Category Archives: business

Disconnect between market demand, supply and pricing

60 minutes has a great episode about the disconnect between price of oil and real demand and supply. Instead, the villain we have all come to hate, hedge funds and institutional investors were artificially driving volatility of prices, causing real pain for those actually consuming this product.

Check out the 60 minutes podcast.

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How similar work is to school

I started my externship at a company and its been over a week. What strikes me the most is how similar the experience was to my last big demo project. The process is very similar, the methodologies seem so far to be similar (though it looks likes there’s more frequent use of workshops) and the questions being asked all seem to be very familiar. Its not unexpected but what is surprising is the reaction of the folks when i mention that. They dont expect the similarity. Now admittedly, it is early and I expect that what I will find will be specific practices that are more advanced than what we’ve learned at school, like the methods of storytelling, use of prototyping at earlier stages etc.

Now this is good since it means a transition will be much easier and less disruptive on both sides. I have less than 3 weeks remaining and i’m eager to see what else i can learn.

I’m just occupying a box in a hierarchy

I’m sitting in a fascinating first lecture on organizational behavior, learning about Max Weber. Interesting fellow and characterised the success of institutions through the existence of bureaucracy which he described as having:

  1. Hierarchy – things are ordered
  2. Rules – strict rules govern each interaction
  3. Formal – distinct process exists
  4. Rigid- the structure doesn’t change

A famous Max Weber quote as narrated by professor Giesler, “Cemetaries are filled with people who thought they were irreplaceable”. Weber wanted to remove the individual from consideration and only believed in the structure, positions and processes. Since humans were mortal, and would die, the institutions would continue to exist if new people could be brought in to new roles (the box in the hierarchy). Now, the box, and hierarchy becomes important, not the person.

I have to read more about him, seems fascinating.

The innovation discipline

I am reposting a comment I left on Scott Berkun’s Harvard blog post which he titled “Why Innovation is overrated”

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As a couple of others have pointed out, you seem to be differentiating innovation based on semantics and you definitely are confusing it with invention in parts of your blog post.

“These are all companies that figured out how to make really good, high quality, affordable things. None of these companies were the first in their field: Apple did not invent the cell-phone, nor the touchscreen. Google did not invent the search engine nor pay per click advertising. Pixar did not make the first motion picture. And even if they were the first, the world would not care. We care because they made things we love. Making good things people love is the true spine of these companies successes, and it’s a stronger framework for managers to use when trying to learn from their examples.”

Innovation is not invention
Innovation does not require you to be first to market
Innovation is not just about products
But you could say..Innovation is a disciplined approach to creating great products/services.

Another point you made was ..

“The truth is making really good things is difficult — it requires a commitment to craft, an attention to detail, and a love for work that has always been rare. And while we’d never call these three attributes innovations, it’s the success of creating an organization that rewards these things that leads to the products we often herald, after they’re done, as innovations. “

You are correct in that it doesn’t matter what you call it while your are doing it. But with the definition above, you’ve really not describing anything specific or prescriptive. I would argue that just as management frameworks are the collection and systemization of practices already in the industry, innovation is the development of principles and frameworks of approaches to “making really good products/services” which are already in the industry.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the innovation approach is popular now. Industries who have already adopted management practices, TQM, Lean, Six Sigma and numerous others which have come out of the many business schools are now looking for the next discipline which will allow them to compete successfully in a global economy by making great products/services.

If you really want to get a better sense of the emergence of the innovation discipline from what used to be a diffused and fragmented process, I would recommend talking to companies like GravityTank, IDEO, Ziba, Jump or go visit the Institute of Design.

Are the management style of Indian CEO’s stifling innovation?

At least, that’s the premise of this article published in the Harvard Business School press.

http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1365

While I agree that management culture can certainly stifle the growth of innovation from the bottom up, i disagree with his conclusion about the solution being the use of technology, namely social networking tools.

Forrester (disclaimer – I used to work at AMR Research, a competitor) is primarily a technology advisory company and as such, the recommendations are from a technology biased perspective.  That’s why Navi’s recommendation to

To facilitate innovation in this new fluid and dynamic organizational context, Indian CEOs must invest in Web 2.0-enabled employee motivation technologies like prediction marketplaces, idea management apps, and employee blogs.

falls a bit flat and sounds more like an attempt to drum up business for their advisory service. Any serious talk about innovation cannot happen through the perspective of technology alone. During my internship at Target’s Innovation Group, I was lucky to see their efforts at bringing the idea of innovation throughout the organization. They used none of the technology Navi is talking about, but they were extremely focused on making sure that their employees recognized that innovation was not just the responsibility of the single group, but rather that the group would act as facilitators in making sure all ideas were heard.

