Augmentation: Not Your Father’s Nip Tuck

Ok, you’ve been patient with me and I appreciate it. I admit to straying a bit from the sub-title of my blog “Technology Observations…” for the past 2-3 months. A better sub-title for recent posts would be a “technologist’s observations about community and creativity.”

But, it’s time to return to the core. So, if you have enjoyed the community and creativity posts, then mosey on over to the blog at LifetimeValue(dot)Me. This is the venture where I’ll continue writing about tools, services, and examples for making strategic investments in your communities.

Back to the subject at hand, I want to offer updates to three different but related posts in “The BroadBrush Update” over the past year. I believe them related because they all describe some aspect of a future, augmented human capacity. I’m a big believer in this augmentation trend, because of the natural human desire we all possess to extend our healthy lives as long as reasonably possible.

The first update concerns exoskeletons, which I wrote about in a post a year ago entitled “Grandpa Ironman.”  The update is the announcement of two Honda products based on technology the company invented with work on its Asimo line of robots. The two products are the Stride Management Assist and the Bodyweight Support Assist, the latter demonstrated in the video below.

At first glance the cartoonish nature of the video and the unwieldy nature of the device itself may make it hard to be taken seriously. But the potential freedom that such a device can provide people with the need for a boost in leg strength should be taken very seriously. This comment I found on a technology hub where the Honda devices were being discussed says it all:

I am 82 years old and totally healthy except my legs are getting weak and I have difficulty getting up the stairs. I live alone and I do not want to move, and this looks like an ideal solution. Where can I get one and how much?

The second update concerns vision systems. In a post I wrote entitled “Adventures in Reality,” I speculated about GPS-enabled mobile phones, using their on-board cameras, that could provide nearly zero-latency data streams of a person’s surroundings. No more need for speculation – it’s already here.

A recent issue of Time magazine brought to attention Raimo van der Klein, one of a trio of Dutch inventors who created Layar, the augmented reality browser and company of the same name (in the photo at the beginning of this post).  The browser, as well as a growing host of “layers” for Layar are available free on the iPhone. Check them out.

The third update is related to advances in materials. I wrote a post earlier this year on “Bio-printing” in which I talked about the ability to print atomic-sized transistors and even human tissue.

Recently, I ran across a video of a venture called Fabrican, which is a sprayable fabric created by particle engineer Paul Luckham and fashion designer Manel Torres. Below is a video of the fabric being created on a female model.

While this update may stretch the imagination the most in terms of practical implications, of the three updates I’ve shared, don’t judge too fast. Just start thinking about the ability to augment the sprayable materials with various pharmaceutical and health treatments, and you can quickly begin to imagine the life-extending possibilities of such a technology.

What’s Different about Community?

I’ll be the first to say that the message of strategic community investment isn’t new.

Many companies, including the large majority of publicly traded firms, have one or more individuals if not departments that interact with the companies’ community stakeholders.

These departments normally operate under the name of community affairs, corporate social responsibility (aka CSR), and/or a company-named foundation.

However, while the concept of strategic community investment isn’t new, let me offer the following two dimensions that I believe are new.

First, more than ever before, companies from the smallest-of-the-small on up in size have the ability to pinpoint and speak to the communities most important to them, through the reach of the internet, global communications, and collaborative applications, like social media.

Accompanying this global connectedness is an expectation, especially on the part of younger generations, supported by research, that companies provide work and deliver goods & services that have meaning “beyond the walls” or financial statements of the firm.

Professor Gary Hamel, who Fortune magazine has called “the world’s leading expert on business strategy” may have said it best in a Wall Street Journal column he wrote in early 2010 when he said:

“Remarkable contributions are typically spawned by passionate commitment to transcendent values such as beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.”

Second, a consumer’s or user’s experience with a company has become an issue of paramount concern to the firm’s success – a critical, competitive differentiator. Experiences are produced by engaging both the left- and right-brain of the individual, i.e., the analytical and the creative, respectively.

