Archive for the ‘personalization’ Category

Custom Chocolate Anyone?

December 9, 2008

Not quite at the level of individually personalized but on the road to getting there, read more in the BoingBoing article “TCHO chocolate is just outta beta!” about this company what has been using customer feedback to design and create new flavors of their chocolate.

They’ve written previously about this interesting company as well if you’d like more:

BBtv – TCHO, part 1: chocolate origins. – Boing Boing

Food is a GREAT area for the Snowflake Effect and getting things “just right” for each of us.  What other examples are YOU seeing and tasting?

Good Luck Trying to Copy a Snowflake!

December 5, 2008

In a previous posting I had mentioned a favorite quote from Jerry Garcia that;

“You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

I brought this up in a recent conversation with a business colleague in a discussion about his concerns that others were trying to compete or eliminate him by copying what he was doing.  This lead to a long conversation about how to not only be competitive but also to be true to yourself and a great frustration to those who may want to copy your work.  He said he found it to be extremely valuable and clarifying for him and so I thought I’d share the basic idea with you here.

The great thing about using the Snowflake Effect to guide your work is that you focus on being just what Jerry was referring to, the only one who does what you do.  This is NOT about being different for the sake of being different, this is about being true to yourself, your calling, your passion.  If you do that, you’ll be unique by design and essentially impossible to copy because your pursuit of your passion and getting to “just right” is a constantly evolving and changing process.

Something I’ve learned in practicing this for most of my life is that to you it all seems like a continuum and in that context it seems “the same” and there is not much change in that you are still following the same dreams, visions and values you always have.  However to everyone else, you will often be seen as constantly changing because you are trying many different things and different paths towards that end state you have in mind. 

In my past work on what I called “perfecting the irrelevant” I noted how it seems to be very common for people, organizations and business to confuse their actions, that which they do, with their value proposition, the true and lasting value of your actions.  I often cite examples such the case of ice delivery companies, none of which made it into the refrigeration business because they thought they were in the ice delivery business (what they actually did, their actions) when in fact they were in the “keeping things cold” or food preservation business. (their value proposition)  The trick is to have clarity and understanding of what your true value proposition is, as a person, and organization, or business and then be as innovative and creative as possible in ways to deliver on that value proposition.  Done successfully you are simultaneously very focused yet to most others you seem to be constantly changing and thus very difficult to copy.

Most recently Erik Duval, my favorite snowflake of all, has experienced an intriguing new form of “flattery” where someone has been copying his blog postings by literally cut and pasting them with no reference to their original source and thus appearing to be the content of this other blogger.  Unfortunately not a rare occurrence these days and very easy to do.  However I think we are now in an era where there is an inverse correlation of ease of copying with value.  In Erik’s case, ALL this other blogger is able to do is copy some of Erik’s content.  He certainly can’t copy Erik!  Erik is a snowflake and just about everything he does is similarly unique and different, yet very focused on a consistent vision and value proposition of (my interpretation only) assisting the world to be a better place through faster, better, deeper, learning. 

Good luck trying to copy that!  You might just as well try to copy an actual snowflake.

Snowflakemobile! LEGO Block Cars?

November 18, 2008

I’ve been following the story behind a new car being developed by Tata Motors in India called the Nano.  It is one of those stories that you follow with equal parts fascination and fear, and it is very much worth following whatever your reaction.  The short story is that this car is being developed as an alternative to the use of small motorcycles and mopeds for transporting multiple people.  If you’ve traveled to many other countries as I’ve been fortunate enough to, you may have witnessed the same scene that inspired the Nano when you’ve seen three to six people, often a whole family, riding on a single moped as they dart and weave their way through traffic on their way to work, school and home. 

I’ll leave you to read more about the car and the story behind it as a quick search will turn up plenty.  The July 2008 Wired magazine has an article for example called “The $3000, 33-Hoprsepower, Snap-Together ride to the Future” that will provide you with a good overview and insight.  Basic specs for the four door version include:

  • about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide.
  • 623cc two-cylinder 33 HP rear engine
  • capable of 65 miles an hour
  • projected cost new, 120,000 rupees, including road tax and delivery in India, = ~ $2500-3000

As interesting and scary as the whole concept of providing four wheels for the masses of the world is, what has caught my attention of late is the focus on cost  and other reductions which they are taking to a whole new level.  For example they are looking into reducing shipping volume and costs by shipping the cars in a snap together kit form which would be assembled at the destination.  Right now this is very UNsnowflake like in that these cars are in many ways the epitome of mass production and sameness.  However as they develop this LEGO block approach to car manufacturing and start to design for snap together modularity, it is easy to imagine how quickly this would morph into a mashup model that would enable each person to quite literally design their own car, have it shipped to them and and assemble their own snowflakemobile.

