cognoise, metaidea

So we are stuck with a theory, and we do not know whether it is right or wrong, but we do know it is a little wrong or at least incomplete – R P Feynman

As a good starting point acknowledging the incompleteness or the little wrong could do good for innovation however you choose to address it.

So we are stuck…

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Exploitation as contradiction in ideality

2 really disparate examples of exploitation here, I will do a couple of illustrations for defining these contexts as contradictions in players’ ideality and then applying a trend.

One from the affordable internet efforts and why even with reducing capex and opex telecom companies would not cut prices to customers and continue to exploit.

Player Function Ideality Contradiction and resulting exploitation
ISP/Carrier/Operator connect subscribers                          to internet not lose subscriber base, increasing revenues/cash flows, decreasing spend, monopoly increasing average revenue and profit per user directly contradicts with customers ideality to pay
Customer/Subscriber connect to internet for access to services and information pay nothing for connectivity, highest speed possible, always connected ties with devices, price increasing data plans, speed limitations, and forced congestion from operators
Investor invest for returns in companies that make profits reducing capex and opex with increasing revenues and profit is approaching ideality reduced customer service levels and migration of customers, puts revenue and profits on a decline, hence the stock value as well
Media Industry create and distribute media monopoly for content and affiliated business, no other competitive media / distribution channels becomes viable Access to media from internet directly contradicts with their business model to sell content from traditional forms of discs, cable tv content

Second example is around immigration from the recent Syria crisis, even though legal immigrants add value to the migrated place, why politicians continue to exploit voting population by fueling negative perceptions around immigration. But still continuing to turn a blind eye on labor exploits of immigrants to continue with a not so competitive economy.

Player Function Ideality Contradiction and resulting exploitation
State/Politician development and upholding state  sovereignty zero dollars spent on regulation, and citizens get all priority services from government, and never lose an election allowing cheap immigrant labor into non-subsidized industries maintains a bad economy building a false perception around immigration maintains status quo and votes from conservative population that wants to maintain sovereignty
Immigrant Labor to industry every border is open, every country is ‘migration’ worthy, on par with citizen benefits, rights protected lack of labor law to govern their employment means giving away rights, without votes or rights deprived of having a voice in the country
Industry/Employer Value creation for economy, investor, and customers cheap and exploitable labor use and less than minimum working conditions for higher profits, no litigation on violations lack of labor inspection / governance maintains  status quo, including less than worthy labor conditions and pay to immigrants and this as the only way to maintain competitiveness in a falling economy
Citizen Tax payer and uses benefits from state.Also customer for industry. Subsidized sectors, and unemployment benefits for citizens, Pay/Benefits without job. Subsidy perceived as right and any state capital spent on immigrants is actually something the citizen could be deemed eligible for as lost/wasted.
Border Control Regulate migrant flow into state no immigration (legal / illegal) means no patrol or control necessary migrants posing threats to sovereignty, and citizen welfare, calls for massive spend in border control and leading to a back passage creation

Now in both cases at super system level, you could add regulations that will move some functions from the players to another neutral authority. So Regulatory Authority could standardize price plans, open up migrations across, just like they do in insurance policy terms and conditions. Similarly new technology like unlimited connectivity say from Google Moon or, open id, could turn functions in favor of customers/migrants, while skewing for specific types of businesses and not the legacy ones.

In both cases simple system completeness trend will show deficiencies in the governance bit, and a massive undercut of benefits from customers/migrants as a driving force for the functions delivered.

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Dogfooding software products

Here is the old story of Principia Mathematica written by Newton, when he was responding to a question by Halley about planetary orbits,  he only responded that he had calculated it mathematically and are always elliptical and had also lost the proof. But he promised to Halley he will reproduce the proof and goes into one of his famous 2 years retirement to write the entire Principia . It does not end there, like right now, Royal Society as publishers of books were in tough times, refused to publish Principia on financial grounds, and even when Halley was personally sponsoring the printing, the society itself was actually paying part for Halley’s employment with one of its previous unsuccessful commercial books called “History of Fishes“.

It was custom (as Bill Bryson puts it) that Newton never really got paid anything nor did he sponsor any money to get his book published, if someone else was interested, onus is theirs, in this case unfortunately Halley. And the society gave a raw deal by giving away copies of unsold books.

Payment in bad products

History of Fishes

Now the diametrically opposite context.

In a team built software product

1. there is no one single owner for idea / product

2. there is no individual revenue possibility or expense for the team

3. get paid anyways for whatever be the product or its quality or the purpose

That in my opinion is a bad recipe for quality. So here is the idea, “dogfood” the product i.e. every product team will need to find a market on its own for the developed product internal/external. And part of the revenue is directly shared. There are of course different model possibilities and I will go with the easiest and justifiable.

