Archive for the ‘From the tavern: Innovation stories and opinions’ Category

Dolce Vita? The joy to create can never be taken for granted

Vittorio Zecchin, Una e mille notte, 1914

Vittorio Zecchin, Una e mille notte, 1914

Enrico Prampolini, Ritratto di Marinetti, poeta del Golfo della Spezia, 1934

Enrico Prampolini, Ritratto di Marinetti, poeta del Golfo della Spezia, 1934

For the second time in a matter of weeks, I strolled, mesmerized, through the “Dolce Vita?” temporary exhibition at Musee d’Orsay in Paris, which covers Italian visual arts in the first half of the 20th century. As we see the poetry of an Enrico Prampolini or an Achille Funi and the exhuberance of a Giorgio de Chirico or a Vittorio Zecchin  gradually grinding to a halt, there could be no starker reminder that the freedom to experiment, the urge to innovate, and the joy to create can never be taken for granted. Read more…


Old sci-fi story highlights gulf between foresight and vision

November 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Books on tvAs a book review, it doesn’t start well: I have forgotten the author’s name and the book’s title, and, to make it worse, I only ever read a sample chapter. In my defense, it was about 35 years ago during an English class in my secondary education middle years.

Here is what I remember.  Read more…

Frugal retail banking innovation meets social need and could disrupt sector

September 17, 2014 Leave a comment

compte nickel mobile-argent-mastercardIn his book No Bank (available here in French) Hugues Le Bret tells the story of Compte Nickel, a start-up that he and his associates created for the purpose of providing people kicked out of the banking system with an ultra-low cost alternative to receiving and making ordinary card payments.

Although, in a heavily regulated sector, the project required 3 years of massive effort, chasing the funding needed to obtain regulatory approvals that were themselves needed to give enough confidence to investors, the business model is very simple:

  1. The customer buys a €20 ‘pack’ at a retail outlet that is licensed to sell state-regulated products such as tobacco and lottery games. The pack contains a Mastercard and an instruction booklet.
  2. Following the instructions, the customer scans their ID at a specially designed terminal, and provides a physical address and an email address. This 5-min operation opens the account.
  3. The retail outlet manager then swipes the card that was provided in the pack, instantly checking that the account has been properly opened, generating an IBAN number and activating the card.
  4. With a few additional steps the customer uses a mobile phone to generate a PIN and the codes for online banking.

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An Open Innovation Grand Challenge in Louis XIV’s Grand Siecle

December 26, 2013 Leave a comment

20131226-135901.jpg On a quiet Boxing Day morning (young ones fully occupied with new electronic goods, teenagers still unwakeable) I stumble on the surprising 17th century story of the making of Versailles fountains, in Erik Orsenna‘s wandering biography of André Le Nôtre. Versailles’ surroundings have no natural water reserves, whether lake or river, posing a major challenge to the running of the many fountains that Le Nôtre, the King’s Gardener in Chief, has planned for Versailles.

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Setting the Metre Standard: innovation needs the resources of a large organisation

October 20, 2013 Leave a comment

20131020-174810.jpg This morning I took my youngest to 36 rue de Vaugirard in Paris, to show him the last original public display of the Metre Standard dating back from the 1790s when the meter was officially adopted. The story of the metre offers a good illustration of the gap between ideation and innovation. It also illustrates that, as much as common wisdom makes them responsible for killing innovative ideas, large organisations can also be instrumental in turning an idea into a full-scale mainstream product.

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The Anticafé – From Russia with Nove(lty)

June 23, 2013 1 comment

20130623-161509.jpg In the heart of Paris, between Les Halles, Chatelet and Beaubourg Centre & Modern Art Museum, the Anticafé has recently opened. Given the number of cafés and restaurants around, some of them much better located to catch the eye of the many tourists, one may wonder about the viability of the project.

However, over the past decade, another new entrant, Starbucks, has been massively successful in Paris. In a market that is close to saturated, it would be difficult to argue that customers were drawn to Starbucks for lack of competition. In fact, Starbucks’ success was down to addressing the unmet needs of a segment of the population for a wider choice of high quality coffees, no alcohol, wifi, comfortable premises.

Where Starbucks innovated by changing the product offering and consumer experience, the Anticafé innovates by reversing the business model.

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From science to market: “I don’t have time to die, I’m too busy”

Marc Giget’s annual innovation conference held this year at Sorbonne University, Paris, was packed with first-rate presentations, from start-ups to multinationals, from public sector to private enterprise, from the frontier of science to social innovation. In today’s post I’ll focus on inspiring examples of cutting-edge science advancement and transfer.

CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), which was represented at the conference by its Innovation Director Pierre Gohar, is the main body for public research in France, covering 10 scientific disciplines: biology, chemistry, earth sciences & astronomy, ecology & environment, engineering & systems, humanities & social sciences, information sciences, mathematics, nuclear & particle physics, physics. In the last 10 years, following the Allegre innovation bill, CNRS has undergone a massive cultural transformation, whereby scientists are strongly encouraged not only to publish as they used to do, but also to file and to leverage patents through start-ups and industrial partnerships. In its 2013 Innovation Awards, CNRS has just recognized three outstanding scientists who have demonstrated such an enterprising spirit.

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