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Changing the Weather

If the M2M B2B industry continues to muddle along with business as usual then someone might someday get lucky enough to have an impact that is “in some ways disruptive.” But who can do anything disruptive if everyone is playing the same game with the same tools? Disruption is about changing the game – not just working harder, faster and smarter.

This is a response to Bob Emmerson and his recent post at m2mModules: A Constant in a Fast-Changing M2M Environment. The post is a helpful weather report for today’s M2M development environment. Fortunately though, unlike the weather, enterprise mobility is still very young and we do have some hope that we can change the weather. We have a plan for operational innovation in enterprise mobility and Bob’s seven points provides an opportunity to position some of our key ideas.

One: Adopting standards is obviously important but that helps everyone. So no disruption. But suppose a group of vendors came together in pre-competitive collaboration to share processes as well as standards. That would certainly give that vendor network – a Smart Business Network — a disruptive edge.

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Sparks from Hames and Wilber podcast

It has been a long while since I read or heard anything that really got me excited. But a three part chat between Ken Wilber and Richard Hames set off some mind sparks.

Wilber is the prolific author and guiding light behind Integral Theory – teaching that bridges religion and psychology and has much to say about systems thinking, ethics, personal development, business, education and so much more. The value of Integral is in its clear-headed, scientific and holistic approach to both personal and community growth.

Hames is the author of Five Literacies of Global Leadership. The disciplines are very much aligned with the Integral vision for holistic personal development:Five Literacies
  • Networked Intelligence (the ability to connect with others & express the complexity of the ecosystem)
  • Futuring (the ability to visualize & imagine future possibilities)
  • Strategic Navigation (the ability to learn to adapt as fast as change itself)
  • Deep Design (the ability to create wisdom through dialogue)
  • Brand Resonance (the ability to create attention that awakens your unique value in others)

I just ordered the book and only listened to the podcast once so I’m not going to try to expand on the content now. But the thing that set off sparks was the realization that my current labour of love is a perfect vehicle for the vision described by Hames and Wilber.Mobile Process Services as planned in great detail by Brian Keedwell includes most of the elements required for holistic business transformation as envisioned by Hames and Wilber (and others). It integrates continuous learning. It embraces complexity. It depends on networked intelligence and empowered team players to respond to change with extreme agility. It is holistic and exemplifies systems thinking. And it is so radically bold in its approach, it creates a natural affinity for everyone sick and tired of business as usual.

The three part podcast is available at Integral Life: http://integrallife.com/node/75525 (The first part is free but the rest requires subscription.)

Disruptive Innovation and ‘Lazy Meat’

In my last post I took a shot at executive complacency. Granted, it was a bit of a shock-jock tactic to grab attention but the sentiment is worthy. Change and innovation are being stymied by complacency. If we are going to discuss ways of improving innovation at the national level, we must start at the personal level. The buck must stop with someone and in most challenges in a democracy, it must stop with the individual. As Pogo said of our environmental challenges, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Complacency is about being satisfied with myself or the way things are. If I’ve got a nice job, steady income, a supportive team and I’m rewarded to align with corporate objectives, then why rock the boat? Besides, I’m too busy and stressed with execution in my domain to worry about things that are “not my job.” On top of that, I can point to activities that prove I am helping to change things for the better.

So when hints of disruption (disruptive innovation) arise from any corner, I don’t want to deal with it until I have no other choice. I linger in denial of both the crisis and the opportunity.

IconoclastThat denial is largely unconscious. It is also a matter of genetic predisposition as described by Dr. Gregory Berns in his book Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently. Berns describes the brain as a “lazy piece of meat” because it draws on past experiences to make perception easier. Such “patterned thinking”, often distorted by the fear of repeating painful experiences, impedes innovation. You could say humans are naturally complacent, lazy and apathetic. It’s not hard to imagine that survival in human prehistory was often dependent on not rocking the boat or challenging the alpha males. Today, winners are those that overcome their fears (mostly of rejection) and do it anyway.

A colleague, discussing resistance to adoption of Cloud storage and applications, recently expressed the thought that IT departments generally resist such innovation because they usually take the fall when things go badly. Well, what does that say about the management of such companies? They nurture a culture of fear? They’re more afraid of errors of commission than errors of omission? Such thinking does have painful results. Companies slow to move to the Cloud are losing fortunes in lost operational savings and market share to competitors.

The truth about their thinking is probably closer to ‘they didn’t really think about it much at all’. Their lazy piece of meat simply remembered a pattern – people get fired for errors of commission immediately; if they get fired at all for errors of omission, it will be in the distant future.

