Date of lunch:
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Alexander Manu’s career is so diverse and interesting that it is actually quite difficult to describe. He works with Fortune 500 companies to help them with innovation, strategic insight and understanding “desire” – it’s not needs , it’s desires that motivate. From this work, he designed a course at Rotman’s for MBA students called “Innovation, Foresight and Business Design.” It sounds like an amazing course. Alexander is working to help businesspeople to not just think in numbers but to understand what makes people tick, what their desires are and use this knowledge to design products. Alexander told me I can audit his course in September. I hope he meant it.
We met at the Bedford Academy on Prince Arthur and sat on the beautiful patio. Alexander actually did not eat but I, of course, did not miss the opportunity to chow down. I had the grilled portobello and goats cheese salad, which was good except I hate when I have to cut my salad before I eat it – I just wish the cooks would slice the portobello so I didn’t have to. Ok, rant over. I also had a diet Coke to drink. Alexander had a coffee and Compari soda. Total bill was $30 with tax.
The lunch lesson:
The biggest lesson of the lunch was just being able to see the world for a few moments from Alexander’s perspective. I can try to explain what I mean by describing one of his favorite innovations, the iPhone. The product is not the iPhone – you are the product. Because your experience with the iPhone is totally dependent on how you choose to use it. Without you, it’s just an object. But add the app store and you’re able to customize it any way you like – it’s a music player, a camera, a GPS, restaurant finder, a level, a gaming console, a translator and more. So when the iPhone came to market, it let the users make it into what it was, instead of it telling you what it was. According to Alexander, it’s not really a phone – that word almost takes away from its possibilities. Just a slight twist to how you perceive the products around you, but an important one.
This was a fascinating lunch and I hope that I am able to accurately capture what we spoke about.
The first question I asked Alexander was to help me to understand what he does for a living. He studied Industrial Design but his work is so much more. He started to tell me about his work with lottery corporations. This client really excited Alexander because, he explains, unlike some other companies, the lottery corporations understand “desire”. They aren’t selling tickets, they are selling hope, which is a lot more fun. I have been known after buying a lottery ticket to walk down the street and imagine what I will do with the money – a house, a cottage, a vacation, taking all my friends and family on an amazing trip, a car, sharing my good fortune, and just thinking about it makes me happy. And this is what Alexander likes about working with them – it’s so much more than tickets.
Alexander talked about the companies that we are going to see emerging in upcoming years. The models of these companies will be different from anything we see now and the way they are marketed and promoted is going to change. There will be a shift in the value proposition – currently defined as: A business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement should convince a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings – Investopedia.com. As Alexander said about the iPhone, the company is identifying the desire and the customer is creating the value proposition. And this shifts advertising and marketing into a different role.
Alexander also spoke about some of the work he gets to do. He has had a busy summer, heading to the Maritimes to provide insight to entrepreneurs and soon to be heading off to Finland to speak with business people there. He is also an author of several business books focused on imagination and innovation and has a new one coming out shortly. His perspective is really unique and he is working hard to help others to understand how to create and innovate in ways that will garner success.
I really could have spoken with Alexander for hours. At one point he asked me if I was recording our conversation in order to help me to write my blog later. As a practice, I don’t record my lunches. I like them to be casual conversations that I can then capture afterwards. I will usually jot down a bunch of notes right after the lunch to ensure that I get the good stuff down while it’s still top of mind but I don’t want the process to be too formal.
With Alexander, I really wish I had recorded our lunch because I am sure I haven’t captured nearly enough of what I learned in this post. But that is why I hope the offer is still on the table to take his class at Rotman’s this fall – I’ll be sure to take great notes!