Tom Peters, famous author of In Search of Excellence, coined the phrase “fast failures” which simply means corporations using modest amounts of capital to let employees rapidly test out new concepts, versus following a traditional deliberate corporate process to vet new product and service ideas. Fast forwarding to today, the idea of the “pop-up” has steadily been gaining traction in the retail and restaurant sectors as a way to quickly test the market, introduce new products and services, and gain some quick local market awareness.
When you think about it, the pop-up has been around for a long time, we just called it a booth at a tradeshow. What’s different now is the pop-up can happen anywhere, especially outside where people are walking, browsing, and congregating. In the tradeshow model you had to attract the people to your booth (one of hundreds) in a big event center. In the pop-up model you embed your story where the people are and often you are the only show at that location.
The pop-up is not just for big corporations. Any organization and any individual can pop-up their story on a budget that ranges from a table at a flea market in a mall, to an open-air stand at an art fair in a parking lot, to something more elaborate whether it is indoors or outdoors. The pop-up enables rapid prototyping (and fast failures), market introduction and awareness, brainstorming, customer feedback, crowd sourcing (“citizen-sourcing”), and more. And because it is such a cost-effective technique, we should encourage and enable pop-ups in our communities as much as possible because what we need in our communities is new thinking that leads to new companies and new jobs which can help backfill the substantial job losses we are experiencing by disruption across all sectors.
Just to pick one example, consider libraries which are being disrupted across the United States because of the digital revolution and declining state and municipal budgets. Public libraries across the nation are struggling to figure out how to redefine the mission of their libraries and develop a sustainable financial model.
The “elephant in the room” that people are afraid to talk about or step forward on is the question of do we still need to allocate that much space for books-on-shelves? It is such a revered and emotional tradition (some say “right” or “entitlement”) to have books-on-shelves in expansive quiet spaces, that some library directors have already lost their jobs trying to move in a different direction. But it will happen! We don’t need as much space allocated for books-on-shelves as we used to, so we will have to repurpose some amount of that library space and potentially have some of the space generate revenues which will help support the library.
A specific example of this is our own public library that has a 40,000 square-foot basement which is empty. The basement of our public library is nicer than the basement in my 90-year old home: well lit, dry, high ceilings, broadband wireless, plenty of power, smooth concrete floor, plenty of books and coffee and conference rooms and restrooms upstairs, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That’s a lot of space to be doing nothing when the library has been running a deficit budget for the last five years.
Why not mobilize the power of the crowd (the library patrons and the community at large) by letting them pop-up their ideas in the basement?
- Design lab
- Media lab
- Art studio
- Dance studio
- Co-working area for budding entrepreneurs
- Fablab, makery, hackerspace
- And the list goes on…
Give them some of that empty underutilized space, support them however you can, and unleash the creative energy of citizen-sourcing in your community because no single library director or board of trustees has the all-knowing crystal ball to build a roadmap to the future for their libraries. I have much more confidence in the power of diverse thinking from citizen-sourcing than I have in a library director either afraid of losing his or her job or stubborn to change; or a politicized board of trustees nervous about community blowback. I was on our library board so I’ve seen this group-think dynamic from the inside.
The library is only one of many institutions which are being disrupted (big university is another, for example) which we need to address, but we are failing our communities if we don’t fully utilize the power of citizen-sourcing.
Pop-ups are a great way to mobilize and tap the creative and problem-solving power in our communities and get on with it!
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A co-working space in a library might look something like this:
The co-working program can offer the following:
- shared-office space:
- desk, chair, power
- wireless broadband
- library card and books, lots of books
- conference rooms
- comfortable easy chairs for reading and napping
- a place to connect with other motivated:
- small business owners
- social-impact organizations
- help with:
- business support
- looking for mentors
- simply a collaborative space to brainstorm, design, create
The first thing I would do is identify all the local startup business incubators and/or co-working facilities in your community, especially the ones that seem to be the best fit to your idea. Usually these places have an open-door policy that allows people to come in with new ideas that have the potential to later on develop into new products/businesses. They’ve got their finger on the pulse of all the local attorneys who provide patent services, and in some cases you can get a sit-down session with one of these attorneys at no cost. See how far you can get without having to spend any money.
Another thing you should do is attend an entrepreneur’s mixer(s) at these incubators and do some social networking with the entrepreneurs and staff because they’ve been down this path before and they will know who to contact and who not to contact.
Imagine H2O is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire and empower people to solve water problems.
February 5, 1989
Four local business executives have left established forms to start their own management consulting network across firm the University of Illinois Beckman Institute. Scott Pickard, Thomas Trone, Martin Widdowson, and Norman “Mac” MacGregor have joined forces in NorthCampus Ventures, a firm that provides services for start-up businesses. Pickard, 39, was vice president of business development for Kuck & Associates, Inc., a Champaign supercomputer software firm, until November.
Sitting there in the meeting this morning and my mind wandering a bit (been doing that since first grade), I thought: “When/if the research grant goes away, what happens?”
Does the Research Center just go poof, everybody blowing away in the breeze to a new position, some repotted at the University in various departments; some going out to private industry; some retiring?
Then I thought about everything that is inside these walls. If you draw a box around this place and call it “Proprietary Intellectual Property (PIP),” it’s market value as a going concern is substantial when you include:
- Documents in general
- Calculators, algorithms, rules-of-thumb
- Archive of reports
- Processes and procedures
- Everything that’s on the web site: content, pictures, videos
- Curriculum, courseware, workshop and presentation materials
- Marketing and general collateral materials
- Database(s) and data
- Product info, specs, costs
- The Center’s collective rolodex of professional, industry, governmental contacts
- The Center’s brand identity and goodwill
- The Center team and their collective expertise and experience
- Continuing access to the best students
In a shutdown scenario, who “owns” the PIP? The University? The Funding Sponsor? Would either even be interested?
The big idea I’m left with is you could develop a business plan for the inevitable and at that time, license out the entire PIP by mutual agreement with the University and/or the Sponsor, and reboot the Center as a commercial enterprise. If you chose to do it big, you could attract some equity capital to fund startup costs for space, equipment, and competitive industry salaries, benefits, etc.
And that begins a whole new story.