The idea is not to lead with technology when change can happen with people instead. If employees don’t feel the desire to innovate, no amount of Web 2.0 apps could help.

Wrap up from the Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference

Well,

I have some time this morning to write a quick summary of the Institute of Design’s Strategy conference which happened last week at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. This was one of the best conferences I’ve attended. Most of the speakers were excellent, the crowds were packed and there was definitely a sense of optimism in the air, quite unlike the prevailing sentiments you can find gracing any of our newspapers today.

Having an amazing seat at the third row didn’t hurt either – changes it from watching to engaging.

Some quick summaries of the presentations I thought were most interesting with my key takeaways.

Bill Buxton – Bill is a principle researcher at Microsoft. One of his points was that the success of design rests on where it’s situated within a company. When design is hidden under layers of management, it rarely has a chance to shine. As a case in point, Bill highlighted the timeline of Apple’s success, noting that Jonathan Ive was employed by Apple several years before it’s first big product hit, the iMac. It took Steve Jobs taking over the company to bring design up to a level where it could affect change. Oh, one more point which Bill made – never call the people who buy your products a consumer. When companies look at people through the lens of “consumption”, they will rarely be able to partner with them to create the kind of innovations which drive company growth, even during recessions.

Scott Cook – Interesting story on the founding and continued success of Intuit. I liked his quote ” Seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else thought”. I had a chance to speak with Scott at the reception and there were a lot of details missing from the story, it was nevertheless interesting to speak to him. There was a point made by Scott that I never quite got an answer for – he mentioned that executives in companies are layers away from what customers are saying and thus can rarely spot the breakthrough innovations. He gave an anecdotal story that even at HP, Dave Packard turned away many of the ideas that later came to be successful. Not sure how to validate a comment like that but it that’s true, what can executives do to be closer to the needs of their customers. Does the modern day executive need to pull a Henry Vth, disguising themselves to be closer to their guest.

Matt Mason – Co-Founder of Wedia and author of the The Pirate’s Dilemma, gave one of the conference’s best presentations about youth culture, piracy and what companies can do to combat it. He had many points to make but the ones that I thought were particularly interesting were companies use openness to combat obscurity such as Nike selling tricked out versions of Air Force One after Bathing Ape released pirated copies of Air Force One with their own crazy artwork. The next point he made was to sell what can’t be be pirated, either convenience or experience. As an example, he cited the popularity of iTunes which has sold billions of dollars of music when the music is available for free on the net, albeit for a lot more work.

These were just some of the highlights from the conference and speakers who I thought were particularly interesting. On a side note, I ended up taking these notes on my trusty but aging Blackberry Pearl and emailing them to myself and buying more than 3 books while listening to the speakers (damn you Amazon 1-click purchasing).

A friend and I are working on a next-gen product for the wireless presentation space and I found this behavior striking whereby interactions with the audience happen not just through verbal feedback but through the blogging of speeches, visits to the speaker’s websites and purchases of books etc, all while still listening to them speak. We’ll need to see how we can incorporate some of these capabilities within our product.

Heading to the Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference

I’m finishing my breakfast as I write, heading over to catch my school, the Institute of Design’s annual Strategy Conference. We have a great line up this year and I’m especially interested to hear what Bill Buxton has to say about Sketching User Experience. There’s a short interview with him which you can read here.

Other speakers who seem promising are Claudia Kotchka, EX-VP of Design and Innovation at P&G who has attended our conference in prior years as well. I say ex vp of design since Bruce Nussbaum reported this morning that Claudia is leaving P&G. I’m as surprised as Bruce is but more curious as to where she’s headed next. Talent like that usually can spot trends and opportunities ahead of others.
Speaking of Bruce Nussbaum, he doesn’t know it but he’s one of the reasons why I’m at the Institute of Design. It was his articles on Innovation and the Institute of Design that led me to explore further after which I decided to leave my job in Boston and move to Chicago for school. Thanks Bruce and if I get to see you in person at this conference, I’ll thank you in person.

Well, it’s about that time so I must head off. Thankfully, the MCA is 4 blocks away and I’ll keep you all posted on the conference.