Want to try your hand at designing your own Nano?  Head over to this “design your own Nano” site to get an idea how this might work when the choices were much more in number and detail so you could truly create your own Snowflakemobile!

$1 Million Snowflake Prize

November 15, 2008

When explaining showing example of how The Snowflake Effect is already at work I often use Netflix as an example.  This DVD movie subscription service has been a huge hit since it first began by eliminating the need to make the trip to the video store and by eliminating any chance of late fees.  They did this through an ingenious combination of old and new by using the postal service to mail DVD’s to your home and by having a simple per month subscription fee that entitled you to keep the DVD’s for as long as you liked before mailing them back. 

To get started you went online and created an ordered list or queue of movies you wanted to watch.  Depending on which subscription level you chose you could have 1-3 DVD’s at a time and so to start they mailed you the first 1-3 DVD’s on your list.  You could keep the DVD’s as long as you like and whenever you were finished you sent them back in pre-paid mailers and they would send the next one in your list to you.

Handy to be sure and the service was a huge success from the very beginning.  However the real value turned out to be a little noticed feature at the time which was the feedback loop that they built into the system.  Each time they received one of the DVD’s you sent back they would send you an Email to confirm that they’d received it and tell you they had sent out the next one on your list.  Then they added the real value item, a simple 5 star rating system asking you to indicate how well you liked the movie you had sent back.  Netflix then took this preference data and used it to create an additional  list of Netflix recommended movies. 

Based on talking to many people who used Netflix, it was typical to pay very little attention to this additional list at first but after some time of using the service they would start to have some  difficulty choosing good movies to add to their list and so they would try some of the ones from the Netflix recommended list.  This would continue for a while and then because you were asked to rate each movie after watching it, people would begin to notice that more and more of the movies they really liked were the ones Netflix had recommended.  Netflix had developed was a movie recommender technology they called CinematchSM and most people found that Cinemax was better than they were at choosing movies they’d love!

To their credit, Netflix soon began to realize that their true and lasting value proposition was NOT delivering DVD’s via the mail or even avoiding late fees.  The real values was in helping people resolve the “paradox of choice”, Netflix lists over 100,000 movie titles, and growing, by helping them consistently choose movies that THEY really loved to watch. .  In fact Netflix as recently struck deals with cable TV and other companies to deliver their movies directly and almost instantly to your home via the internet and so the mailing service will likely soon be a thing of the past.  

In looking for ways to improve on their ability to deliver on this value proposition Netflix began to pay more and more attention to Cinemax and then they got REALLY smart and decided to “crowdsource” the next big improvement in Cinemax by creating a contest they called the “Netflix Prize” which offered one million dollars to the first person or team who could improve Netflix recommendations by 10%.  And therein lies the story I’ve been fascinated to follow since it started back in October 2006.  In February this year (208) Wired magazine had an article “This Psychologist Might Outsmart the Math Brains Competing for the Netflix Prize” wrote up a good account of how the competition had taken off with thousands of entries submitted by everyone from large corporations to research departments to single individuals who were from countries all over the world.  One individual, and the feature of the Wired article identified himself simply and quite accurately as it turns out, as “Just a guy in a garage”.

To help the competitors, Netflix did something which has turned out to be a “prize” in itself to the data mining world at large when they posted what is apparently the largest dataset to ever be published, consisting of 100 million of the preference ratings from Netflix customers.   This enables contestants to write their recommender algorithms that are more and more accurate at recommending movies that users will like.  When competitors submit their latest algorithm, Netflix tests it against a different set of ratings data which they keep secret and the post the results of this testing to the Netflix Prize site.  The competition is still running and you can keep up with the progress of the top contenders on the Netflix Prize Leader board.  As of this writing (Nov.14, 2008) they leading entry is at 9.44% and so while the last 1% of improvement is estimated to be more difficult than the first 9%,, the steady progress would seem to indicate that the prize will soon be awarded.

An additional item of note is that the participants have taken a surprisingly open approach to the competition by openly posting details of their methods and many are analyzing these and building upon them for their own models so there is quite a cyclical improvement happening.  Netflix also took what I thought was a very smart and novel approach in that the winning team retains ownership of the solution they come up with and must license it (non-exclusively) to Netflix. And according to the Wired article;

“The company is already incorporating some of BellKor’s ideas into its own system and in the future may buy code from other contestants, as well.”