Elements of this model as I see it in my own warped way

1. Paying in product licenses

If the product that is being built is so good, can you please agree to take part of your regular salary as product license, and depending on everyone’s contribution, we will split the numbers only up to a certain limit, and then it will simply become a long tail % fixed, say after expiry of warranty on first release.

2. Order of license sale and revenues.

With a deep hierarchy in development, I believe the developers and architects’ license go first for sale, then the scrum masters or delivery managers, and then the higher levels of management later. Revenue sharing is truly from what was built for either direct effort or supervisory.

3. Expenses for such sale

This is a tricky area as most marketing functions are centralized and of course larger branding expenses at company level. So un-bundled marketing services should be costed accordingly, such as running an ad words campaign on Google, buying sponsored posts on linked in, or event/networking costs.

If it does not sell, then only the license part of your salary will get affected, and life goes on as developers find meaningful opportunities with real revenue possibilities to work on.

In a way a market gets created internally for projects/products to work on, and there is definitely a chance to design your career from inside by being open to trying and learning. I guess the same thing can also be done for a service, but a little more complicated.

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Yet another innovation taxonomy…

this, that and more

I will be a little inarticulate here, specifically when it comes to innovation, what do we talk when we talk innovation internally. Depending on background, perspective, role, among other factors, it could be any of the above.

Capability I use it here within a very specific boundary, Honda’s example illustrates this point clearly, from seeing itself as an automobile maker, it sees itself as a power systems designer, with such a simple shift in outlook it has been able establish itself as a leader in many related fields like portable power, boat engines,   etc. Technology companies confuse capabilities a lot, as there are too many of them. So easier way to classify further would be to pick specific business outcomes that gets affected by a technology. For example capability to A/B test designs, capability to cut down ROI with new technologies, etc… One of the popular side to this classification is seeing creativity in relation with innovation and trying to build creativity / creative talent internally, usually through training.

State is like “being pregnant”, a very clear yes / no, and it gets theoretical to philosophical to spiritual when the nature of state discussion starts, and some are inclined to this specifically, usually the ones that also pick on innovation as a concept at a mental level. Concepts are related and complexities from subsumption / differentiation plays here and really no basis needs to be given, as long as it makes sense as a valid argument. None of these 2 has any outcomes guaranteed and safely so. Else we have to wait for a long time for that state or the concept argument to end.

Department is a space, earmarked for all those innovation action, in Apple it happens to be the design department, in IBM it is either Sales or research, I can no longer tell which, in GE it happens in research. Mostly a centrally funded structure with clear mandate on outcomes and how the units will use those. But with availability of information across boundaries becoming easier, it is very hard to keep an edge from within one single department. Still a preferred choice for old, hierarchical companies.

Process/Action is the distribution of what used to happen within the department and making it easy for anyone to do innovation with clear steps and results. Behavior/Culture I feel enough has been said and is absolutely not my favorite, as I put personal responsibility ahead of popular inaction.

So whichever way you want to define innovation internally and classify it, some things do not change, those include “tasking” around whichever metaphor you picked, managing risks on action, investment and market, measuring outcomes and reporting it out to investor/bosses, of course responding to politics that is there in any human/social system among other action.

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Innovation questions to management, some more

Which of the following gets an overwhelming yes from your leaders internally

  1. We don’t have to  innovate or invest internally in innovation, as there are other smarter players and start-ups, that we just need to follow suit or outright acquire them. Just tell me who they are?
  2. We know our team has ideas on strategies and priorities, that we are unable to invest time and resources. Can the innovation team just take up one/many such items and come back with solutions?
  3. We are all stuck in a very old thinking pattern and tenet, constrained by assumption. All we need is a training that will help us break that pattern and leave it at that. Can we also get a certificate at the end of the course?
  4. Problems provide the best low hanging fruits for innovation, can we just stick to problem solving, instead of doing open themes for innovation?
  5. Decision on strategy are made elsewhere at least in our area of work, really see no road ahead for any idea pipeline, even if they are only mildly disruptive. So we should focus on execution than innovation?

my original and building list of survey questions on innovation is here

 

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Innovation risks

Drucker‘s Landmarks of Tomorrow lists clearly 3 risks that arise out of innovation is comprehensive and can orient towards tasks and outcomes around innovation quickly. Even if outcomes are a function of many variables and ambiguous,(an excuse that innovation managers typically ride on to retain jobs/titles while not really “tasking”) you still have to act. That said  “tasking” / task orientation is necessary and not arbitrary or ambiguous in any enterprise. That’s a post for another day. So these tasks arise after the enterprise decides to reduce its first risk in innovation.

