Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Satya Nadella, New Microsoft CEO's take on Innovation

Interesting insights into where Microsoft is headed with Innovation from the new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's first message to employees:

  •  Our industry does not respect tradition - it only respects innovation.
  •  We need to prioritize innovation that is centered on our core value of empowering users and organizations to "do more."
  • ...with every service and device launch going forward we need to bring more innovation to bear around these scenarios.

Some of this may resonate in other organizations too in context of breeding a culture of innovation. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Frugal Innovation/Jugaad #6: The World's Best Designed Pizza Box

The World's Best Designed Pizza Box
(Excerpted from Quartz. Follow link above)
most pizza boxes are ineffective because they have holes on the side to release steam—but the heat is actually released from the top and bottom of the piesMehta’s solution is simple.
Cardboard, he explained consists of three layers: two flat surfaces and one ridged corrugated sheet in between. VENTiT boxes have holes in the two flat surfaces, but not in the middle layer. This permits steam to travel through the grooves in the middle corrugated layer, without getting trapped inside the box. More importantly, no additional material is required to manufacture the box. 

Now this is what I call a real "Jugaadoo" innovation...one based on Jugaad (Frugal Innovation), repurposing something with minimal resources and making it significantly better while addressing a "steaming" need! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

R.I.P. Content, Long Live Apps! : The next BIG disruption

Couple of days ago I came across Pratik Dholakiya's blogpost "Why Apps Will Dethrone Content as King of Digital Marketing" which had couple of interesting graphics:

Pratik makes a strong evidence based case for bidding farewell to the static web:

The sites with the best tools have almost always dominated the web, but this is changing from something we expect from elites to something we expect from every corner of the net. As we move away from the PC and onto our mobile devices, we increasingly find web browsers dull and boring compared to the immersive experience of apps.
Apps are the future of marketing. Don't say I didn't warn you.
And today I came across another interesting blog post with corraborating evidence. This time it is Philip Elmer-DeWitt's blog post : Apple's App Store: 'The insidious march of a disruptor". Here's a graphic from his piece which says it better than words:

He says:

To state the obvious: iTunes music downloads are down while downloads of apps are up sharply: 35% year over year and 50% in December alone.
He extensively quotes from Horace Dediu's : Of Bits and Big Bucks

Is this enough evidence?

Is the writing on the wall?

Are apps ready to be the disruptors dislodging other digital content for our entertainment time share. If yes, are marketers, content creators and others ready for it?

Who are going to be the big gainers or losers when the big shake out driven by this disruption happens?  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Social Media 101: When Social Media meets a Burger

Twitter: I am eating a Burger.
facebook: I like Burgers.
YouTube: This is how I eat my Burger.
LinkedIn: My skills include Burger eating.
Instagram: Here's a classic picture of my Burger.
Blog: Here's my Burger eating experience.
Pinterest: Here's a Burger recipe.
Four Square: This is where I eat Burgers.
Snapchat: What Burger? you're too late.

Adapted from a comment I saw on LinkedIn. Can you think of any more to add?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Customer focused Information Architecture/Enterprise Architecture - A Commonsense Approach

I was in a conversation recently with a Fortune 500 manager handling Voice of the Customer (VOC) initiatives. I think she just needed  to vent steam. 

The gist of her story was that she felt her company was not treating customers right, making them run through hoops to get even basic information to help them understand their invoices and on and on. 

The processes and systems were not structured to deal effectively and efficiently with customer requests for information. 

“I would not want to be my own customer” is what she said as she described how on the personal front she had switched a vendor for providing the type of service her company was providing its customers.  

My question to her was how does the company treat its own employees? Do they have to run through hoops to get information, get claims reimbursed etc.? The answer was a resounding “Yes”.  I was not surprised. 

My premise is that customer service like charity “begins at home”. The reason is not just semantics or platitudes but more nuts and bolts. Organizational DNA has an information architecture strand. It remains same whether it is dealing with external customers or with internal employees. 

It is very unlikely that a company with excellent  internal processes would have lousy customer facing ones and vice-versa.

