Digital Transformation at ‘Life-Science meets Telco7’ on April 14, 2016

Meet me in Bonn, Germany on April 14, 2016 for the 7th installation of DeTeCon’s Life-Science meets Telco series.

This year‘s event focuses on a very special aspect of the Digital Transformation – the cross-industry collaboration and exchange.

How can digitalization be implemented to make a difference in every patient’s life? What best practices from other industries can be transferred to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries? These and many more questions we will answer at this year’s event.

You can expect a great atmosphere for networking as well as exciting discussions on:

  • What is the role of the Digital Transformation for Pharma?
  • Importance of the collaboration between Life Sciences & ICT: current changes in ICT.

Don’t miss this opportunity! Save the date and stay tuned for more information!

 

German Innovation Insider: Catch-Up in Mobility Arena

After exploring German innovation barriers to digital transformation. As a follow-up, let’s look at an example of a successful industry already known for high-tech. And which example would be more moving than the iconic German automotive industry?

Automotive, a moving example

We explored German innovation barriers to digital transformation in German Innovation Insider: The Brakes on Digital Innovation previously.  As a follow-up, let’s look at an example of a successful industry already known for German high-tech innovation: the iconic German automotive industry.

Automotive is the largest industrial sector in Germany.  Vehicles and parts make up some 20% of total German industry revenue with auto sales and exports worth 368 billion euros ($411 billion) in 2014.  Car-making is a German strong suit with luxury cars being the most profitable segment.

Electric Vehicles? – “Nein, Danke!”

Disruptive players emerged with electric car concepts for years. They were generally ignored by the established car makers despite the high eco-consciousness of German society in general.  The new technology was not considered a threat nor as profitable as the existing businesses.  So electrical vehicles were disregarded so not to disrupt or cannibalize the traditional business with combustion engine vehicles.

The influence of the car industry remains strong and has an outspoken lobby also in Germany.  This contributes to failing the German government’s announced goal of leading the electric mobility market with “one million electric vehicles on the road by 2020” since only 8,522 new electrical vehicles were registered in German in 2014 (up from under 3,000 in 2012).

2015Q1 ihs-automotive-electric-vehicles-ranked-by-country(businessinsider_com)
Germany ranks 6th in electric vehicle (EV) registrations by country in Q1/2015. EV registrations in percent of all vehicle registrations displayed.  (image: countrybusinessinsider.com)

Innovation Catch-up by the Automotive Industry

The game changed when disruptive niche player Tesla Motors started cutting into the highly profitable luxury car segment with its high-end and high-tech electric vehicles.  Tesla also receives outstanding customer service reviews in key markets such as the United States.  Suddenly German car builders scramble to catch up to protect their stakes: everyone wants to offer at least one electric vehicle in their luxury car portfolio as a ‘Tesla Killer.’ Finally, negligent or halfhearted governmental support of the program just changed course by offering temporary tax breaks and other incentives.

Growing out of the Niche

Now, disruptive innovation may not make cars obsolete.  We still want to get from A to B, so incrementally improved cars (better safety, quality components, etc.) will remain in demand and customers will continue to pay a premium for luxury models. Take a closer look at Tesla though to see the difference of their bigger and bolder view: the Model S versions, for example, are constructed all the same except for the model sticker on the back.

The true battlefield is no longer the physical car alone.  From the steering unit to the breaking-system Tesla’s are built from pre-assembled, tried-and-tested components from quality manufacturers; including parts from some German hidden champions such as Stabilus (liftgate gas spring) and ZF Lenksysteme (steering mechanism).

tesla-suppliers-2013(insideevs_com)
Model S relies on quality parts by suppliers  (image: insideevs.com)

Software is Pivotal

Nonetheless, it’s the software configuration in the Model S that makes the difference from regulating the available battery capacity (extended range) to other features (acceleration) that become available to its passengers.  Tesla added ‘Autopilot’ functionality and a self-parking feature to its fleet just recently – simply via remote software update. Voila!

Reaching beyond the individual vehicle the software running the car became the key to future mobility.  The question becomes who will own the car operating system of the future?  Chances are it’s the exponential silicon players from sunny California who are best positioned, experienced and deeply understand both, digital integration and exponential innovation.

Mercedes meets the software threat and opportunity by aiming to control this pivotal technology, which may otherwise be seized by more avid digital players such as Google, Microsoft or even Tesla.  Mercedes made some progress when it just announced its new E-class vehicles connecting and sharing relevant information with each other.

Out for the kill?

German luxury car-makers proudly announce their future ‘Tesla Killers’ playing catch-up with high-end electric cars of their own, such as Audi’s Q7 E-TRON Quattro, BMW’s i5 or Porsche’s performance vehicle Mission E (the latter two not available before 2019).  Tesla hardware is even coming under attack with future competition getting ready; among them  Silicon Valley’ Atieva and Tesla clones from China.

In true sports car fashion, Porsche’s marketing highlights 600hp for 0-to-60mph acceleration in under 3.5 seconds. Tesla already achieves this mark today. So where is the actual ‘kill’?

Porsche unvels Tesla Killer
Porsche unveils ‘Tesla Killer’  (image: CNBC)

The Mobility Arena

The real question aims at the next step: where will the drivers of the new Audi’s, BMW’s and Porsche’s charge their batteries on the road?

Looking at future mobility as an arena rather than just vehicles, Tesla’s venture also crossed other industries such as the critical battery business in partnership with Panasonic.  In addition, Tesla offers a wide-cast net of ‘SuperCharger’ power-stations free of charge for its customers at many highway rest-stops and gas-stations positioned to allow Tesla drivers to reach most areas of the continental U.S. already today.

Tesla Supercharger ranges (reddit_com)
Tesla Supercharger station with vehicle range  (reddit.com)

Fueling the Future

Here, Tesla secured the first-mover advantage in securing the precious real-estate needed at busy rest-stops.  In the long run, it appears doubtful that rest-stops will grant additional dedicated slots with proprietary pumps to every car-maker to recharge their line of vehicles.

Tesla SuperChargers
Tesla SuperChargers  (image: teslamotors.com)

So the German car manufacturers may be forced to cut a deal with Tesla adopting the Tesla technology and paying for using Tesla’s high-speed pump space on-the-go in the future.  Tesla even announced it will not enforce patent protection for anyone who, in good faith, wants to use the Tesla technology, which may smoothen over the adoption by other car-makers.

Outlook

Looking into the crystal ball, the automotive industry is not just about introducing more electric vehicles but is morphs to become a new mobility arena as Tesla is demonstrating.  Being still at the early stage of an exponential growth curve, Teslas are certainly not cheap to buy – yet.

Looking at electric vehicles simply as sophisticated hardware components, however, we may just enter a scenario in the not-too-distant future that reminds of Amazon’s successful strategy: giving the Kindle eReader (hardware) devices away cheap. Amazon is not interested in hardware but the content, the vast library of eBooks (software) fueling the customers’ demand, which makes all the difference and holds the keys to a proprietary, digital kingdom with recurring high revenues.

kindle-fire(michaelhyatt.com)
Amazon’s Kindle hardware is fueled by eBooks  (image: michaelhyatt.com)

German Innovation Insider: Holding the Brakes on Digital Innovation

German innovation gets trapped in the very mentality focusing on building quality products ‘Made in Germany’ that the country got well known for. Holding on to vertical product improvement, however, obstructs crossing industry barriers, convergence, developing game-changing business models, and coming up with breakthrough innovations with potential for exponential growth and returns.

Germany – Land of the ‘Hidden Champions’

A recent research study of the Centre for European Economic Research confirmed Germany leading by far with 1,550 hidden champions.  Companies are commonly considered a hidden champion if they are no. 1 or 2 on the world market, make less than EUR 1.5b revenue and their name is not overly well unknown to the general public.

Note that mid-size companies comprise 80%(!) of German industry and resemble the backbone of the German economy altogether. According to the Berlin School of Economics and Law, 90% are focused on B2B.

germany-celebrates_(latintimes.com)
Champions not only in world football (image: latintimes.com)

See if you recognize a few examples of hidden champions that are leading global players:

  • Dixi / ToiToi (portable toilets)
  • Sennheiser (headphones)
  • EBM-Papst (motor and fan manufacturer)
  • Enercon (wind energy)
  • Krones (bottling machines)
  • Recaro (car and airplane seats)
  • Trumpf (laser cutters)

Inside the Vertical Tunnel View

Among the 1.500+ market leaders, only two German companies are leading software companies (Software AG and SAP).  The vast majority focuses on more tangible product innovation leaving this digital industry somewhat isolated, underdeveloped and vulnerable like an economy’s Achilles’ Heel.

You get a good sense of a vertical bias in product innovation, when you read German open job postings for innovation lead position of sorts:  As an innovator in an automotive company, you require a solid background in engine engineering, for example, or as an innovation leader in a chemical consumer goods company, you will not be hired without in-depth knowledge of adhesives, for example.  It becomes painfully obvious how the vertical product innovation fosters a mindset of inbred solutions and can miss out on transformative opportunities beyond the own domain, bridging and converging industries.

3D-printed-German-car(partsolutions.com)
3D-printed car (image: carpartsolutions.com)

Point being: Innovators are usually hired from within a vertical industry. This leaves little room for a creative influx from the outside.  Since meaningful innovation ‘happens’ at the crossroads of disciplines in a horizontal cross-pollination of different industries and domains. This inflexible German practice lends itself to incremental improvement of products rather than disruptive transformation of businesses, entire industries or even across industry arenas.  Within a vertical mindset, ecosystem cross-pollination withers and innovators are less suited, prepared, capable, or enabled to disrupt.

Digital Transformation “Made in Silicon Valley”

When it comes to digital transformation, German companies got disrupted and steamrolled mostly by large-scale digital disruptors coming out of the United States from either California or the East coast technology ecosystems with huge global impact and a different approach:

  • The world’s largest taxi service owns no taxis (Uber)
  • The most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook)
  • The largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix)
  • The largest accommodation provider owns no real-estate (Airbnb)
  • The largest software vendors don’t write apps (Apple, Google) and so on.

The above examples differ from traditional products not only by bold out-of-the-box thinking but also by paying close attention to the customer.  Their business models rest firmly in the digital world with a software business and an internet backbone.

Uber and Airbnb offer digital platforms – that’s it, no tangible goods.  Nonetheless, they shake up the established industries of transportation and hospitality in ways unheard of.  They also reap exponential returns by creating new digital arenas that generate highest recurring revenue in the digital space.

Digital Industry (telecitygroup.com)
Digital business has arrived (image: telecitygroup.com)

Missing the Digital Train?

Back in Germany, its 1,500+ hidden champions flourish in a robust economy, so Germany must be doing something right overall with a vertical focus set on tangible quality products within industries.  Good money is still made in Germany by holding a steady course of vertical product improvement.

This practice also goes hand-in-hand in hand with protecting and not challenging enough the traditional sales-driven business models to avoid cannibalizing the status quo for next-generation innovations.  It reminds of the Kodak-Eastman story having invented the first digital camera but rejecting the technology in order to protect the business around the existing analog film products – and we all know what happened to Kodak.

