Category Archives: Strategy

Progress Depends Upon New Technologies & Norms/Laws

Source: HBR, May 2014

Paul Romer … helps make the point. He explains that the history of progress is a history of two types of innovation:

  1. Inventions of new technologies, and
  2. introductions of new laws and social norms.

We can make new tools, and we can make new rules. The two don’t always march in lockstep. In a period of time where one type of innovation flags, the other type can sometimes forge ahead.

Clayton Christensen has outlined how managers’ acquired habits in allocating capital are putting capitalism itself at risk. Noting the difference between empowering and sustaining innovations, he shows how a pressure for short-term payoffs will always drive investment toward the latter, which tend to increase the efficiency of current operations.

Unless at least some of the capital freed up by doing that is used to generate the truly “empowering” innovations – the ones that form the foundations of new businesses or even whole new industries – firms will not experience organic growth and society will not gain new jobs. (Christensen’s work is strong reminder that the most fundamental social responsibility of corporations and their managers is innovation, because it fuels not only their own future competitiveness, but the prosperity of the world.)

What new rules should managers be promoting? Clearly, investing in empowering innovations could be made more the norm, supported by revised approaches to everything from entry-level hiring to CEO compensation.

We would also argue for a different managerial mindset toward productivity and the best use of technology – specifically to adopt what Peter Drucker called a human centered view of them. Cowen is right when he describes today’s technologies as displacers of human work, but that is not the only possibility.

Managers could instead ask: How can we use these tools to add power to the arm (and the brain) of the worker? How could they enable people to take on challenges they couldn’t before?  The greatest problems of the world – such as ensuring abundant fresh water supplies, energy, health care, and schooling – will not be solved by placing human work in opposition to machines. They will require everyone’s best thinking combined with the staggering capabilities of digital technology.

5 Skills of Disruptive Innovators

Source: Business Insider, Dec 2013

The ability to look at problems in a non-standard way might be the most sought after competency of the future.

The five specific skills that are key to generating novel ideas are:

  1. Associating: Innovators associate ideas that are previously unconnected either to solve problems or create something new. This is how Gutenberg created the printing press. When forming teams, keep cross-pollination of experiences and perspectives in mind. But you also need the glue. You need someone in the room with loose associations who can pull ideas together.
  2. Questioning: Innovators ask a ton of questions. In fact, they treat the world as a question. Managers ask ‘how’ questions — how are we going to speed that up, how are we going to stop this from happening. Innovators ask ‘why.’ They are the kid at the back of the class the teacher hates (and often, the person in the meeting the manager hates.) Not only does this help you filter bullshit, but it helps jolt people from the status quo.
  3. Observing: You can’t learn if you don’t observe. You need to always be observing. This mindfulness is what allowed Sherlock Holmes to solve cases.
  4. Networking: Talking to people is a great source of ideas. People offer different perspectives. They may have just failed at something but you may be able to apply the same idea to a different problem. You need to be open to these perspectives, even if you just file them away for another day. (see #1)
  5. Experimenting: If the world is their question it is also their lab. Fail often. Fail fast. Fail Cheap. Try again. Never give up.

Successful People have these 8 Traits

Source: Business Insider, Dec 2013

  1. Stay Busy
  2. Just Say No
  3. Know What You Are
  4. Build Networks
  5. Create Good Luck
  6. Have Grit
  7. Make Awesome Mistakes
  8. Find Mentors

Data Science Requires Creativity

Source: VentureBeat,  Dec 2013

… the importance of creativity as a key trait to look for in people who work with the data. That means relying on proven algorithms might not always cut it.

On the data science competition site Kaggle, some people who do well tend to “spend all their time being creative” as they comb through and pull ideas out of the data they’re given, said Jeremy Howard, Kaggle’s former president and now a data science faculty member at Singularity University.

Rogati said she thinks it’s interesting that sometimes in academic work, unusual hypotheses result from mere accidents. It could be that accidents have the power to give companies brilliant insights, too. So data scientists would be wise to appreciate accidents and consider ideas they hadn’t initially considered.

