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.

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Sacred geometry of the Valentine heart

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

For the sake of full disclosure, I am an atheist with an appreciation for the teachings and inspiration of religious traditions. Although this article talks about God, please remember that I use the term only because it’s easier than constantly saying “the awesomeness of nature or science.” I also use the word “God” as the traditional placeholder for that which is too sacred to be named.

My story is about the way wise people in the forgotten past may have tried to understand and represent the relationships between man, woman and God, their sacred source.1

Let’s start with the idea that the first people to believe in a single source of everything believed that God is infinite and perfect. God is the ONE. And let’s assume there were ancient mathematicians trying to understand the world using algebra and geometry. So, if they wanted to diagram the idea of God, they used the symbol “1”.


Of course, the earliest people didn’t start off thinking the symbol meant God. They just needed a quick symbol for counting things and there isn’t anything much simpler than a vertical dash. When the wise ones finally got around to thinking about the meaning of life and its source, they borrowed the symbol for one since it was ubiquitous and helpful, which is a kind of definition for God.

So, they had a simple, powerful symbol to express the idea of a single God or source. But how were they to represent man and woman? Well, if God is 1, then man and woman must be symbolized as something less than God. And they must be represented as almost the same but complementary to each other.

manThe wise ones trying to figure this out looked around at nature and at art and they noticed there was a kind of rule for creating beauty. It didn’t matter if the beauty was created by God or by humans. They saw this rule in the relative sizes of plant parts. DaVinci saw it in the proportions of the human body. Builders used it to create beautiful cathedrals. The rule is introduced to every beginning artist as the Golden Ratio or Phi.plant

Because this ratio seemed very mystical and powerful to the ancients, they decided it could be useful in representing a human when compared to God. Assuming those on earth are created in the image of God, the symbol for a human would be the same as for God but much smaller, as in the proportion of the Golden Ratio.

stemThe symbol for God, however, is vertical, as in the spirit reaching for heaven or flowers growing towards the sun . But the symbol for humans couldn’t be the same because the wise ones recognized that humans are not perfect like God. Not everyone is on the vertical path to heaven.

Plus women and men are, in fact, opposites in matters of regeneration.

So the wise ones came up with this: angled dashes to symbolize men and women using the angle halfway between the vertical and the horizontal. And they stuck those symbols on top of the God symbol. In accordance with the Golden Ratio, the human symbols are smaller than the God symbol The result is a mystical “Y”.Y

Wonderful! The wise ones had a new symbol to represent God’s relationship with man and woman. What next? Well, children of course.

Looking at nature again, the wise ones noticed that God is ruthlessly efficient. If some strategy for growing or reproducing life works, then that same successful formula is applied over and over again. Today we call this the science of algorithms but in those days it was simply called holy.


With this in mind, the wise ones took the algorithm they used to represent man and woman and the relationship with the Sacred One, and they repeated it to represent the next generation of man and woman as well. The same Golden Ratio of size and the same angle of divergence from the source. They repeated this formula again for the next generation. family1family2family3finalAnd again and again for each subsequent generation.

In nature and science, when the same formula or algorithm is applied to the results of the previous generation, we call it “recursion.” At least that’s the name we give it today. In the old days it was called sacred or magic because the results were so often amazingly beautiful – like a blessing from heaven. The symbols remain to this day and they’re still important to us even though we have forgotten where they came from.

heartIt’s rather sad that many of us feel so superior when looking at ancient or traditional beliefs. With our “modern” pride in science and technology, we dismiss as primitive superstition the connection that old traditions honor between learning and “spirit”.

But what have we got to show for it? A chaos of competing desires, a vulnerability to the greed of those fixated on short-term goals, information overload and a pervasive lack of meaning.

Don`t get me wrong and jump to the conclusion that I’m saying “everything old is good”. This is not a black and white issue of east versus west, modern versus ancient or religious versus atheist. The thinking and symbols that gave rise to the Valentine image were about “AND.” The mystical interpretation could be, “In order to find meaning in relationship, embrace both sides equally and consider the source and the product i.e. Man AND woman AND children AND God.

But symbols are just symbols – they have no meaning beyond what we give them. The angled dashes of man AND woman could represent east AND west, or modern AND ancient, or religious AND atheist. Regardless of the meaning we attach, though, it’s a geometry that’s helpful for thinking about relationships.

Building MPS business around air travel

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The current plan for Mobile Process Services involves partnerships with airlines. That seems obvious since it is a global plan and certainly requires a lot of meetings in the Nordic countries especially. Even so, there is a big question in my mind about how necessary are face to face meetings, even in the initial trust-building stages.

MPS, once it is into the production phase of pilot projects, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of face to face. Project teams in the Smart Business Network will be drawn from widely dispersed organizations, on short notice and for quick bursts of collaboration. Student researchers will balk at a lot of travel for the expense, whether they’re paying for it, the customer or their university. Not to mention the time involved.

I’m sure as MPS evolves there will be considerable air travel for face to face meetings – maybe a lot. But it seems so anti-green and 20th century to build a partnership plan upon airlines and face to face meetings when the viability of online collaboration tools is staring us in the face.

This blog post by Jessica Lipnack (and its comments) captures the tone of discussions about the future of business air travel.

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Is face-to-face necessary?

“I am writing to you this evening with what seems to me to be a slightly paradoxical request,” the email began. “I am looking for a presenter (live and in person) on the topic of Virtual Teams.”

He was writing from Europe, where the event would take place, with colleagues and clients joining from across North America, Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia.
I was impressed with the emailer’s self-awareness.

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Open Innovation Office | HP Labs – deadline Jan 29

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment
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HP Labs’ Open Innovation Office pursues and coordinates research collaborations with top researchers and entrepreneurs in academia, government and business around the world.
Time is running out for professors to submit their proposals for HP Lab’s Innovation Research program for 2010. January 29 is the deadline. The HP Labs Innovation Research Program is designed to create opportunities — at colleges, universities and research institutes around the world — for collaborative research with HP.

MPS has a research project ready to go. Project-based learning, Enterprise Mobility, BPM, Axiomatic design, Agile …. We just need an innovation-oriented university as sponsor.

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Sir Terry wants to salvage remnants of Nortel

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment
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Tycoon plans fund to fill Nortel void Matthews seeks $100M-$200M to finance startups before ex-Nortel staff leave area
By Bert Hill, The Ottawa Citizen: CATA Teleforum MP3 Presentation by Mr. Matthews is Now Available
There’s not much left except the brand, and even that is tattered, but Sir Terry Matthews sees the value in salvaging the remnants of Nortel. More to the point, it is the talent left behind from the bankruptcy and breakup that he wants to put back to work.
Matthews sees the former employees of Nortel as a valuable resource that could be lost to Canada if new tech companies don’t jump in to fill the breach. The idea certainly fits perfectly with the plan to create the Mobile Process Services market.


January 20, 2010 Leave a comment
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Collaboration just got better

A place for your team in Twitter-like project collaboration tool.

This looks interesting. I haven’t tried it yet nor read the whole pitch so I’m not sure what advantage it would have over other company sanctioned communicators.

The real time posts, though, suggest it could be a new kind of corporate whip. Guess I’ll just have to give it a try.

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