November 7, 2009 1 Comment
From the home office along the former Berlin Wall in Germany…
Observations on technology and business from someone who should know better
November 7, 2009 1 Comment
From the home office along the former Berlin Wall in Germany…
September 8, 2009 14 Comments
A classic dilemma for companies is determining the best way to foster innovation. There are many good books with different approaches. Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma has influenced a generation’s thinking about innovation. He focuses management and entrepreneurs’ attention on the Big I: disruptive innovation.
One outcome of the popularity of Christensen’s book is the awareness people have that entrenched business practices can inhibit companies’ ability to recognize and address discontinuous innovations from new market entrants. Motorola, for example, is often held up as an example of this. The company continued to develop only analog cell phones even as the digital phones were getting traction. In clinging to analog, which it dominated, it fell far behind in the mobile phone market.
A key practice espoused by Christensen is for companies to tackle discontinuous innovations by creating separate divisions. These divisions have an R&D profile, meaning they are funded without requiring a financial return. They do not have to prove themselves to sales or other parts of the organization. This gives them the room they need to figure out how to approach the impending market shift.
The issue with the popularization of this framework is that it sets up a binary approach to innovation. You’re either addressing disruptive or discontinuous innovations, or you’re executing on yesterday’s business. It’s this dichotomy that obscures the value of innovations that move organizations forward, competing to increase market share and profits.
To that end, let’s examine two ways companies create work structures for innovation.
The graphic below highlight two very different ways to approach innovation. And that’s a good thing.
Separate Division: As advised by Clayton Christensen, this approach is best for companies that need to address disruptive innovations. And all companies need to address disruptive innovations.These days, it’s not a matter of if, but when. For fundamental market shifts, too much is invested in the current operations for companies to address changes. Freeing a group of people from these constraints is critical, if the corporate culture is not open to big-bet innovations.
A couple examples of interest here. First, let’s go back to Motorola. Yes, the company muffed it badly on the transition from analog to digital. But there was something that it did right years before. Motorola researcher Jim Mikulski could see in the 1960s that existing cellular technology was insufficient for the emerging uses of the mobile technology. He had a new technology to replace it, and asked the head of Motorola’s communications division, John Mitchell to fund its development. Mitchell said “no”,
Arguing that 400MHz technology offered sufficient capacity and met consumer needs. The Communications Division current product line was the market leader, and a new product, which would likely cannibalize the current system, was deemed to be both unnecessary and potentially harmful to this business line.
So Mikulski found refuge in Motorola’s Corporate Research Laboratory. He worked on the new technology there, receiving funding for its development. When his view of the coming changes proved to be true, Motorola was ready with its new technology.
In other words, he addressed innovation that affected the communications division in a completely separate division.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has programmatically set up a separate division for innovation. The Microsoft Research group works on ideas that may never have commercial appeal. But some of their work has resulted in product features and direction for its new Natal gaming system, its Bing search engine, and an upcoming release of Outlook email.
They have a separate division, but the innovations arguably are of the sustaining variety, not disruptive.
Integrated into Daily Work: In this work structure, everyone is involved in innovation. The company sets expectations, and encourages employees’ to share ideas. Done right, this is in-the-flow stuff. Employees are encountering issues to be addressed daily, and they’re hearing new customer feedback all the time. They are well-positioned to come up with innovative solutions and products, if senior management makes that a priority.
Whirlpool is a good example of this. In 1999, then-CEO David R. Whitwam made the determination that Whirlpool needed to stop competing on price, and make innovation its central strategy. Fast forward to today, and the results have been stellar. Whirlpool has escaped competing as a commodity vendor, with $4 billion in revenue (21% of total sales) generated from its innovation efforts. Are they satisfied? No. CEO Jeff Fettig stated that while participation in innovation from 5,000 employees is good, he’s looking to increase it to 15,000.
That’s integrating innovation into employees’ daily work for sustaining innovation. In this case, sustaining innovation has been the source of growth and profits.
Another company where innovation is part of everyday work is 3M. The company is legendary for its innovation. And clearly, the encouragement of all employees to be part of innovation has taken hold. For instance, there was this story recently in Fast Company:
3M told a great innovation story at the ARF annual conference about a new product that started with a complaint call into customer care. The representative did his own research online, came up with a solution, filmed a video that he put on YouTube and re-contacted the customer to see if that is what he was looking for.
The sheer volume of ideas that employees have to improve companies’ existing businesses puts a premium on crowdsourcing ideas. And inevitably, some of that culture and the ideas emerging from sustaining innovation will relate to discontinuous or disruptive innovations.
Google is a good example of a company that does both. It’s 20% time for employees to devote to innovation is the stuff of business legend. And according to the company, half of its new products result from this employee time.
But then look at Google Wave. This project was done beyond 20% time. It was actually a completely separate project developed by a 5-person “startup” team in Australia, far from the company’s Mountain View, CA headquarters. Google Wave is transformative, and will likely usher new design principles into a host of software applications.
Google is a good example of an innovation-led company. They mix the elite unit approach to innovation with the everyday encouragement for employees to innovate.