A Digital Transformation Divide

Truly putting the customer in the center and embracing digital business requires a radical transformation of the existing business and its operations.  The critical interface between IT and Marketing, for example, often is not well developed in Germany, where traditional companies lack understanding of the digital potential and struggle with developing new, digital business models in time.

It is not a question but painfully obvious that -with the current mindset and strategy- Germany misses the train on digital transformation.  While the world moves online, many companies in Germany failed or simply ignored the emerging technological opportunities to develop digital business models consequently, in a structured fashion and timely.

Failure_to_Innovate(bobmaconbusiness_com)
Germany is missing the digital innovation train. (image: bobmaconbusiness.com)

In fact, German companies practically ‘gave up’ across entire industries including media, travel, and retail.  In a recent wake-up call, the German government asked companies and industries to focus on digital transformation in a widely proclaimed initiative called “Industrie 4.0” ‑ a race to catch up internationally.  And catching up is much needed: the narrow German ‘inside focus’ presents a vulnerability to be exploited by foreign disruptive players.  The gap widens steadily as the competitors advance fast, build up huge resources and become increasingly experienced to develop and apply digital transformation with new business models.

pessimism_quote(notable-quotes.com)
(image: notable-quotes.com)

Pessimism with an Insurance Mindset

The high level of disruption and uncertainty does not come easily to a less flexible German mindset:  Having experienced hardship many times during the not-all-that-distant history, Germans tend to seek and value predictability and safety.  Anxiety and fear of the unknown forms an undercurrent in the mindset of German society, which is expressed by seeking refuge in insurance policies to prepare for unknown future events.

As an example, not only do Germans over-insure their daily lives with a myriad of insurances, Germany also holds on to one of the largest amounts of hospital beds and bunkers per capita. You find more hospital capacity in the Berlin-area alone than in all of their neighboring country, The Netherlands!

In general, start-up funding is not as easy to come by as in the U.S., for example, where venture funding is a more common practice.  When I arrived in Germany a year ago, I came across a serious government program that ‘supported’ a new start-up or entrepreneurs with grants tied to a projected positive return-on-investment (ROI) within the first year.  Now, building a profitable business from scratch within in year is an unrealistic goal.  Consequently, the desperate entrepreneur in need of funding would have to submit a bogus business plan right off the bat, which is a set-up for disappointment down the road.  So, either the government program is not meant serious (unlikely) or is designed by people not knowing the first thing about starting a business (likely).

senior-woman-confused-by-tablet-computer(sheknows.com)
Reluctance to embrace technology? (image: sheknows.com)

Techno-Fear and Over-regulation

Overall, the German mindset tends to be more critical regarding new and unfamiliar technology.  Seeking to avoid risk comes with a tendency to ‘over-regulate’ in the sense of applying regulations just because it is possible to regulate rather than because it is necessary to come up with regulation.

Since a long time, Germany has the strictest data privacy laws (that recently translated into GDPR, Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation).  The domestic law protects the individual by granting them the right to control their personal data online and offline.  These regulations are rooted in the country’s dark experiences during its Nazi-past but are also is a reflection of the outspoken suspicion among the broader population towards digital data technologies and their application.  Thus, Germans tend to be more reluctant to share personal data on social media out of fear of exposure and losing control.

The protective (domestic) legislation means well but can only be effective in a closed system, which the (global) internet is not.  In a digital world, international boundaries are artificial.  Given the nature and proliferation of digital technology and interconnectivity of people around the globe, keeping up the aspired high standards proves increasingly cumbersome if not impossible.

The German island can hardly be defended effectively over time.  It may protect the citizens from some harm locally but in return also isolates them and denies them access to the benefits of a technology that ever progresses globally.

Losing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Given a rather pessimistic Germany mindset that is reluctant to fully immerse in the digital world, digital-resistant citizens appear poorly prepared for ‘moonshot’ visions, embracing the opportunities of Big Data Analytics or the vast potential of the Internet-of-Things (IoT).

German innovation death(deskmag_com)
Reluctant to start up a business (image: deskmag.com)

The present German ‘generation of heirs’ inherits the wealth created by their parents’ generation during the famous post-WWII decades known as the economic “Wirtschaftswunder” boom.  Very much in contrast to the U.S. or Asia, many Germans do not share the venturing spirit anymore.  They show reluctance to trying out something new such as building a business as an entrepreneur for several reasons:

  • Firstly, Germans tend to prefer a detailed plan before actively exploring an opportunity and strictly sticking to the plan during implementation. Besides the favorable element of thorough planning, this approach also reflects a deeper fear of failure and seeking a sense of security and predictability.  Deviating from the plan is often interpreted as a failure.
    But then, which plan ever is perfect and stands the test of a dynamic reality? Sadly, the debate then quickly tends to turn to finding a culprit when things go sour rather than making adjustments to keep moving on.
  • Secondly, German hesitation and even a good amount of pessimism roots in the stigma of a business failure, which seems to stick more in German society than in the United States. More than 9 out of 10 start-ups fail, but when a startup fails in the U.S this does not automatically translate into a personal failure of the leader.  It is much more seen as a learning experience, while a German CEO gets easily branded a loser.
    Surrounded by the ‘insurance thinking’ mentioned earlier it will be hard for the former CEO finding support for a future business or even employment in Germany after a venture failed. In consequence, the German CEO is more motivated to beat a dead horse rather than cutting the losses and move on.

Summary – Brakes on Digital Innovation in Germany

For all these reasons, visions tend to be smaller in Germany.  They are more designed to control risk than seizing exponential business opportunities.  Thinking too small, not disruptive enough and too focused within an industry prohibits to compete with the digital global players that emerged with exponential business models, such as the Googles, Apples, Amazons, Airbnbs, Ubers, and so on out there.

Brake-damage(dba.com.au)
Brake damage ahead! (image: dba.com.au)

What keeps the brakes on the German innovation machine is the inbred mindset and vertical tunnel vision with a focus more on products instead of customers, and the risk-avoidance and fear of applying digital technology to its full potential.  It traps many German companies in a self-limiting disadvantage compared to American or Asian competitors, which prove more venturous, flexible and generally optimistic.

The U.S., in particular, entrepreneurs come not only with a more flexible and optimistic mindset but can also tap into unique startup eco-systems in place (Silicon Valley, Boston, and NYC areas primarily) with easy access to bright minds, cross-pollination and venture capital.

Outlook

There remains a demand for physical, quality products in the future, such as the machinery, tools or cars we value today as Made in Germany, so the 1,500+ hidden champions look into a bright future.  Their reluctance to embrace the digital age, however, and transform to embrace new digital business models, however, may steadily push them to the sidelines as industries and arenas change beyond their input or control.

Join Masterclass webinar: “Beyond-the-Pill” Disruptive Innovation within Pharma, Feb. 23, 2016

The pharmaceutical industry struggles with the fundamental changes of the healthcare systems worldwide. For many reasons, the traditional mindset and business models of the past are failing today. New approaches are needed for innovation “beyond the pill” to stay profitable and ahead of competitors.

But how to change a large organization bottom up and from within?

Sign up for the Masterclass: “Beyond-the-Pill” Disruptive Innovation within the Pharmaceutical Industry webinar hosted by the Intrapreneurship Conference at 5-7pm CET (11am-1pm ET) on February 23, 2016!

Intrapreneurship Conference

Why?  The pharmaceutical industry struggles with the fundamental changes of the healthcare systems worldwide. For many reasons, the traditional mindset and the business models of the past are failing. New approaches are needed for innovation “beyond the pill” to stay profitable and ahead of competitors.

But how to change a large organization bottom up and from within?

This session offers you a unique birds-eye and worms-eye view on pharma innovation and its shortcomings under the current paradigm, before diving into real-life case studies of intrapreneuring, disruptive transformation and strategic innovations within and beyond a Global FORTUNE 500 pharma company.

Join this masterclass and learn on how to bring intrapreneuring and transformation to life in a large pharma company.

Driving Innovation in Healthcare: New Executive Intrapreneuring Workshop

Experience the new two-day intrapreneurial journey to transform you organization with exponential results!

Don’t miss EBCG’s intense and hands-on Intrapreneuring Workshop “Building an innovation framework to design, launch and execute business projects” in the Driving Innovation in Healthcare series in the “Golden City” of Prague, Czech Republic, on April 6-7, 2016.

Sign up before December 23, 2015, to save during the special promotion period.


 

 

Eyeforpharma interview “Taking the entrepreneurial approach”

Read this insightful “Taking the entrepreneurial approach” interview conducted by Eyeforpharma on the impact of hierarchy and how executive mindset inhibits adapting to the rapidly changing commercial landscape.  It outlines how “intrapreneurs” and internal “angel investors” can get large, mature organizations moving again!

Read Intrapreneuring Case Study “Leading Innovation” by Ivey Business School!

The prestigious Ivey Business School of the Western University in Ontario, Canada, published an insightful new teaching case study on intrapreneuring and corporate innovation titled “Boehringer Ingelheim: Leading Innovation” in which the case writers, Professor J. Robert Mitchell, Ph.D., and Ramasastry Chandrasekhar, follow the footsteps of the newly appointed innovation director.

Meant to raise questions and serving as a learning opportunity for graduate students in academic program around the globe, this case study lifts the corporate curtain a bit to show how innovation through intrapreneuring really happens and decision points along the way.

Outline (by Ivey Publishing)

The newly appointed director of Innovation Management & Strategy at Boehringer Ingelheim, a German-based multinational pharmaceutical company, is finding his way forward in his firm’s new, first-of-its-kind role, which is central to the company’s growth rejuvenation strategy. His job has a threefold mandate: to build internal networks, to establish internal structures and to leverage internal ideas. His biggest challenge, however, may be transforming the organization’s DNA. The blockbuster business model that has characterized the company for decades is no longer appropriate. Instead, the firm needs to develop healthcare products available to end users over the counter. This shift in strategy requires innovative changes in distribution, delivery and customer focus. To accomplish this goal, he needs to institutionalize innovation so that it becomes sustainable. But in doing so, he must also identify the metrics for assessing progress. The case provides an opportunity for students to step into the shoes of an innovation leader, to develop an innovation roadmap for the organization in the face of uncertainty and to understand how to engage in innovation leadership at various levels of a global enterprise.

Learning Objective

This case has two key objectives. First, this case provides students an opportunity to grapple with the difficult decisions associated with innovation in an uncertain environment. Second, this case highlights that anyone has the ability to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and to lead innovation. The case divides the attributes of an innovation leader into five components: observing, questioning, experimenting, networking and associating. It shows the real-life experiences of a manager doing seemingly routine activities, who evolved into a leader who transformed the DNA of a global enterprise. The case also provides a template of the tasks, responsibilities and value-added changes as an individual moves progressively within an enterprise from an operations manager to a senior manager to an innovation leader. This case can be used either toward the beginning or toward the end of any course that addresses innovation and creative thinking in a large organization. At the beginning of a course, it illustrates the challenges of acting in the face of uncertainty in a large organization. At the end of a course, the case provides an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned about innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation leadership.

