UNAIMIT lives!

Roughly two decades ago, when I was still in charge of the Information Technology Program of the Center for Futures Research at the University of Southern California, my associate, Omar El Sawy, and I cooked up a seminar for prospective entrepreneurs. Omar called the seminar project UNAIMIT, an acronym whose meaning I have forgotten. The idea was to engage the seminar attendees into developing a plan for a new technology-based business. We decided that the fledgling business would be a custom, high tech shoe factory.

The technology twist was that there would be a small laser scanner that would develop a 3 dimensional computer model of the prospective shoe purchaser’s feet. This model would then be sent to another computer that would select the shoe components, shapes, colors and sizes in accordance with the model and the customer’s fashion decisions. An automated, customized, guaranteed-to-fit pair of shoes would be produced at an affordable price! The engineering details would be handled after the seminar.

The seminar was a success. the participants really got into the spirit of designing the new business, if not the shoes themselves, and Omar and I congratulated ourselves on the brilliant idea of an automated custom shoe factory. Clearly, the word would get around, either by way of the seminar attendees or through spontaneous invention elsewhere.

Except that the word apparently didn’t get around. No such factory appeared, no energetic entrepreneur showed up to exploit our grand plan.

Then, on 8 March 2007, I came across an article by Peter Marsh in the Business Life section of the Financial Times titled: The shoe that is sure to fit. It was UNAIMIT in the flesh–or in the foot! The only difference was that the entrepreneur is not one of the attendees to our 1986ish seminar but Janno Fonsen, a Finn whose custom manufactory in Estonia produces its shoes under the trade name Left Foot. Although some of the details are different, the concept is the same as that in our seminar.

Good ideas will out, one way or another.

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