Friday, August 26, 2005

To everything there is a season, a time to plant ...

Several years ago, the Clemson International Center for Automotive Research was founded on the idea that a partnership between industry and academia could be created that attracted world-class talent to both industry and the university. This pool of talent would attract a cluster of other related knowledge-based enterprises.

Initially, BMW and Michelin partnered with Clemson in ICAR. Professor Tom Kurfess has been named to the BMW Chair in Automotive Manufacturing and will serve as director of the Carroll A. Campbell Graduate Engineering Center, heading the Clemson-ICAR graduate program in automotive engineering.

This theory that attracting a preeminent scholar would attract other knowledge assets has now passed the test. Recently The Timken Company announced that it will locate research and development facilities at ICAR and bring up to 110 jobs to the S.C. Upstate over the next two years.

Timken has a long time relationship with Dr. Kurfess. Timken at ICAR "will allow Kurfess to continue a long-time research relationship with the company. He came to Clemson from Georgia Tech, where he worked closely with the Timken research and development team in Norcross, Ga., and in Canton, Ohio."

A lot of people have asked if ICAR would really work—if we could in fact build knowledge based cluster here. Timken's announcement demonstrates that in fact ICAR is working as planned.

And a time to pluck up that which is planted.

Liberty Corporation, a major company headquartered in Greenville, has been sold to Raycom and the headquarters will be consolidated in Alabama.

Corporate headquarters locations are crucial to a local community, and the loss of one as significant as Liberty hurts. There is a direct loss of high wage jobs related to the headquarters itself, and well as an indirect impact of local vendors that supported it, from attorneys and printers. There is also the loss of the community involvement by these folks, from their contributions to the United Way to their board membership in community organizations.

Liberty was founded and led by the Hipp Family. In addition to being outstanding business leaders, over the years members of the Hipp family have been tremendous community leaders and benefactors in the Greenville community. Here are just two recent examples of the civic contributions of the current CEO of Liberty Corporation, Hayne Hipp, and his wife, Anna Kate.

In recent years, there has been an incredible revitalization of downtown Greenville, which has become one of the coolest downtowns in America. Greenville is one of the only metropolitan areas with a water fall downtown, Reedy River Falls. To showcase the falls, Hayne and Anna Kate gave funds to build the Liberty Bridge, a pedestrian bridge which dramatically envelops the falls. While a lot of great momentum is building in Greenville, some of it will take decades to be fully realized and the Liberty Bridge has become a tangible symbol of the progress the community is making that people can appreciate today.

A couple of years ago, Hayne also create the Liberty Fellowship, designed to "to promote outstanding leadership in South Carolina, empowering the state and its future leaders to realize their full potential." Modeled on the Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellowship, each class of twenty Liberty Fellows attend four intense seminars over two years "to explore the values that sustain them; cultivate respect for both the ideas and beliefs of others; and become significant contributors to our state, and to society at large." Hayne was so encouraged by the success of the first class that he accelerated the selection of the second class.

To everything there is a season, with companies being bought and companies being sold. The community needs to appreciate the crucial impact that headquarters locations have, and we need to redouble out efforts to create high-impact companies that can become the major corporate headquarters locations here in the future. It’s vital to our economic health as a community.

Inez and the culture of innovation in education

First, before someone responds about this being overly political or an an attack on public education, take a deep breath ... it's neither. It's about how important it is to create a culture of innovation in education.

Brad Warthen, editorialist for The State, keeps a blog which I enjoy reading. We've had a conversation back and forth about a recent entry, "Inez shocker!", about her tenure as Secretary of Education in South Carolina.

Inez said she would not run for a third term, but would remain involved in "changing the culture of education in South Carolina, so people not only respect it but revere it."

To which I answered, "If Inez would focus her efforts on improving the culture inside public education so that it becomes a much more innovative system that develops creative solutions to meet the needs of children not well served today, then she would be doing a real service to the state."

Brad responded, "Mrs. Tenenbaum DID and CONTINUES to "focus her efforts on improving the culture inside public education so that it becomes a much more innovative system that develops creative solutions to meet the needs of children not well served today." That's why the public schools have improved steadily under her tenure, according to most objective measurements." Then Brad goes on, "And she's done it with grace in the face of constant partisan pettiness and outright malicious lies that have deliberately undermined public confidence in the fine job that teachers, administrators, students and parents have done in moving public education forward in South Carolina."

Sigh deeply. This unfortunately is the way this debate usually goes about how to improve public education goes. Our kids lose when little progress is made on reaching a consensus about fundamental changes necesary to improve the system of delivering education in the state.

