Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Predictably Irrational: The Curse of Cognitive Bias

Do you consider yourself a rational thinker? A sound decision-maker? Have you ever heard of cognitive bias? If so, then you know your thought processes may not always be as logical as you would hope. If not, then buckle up, because a little thing called cognitive bias impacts your thought processes and decisions from the moment you wake up in the morning to when you finally hit the pillow at the end of the day.

While I am consciously aware that biases infiltrate my actions and decisions, I can’t say I’ve spent a whole lot of time dwelling on the issue until very recently when I learned specifically about cognitive bias. Intrigued by the long list of biases, I’m heading to Boston for the Front End of Innovation conference with bias on the brain.

So what exactly is a cognitive bias?

In its simplest form, cognitive bias is essentially a pattern or tendency to think in ways that deviate from rational, logical decision-making – they are the glitches or limitations in our thinking. We are all prone to show at least some cognitive biases. While these biases often cloud our reasoning, they also save our brains time and energy. We use them as shortcuts to help us solve problems and process information more efficiently.

Now why should you care?

These powerful little beasts impact the way we think, feel, buy, sell, and interact with people, businesses, and things. From a design perspective, this means biases can help inform how we view design, branding, and innovation and how we approach customers and run our businesses. Ah the power of psychology.

To demonstrate how these biases work out in the real world, let’s take a look at one you may be familiar with, the framing effect, which highlights the power of presentation and delivery. With this bias, the same problem or issue – described differently – receives different responses. In other words, where two choices have the same outcome, but are framed in different ways – one positive and one negative – the majority of people will select the positively described choice. It’s a glass half full or half empty kind of thing. In business, this means you can influence how people respond to what you put out into world with strategically crafted context, imagery, and tone of voice. 

The framing effect is why you see:
  • Save 50% v. Half off 
  • 99% fat free v. 1% fat only
  • Spend $1/day v. $30/month
  • 2 easy payments of $39.99 v. buy this product for $80.00
As you can see, framing matters – it’s less about what is said and more about how it is said. Through strategic use of images, words, and general context, we can shape assumptions and perceptions about the information presented to ultimately alter decisions and behaviors. Brands can leverage this cognitive bias to improve brand perception – creating a positive frame for a brand elicits positive vibes and proactive behavior.

With hundreds of biases penetrating our thoughts and actions, the perceived rationality of our thoughts must always be questioned – how exhausting?! But for today, my biases lead me to believe that FEI 2017 will be one for the books and I will be looking for the positive bent in the communications I encounter. I encourage you to think about how your own biases come into play when you connect with people and businesses at FEI in May.

Signing off, keenly aware of context and the predictable irrationality of my thoughts.

If you’d like to connect and talk more about cognitive bias and design, please reach out. We will be at the conference all week talking about The Physics of Brand, design, and the stories that inspire us.

Aaron Keller, Kitty Hart, and I write for the FEI event blog, please reach out if you have a story to share.

Research and Strategy Associate, Capsule Design

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What’s the Big Deal with Miniaturization?

By: Emily Warner, Research Engineer, bb7



Miniaturization is a powerful innovation tool utilized in nearly every industry. The basic concept of miniaturization is taking something and making it smaller. Sounds simple, right? It’s easy to assume that miniaturization merely involves scaling a component’s dimensions down to create a smaller component. Sure, this scalar shrinking can work up to a point; but this approach breaks down when the fabrication processes and/or materials are incompatible with the miniaturized component.

To illustrate limits to miniaturization, take a piece of paper and fold it in half. You reduced your writing space by 50% through the process of folding. If you keep folding the paper in half, eventually you will be unable to fold the paper anymore. At that point the folding process breaks down. To make that piece of paper even smaller, you must change the process. At this point, you need to try a new process: break out your trusty scissors and cut the folded paper in half. The size of the paper is still reduced, but through a different method. The original method, folding, eventually broke down and a new process, cutting, became necessary to continue. If only product miniaturization were so easy!

While oversimplified, the process of miniaturizing that piece of paper illustrates the driving force behind many innovative miniaturization methods.



Reducing the size of individual components to make a smaller overall product is a straightforward concept. However, the implementation is often more complex. When components are reduced in size, the whole system can be affected. The connections (or communication) between the component and other pieces of the system could change. Imagine taking a gear of a watch and changing its size. The altered gear is not going to fit with the other gears of the watch. To make it fit, the surrounding pieces will also need to be altered. In the case of miniaturized electronic components, associated changes can include signal output, board mounting and interface alterations.