Innovation drives Diversity&Inclusion 2.0

The traditional world of corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is being disrupted by a new take on D&I and combining it with innovation and talent management.  What some perceive as a threat to the D&I establishment may just be the next step of evolution that could invigorate and drive D&I to new heights.

Though not an entirely novel approach (see also How to create innovation culture with diversity!) the new thinking gains traction.  As this could play out in different ways and only time will tell what worked, here are my thought on where we are heading.

Struggles of the  Front Runner

Many traditional D&I programs, let’s call them “version 1.0” of D&I, struggle transitioning beyond a collection of affinity groups, tallying corporate demographics and competing for D&I awards to post on their webpage.  In these traditional D&I programs ‘diversity’ is often understood to be reflected by more or less visible differences among individuals at the workplace while ‘inclusion’ translates to supporting defined sub-populations of employees through, for example, establishing affinity groups.

The United States is seen as the front runner of the D&I movement.  D&I has been around in the U.S. corporate world for decades.  For historic and demographic reasons it hones in on removing obstacles for minorities at the workplace supported also by strict legislature and execution; exercising Affirmative Action, for example.

This legacy in the U.S. lends itself to an inside focus on organizations that became the backbone of the traditional D&I programs.  It comes down to the question ‘what can or should the organization do for specific groups of people’ defined by ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, faith, disability, war history and so on.  Apparently, it still is work in progress as, for example, Silicon Valley just recently got on the public radar, which stirred up the debate afresh along the lines of D&I 1.0; see Google releases breakdown on the diversity of its workforce.

Stuck in the ‘Diversity Trap’?

The inside focus and minority messaging of D&I 1.0, however, can be limiting when D&I erodes to a process of ‘doing things right’ by pushing for quotas, ‘checking boxes’ and inflating variations of terminology perceived as ‘politically correct’.  This can in fact be different from ‘doing the right thing’ for the company overall, its employees as well as the affinity groups and their constituency.   It should not surprise that Affinity groups can be (and often get) stigmatized and perceived as self-serving and self-centered social networks without significant and measurable business impact.

Under this paradigm these D&I 1.0 programs struggle to get serious attention, support and funding from executives beyond operating on a minor level to ‘keep the lights on’ more for public image purposes than business drive.  The fundamentals seem to get forgotten: in the end, a business exists to generate a profit, so less profitable activities are likely to be discontinued or divested.  It’s a symbiosis and to say it bluntly: without healthy business there is no D&I program and no affinity groups.  When this symbiosis get lopsided, D&I 1.0 gets stuck in the trap.

D&I 2.0

“Diversity” is catching on beyond the United States in Europe, for example, where many countries do not have share a highly heterogeneous demographic composition, for example.  Here, companies can start with a fresh approach jumping straight to D&I 2.0 – and many do!  It reminds me of developing countries installing their first phone system by skipping the landlines and starting right away with mobile phones.

The 2.0 internal focus corresponds to hiring workers that truly think differently and have different backgrounds and life experiences some of which overlaps with D&I 1.0 affinity roots.  In addition, there is also an external focus putting the staff to work with a clear business proposition and reaching even beyond the organization.  So here a candidate would be hired or employee promoted for their different thinking (2.0) rather than more visible differences (1.0).

While need remains for affinity groups to tend to their members needs within the organization, the “new” D&I 2.0 opens to shift focus to go beyond the organization.  It goes along the lines of a statement President John F. Kennedy became famous for and that I tweaked as follows: “Don’t ask what the COMPANY can do for you ask what you can do for the COMPANY AND ITS CUSTOMERS.

D&I 2.0 gears towards actively contributing and driving new business results in measurable ways for the better of the employees as well as the organization and its customers.  A visible indicator for D&I 2.0 affinity groups helping their constituency beyond company walls is affinity groups identifying and seizing business opportunities specific to their constituency.  They translate the opportunity and shepherd it trough the processes of the organization to bring it to fruition.  For example, affinity groups are uniquely positioned to extending and leveraging their reach to relating customer segments in order to identify ‘small elephant’ business opportunities; see How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations.

The D&I 2.0 approach demonstrates sustainable business value which is why D&I 2.0 sells much easier to executives. It makes a compelling business case that contributes to new business growth, the life blood of every company.

Challenging Transition

U.S. companies stuck in D&I 1.0 are hard pressed to keep up with the D&I 2.0 developments and overcome their inner struggle and resistance.  With decades of legacy, D&I 1.0 programs in many organizations lack the vision and ability to make a compelling business case, to develop a sound strategy as well as capability and skill to implement it effectively.  This is the requirement, however, to truly see eye-to-eye with senior executives and get their full support.  This can become a serious disadvantage in the markets relating to products and customers but also in attracting talent.

In the end, the saying holds true that “talent attracts talent” and all organizations compete over talent to compete and succeed.  Therefore, a D&I 2.0 program combines business focus and talent management while tying it back to the core of diversity and inclusion: Fostering diverse thinkers and leveling the playing field for all employees.  This requires a level playing field that offers the same opportunities to all employees, which is the real challenge.

How do you level the playing field effectively in a large organization?  How this will be implemented becomes the differentiating success factor for companies transitioning to D&I 2.0!

Here is a example 2.0-style for a level playing filed that has its roots in the D&I affinity group space yet opened up to include the entire workforce.  It empowers and actively engages employees while leveraging diversity, inclusion and talent management for innovative solutions with profitable business outcomes.  It may take a minute or two to see the connection between D&I, talent and disruptive innovation but it is at work right here in the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company.

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Previous posts relating to innovation and employee affinity groups / employee resource groups (ERG) / business resource groups (BRG):

“Better before Worse” – are you dropping off the cliff?

Most change initiatives fail.  Statistics from MIT research suggest that for leaders managing change the ‘capability trap’ is the single major failure mode.  So, what is this trap, how is it set up and, more importantly, how to avoid it?

As a quick disclaimer, the charts and examples are schematic and simple to get my point across.  This is a blog, not a textbook.

Under pressure

New leaders get appointed to solve a business problem such as improving poor results of sorts.  So from the start the new guy or gal is under pressure to perform and succeed.  In politics the common public expectations are to see result or bold actions within the first 100 days – and business is not known for being less demanding.

Tough Choice

So, soon enough the new leader faces a tough decision. Which choice do you favor?

  1. “Worse before better” means doing “the right thing.” However, this approach may not deliver sustainable results fast and is a hard sell to impatient or less reasonable superiors.
  2. “Better before worse” is a less stellar route to reap short-term benefits and lessen the immediate pressure but it comes at a price:  knowing that the this choice is not sustainable and will cost more later down the road.
By the way, this is really not rocket-science but straight-forward logic yet many executives still get seduced by the low hanging fruit, namely “better before worse”… so stay with me for a moment to see what happens next.

“Better before Worse” 

It starts out easy: you cut cost all over the place and look like a hero immediately.  For example, you could reduce machine maintenance or cut the employee training budget.  Schematically it looks somewhat like this:

Cutting costs equals savings
Cutting costs equals savings

What happens is that not only your balance sheet looks better quickly, you also increase productivity short-term.  The machines keep running and people keep on working, so in the short-term you produce the same output with less input.

After short-term gains, productivity plummets
After short-term gains, productivity plummets

Productivity and the Capability Inertia

The problems arrive with a delay when ‘capability inertia’ starts kicking in.  So here is what happens:  You didn’t maintain the machines yet the machines keep working – for while. Then, they break really bad and it takes a lot more money to get them fixed than having them maintained.  It’s like not putting oil in your car’s engine and driving on – somewhere down the road the engine will die on you.  You will have to spend money to fix it and live with the downtime while fixing the machines.

With a delay, the organization's capabilities suffer and are very costly to regain later
With a delay, the organization’s capabilities suffer and regaining them later proves very costly

At that time you find yourself in deep water and all your previous savings go up in smoke together with what else you didn’t budget for.

On the people side with employee training, for example, the effect is quite similar but often less obvious: You save the money for keeping them up-to-date with new technology, skilled, etc. and saved short-term.  The real problem is your staff losing its professional capabilities to continue to perform on a high level in the face of competition or adapting to changing markets and environments.  External focus comes with a cost of doing business – that you just eliminated, thereby fostering group-think and internal focus.  Getting the crew back in shape later on takes effort and is expensive: not only will you have to train them but also they are unproductive during the training period.

Furthermore, shortsighted cost-cutting inhibits seizing business growth opportunities such as ‘small elephant’ projects (see also How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations), which can jeopardize the business foundation for the future.

With it comes the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect where valuable talent leaves.  It is the best people who leave first (see How to retain talent under the new workplace paradigm?) if they see sweeping cost savings affecting critical investments in the company’s future capabilities and not surgically cuts.  Talent does not wait it out on a sinking ship.  If you are unfamiliar with the horrendous costs of turnover, check with your Human Resources person to get a sense for your burn-rate!

Despite all of this, many managers still embrace “better before worse” as the scenario of choice and believe they are “doing it the right way”.

Rewards for all the Wrong Reasons?

Unfortunately, performance and compensation frameworks in mature organizations usually support this easier approach.  ‘Success’ is typically measured quarterly or yearly as a basis for bonuses, raises or promotions.  The typical incentive systems don’t take long-term sustainability into account enough (other than stock options for publicly traded companies, for example) to change behavior.

Instead, rewards keep getting handed out on a short-term basis of evaluation.  Research showed many times over that this approach simply doesn’t work for more challenging jobs of the 21st century.  Don’t believe it? – Check out Dan Pink’s famous 18 minute TED talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” relating to the candle problem and motivation research.

As a bottom line, if don’t plan to hang around to ride out the consequences of your choice (or even have a golden parachute ready), “better before worse” appears an attractive shortcut to short-term success.  Deep down, however, you know it was not the right thing to do.  Your staff, your successor, and sometimes the entire company will suffer and face the consequence when you are gone. – So what could you do instead?

“Worse before Better” 

There is an alternative choice: the stony road of “worse before better” by doing what is right.  For leaders accepting responsibility this may be the only choice.

Right from the starts is gets tough: you increase cost to invest where things need to change most, be it people or technology. For example, invest in getting the best people to do the job and train them as well as you can for the challenges to come and step out of their way.  Establish or overhaul technology, processes and managerial framework needed to deliver results reliably.

Invest in future capabilities
Invest in future capabilities first
This takes time and money, so as you would expect, productivity suffers at first but then, if the change is executed well, recovers and quickly exceeds the additional costs by far while you deliver outstanding results reliably.
It is important here not to address all problems at one time but to prioritize and tackle change in smaller steps.  Mind that change is a development process that doesn’t lend itself to shortcuts.
With a delay, productivity recovers sustainably
After dipping down at first, productivity grows sustainably
While this is clearly the more sustainable strategy the tough part is getting your stakeholders and superiors to buy in (especially if they are looking for short-term “better before worse” results) by setting realistic expectations.  After all, “worse before better” is a sustainable basis for a business model where “better before worse” is not.
You may also have to accept not receiving the short-term performance incentives for doing the right thing if your incentive system does not reward building capabilities.  However, there are other kinds of meaningful rewards to consider.  They range from feeling good about withstanding the temptation, doing good for the company and its employees, as well as possibly getting attention from more forward-thinking parties who may want to hire you in the future as a leader with guts and brains.