This notion of experience is critical to our future economic success. Here’s why: As a country, the U.S. has lagged in recent years in our leadership in what are referred to as STEM curriculum classes, i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Too often, however, in the process of reinvigorating STEM learning at all levels, the creative Arts – in language, visual, textile, gifted, etc. – have been drastically reduced if not eliminated.

The result is that we risk squeezing out entirely the very elements of creative skill-building that are essential to the differentiated experiences our companies, products and services need for the future. One way to reverse this decline is to re-think the creative arts in ways that integrate architecture, drawing, and sculpture as examples that reinforce the mainstream STEM lessons to be learned.

The future core must be one where we build STEAM (with Art as an integral part of STEM) towards graduating young men and women equipped with the analytical skills AND the creative skills for future success.

These two dimensions – the equal importance of right-brain, or creative, cognition to go with left-brain and the existence of global reach even in our local actions – are, to my mind, two of the biggest new influences when conceiving one’s course for strategic community engagement. As always, your comments welcome.

Obstacles to Success

In my last post, I introduced the concept “strategic community investment” as a phrase for a company’s deliberate, planned engagement with a community cause or causes. The concept is the central theme of a new book I’ve written, Think Lobal, Act Glocal.

The case argued in the book is that there are powerful economic benefits to a company that is engaged in strategic community investment right from the start.

However, there are two main obstacles to engagement, especially in the early history of a company:

1.  Perception – frequently, the founders, investors, and managers of a company believe that strategic community investment is too expensive. However, the data – richly illustrated with case after case of high-performing investments – is mounting that shows otherwise.

Therefore, the misperception about the expense (and the associated powerful benefits) is perpetuated due to:

(a) the lack of education and understanding, on management’s part, or

(b) a resistance to change, i.e., a lack of will to do things differently and engage at the beginning, versus some point “down the road.”

2.  Execution – too often, once management and staff “buy in” to a strategic community investment, they unintentionally miss the opportunity to optimize it.

This missed opportunity is frequently due to weak links between the company and its investment partners, i.e., the civic institutions and community non-profits.

The source of these weak links is a poorly executed match between the core values and the value proposition of the company’s products & services, and those of its partner(s).

My hope is that the book, with each new edition, and the Facebook page, with each new case study or best practice, provide the qualitative and quantitative data that help clear these obstacles away.

If you are a company principal in Austin, please join us at a launch reception at the Austin Museum of Art on Tuesday, September 14, to mix and mingle with other company founders who can attest to how essential strategic community investment was to their success, from the very early days.

Strategic Community Investment

We’re hosting a party in two weeks and we want you to join us! The party is actually a community reception at the Austin Museum of Art (AMOA), in downtown Austin, with dual objectives.

One objective is to celebrate the opening of a new exhibit at the museum this month, by celebrated mixed media American artist, Romare Bearden. (Related footnote: I’m proud and humbled to say that I’ve been newly elected to AMOA’s board of trustees…all the more reason to want to show off the Museum’s collection and exhibits!)

The other objective is to celebrate the launch of a new book I’m working on. Come to the reception and – in addition to viewing the new exhibit while enjoying food & drink – you’ll also get a first edition copy of the book.  Register on the Eventbrite page:

The book is my first in nearly 15 years. I’ve authored, edited, and produced eight others – all on information technology and management. And while this new book certainly incorporates technology trends and ideas, the central theme of the book is different.

Instead of technology, the central theme for this book is “strategic community investment.” Strategic community investment is the phrase I’m using to represent a company’s deliberate, planned engagement with a community cause or causes.

The mission of the book is to present the case that a culture of strategic community investment produces powerful economic benefits to company from the very start.

To illustrate with a figure, the book presents the case that allocating some portion of your spend to reach a percentage of customers and key stakeholders through community-appropriate causes – illustrated by the circle and arrows in the middle – produces results that are as good or better than the results achieved without.

The inspiration for the book, which in full disclosure is presently more of a book-length essay at 64 pages (I’ve taken to calling it a primer or decision-making guide), comes from my combined experience in high-growth, primarily technology product & service ventures and in non-profit management and foundation board work.

I’ll be posting more about “strategic community investment” in the coming days and weeks. As always, let me know your thoughts.