Thursday, July 26, 2007

Transformational Ideas

In the ideas business there’s one thing you've got to have: ideas! Not everyday ideas like “let’s go shopping”, but big transformational ideas. With the spectacular exception of Sir Issac Newton and the apple, these kind of ideas don’t just fall out of the sky and into your lap.

Over the years I have worked with many great ideas people, including our creative director Bob Isherwood (who is a one man ideas machine), and I find they share the ability to put things together in surprising ways. It doesn’t sound like much, but the talent comes in not backing off from where the strangest connections may take you.

I am always on the hunt for these exhilarating combinations and I’ve been tracking a terrific example. Imagine. You’re sitting in Dubai, too hot to move and watching sport on television. Dubai/sport, your mind drifts back and forth between the two thoughts. What’s your big idea? Well Majid Al Futtaim came up with Ski Dubai. I kid you not.

The resort is more than 22,500 square meters with more than 6000 tons of snow on its artificial slopes. It even snows. This idea transformed what people thought was possible - anything! in the desert city. Ski Dubai greeted its one millionth visitor earlier this year.

I was mulling over other odd combinations when inspired by New Zealand’s gallant participation in the America’s Cup. The team is sponsored by Air Emirates (another quirky marriage of minds pointing to the Middle East), and on a recent visit to Wellington, New Zealand, I came up with this. Wellington has a reputation for being the windiest city in the world – yes, windier than Chicago – and it rains a lot too. A broken umbrella could be the symbol of this unique place. To this thought add the fact that New Zealand is a world leader in sailboat technology – the technology of harnessing wind. From there it is not too hard to propose that New Zealand produce an umbrella that could survive anything nature cares to throw at it. I see broken umbrellas in trash cans in most places in the world . This is an idea that needs to happen, preferably before next winter. The unbreakable umbrella. Let’s call it The Wellington.


Susan956 said...

On a windy Wellington day, raining streaking down, Susan is in a upbeat and positive frame of mind and needs to go out and get some wood for the open fire. She slips on a rain jacket, plops on a hat she made, and pulls on her Wellington boots. Imagine a female Paddington bear.

She goes outside and feels a splash against her boot..of course..within moments...she is "Singing in the rain, Just singing in the rain.." and madly splashing about. BUT, she doesn't have an umbrella to make the scene complete! Grabs umbrella from veranda, begins to sing and splash with umbrella over head...umbrella torn to shreds in wind! Gasp...

Wait up! I have Wellington boots on. Hmm..should the unbreakable umbrella be also a Wellington? Let me muse on that a moment. See the rain stop in mid fall and everything freeze frame.

I was flicking through some sites yesterday and came across a dinner set that sat on a timber place 'mat'. The lot was designed on the premise of topography. So, inside the bowl were topography lines and degrees and the 'mat' had dimensional contours.

The text of course was brilliantly created to meet the idea and talked about contours and directions of cuisine and so on.

What a simple idea of transference between fields. One could move to road map designs.

Now, back to that umbrella. No, I guess it shouldn't be called "Breaking Wind" should it. Or given Anton Oliver's work to prevent that extension of the wind farm - perhaps name the "Oliver" :)

"Wind Break"? No, too sciency perhaps. Now I have to do research on wind and Wellington. Ok, maybe it SHOULD be The Wellington but with some quirky lettering. *quirky smile*

:) Thinking..thinking...

Susan956 said...

By the way, I knew 'singing in the rain' is a little overdone. I sometimes think the funniest ads are those that take off from a real life event. I used to visit a friend's sheep property at Guyra in NSW. That is also a very windy place. We walked down the main street one day and I heard this strangled cry and turned and then was a piece of plastic bag stuck to her face like a face hugger :) If you had that happening to several people at once in a street scene and with their umbrellas being stripped off that could be quite amusing.

I see hau is the Maori word for wind
wai is water
takarangi is a spiral design. IF a spiral design proved to be the most wind resistant 'The Takarangi' may be reasonable and certainly very culturally oriented.

I thought Wellington was copyright to the boot however on a cursory look it seems "Wellington Boot" is rather paired, so, The Wellington would be feasible after all. On to design!

Mind you, if one aims for international sales then it pays to check whether a word has any adverse meaning in another language. There have been some terrible faux pas in this area over the years. One car title in another language meant "doesn't go" so the expensive billboards that were set up were rather a waste of time. Another innocent word in English meant "big breasted" in another country.

Fun topic today. Thanks. I notice the Wellington rugby team is called the Hurricanes. Apt.

Is it Wellington that has the silver fern ball hanging over a plaza area? Lovely.

CONSUL said...

Actually Kevin, one of the important characteristics of an umbrella is, that it`s breakable.

Imagine windforce 25 on the Beaufort scale, you and your Wellington have a Houston-liftoff in the most pure Mary Poppins style..


Piotr Jakubowski said...

The Ski Dubai resort is just out of this world. Definitely a place I would like to visit in the future. God gave them lemons, they made lemon vodka martinis. Comes to show the extent of human innovation and how far people will go to bring ideas to life. And what a wonderful experience for the people who cannot visit places that have snow. I'm thinking that this place is a great attraction for school trips.

Broken umbrellas are definitely a problem. I've seen my fair share of them here in New York with hard rain and strong winds channeling through the city's blocks. It made me think of my trip to London a few months ago where I captured my friend:

I'm sure the Brits would be very happy with an indestructible umbrella (or should I say brolly?)

Dr Sue said...