Shut down! Why Successful Innovations Die

Why successful innovations get shut down. WhIle we expect unsuccessful initiatives and projects to get shut down, what sense does it make to stop hugely successful ones?

Punished Despite Success

It doesn’t make sense to shut down profitable programs – or does it?  It happens all the time when the current yet wilting business model still tastes sweet.  Investing in building a disruptive, future business model appears less palatable as it takes uncomfortable transformation that comes with investment cost and lower profits initially.  The sobering reality is that short-term gains often win over long-term investments, sustainability and bold moves to explore uncertainty and white space.

Here is a quick example from the fossil oil and gas industry straight out of Bloomberg Businessweek, “Chevron Dims the Lights on Green Power” (June 2-8, 2014):  Chevrons renewable power group successfully launched several projects generating solar and geothermal power for over 65,000 homes.  Despite margins of 15-20%, the group was surprisingly dissolved earlier this year after they had just about doubled their projected profits from $15 million to $27 million in 2013, the first year of their full operation. – Why would you kill a profitable new business?

Clashing Business Models

As for reasons for the shut-down, a former Chevron employee and Director of Renewable Energy notes that Chevron’s core businesses, oil and gas, still remain more profitable than renewable energy.  This development signals that Chevron’s leadership is willing to experiment with renewable energy but does not seem fully committed – it makes Chevron’s slogan “Finding newer, cleaner ways to power the world” sound like lip-service.

Instead, Chevron continues to hold on tightly to their old business model to squeeze out the last drop of oil.  Chasing short-term profit margins may prove not only a questionable path for long-term company sustainability but also from a business model perspective.  While oil and gas prices have been on the rise for the past decades, it is well-known that these natural resources become scarce, so extraction from more challenging locations becomes increasingly expensive.  It cuts into the company’s profits and the consumers’ pockets.  To date, Chevron already pays a higher cost for extracting oil compared to competitors.

Chevron focuses on the upper tail of the S-curve of the current technology instead at the expense of preparing for the disruptive jump to the next technology platform. (See section “Technology S-curves” in 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)
The risk here is to lose out on developing and acquiring new technologies that will be the make-or-break competitive advantage in the industry’s future.

Bio Fuels

Interestingly, Chevron’s competitor and largest oil company, Exxon-Mobil, takes a different approach.  Even after initial setbacks where proof-of-concept did not scale to industrial size, Exxon-Mobile now partnered with Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics to produce oil from micro-algae at industrial scale. Hopes are high that this bio-tech and bio-agriculture approach proves more practical, profitable and sustainable to replace fossil fuels in the future.

Sounds risky?  It sure is, but with profits from oil and gas still in the tens of billions this is the time to invest heavily in the jump on to the next technological S-curve. You may recall Craig Venter as a most successful entrepreneur and also the first to sequence the human genome, so there is no shortage of top bio-brainpower, which opens the flow also for more investment capital.

Nearsighted Decisions

Truth being told, several other bio-fuel ventures of this nature exist all around the world.  Neither made it to produce in industrial scale needed to satisfy the world demand for crude oil – yet.  There is no question, however, that the world is running out of affordable oil and gas at accelerating speed.  Disruptive technologies will emerge to fill the gap and redefine the energy sector.

Leadership is needed to prepare and transform the industry beyond short-term management of profit targets.  Not taking a bold step forward is the absence of leadership.  (More on the clashing goals in Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?)

Learnings

The learning here is that even profitable disruptive ventures get shut down at times when the leadership is comfortable and holds on tightly to the existing business model they are familiar with and doing what they always did rather than taking transformative steps to prepare the organization for the future.  Even with the writing clearly on the wall, the way of how profitability of a new venture is measured and the (still higher) margins of the established business (fossil fuels) make short-term focus attractive despite concerns over business model sustainability.  So often enough there is little patience to further develop even successful, transformative ventures of tomorrow in favor of enjoying the sweet but wilting fruits of today.

Somehow this short-term mindset painfully reminds me also of the established car industry who, obviously, had little interest to bring electric vehicles to market at scale over the past decades until a Tesla comes around to show them how it can and should be done.

As for our example, time will tell whether Chevron or Exxon-Mobil made the better choice in the long run to win the new business model race leading us into the post-crude oil era – or if they both get disrupted by an even different new technology altogether.

Why mature organizations can’t innovate

Why mature organizations can’t innovate

Clayton Christensen is the icon and figurehead of disruptive innovation – after all, it was him who coined the term the first place!  (I am a big fan!)

Now, Professor Christensen concludes that large companies can’t innovate in his famous book “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators” – and I’m out to prove him wrong!

Why? – In part, perhaps, driven by my passion for disruptive challenges but mostly out of compassion for my talented colleagues, and who deserve better; we we work hard every day to save and improve the lives of patients.

There must be a way of turning around a mature organization. After all, IBM reinvented itself several times and turned from a manufacturing to a services company, what a pivot is that!

Getting back to 10x innovation

So, can a mature pharmaceutical company adapt and pivot from within as well?  After all, innovation in ‘pharma’ is commonly understood to find, develop and bring to market new innovative medicinal drugs as the core business.  In a rapidly and fundamentally changing business environment (see “What is Digital Medicine?), however, the “selling pills” model alone runs flat, the company must find and adapt to new business models to survive and flourish.

Time will tell if “10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?” is possible once again.  Question is, can mature organization turn around? And if so, how?

Shift from Discovery to Delivery

It starts with understanding why innovation slows down in maturing organizations (outliers may confirm the rule) but stay with me here to get the basic principle.  The answer lays in the natural business life cycle: in the start-up phase of an new company, the most important skills are around discovery, i.e. to explore a radically new business opportunity.

As the business gains traction and needs to grows, delivery skills are needed most. Management composition needs to change in order to develop and expand the business professionally; disruptive input is not in demand and can becomes rather inhibiting to the operation that needs to focus on delivering output reliably and at scale. Innovation shifts from disruption to incremental improvement and rightly so, yet it comes at a price as it leads to predictable obstacles (see Overcoming the Three Big Hurdles to Innovation in Large Organizations)

Research shows that disruptive innovators are typically not good at delivery and growing the company.  As the business matures, they need help and often move on to do what they do best: starting some new, while the company matures in the hands of management that can deliver.

Downfall

Over time, however, markets get saturated and the established business model may no longer work, profits decline. Now here comes the inflection point: the management was hired for its delivery skills.  They don’t really know how to renew the business, since they never created one.  What they do know is how to prolong the downturn by clinging to the outdated business model while squeezing out inefficiencies and saving cost.  Research confirms, little surprise, that the maturity managers are good at delivery but mediocre at best when it comes to discovery.

The company, a supertanker, became a slowly sinking ship.  Group-think, the mindset and engrained culture, prevents disruption from breaking through.  After all, no passionate out-of-the-box thinker or entrepreneur has been hired for years.  Instead, Ivy League graduates with MBAs are favored that runs the business more administratively, bureaucratically, without taking significant risks – who would ever take the risk and hire a crazy guy, right?

Turning to Intrapreneuring

So, where should the turnaround come from?  Here comes the The Rise of the Intrapreneur!

To connect things again in news ways to create and build an innovation-friendly ecosystem while chipping away the on the resistance of the “organizational immune system.”

Over the next posts we will introduce and explore intrapreneurial methods using the example of a pharmaceutical company and member of the FORTUNE Global 500 club.

Join me at the Customer Experience Summit 2014 in Princeton/NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014

How open offices kill productivity – and how to make it work

Open offices are not a new invention.  They have been around for a long time as hallmark of start-up companies that simply cannot afford glitzy corporate skyscrapers with plush corner offices (yet). Open offices emerged less by deliberate design than driven by need.

Start-ups typically run on a vibrant culture of passionate people wanting to spend time together to create something great, everyone works together closely in the tight space available.  Information flows fast and freely.  Recreational elements and other services offered remove the need or motivation to leave.  Employees hang out to work maximum hours as a team in a fun, inspiring and supportive environment.  Productivity is up and work gets done.

Start-up open office (source: theepochtimes.com)
Start-up open office (source: theepochtimes.com)

Growing pains

Large companies are attracted by this powerful value-proposition for open offices – or so it seems.  Mature organizations struggle with their increasing size that, over time, entails increasing specialization and complexity with a stifling system of red tape and inertia.

While jobs are large in small companies and come with broad scope and high accountability, which are diluted when jobs narrow in large companies by increased specialization over time.  Functional silos emerge and sub-optimize often to the detriment of other business functions.

This siloed corporate world only contributes to a climate that works against diverse collaboration and inhibits breakthrough innovations; and business results degrade from 10x to 10%.  (See also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)

Cutting costs is a questionable driver

The reasons for large organizations moving to an open floor plan are often glorified and communicated as a measure to increase creativity and productivity in an appealing modern working environment: employees connect casually and spontaneously at the ‘water cooler’ to network and innovate together again.

The true and paramount driver for tearing down the office walls, however, is often more sobering: it comes down to simply cutting costs by reducing the expensive office footprint.  Fitting more people into less space comes at a price for the workforce.

Cost savings only get you so far.  It’s an easy approach but not a sustainable business model for productivity.  What do you really save if productivity goes down?  How sustainable is your business then?  Sacrificing productivity for cost savings is a narrow-minded approach lacking long-term perspective and, therefore, not worth it.  That is unless your goal is to achieve short-term gains without consideration for the future of the business, which is a disqualifying business perspective altogether.

The popular phenomenon in large companies is a move for the wrong reasons (the better driver being increased productivity) and entails serious consequences that jeopardize the company’s productivity, workforce satisfaction, and even the bottom line.

Design constraints

It gets even worse when the new environment is retrofitted space with structural limitations, founded in the legacy of existing buildings and investments, and if no flanking measures taken to enable effective collaboration needs.

A design from scratch has the potential support the collaboration needs and flow of the workforce best.  This is an advantage start-ups have when they can shape and rearrange loft space to their immediate needs without limitations carried forward.

Size matters

Controlling cost is necessary and reducing office footprint is an effective business measure.  Aetna, for example, has nearly half of their 35,000 employees working from home already, which saves ~15% to 25% on real estate costs – that’s about $80 million saving per year.

Do not get me wrong, there are undeniable benefits to open office spaces – when applied for the right reasons in the right context, with right priorities and proper execution.  The point I am making is that cost reduction alone is not a worthwhile driver if it sacrifices productivity.  There comes a point where a hard decision has to be made and if you prioritize cost savings, you sacrifice productivity and other aspects automatically.

Open Office Plan (source: Foundation 7)
Open Office Plan (source: Foundation 7)

What does it take?