Inez deserves credit for making the most of the existing system of delivering education. Test scores have improved in recent years as a result, and that is a very good thing. But she did very little to help create a culture of innovation inside public education, in fact she strongly resisted change along with the rest of the education establishment.

There is a wide spectrum of ways in which students think and learn. And there is a wide spectrum of circumstances from which children come. For some percentage of children, the way we deliver public education today matches up well with how they learn and the support they receive at home. Most of these children do well, and some even excel. But a very large percentage of children are not served well by the current system, and they are failing. The price we all pay for this is very high.

We need to find a way to give the best and brightest entrepreneurial teachers a way of creating now models for delivering education to students not well served today. Charter schools are a weak form of this, innovation lite. Some of the most innovative models may look very different from the way we deliver education today, and would never see the light of day if they had to take root inside or be approved by the existing system. This is not because anyone in education is bad, necessarily, if it just the way large organizations work. There is powerful momentum inside large organizations, be they companies or governments, to maintain the status quo and resist change. Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen wrote a very insightful book describing this, called The Innovator’s Dilemma. I also address this in my book, Swamp Fox Insights.

We can continue to make incremental improvements in education continuing on the path we are on. But we can’t make quantum leaps in improving education unless we create a system that allows entrepreneurial educators tp bring new ideas to underserved students. That’s going to take a strong political leader, like a Dick Riley, who can lead us to a much better place in education than we are today.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Something is stirring: we're at an inflection point

In the late 1990s, I began to sense that South Carolina was at an inflection point - needing to do different if we were going to continue to be globally competitive. The economic development model of branch manufacturing was running out of stream.

In 2000, I traveled across the state to talk with leaders about the need for a more innovative economy. I talked with Governor Hodges and ex-Governors, with CEOs, university leaders, economic developers, and newspaper editors.

Something was stirring. Shortly thereafter, Jim Barker called a meeting and asked if Clemson were in Greenville how our relationship would be different. George Fletcher continued the conversation, and ultimately the Clemson International Center for Automotive Research was born. Sam Tenenbaum was an early advocate of endowed research chairs, and Governor Hodges sent a small group of people, including me, to Austin to study their model. The SC Centers of Economic Excellence Act occurred shortly thereafter. Darla Moore, who had given tens of millions to the USC Moore Business School, created the Palmetto Institute to begin creating a strategic plan for the state. They engaged Michael Porter, whose advice to develop industry clusters has become orthodoxy. I began Swamp Fox and a series of conferences leading to InnoVenture which were grassroots efforts to build relationships among innovators and entrepreneurs.

We've seen some early experiments go away. The Upstate Coalition for Entrepreneurial Development recently declared victory in seeding several entrepreneurial activities and went out of business. A few other initiatives across the state, like the Supply Chain Coalition, have more quietly faded away.

But boom! Over the past four years, there has been a blooming of innovation in the state.

The early initiatives that gained traction are building momentum. SC BIO, the SC Centers of Excellence Review Board, and the USC Columbia Technology Incubator all report business is booming. The USC research campus is becoming a reality. The SC Health Sciences Initiative has built a coalition among USC, MUSC, Greenville Hospital and Palmetto Health Care. The SC Next Energy Initiative has been barnstorming the state. And InnoVenture has gained traction with major constituents who have gained a sense of ownership in the process.

Now something else is stirring. We’ve reached another inflection point. People across the state and across these initiatives are asking a similar question: how do we convert this activity into wealth creation in South Carolina. The Greenville Chamber is going on an intercity visit to Austin, TX, which in the late 1980s they had a supernova explosion – Dell Computer. When a company in your area creates several billion dollars in market value, and sprinkles some of that back into the local community into the next generation of companies, into the United Way and other community organizations, it alters the landscape of the community forever.

So how do we do that? Seed our Dell Computer that creates enormous wealth here. That is becoming a major focus here as we move forward.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

InnoVenture's top-of-mind-position: Growth and Wealth Creation

Geoffrey A. Moore in Crossing the Chasm states that in marketing "there is one fundamental key to success: create a space inside the customer's head called 'best buy for this type of situation' and to attain sole, undisputed occupancy of that space."

Clayton Christensen in The Innovator's Solution observes, "companies that target their products at the circumstances in which customers find themselves, rather than the customers themselves, are those that can launch predictably successful products. Put another way, the crucial unit of analysis is the circumstance and not the customer." He goes on, "A jobs-to-be-done lens can help innovators come to market with an initial product that is much closer to what customers will discover that they value. The way to get as close as possible to this target is to develop hypotheses by carefully observing what people seem to be trying to achieve for themselves," but are finding difficult, expensive, or inconvenient to do.

Hmmmm. So apply that to InnoVenture. Our target market is "innovators and entrepreneurs." What are they trying to achieve for themselves, that they are finding difficult, expensive or inconvenient to do.