For me this is great fun to watch not only for this specific contest but also for an intriguing and replicable way to promote innovation and creativity.  This is proof positive of the extremely tangible value there is in amplifying The Snowflake Effect and moving us further along the continuum towards the end goal of “just right”.

Snowflake Coffee

November 6, 2008

This story has been brewing and percolating or a while now and I’ve been meaning to write up this example of the Snowflake Effect hitting coffee and now appearing at Starbucks of all places. 

First the basics of what we are talking about here; the Clover coffee machine.  This relatively new machine is a great story and example to me of innovative thinking around an old or common idea and an example of the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization and uniqueness.  The links below will give you more details but basically this is a story of a few individuals who decided that there had to be a better way to create a great cup of coffee and one that was “just right” for each individual.  As with most such success stories there were a lot of failed attempts leading up to this great success and it makes for fun reading and inspiration.

The Snowflake effect comes from the coffee making process and how these Clover machines enable the very precise control of three key variables (in addition to the beans of course); water temperature, volume of water and steeping time, to create just the right coffee experience for each and every user.  While you would obviously need to be a coffee lover both in order to afford a cup of this coffee and to care this much about how it tastes, these new machines, coupled with great beans are able to deliver a truly personalized and high quality coffee experience.  Mathew Honan wrote about his experience in his Wired article “The Coffee Fix: Can the $11,000 Clover Machine Save Starbucks?”

“He measures out 46 grams of beans, grinds them, and then slides them into the recessed chamber on top. Next, he programs a new brew time and temperature, raising the heat from 205 degrees to 207 and increasing the brewing time from 45 seconds to 50.

A few tweaks and I have a new beverage. And it’s not just the chocolate flavor; the mouthfeel and acidity are completely different from the first cup. All Latourell did was adjust the brew time and temperature and add 6 grams of beans. Taste-testing it against the earlier brew, I wouldn’t have guessed they were the same bean. I’m starting to become a Clover convert.”

So one Snowflake scenario that emerges is that after some experimentation to find it, you could carry your “formula” for “just the right” coffee around with you and have it brewed up to just right perfection at your local Starbucks.  And it does need to be a Starbucks because CEO Howard Schulz was so impressed with these Clover coffee makers when he first discovered them and tasted the coffee last year, that he bought the whole company!  And it won’t be your local Starbucks for a while as they are only just starting to introduce these pricey machines in a few select stores around the USA.  But you can find  store locator on the Clover page at

You can read more detailed accounts on how these new Clover coffee makers work such as:

And you can watch this video on the Wired magazine site to see how it works.



October 30, 2008

As per many of my previous comments here, articles on Off Course – On Target and many of my presentations, I see more and more examples of a meta trend where basic human functions are being transformed from distinctly separate roles into a mashup of combined roles.  I credit Alvin Toffler with spotting and naming one of the first of these when he coined the term Pro-sumer in his book The Third Wave to describe what he saw as a future society where rather than being either a producer or a consumer we would all take on both roles simultaneously.  Toffler wrote about this back in the 60’s and 70’s and I think we can now clearly see how prescient he was as we live in just such a society in many parts of the world today.

I’ve been speaking about these trends for many years and noting more and more examples of the same kind of integration and blending of fundamental human roles.  I’ll be addressing more of these in coming postings, podcasts and articles but for today I wanted to reference one that came up in my discussions with Kevin Kelly yesterday.  Kevin noted how this is a very new and special time when we simultaneously have dramatic increases in the power of individualization AND the power of the group.  If we were to use Toffler’s example of creating a new dual term word we could call this Indi-Groups. 

A few days ago I wrote about how the Snowflake Effect applies equally to both individuals and groups in the posting “Pluralization of Personalization” and yesterday Kevin went on to point out things like the need to distinguish between “the wisdom of the crowd and the stupidity of the mob”.  I pondered whether things like focus groups might now represent “the stupidity of the mob” or group think, which so typically end up concluding the opposite of what the larger group they are supposed to represent will actually prefer and choose (Erik has talked and blogged about this extensively in some of his previous postings)

To my perhaps biased perception these are all further examples of the growing influence and affect of the The Snowflake Effect and precisely why Erik and I are so passionately pursuing it.