Unfortunately, the start-up company model with open office space and its agile and enthusiastic does not scale for large organizations.  The corporate one-size-fits-all approach does not do the trick for several reasons.

Let us look at aspects that make the open office work:

  1. Tear down cost center walls
  2. Make presence easy
  3. Level the (remote) playing field
  4. Embrace work style differences

1.  Tear down cost center walls

Proximity favors who needs to work together closely.  In a start-up company, staff is few and jobs are big.  This ratio flips in large organizations where many employees work in highly specialized functions.  With increasing specialization comes complexity that leads to functional silos.  The employees become separated by every rising departmental and organizational walls.

In large organizations, work space is typically paid for by department and charged to cost centers.  Staff gets corralled this way and kept separated in functional clusters that are easier to administer but counteract productivity, streamlined workflow, and diverse collaboration cross-functionally.  After all, it wouldn’t make sense to have any department operating completely independent from the rest of the organization.

These artificial and structural boundaries make no sense (unless you are an accountant, perhaps).  Therefore, trade the urge for financial micro-management for what makes the workforce more productive, as this is the most important aspect of collaboration and, ultimately, the bottom line.

2.  Make presence easy

Make it easy for your employees to go the extra mile.  Now here is where large companies can learn from how start-ups: offer incentives for employees to hang out and remove reasons for them to leave to maximize time to work and collaborate.

The list seems endless: free beverages and food, services such as laundry, hair dresser, spa or receiving deliveries, exercise equipment, healthy snacks, child and pet care, and other useful perks that cost-cutting companies often omit.

Sounds like a waste to many large companies.  But is it really?  You get more out of your employees’ carefree working along longer than by pinching the free coffee and have them leave during the day or early to run their necessary errands.

3.  Level the (remote) playing field

It may sound counter-intuitive but when cost saving rules, the open office space often only works when not all employees are around at the same time.  If all employees showed up on the same day there may not be enough room and resources (seating, access to power and networks, etc.) to fit and accommodate everyone, since the physical office footprint is now too small ‑ a Catch-22.

When only a subset of employees can be present in the office at any given workday, the rest has to work remotely forming an –at least- virtual organization.  Consequently, the random personal connection “at the water cooler” becomes less likely as does spontaneous cooperation by “pulling together a team” since your pool of physically available staff is limited.

Management needs to take deliberate and determined measures to level the playing field for remote workers by giving them the same opportunities as colleagues present in the office.  Why?  “Out of sight, out of mind” is a powerful and human nature.  If not managed effectively, it only becomes worse when remote staff easily is continuously overlooked when it comes to projects staffing, development opportunities and promotions, for example. The resulting inequities undermine workforce cohesion, effectiveness, and talent development.

Read more on virtual teams at Why virtual teams fail, and how to make them work (part 1) and How to make virtual teams work! (part 2).

4.  Embrace work style differences

There are too many individual work styles to list them all – for example, just think of

FastCompany recently came up with a list of reasons by workers arguing against open offices, which is a good indicator where the pain-points are.  Representative or not, the list tends to resonate with people that experienced first-hand working in a corporate open office environment.

The key complaints are about

  • Distraction – hard to concentrate with surrounding noises of all sort; loud speaking coworkers; interruptions of coworkers stopping by at any given time
  • Discomfort – no privacy; by-passers looking at your screen and documents; food, bodily and other odors; white-noise generators blamed for headaches; spreading contagious illnesses; having to talk to people when you don’t feel like it; “hiding” by wearing earphones
  • Workflow obstacles – competing over quiet spaces, conference rooms or other rare resources; no place to store personal items or personalize the space.

In summary

One size does not fit all and it does not do the trick for large companies, in particular.  So if you have to downsize office space or accommodate more employees, take a sound and sustainable approach by making productivity the driving priority and not cost.

After all, we are human beings that work best when we have control over our work environment and schedule.  When we perform at our best, it is also for the better of the company as a whole.  Flexibility, empowerment and inclusion go a long way – otherwise, mind FastCompany’s warning: “What was supposed to be the ultimate space for collaboration and office culture was having the opposite effect” – also for the bottom line.

Join me in Boston for the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!
Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?

Google co-founder and CEO, Larry Page, continues to have big expectations for his employees:  come up with products and services that are 10 times better than their competitors, hence “10x” – that’s one order of magnitude!

10X vs. 10%

Many entrepreneurs and start-up companies, they seem to ‘shoot for the moon’!  Far more than 90% of these ventures fail within just a few years.  Few, such as Google, succeeded and grew to dominate internet giants.  The question remains though if they can maintain the innovative pace of 10x when the innovation rate tends to sink closer to 10% in matured companies.

How big dreams changed the world

This challenge effects also other visionaries that changed the face of the world and transformed society in ways nobody has imagined, such as:

  • Apple building a micro-computer at times when mainframes ruled the digital world and only few could envision a demand for personal computing
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977; just a few years before the first IBM PC was sold.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977 – just a few years before the first IBM PC sold.
  • eBay establishing a new online sales model that millions around the globe use every day
  • Google taking over the browser market through simplicity, by giving everyone control to use the most complex machine on Earth, the Internet
  • Microsoft cultivated software licensing to sell one piece of software millions of times over effortlessly at minimal cost.

Innovation downshift

As disruptive and transformative ventures grow and mature, the definition of what is perceived ‘innovate’ changes.  Both momentum and focus shifts.  With size companies struggle to continue innovating similar to their nimble start-up origins.

What happens?  With size comes a downshift from disruptive to incremental change. Simplicity makes space for adding features.  Adding features makes products more complex and ultimately less usable and appealing to the majority of customers.

Look at Microsoft’s Offices products, for example:  Wouldn’t you wish they came out with a ‘light’ version with reduced feature complexity by let’s say 75%, so the software becomes easy to use again?

It also starts haunting Google, as their established products such as Search or Gmail need to be maintained.  Additional “improvements” aka. features creep in over time.  Perhaps you noticed yourself that recently Google search results seem to be less specific and all over the place while the experimentation-happy Gmail interface confuses with ever new features?

Even the most iconic and transformative companies experience the reduction of their innovative rate from 10X to an incremental 10% or so.

Technology S-curves

Funny thing is that -at least in technology- incremental improvement quickly becomes obsolete with the next disruptive jump.  The current technology matures up along the S-curve (see graphics) and generates revenue, but the next disruptive technology emerges.  Companies hold on as long as they can keeping revenue flowing by adding features or improvements of sorts to gain or maintain a marginal competitive advantage.  Thus, incremental improvement and process optimization found their place here to minimize cost and maximize profit in a market where the product became a commodity, so the competition is based only on price.

The new technology does not yet make significant money in the beginning at the beginning of the next S-curve.  The few early units produced are expensive, need refinement and are bought by enthusiasts and early adopters who are willing to pay a steep premium to get the product first.  Nonetheless, development reached the point of “breakthrough,” becomes appealing to many and quickly takes over the market:  the big jump onto the next S-curve gains momentum.  Suddenly, the former technology is ‘out’ and revenue streams deflate quickly.

S-curve (http://www.carteblancheleeway.wordpress.com)
S-curve (http://www.carteblancheleeway.wordpress.com)

(source: http://www.carteblancheleeway.wordpress.com)

Large and matured organizations ride on an S-curve as long as possible.  They focus top-down on optimizing operations.  Little effort is made to address the underlying limitation of the current technology and seeking out risky new successors.  Maturing companies tend to transform into a ‘machine’ that is supposed to run smoothly.  A mind shift happens to avoid risk in order to produce output predictably and reliably at a specific quality level to keep operations running and margins profitable.  Incremental process improvement becomes the new mantra and efficiency is the common interpretation of what now is considered ‘innovative’.

10X has turned into 10%.  To keep up with the ambitious 10x goal, companies would have to constantly re-invent themselves to replicate their previous disruptive successes.

How Goliath helps David

Even our recent iconic ‘giants’ find themselves in a tighter spot today:

  • Google struggles to integrate a fragmented product landscape and maintain the ambitious 10X pace of innovation
  • Microsoft suffocates loaded with features that make products bulky and increasingly unusable while consistently failing to launch new technologies in the growing mobile segment successfully
  • Apple waters down their appealing simple user interface by adding features and clinging to defend their proprietary standards from outside innovations.

On top of it, all giants tend to face the stiffening wind of governmental scrutiny and regulation that influences market dynamics to protect the consumers from overpowering monopolies that jeopardize competition and innovation.

This is a fertile ground for the next wave of innovators, small Davids, to conquer markets from the Goliaths with fresh ideas, agility, and appealing simplicity.  Where does your organization stand on the S-curve, riding the current curve with 10% or aiming high at the next with 10x?

Observing the down-shift

What can you observe when the down-shift happens?  How do you know you are not on the transformative boat anymore?  Here are just some examples:

  • Small Jobs – job descriptions appear that narrow down the field of each employee’s responsibility while limiting the scope by incentivizing employees to succeed within the given frame.
  • Safe Recruiting – practices shift to playing it safe by hiring specialists from a well-known school with a streamlined career path to fit the narrowly defined mold of the job description.  They newbies are expected to replicate what they achieved elsewhere.  To risk is taken to getting the ‘odd man out’ for the job, a person who took a more adventurous path in life and thinks completely different, as this may disrupt the process and jeopardize the routine output by shifting the focus away from operations.
  • Homogenized workforce – as a consequence of hiring ‘safely’, the workforce homogenized thereby lowering the innovative potential that comes with the diversity of thought and experience.
  • Visionaries leave – with the scope of business shifting, the visionary employees that drove innovation previously lose motivation when innovation and creativity slows.  Now they are held to operate in a business space where they do pretty much the same thing as their competition.  Naturally, these go-getters move on, as it is easy for them to find a challenging and more exciting new job in a more dynamic place. – This ‘leaky talent pipeline’ gets only worse and costly when the talent management focus shifts to talent acquisition and leaving talent retention behind.
  • Complexity creeps in – the temptation to constantly add features increases the complexity and starts a spiral that is hard to leave again (see also ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?)
  • Procedures for everything – operating procedures regulate every detail of the job.  The new ‘red tape’ is not limited to the necessary minimum but rather by the possible maximum.
  • Short-term focus – work output becomes mediocre and focuses on short-term goals and sales targets; the next quarter’s numbers or annual results take priority over following the big dream.
  • Sanitized communications – broader communications within the company become ‘managed’, monitored, ‘sanitized.’  A constant stream of (incremental) success stories pushes aside an open discussion to target the bigger problems.  Opportunities are missed for open dialogue and creative disruption that fuels the quantum leaps forward to outpace the competition.  Peer to peer communication is monitored to remain ‘appropriate’ and can even be actively censored.  Trust in management and subsequently also among employees erodes.

Management fear of being the first

The real problem is the shift of mindset in top management that quickly works its way down:  not wanting to take the risk of being first, which includes avoiding the risk to fail while chasing to next big opportunity or technology.  Instead, they sail the calmer waters among more predictable competition fighting for small advantages and holding on to the status quo opportunistically as long as they can.  In some cases, the management even acknowledges the strategy shift from ‘leader’ to ‘fast follower’ despite whatever the company motto proudly promotes – and thereby accepting 10% and avoiding to leap ahead of their competition by bold and game-changing 10x moves.