Real thinking is, in fact, hard work requiring time and energy for learning. Long before money and other resources are invested in innovation, the first investment must be personal time and energy. In a culture biased towards action, how many executives will actually give themselves or their delegates serious time to think and learn?

Executives today cost their companies too much money to let them think too much. If someone is making hundreds of dollars an hour, we certainly don’t want to see them learning on the job.

But I’m thinking that this is the heart of the innovation gap problem. We really need quantitatively more thinking and learning. And two $100,000 a year executives can certainly think and learn a lot more than one $200,000 a year executive. Perhaps that is a good place to start if we really want to improve innovation. It would certainly help improve the problems we have with both national employment figures and the growing income gap. And it would dilute a lot of the fear hobbling significant innovation.

Innovation today invariably raises issues of great complexity that require solutions that can come only from deep learning across disciplines and domains. If you want the fantastic rewards of operational disruption, which requires systemic or radical innovation, then you need more people with the time to fearlessly study ideas that high-priced lazy meat dismisses as cockamamie.

Executive complacency blocks innovation

I heard it in two different conversations today and I’ve been thinking the same thing for awhile. In essence, the idea is expressed in a Tweet by Christian de Neef, (http://cdn.fasttrack.be ) a knowledge management consultant in Belgium: ”Innovation is an ongoing battle against apathy, complacency and laziness.”

It may not be totally the fault of those responsible for innovation. More often, I suspect, it is the fault of the money people – the senior executives, CEOs and board members who are too lazy to do the hard work of learning the details of innovations proposed by others. So they’re never pursued. As an advocate of education transformation, I am struck by the parallel between so-called “lazy” high school dropouts and complacent executives.

In my mind, the big issue with learning is motivation. Students are often de-motivated by under-funded and one-size-fits-all school systems and the prospect of limited opportunities, with or without a diploma, because the system is rigged and dehumanizing.

Executives are de-motivated because they’re complacent with their comfortable positions and remuneration. They’ve already got theirs so there’s no need to stretch their minds into new ways of thinking and working. It’s better to just play it safe, do what everyone else does and concentrate on what they know best. Unfortunately today, in most boardrooms that is financial management. Why bother innovating when we can ensure comfortable and even outrageous returns – for us – from mergers, acquisitions, political lobbying, and economic terrorism of our workers?

In fairness, if it can be called that, workers and politicians are too lazy to learn new ways of doing things as well. Things may be bad and getting worse, but for the moment 90% of people have got a job so they’re complacent. “Let’s leave innovation to the dreamers; all I want are my toys – my smart phones, my cars, my ….”

And executives hearing them say “Give the customers what they want because that’s the way to more wealth for us.” Round and round the circle goes. What little innovation that is funded is only marginal and incremental and in areas that don’t rock the boat. Disruptive operational innovation is admired when someone pulls it off but few try.

The tragedy is that there are so many dreamers – voices in the wilderness – with detailed proposals for systemic innovation that can deliver incredible value for vast numbers of people. But executives fail to understand because it takes real work to learn how to change the world. There are easier ways to get ahead. Drop outs are getting their message.

Corporate Wal-Mart shoppers forsake operational innovation

April 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Wal-Mart shoppers and other big-box store customers don’t seem to recognize that buying the same products from the same low-cost vendor tends to make them the same as everyone else. Sure, big box stores save their customers money but in the long run I’m not sure it is a good thing – especially if it means we simply buy more. The environment certainly doesn’t need us producing and ultimately trashing more cheap stuff. The selfish lack of reflection on the part of consumers like me is criminal but the real problem is with corporate leadership.

With them, the lack of diversity in their buying habits is only partly an environmental challenge. The big issue is that companies are forsaking opportunities to radically improve the way they operate – for the benefit of the environment, their customers and their shareholders. Sadly, all because they have been drinking the Kool Aid of lowest price is everything.

What’s their secret for saving company money? Well, it’s hardly a secret; it’s the equivalent of shopping at Wal-Mart. They buy (relatively) cheap products and services from big box business vendors – the same as all their competitors. The vendors they buy from keep their costs down by assuming all business customers are pretty much the same and so they produce one-size-fits-all (OSFA) products. For example, they produce business systems that they sell to business customers telling them “This product will do the job for your back office so you can concentrate on your core business.”

What is forgotten (or dismissed) in buying OSFA systems is the promise of disruptive operational innovation. Wal-Mart itself is a wildly successful example of this kind of innovation. The company created a customized operational model that overwhelmed its competitors and made it a household name today. You can bet that Wal-Mart was not hamstrung because it was over-invested in OFSA legacy systems.