Some innovators inside big organizations are trying to commercialize discontinuous innovations. Why would Michelin put any focus on the Tweel, when it is easier in the short term to sell more radial tires?

Entrepreneurs leading high-impact companies are also trying to gain traction commercializing discontinuous innovations. Certainly it would be much easier to have a real job with a stable salary and benefits. Why do entrepreneurs do it?

Innovators and entrepreneurs are driven to create growth and wealth. Michelin can make money on radial tires today, but the company can not meet its growth objectives with mature products. Entrepreneurs can't get rich working for someone else.

Innovators and entrepreneurs find their quest for growth and wealth creation really, really hard, so they begin to look for relationships, expertise, and resources that can help them. That is a job they that they will look to InnoVenture to do for them.

Friday, August 12, 2005

My book's on!

Swamp Fox Insights: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in a Time of Profound Change is now available at

I've long respected the power of Amazon, but now I've realized the true impact in a personal way.

BookSurge in Charleston prints copies of the book on demand as orders are placed, so no huge investment in inventory is necessary. People anywhere in the world are a market for the book. A friend that lives life between New York and Japan bought the first copy online.

The fact that almost no one knows the book exists is another problem, but the distribution channel is in place. I've sold three books so far. Give me a call, and I'll buy lunch with the royalties :)

This isn't a path to riches, but it is still very awesome.

The explosive potential of broadband

The Greenville Chamber held a meeting Friday to discuss "Economic Development Issues Related To Broadband Communications."

The conversation began around the infrastructure that was in place - the amount, kind, and speed of broadband access that we had in the region. We realized that we had a strong broadband infrastructure, probably more than was generally understood and definitely more than was promoted.

The conversation turned to how broadband was being used to outsource work to India. One participant related how his wife, a solo architect, sought out draftsmen online that could convert her concepts into plans, so she could focus on the higher value added activity of bringing her clients' ideas to life in exciting architectural designs.

A Google search found draftsmen she could work with in Easley, SC and Bangalore, India. She contacted the draftsmen in Easley, who said she could submit her drawings online and could get something back in about a week. The Indian firm had several degreed engineers and said that she could submit her concepts in the evening and have drawings in her email in the morning. The Easley draftsmen don’t realize that the world has changed and the competition is not down the street but around the world. And we never even got to cost. In Thomas Friedman’s new vernacular, the folks in Easley don’t realize that The World is Flat.

Then the conversations turned again to the fact that the world is flat – in both directions. Broadband has opened up India as a market for us as much as us a market for them. Bits flow as easily from us to them as from them to us.

We need to explore the opportunities of this. We are at the beginning of a period where new, powerful business models are being created that leverage the powerful new communications technologies - eBay, and Amazon, and Dell Computer. Someone in the chamber discussion talked about his translation business which he runs from Greenville serving customers around the world. We challenged ourselves to begin to think about the opportunities that broadband creates to do business in expanded markets around the world.

The most encouraging part of the meeting is that when I left a small group of people had already gathered and were already starting to talk about what the next steps should be. Take an inventory of the broadband assets we have. Work this into the promotional materials for Greenville. Organize a forum to discuss the opportunities that exist …

This is what I really love about Greenville.

All of this is self-serving, John

It's great to have friends that respect you enough to give you feedback on how the world perceives your work, both the good and the bad.

I stopped by to visit with a marketing guru friend to discuss business opportunities around Swamp Fox, InnoVenture and related activities of mine. The most recent iteration of my journey started in 2000, when I realized that knowledge professionals in our region did not know one another. Swamp Fox: News of the Southeastern Innovation Corridor is a weekly email update to create awareness of innovations in the region. InnoVenture is an annual conference, along with forums throughout the year, to build relationships among knowledge professionals in companies, universities, tech colleges, high-impact companies, and support organizations. The Swamp Fox/InnoVenture database now has 6000 innovators and entrepreneurs.

My friend said I had a lot of fans across the state, especially for my persistence and tenacity over the years. That’s flattering. Some, though, get tired of the message, she said. After four years it is a challenge to keep the message fresh, as all preachers know. “Other people,” she said “think all of this is self-serving, John.”

The first meeting that led up to where we are was held in early 2001. I began that meeting, and I have included in many other meetings, a favorite Adam Smith quote, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

We all participate in community activities out of our enlightened self-interest. If we will all get our self-interest out on the table, if you understand why I am here and I understand why you are here, then we can find the common ground where we can work together. Public goods will be created, but they are a byproduct of us working together in our enlightened, self-interest. If we pretend that we are all here only for the broader public good, then we just cloud the real reasons we're here and make it harder for us to work together effectively.

