The Betterific Blog

Connecting consumers with brands to crowdsource and innovate on product ideas.

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Interview with an Innovator: Kathleen Russell

In this installment of Interview with an Innovator, we hear from Kathleen Russell.  Kathy is in the insurance space and holds a dual degree in Mathematics and Business.  She won the Lipstick Innovation Competition with a  couple of really cool ideas around lipstick strips and a “smart lipstick.”  She’s participated in numerous crowdsourcing innovation competitions, so it’s not surprising that her suggestion for Betterific is for the platform to host weekly “lightning” challenges.  Great idea. We’re always looking for ways to “flex your idea muscle” and I think that would be a great way to help people practice.  We’re going to look into it!

Read on for Kathy’s brainstorming tips and where she goes for inspiration.

MW: What do you do when you’re not brainstorming on Betterific?  Kathleen Russell (KR): I enjoy spending time with family and friends and trips to Las Vegas.

MW: What blogs do you recommend on ideation, creativity or innovation?  KR: I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog, it’s a free daily email from author Seth Godin.

MW: Do you have a startup/business on the side you want to tell us about?  KR: My Hubby is working on a couple of products to take to market. I can’t say what they are right now, but look forward to sharing them once their live!

3bcaebbMW: When you get an invitation to join a Betterific innovation challenge, how do you approach the challenge?  KR: I believe in intersectionality, so I try to think about other, similar but different industries and products to gain inspiration from what is available there.  The question then becomes, how can we take what we’ve learned from other successful innovations and bring it to this specific industry.

MW: Do you have any tricks for breaking through a creative block?  KR: I get a group of trusted family or friends together and toss out ideas, literally starting with crazy silly ideas, then hone in towards the problem you are solving.  It’s a brainstorm, but in a safe space, so you don’t feel the pressure of groupthink.  It also helps to have people who aren’t close to the problem or familiar with the typical boundaries or barriers.

MW: What have you enjoyed most about the Betterific platform? And what do you like most about the community?  KR: I love reading other people’s ideas and having a place to go where it’s positive. The best part right now, is no one talks about the election!

MW: If you were CEO for a day, what would you improve about the platform?  KR: Send a daily email with a small challenge and a link to log your ideas. Kind of like a daily lightening round.

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Winners announced for the Civic Engagement Innovation Competition

Our “Hacking Civic Engagement” Challenge was a first for us in many respects.  It was the first time we’ve done a civic (non product) challenge.  It was the first time we partnered with Singularity University – the institution that believes in exponential thinking based on the exponential growth of technology.  And perhaps most importantly, it was the first time we crowdsourced a concept from beginning to end.

With the help of Deloitte’s Pixel division we collaborated with Topcoder.  Ideas were conceived of by the Betterific community, winners were chosen by Pixel, and passed them on–along with design specs–to the designers at Topcoder.  In 48 hours, they received 25 app designs.  deloittepixel_splash

Quick shoutout to the winners of the ideation competition: Luc Michaud (grand prize winner), Metro Power Yoga, Marla Goodman and Dennis Pitcock.  Check out their winning ideas below.

The process and the results were presented at the Singularity University Global Summit.  The winners were announced by the CEO of Xprize and Balaji Bondili, from Pixel.


Crowdsourcing is the way of the future – and more and more companies are jumping aboard.  Having a platform at Singularity University’s Global Summit was like a coming out party for Betterific and collaborating with Pixel and Topcoder presents a huge opportunity moving forward.

Top Ideas:

A Betterific-like app (with challenges) was developed specifically to help government leaders/ policy makers think outside the box to solve important issues? Example: the mayor could have a challenge on how to reduce the many potholes without extra $

An app where people can upload photos and videos of hazards and issues, tag them, geotag them, and have them upvoted to be addressed by a local government. It also helps the community solve their own issues such as a lost pet.

I could subscribe to political updates/news according to topic, location, political person and get those texted to me or available in an app as they happen or daily or weekly

An app that allowed you to report a problem (such as a tree uprooting the concrete on an easement) and the app would automatically notify the appropriate agencies.  The app would keep you updated of the status.
Time lapse video showing the topcoder designers at work!

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Interview with Innovator Meia Geddes

Meia Geddes.jpgThe first innovation competition we ever ran was with a startup looking to get into the travel space.  We had built Betterific as a site for ideas and wanted to test this new concept – of hosting crowdsourced idea competitions.  It was a gamble – how would our community react?  Would brands be “wow”ed by our community members’ ideas?  Lots of questions.  And with any startup, the best way to answer the questions is to test the hypothesis.  The rest is history, as Betterific has blossomed into the premier innovation competition site.

