Boundary areas: House of Genius NYC

Tim Peek was a panelist at the first Manhattan session of House of Genius NYC. This was Tim’s second time appearing on a House of Genius NYC panel. Here are some of Tim’s thoughts from our May 2013 panel in Manhattan:

It’s the boundary areas where the cool stuff happens – whether it’s the rich ecosystem of marshlands, the exciting no-man’s-lands of international borders or the meeting of virtual and real businesses.

The latest (and inaugural) House of Genius Manhattan gathering focused on that virtual melting pot with three entrepreneurs who are building their business in the space where the web meets the street: Moveline, a web service that brokers the best household moving deal for consumers; Wine For the World, a business that seeks to combine wine consumers with economic development; and Brunch Critic, a site devoted to finding the perfect brunch spot.

Each faced a specific challenge around business development and each was looking to crowd-source some answers. But not from just any crowd. And that’s the genius of House of Genius. The event creates genius ideas not by bringing together geniuses (though there were many in the room that night) but by gathering a diverse group of real-world practitioners, keeping everything except their first names secret, and then giving them a tight deadline to take their best shot at the problem.

That’s the secret sauce: smart people, interesting problems, no titles or resumes to obscure good thinking and a tight time limit to prevent bloviating.

On this evening, the panel came up with ways for Moveline to identify and attract corporate HR departments to lower their relocation costs and improve quality for employees; tactics for telling Wine For the World’s story in a way that attracts funding; and market differentiation and conversion techniques for Brunch Critic to reach those who really care about French toast with Mimosas.

Usable ideas, energizing discussion, diverse experience – what’s not to like?


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About Tim Peek
Tim Peek is the executive producer for NBC NextMedia, an in-house creative services group at NBC Universal that produces narrative-based advertising for clients. Before that, Peek worked as a producer and executive at NBC News and then led a transformation initiative to re-define video news production for broadcasters in the digital age. Peek is an avid long-distance runner, back-country skier, mountain biker and the winner of numerous awards for his investigative and news coverage at NBC and elsewhere.
 

House of Genius Minneapolis – “Ice Cracking”

One day after the inaugural House of Genius-Minneapolis session and I’m still fired up over having the chance to sit in as the scribe for the event.  I didn’t participate as a panelist in the discussion and probably for good reason, after hearing from all the quick-thinking professionals in the room.  Regardless, this was without a doubt, an eye opening experience for a college student like me.

If you’re not familiar with the House of Genius format, check it out. I’d like to highlight one aspect of the format – the “anonymity”. Everyone in the room is on a first name-only basis and is asked to refrain from discussing anything about their background or experience. This is the secret sauce of House of Genius that brings out the brilliance of everyone in the room.  There is no “qualifying” or possibly even worse, “disqualifying”, of comments or feedback from people in the room.  It was the fuel that fired the free and exciting flow of a great session.

Now, I am about as green as you would expect from a college student when it comes to the workings of the professional world. I’m typically just struggling to figure out what the heck is going on in operations class, the best way to BS a post-marketing lecture reflection paper, and how to spend my weekends.  This night of disruptive thinking is exactly what I needed to break from the status quo and get a breath of fresh air courtesy of real, practicing, business and entrepreneurial professionals with diverse backgrounds.  In fact, I am completely skirting some homework responsibilities to write this while the excitement from last night is still fresh.

While taking notes for the event was fairly difficult because of the pace, fortunately, I still had a chance to soak in the collaboration being had amongst the geniuses in the room.  The content was equal parts inspirational, informative, and new to me.  I have never felt that excited when leaving a  classroom-like setting, nor has a class ever felt like it flew by quite like this House of Genius session flew by.

Our three presenters were nearly as diverse as the panelists providing the insight.  We led off with Tarmac, a near shore consulting services company that specializes in ruby on rails and grails development.  Next up was Docalytics, a company with a web-based platform that provides B2B marketers with more efficient lead capture and deeper engagement analytics surrounding their document based content marketing resources.  Finally, GetKnit Events, a Twin Cities based company that provides a platform for local businesses, individuals, and non-profits to experience events in the area that may otherwise be unheard of.

Each of the three presenters came to House of Genius with different challenges they were looking for help with and the panel offered insightful suggestions and ideas for each of them. This included a recommendation that Tarmac change the way they market their differentiators and the possibility of integrating Docalytics with existing applications. By the end of the night, everyone in attendance seemed to keep referring back to one thing though. Whiskey and whitewater rafting. Specifically referencing the exciting and unusual events they wanted to see GetKnit start hosting. I will spare further details of the discussions because there is no way I could do them justice. After all, the “genius” is created in the room of anonymous people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

For those of you that haven’t lost interest in this piece, thanks for bearing with me on my first blog post.  I couldn’t have adequately conveyed the power of this disruptive thinking but hopefully I have at least given you a sense of how powerful and exciting it was for me, and maybe even inspired you to check it out for yourself.