… data scientists shouldn’t forget about the power of their eyes. “My favorite algorithm is the vision, because it’s just so powerful, and, believe it or not, it’s underestimated,” Rogati said.


Source: Forbes, Nov 2013

  • Connections: Give people (existing employees, not consultants) dedicated time, forums, and physical space to make connections with people from across the organization.
  • Ownership: Establish processes and feedback loops that encourage people to contribute ideas and have the opportunity to work on them throughout the process.
  • Confidence: People throughout the organization will dedicate their time, energy, sweat, and creativity if they believe in what they are doing and believe their ideas will come to fruition.
  • Flexibility: Passion > policy. This is evident in the turnover seen in organizations with cultures that stress the opposite.
  • Management Examples: Cultures get stronger the lower in the hierarchy you go. Truly innovative cultures will start at the top and get dramatically accelerated and amplified by middle management. This is also true of risk-adverse and punitive cultures.
  • Risk Tolerance: Learn, learn, learn. Even if something fails at first learn, adjust, and adapt. If that doesn’t work, abandon. Failure is to be expected and at times rewarded.
  • Action, Now: Fail fast, prototype early, and share the concept with customers. Ugly, now, shared, and prototype is better than pretty, held in isolation, demo model, and useless later.

Creating a Great Corporate Culture

Source: HBR blog, May 2013

1. Vision: A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employees make. When they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

2. Values: A company’s values are the core of its culture. While a vision articulates a company’s purpose, values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision. McKinsey & Company, for example, has a clearly articulated set of values that are prominently communicated to all employees and involve the way that firm vows to serve clients, treat colleagues, and uphold professional standards. 

3. Practices: Of course, values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices. If an organization professes, “people are our greatest asset,” it should also be ready to invest in people in visible ways. Wegman’s, for example, heralds values like “caring” and “respect,”promising prospects “a job [they’ll] love.” 

4. People: No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values. That’s why the greatest firms in the world also have some of the most stringent recruiting policies. 

5. Narrative: Any organization has a unique history — a unique story. And the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation. 

6. Place: … place shapes culture. Open architecture is more conducive to certain office behaviors, like collaboration. Certain cities and countries have local cultures that may reinforce or contradict the culture a firm is trying to create. Place — whether geography, architecture, or aesthetic design — impacts the values and behaviors of people in a workplace.

Innovation with Big Companies

Source: HBR blog, Nov 2013

Studies show that efforts to stimulate intrapreneurship — entrepreneurship within an established company — more often than not fall flat. According to my current research at Harvard on innovation models in global companies across diverse sectors, these types of projects fail between 70% and 90% of the time. This should be a deeply troubling, motivating statistic. And it’s one that stems from a very human problem in most big organizations.

Since the 1990’s, however, more and more large companies have been outsourcing their intrapreneurial efforts. They pay upwards of $300K to $1 million to consultancy firms that conduct market analyses and in-depth need-finding, identify new opportunities, generate promising ideas, and, often, develop ideas into working prototypes. The client company then refines these concepts and prototypes and takes them to market.

Innovation consultancies tend to have a preferred methodology for working with their clients, such as human centered design (also called ‘design thinking,’ popularized by IDEO, Continuum, Frog Design and others), Lean Start-up, or analytical models used by large management consulting firms. Results from these business-to-business collaborations have at times been phenomenally successful, as was the case with the Bank of America Keep the Change program (IDEO) and the Swiffer (Continuum Innovation).

6 Drucker Questions

Source: HBR, Nov 2013

Drucker was always asking pointed questions—and, in turn, prompting people to challenge their assumptions, reframe problems and consider different angles.

  1. What does the customer value?
  2. What is our business, and what should it be?
  3. What is the task?
  4. What are your ideas for us to try to do new things, develop new products, design new ways of reaching the market?
  5. Who in this organization depends on me for what information?
  6. What would happen if this were not done at all?


Source: NYTimes, Nov 2013

Here and Now

Jeff Bezos’s Quotes

Source: website, date indeterminate

  1. If you decide that you’re going to do only the things you know are going to work, you’re going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table.”
  2. There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery.
  3. Mediocre theoretical physicists make no progress. They spend all their time understanding other people’s progress.