So to the charge, “All of this is self-serving, John,” I plead guilty. I’ve never been shy about explaining to anyone that asked what I expect to get out of this. In fact, I have been meeting with people across the state exploring ways to turn all this activity into a business and make money. You should be guilty of acting in your enlightened self-interest too. Please let me know what that is, because it will help us figure out how we can work together to make our community a better place.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Two hydrogen studies? Why none in advanced materials?

Are we playing together well?

Well not in trying to develop strength in what is supposed to be the hydrogen economy. There are two, independent research studies being completed of hydrogen opportunities.

Hydrogen is a big opportunity and we need to address it, especially given that we have the Savannah River National Lab, the NSF Center in Fuel Cells at USC, and the PEM Research Center at Clemson.

But let's not get carried away. Community leaders have recently said, "Most people would agree that hydrogen fuel cells/hydrogen energy represents the greatest opportunity to transform Columbia and S.C.'s economy."

Well, but ... we don’t know what the next fuel will be in coming decades, or how long the shift from hydrocarbons will take. South Carolina has hydrogen research assets, but we are also woefully behind in areas of commercialization that count, so even if hydrogen does win, we do not know if South Carolina can be more than a marginal player.

In the mean time, Michael Porter's recommendation's are that we ought to look first to the industry clusters where we have strength. There is more overlap in industry and academic research in South Carolina today in advanced materials, from the Clemson Advanced Materials Research Lab and the USC NanoCenter to the Michelin Americas Research Corporation and the Milliken Research Corporation, than there is in anything else.

Where isn’t there a study on advanced materials, including advanced textiles? Why don’t we have a major textile OEM stepping up and partnering to create the International Center for Textile Research to compliment the International Center for Automotive Research?

What industry clusters do you think we ought to develop a cluster around? What's in your enlightened self-interest. Leave your comment below.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Are we playing together well in South Carolina? What do you think?

All the rage in South Carolina is better collaboration. To make progress we need to get over the historical issues that keep us apart. The Lowcountry, the Midlands, the Pee Dee and the Upstate need to get along better. Clemson and USC need to keep their fighting to athletics. Blacks and whites need to work together better. Women need real opportunities at leadership.

Some days I’m excited that we're doing better than we ever have. We had an outstanding InnoVenture planning meeting a week ago.

Then I get slapped by the parochialism that has always held us back. The Greenville News reports that Cliff Rosen has sued BMW over Clemson ICAR. The State reports that some business leaders are getting frustrated with the Governor because they don’t think he works well with the legislature.

I’d really like to know what you think. Leave a comment below.

Are we really playing together well in South Carolina, or are we just giving it lip service?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What is important to us, until in an instant it is clear that it isn't.

A few weeks ago, I got a call out of the blue from my mother’s minister that she had become disoriented and confused at Vacation Bible School. Life came to a halt for a few days as we tried to figure out what to do. She's better now and has sold her house in Charleston and is moving to her home town of Anderson to be closer to relatives who can help take care of her. But it has been a challenge I had not anticipated and it hasn't been easy, for me or my mother.

A couple of friends recently have faced similar challenges in their lives.

I was in a planning meeting with a friend, who made an excellent presentation of a very significant part of the project. He had thrown a lot of his passion into his ideas, and it showed. No sooner had he finished than he received a cell phone call. The panicked look in his eyes said something was seriously wrong. "I gotta go! I gotta go! My wife has had a bike accident" It turned out that his wife had fallen off her bike crossing a train track and was knocked unconscious. Fortunately someone was there to call 911. She seems to be OK now, except for a few stitches and some bruises, but it was very scary.

Another friend missed the same meeting. I got a note afterward from him. He said, "I lost my assistant to a family emergency last week unexpectedly and that was the straw that broke the camel's back regarding my attendance at the meeting. I'm having to spend every spare hour (that I'm not in the office) helping with my Mom who is rehabilitating in a facility here in town. We hope to have her back home in less than two weeks. That continuous struggle combined with the lack of support from my assistant forced me to work in the office. I hate I missed the meeting." I responded, "I understand about your mom. I've been there. At the end of the day, that's what's important." He replied, "You're right. That is what it’s all about but it is draining the energy from me. I am so pumped about where things are with my work and where they are heading but sometimes the whole "parenting my parents" routine just saps the very life from me. Anyway, I'm learning to juggle it a little better every day." Aren’t we all … learning to juggle it a little better every day. None of us is in nearly the control of our lives that we like to believe. throw our passion into big ideas for the future. That work is important to our businesses and to our communities. It seems to be at the very core of who we are and what is important to us, until in an instant it is clear that it isn’t.