There’s not this dichotomy of “all disruptive/discontinuous innovation, or you’re just falling behind”. Rather, it’s a smart blend of the strategies.
August 15, 2009 Leave a comment
From the home office in Taiwan…
#1: Investigating this foreign land, Facebook, now that FriendFeed is to be folded into it. Already had FriendFeed features, so kinda familiar.
#10: Hiccups tip: Eat a teaspoon of sugar. My Dad taught me that, and it works every time. There must be a scientific explanation.
June 25, 2009 4 Comments
FriendFeed just took a fairly significant step forward. And in doing so, I wonder if they have an ultimate destiny as some sort of business platform.
FriendFeed now supports file attachments. When you post a new entry directly to FriendFeed, there is now an option to Add: Files. Here’s a test post I did:
You can see the PDF attachment, along with the file size. From an extended conversation by the community with the FriendFeed team about this release, here are some other details:
Last December, I wrote If You Had to Choose One Form of Digital Communication, What Would It Be? In that post, I assessed six different technologies: email, IM, SMS text, Twitter, social networks, FriendFeed. At that time, I picked Twitter, because I could send directed messages to people. I also added this:
A word about FriendFeed. If they ever decide to support direct messaging and something similar to the @reply tab of Twitter, then they would become my communication mode of choice. There is so much more that can be done there via different media types, along with Rooms and Lists.
For now, I had to choose e-mail, especially for exchange of attachments.
I hope and pray when FF becomes the one and all platform. It is so well thought out. But for now, I wouldn’t be able to function without email. That is my number one choice!
email – still the most versatile, and durable
Email. Free wins. Other things are free but not as full featured.
Email – for better or worse, literally everyone has an email account. Plus it’s essential in the workplace.
Since I wrote that post, FriendFeed has rolled out these three major advances:
You see those developments, and you start to realize that, “Hey! They’re building a communication and collaboration platform over there!” They’ve basically answered whatever shortfalls people expressed.
Now social networks are all fun and games, right? So what does this latest release say about FriendFeed’s direction? From their blog post:
We’ve certainly been using this feature internally and have found it extremely useful. We hope it’ll help make you and your collaborators even more productive, and a little more attached to FriendFeed.
FriendFeed is certainly touching on activities that define the work day. I mean, if you look at what Yammer or Socialcast does (e.g. microblogging, direct messages, file attachments, groups), you’ll see FriendFeed is overlapping much of that. FriendFeed, the business application? Certainly it has plenty of revenue opportunities there if the advertising model is not of interest. Well, maybe there are revenue opportunities in the small- to mid-sized business segment.
And a final point. Google Wave is an outstanding technology, with its real-time sharing and communication, server-based access and federated protocol. As I said in my post about Wave, it will be the young guns that incorporate it and advance it inside the enterprise. Since FriendFeed is pushing forward strongly on being a leading company in communication and collaboration, adoption of Google Wave seems like a natural. The federated protocol is a terrific opportunity to create collaborative ecosystems.
I’m sure the FriendFeed team is experimenting with Google Wave right now. We’ll see what they come up with.
June 11, 2009 14 Comments
Google Wave…Google Wave…
I’ve spent some time the past few days reading up on Google Wave. The Google I/O 2009 presentation by the Wave team was a smashing success. Quickly summarizing what it is, borrowing from Google’s own categorizations:
Product: Free-form page onto which multiple people can contribute and interact. Every wave in which you are a participant shows up in an inbox. The modes of communication are both email and IM. Email, because you can write something anywhere in a wave, and all wave participants see that the wave is updated in their inbox. Like Gmail. IM, because updates post instantly, and anyone on the wave at the same time can see them. There’s more there, watch the I/O presentation demo to see it all.
Platform: Wave is to be an API playland. APIs to leverage the functionality of Wave, and embedding functions in Waves. The I/O demo includes functions for maps embedded easily into a Wave, and the ability to create a simple event tracker where Wave participants simply click whether they are attending or not (Evite for dummies). Very cool stuff. Another use of APIs…Wave as your Twitter client. With real-time search results served up into your Wave inbox.
Protocol: Waves are to follow an open federation, which means they all can interact with one another. Wave servers can be set up behind the firewall.
As they said in the demo, they though in terms of “what would email look like if we invented it today?” How long before Gmail converts over to Google Wave? Maybe in a year or two.
It’s quite early, and we have limited information so far on Wave. But I thought it’d be interesting to consider Wave from the perspective of an enterprise software company. It’s a starting point for me to get a handle on Wave and where it might have an impact. A few notes:
Enterprise software is a broad area, too broad to analyze well in a post. Rather, I’m going to focus on the enterprise software I know well (my company’s), and make some points that will apply to all enterprise applications.
OK, with that out of the way, and Dion Hinchcliffe’s post about the enterprise and Google Wave as inspiration, let’s dive in. I’m going to lay out some initial thoughts of how enterprise software could integrate Google Wave. And then I’ll explain why I think it’s going to be a long time coming before it impacts the enterprise.
