Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Brainstorming doesn't work

I don't know about you, but I really dislike those brainstorming sessions that start too many planning meetings. My sense has always been that they are pretty much a waste of time. Now, here's proof. By the way, you may remember that Frans Johansson was the keynote speaker at InnoVenture 2005.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Another innovative solution from Milliken

For many years, few people outside knew the full scope of what Milliken & Company did, because they wanted it that way. Recently they have become more open, so they can tap into the creative ideas in the community around them.

Here's an example of another innovative solution from Milliken. They are interested in identifying problems that this innovative material can solve. If you have thoughts, let me know, and I'll get you in touch with the right person at Milliken.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Michelin's World of Better Mobility

A very intersting and well done web site that make learing about better mobility fun.

From how to survive a blow out, or to how to take better care of the environment.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Great accomplishments only seem inevitable in retrospect

One of the defining moments of my life was when I was 10 years old and watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon saying, "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong claims what he really said was "That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Because of a transmission glitch, those of us back home huddled by our small televisions heard it the first way, and for us that will always be the reality of what he said.

What we didn't know, though, huddled by the TV, was that:
There was real fear that once on the lunar surface the astronauts might end up marooned and beyond rescue. In fact, President Nixon had a condolence speech ready to go in the event things turned out badly.
This reminds me of something similar that General Eisenhower did; he wrote a letter which he tucked into his desk on the evening of June 5th accepting personal responsibility for the defeat of the Allied Forces on D-Day.
Our landings have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
Great accomplishments only seem inevitable in retrospect.

Another entrant into the contest to be a huge, renewable energy resource

Gas heading north of $3 per gallon has all kinds of people being creative. Here's the newest entry into the contest to be the fuel of the future:
Biogenic gas is a huge energy resource that could potentially be renewable on a human timescale.

Could Facebook Become The Next Microsoft?

When I sit down at my computer, the first thing I do is launch a browser and from there iGoogle owns my desktop. I use a form of gmail, the Google blog reader, and Goggle documents to collaborate with others.

It's interesting that Facebook is getting enough traction as a platform that someone would even think that:
Facebook is starting to become the one stop shop for content and interaction, be it through feeds, blog creation, image uploading and just plain ol’ social networking

[Goggle is] in a quest to become the No.1 destination of all things to all people. Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Desktop…this list goes on and on. The difference with Facebook will be how the various applications are glued together, and this is where Facebook already has the advantage: Facebook’s origins as a social networking site means that everything they launch is linked in to that central core. Google has great products, but very little to tie them all together. People use Gmail or Reader as stand alone offerings, by comparison everything in Facebook is interlinked.
Goggle will integrate their components and get them playing together better, much like Microsoft did with Office back in the early 1990s. Talk like this about Facebook being king will spur Google to get on with it.

My money is still on Google to be the next Microsoft, but I'm less certain than I was. How about you?

Bibendum, the Michelin Man, is one of the world's oldest trademarks

Did you know that Bibendum the Michelin Man, was introduced in 1898 and is one of the world's oldest trademarks?

Here the story of how Bibendum came to be.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A summer lesson I'll never forget

This morning I was reminded of a lesson in the value of diversity that I learned one summer so powerful that I've incorporated into my world view. You see it reflected in Swamp Fox and InnoVenture.

Twenty years ago, I was promoted into the management group at KPMG and sent to "charm school." There we played a survival game, where our plane had crashed in the Arctic circle. There were 20 items on the plane, and we had to rank them in terms of their importance to our survival.

All of us were from urban areas, except for one woman from rural Maine. We ranked the water purification tablets as very important, without much debate. In my case that is what I was taught in the Boy Scouts, so it had to be right. Then the girl from Maine quietly spoke up that the snow north of the Arctic Circle was clean. We pondered this new, insightful perspective, and then dropped the tablets from one of the most important things we had to one the least important.

The exercise was videoed and played back to us. The snow observation was the only thing the lady said the entire hour, and she only said it once. Someone in the group had to be listening to hear her, and then the group had to respect that she had a different perspective and trust that in that situation she had knowledge the rest of us didn't.

