Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Pure-Play is dead! - It's always frustrating to see so called pure-play technology companies try to convince corporate would-be clients that Innovation is, at the heart of it, a very simple process - that it is simply being overly complicated by consultants. When will they learn that this subject is NOT about the technology. In fact - business and commerce as a whole is not about technology anymore.

Be it consumer electronics or business software, the leading products in each industry lead by adding value to the customer to give them an advantage/benefit above and beyond what is possible with just the technology alone. Take the iPod - one of the most cited innovation examples in recent history. At the heart of it, it's really not more than a glorified hard drive. What it's added however, is a clever design and some superb marketing to give status and desire that other companies focusing on sellign a technology alone simply aren't able to compete. That's not to say that the other technologies don't work - but they certainly don't deliver the level of benefit (in this case, coolness, status factor, etc) that the iPod delivers to its customers. People are making a big deal of the VideoPod now - but how many realise that Apple was not the first one to the market with this product? Creative, for example, have had a video offering for quite some time, yet were unable to make it as useable and desireable as Apple have been able to in one stroke.

The same goes for innovation software. The technology itself is, at least on the face of it, not exactly rocket science from a layman's point of view. Get some kind of input into a collaborative space, followed by an evaluation piece and see what comes out - right? Sounds really simple - but when it comes down to actual useage - the above system would fail abysmally. Why? Because the process isn't as simple as it seems - every company has different needs, different aims, and different cultural issues that will affect what can/can't be done. Not only that, but you have to then understand that innovation is, at the heart of it, a people issue - and people are anything but "simple".

So don't let pure-play technology companies pull the wool over your eyes. Any company that tells you that innovation is "simple" is just hiding their lack of understanding of the issues that you will face - which means you'll be on your own when the inevitable problems start happening. There are several reputable companies out there that understand this - so make sure to quiz whoever you use as to the depth of their understanding of the subject as the only thing "simple" about innovation - is how easy it is to screw it up....

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Innovation-through-Acquisition Strategy: Why the Pay-off Isn't Always There Prof Saikat Chaudhuri of Wharton writes an interesting article in this Konwledge@Wharton - which sets out to debate whether ot not an Innovation-through-Aquisition Strategy is a good one to follow or not. The shame is, whilst he makes some good points in describing the various risks of the strategy, he fails to make the most important analysis - the effectiveness of the strategy when compared to a strategy of Internal Innovation - and instead takes it as an all-or-nothing problem. In that respect, the dangers of innovation are exactly the same whether you're purchasing it outright from another company - or developing it internally. The very nature of innovation - essentially the management of new and unknown markets,products and processes - is rife with risk that needs careful analysis and development prior to full production - regardless of the source of that innovation. That's not to say that innovation shouldn't be done - but it needs to be done carefully and purposely - and analyzed and managed in the same way as any other business critical process would be.

It's an interesting read though - and well worth a quick gland at pages 2 and 4 to see what he sees as the Challenges, and the solutions to the problem.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

How George Heilmeier Met the Future - BusinessWeek - Dec 12 2005 This interview with George Heilmeier (the man who invented the LCD amongst many other things - and soon to be recipient of the Kyoto Prize) is full of little interesting tidbits and insights from the legendary inventor. My favourite is a comment made to him by Vladimir Zworkyn - the chap frequently cited as the father of the black and white TV. When he asked George how he was able to come up with so many breakthroughs in the electro-optical fields, George admitted that he'd simply stumbled across some of them. Vladimir's reply was "Stumbled? Perhaps -- but to stumble, you have to be moving..."

Brilliant stuff! A good read for the innovation historians amongst you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005 Strategy in tough times: a new idea Kudos goes out to Charles V. Zehren and/or Professor David Willemon of Syracuse University - one of which coined what I'm sure will be the innovation catch phrase de rigeur for 2006 - "Does your company suffer from Innovation Deficit Disorder?" - symptoms include "stagnation, a scarcity of new products or services, a lack of growth and profits, slow development cycle times, projects delivered late and over budget, conflict over innovation failures, and missed market opportunities. Check for customer dissatisfaction, low employee morale, loss of valued personnel and "systems overload." - Let's see how quickly the consultants jump onto that one - $5 gift voucher goes to the first person to report a sighting...
Strategy + Business - "Money Isn't Everything" - 12/5/05 - So it turns out that Booz Allen Hamilton have released the results of a survey of what they call their "Global Innovation 1000" - in this case, the list is comprised of the top 1000 publicly held companies that spent the most on R&D in 2004. Ignore for a minute if you will, the ridiculous notion that all R&D spending is hardly a good measure of a company's ability to innovate - not least of which because innovation is FAR more than R&D - and there are some relatively interesting results here - some good - and some just funny...

The major (good) findings were:

1) It's the process, not the pocketbook - The survey showed that success was a function of the quality of the organization's process for innovation rather than the amount of money it actually spent pursuing individual projects.

2) Collaboration is Key - Enabling cross cultural and organizational groups to work together to, for example, commercialise a product is a crucial element of success

And the funny?....

1) Money doesn't buy results - Rather amusingly, their very first result is that there is absolutely "no relationship between R&D Spending and the primary measures of economic or corporate success, such as growth, enterprise profitability, and shareholder return." - In other words, they're either suggesting that, as far as they're concerned, innovation doesn't contribute to success, or it's an admission that maybe they just picked the wrong 1000 companies...

2) Size matters - Apparently being bigger helps....Why?...because if you're bigger (and make more money) - you can spend the same amount of money as a smaller company and it only represents a smaller proportion of your overall revenue! Duh....Why didn't we think of that?...

The report actually then goes onto a far more detailed version of the findings which actually has some interesting nuggets in it too - but only of use for those of you really looking at Product Development in depth.