Interestingly, these same managers still love to look over the fence to awe the iconic leaders but steer away to take charge and work to become the leader again themselves.  The nagging question remains if they could actually pull it off getting into first place.

Outside-of-the-box thinking may still be encouraged in their organization but is not acted upon anymore. Internal creativity or ideation contests become more of an exercise to keep employees entertained and feeling engaged, but the ideas are hardly being funded and executed.  Instead, company resources are concentrated to run the incremental machine predictably and reliably at 10% as long as its profitable, no matter what.  – They simply have no resources to spare and dedicate to 10x!

Business Darwinism

These businesses undergo a cycle of breaking through by successful disruption in a narrow or completely new segment, then continued growth to a size where the organization slows down to an incremental pace and somewhat stagnating innovation.  It may then get driven out of business by the next disruptor or pro-actively break up into more competitive fragments that allow for agility and risk-taking once again to become leaders in their more closely defined space of business.  This closes the cycle they are to go through next.  There is a strong parallel between evolution and Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

Keeping this cycle in mind, it becomes easier to see why management undergoes the mind shift to predictable and incremental improvement during the massive growth phase of the company in the center of the S-curve.  It is also the time when the disruptive innovators have jumped ship to join the next generation of cutting-edge innovators and risk-taking disrupters that prepare to take the leap working on the next S-curve.

Which way to turn?

The question is where you want to be:  the true risk-taker or the incremental improver?  Understanding the trajectory and current location of your company helps to make the right decision for you.  It can save you from frustration and be banging your head against corporate walls and be wasting your energy in a dinosaur organization that is just not ready anymore for your ‘big ideas’ and quick moves outside its production-house comfort zone.

This leaves some of us thinking which way to turn.  If you are looking for predictability, longer-term employment (an illusion these days one way or another) and good night sleep, this is the place you will feel comfortable in.

Otherwise, dare to follow the risk-taking visionaries like Elon Musk (the brain behind PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; see his recent great interview) to move on.

And then there is ‘intrapreneuring’ as a third direction that tries to change the company from within. (See ‘The Rise of the Intrapreneur‘)

To say it with the words of Niccolo Machiavelli, the wise and sober realist: “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

Shoot for the moon (or Mars, if you are Elon Musk), change the world no matter what and enjoy what you do!

How to make virtual teams work! (part 2)

This second part of the blog post looks at how to make virtual teams work.  Don’t miss the first part: Why virtual teams fail

Telecommuting is on the rise.  It leads to more ‘virtual teams’, which means co-workers collaborate separated from another by location and often also time.

Bitter-sweet 

There is a bright side and a dark side to telecommuting.

Here is the upside:  According to Staples Advantage’s study (see “Employers say work from home works“), 93% of employers found programs that allow employees to work from home benefits employees as well as companies.  Half of the employers report more productive employees and 75% agree that telecommuting makes their employees happier.  No wonder that the amount of telecommuters has roughly doubled in the US over the past 10-or-so years (http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics).

The stubborn tendency remains that work may get done at home, but careers are made in the office.  The benefit of control over one’s work place and time comes at a price for the career as a recent study by Stanford University revealed: working from home cuts the chances for a promotion in half!

Obviously, there is a disconnect between where the professional world is moving towards rapidly and our mindset that seem to adapt slower and less flexibly to change using digital interaction for effective collaboration.

Because the world is not flat…

Even the most advanced and latest ‘virtual presence’ technology does not offer the same bonding with senior management as face-time does.  The ones working from home can be overlooked or -when opportunity knocks- forgotten, even though they often work harder compared to in-office workers and their productivity is higher, as the study showed.

When it comes to telecommuting the world is not flat.  Simply put, the playing field is not level between in-office and at-home workers, explains the gap between the positive perception of remote working by employers and employees alike, and the sobering reality of career crunch.

Furthermore, it is not the remote workers alone that require attention and need to be managed differently.  It is also the staff remaining in the office (if there are any), since both parties are affected and need to perceive the same leveled plain.

Breaking habits

It is human nature to favor those whom we feel close to and whom we work and spend time with in close proximity. To make working-from-home (or from anywhere else outside the office) work successfully, it is the management’s responsibility to level this playing field effectively and sustainably.

Achieving this is anything but easy; in particular, if managers are used to working out of an office.  For them it means to break with their habits for the better of the organization.  – It’s not impossible though: our habits of sitting at a table in front of a computer all day is just as unnatural for humans; yet we get used to it.

Cover the bases

There are some key aspects to make remote working work:

1. The work itself
First, the work must lend itself to be conducted remotely.  Quite a no-brainer: other than in a factory setting, the necessary tangible tools and resources to collaborate cannot be concentrated in one place but must be accessible to the remote staff where ever they work from.  For example, remote working is not possible for a factory assembling gadgets along a conveyor belt, where each worker contributes to some part of the process assembling the product.  Tools are expensive and immobile, so resources need to be concentrated in around the tools to allow for efficient collaboration.

Not much different from factory workers, the collaboration of knowledge workers is enabled by tools to communicate and to share data and information.  The difference is that technology allows information to be transmitted, so we can collaborate effectively and efficiently from all corners of the world. Choosing the most suitable collaboration tools can become a differentiating competitive advantage; you don’t want to lose quality or effectiveness when collaborating remotely.

2. The workers

Working from home is not for everyone for different reasons.  It does require continued motivation and self-discipline to work from home as if in the office among co-workers.  It takes establishing a new work-day routine in the isolated home environment that is invisible to co-workers.  It becomes just as import for the home-workers to take regular breaks:  Burnout can easily become an issue when home-workers over-compensate because they either feel under scrutiny by management and/or co-workers in the office.  Also less interruptions at home can lead to missing breaks and working longer hours continuously than in the office.

When I introduced remote working as a pilot project in my department several years ago, one of my staff reported in the beginning that he felt guilty taking a bio-break at home, so not to appear unavailable to staff from other departments who remained working from the office.

3. The management

Managing a remote workforce requires a different management style.  Managers need to become more pro-active, use communication channels that the staff is comfortable with and adopt ways to communicate with their staff transparently and effectively.  Key points for managers are to:

  • Establish shared team goals
  • Establish communication best-practices together with the team; this also helps to mitigate timezone, language and cultural differences as well as choosing the proper communication channel depending on content
  • Manage by performance, not by face-time or physical presence
  • Actively create equal opportunities for on-site and off-site staff
  • Set clear rules for management and staff alike aiming to show transparency and leveling the playing field by incentivizing favorable behavior (a matter of organizational justice)
  • Remain flexible and ask your staff for ideas on how to improve knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

4. The performance metrics

Leveling the playing field comes down to truly embracing a performance culture that incentivizes results – not face-time.  Managers need to articulate clear and measurable goals for the team and its individuals in advance and sometimes also more frequently than they used to.  Acting transparently and objectively can be a serious challenge for managers and requires leaving the personal comfort zone.

To achieve this, training may be necessary to shift the culture of the organization and prepare management and their staff alike.

As an example, when I first introduced remote working, I asked my managers to establish and document weekly goals with each staff member and to review them for completion the following week.  After a couple of months, I left it to the managers to use any other way to set and track performance with their staff.  When some managers wanted to put away with the weekly goal agreement sheets, it was their staff who asked to keep them, as they valued the clear and documented goals in their hand.  The staff also found them helpful to discuss facts during their following periodic performance reviews.  Though not planned for, the weekly goal setting contributed measurably to increase trust of staff in their managers.

Plan for the “soft factors”

Interesting are the “soft factors”, which are the real make-or-break but often tend to get overlooked, forgotten or just not taken into account seriously.  What it boils down to is the relationship (trust) and interaction (communication) between managers and their staff as well as among the members of a virtual team.  These soft factors are subtile and often require behavioral changes or adaptation, more for managers than their staff.

Do you trust?

Take the time to ask yourself two questions honestly:

  • Do you trust yourself to be as productive working from home as in the office?

Now this:

  • Do you trust your coworkers or your direct reports to work as productive from home too?

My own experiences are consistent with the research: we trust ourselves more than others. – And this is where the problem starts.

Why trust matters

A trustful personal connection is unsurpassed to build trust as a foundation for robust and sustainable business relationships and collaboration.  Individuals trusting a person we don’t want to work or do business with this individual.

Trust also makes up much of the ‘social glue’ that holds together teams and organizations. Trust is critical for the success of virtual teams. With lack of trust also the willingness to share information dwindles and so does productivity.

When this happens, our energy gets wasted every day with concerns and redundant or counterproductive work.  Workers focus to avoid perceived threats from others, which takes over more and more of their work time, focus, and productivity. In contrast, for people we trust we happily go the ‘extra mile.’

Trust (or the absence thereof) has been identified as the pivotal element ranging from detailed investigations in hundreds of organizations (by Virtual Distance International) to recent bestsellers like “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni.

Coming back to the two earlier questions, it proves hard turning the mirror towards ourselves and to accept that also we need to build trust with our co-workers to build and fuel our most robust and valuable business connects and relations.

What is trust?

Let’s take a closer look – what makes up trustful work relationships?  Trust is an interpersonal phenomenon. It comes down to three factors that make up trust at the workplace as Karen Sobel Lojeski, NYU professor at Stony Brook and CEO of Virtual Distance International explains:

  • Benevolence  –  our co-workers have your best interest at heart
  • Ability  –  our co-workers have the knowledge and ability to get the job done
  • Integrity  –  our co-workers will do what they promise.

Innovation needs trust
High trust correlates with more successful innovation – why?

When colleagues trust another they open up and share information. Besides the obvious benefit of cross-fertilization that leads to more ideas and creative approaches, by giving away our views and knowledge we become vulnerable as an individual and even more so in a competitive professional environment. This openness comes with a risk to fail that people are only willing to take if failure is acceptable and does not come with repercussions.

Sharing ideas alone is not enough though. Asking thoughtful questions, constructive criticism and mutual support lead to better solutions while curbing hostility and competitiveness. Opening up happens when a task-related conflict will not easily deteriorate into a personal conflict. Innovation within an organization relies on trust among colleagues as a key ingredient that cannot be substituted otherwise.

How we build trust

Trust requires communication and is built most effectively face-to-face with another person, which offers the broadest information channels.  An MIT study found a 47% higher performance in companies that are highly effective communicators.  Team success is consistently tied to robust team communications. (I wonder if this communication-related increase in performance was ever considered by companies focusing on saving cost…)

Customer-facing business knows that no technology today can offer the same quality and trust-building dialog as in person face-to-face.

Thus, travel to meet business partners and team members remains essential at least in the beginning. Traveling more to meet in person is out of the question for organizations who boarded the ‘cost-cutting’ train: it is considered too expensive.  Saving cost here, though, does not pay off over time when it cuts into building trust for good working relationships.

