Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Occupy Business Innovation in Canada

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s time to Occupy business innovation and research commercialization in Canada.

In response to reports that Canada has slipped badly in global rankings of innovation and research commercialization, the federal government asked industry for ideas on how Canada might fix the problem. The result is the Jenkins Report, which is stirring up some debate in business circles (see Globe & Mail column and comments).

The report offers a number of solutions to the problem of lagging innovation but the main thrust seems to be better targeting and distribution of the billions of dollars we already dole out to businesses every year. Strangely, since I’m more left than right, this has me feeling a little Kevin O’Leary about it all. It smells like tweaking a perpetual government bail out of business.

My point is the report and the debate completely disregard the concerns of the Occupy movement, which is pointing to the same broken business finance system. This disconnect is strange because so many of the business people arguing about improving Canada’s innovation financing are also sympathetic to Occupy, especially the younger startup crowd. But they seem unable to recognize their own power and this unique opportunity to influence both issues at once.

The Occupy movement says big money and corporate power can’t be trusted to run the world anymore. Capitalism, if it ever was a noble beast, has devolved to a rigged game of elite cronyism, manipulation and greed. We’re seeing examples of that in the way so many companies and consultants are gaming government innovation funding now.

Occupy supporters say the metrics used by the financial elite to pick winners and losers ignore everything but money. Aren’t those the same metrics used in the innovation funding game?

And Occupy says if corporations are indeed people, as recognized by the courts, then too many of them are psychopaths. Well, how many fat cats just take government money to pad their bottom line and run without a second thought?

While many old-school business people may sympathize with these Occupy issues, they are fearful that speaking out could cast them as socialists or threaten their jobs. Or jeopardize funding for their startups.

Others, though, are not so fearful of speaking truth to power. Their businesses are being built on ecosystems of social networking. They are broadly supported and connected – constantly sharing not only the cold information of transactions but also their feelings about how the world could become a better place. Being in touch with so many kindred spirits, they are not so easily divided and conquered.

So, here’s the thing: Plans for the future of innovation funding in Canada are being made now. These plans call for more or less of the same old same old. No one discussing these plans is connecting the dots to issues raised by Occupy. If you are a socially-networked business person and you sympathize even a little with the Occupy movement, then you have the power and the opportunity right now to influence Canada’s approach to business innovation.


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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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, ( ) 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.

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Jim Carroll on corporate agility

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment
clipped from

Jim Carroll hits hard on the idea that organizations need to adapt to the increasing velocity of change. They need to learn how to respond more quickly to opportunities – “to innovate faster, to change faster, to do things faster” – in order to compete in the high velocity economy. Of course he’s right but where are the models for designing rapid response processes into a business?

I’m certainly no expert but it sounds to me like a job for the zig zag model from axiomatic design. A plan for responding to a sudden opportunity is going to require a business model and a team of players. To get both, axiomatic design requires following a rigorous path of back and forth design steps as plans are forumulated and tested on potential players. In traditional scenarios, that back and forth is ponderously slow because lessons are being learned over and over again. Axiomatic design in business process engineering, on the other hand, codifies those lessons and cuts out all the meandering through dead-ends and faulty propositions.

Traditional forms of corporate learning, however, are a major roadblock to learning the lessons that need to be codified. Here, the promise for rapid business response is in social learning.