How can organizations get their Information Architecture right? My answer is “with some COMMONSENSE”, by building an architecture, systems and processes which focus on :

·                     Collaboration – “Can we all work together ?”
Are people, systems, processes, technologies working in a collaborative way? Does the architecture support that? Has it emerged from that?
Ownership and Oversight - “Who is minding the candy store? ”
Governance, Stewards
Mediation – “ Can we get a referee ? ”
Who breaks the tie of conflicting information needs? How?
Maintain  - “Houston! We’ve got a problem”
Does the architecture facilitate trouble shooting, problem solving?
Open- “Help yourself”
Does the architecture facilitate users/customers helping themselves? Does it help in monetizing new value streams?
New – “ What have you done for me lately”
Does the architecture showcase new and emerging trends? Does it have the flexibility to leverage them?
Strategic – “ Boldly go where no man has gone before”
How effective is the architecture in enabling the future state vision for the organization
Enterprise wide- “ whole kit and caboodle”
Can the architecture be scaled for the entire organization?
Necessary – “Keep the lights on”
Does it ensure that  legacy systems stay operational and can be leveraged to the extent possible
Scout, Speed, Scalable, Selective - “We are the Special Forces”
Does it allow innovation : a small "Special Forces" contingent which can quickly scout new options , build prototypes, execute limited precision deployments for a selected target audience. Focus is on 4 S's : Scout, Speed, Scaleable and Selective.
Evolutionary: Parameters, Process, Performance – “Go with the flow”
Plan, Build, Run: The larger "Infantry" component focuses on scaling up some of the early wins of the Special Forces component , establishes a process framework around it and launches them for mass deployment. Focus is on 3 P's: Parameters, Process, Performance.

And if organizations do not get these right, they end up with:

Conflicting priorities and resource allocations
Rapid growth of unorganized data and inability to deal with emergence of newer technologies
Arbitrary decision making focused on the short-term/tactical rather than the strategic
Political jockeying amongst departmental heads in the organization and within IT departments resulting in sub-optimal decision making.

Needless to add, this results in crappy service for both external customers and internal employees.

But as they say “Commonsense is very uncommon”

Rochester, not 2 cities but Rochester: One City. For All.

I was one of the two guest essayists for op-ed pieces in the Sunday (Jan 5, 2014) issue of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (highlighting the inauguration of the new mayor - Lovely Warren's term).

The other guest essayist was Joe Seligman (President, Univ. of Rochester). His essay "A new way forward" focused on the need to further strengthen the symbiotic relationship between the University of Rochester and the City of Rochester.

My own piece "No more two cities"  focuses on the need to move beyond the divisiveness of the electoral campaign ("two cities") to a new paradigm (Rochester: One City. For All.). A message which can resonate well with other cities too (esp. New York City where the contest also saw the "two cities" theme play out.)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year Musings : "small data"- Is it the next BIG thing?

Every Yin has a Yang, Destruction has creation, BIG DATA should have small data, right?

 Lol, leaving metaphysics aside there indeed is "small data" and it could very well indeed be on the way to being the next BIG thing (am I stretching the pun too far?)

Researchers at Cornell NYC Tech describe it as "Small data are derived from our individual digital traces. We generate these data because most of us mediate or at least accompany our lives with mobile technologies." and have already figured out some uses for it esp. in the medical realm. They also talk about the need of this "trail of breadcrumbs" to be shared back with the users who create them rather than it being the preserve of the service providers only.

Think of a patient suffering from a debilitating disease who starts a new medication. An app based on the small data generated by his/her cellphone usage can detect that s/he is up and about at 7 am now instead of 10 am and notify the patient as well as the doctor about efficacy of the medication.Cool indeed.

Relevance to say a Printer/copier company? I would think that the clicks from meters on the printers which flow back to the company could be considered "small data" - bread crumbs generated during the process of usage of the printer. Right now they are primarily used to determine billing and replenishment of supplies etc. by the company. Stored up history of meter data could be viewed as "Big Data" - available to be mined for trends etc.

But could the "small data" itself be wrapped up and provided back to the customer as a monetized service? Copiers/printers proactively telling the users - " You are going to exceed your color print limit on this printer, better pick printer XYZ to minimize your monthly bill". I would think. yes. But then I may be getting ahead of myself. Lol, that's why I call these "musings".

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Murmurations....and Information Architecture

Murmurations. What is that? It's the flight of flock of starlings - millions of birds that fill up the evening skies crisscrossing in intricate patterns without ever colliding. 

What's that got to do with IM or Architecture - exactly my thoughts before I had fathomed that Architecture arises from the abstract before it gets to the stage of boxes and lines on Visio diagrams. 

J.P. Rangaswami (salesforce) got his inspiration from food laid out on on a plate and Don Tapscott (IT visionary) laying out four principles of the Open World gets his from the murmuration of starlings. The murmuration starts around 14:30 in the video.

Interesting indeed. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chicken: To be or not to be; Same question different answers.

Chicken: To be or not to be; Same question different answers.
Birla and Ambani dwell on L'Affaire Chicken!