Even more important is trust-building when on-boarding new staff. It is a challenge if most or all work is done remotely by team members who already know and trust each other.  It comes back to human nature that we tend to rely on the same people we worked with before, which puts newcomers at a natural disadvantage.  Here, management must intervene to level the playing field and provide opportunities also for the new staff.

Perhaps, women are at a natural advantage to connect with others given a higher social sensitivity, i.e. the ability to ‘read’ other people’s emotions face to face better than men.  This is also one of the three criteria that increases group intelligence (see “Boost ‘Group Intelligence’ for better decisions!“)

Investing in trust and technology

Since it is not possible (and defeats the purpose) to meet in person especially in virtual teams, we use digital technology to bridge the distance.  Consequently, we need to invest in effective tools to remove communication barriers and open broad, information-rich channels of communication among all team members.

Rather than relying on one channel or system, it is more effective to enable the team to communicate by offering many channels that cater to the individual team member’s preferences; for example, phone, instant messaging, video chat, email, etc).  For example, waiting more than one minute to establish a video-conference connection is too long and already poses a significant communication barrier.

‘Tele-presence’ seems to be the gold-standard for remote communication but sadly often remains reserved only for executive use if the technology is invested in at all.

Nonetheless, enabling technology can also enhance performance and add value by

  • Indicating if people are online and available to communicate
  • Finding experts or collaborators easily within large organizations
  • Share and exchange information to relevant audiences directly and without delay.

In contrast, here are some examples for communication barriers of organizations with a cost-saving focus that tends to include also ‘technological disablement’ such as

  • Using slow or time-delaying communication or productivity equipment
  • Users spending more time trying to connect than actually communicating
  • Information-poor channels or poor call quality
  • Resolving technology-related problems consumes a long time or is a cumbersome process.

The Deep Dive

Virtual Distance ™ is a powerful framework to identify and quantify barriers within virtual teams.  This methodology helps not only to evaluate existing teams, but to anticipate barriers in future teams.  Virtual Distance makes for a superb strategic forecasting and planning tool to build effective virtual teams.

For more detail, see Virtual Distance International.

Too much trust can hurt innovation

Just as a side note for completeness, there is a risk that too much trust within a team can become and obstacle to innovation (see “Why too much trust hurts innovation“).

It comes down to management again to be observant and vigilant to detect and counteract such tendencies.

While introducing remote work in virtual teams comes with significant change and challenges for everyone involved, the burden and responsibility to make it work in the end remains with the manager.

Have you read part 1 yet? “Why virtual teams fail

 

Top 10 Innovation posts

Here are my Top 10 posts on innovation:

Can strategic innovation rely on creative chaos?  To make a long story short, the answer is: No!  Read what it takes to consistently innovate and give you a very cool example too.

2.  How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)
What is an innovation leader? Is this role similar to an innovator? (The answer is ‘no’.) – Recognize the three key roles in innovation, how to find an approach and avoid critical pitfalls.

Not everything new is an innovation and some is more renovation than in innovation.  Here is a framework that helps to distinguish an innovator from a renovator and works for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike.  It is important to understand which role to play and when; it all depends on what you need to achieve and what is critical to reach your goal!
Creating value through new products is not enough. Capturing the value requires equal attention on the innovation process. Focusing on creativity and neglecting execution along the value chain is a costly mistake.

5.  Why too much trust hurts innovation
Most managers understand that trust is a key ingredient to effective collaboration and innovation.  Yet, few actively try to cultivate and nourish trust in their own organization to achieve the right mix between trust and constructive tension.

6.  Imitators beat Innovators!
You thought Facebook was the original? Or YouTube? Or LinkedIn? – Get ready for your wake-up call! Break-through innovations are over-rated! Imitators are successful by combining someone else’s innovation with the imitator’s advantage and by doing so they can become innovators themselves!

7.  Boost ‘Group Intelligence’ for better decisions!
Group intelligence can be increased and lead to better decision-making – or why not to rely on a group of geniuses!  New research breaks the ground to understand collaborative intelligence and the – but how to apply it to the workplace?

8.  Collective Intelligence: The Genomics of Crowds
Group intelligence beats individual brilliance – and businesses are willing to pay for the crowd’s wisdom in the social sphere.  The MIT’s ‘genetic’ model allows  combining social ‘genes’ to harness the collective intelligence of crowd wisdom successfully and sustainably; areas of application are scientific research or business/employee resource groups, for example.

9.  Can movies innovate with only seven stories to tell?
How innovative are movies really – if at all?  While AVATAR and THE ARTIST appear polar opposites, they share a similar story; so where is the innovation?

10.  ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?
What is the key challenge in the coming years and how to prepare future leaders.

Don’t miss my Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs!

How intrapreneurs find executive sponsors

Finding a sponsor can be frustrating!

Have you ever had a great idea and went to your manager for support but found they were just not interested in it?  Did nothing come out of it in the end, and you were disappointed?  Perhaps, you just turned to the wrong sponsor for your project, a common mistake of intrapreneurs. Here are some thoughts on whom to turn for with ideas to make them happen within an organization.

Looking for a sponsor?
Looking for a sponsor?

Intrapreneurs are ‘executive champions’ that connect people with specific ideas (‘technical champions’) to ‘business champions’ who can provide the resources to make this idea happen; typically an executive sponsor providing funding and political support.  More on intrapreneurship at The Rise of the Intrapreneur and the intrapreneurial role of the executive champion at How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3).

Managers and leaders innovate differently

Let’s look at the ‘business champion’ or executive sponsor.  It is crucial to understand the motivation of executive sponsors for a simple reason: only if your idea or proposition fits their agenda are they be willing to listen to you and getting actively involved.   Consider that they take on risk too in supporting as poor results also reflect on them.  You need to know whom to turn to for what kind of idea to find adequate support.

For an intrapreneur, it is critical to understand the nature of the executive position.  More specifically if you approach a manager or leader to find support for an innovative idea.

Managers and leaders look at innovation differently, hence both groups innovate very differently and for different reasons.  It translates directly into their understanding of what ‘innovation’ is, its risks and rewards, and consequently their willingness to listen to you.  Turing to the wrong executive easily gets your idea rejected and you may not even know why.

Let’s take a look how the views of managers and leaders differ and how this molds their understanding of innovation and what kind of change.  On a side note organizations need both, managers and leaders.  Each role serves a different yet necessary purpose in the organization; see “Leadership vs. Management? What is wrong with middle management?

Managers focus on predictability

Managers are charged with running the daily business smoothly.  They manage a well-oiled ‘machine’ of people, tools and processes to deliver a certain output, a product or service, reliably and at a fixed cost ceiling.

The paramount goal for managers is business continuity – it is the daily bread and butter of the organization and what pays your employee salary today.  Running a fast-food restaurant is a good example, the expectation here is predictability: to deliver food to the customer at a specific quality level with as little variability as possible at a defined cost and within a certain time.  A competent manager delivers this predictability reliably over and over again.

With operational targets clearly defined, the appetite for improvements focuses on speeding up the process or cut cost here and there without compromising quality.  Favorable changes to the status quo are small, gradual tweaks.  This is the world of optimization and continuous improvement.

Little risk, little gain

Managers need to keep the risk small to fail or to jeopardize the production process with its predictable output.  The low risk of disruption comes at a price though as it limits also returns.

Here innovations are primarily of non-disruptive nature, they are incremental or evolutionary.  This approach is process driven.  It lends itself to automation as it aims to make the process repeatable, reliable, predictable.  No senior executive needs to be closely involved in operations to keep this ‘machine’ running; it comes down to the floor manager executing.

This is also the environment of a conventional development project, the ‘next version’ of something and ‘getting it right the first time.’

With an incremental change in focus, managers tend to look for ideas in their own organization, think ‘suggestion box’.  It means following a clearly defined and detailed process with development stage-gates or other review mechanisms that filter ideas typically the criteria of cost, time, quality and, more recently, variations thereof such as customer satisfaction and being ‘green’ and sustainable.

Managers are interested in learning about ‘best practices’ from outside the organization but are often enough reluctant to adopt and implement them if they appear to be risky and disruptive.

Leading in uncertainty

Leaders face a different challenge. They ask: what needs to be done to prepare the organization for success several years down the road with much uncertainty ahead? – Well knowing that the answer may disrupt the established organization.

It is this uncertainty that opens up the so-called ‘fuzzy front-end’ (FFE) to develop entirely new products or services: It is too early to know exact specifications of a solution at this time, the future markets and technologies are yet unknown.  Leaders focus is on getting a deep understanding of the problems that customers face to develop the technology and capability to address and monetize them.

Disruptive transformation

What we talk about here is, for example, a completely new product line, a major (adjacent) product line extension or a new (transformative) business model entirely.  Think how Apple’s iTunes Store started selling digital media and apps has changed the way we use technology and whose devices we use (hint, hint) – this gamble worked out for Apple and was based on a deep understanding what customers are willing to pay for.

With nebulous solutions in far sight, a tightly governed development process with stage-gates makes little sense because this development model is designed for incremental change and tuned for refinement.  It stifles the creative and broad view necessary to create something completely new in an unpredictable and yet undefined scenario of the FFE where much imagination, creativity, and flexibility is needed.

Creative with discipline

However, flexibility and creativity do not thrive only in the absence of discipline or some sense of order.  The early-stage research or design process does not need to be chaotic – it’s quite the opposite.  A company like IDEO, for example, operates successfully in this space and is famous for their disciplined process and methodology in producing creative and tangible prototypes over and over again.

Note, we are not talking about final products ready to go on the self in your neighborhood store tomorrow.  Check out this case study on how IDEO works in more detail: What does it take to keep innovating? (part 1 of 3)

This transitional step narrows down the broad funnel of uncertainty to develop a range of concepts towards increasingly detailed specifications of the final product.  The development of the final product itself is better left to the established development organization – back to the managers to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, if you will.

Active sponsorship needed

With disruption and revolutionary change comes high risk.  The outcome is unpredictable and the reward uncertain, failure is likely.  Yet, if the gamble works out the rewards can be enormous and the key players ‘rainmaker’.

When exploring which direction to go, the serial intrapreneur’s approach is trying many things.  Expect to fail most of the time.  See what ‘sticks’ and explore this option more.

Rather than rigid procedural guardrails, intrapreneurs need to secure top executive sponsorship for their continued active support, political weight and funding.  Thus, for a unique and exploratory venture what you look for is a leader, not a manager.  There is no staged process to follow really, only success determines what was right or wrong.

Maxwell Wessel’s blog for HBR on “How to Innovate with an Executive Sponsor” has some good practical tips for especially if your project takes the company down the disruptive, transformative route.

What kind of sponsor to you need?

Distinguishing the professional motives of managers and leaders comes down to the question of ‘Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

In general, leaders act more as strategic innovators and game-changers assuming the role of a Sponsor or an Architect while managers take more renovation-associate roles such as a Coach or an Orchestrator.  Follow the above link for a more detailed description of these roles and when to chose which role.

Which direction to take?
Which direction to take?

What is my idea again?