Meia Geddes, a member from those early days, posted some tremendous ideas throughout the challenge and won our very first competition!  She followed that performance up by doing the unthinkable …winning the very next challenge.  Meia still holds the record as our site’s only back-to-back winner.  If you look through Meia’s catalog, you’ll see her unique approach and ability to generate both creative “organic” and competition-driven ideas.  She’s also proposed a great concept that we’re looking into – of enabling members to turn their Betterific profiles into a resume complement for jobs.  Learn more about Meia below – she’s an author, loves to read, and sits still when she brainstorms!

MW: What do you do when you’re not brainstorming on Betterific? Meia Geddes (MG): I write, attend Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science (i.e. library school), work part-time at MIT Sloan School of Management, make paper cranes for my small business, Make-A-Crane, and pursue my latest endeavors in publishing. I spend a lot of time reading and too much time emailing, tweeting, and eating anything sweet.

MW: Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t know from your resume. MG: I decided to become a vegetarian when I was ten because it began to dawn on me that there was some connection between the sweet clucking creature and the delectable skin and meat on my plate. Also, a family friend mentioned the golden rule to me, which I had never heard of and which led me to very seriously consider the fact that I would not want to be eaten… People also tend to be interested to learn I was adopted by my mom from China.

MW: What books do you recommend on ideation, creativity or innovation? MG: Lately I’ve been avoiding social science-y books, but I love Maria Popova’s BrainPickings newsletter, which often references books on creativity. She has an intuition for the kind of “interestingness” that is universal and I think she’s really influencing our culture and world in a positive way. She highlights artists, writers, thinkers, and has a way of pointing out the connections between everyone.

meia, pat, and chickens in caMW: Betterific members are ideas people!  Do you have a startup/business on the side you want to tell us about? MG: Yes! I recently established an imprint, Poetose Press, to publish my own work and possibly others one day. Just as with librarianship and journalism, the traditional model of publishing (querying literary agents, getting editors’ interest, signing a possibly dubious contract) is rapidly changing with technology (i.e. print-on-demand). I’ve found it really great to have full entrepreneurial and creative control, from getting ISBNs and a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) to hiring an editor and artist. It’s been fun researching industry standards to ensure I go about things professionally, as any small press or big publishing house should. The official publication date for my first book, Love Letters to the World, is October 1, 2016.

MW: When you get an invitation to join a Betterific innovation challenge, how do you approach the challenge?  Any good techniques you want to share? MG: I often type out ideas ahead of time to refine them. I always try to look at the previous ideas so I’m not posting duplicates and can ponder what may not yet have been covered. I often think about how things can be related to books since that seems to be my shtick. I put myself in my own shoes and think about what I would want! I think a lot about ways people can be brought together to connect. I tend to go to the website of the company if I’m not very familiar with them, like Reddi-wip and Sterilite. I also sit very still.

MW: How do you get ‘in the zone’ so you can think about the problem deeply? MG: Part of writing is making connections between seemingly disparate things, and I’ve found that’s also key to coming up with betterifs. You start to intentionally think randomly and not-so-randomly. You think PLANES and PERSON WITH COOL SOCKS YOU ONCE SAT NEXT TO  and CHESS and wonder why Southwest isn’t offering fliers the opportunity to sit with other people who are also into chess (or are wearing cool socks). I think that would be even more popular than the 2,000 bedtime books Virgin Atlantic just bought to give out to fliers.

MW: What have you enjoyed most about the Betterific platform? And what do you like most about the community? MG: I love that Betterific gives me the platform to put my ideas out into the world since I probably won’t have the time or energy to pursue most of them and a lot of the ideas are specific to companies and their current offerings. I don’t feel a sense of proprietorship over ideas. Just as with writing, execution is key. It’s also of course really fun seeing all the creativity that others have, and refining ideas together.

MW: If you were CEO for a day, what would you improve about the platform? MG: The site is lovely and very clean as it is. I think there used to be something that showed the total upvotes plus total downvotes so it’d be interesting to see that instead of only being able to see the net votes. It’d be great to collocate the same ideas via controlled vocabulary, though that seems like it’d be difficult to address, similar to what librarians face in cataloging or the chaos on LibraryThing. It could be fun and useful for members to be able to create a non-traditional Betterif resume featuring their ideas. Maybe more college campus and international recruiting? I’d love to see even more people and companies using the site!