The influence of one component on the overall system is often extensive, and adapting the original design to incorporate miniaturized components requires a fair amount of time and effort.
Micro-Electrical Mechanical Systems (MEMS) have spurred major advancements in electronics miniaturization. MEMS are extremely small mechanical or electro-mechanical systems. Imagine a system of gears that is smaller than a dust mite but produces an electrical signal that can be detected by the larger system. For perspective, see the next image (below) where a MEMS is compared to a human hair. In general, MEMS can be categorized as structures, sensors, actuators, or microelectronics, and thus can be utilized for a wide variety of applications in almost every industry.

Battery technology has also paved the way for miniaturization. Through the development of new chemistries, manufacturers have been able to pack more power into a fixed space. This allows for either a longer battery life in the same footprint or reduction in the size of the battery while retaining the same life as the original. Additional flexibility in battery geometry also permits the design of smaller products.

Battery geometry can be tailored to utilize available space, unlike traditional bulky batteries which forced the product to be designed to accommodate them.

Much like the mobile phone, data storage has experienced major improvements with miniaturization. Movies used to be stored on film and in relatively large VHS and Beta tapes. Now, physical copies of movies are stored digitally on DVD and Blu-ray discs, which in turn are being supplanted by streaming services. Data storage for PC’s and other devices has followed a similar path, to USB flash drives and SD cards. The Micro-SD cards are a far cry from floppy disks. Not only has the footprint of the data storage device been drastically reduced, but the storage within a given footprint has skyrocketed. To store 1GB of data on 1.44MB 3.5” floppy disks you would need 729 disks! A 1 GB storage capability is considered small by today’s standards, where 32GB and 64GB SD cards are commonplace.


There are many examples where miniaturization of a product is not focused on shrinking the size of individual components within a product package, but rather combining functionality. In these cases, multiple components with historically independent functions are combined to save space within the product. For example, capacitive touchscreen technology has allowed for the combination of the keyboard and display in smart phones. A smart phone itself is a combination of several previously independent devices, merging the functions of a phone, PC, personal organizer, media player, camera, gaming console and GPS.


Outsourcing shifts functionality from the physical hardware of a device into software. Outsourcing was initially done by adding more intelligence to the devices themselves. The rapidly expanding market of internet-ready devices has enabled additional computational power and intelligence to be outsourced to remote servers.

Instead of doing all the computation on its own, a connected device can send and receive data from a larger computing system possessing the hardware that would otherwise take up space in the device.
For example, the popular music identification app Shazam allows a user to record a snippet of an unknown song on their device and upload it to the Shazam system. Once uploaded, Shazam compares the unknown song to a comprehensive database of songs. If a match is found, Shazam sends the song info to the user’s device. While the phone sends and receives data, the analysis (and the robust database and computing power required) is “outsourced” to Shazam.

Outsourcing is also applied to data storage. Data can be uploaded to that famous “cloud,” where it is stored and managed on remote servers. More and more companies (e.g. Netflix, Google and Dropbox) base their business model on leveraging cloud technology. These companies offer services for managing personal and enterprise content. Our devices, files and libraries have all shrunk because of outsourced data storage.

Rather than a single large server network, small computing tasks can be distributed to many independent devices to accomplish a larger objective. The Samsung Power Sleep application allows individual mobile devices to assist in global scientific research led by the University of Vienna. Users donate mobile power while they sleep as small packets of data are received by their phones to perform calculations on. Results are returned to research lab servers before app users awake, harnessing the vast network of computing power in idle smart phones to help scientists solve problems. Currently, the app is being used for comparing protein sequences. The University will release the results via an open source (free access) database, available to scientists worldwide for use in a wide range of scientific endeavors, including disease treatment and prevention.



Miniaturization has had a far-reaching influence on many different industries, but one of the biggest benefactors is the communication industry. Thirty-two years ago, one of the first commercially available cell phones, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, hit the market. Measuring 13 x 1.75 x 3.5 inches and weighing in at 1.76 pounds, the only thing it could do was make calls. An average smart phone from 2015 measured 5.8 x 2.9 x 0.34 inches, weighed 0.34 pounds, and was packed with enough functionality to provide multiple communication platforms, entertainment, internet access, and so much more. This transformation was achieved through miniaturization, and it has fundamentally changed the way that we interact daily.


The medical industry has also reaped the benefits of miniaturization.

One of the main drivers is the need to make portable, patient-friendly equipment. X-ray machines were historically installed in a dedicated room, but are now small enough to fit on a cart that can be wheeled to patients’ rooms.

Improvements in portability have allowed for more treatments to be administered outside of a traditional clinical setting. Patients are now able to take treatments home that historically would have required weeks of hospitalization.

To that end, bb7 partnered with Bellerophon to develop the INOpulse Mark2 device, currently in clinical trials. This medical device is a miniaturized, portable version of a larger predicate device. It delivers nitric oxide to patients to treat the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. Initial devices that used this technology were on a wheeled cart, while the Mark2 weighs 2.5 pounds and is about the size of a paperback book.

