Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Capitalism rescued the Chilean miners…?

October 17, 2010

The private company that owned the mine was admittedly so broke that it neither had the equipment nor the millions of dollars needed to rescue the miners that got trapped half mile down below.

If those miners had been trapped like this 25 years ago anywhere on earth, they would be dead. What happened over the past 25 years that meant the difference between life and death for those men?

Short answer: the Center Rock drill bit.

This is the miracle bit that drilled down to the trapped miners. Center Rock Inc. a private company in Berlin, Pa with just 74 employees. The drill’s rig came from Schramm Inc. in West Chester, Pa. Seeing the disaster, Center Rock’s president, Brandon Fisher, called the Chileans to offer his drill. Chile accepted. The miners are alive.

Longer answer: The Center Rock drill, heretofore not featured on websites like Engadget or Gizmodo, is in fact a piece of tough technology developed by a small company in it for-the-money, for profit. That’s why they innovated down-the-hole hammer drilling. If they make money, they can do more innovation.

This profit = innovation dynamic was everywhere at that Chilean mine. The high-strength cable winding around the big wheel atop that simple rig is from Germany. Japan supplied the super-flexible, fiber-optic communications cable that linked the miners to the world above.

Samsung of South Korea supplied a cellphone that has its own projector. Jeffrey Gabbay, the founder of Cupron Inc. in Richmond, Va., supplied socks made with copper fiber that consumed foot bacteria, and minimized odor and infection.

So my ex-boss has been vindicated. He often asked “Do you know what is the 11th commandment..?” Before we could be through with our blinking, he replies “Profit” !!!

Funeral’s better than life support

February 23, 2009

I’ve often wondered why don’t they funnel stimulus funds to Greenfield projects than resuscitating the dying gorillas.  My argument – it’s lot more productive because it saves time (no wounds to heal) and money (no clean-up cost, no claims from the past). It saves jobs as well because trained workers can be re-hired at lower wages because of their huge supply.

But I needed an ally before I could air my views. Today I found one in Tom Friedman.  Excerpts –

“Bailing out the losers is not how we got rich as a country, and it is not how we’ll get out of this crisis…When it comes to helping companies, precious public money should focus on start-ups, not bailouts…If we are going to be spending billions of taxpayer dollars, it can’t only be on office-decorating bankers, over-leveraged home speculators and auto executives who year after year spent more energy resisting changes and lobbying Washington than leading change and beating Toyota…Our motto should be, “Start-ups, not bailouts: nurture the next Google, don’t nurse the old G.M.’s.

Our country is still bursting with innovators looking for capital. So, let’s make sure all the losers clamoring for help don’t drown out the potential winners who could lift us out of this. Some of our best companies, such as Intel, were started in recessions, when necessity makes innovators even more inventive and risk-takers even more daring.…they will drive innovation in all these areas — and move wind and solar technology down the cost-volume learning curve so they can compete against fossil fuels and become export industries at the “ChinIndia price,” that is the price at which they can scale in China and India.

That is how taxpayer money should be used to stimulate: limited financing, for a limited time, targeted on an industry bristling with new technology start-ups that, with a little push from Uncle Sam, won’t just survive this crisis but help us thrive when it is over. We need, and the world needs, an America that is thriving not just surviving.

Thank you Mr.Friedman. You nailed it – well, almost !


How about a large wall street collider?

September 10, 2008

Over to the Big Bang research. The Large Hadron Collider is designed to accelerate protons to energies of 7 trillion electron volts and then smash them together, recreating conditions in the primordial fireball only a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

Many physicists hope to materialize a hypothetical particle called the Higgs boson, which according to theory endows other particles with mass, or identify the nature of the mysterious invisible dark matter that makes up 25 percent of the universe and provides the scaffolding for galaxies. Some dream of revealing new dimensions of space-time.

