely true since life experiences breed creative thinking and children have more avenues for being recognized for their creativity since it is looked upon as a developmental marker. The final myth that was busted was that creativity cannot be taught or learned and it is a trait of character that some individuals possess. Since a big part of creativity is training your mind to come up with solutions, with proper guidance, creative thinking can be enhanced in any individual. 


    Driving Into The Future

    Could it be that fifteen years have passed since Zipcar introduced car sharing to the US?  Brian Harrington, Executive Vice President & CMO at Zipcar and the speaker for PDMA Greater Boston’s April event explained that back in 2000 people laughed at the concept.  “We were light-years away from the notion of a ‘sharing economy’ and in the US, people owned and loved their cars – sharing wasn’t an option most considered”. Since then, Zipcar has grown to over 900,000 members, 800 employees, is expanding globally and less than two years after it’s IPO in 2011, was acquired by the Avis Budget Group.  In a highly interactive session at Northeastern University, Harrington explained that, at its core, Zipcar thinks of itself as a technology company that happens to own 10,000 cars. Today, as in 2000 when Zipcar was first founded, its mission is to enable simple and responsible urban living.

    The Urban Brand Experience

    On a local level, Zipcar has kept drivers love for their cars alive but has stripped out the ownership component to keep things simple. The company is obsessive about providing a great member experience.  As Harrington described, every “moment of truth” – from making a reservation, to finding the car, swiping a Zipcard for entry, or an emergency call to member services - is analyzed and honed to perfection.  To cement the emotional connection to the brand, cars have names so that members develop relationships with “their” car.  Consider this.  Before Valentine’s Day, Zipcar employees feverishly signed thousands of cards to send to members from their favorite vehicle.  Additionally free chocolates and flowers were on-hand for members in selected cities.  You won’t find other brands going the distance.

    Competition in a Changed Landscape

    The urban mobility landscape has changed dramatically before our eyes.  Beyond traditional car rental companies, we now see new players, who look very different from Zipcar, entering the space. With the advent of Uber and Lyft, Car2go, bike share programs and more, there are new convenient options to get around cities. When asked about the impact of Uber on Zipcar’s business, Harrington pointed out that Uber and Zipcar are be used for two different reasons. While Uber can replace a traditional taxi service, Zipcar gives members the freedom to go where they want on their own time. Uber also has the advantage of an asset-free platform (no cars) and new technology that allows it to scale quickly. Zipcar, on the other hand, has greater control over the consumer experience.  At the same time, Zipcar has the challenge of a complex operational model that relies on its relationship with cities to resource parking to maintain its distributed fleet.  

    Today, Zipcar is faced with the classic dilemma of the incumbent. It’s always harder for a company with an established, successful business model to innovate.  Yet here in Boston Zipcar has been beta testing a new ONE>WAY model that allows members to pick up a car in one location and drop it off in another. The company is continuing to roll that out further into the Boston market this year. With these new service offerings coupled with the the resources provided by Avis Budget Group and an entrepreneurial mindset clearly personified by Brian Harrington, the PDMA audience was inspired to believe that Zipcar will continue to be an important player in the sharing economy.

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