The proverbial question "Why did the chicken cross the road ?" seems to be on top of mind for the head honchos of two of the leading business houses in India. Each one of them is also on most global lists of the rich and the powerful.

Kumar Mangalam Birla (Aditya Birla Group)  has decided to let the chicken cross the road and jump into the frying pan at cafeterias in his global establishments as he recounted in a commentary published in the McKinsey Quarterly (Butter Chicken at Birla)

On the other hand Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries) has decided to let the chickens roost as he backed out from a decision to launch chicken based products (Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Retail chickens out, stays vegetarian)

Looks like each one of them had their "Chicken Soup for the Soul" moment and came up with different conclusions.

Both, however I hope will stick to what another tycoon had said about the bird:

Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.
                         - Henry Ford

Monday, September 16, 2013

Leadership- Projecting Warmth....the socio-cultural perspective

The July/Aug 2013 Harvard Business Review lead article "Connect, Then Lead" focuses on the role of "warmth" in leadership.

They then talk about various ways of "projecting" warmth including body language cues.

My feedback to the authors on this Interesting article was " What I found missing was a juxtaposition with the socio-cultural context. In some cultures a firm handshake is a sign of confidence while in others it may be perceived as rudeness. Similarly maintaining eye contact may be a sign of straightforwardness and honesty in some cultures while it may be a sign of disrespect in others.

The over-generalization of body language cues as indicators of warmth vs. confidence can lead to disastrous consequences unless they are overlaid with the socio-cultural context. Also, these over-generalizations can help perpetuate stereotypes which can result in sub-optimal decision-making (e.g. people prefering tall people over short for elected positions in the US because of the perceived projection of strength and confidence)."

An abridged version of my observations alongwith the authors' response has been  published in the October 2013 print issue of the Harvard Business Review. 


HBR October 2013 Page 20

Monday, May 13, 2013

“Anekāntavāda” and Innovation

Is it a phone? A camera? A GPS device? A movie player? A book reader? A gaming device?  When thinking of smartphones the answer could be one of these, a combination thereof or all of them. It depends on the perspective of the user. The phone is the same with all the attributes it has but what it is perceived as depends on the user and the attributes which are significant for them or they are aware of.

This essentially is the premise of the ancient Indian Jain doctrine of “Anekāntavāda” – doctrine of non-absolutism or non-one sidedness or non-exclusivity . A classical elaboration of the doctrine has been the parable of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant where each man depending on where they touched the elephant described it as a spear (tusk), snake (trunk), wall (side), fan (ear), rope (tail) and tree (leg), with none of them able to visualize the animal itself.

This has a bearing on all aspects of innovation where the breakthrough innovator or platform disruptor needs to exhibit the ability of  visualizing or grasping  all aspects and manifestations of a process or technology (the “elephant”) while all existing players have been caught up with the spears, snakes et al. This may well be the philosophical premise behind the – customers often don’t know what they want- quote attributed to Steve Jobs.

Also could be a precursor or corollary to what we are familiar of today as thinking out-of- the-box.

How can an Innovator develop the ability to see beyond what others are seeing? How can this approach be built into the innovation process as  a systemic and systematic component?

A potential solution lies in an integrated use of Anekāntavāda which encourages stepping back and seeing the big picture with two other related concepts from the same philosophical stream - syādvāda—the theory of conditioned predication and nayavāda—the theory of partial standpoints.

The theory of conditioned predication would require the innovation process to answer a series of seven questions which as an example  I am applying to the smartphone innovation I started the piece with:

  1. in some ways, it is  a phone, How? Why ?
  2. in some ways, it is not a phone, How? Why?
  3. in some ways, it is, and it is not phone, How? Why?
  4. in some ways, it is a phone, and it is indescribable, How? Why?
  5. in some ways, it is not a phone , and it is indescribable, How? Why?
  6. in some ways, it is a phone , it is not a phone, and it is indescribable, How? Why?
  7. in some ways, it is indescribable. How? Why?
Each of these seven propositions will help the innovator examine the complex and multifaceted nature of the innovation from a relative point of view of time, space, substance and mode enabling him/her to  see facets which can otherwise stay hidden.

The “indescribable” questions will help the innovator see beyond the current timeframe-  It may be indescribable now but what can it be described in the future. Could it be described as a payment transaction processing device, Voila, Square is born. Can it be described differently for different points of time – say night vs. day ? Voila, we get the flashlight feature for the phone.