Another great pic from you Piotr :)

I've seen using some of David Hancocks and Sheila smarts on my site. Both have the capacity to take images that could as equally be paintings. I really like Sheila's human narrative ones:

So, when will Finland (or similar) create a desert :)

Triangles are the strongest shape. I wonder if the larger triangles of the usual umbrella were broken down into smaller ones and the general shaping altered fractionally, whether that would improve. One would have to think so because the frame would strengthen exponentially. Enough wind tunnels out there to do some rigorous testing!

the paper bicycle; Peter Scarks said...

I had one of the most important conversations of my life last week and it centred around the fact that true innovation, at the level that satisfies a human need comes from discovering intersections. Places where worlds collide and inspire radical thought. I deas that make people uncomfortable and challenge the way we encounter phenomena. The Wellington? Beautiful. Skiing in the most unlikely place? Excellent. Swim in the moring and ski at night? California has been exported. Great stuff. What about the N95? Adidas GSG9s? Beckham in LA? The Red Bull Air races? Perhaps it is time for the transformational ideas symposium. I would line up like a star wars fan for that one.

Susan956 said...

the paper bicycle.. "challenge the way we encounter phenomena". In what way does the Wellington meet this criteria? The question isn't a critique of Kevin or his proposition however without a direct design being suggested I'm not sure the concept as proposed meets your quote. Umbrellas exist; the call was for a better umbrella. Care to elaborate?

I'd ask the same thing (in a sense) re Beckham and LA. It's not like he's the first sportsperson to break frontiers in a new country in a sport. Surely hype, of itself, is not meeting the heart of your quote either?

I do admit I love the Red Bull Air races and find them incredibly well organised and the talent and skill levels superb. Yet, someone directed me to "Ice Road Truckers" the other day and I sat and watched several of the vids. I perceive as much merit and potential in this in many ways as I do in Red Bull - it's just not a sport or marketable in the same way:

Kempton said...

Hi Kevin,

(Oops, looks like I forgot to click submit last time.) Well, assuming IDEO hasn’t solved this problem years ago already, here is my attempt just for fun. (Plus I am a sucker for random challenge. (smile))

Let me try to be brief. First, lets reframe the “unbreakable umbrella” challenge. A different way to look at this challenge is this — Can we create an umbrella that will still work after a really windy day (e.g. Category Five Hurricane ) that could break most umbrella? Once the problem is reframed like this. This following solution popped up in my head.

Create an umbrella, that works on most windy days. But one that is designed to break loose at well-defined re-attachable joints. The key idea is let that umbrella “break loose”. Good luck fighting with mother nature. But if the umbrella can break loose very cleanly (i.e. at well-defined joints) and is relatively painless and fun to re-attach the joints to make the umbrella like new again, then I think we have the problem solved.

The above is just my thought experiment. And I am sure smart folks at IDEO can probably come up with solutions 100 times better design and more creative.

P.S. I've added a few links and expanded on this comment a bit in my own blog entry,

Susan956 said...

I say we take it into Star Trek and have a shape shifting metal.

the paper bicycle; Peter Scarks said...

my quote goes to:
a. we expect to either lose an umbrella to our either losing it or its being broken by a savage wind on the day we least need it to happen. exceeding our expectations of the umbrella will actually challenge our sensual clusters to retain a better memory.
b. the same is true of beckham in l.a.
others have pioneered, yes, but pele (i actually saw him at the cosmos) did not get to play where beckham will. la galaxy, under beckham's influence, will challenge for the copa libertadores and possibly even the world club championship. now that will exceed anyone's expectations of his playing there.
c. the red bull air races: we expect them to be funny and disorganised and the stuff of stratnger than fiction. like you say susan956, they are actually well organised and surprisingly challenging.
The wellington would make people consider the idea of an umbrella for life. as long as i don't leave it on the train to southampton.

Kevin Roberts said...

Yes I’m still thinking unbreakable is still the way to go, maybe something that could double as a form of sustainable transport…as long as the wind is blowing the right way. And Susan, er...singing in the rain…you’re not from round here are you?!

Susan956 said...

Kevin, I'm in Sydney in Australia however I have lived in far northern NSW during many a flood period. The comment was attributed to the dancin' of course but I couldn't help but then think of Clockwork Orange after I commented. I'm of the generation who remembers THAT when it came out. ;-)

I don't have the knees to be scooted along by umbrella wind power on roller skates or similar but an intriguing notion!

And I'm still thinking a greater number of smaller triangles within the larger triangles is worth investigation given structurally it's the strongest shape. One presumes it hasn't been done because folding down would be difficult. Hmmmmmm.... Frank Lloyd et al..where are you.. I want to have a word...

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Kevin - I can just see people Mary Poppins-ing around town. Don't you think the public transport labor unions would go on strike??? :)

Tom West said...

Hi Folks, please check out this website,


Susan956 said...

Interesting Tom. Obviously invaluable in an attack and if one wanted to maul one's own punching bag :) Not sure how it would stand up to a high wind. The forces on the page are different to aerodynamic forces. I did wince a little at the image on the plane (?) and the blacked out eyes.

Darn you Kevin but I've now been thinking more about my triangle within triangle design and think I'm slowly coming towards a proposal of something that would have that feature but could still fold. I'm not the best at spatial 3D abstract thoughts, but one can give it a shot! :)

Kevin Roberts said...

Ha, fantastic Tom. Like Susan, I’m interested to know how it performs in a good Wellington nor’wester…as opposed to your punch bag / smashing watermelon / everyday weapon tests.