Thanks to all in attendance and to those who made the first House of Genius-Minneapolis experience possible.  I’m certainly looking forward to seeing new faces, perspectives and the collaborative “genius” in future Minneapolis sessions.

– Jacob Kaska

Unconventional Thinking: House of Genius NYC

Jordan Phoenix was a panelist at the April 2013 House of Genius NYC session.  That night Fiestah, Wedge Technologies, and Kno Clothing presented challenges. Here are some of Jordan’s thoughts on the session:

In recent years, the idea of crowdsourcing has picked up a significant amount of momentum. If you’ve ever used 99designs for logo creation, or used Wikipedia to look something up (who hasn’t), then you understand the value that emerges when large groups of talented people make small contributions to the bigger puzzle.

The House of Genius is essentially an environment to crowdsource good ideas. A diverse group of panelists from different backgrounds come together to help three entrepreneurs find solutions to their most pressing business challenges.

To make things interesting, you are not allowed to tell anyone what your work background is (or even discuss work at all during breaks) until the very end. I believe that breaking your normal routine definitely forces you to think differently, so hey, anything that can spark more creativity is worth a try.

After each entrepreneur presents, there are a few minutes of discussion during which every panelist gets to throw in their two cents. Some of the ideas are relatively straightforward, while others can be way outside-the-box and unconventional.

I’m an unconventional kind of guy. I think that’s most likely why they asked me to guest write this article (and come to the event in the first place). Predictability is boring! So, to stick with this theme, I’ll explain one of the “out of left field” ideas that I gave to a presenter.

Wedge Technologies is a renewable energy company that creates a new variety of wind turbines. Their main customer base consists of large organizations in the United States and Europe. The challenges were many: too much red tape in the US, too expensive to store wind energy at a competitive price versus subsidized oil, customer skepticism about wind technology efficiency in general, and so on.

They considered looking into serving markets in developing countries, but price was too much of an issue to make it feasible.

A giant light bulb went on in my head. I drew up this diagram to clarify my idea:

Business Model Flow Chart

Inspired by the cutting-edge strategies that Paul Polak and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus have used to serve people at the bottom of the pyramid, I realized that a pivot and partnership could serve Wedge tremendously. Though the people who need energy most in developing regions may not be able to afford it right now, the users of a microfinance platform like Kiva could come in to invest in such projects. This would enable the recipients to create a wide variety of new entrepreneurial ventures that were previously unfeasible due to a lack of electricity; and begin to unleash their massive amounts of untapped creativity and human potential. A portion of their profits go back to pay off the microloan, and they are no longer trapped in the dire straits of poverty.

The presenter seemed very satisfied with the potential idea of utilizing their technology not just for the benefit of the environment, but also to empower those who need it most.

Being able to be a part of this type of thing is what gets me out of bed every day.


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About Jordan Phoenix
Jordan Phoenix is a social entrepreneur, speaker, and personal development coach. He has launched the Knowledge is Power leadership retreat, the Start Living personal development group, and most recently founded Project Free World, an online social innovation platform that aims to provide the proper food, rights, education, and environment to every person on the planet.

Project Free World utilizes index scores to highlight the most critical issues in each global region; connecting people with the most innovative crowdsolving tools in order to create their own grassroots projects. His work has been featured in publications such as the New York Observer, the New York Post, the Times of India, and MindBodyGreen. You can learn more about Jordan’s work at his blog, uncommonsense.is.

Jordan can be found on Twitter @jphoenix24

Panelist Recap: House of Genius NYC – Number 8

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Rosie Siman was recently a panelist at House of Genius NYC. Here is her recap of our February 28th, 2013 session:

When I was invited to participate in House of Genius, I was immediately intimidated. I had signed up after someone told me to do so, but I never thought I’d actually get selected. But excitement outweighed intimidation so last week, I headed down to Dumbo to find out just what happened at this House of Genius.

Upon arrival, we took seats around a table, introducing ourselves with only our first names. Shortly after, Chris Meade of Sports Recruit was introduced to us. Sports Recruit is an online community built for students who are hoping to go to college with a sports scholarship. He gave us a little bit of information about his company, including some challenges and then it began.

The 12 of us sitting around the table had a few minutes to ask clarifying questions before we were asked by the moderator to provide a thought. There weren’t specifications other than a time limit: 60 seconds. [I learned quickly that if you speak fast, you can pack a lot of punch into 60 seconds.]