1. Risk of Exposure. Exposure risk is an inaction risk, while remaining very successful in the chosen market, this risk makes the whole business irrelevant as newer models and innovations take over existing customers and create new ones. I visualize this risk on a slider bar, where there is a NO on the left end and an YES commitment on the right. Depending on the level of YES, time and resource availability is determined for innovation.

Risk of Exposure Slider bar

This YES commitment (on the risk of exposure) does not mitigate but lead to the next, new set of risks below. In any case this risk cannot be avoided. You can see examples today in education like the massive open online courses offered by Coursera and the likes while the incumbent i.e. every higher education player could have very well acted earlier or the popular digital photography disruption misses by Kodak.

Risk of failure in developing the innovation When I heard Ravi Venkatesan at the recent Zinnov Confluence, he mentioned “skunkworks are interesting to see in labs, but unless the whole organization aligns to an innovation, there is really no chance”. I believe that, by organization he would mean the “tasks” on business processes starting from budgeting, development, sales/marketing, service, legal etc. that are specialized and entrenched across departments, but need to come together. Successful businesses ideally should not delay capex investments into innovation, and commit to experimenting the next set of revenue drivers. Experiments could be for example

  • small like skunkworks or community driven developments internally
  • taking ownership in companies that are doing the development

Still the structure has to commit itself to this developmental action and evaluate all along even if it means changing directions many times mid way to make sure the next risk of failure is covered. With the crowd sourcing possibility on almost anything this risk has greatly reduced, this as a model has been operational across many platforms like kickstarter (for investments), or ninesigma (for effort).

Risk of failure of the innovation itself

This is the biggest of all risks and can be really dramatic, and we know many stories like these in recent times. What Drucker calls here as ‘responsibility for the consequences’ of the failure itself, while constantly acting for the opportunity. It is no more a chance but choice and choosing to resolve contradictions between the global versus local, profit versus free, etc and thus becoming a value decision in itself. Most of us are aware of the commercial failure of much touted innovations like Segway and others.

Risks in Innovation

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metaidea, somedaymaybe

Why pornography and terrorism lead innovation at all times

Most managers would not talk of pornography / terrorism in the workplace that too in the context of innovation. But my take is they lead innovation on multiple fronts and they are driven by certain perennial trends. Both have ancient origins and have usually led in development of new ideas within constraints (regulatory for example), in adoption of new technologies or ideas, and bringing other uses to technologies that are not meant to be used for the purpose. In this post I give examples of innovation from porn industry (adult video industry rather as a very organized industry with amazing vertical integration) and possibly pick your interest on what can push the needle on innovation in the other service industries.

Enter porn innovation

Most Useful function: Content delivery to a customer

Printing press: Clay Shirky in his famous TED Talk How the Internet will (one day) transform government, makes an important point of how the porn industry was in the forefront not just today, but when printing press  invented some 500 years back,

It did not take long after the rise of the commercial printing press before someone figured out that erotic novels were a good idea. (Laughter) You don’t have to have an economic incentive to sell books very long before someone says, “Hey, you know what I bet people would pay for?” (Laughter) It took people another 150 years to even think of the scientific journal” 

Torrent: History repeats, guess who was one of the earliest adopters of the torrent peer-to-peer protocols, years ahead of the corporate IT function in the knowledge economy sharing large files. PublicBT which reports use of Bit Torrent usage across internet plugs 35.8% use was for pornography, as the largest single category. All this in less than 10 years of the distributed downloading protocol being invented. This sort of rapid innovation diffusion is actually very common to the adult video industry.

On standardizing imaging technologies for content distribution, for most imaging formats/standards be it the erstwhile generations on photography, video cassettes, or the latest Hi Def DVD formats, porn industry has always played a key decision maker role on adoption/setting of new standards.

Other Most Useful function: Getting paid.

Again porn industry is in the forefront with the adoption of payment technologies be it electronic credit cards  from the Richard Gordon creditcards.com era which pioneered non-face to face merchant banking services. I am sure there are porn sites with bit coin support now, or other unusual payment formats that keep coming.

Same is true for terrorism innovation only the most useful function changes to something like

  1. Bypass security / regulation
  2. Improvise arms for greatest damage

The fundamental tenets of leading innovation be it incremental and contextual in this case, is very evident, not just from the improvisations of the attacker but the response by governments and authority to curb terror as well. Only the speed of response from the systems are so slow that there are always ways to operate. This again is a very common trend called “Law of uneven development of system parts”.