On an even smaller scale, Nano-Robotic technology is being developed to aid in medical diagnosis and treatment. One application under development plans to inject tiny machines into the bloodstream that will selectively deliver treatments directly to diseased tissues. Technology like this will allow more intelligent, patient-specific treatment options that may lead to better outcomes.


Like the communication industry, the automotive industry has embarked on a radical transformation. The industry is shifting from “simply” manufacturing vehicles to creating the much-publicized self-driving cars. Already, cars are self-diagnosing smart vehicles that double as multimedia entertainment systems and personal navigators. The automotive industry has always added “bells and whistles” to high-end automobiles but, with the help of miniaturization, an increasing number of features can be included in standard vehicles, including smart headlights and Bluetooth connectivity.

Driven by gas mileage and consumer demand, weight is a critical factor of vehicle design. Miniaturization has provided the industry with the small, light components which make it possible for some car models to have features like automated parallel parking and blind spot monitoring. And those self-driving cars that will forever change the industry and our lives? An achievable reality – thanks to miniaturization innovation.

About the Author: Emily Warner is an Associate Research Engineer at bb7, a product development firm. She studied Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis in musculoskeletal biomechanics at the University of Iowa. Her work within product development is diverse and includes everything from competitive analysis of consumer goods to improving the performance of medical devices. She has worked on products in every stage of product development from the initial ideation sessions through product performance evaluation. Emily leverages her extensive knowledge to bridge the gap between engineering and medicine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Introducing the FEI On Demand Webinar Series!

As innovators, we are constantly seeking the next big idea, product, or service to make ourselves indispensable to the organization.

 The producers of FEI: Front End of Innovation are excited to announce that we’ll be bringing you the cutting-edge content and speakers to keep you informed on innovation imperatives and best practices year-round. Our innovation webinar series takes you beyond the in-person event, and is designed for executives with a relentless focus on year-round innovation. Each quarter, the FEI team delivers a 3-part webinar experience designed to empower innovation executives to think and act differently around the hottest topic in innovation.

Schedule of WEBINARS:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 – 2:00 – 3:30 PM EST
True cultural transformation now requires a disruptor to mobilze a companywide grassroots movement. This 3-part series  focuses on how interanal disruption- from creating internal diverse teams to looking externally for new partnerships.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 – 2:00 – 3:30 PM EST
Real innovators are those who don’t shy away from the provocative- those who are willing to openly discuss the topics that are considered ‘taboo’ in the boardroom- like change, failure, and starting over. This three-part series tackles how to fail forward, pivot fast, and turn obstacles into opportunities.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 – 2:00 – 3:30 PM EST
Intrapreneurs are emerging as powerful forces across innovative organizations. Unlock new business value by harnessing the potential of the most entrepreneurial minded innovators within your organization to drive growth beyond your core.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thought Experiment: Describe a World Without Innovation

How would you describe a world without innovation? 

We are heading into our annual trip to Boston for the Front End of Innovation conference. And, in honor of our book, The Physics of Brand we’ve identified an appropriate thought experiment.

What would the world be like without innovation? For those of us living, working and thriving in the “innovation” universe, it seems like heresy to even write this thought experiment. We are taught in business school, “innovation is the only sustainable competitive advantage.” We grow used to seeking out the new, intriguing and innovative solution to age old problems. It is the energy source for any organization aspiring to grow, lead or stay out in front of the marketplace.

How could we even consider the idea?

To know how valuable something or someone is to you, consider the world without. What would you miss? What wouldn’t happen? What would you do instead? What would we imagine if we didn’t ponder new solutions to problems? What would we daydream about if we didn’t consider an alternative future? What would the human race be without imagination?

To start, innovation is rarely associated with the “new to the world” but dowsed like salt on an English meal to describe much of the iterative stuff we see daily. The list of history changing “new to the world” innovations includes the printing press, paper currency, the compass, democratic governing, magnifying lenses, transistors, the telegraph, antibiotics and perhaps a few more. The list of what a majority of people describe as innovative would be too long for this writer to type before the FEI conference begins. So, we would live in a more dangerous, economically challenged and unexplored world if innovation wasn’t something we did as human beings.

According to Yuval Noah Harari, Author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, imagination is our single attribute which puts us above all other species. We evolved to dominate the planet and all other species because we imagine. The ability to imagine is the first step toward innovation and we have thrived because of imagination. Though I do wonder what Yuval would say to the iterative innovations like Snuggie for Dogs, Fake Ponytails, Vibrating Ab Belts and Subprime Mortgages. Perhaps these are the inventions for which the human race is not proud. And, if that’s what we consider “innovation” then yes, take me to a place where innovation is no longer an imperative for survival.