Pluralisation of Personalisation

October 26, 2008

I put up the previous posting “Is personalisation selfish”  to address one of the more common misunderstandings or concerns that I hear about the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization and I’d like to address another common misunderstanding in this posting; the perception that the Snowflake Effect and mass personalization only addresses individuals and not teams or groups of people.  I understand the confusion in that the word personalization would seem to imply that the focus is on just one person, however upon closer inspection I think you can see that the Snowflake Effect and the goal of getting things just right for each of us individually applies equally well when those individuals are members of a group, and that in another context a group is a single entity or “person” as well.

One of the reasons we are all unique snowflakes is that the collective set of characteristics and context that defines us at any given moment is a unique combination that never existed before and won’t again in the future.  Being part of member of a team or group is one of these attributes.  Similarly, groups and teams are themselves unique single entities as noted in the previous posting “Snowballs are Snowflakes too!” where I described one of the ways uniqueness is created to be:

“combining some number of unique elements to create a unique new assembly.  Putting a bunch of snowflakes together to form a snowball creates a unique new assembly.  A group of people, each of whom is a snowflake, creates a unique new assembly

Part of the power and potential of the Snowflake Effect and getting things “just right” is that these apply equally to snowflakes and snowballs.  Keep this larger context in mind as you thin more about the Snowflake Effect as an overarching conceptual model that can be applied to most everything and everyone.

Snowflake Your Next Car?

October 25, 2008

Over the years of speaking about mass customization and personalization I’ve often covered how this applies to manufacturing, and being a bit of a car nut I have often used the automotive industry for specific examples and scenarios.  However one form of manufacturing has been very challenging for achieving full mass personalization is parts which require molds to create thing like body panels, metal castings and fiberglass parts.  It was only a matter of time before these barriers fell and so it was with great delight that I recently read about some of the innovative thinking and work that the designers at BMW have been doing for automotive body panels.

Taking a refreshing new approach to design which they call GINA, Geometry and functions In n Adaptations, BMW Group recently unveiled the GINA Light Visionary prototype.  I’ll let Chris Bangle, Director of Design, BMW Group explain this new philosophy and show you the prototype in this video .

Personally I found the whole video to be mesmerizing to both my eyes and my mind as I watched the shapes of the car shift transform as the functionality of the body panels changed with such things as doors opening, seats emerging from beneath, aerodynamic shapes changing to match speed, and opening up a single slit to reveal the engine compartment or lights.

I hope the video and the thinking has a similar effect on you as you imagine these new vistas the Snowflake Effect is transporting us to.  As you are enjoying this mental joy ride, listen to the way Chris describes the bigger picture of what this change of perspective has lead to for his team and BMW.  I particularly liked his closing comments:

“Emotion is really the added value to this.  … achieve a higher emotional plane out of this”

“the level of humanistic content we can bring in …. GINA should be about the human in the loop, the human way of doing things.”

and my favorite of all:

“context over dogma, that’s it”

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.  It is an inspiring example of the power of the Snowflake Effect and shows how the transformation from mass production to mass personalization is happening before our very eyes.

Redefining Perfection as Just Right?

October 24, 2008

The notion of “just right” is at the heart of the Snowflake Effect and I often point out that this is quite opposite from perfection or perhaps a more useful new definition of perfection.  Perfection as it is commonly understood, is about completeness and flawlessness.  The complete absence of any defects, errors, blemishes, or missing pieces.  For me I don’t even want such a state as i find the ‘defects’ to be not bugs but features and what gives people, places and  things their character. 

For example I like fine woodworking, making furniture, sculptures, and the like and it is the unusual grain patterns, knots, cracks and other such ‘defects” which give a piece of wood it’s unique character.  In fact I usually go the opposite direction and rather than cut these out i often make them a prominent feature of the piece i’m making.  I’ve fouund the same principle, the value o such ‘defects’ to be of similar value and essence of what gives people and places their character, their patina, their “snowflakeness”.

The pursuit of perfection seems to also foster inaction and has us waiting and living for tomorrow rather than in the moment.  As Voltaire is often credited with saying “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” which is most often translated to “The perfect is the enemy of the good”.

For all of these reasons The Snowflake Effect is about getting things “just right” at the time and place of need.  I’ve often stated this along the lines of:

getting just the right “stuff” (what a wonderfully useful word!)

to just the right person

at just the right time

in just the right place

on just the right medium/device

in just the right way

…………… you get the idea!

Perfection in this context or “just right” is therefore extremely personal, subjective and in the eyes and mind of the individual. 

Who else by YOU would know when a song is just right? 

A wine is paired perfectly/just right with a cheese? 

A piece of content is just right at that moment? 

In this way, The Snowflake Effect is all about optimizing the situation, doing the best we can with what we have, living in the moment and continuous improvement.  What’s not to like?