As I understand, those discoveries are in the future. If the new collider is a car, then what physicists did today was turn on an engine, that will now sit and warm up for a couple of months before anybody drives it anywhere. The first meaningful collisions, at an energy of 5 trillion electron volts, will not happen until a few months down the line.  Nevertheless, the symbolism of the moment was not lost on the experts and non-experts gathered there.

Wish they invent some ingenious machine to do some predictive analytics at the Wall Street as well to see what will be left there after the big crunch that started off since september last – a Large Wall Street Collider?  But I won’t bet they’ll ever learn.  They hardly did from LTCM debacle. As striking as the parallel is to Bear Stearns, Long-Term Capital’s echo is far more profound. Its strategy was grounded in the notion that markets could be modeled. Thus, in August 1998, the hedge fund calculated that its daily “value at risk” — meaning the total it could lose — was only $35 million. Later that month, it dropped $550 million in a day. I hope the scientists are a different breed, and hope they learn a few things from this new `why machine’ 😉


Vuja De

July 24, 2008


Dump Déjà vu; Switch to Vuja De !


Well, well, well – before you rummage the lexicon or wreck your brains.  `Vuja De’ is an expression coined by comedian George Carlin to the language—believe it or not, of business and innovation.  Carlin meant just the opposite of Déjà vu – looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you’ve been there before.  But before you brush it aside as another piece of slapstick opinion, I must tell you that Carlin just hauled in a serious insight that all of us could use.


Let’s face it: Most companies in most industries have a kind of tunnel vision. They chase the same opportunities that everyone else is chasing; they miss the same opportunities that everyone else is missing. It’s the companies that see a different game that win big. The most important question for innovators today is: What do you see that the competition doesn’t see?

Embrace Vuja De.  Do things differently, get unique perspectives that are significantly more relevant.  You need new ways to beat the looming recession or even the oil price surge because not many of us have been thro that before.  Don’t waste time griping about it; do something about it, anything – trade in your SUV, take public transport, start a home business; just don’t go to the gas station to fill up.

Why did I bother to blog about it?  It resonates very well with what I had already said in a more professional context.  But I never expected this quick an endorsement from a multi-award-winning comedian who, for more than five decades, used his razor sharp humor to point out hypocrisy in people’s actions and words.

“May your soul rest in peace.  We love you, George!”


A Media reverie

July 22, 2008


I am beginning to notice perceptible shift in enterprise marketing initiatives.  While attending a product launch event of Schneider Electric last week, the CMO introduced me to his new media coordinator, a young man possibly in his late thirties – plucked recently from his media service provider.  The fact that his position was newly created underscores the significance attached to bringing media services back in-house by large enterprises.

Ahead lay a long drive back from the event. I’d better use the time to reflect on the changing dynamics in media business – or is it business media?

To stay ahead of the constant innovation in advertising, the best marketers invest in having their media capability in-house. They’re bringing in people who come either from the media business or from the agency world to advise their brands and marketing departments. They’re also creating new relationships with their media partners to get earlier and better access to innovation and knowledge. Together they push their agencies much harder than they ever have to ensure that they’re getting the best access to talent and know-how.

What else do I notice? The best marketers are developing planning and learning processes that are much more dynamic and flexible than they ever have been before. They’re moving away from traditional planning cycles, which typically were anywhere between six and 18 months for media strategy, planning, buying, and collapsing them into much shorter increments with much more flexible budgeting. This is happening in part because the current media environment enables immediate feedback from the consumer and there’s much more opportunity to innovate, refine, and create better campaigns than was previously.