Yet, for those who don’t abuse the word innovation, let’s continue to hold it high and reference to our greatest accomplishments as a human race. And, if we consider a world without innovation, perhaps more of us would show up at places where it thrives. We would immerse ourselves in the warm pool of knowledge a conference like FEI offers. We would run to the places where ideas are exchanged, minds are lit up and participants leave with a renewed energy for finding the next solution to a nagging social ill.

Let this thought experiment be a test, as you connect with people at FEI in May, ask them this simple question, “what would the world be like without innovation?” If you get a thoughtful response, then you know they’re a member of a class of human beings with a high standard for what we can accomplish. If they brush it off, perhaps they’ve not thought hard enough about what their work means to the world. If they say, “well then I wouldn’t have to come to this conference” you might want to move on to the next person.

If you’d like to connect and talk more about innovation as a cultural challenge, how thought experiments can be used to inspire or how your organization values imagination, design and innovation, please reach out. We will be at the conference all week talking about The Physics of Brand, design and the stories that inspire us.

Kitty Hart, Lucy Robb and I write for the FEI event blog, please reach out if you have a story to share.

Founder, Capsule Design

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Innovation Interview: Q&A with Keurig Senior Innovation Director

In our Innovation Interview series, each month we talk to thought leaders, inspirers, and innovators in the industry to pick their brains about the state of innovation, trends, and what’s in store for the future. This week we caught up FEI: Front End of Innovation speaker Rachael Schwartz who is the General Manager of Keurig Connect and Senior Director of Innovation at Keurig Green Mountain.

Day-to-day, Schwartz has one mission: drive strategy and flawless execution of Keurig Connect through better understanding consumers wants and needs to provide them with improved, smarter, and more personalized beverage experiences. When it comes to strategy-driven innovation, she is in her element. For nearly two decades, she has artfully navigated innovation for companies in the consumer products, food and beverage, and financial services industries. Today, Schwartz is leading the development of Keurig Connect, Keurig’s IoT platform at Keurig Green Mountain, the $4.5 billion personal beverage system company responsible for changing the way North Americans drink coffee with its Keurig single-serve brewing system and a portfolio of 80+ powerhouse specialty beverage brands.

Here's what Schwartz had to say:

What is the key to transforming ideas into market winning strategies? 

Schwartz: I believe it’s critical to obtain a solid understanding of the unmet consumer needs in the category and ensure your strategy will help make life better for the consumer.

How does design thinking improve innovation?

Schwartz: Design thinking is a good process to make sure the consumer need is matched with the technology capability and the business strategy as all three need to be aligned to have a successful product. Design thinking incorporates many different methods of really understanding the consumer and their needs to map to the technology and business strategy.

How can innovators learn how to work alongside the technologies that will shape their product/service/experience innovations of the future?

Schwartz: Innovators can study the projected trajectories that a technology may take and identify how that could affect the consumer experience with their product.

How does leadership, teams, and the environment help empower and accelerate innovation?

Schwartz: Innovation can easily get stuck in large company processes or killed by large company metrics and never can come to life.  Therefore, it is important for leadership to provide the resources to fund innovation and clear the path, from a process standpoint, to allow innovation to be developed. 

Why is business model innovation a powerful way to breakthrough?

Schwartz: How can companies stop conventional business models from impeding innovation? In today’s digital world where there are much fewer barriers to entry in many industries, every company needs to think broadly about what industry they are in, what problems are they solving for consumers, and who their competitors are.  For example, oil companies are pivoting to become energy companies, car companies are mobility companies, and pharmacies are becoming wellness centers. 

Schwartz: When you rethink the problem, you are solving, you recognize that companies with more diverse business models may be more successful at solving those problems.  That’s why it’s critical to innovate without the constraint of your current model. This, however, is hard to do when you are disrupting your current company.  Therefore, many companies will choose to place bets through investments in companies with the disruptive business model or create arms-length subsidiaries to place those bets.

How can open innovation leaders de-risk external collaborations and usher in more efficient pathways into their organization?

Schwartz: They can enter external collaborations with a clear understanding of what learnings they wish to gain from the collaboration, what are the metrics for success, and what is the path for introducing learnings from the collaboration into the greater organization.

Join Rachael at her FEI session “Journey into Connected Appliances and the IoT” on Wednesday, May 10th at 12:00 PM EST.  Learn more:

FEI takes you through the entire innovation process- from ideation through to execution. Get the tips you need for creating fast, agile & opportunistic innovation teams to turn a great idea into a market winning product. Use exclusive LinkedIn discount code FEI17LI for $100 off a pass to FEI in Boston next month. Buy your ticket here:

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