According to the Army Ranger solution, she was precisely right. The instructor said our group got closer to the Ranger's solution than any group he had had. To get to a great solution, we first defined what was essential to success. In our case we decided to stay with the plane and wait for the search party. Given that consensus we had a discussion among the group about what we needed to do to survive. We needed protection from the wind, for example, but we'd die of thirst before we'd die of starvation. Only then then we assess the items we had and decide what was the most important.

Defining what is essential and then leveraging the power of a diverse group to optimize a solution is a powerful innovation model. It's a lesson I'll never forget.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Make better decisions faster

Most Americans are taught from an early age that individualism versus interdependence is what makes America great. Well maybe not always.

Here's a study that finds that people from cultures with an ethos of interdependence can make better decisions faster than others; that is, the Asians do better than the Americans.

I was particularly struck by an observation of
how a Texas corporation "aiming to improve productivity, told its employees to look in the mirror and say 'I am beautiful' 100 times before coming to work. In contrast, a Japanese supermarket instructed its employees to begin their day by telling each other 'you are beautiful'."
Most Americans are also taught to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We just don't live that in our lives very much. That it is in our enlightened self-interest is another reason why we should.

How's that for a Western spin? :-)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Summer fun

This is a pretty cool optical illusion

- When you first see this, the woman is probably turning clockwise.
- Focus on the shadow for awhile, and you'll see her turn counter clockwise.
- Focus on her center foot, and you'll see her turn clockwise again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Schools are like police and fire departments?

Recently, The State continued their defense of the status quo in public education with a false analogy.
While we think it makes sense to let parents choose between public schools when that’s workable, we’re not convinced that it’s the duty of the taxpayers to fund such choices, any more than it’s the duty of the government to let people choose which police or fire department in the county (or state) will rush to their rescue when they call 911.
This is a bad analogy that fails to grasp the power of innovation. During an urgent crisis, a command and control system is appropriate. When my house is in flames or when the criminal is coming toward my bedroom, I need the 911 dispatcher to get me help right now.

Education is fundamentally different. It plays out over many years when suppliers have plenty of time to create innovative solutions and consumers to make thoughtful choices. The fundamental flaw in public education today is that educators closest to the problem are stuck in a command and control culture that is highly resistant to change.

Universal, publicly funded, excellent education is essential so each child has the opportunity to reach his or her potential. The State says, "we’re not convinced that it’s the duty of the taxpayers to fund such choices." What's not our duty is for the government to provide that education. The best way for us to ensure world class education is to fund each student's choice of the best education option provided by innovative educators.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Researchers Reinvent the Wheel

Here's an interesting article about researchers Reinvent the Wheel.
Scientists have developed an artificial intelligence system to allow the wheels of a car to think and act for themselves. The 'smart' wheel... allows the wheels on a car to communicate with one another while performing thousands of calculations per second. As a result, the wheels think and learn as the car is being driven, making calculations and adjustments according to travelling speed and road conditions.
This reminded me of the fact that Michelin's investment in the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research is in electronics. It takes a bit to get your head around the fact that electronics will be among the biggest areas of value added in the future even in things like tires.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Creating new markets and great enterprises

I work with a very diverse group of people and organizations. On the one hand, there are the entrepreneurs who are trying invent the world we will live in tomorrow. On the other hand, there are large organizations that are enhancing their capability to deploy massive resources on a global scale.

Recently I found a quote that ties these organizations together:
Disruptive innovation creates new markets; evolutionary or sustained innovation creates great enterprises
That's a really big idea.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Henry Ford's Innovation Lesson

Henry Ford famously said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." While true, Ford almost certainly had conversations with prospective customers who were clear about their daily frustrations with their transportation options.

Henry Ford didn't invent automobiles. In 1902, at least 50 US firms manufactured and sold cars mostly to wealthy customers as high end luxuries, which were generally expensive to purchase and difficult to maintain. That year, the Detroit Automobile Co. went bankrupt after selling fewer than half a dozen cars in two years, and Chief Engineer Henry Ford was fired. The Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, but it was 1908 before the Model T was introduced.

