Friday, August 12, 2011

Bureaucratic Creativity

"When I ask, 'Where do you not want creativity?' someone will inevitably answer, 'accounting.'" Teresa Amabile

Having established in last weeks posting that we can measure creativity, we now ask do we WANT creativity?  We want it, don't want it, wish we could turn it on and desperately seek to turn it off.

Let's look at some attributes commonly associated with creativity: Connection, Perspective, Curiosity, Boldness, Paradox, Complexity, Persistence, Abstraction and consider carefully just how badly we want our team to have these attributes.

Connection is the ability to see relationships that aren't obvious.  For example, if your customer calls complaining that the shipment did not arrive, a variety of obvious connections spring to mind.  It never left your warehouse, the customer didn't actually place the order and it is still with the shipping company, for example.  Someone with the ability to generate connections might also consider that the customer failed to look in the right place, the product fell off the back of the truck, the product is there but labeled incorrectly, that a dog ran off with it and that aliens vaporized it.

Perspective is seeing things from the view of other people, times and places.  Surely it is a good thing to consider how customers might view your product, the thoughts of government regulators, the perspective of a litigation attorney, how the product might be used in forty years, what might happen to demand if there was a global flood and the elephant's eye view of it all.

Curiosity or a desire to know more must also be a good thing.  After all, I want the person in accounting to understand the challenges faced by customer service, the number of children that the mail clerk has, and the temperature of the account execs' new pool.  Right?

Boldness must be a great thing.  We always want our people to push beyond their fears.  So what if their fears that acting boldly will have others in the organization hate them are because if they act boldly then others in the organization will hate them.  Personally, I look forward to asking one of my employees for help and having them tell me they instead are going to work on a different project.

Paradox is the ability to simultaneously hold contradictory facts as true. The world is big and small.  The customer is right and wrong.  The product works and doesn't work. We can have low cost operations and creativity.  The lights are on and the lights are off.

Complexity is carrying large amounts of information and finding the many relationships between that data.  It's putting hundreds of points on a graph, seeing the thousands of lines that could connect those points but not focusing in on the one important trend line that passes near them all.

Persistence surely is something we want.  After all, not giving up on a problem is a virtue.  Even if the problem isn't really that important.  Or if solving other problems might give larger results.  Also, not to worry that there might be a better way to accomplish the goal.  Once you've started down a path, don't give up no matter what happens.  Surely, this is great?

Abstraction is better than holding onto pesky facts.  It's always easier to take a data point or two and throw them into a theory then to remember the data.  After all, we don't need to gather all the facts to know that the ball, when dropped, will hit the ground.  Customer service messed up the last order so they must be incompetent.  The CEO couldn't remember my name, so she must hate me.

Of course, a person who scores highly on all of these attributes would be a nightmare for business operations.  Similarly, a person who scored low on all of these attributes would be little better than a machine.  Finding the right balance is the real challenge.

Rather than asking, do I want creativity in my organization, the right question is how much creativity do I want?  it could BE different after all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Measure of Creativity

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. Galileo Galilei

Is your organization creative?  Should your organization be creative?  How do you change your organization's level of creativity?  Does creativity equal more new products and processes?  August is dedicated to answering these questions.

Here's some non-peer reviewed research to help.  It was inspired by the much better research of Teresa Amabile and with the same conclusions.

Over the years I've taught a graduate course in creativity six times.  The three day course always started with the dozen or so students working together for a few hours to define creativity and then to come up with ways that I could remember each of their names.

I would then ask the group the following questions, giving them however long it took to come to consensus without interrupting them (which they always did in less than 15 minutes):

Are some people more creative than others?  consensus was always yes, but always a few people who went along with the consensus just to keep the program moving.

How do you measure creativity?  answer was always you can't, anyone who argued otherwise would quickly concede that they had no idea how to do so.

Well, how do you know some people are more creative than others if you can't measure it? always confusion followed by arguments followed by me demonstrating the answer to them in the following manner.

I asked them to write on a piece of paper, without further discussion with the rest of the group, a forced ranking of each student from highest to lowest creativity (force rank meaning no ties). The results of this forced ranking were consistent in every class.  There was 80+% correlation on the order of the list and those at the top and bottom never received any 'votes' to be elsewhere on the list.

I then sent them each to an online Creativity Assessment.  Their scores on the creativity assessment always correlated highly with their forced ranking.

The lesson of this story is that some people are more creative than others, we're all good judges of who is more creative and if you want to be analytical about it, you can measure creativity.