Sports Recruit has been around for several years and have a business model built on families paying various amounts of money for correlating amounts of support with help on using the site, setting up their child’s profile, etc. They have a solid amount of traffic but were looking for additional ways to gain revenue. From adding LinkedIn types of features like being able to see who has viewed your profile to charging coaches to take profiles “off the market” for a certain amount of time, we suggested different solutions.

Next up was Stephen Oddo of Walks of Italy. After graduating from college, Stephen moved to Rome and eventually set up a tourism company that sells day trips, unique activities and special access (with an emphasis on small groups & hand picked experts).

Stephen’s business was also fairly established: He was in the process of figuring out the best growth strategy and wanted our thoughts. The table was filled with differing perspectives, from support for a franchise model to a focus on more expensive activities, expanding only when a previous user was looking for recommendations in a new city.

Finally was my personal favorite, Obi, of Pop In Gym. Her startup addresses a problem that many frequent travelers are familiar with: the hotel gym. It’s hard enough to stay healthy while traveling and if hotels do have gyms, they’re usually shit. Beyond travelers, there are plenty of people who have commitment issues with gyms. And people like myself who might want to play racquetball a few times a year, but don’t want to fork over the dough that goes along with having a premium gym membership.

Obi’s app shows you gyms nearby, lets you filter based on your own needs and let’s you purchase a day, 4 day or month pass. Because Pop In Gym was still very new, Obi’s questions felt a bit less specific. I pushed for dynamic pricing (gyms offering reduced rates during slow times, or for specific classes/parts of the gym that weren’t being used) while someone else suggested she begin looking into partnerships with businesses who frequently send their employees around the world (like a McKinsey!)

The evening wrapped with a reveal. Each of us took turns introducing ourselves and providing a bit of background as to what we do. Before the event, I guessed that most attendees would be in advertising (The event was hosted in the office of a research company after all!) but I was pleasantly surprised to find that backgrounds were much more varied.

Now? I just have to figure out who I’ll nominate to go in my place next month. You up for the challenge? [Apply now to attend a House of Genius NYC session]


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About Rosie Siman
Rosie writes, speaks, consults, teaches, strategizes & generally plays well with others. She dislikes voicemails and mean people. When she’s not helping brands figure out what they should be doing to harness the digital world, she’s curating a newsletter called The Tuesday Ten, which you should probably sign up for: http://tuesdayten.com

Rosie can also be found on Twitter @rosiesiman To collaborate with her check out RosieSiman.com

Amsterdam’s First House of Genius: A Redux

“The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together.”
― Carl SaganCosmos
Sebastiaan Hooft of Petminds Presents

Sebastiaan Hooft of Petminds Presents

Monday night was my first experience with the House of Genius, and I must say that I was impressed with what went down. For the most part, the night met a great deal of my expectations.

I had first heard of the event via Facebook. Heather Lefevre, the Amsterdam House of Genius chapter founder, shares a strategy group with me and recently posted a link to houseofgenius.org that caught my attention. Within seconds of seeing the New York chapters’ video, I became immediately curious, and wanted to learn more.

Going into my first experience with the HofG, I was excited and enthralled by the fact that those who participate, do so not for the sake of personal recognition, but for the sake of nurturing, crafting and developing an idea. Participants don’t share their last names, where they work, or even qualify their points based on experience or socio-professional status because it’s the ideas that really matter.

As a self-proclaimed philosophy nerd, the chance to sit in a room with other people and just play with ideas is like pure, unadulterated brain candy for a guy like me. After the event, I swear I couldn’t sleep. It was crazy. The participants really impressed me, and I thought they came up with some really amazing and inspiring ideas in their pursuit to help Play4Karma, PetMinds or Egg Helmets.

I left surprised and over-saturated by the sheer passion for diversity and breadth of ideas that I could sense from nearly everyone in the room.

Come to think of it, this could very well be the reason why I couldn’t sleep after the event. There were just too many good ideas, or offshoots thereof, to really give my mind a moment’s rest.

In the words of my favorite household felon, Martha Stewart, this type of invigorating and curiosity-inducing brain juice, for me at least,  is “a very good thing.”

To those familiar with the buzz that great ideas do to those of us passionate about how people think and behave, it should come as no surprise that I would venture to become more involved with the house of genius. That’s why I have offered to help moderate and volunteer my time and network to support subsequent sessions of the House of Genius chapter here in Amsterdam.

I truly love the idea, and look forward to playing a helpful role in nurturing conversations, concepts and inspirations for participants and entrepreneurs in the sessions to come.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson aptly said that ‘there’s just something about doing what’s never been done before (whether useful or not) that’s intellectually seductive, alluring, and enticing’. Amsterdam’s new House of Genius chapter, for me at least, does just that.

//Michael Koenka