Is it because of the impact of digital media that is more interactive while being less intrusive?  In a way, yes –  as it puts the consumer in much better control. If remote helped him zap commercials by a button click, today digital media gives him greater power.  I think that there are going to be some environments in which the consumer is going to be able to tune out advertising entirely. But that’s a business model that’s based on the consumer’s commitment to a subscription.  Well but most consumers aren’t willing to make that full commitment, to provide enough revenue through subscriptions to entirely fund the creation of content. They’re willing to consume content and programming that are ad-supported. The catch is that they must deem it relevant; for instance, if it allows consumers to ‘opt in’ based on their interests, and if it is appropriate to the media platform, rather than, say, a huge video clip that overwhelms the consumer’s mobile phone. Advertising today has to either be part of the consumer’s entertainment experience or sit alongside it in a way that’s meaningful to the consumer.

So how do you `engage’ them? The trick is in finding the right balance between traditional and digital media. They have to understand how the brand is relevant to consumers in those media environments and then find the best channels for the brand and the message so that they can drive engagement, not just awareness. And marketers and advertisers need to understand engagement as meaningful time spent with the brand and its messaging in a way that’s more measurable and, ideally, more interactive with the consumer. Those are behaviors that broadcast media, even if they can deliver reach, typically can’t leverage.

My driver tells me we’re home.  I will try and enlarge its scope after my next reverie.


Courting herd

June 19, 2008


I am totally confounded by all this talk of impending recession, liquidity crunch, inflation and all things catastrophic.  Sometimes I think, “Gawd, will there be an economy when I wake up tomorrow?”


I am not saying this is all babble.  But what annoys me more is that nobody tells me what to do or how to cope.  Tell me `this is your last day on earth’ – there is some finality to it.  But clearly that’s not the case because nobody has a clue what it is going to be like.  Nothing is clear.  But they still twaddle. 


So, left with no options, you follow the herd.


There is a tendency for business leaders to mimic their peers: following the herd is a safety mechanism. Should the herd start running, one instinctively follows, regardless of the threat. More often than not this makes sense, unless the threat has changed but the herd responses have not.  Herd behavior thus is of limited merit in a rapidly changing environment. In any case, herd theorists will no doubt be aware that those who choose to follow the group spend most of their time wading through the mire.

So we see talk of innovation and competitive advantage instantly replaced by sustainability and survival. “Bringing costs into line with revenues” becomes the new mantra.  But what if this impending recession is actually one of a series of seismic adjustments that can be attributed to inevitable realities such as globalisation or the web? If so, then simply battening down the hatches until the storm blows over is at best a tactical response and at worst one that might permanently damage an organisation’s ability to cope with turbulence.

Enlightened business leaders will see economic clouds as an opportunity to steal a march on their competitors.  The fact that it is unclear when there might be a return on this innovation investment should not be reason to abandon it – periods of inactivity do not just halt progress, they reverse it. Fair weather innovators, like fair weather athletes, never reach their full potential.


Strategic innovation tip: Forget, Borrow and Learn

May 13, 2008


“To turn a powerful idea into a successful business – Forget, Borrow, and Learn.”  [Bolds are  mine] Authors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Timble in the Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution.


“Forget assumptions, mind-sets, and biases from the traditional core business, because a new business (as opposed to a business extension) must be fundamentally different from a company’s traditional core business. Borrow assets like existing customer relationships, distribution channels, supply networks, brands, credibility, manufacturing capacity, and technological expertise from the core business, because those assets confer a significant advantage over entrepreneurial startups. Learn to make ideas — some of which may not be new — work together in ways that are fresh to your industry. And learning quickly minimizes the time to profitability, lowers risk exposure, and maximizes the chance to overwhelm the competition.


Very well said.  There is always a hangover from an earlier something that we unconsciously inherit and implant.  So long as it is a perfect overlay (say accounting method, inventory control or even a security system), it doesn’t matter. But mostly we inherit a lot of practises from the past unrelated business that is ill-suited to the new outfit. 


I have experienced it.  I was working for a family owned full service media & advertising outfit where the management consisted of two sons and the father.  The sons had developed the business along the modern methods and practises.  But the father, coming from sugar industry took charge of HR and Administration and started running it like he did the blue collar workers in a rural sugar mill.  Soon the geezer became the butt of all jokes in the office (even the chauffers ribbed him). But the major downside was that the agency lost quite a few good people that found him way too meddlesome – including a few top dogs. 