Start by taking a hard look at your idea first to find out which category it falls into.  Then decide what kind of sponsor, a manager or a leader, is best suited to approach and is, therefore, most likely to listen and catch interest.

Even better if you can already identify the role associated with the nature of your project (Coach, Orchestrator, etc.) which helps you framing and pitching the idea or a specific project to the appropriate executive sponsor in your organization.

Boost ‘Group Intelligence’ for better decisions!

How to increase group intelligence for better decision-making – or why not to rely on a group of geniuses!  New research breaks the ground to understand collaborative intelligence – but how to apply it to the workplace?

Better alone than in a team?

Think about this:  What teams make the best decisions?
We all experienced it at some point:  Even a group of the best and brightest people often ends up with poor decisions that do not do its individual member’s intelligence justice.

What goes wrong?  How does a group of smart individuals, even geniuses, end up with poor decisions when they stick their heads together?  What are they missing?  Moreover, how can we avoid those obstacles to come to better decisions as a group?

Measuring intelligence

Intelligence of individuals has been well studied for over a 100 years:  A solid framework exists to measure the intelligence quotient (IQ).  Individuals undergo a series of mental challenges under the premise that someone performing well in one task tends to perform well in most others too.  Overall, the IQ is regarded as “a reliable predictor of a wide range of important life outcomes over a long span of time, including grades in school, success in many occupations, and even life expectancy,” as researchers put it.

Modern IQ tests consider an IQ close to 100 as average.

IQ distribution
IQ distribution

Does ‘Group Intelligence’ exist?

When we look at what it takes to make more intelligent decisions as a group than as individuals, the first question this raises is whether something like a measurable ‘group intelligence’ actually exists.  If so, is it measurable and –perhaps‑ higher than the intelligence of its members?

Only recently, scientists took a deeper look at the intelligence of groups and made surprising findings.  The joint team included MIT’s Tom Malone, whom we met previous in a post (“Collective Intelligence: The Genomics of Crowds”) as well as others from well-known academic institutions comprising the MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College.

The researchers approached group intelligence following a similar systematic approach as the intelligence metrics for individuals.  However, they linked group intelligence to performance as an endpoint, which makes their finding even more valuable for the workplace!

Group Intelligence - more than a myth!
Group Intelligence is real!

Outsmarting genius as a group

First, the researchers established that group intelligence in performance indeed exists and is measurable.  They also found that the group’s intelligence does not add up to the sum of the intelligence of its individual members.  In fact, the collective intelligence, or ‘c-factor’, shows only a weak correlation “with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members” – this is remarkable finding!  It means is that you cannot boost a group’s intelligence by composing or spiking the group with genius-level individuals!

Obviously, factors apply other than high individual IQ to increase the intelligence of the group.

The results from two studies consistently and overwhelmingly demonstrate that group intelligence outsmart individual intelligence – by far!

Group Intelligence-study results (original graphics)
Group Intelligence – study results

Here are more details on the science for those how want to dig deeper: Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups.

Limited by a high IQ?

Individual intelligence only has a practical value to a certain point.  There is an important difference between what an IQ test measures as general intelligence and what Robert J. Sternberg calls ‘practical intelligence’ in his book Successful Intelligence: How Practical and Creative Intelligence Determine Success in Life.  The presence of one does not automatically imply the presence of the other.

What it comes down to is that a high general intelligence is merely a measurable value in the lab but it does not also translate into a more successful life!  An individual IQ above 135 or so can lead to quite the opposite (for reference, ‘genius’ starts at 140 on Terman’s classification).  The higher IQ becomes rather a hindrance than an advantage in real life: a very high IQ tends to clutter and confuse a genius’ mind with more irrelevant options, which make it harder for them to see the most applicable one and come to a decision.

In contrast, practical intelligence relates more to social savvy or ‘street smarts’ – a cunning and practical understanding that proves advantageous in the real world more than a high general IQ!

Here is the magic sauce!

Surprisingly, the strongest correlation of group intelligence is with three factors:

  1. The average social sensitivity of the group members, i.e. “reading the mind in the eyes” of another person.  There is something to be said for bringing together emotionally intelligent people.
  2. Equality in the distribution of conversational turn-taking meaning an equal share of time to speak.  Our society and businesses seem to favor smooth-talkers and attracted to extrovert and outspoken individuals that seem to signal competence, decisiveness, and determination.
    Group intelligence, however, does not increase when there is a strong vocal leader, who dominates the discussion to push everyone in his or her direction.  Be careful not to leave out the brilliance of individuals who may get steamrolled by the loud and dominating: introverts, in particular, are at a disadvantage.  They are easily stuck in an extrovert world.
    Given that the introvert/extrovert ratio in the USA is roughly 50/50 (according to the 1998 National Representative Sample), failing to include introverts effectively is a costly mistake, as it excludes their knowledge and valuable input to the decision making process ‑ and lowers the collective intelligence of the group.  Introverts, for example, favor structured communication that plays to their strengths by allowing them to research and prepare; they need more time to express their refined response.
  3. The proportion of females in the group composition; the more women the better.  This appears to account largely to a higher social sensibility that women have over their male group members in general.  However, all three factors have to come together, so building female-only teams does not do the charm either.

Woman raise group intelligence

In a nutshell

When we bring it all together, what surprises me most is how little of this solid research has penetrated the workplace.  Where employees and management teams make decisions, the survival of organizations is at stake and relies on leveraging the collective intelligence of the group effectively.

A myriad of practical applications for these findings come to mind.  Here are just two examples:

  • Women still struggle to achieve gender equality in many organizations ‑ the amount of women in management positions is a widely used metrics that refers to the female proportion of the workforce.  The common approach is to achieve this by ‘swinging the stick’ to establish and enforce quotas and leave it at that – Mission accomplished?!
    Wouldn’t it be more compelling to offer the ‘sweet carrot’ of increasing group intelligence in leadership teams for better business results that includes leveraging the natural advantage of females?

Again, the female quota alone does not boost the group intelligence.  We also need social sensitivity and equal shares of talking time.  Thus, a flanking business application would go beyond how we compose teams based on gender.  It considers social sensitivity measures and some structure to how we conduct group discussions or meetings to maximize the collective intelligence by including and engaging all participants. A challenge also for how we recruit, train, and evaluate our workforce.

Food for thought.

Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

Not everything new is an innovation and some are more renovation than in innovation.  Here is a framework that helps to distinguish an innovator from a renovator and works for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike.  It is important to understand which role to play and when; it all depends on what you need to achieve and critical to reaching your goal!

Innovation confusion

The word ‘innovation’ is used inflationary; few seem to understand though what they mean when they demand or offer ‘innovation’ in an organization. What adds to the confusion is that not everything new is also innovative.

Let’s continue with the generic definition of innovation from the “What does it take to keep innovating? (part 1 of 3)” post: innovation is different from a novelty: it is the combination that translates a novelty into a marketable product (or service), so an innovation brings together the newness, the value it creates and the adoption to something marketable”.

So, where does the ‘renovation’ come in and how does it affect your role as an innovator?

Goal clarity comes first

Whether you are an innovator or not depends on several criteria and mostly along these four dimensions:

  • Objective – “what” is your starting point?  Are you creating a totally new business or reinforce an existing business?
  • Scope – “where” you focus on:  Are you looking into (specific) new products, processes, and services, or into (general) new business models or systems?
  • Intensity – “how much” you change the status quo:  Are you taking incremental steps (evolution) or bringing about a radical change (disruptive)?
  • Boundaries – “with whom” you are collaborating:  Are you using resources and partners within your organization with or without tactical out-sourcing?  Or, perhaps, you collaborate with external partners to complement your internal capabilities strategically?

Innovation Strategy: a Matrix of Roles

We introduced and discussed the role of the ‘Executive Champion’ in the post “How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)”.  The Executive Champion fills the organizational gap to connect the Technical Champion and the Business Champion, so ideas become reality.

As an Executive Champion, you take an active part in the process – but even as the champion, there are different roles needed for different scenarios.  The four dimensions (Objective, Scope, Intensity, and Boundaries) open up a matrix that points to four different roles, one of each suited for a specific scenario:

  • “Sponsor” – You are a sponsor when you create a totally new category of products or services.  This role focuses on the bigger picture, the vision, and sees it through within the organization (which includes tactical out-sourcing).  A sponsor guides this endeavor while nurturing and empowering the staff.
    For example, broad usage of the MP3 format revolutionized the music industry in unforeseen ways.  MP3 players where a disruptive technology that made your CD collection obsolete, which has had replaced your cassette tapes and vinyl records markets some time ago.
  • “Architect” – It takes an architect to build a new and never-before business model or system.  The architect forms coalitions, alliances, and strategic partnerships with the big picture in mind and providing win-win incentives for all players in the business model.
    While entrepreneurial examples come to mind easily, less obvious is an architect who operates within an organization as an intrapreneur.  For example, the NxGen business model (as outlined in “Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!” and “Starting an ERG as a strategic innovation engine!  (part 3 of 3)”) disrupted the common paradigm and mental model of “how-business-is-done” within a company by engaging and leveraging employees in new ways.
  •  “Coach” – You need a coach to get a new-and-improved product or service on the way within an organization – just like this tough but supportive sports coach you remember from school or try to forget…
    A new car model, for example, has more bells and whistles than its predecessor and may outrun the competitor’s model by a tad.  In the end, however, it remains to be a car.  It offers the same common way of transportation we are already used to, i.e. it is an evolutionary, an incremental improvement.
  • “Orchestrator” – Imagine a conductor directing an orchestra: The orchestrator brings to life a new-and-improved business model or system in concert with strategic partners outside the organization.  It takes skill to interpret and continuously integrate the moving parts.
    Ducati it an Italian high-end motorcycle manufacturer well-known internationally for its performance bikes that consistently win races.  Very early on, Ducati outsourced nearly all company functions to focus on their core competency: design and engineering.  Even manufacturing is outsourced!  Ducati became the first company to offer a new motorcycle model exclusively on the internet – and sold its entire production before the first bike was even built!  This does not only prove the enormous brand power and marketing skill, Ducati also proved they can be a leading and very successful motorcycle company by engineering and outsourcing.
Innovation Strategy Roles Matrix (roles)
The 4 roles in strategic innovation

So, do you innovate or renovate?

The core of innovation and entrepreneurship is around creating new businesses around completely new products or services, or even entire business models that are disruptive to the status quo.  So, this points directly to the roles of the Sponsor and the Architect as strategic innovators and game-changers.

In contrast, reinforcing or enhancing an existing product, system, or business model with incremental steps is a renovation, just as you would renovate an older house to bring it up to modern standards.  It is the Coach and the Orchestrator role, who fix to improve or come up with the next new-or-improved product or way of doing things.

Innovation Strategy Roles Matrix (innovate vs renovate)
Innovation strategy: innovate or renovate?

Final thoughts

Now, there is nothing wrong with being a renovator.  It is most important to be clear about what it is you are trying to achieve and remain flexible, so you can deliberately assume the best role to get to your goal.  Consider also that these roles are not mutually exclusive, so over-stepping boundaries at times might just be what you need to lead your venture to success!