So is your organization creative? it could BE different.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Borrowing Your Way to Greatness

I don't think anybody steals anything; all of us borrow.  BB King.

This article isn't about cycling.  Well, OK, it is about cycling, but it is also about creating the new by borrowing the old.

As I watched another edition of the epic bike race, le Tour de France, come to a close, I listened to the commentators debating on the greatest cyclist.  I realized quickly there was no doubt in my mind.

The greatest was an American.  He was a winner of the cycling World Championship.  Soon after he would be in and out of hospitals for over a year.  Despite being close to death, he opted for riskier treatments that offered him the best chance to return to cycling.  While the treatments were successful, he was left with damage to all of his major organs.  He returned to cycling to win the Tour de France multiple times.  He ended his career with an unimpressive comeback attempt.

Of course it describes Lance Armstrong and that other guy.  While Armstrong is the best cyclist, undeniable from his seven tour wins, best does not equate to great.  The other guy was the greatest.

Great involves more than just winning.  It requires having a transformative impact.

Great is noticing that athletes in a little known sport called triathlon were doing something different on their bikes.  Rather than using standard handlebars that spread the cyclists shoulders wide, they used a couple of narrow poles with arm rests set so close together that their elbows almost touched.  These 'tribars' were impractical for riding close to other cyclists where they limited the quick moves needed to avoid crashes.  In a time trial, a race against the clock, with no other cyclists nearby, the mobility didn't matter.

And so, Greg LeMond would use these aerodynamic bars to cut through the wind on the last day of a Tour de France while his rival Laurent Fignon rode a traditional race.  A full 50 seconds separated LeMond from Laurent Fignon at the start of the day on the very short 25 km course.  Despite all predictions to the contrary, LeMond would ride 58 seconds faster than Fignon. 

It wasn't that LeMond was the only professional cyclist to notice what was going on in triathlon.  Almost all of his competitors had tried the 'tribars'.  Some said it restricted their breathing, others said they had trouble maintaining a straight line and others still said that their leg muscles were being trained primarily for sitting in a different position.

What made LeMond great was that he ignored the common wisdom and sought the truth.  He made his own decision, took the risk of training extensively with the 'tribars' to overcome the issues other riders had experienced. 

Since that famous ride, cycling has become intensely focused on creating aerodynamic positions.  Riders spend hours in wind tunnels.  Bicycle companies trim, cut, stretch and bend bikes and parts in an attempt to reduce air drag by ever lessening amounts.

Yes, Greg LeMond knew it could BE different.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Past Performance = Future Results

The Eagle has landed. Neil Armstrong

I remember where I was on July 20, 1969.  Sitting next to my father watching the first men walk on the moon. I was only 5, but it is the clearest, most vivid memory of my early childhood.  I was too young to understand, so that awe must have been a reflection of my father's, and his awe shared by the world.

Today, as the space shuttle program ends, I realized that I didn't bother to have my 4 year old son watch the end of an era with me.  How could something that inspired the world turn into...

"I have decided today that the United States should proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970's into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980's and '90's." Richard Nixon, 1972.

"It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path," Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator, 2005.

In fairness to President Nixon, the decade prior to his announcement had marked extraordinary success.  Arguably, the Apollo program was the single largest success of any government program, ever.

After such success, imagine any President saying 'It was great that we walked on the moon, but we're done sending people into space".

So when a group of renown NASA engineers said it would be possible to create a shuttle that would be reusable, could turn around on a moments notice and fly again, that it would be low cost once built, who was Richard Nixon, or the Congress, or NASA administrators to argue?

Surely, given NASA's past performance, they would be able to deliver the space shuttle future results.

Those results were not delivered.  Rather then flying missions every two weeks, the average space shuttle flew about 1-2 missions per year.  Rather than being fully reusable, large portions of the shuttle were replaced each mission.  Rather than greatly increasing safety, the space shuttle was about as safe as the Apollo program.  Rather then being a great contributor to science and exploration, it was an albatross compared to the unmanned programs.

But past performance is a great predictor of future results, IF you aren't selective in what pieces of the past performance are looked at.

Past performance indicator #1 - huge success landing on moon.  OK, good sign!

Past performance indicator #2 - the annual budget - hmmm, OK, wait a minute

Note the HUGE spike of spending for the Apollo program in 1966, three years before the first moon launch.  Of course, developing the technology is a front end expense.  But where is the front end spending on the space shuttle?  It wasn't politically expedient to properly fund the development of the space shuttle and this led to thousands of design compromises.

