ReThink: Awareness

If you are reading this, you have probably been elsewhere on the Internet, which means you have most likely heard about the human rights campaign known as KONY2012. While the seriousness of the campaign and its potential ramifications (both positive and negative) are not to be taken lightly, UnConventional has decided to feature Invisible Children’s latest push to make a difference in Central Africa for one reason. What is unconventional is not the campaign; what is unconventional is the way the campaign is being promoted. It was designed to be spread by word-of-mouth, which in our digital age means via social networks. This it has done exceedingly well: the KONY2012 has been viewed 14.1 million times since it was posted two weeks ago on Vimeo and over 55 million times since it was posted four days ago on YouTube, literally creating an overnight sensation (if you just crawled out from under a rock and haven’t seen the video, you can find it here or here – we are refraining from jumping on the blogwagon and embedding it in the midst of our commentary). By using Twitter hashtags such as #KONY2012 and posting links on Facebook, the word spread faster than wildfire, bringing back memories of Arab Spring revolutions powered (and tracked) by social media. Whether the campaign ultimately succeeds remains to be seen, but if nothing else, it has proven that awareness is finding new and powerful vehicles that are reshaping the way we interact with our world.

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ReThink: Old Books

Knowledge is power, or so the saying goes. And where does knowledge lay dormant, ready to empower minds to change the world? In books, of course! Better World Books knows that books are a key part of making the world, well, a better place, and they are doing something to make that happen. Starting from a college dorm room (because what worthwhile venture doesn’t have such humble beginnings?), Better World Books has grown to be a powerful force in promoting literacy worldwide. Through reclaiming and selling used books, donating books, recycling worn-out books, donating to literacy advocation programs, and more, the company is making huge strides towards putting books, and knowledge, in the hands of all people. Kind of makes you want to go grab a book, doesn’t it?

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ReThink: Personal Finances

With the advent of mobile banking, a slew of new startups have appeared that offer ways to transfer money from one party to another via a mobile device. While all operate on essentially the same idea of bypassing traditional banking institutions (we’re talking institutions like checks, ATMs, wire transfers, etc), each has its own niche. Back in UnConventional’s early days, we highlighted Dwolla, which lauds itself as the “online cash option;” it essentially acts as an electronic wallet. Today, we’re taking a look at a Serve, which has its own unique structure and function.

Beyond the electronic wallet function shared by most like-minded companies, Serve (which is actually a branch of American Express, which was incidentally nominated as one of the most innovative companies by FastCompany) offers two stand-out features: the Serve card and subaccounts. The Serve card acts like a debit card for your Serve account, meaning you can use it to access your Serve funds anywhere American Express is accepted. This is especially useful if you are worried about your card being stolen or about going over your budget (think traveling). Subaccounts are just that: accounts within your main Serve account. Each subaccount also gets a Serve card, so you could, for instance, set up a subaccount for your daughter at college, allowing effortless financial provision for her while simultaneously keeping tabs on her spending. What’s more: Serve is almost completely free. Starting this June, the only fees associated with Serve are funding your account via a credit card (which is silly) or withdrawing funds more than once per month from an ATM. And we haven’t even touched on Serve’s widgets, which is yet another way American Express is proving itself to be rethinking personal finances from the bottom up.

ReThink: Old Stuff

Do you have stuff that you don’t need anymore? Of course you do. How do you get rid of it? You could throw it out and, in so doing, spit in the face of Mother Nature and in the faces of those who actually need what you’re dumping, or you could list it on Freecycle and let someone else have it. And, when you need something, you can check to see if someone else is getting rid of that very thing you want, absolutely free. No complications, no scams, and most importantly, no waste. That’s just good sense.

