Being Good Versus Being Innovative

February 25, 2010

Another perceptive post from Scott Berkun, this time on the issue of ‘simply’ focusing on being really really good at what you do, in the sense of consistently providing compelling solutions to customer problems.

While we’re fond of trumpeting the praises of Apple (AAPL), whose iPod revolutionized music, we forget how dismal the competition was. It was not a field of masterpieces; it was a motley crew of ugly, clunky, painfully hard-to-use devices. Apple applied basic design sense to an immature field at a time when the world was ready for something better. Firefox, which rekindled innovation in Web browsing, arose from Microsoft’s near abandonment of its Internet Explorer Web browser after the browser war with Netscape ended. Their version 6.0 release was a major step backward, opening the door for someone to win by merely providing something good, which Firefox did in 2004. Google (GOOG) was launched a decade after the invention of search engines; Amazon (AMZN) was not the first online bookstore. But they were both the first to do a good job at selling their good services for a good profit. In retrospect, their successes seem amazing, but at the time, the goals were simple and the objective humble and clear: Be good, or at least better than the other guys. For they knew that alone was hard enough.

In my experience there is often a odd game that’s played where corporate customers explicitly request ‘innovative solutions’ when a ‘really good’ one would have created miracles in customer satisfaction if properly carried out.

Although they say they want/demand an innovative solution they are often simultaneously worried about it because it’s new and unverified!

The examples given above demonstrate that focusing on the very good, and admittedly adding in a healthy dollop of the necessary chutzpah, can deliver results already beyond most people’s and organisation’s dreams.


50 Forecasts For 2010

February 23, 2010

I recently and randomly came across this thought-provoking set of forecasts for an (uncertain) 2010 by Rohit Talwar at Troy Media who are ‘dedicated to fostering debate about issues shaping Canada and the world’.

Here’s just the list of titles extracted from the post to give a flavour, together with some small snippets. The original article supplies explanatory background and the reason for the viewpoints.

It’s interesting to see forecasts from many different areas all together and in doing so, their myriad interconnections.

Global Challenges
1. Facing up to Ageing
2. Dealing with Debt
3. Sustainability 2.0 – ‘a lot more debate about the long term sustainability of our governance and business models’

Politics Gets Complex
4. New Routes to Change
5. Embracing Complexity – ‘the real breakthrough will come when we start to teach our children about complexity and how to make decisions in an uncertain world with imperfect information’
6. New Rules of Engagement – ‘end of an era on global agreements…new models for finding concensus’
7. Public Unity – Private Retrenchment – ‘nationalistic attitudes will abound’
8. Training gets a Boost

Economic Power Shifts
9.  Joyless Growth
10. Analysts find the Future – ‘greater emphasis will be placed on assessing the future readiness of a firm or country’s leadership, the quality of the foresight work they are doing, the strength of their external networks and open innovation processes, their preparedness for a range of economic scenarios and their resilience in the face of possible decade of turbulence’

Customer and Consumer Trends
11. Spending – The Playing Field Has Changed
12. Savings in Fashion
13. Ethical, Green and Cheap
14. Zero Tolerance
15. Customer Insight gets Neural – ‘adopt neuromarketing and related techniques to develop real insight into the neurological basis for customer behaviours’

Global Business
16. Internationalism Becomes the Norm
17. Africa Bound
18. Clipped Wings

Business Strategy
19. Customer Lock-in
20. Free or Fantastic
21. Accelerating Innovation – ‘we think the focus of innovation initiatives will increasingly focus on streamlining decision making to allow more rapid testing of new ideas’
22. Open Innovation – Wave 2
23. Improving M&A Potential
24. The Quick and the Dead

Business Operations
25. Leaner and Meaner
26. Sustainability Goes Mainstream
27. Responsible Investment
28. The Listening Organisation – ‘we expect to see more Chief Listening Officers appointed to ensure companies are truly hearing and responding to customer needs, concerns and comments emerging from direct feedback and via the social media such as Twitter’
29. Skills Shortage
30. Travel Under Scrutiny
31. Telecommuting Grows
32. Rise of E-Learning
33. Growth in Software as a Service (SaaS)/Cloud Computing

Engagement with Social Media
34. Social Networks Harvested – ‘a number of models will emerge claiming to offer approaches to monetizing individual or corporate networks’
35. Business Gets Social
36. Internal Social Media Policies Tighten

Ethics and Environment
37. CSR Backlash
38. Our Friends Electric

Science and Technology
39. Serving the Masses – ‘we will see rapid growth in mainly science- and technology-based solutions targeted at the needs of the developing world’
40. Loving the Labs – ‘business and the investment sector will also place a major focus on investment in science and technology ventures as a route to driving new growth opportunities’

Ten emerging areas of science and technology that we expect to hear a lot more about in the next year are listed below:

41. The Rise of Citizen Science
42. NBIC-convergence – ‘the convergence of the domains of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technologies and cognitive science’
43. Synthetic Biology
44. Personalized Medicine
45. Novel Energy Sources
46. Food Production Methods
47. 3D Printing/Personal Fabricators
48. Ambient Intelligence
49. Self Replicating Artificial Intelligence (AI)
50. The Singularity –  ‘Moore’s law coupled to advances in AI will lead to a point around 30 to 40 years from now when devices will have so much computing power that machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence’

The Curse Of Multi-Tasking

February 16, 2010

From Gina Trapani at Fast Company:

When your brain switches its attention from one task to another, it takes time to get into a new train of thought. You lose any momentum you had on the first task, which costs you on the next switch. On the internet or in an office where distractions abound, switching tasks can cost hours. A recent study showed that office employees who were interrupted while they worked took an average of 25 minutes to get back to what they started.