During those five years, Ford developed an intuitive understanding that many people wanted faster horses to do practical jobs like getting to and from town quicker so more work could be done on the farm. He identified a job the car could perform for non-consumers which was fundamentally different than the job for which most early cars were being built. Rather than competing with the market leaders in automobiles, Ford was led by customers to develop a simpler, cheaper, more convenient productivity tool.

With that insight, Ford looked around for how to create a product that completely satisfied his customers needs using existing components and processes where possible. One famous innovation for which Ford is given credit, the assembly line, had actually been around for a century since Eli Whitney's cotton gin. It was William Klann, not Ford, who brought the assembly line into Ford Motor Company after viewing the "disassembly line" of a Chicago slaughterhouse and where animals were butchered as they moved along a conveyor.

Henry Ford had been up and down in the automotive industry for a long time, from which he developed a deep base of informed intuition. He had a clear insight into the needs of an emerging market of low end customers, and he was disciplined in meeting there needs with a laser like focus. He surrounded himself with talented people who were as passionate about the business as he was, and he was open to their diverse ideas from other industries about how to best develop a solution. What was most innovative about Henry Ford was not a new technology or even a new process, but a insight into the needs of a emerging market of customers for which he created a powerful, new business model.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

United States Version 3.0

There have been three major releases of the United States operating system.

Version 1.0 was the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1777. It failed because it couldn't properly balance the conflicting interests of the central government and the states.

Delegates sent to a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation ignored their charter and in 1788 launched Version 2.0 of the United States, the US Constitution. It could be argued that the Bill of Rights deserves a new version number, but given that it was in the works at the time of the prior release, we'll call it Version 2.1.

This version worked fairly well for four score or so years, when it finally failed because a design flaw in the operating system caused the civility between the two fundamentally different cultures to break. One culture destroyed the other, and Version 3.0 of the United States was launched in 1865 with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

Rarely is Version 1.0 of any innovation ultimately successful, government or otherwise, and it's unreasonable for us to expect that it will be.

Innovation insights from the Declaration of Independence

In reading through the Declaration of Independence again on this July 4th, I was struck by Jefferson's insight into the conditions necessary for innovation to occur.
All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
People don't like to change, even when their current situation is pretty miserable. Only rarely when the pain becomes unbearable are the conditions right for windows of opportunity to open for fundamental change.

George Fletcher of New Carolina has a great, pithy saying that resonates with Jefferson, "Never waste a good crisis."

Lessons in freedom... from Orangutans

One day at the National Zoo in Washington, I got the most interesting lessons in freedom from two Orangutans.

Their keeper poured lots of apples and oranges from a large basket onto the floor of their exhibit. The Orangutans immediately leaped down from the trees, and aggressively began collecting all of the apples and oranges, stuffing fruit in their mouths, under their arms, and anywhere else they could stash it.

Then they labored back up into the trees, and sat an arms distance from each other. One Orangutan offered the other an apple, and got an orange in exchange. Then the same trade was made again, and again, until one Orangutan ended up with all the apples and the other ended up with all the oranges.

If that is the result they wanted, it would have been easier for one ape to pick up all the apples and the other to pick up all the oranges. That's just not how Orangutans were endowed by their creator. To deny the competition is to deny who Orangutans are. To try to change who the Orangutans are would only frustrate us and them.

The journey was integral to their pursuit of happiness. The Orangutans were much happier in the end from having gone through this exhilarating experience than they would have been had they skipped that part and tamely picked up the fruit. Their hearts pumped, their nostrils flared, and life was just more fun the way they did it.

The fact that the Orangutans are created equal, doesn't mean that they ended up with an equal result. Each had the liberty to pursue their own happiness, and the magic of their marketplace ended up delivering what each wanted, and that wasn't the same thing.

Here's wishing you a wonderful fourth of July.