The lack of diversity amongst many business systems today makes disruptive operational innovation more difficult. It means the way companies operate must conform to the OSFA standard. Locked into a system that demands they work in a certain way – the same way as all their competitors – companies are frustrated if they try to do something that might give them an advantage. Sure, they can tweak here and there but any advantage is lost because their competitors can copy them right away. They have the same system.

Some business thinkers today suggest that the production system itself should be regarded as an internal product to be developed in the same manner as the products the companies produce and market. This makes a lot of sense in the new world of social marketing, especially if you’re delivering a service that could benefit from such transparency. Customers like being associated with unique and clever suppliers aka winners.

For most companies, customized systems and processes are simply unthinkable. But that’s only because they’re not thinking.

Recommended reading: Deep Change: How Operational Innovation Can Transform Your Company by Michael Hammer

A Canadian call for innovation war

March 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Business innovation is a hot topic all around the world at the moment. Unfortunately, the heat is restricted to the relatively small circles of players discussing investment, technology and government economic development.

Word has filtered down from academia that businesses, and by extension their host countries, can enjoy increased productivity by investing in research and development for business innovation. The promise is: innovation provides an advantage over competitors, which leads to more jobs, which creates higher living standards.

At the country level, governments are churning out new national programs and tax incentives designed to spur investment in research and development. Canada is no different. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty just released a new budget bristling with these so-called economic levers. As Carol Goar in the Toronto Star points out, though, it’s just the same old same old.

“The trouble is, he is following the same course as his predecessors – Michael Wilson, Don Mazankowski, Paul Martin, John Manley and Ralph Goodale – cutting red tape, lowering corporate taxes, handing out research grants, putting money into higher education and subsidizing leading-edge science.”

And there’s more legislation sure to come. But, just as surely, there is more to come from Canada’s competitors too. They are all doing the same things as Canada – the same things that have been tried for years. More and more, the game looks like a futile arms race. Increasingly cash-strapped taxpayers give the wealthy tax breaks, trying to bribe them into risking more of their discretionary cash on the innovators: the entrepreneurs and inventors.

Nevertheless, it all boils down to neanderthal motivation: carrots and sticks. Carrots in the form of R&D tax incentives for business and education subsidies for the public. Sticks in the form of economic predictions of disaster. Well, doing the same thing and expecting different results is insane. At best it will only help us to keep pace with the other nutcases.

Canada … we need a game changer. Dammit, we need to turn to our families and to our neighbors and beg them to understand this is war.

It`s too important to leave to the politicians and lobbyists. It`s more important than hockey and gold medals, more important than the petty entitlements and comforts of our personal lives, and now that our war in Afghanistan is ending, more important than democracy in distant lands. As Goar concludes in her column,

“Our standard of living is slipping. Our kids won’t be able to earn a good living in a static economy. Our country won’t thrive unless we raise our game.”

Our best hope for a game-raiser is to make the issue personal in our social networking. With social media, each of us today who recognizes the threats and opportunities has a handy weapon to confront the innovation challenge – not by turning to government but by sharing our passion with our friends. Urging them to invest their attention, time and money in the battle. To raise their own game with learning. To forsake consumer credit for business investment. To invest in Canadian innovators. In short, to make sacrifices for Canada.

If we can only find the courage to risk ridicule for being vocal, to honestly reflect on the sustainability of the game and, with that, change our own values, we will eventually outflank our government-addicted competitors. Or perhaps show them a better way and engage them as allies.

At the very least, by engaging our friends and families in open government (as envisioned by David Eaves), we can make the tax incentives and government programs more accountable and effective.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to reframe the innovation issue as a war for Canada’s future. However, as far as wars go, this could be a good one.

Categories: innovation Tags: ,

Integration Possible Barrier to Real-Time Enterprise

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment
clipped from www.itbusinessedge.com
Posted by Loraine Lawson Jan 15, 2010 10:51:04 AM

Is now the time for real time? GigaOm analyst Sameer Patel thinks social networking and customer demand for real-time interaction will cause real time to be a priority for enterprises over the next two years.But the systems running the enterprise are far from ready for real time, and can you guess what one of the major stumbling blocks will be? Anybody?

That’s right: Integration!

blog it

Social media is changing everything and the question becomes “How will business adapt?” This post and the report that inspired it suggest that most companies will struggle because their business models need to be overhauled.

Big vendors like Microsoft, IBM et al are moving fast to provide tools to facilitate the changes their customers need to make.

My question is “Will customers get locked into a proprietary communication system that prevents them from sharing information with business colleagues on competing systems?”

Momentum is building for development of standards that will support communication and sharing between companies on different content management systems. You can follow stories of that development at http://www.cmswire.com/news/topic/cms+standards.