ReThink: Composting

For people who live in the sticks, composting is a no-brainer: food scraps and other organic material can go right on the compost pile outside. For those of us who don’t live in the countryside, however, composting can be more tricky, messy, and work-intensive than it’s worth, especially in cities that do not allow it. Thankfully, a Grand Rapids-based company has found a way around all these issues. By offering regular curbside collection like any other waste company, Organicycle allows anyone to divert more of their waste from landfills and incinerators to a sustainable, energy-reclaiming practice that benefits not only waste producers, but the users of the end products as well. Individuals, businesses, schools, and even whole municipalities can take advantage of the opportunities offered by composting, both in reducing the impact of their waste and reaping the benefits of reclaiming the potential of organic waste. One potato peel at a time, Organicycle is rethinking our relationship with the environment.

ReThink: Publishing

Writing is not an easy profession. After months and even years of hard work, writer’s block, and no income, the final product (and ultimate success) is often at the mercy of the publisher. However, not all publishers are alike, and one example is rethinking the publishing paradigm. Splattered Ink Press not only allows writers to self-publish, but offers coaching, editing, formatting assistance, design help, and ebook conversions, among other services, to help authors get their writing onto the page. Focusing on fledgling authors, Splattered Ink helps new writers establish themselves in their local bookstores and works with local publishers to print books, helping authors to develop relationships that can carry them forward as they continue to write. One book at a time, Splattered Ink is putting new thought into an old industry.

ReThink: Medication

Walk down any drug store aisle and it doesn’t take long to realize that the array of remedies for any type of ailment is unnecessarily complex. Between the confusing names and labels, the enormous quantities available, the unintelligible ingredients, and the underlying greed of drug companies subtly trying to get consumers to spend ever more, over-the-counter medication is rife with problems. Thankfully, a forward-thinking company is cutting through the clutter. Help I Need Help has unveiled a simple, no-nonsense approach to medical remedies that is based around the ailment, not the drug. Whatever your problem, Help I Need Help offers just enough to fix you up and get you going again, without wasteful packaging, extra medication left over, or unnecessary extra ingredients. In addition, Help I Need Help helps not only you, but other people who need help as well; check out their bandages to see what a simple papercut can mean for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant. One cut, one headache, one sleepless night at a time, Help I Need Help is helping to change the face of everyday medication.

ReThink: Web Security

We all hate them. Those annoying boxes that prompt us to “enter the following characters into the box below,” the characters which appear to have been scrawled by a two-year-old. Known as CAPTCHAs, they are designed to stop spambots from infiltrating secure systems by “proving” that the user is actually a person and not a computer program. However, their irksome qualities are coming to an end, thanks to rethinking being done by Are You a Human. Now, taking part in making the web more secure is fun, because Are You a Human uses games to prove your humanity instead of presenting you with intelligence-insulting, undecipherable script. It’s one more way innovation is improving our world, one booted CAPTCHA at a time.


ReThink: Accounting (Again)

Here at UnConventional, we believe that rethinking is a never-ending process. You might have noticed, therefore, that we rethink some things two or three or ten times, because one good idea deserves another. Today, we’re again rethinking accounting and taking a look at a company taking the next step in making accounting easier, simpler, and more user-friendly.

The reality of cloud computing is well upon us, and this holds no less true in the realm of accounting. Most new accounting products are in fact web-based programs that operate independently of any one computer. Xero is every bit in line with this new paradigm, but they have taken things a step further. Now, not only is keeping the books simple, intuitive, and manageable from any computer, it’s manageable from anywhere. Xero has unleashed the power of our mobile devices in the pursuit of cleaner, simpler accounting. No more receipts, no more missed transactions, and no more surprises. It’s one step closer to a world without clutter, confusion, and complexity, leaving our hands and minds free to work in our business, not in our accounting.


ReThink: Energy Generation

The old energy paradigm is changing. We used to burn fossil fuels to create steam to turn turbines and then throw out the exhaust. Now, through such technology as cogeneration (which is actually quite old, but coming back into vogue), the potential of traditional energy sources is magnified. Waste heat is captured and put to use until it is completely useless, significantly increasing the efficiency of the energy conversion process and reducing emissions along the way. Cogeneration and its kindred technologies are on their way to becoming a vital component of our future comprehensive energy solution.

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