Clayton Christensen talked about the “job” your product does. In other words, think less about your product’s features, and more on what needs your product fills for customers. From that perspective, innovations are more likely to emerge.
This notion struck me as a good way for enterprise software companies to think about how Wave might relate to their products. In other words, less focus on features, more focus on specific use cases.
Spigit provides enterprise idea management software. Its “job” is as follows:
I’m going to use these four tasks as the basis for thinking about Google Wave. Where will Google Wave have an impact?
With Spigit, we have a simple basis for entering your idea – a basic web form. And Google Wave supports forms, as shown below:
The ability to use forms makes me think there’s an even better way for employees to enter ideas. A principle that I really like is that information and activities need to be in-the-flow of daily work. The more you can put things at the finger tips of where someone is engaged, the better it is for awareness.
In the demo, different types of waves were available via the New Wave dropdown menu to allow access to separate apps. Here’s what I can see happening:
The Idea is now part of the Wave inbox. It’s also accessible on the Spigit platform, for others to see. That would be great. It’s a level of interconnectedness that is difficult to put in place today. It wouldn’t just apply to ideas either. Why not do this for expense forms? Wiki pages?
Key here is leveraging the open federation protocol. A person’s individual Wave becomes a new object in another Wave-based application. The Idea would be considered a Wavelet in Spigit. From the demo, here’s an example of two separate Wave servers (i.e. two separate apps), where a Wave is shared between them:
The parallels between Google Wave and Gmail make Google Wave great for knowing when there are changes to a Wave. In Gmail, when a reply to a message hits your inbox, the original message becomes bold, and moves to the top. It’s a clear, easy way to see when someone has responded, while keeping the entire thread intact.
Google Wave applies this characteristic even more broadly. If someone replies to your wave, it returns to the top of your inbox, bolded. If someone edits your wave, same thing happens. Basically, any updated to a Wave will display as a changed item in the Wave inbox. The screen shot below shows this functionality:
On the Spigit platform, a number of actions can be performed with regard to an idea: vote it up or down, comments on it, review it, post/edit a wiki page for it, become a team member. Now all of these actions are supported with email notifications currently.
Any of these actions will cause your Idea to return to the top of your inbox, bolded. Where an email notification is good, a Wave notification would be great. Everything can be seen in context, and you can respond right from your Wave inbox. Comment, IM or just see the latest changes to your idea.
Another great innovation is the ability to easily add others to a Wave. With this functionality, you can let others know about your idea, and they can see changes as they occur as well. If the idea isn’t interesting to someone, they just remove themselves from the Wave.
Really, really powerful feature.
These easy interaction hooks for objects and activities are something that many enterprise applications would benefit from.
The Spigit platform tracks many activities and included unique features to help surface the best ideas. And this where Google Wave doesn’t change things really. A lot of that is the secret sauce of the Spigit platform.
Which brings me to an important point: Google Wave won’t replace enterprise software applications. The logic and features of the individual apps – ERP, CRM, wikis, HR, etc. – continue to be the primary reason companies buy them.
Assuming Google successfully brings Wave into the enterprise, either replacing Outlook or standing beside it, I’m sure there will be companies that create Wave-based apps to compete with the big enterprise systems. But such competition happens today anyway.
In Spigit, ideas that make it go through a series of stages. Each stage has different criteria for evaluating whther it’s ready to be prototyped and operationalized. Along the way, aspects of the idea will be addressed in other enterprise applications:
This is where a couple of features might make sense. Google Wave includes robots. Robots are “automated elements” that perform tasks as part of a Google Wave. Let’s assume the original Idea wave is copied to other enterprise apps. Now, there is a connection from the original idea to these objects in other systems.
The robot can look for updates on those other Waves which tie back to my Idea. When there’s a change in status, My Idea wave gets the update. I’m now on top of what’s happening with my initiative, from anywhere in the company.
Yes, that would cool.
You may have heard the phrase “working the wiki way“. Well I’d like to work the “wave way”. The possibilities with Google Wave are tantalizing. A much more seamless experience for using software. A common protocol around which applications communicate.
Not likely to happen for a while, if ever.
For companies like Spigit, with a web 2.0 orientation and SaaS delivery, Google Wave is something we can do, and as an enterprise social software company, it makes sense. But to fully realize the benefit of Google Wave inside the enterprise, a lot of applications will need to leverage the Google Wave platform. It’s hard to imagine SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and the like doing much with Google Wave.
As Dion Hinchcliffe notes:
New protocols, servers, data formats, and client applications are required to use wave. Unfortunately, Google Wave brings a lot of baggage with it, though it’s mostly straightforward. You will require new software, though not on the client since that all runs in a zero-footprint browser client. This means more integration code, management, and monitoring.
You look at that, and contemplate all the installed software already in place. And I don’t imagine MISO thinks of Google Wave as being in their interests. Google Wave directly overlaps Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, for instance.
So it will be up to the young bucks to push for the new way to deliver end-user simplicity and in-the-flow accessibility to employees. It will take time.
I’ll be watching developments around Google Wave. How about you?