PS: Marking this a somedaymaybe project to come back and list further technologies that were born out of porn…it will be fun to do I am sure. I have not even touched on SPAM, network speeds, live tech, cross website feed, scripting, ad technologies, pay per views, …

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What is the system in the middle of 9 windows?

System Operator aka 9 windows is very popular in TRIZ tools specifically for problem definition and trending. I always had trouble in finding what is the system in the middle that we are talking about. I think I got the block primarily from the example that was used to teach 9 windows many years ago which had a ‘tree’ in the middle and all sorts of super system, past and future imaginations written around it.

  • But is ‘tree’ a system?
  • and can I put anything in the middle and construct the rest of the eight windows?
super system future
system present
 sub system  past

It just did not feel right to imagine it that way even if it did remove some psychological inertia, and helped you imagine stuff by space/time boxing yourself. To go further and beyond how you are applying 9 windows, I will introduce 2 useful concepts that will help you figure what this system is

  1. Tool/Product: Tool, in order to deliver the most useful function, changes the state of a product and can contain elements.
  2. Most Useful Function: Primary utility that gives a human purpose to the tool and product

One of the better examples I have historically used is “Withdrawing money from an ATM”. Both the tool and function are clear and it is worthwhile putting it in the center. Building on further, you can easily identify both what is inside the ATM and around it quickly, again identifying each elements’ function and operating zone in space and time.

ARIZ goes another level deeper to template the definition, as below “The technical system for __utility__ includes __elements__. Tool directly interacts with the product and products need to be changing its state (e.g. processed)”

It is easy to put yourself, your company, a really complex system architecture, vague frameworks and the like in the middle of the 9 windows, but really it will not help much in your innovation effort.

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Innovation Cues: Force Field Analysis

When Kurt Lewin came up with the framework for Force Field Analysis it was only applied to social situations, as in conflicts/society. If we take the same framework to innovation it becomes hugely applicable in developing ideas within an organization, which in itself is a complex social setting. In this post I will try to explain the basic form of force field analysis and how I think it can be applied in an innovation context.

First the concepts, “force” is a factor that drives movement within a setting, and “field” is an overall/gestalt setting as combination of many elements including motives, needs, ideals, values etc. In the analysis we list down forces that move a goal in opposite directions as is like below

Goal: _____________________________________

Worst Outcome aka Hell: _____________ Ideal Outcome aka Heaven: __________
Forces in the negative direction

  •  
Forces in the positive direction

  •  

Key questions to ask in the analysis after you list forces are

  1. What can I do to eliminate/reduce the forces that are against developing an idea further?
  2. How can I reinforce/strengthen the positive forces that will push the idea further faster towards an ideal outcome?
  3. Can I add a new positive force?

It is interesting to note the similarity between Ideal Final Result or Future Backwards here. But the key difference is force field analysis is centered in the “NOW” (not on a future or past), thereby assessing the current setting and draw a path to creating favorable conditions for innovation to flourish.

Even if it means communications/messaging, building relationships, having an open conversation, resolving conflicts of interests, agreeing to share credits/power/outcomes, among other “political” action that an innovation manager does. 

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Evolution and speed measures for innovation

I keep hearing “becoming more nimble“, “quickly responding to customer needs with ideas”, “rapid prototyping” that inherently speak of a speed metaphor in innovation. But what if we were proceeding in the wrong direction but very fast. An independent speed measure without looking at the evolution direction is meaningless and risky from an investment perspective. Very similar to running a project that is on time, under budget but for the wrong requirements.

It would be useful to look at the evolution within a space as ideas get developed using different methods.

For speed of course the measures will have some form of time in the denominator like

  1. Ideas per month per area
  2. Prototypes completed per month per technology
  3. Investments per year per portfolio

These can be plotted easily for comparison of speed across a time frame.

But what about the direction, here I feel directly tying business alignment on longer term goals and strategy comes in. A simple evolution potential is a web plot touching multiple different evolution directions usually within a single portfolio or in some cases many portfolio. It is a relative figure that gets plotted across the dimensions comparing against the maximum possible limit or an ideality (usually a scientific limit, like speed of light,  mobile internet reach, maximum load etc or the Ideal Final result we talk in TRIZ). All the axes are equidistant and same scale as the values are normalized as below

Normalized plot value ={Actual value – minimum need} / {Maximum/Ideal value – minimum need}

For example dimensions of a CRM system evolution you may have

  1. Communication / engagement frequency
  2. Revenue per sales staff
  3. % sales from new technology / service
  4. customer service satisfaction index

each round of innovation around maximizing these dimensions will be tracked on a single plot like below, giving you a sense of progress from those ideas. (Try and imagine what your head of sales told in last quarter analyst meeting on any of the metrics)

EvolutionPotential (2)

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