If you’ve got work that requires engaged thinking—like reading, writing, or even just a serious phone call, stop juggling and start single-tasking. For example, if you’ve got a dozen emails to answer and presentation slides to prepare, complete the slides before you look at the email. You’ll get both jobs done faster than the juggler who switches between the email and the slides every few minutes.

You already know that some kinds of multi-tasking can be hazardous to your health, like texting while driving or blow-drying your hair while you’re in the bathtub. When it comes to splitting your attention between tasks, remember the difference between multi-tasking and juggling. When you have the choice, stop juggling and get things done faster–one at a time.

Solving Complex Business Problems

February 15, 2010

Very nice insight from David Gurteen:

I often catch myself using the word “solution” or the verb “to solve”. But slowly but surely I am eliminating these measly marketing words from my vocabulary. Let me explain.

We talk all the time about “solving business problems” or of “business solutions” or “KM solutions. Marketers love such phrases. But there are no solutions to complex business problems. There are only partial solutions. And even these may only work for a limited period of time in an ever changing business environment. And there are always unintended side-effects that can often be more detrimental than the original problem.

Thus we can only ever “respond” to problems in a continuous adaptive way. So we really need to stop using the word “solution” as it tends to seduce us into a false sense of security that problems can be solved once and for all.

There are NO “solutions” to complex business issues – only “responses” to them.

Well worth thinking about!

Lessons Learnt – Background and Guidelines

February 9, 2010

Nancy Dixon gives an in introduction to Lessons Learned (which is a theme of this blog) which includes these general guidelines:

  • Meetings to construct lessons are held as soon as possible after the outcome because memory fades quickly
  • If the project is lengthy, lessons learned meetings are held at milestones along the way
  • Meetings focus only on the team/project lessons learned, not on other issues the group may be facing
  • Meetings are brief – it is not a meeting to solve a problem only to tease out what was learned
  • They focus on what went well as well as what could have been improved.
  • Everyone involved in the action is there to contribute to the lessons – no one is too junior or to senior to participate
  • It is framed as a meeting to learn, not to judge – so no recriminations
  • Meetings have a structure and a standard set of questions the group will address
  • There is a facilitator to keep the group focused. Often it is a team member who has had some training in that organization’s lessons learned methodology. Typically the group’s leader participates but does not facilitate.

Transferring lessons is also discussed:

The transfer part is very tricky. What organizations found is what we already knew as individuals: that although lessons, that are learned first hand, are incredibly impactful, it is very hard to transfer those lessons to someone else. From our own experience as parents, trying to share our lessons from the past with our children, we know how difficult it is to make that transfer. As our children tell us, “But Mom, things are different now than when you were growing up.”

But it is critical that we not overlook the most important way lessons learned are useful, which is for the group that has achieved an outcome, successful or not, to really come to understand how that happened. In the end, unless the originating group has gained a thorough understanding for themselves, anything they transfer to others will be inaccurate.

The issue of accuracy certainly rings a bell with me. Successful projects that I reviewed often had an unduly optimistic slant to them and unsuccessful ones were similarly often overly negative. It’s important that a balanced and honest appraisal comes out or as near to it as is possible.

Lessons Learnt From DARPA’s Red Balloons

February 5, 2010

In a previous post I talked about the role that prizes can play in coming up with unconventional and surprising solutions to difficult problems. In particular DARPA, partly to raise awareness, developed the red balloon challenge, which was solved by a team from MIT.

There’s an interesting article that discusses the ‘lessons learnt‘ from this challenge (to study the viral dispersion of information). Hopefully these insights can be be built into future similar challenges and projects:

  • Recognize that there’s power in numbers: Recognize that for certain projects, you need a lot of different minds (and eyes) working on things, and that certain tasks shouldn’t just be done by “the one best” individual.
  • Make it easy for more people to participate: Once you realize that you need a lot of people, you need to make it easy for them to participate.
  • Give people multiple reasons to participate: Different people have different motivations. Some people just want to belong to a successful project or a leading team to bask in the glow. Others need additional types of incentive. The MIT team offered up monetary compensation in addition to recognition for participation.
  • Give people a reason to get others involved: Sort of a corollary to recognizing the power in numbers, the MIT team worked hard to give people incentive not just to participate and to promote their participation, but also to recruit others to the team as well. This even made it so those who couldn’t help finding the balloons directly could still participate in better finding the people who could find the balloons.
  • Align incentives properly: Make sure that everyone is driving towards the same goal, and that the incentives work on top of one another to all push towards that same goal.
  • Look beyond your immediate “group”: One of the coolest things I thought about the MIT group was that there was nothing in there that limited it to MIT or the folks at MIT. They immediately recognized that it made the most sense to reach out to folks beyond their immediate circle, which is what helped them get the people they needed involved quickly.

How come we don’t do something similarly innovative here in the UK? It would do wonders for the publicity of science and innovation. We have all the equivalent organisations but none of the vision it seems!

Maybe we’re just much too conservative? But surely not, we’ve got a great track-record in coming up with bright ideas…

Picture credit here.