If it is not a phone and is on my body can it measure my heartbeat or perhaps detect my mood or maybe detect how I react when I am served my coffee at a temperature I am not used to by a store which I frequent? What is it? What is it not? If yes, why? If not, why not?
Is it a guitar, No. Why not?......mmmmm sure it can be one, let’s build an app for it.

The theory of partial standpoints or viewpoints would then help to arrive at a certain inference from a point of view. A smartphone  has infinite aspects to it, but when we describe it in practice, we speak of only relevant aspects and ignore irrelevant ones. This does not mean it does not have other attributes, qualities, modes and other aspects; they are just irrelevant from a particular perspective. For example , when we talk of a "white iPhone" we are simply considering the color and make of the phone. However, the statement does not imply that the phone  does not have other attributes like volume, screen size, camera quality etc. This particular viewpoint – “white”  is  a partial viewpoint. Splitting up the attributes like this can enable the innovator to see the total picture part by part, functionality by functionality. This will help resolve design conflicts arising out of a confusion of standpoints since it clearly establishes where the standpoint is arising from.

There is nothing new with the precepts outlined here. They have been around for a few thousands of years and have generally just been viewed as philosophical doctrines. But as shown above they can very well still be leveraged to create breakthrough innovation in an organized, systematic way. Scholars have said “because anekāntavāda is designed to avoid one-sided errors, reconcile contradictory viewpoints, and accept the multiplicity and relativity of truth, the Jain philosophy is in a unique position to support dialogue and negotiations” which can very well be the cornerstone for a successful Innovation Process Framework.

Reference: Wikipedia: Anekantavada

Friday, April 19, 2013

“Big Bang” vs. Evolutionary – Same Disruptions, Different Viewpoint.

Check out the May 2013 print edition of the Harvard Business Review. Some of my thoughts are carried in the "Interaction" section on Pg 21.

A more detailed version of what my thoughts on the issue are:

“Big Bang” vs. Evolutionary – Same Disruptions, Different Viewpoint.

Apropos of Big-Bang Disruption (March 2013) by Larry Downes and Paul F. Nunes (Harvard Business Review, March 2013), while I agree with the general premise of the potential cataclysmic effects of Disruptions, I disagree with the authors’ premise that “You can't see big-bang disruption coming (until it's too late).You can't stop it. You can't overcome it."

The authors have highlighted several Big Bang Disruptions in the article, however almost all leverage a single platform : the Smartphone. The disruptors in my opinion are not the parking app or GPS app or payment app but the open, adaptive, secure platform called Smartphone (what I will call a “Platform Disruptor”) which has made all the other disruptors possible.

This may have a bearing on how established players react to and prepare for disruptions. They need to be on the lookout for such "Platform Disruptors" and run some What-if scenarios even if their own product/service does not appear to be directly impacted by the disruptor. e.g. say medical device manufacturers with such an analysis can figure out potential disruptions that may arise in their area due to potential remote medicine, monitoring body functions, medical database storage etc. capabilities of smartphones.

Will they be figure out all the possible disruptions, perhaps not but they would definitely be in a better shape than if they do not do the exercise at all.

Also, the Platform Disruptions are generally evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Smartphones, Big Data, Automobiles etc. none appeared in a Big Bang. Some of the downstream disruptors which these “Platform Disruptors” spawned may appear to emerge in a Big Bang. The pace of these Platform Disruption evolution is slow enough to be monitored by and reacted to by established players. But unfortunately by focusing on the downstream disruptors and failing to recognize these Platform Disruptors, companies are missing the woods for the trees.

And organizations do react knowingly or unknowingly to these Evolutionary Platform Disruptions. Case in point is how, many universities have reacted to the evolution of online distance education by making more of their own content available on the same platform. This way they have got co-opted into the evolution process and would not have to react to it ala Big Bang disruptors the articles' authors indicated.

So this one will be one disruption which will not be a Big Bang Disruption for them.

I would hypothesize that most Disruptions can be prevented from having a Big Bang effect by smart companies by:

- early identification of emerging trends

- what-if /SWOT analysis to identify impact on existing business

- identify opportunities to leverage the emerging trend

- get "co-opted" into the evolution process

- ride the evolutionary wave and reap the benefits.

Companies which do not do so will feel the impact of what was actually an evolutionary process as if it was a "Big Bang". Guys who see an oncoming bus and prepare for it can run alongside it a bit and then board it ; guys who are oblivious will be "hit by a bus".

So that’s why I view most disruptions as evolutionary rather than Big Bang and recommend that organizations prepare for them that way. For each of the companies that have been highlighted as being affected by the Big Bang disruption there will be countless others who would have thrived from the same disruption.

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