Have you had similar run-ins with such dim stereotypes?


can customer feedback alone drive innovation?

March 22, 2008

Good friend S.Swaminathan, CEO of Cequity Solutions draws attention to some takeaways from Gartner2008 CRM summit.  As Swami puts it, nothing earth shaking or new in there.  Analyst firms have always been predictable.

I’ve my comments under that post – particularly on (customer) feedback induced innovation processes – and explained why “enterprise insiders” have a larger role to play than customers in improving customer experience.  I had cited the Nokia example – its early customers have been pretty much content with the mobility feature offered by the wireless handset and had never asked for images, videos or data streams that were volunteered by the enterprise.  Had they tweaked the handsets on the basis of customer feedback, we would still be holding phones that looked more like a female sex toy (with its sprouty antenna) than the sexy multi-utility device that it is today.

Innovation has to be based on original and utilitarian insights that saturate a given or potential market need.  So the bets cannot be merely on customer (feedback) data because they have limitations.  They also suffer from weak sample sizes and visionary limitations of the customer.

A better metric I think has to come from a blend of customer and insider insight.  The enterprise insider (management, employees, suppliers, service providers besides customers) has the maximum touch points with the product/service than the customer.  While the insider looks up to the enterprise for his livelihood, the customer has wider options.  Humans do not mess with their livelihood and keep thinking about it a lot more than a customer would.  That deep and lasting connection and always-on thought process puts the insider in a position of significant advantage to draw insights.  Unfortunately insiders (other than R&D, Process or Marketing) have no canvas to jot it down, much less to get heard.

Don’t lose’em. Build your Business Intelligence around customer as well as enterprise insider.  You never know whose idea will fly !!!


Elitism parading as virtue

January 13, 2008

Ratan Tata unveiling the Nano

That’s Ratan Tata towering over Rs.1 lakh car ($2,500 ) – the Nano – launched yesterday, when the whole world sat up and took notice.  Amidst the ooh’s and ah’s, there were quite a bit of `how could Tata do this’ gripes from the burgeoisie.  Even as management guru C.K.Prahlad marveled at Indian engineering feat and called it a leap into future, the neo-elites were soon to forecast clogging of roads, parking nightmares, pollution etc., etc. Here’s Swaminathan Aiyar giving it back.

“Sanctimonious greens call the Nano disastrous because of its affordability— millions more will now clog roads and consume more fossil fuel. This is elitism parading as virtue. Elite greens own cars, but cannot stand the poorer masses becoming mobile, since the consequent congestion will eat into the time of the elite!”

I would rather this family switch to Nano soon and be safe. They get ported on this Rs.45k ($1,125) motor cycle, just because that guy in the saddle finds a small car costing not less than $7,000 way too expensive.

So, what would you call those who bemoan the Nano…?  Neo-Elitists or Pseudo activists..?  If Nano would cause traffic problem, it’s because the roads are narrow.  Go, widen them.  Add on flyovers.  But don’t halt the Nano.  It offers many a happy family a comfortable, safe ride.  And for people like me, enormous peace of mind when we see them inside the Nano, even as I am held up in a traffic snarl for a few more minutes with Nanos all around… I am ok with that !


Like hell, it’s chutzpah…

January 11, 2008

Celebration of Indian innovation and enterprise can’t get better than this.

The Economist –

“RATAN TATA, chairman of the Tata group of companies, has a cerebral and cordial manner. But the so-called “one-lakh car”, which Tata Motors unveiled in Delhi to a rapt public on Thursday January 10th, is a product of impatience and chutzpah. Instead of waiting for the great swell of prosperity in India and elsewhere to create millions of customers for his company’s products, Mr Tata has decided to wade out—further than any one has gone before—to bring a car to them.”

I would drink to that..