Past performance indicator #3 - every other federal agency had learned the importance of putting a little bit of work in every congressional district to make terminating a project really hard.  Starve the agency of the funds it needs to do the job it was given and instead of optimizing the funds it has, it will create the map below:

Past performance indicator #4 - "...before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth..." JFK had given a pretty clear goal.  Contrast that to Richard Nixon's stated goal of "routinizing transportation into near space."

Read a Rocket to Nowhere for more insight into how underfunding the space shuttle, providing no clear mission and the constant fight for congressional support resulted in something less inspiring than a moonlight walk.

I'm sure my friends in large corporate research groups are nodding their heads at this point in consideration of the hundreds of underfunded, poorly targeted projects they've worked on over the years that all went the way of the space shuttle and could BE different.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Death of Innovation

All our words from loose using have lost their edge.   Ernest Hemingway

I hate the word innovation  Not just a little anger and frustration, but a gut wrenching hatred.

It was once a wonderful word.  The thought of something new, better, faster, cheaper, shinier made me smile.  It was the best of science and art.  I saw the oldest, stodgiest of men transform with a childlike widening of their eyes when they saw it in action.

Innovation was beautiful.

Then it happened.  Corporate America decided that innovation shall no longer be a human virtue.  No, they pronounced, innovation shall be...a buzzword!

Moving forward, innovation shall, at the end of the day, provide a new paradigm through synergistic alignment and interface at the cutting edge of reengineering in a manner that shall optimize and leverage, so that when we hit the ground running there will be a win-win.

Henceforth, if your manager uses the phrase "Innovation is our top priority" it shall mean "I have no idea how to make money in this business but it must be the stupid, dim witted employees fault".

Innovation shall no longer be an art requiring creative thought, action, failure, expertise and perseverance.  It shall now be a process and the steps of this process shall be rigidly enforced.  And we shall use the process to punish those that fail to stay within the lines and to reward those that dot all of their i's and cross all of their t's.

Innovation is dead to me.

Not that I will never use the word again.  Rather, I will never use the word in connection with the noble pursuit of the new.

To my hundreds of friends and colleagues who love and practice the innovation of lore, let us find a more worthy could BE different after all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

First Lady of Change

Absolute identity with one's cause is the first and great condition of successful leadership.  Woodrow Wilson

Betty Ford's passing had me reflecting on the leadership of First Ladies.

How is it that Betty Ford was so tremendously successful in changing the way Americans think, talk and act on cancer and addictions?  And yet had no large impact on other issues for which she was very outspoken - marijuana, premarital sex, equal rights amendment.

While Laura and Barbara Bush's advocacy for literacy and education, Michelle Obama's efforts towards childhood obesity, Rosalynn Carter's mental health agenda, Pat Nixon's volunteerism push, and Nancy Reagen's 'just say no', all helped their causes, they just didn't have the game changing impact of Betty Ford.

Then there is Hilary Clinton and healthcare reform.  Stepping well beyond advocacy and directly into the legislative process, she failed to deliver change.

So what made Betty Ford special, different, a person who created change?

Her honest and personal identification with breast cancer, alcoholism and drug addiction provided her credibility.  The other First Ladies had their passion and I can't imagine why anyone would question their devotion to their goals, but there is something deep inside of people that is triggered by a Betty Ford advocating from personal experience.

Sure, Betty Ford had to be First Lady to drive the change but, just as importantly, she had to be a cancer survivor, an alcoholic and a drug addict in order that it could BE different today.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Tau Day

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.  Reinhold Niebuhr

Bob Palais wants to make math easier to learn, as does Michael Hartl.  They are both advocates of eliminating Pi.

When I first read this, I was excited.  I recalled my early days of geometry when the idea that the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter is always the same number regardless of the size of the circle was a kinda neat rule.  Then, how confused I was to find that the constant, Pi, couldn't be determined.  Surely, something as absolute and precise as math must have a precise number for the ratio of a circle's circumference and diameter!

Much as I was disappointed by learning of the existence (or non-existence) of Pi, it turns out I have been disappointed by Palais and Hartl's argument for eliminating it.

They propose that Pi be replaced by Tau.  Tau is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its radius.  If your geometry is a bit rusty, that means that Tau is exactly 2 times larger than Pi.  Yes, if you multiply Pi by 2, you still get a number that continues on forever after the decimal place.  That number is 6.28something.  Making June 28 Tau Day.

In fairness to Palais and Hartl, their proposal would actually make learning math easier.  You were taught to use radians instead of degrees to perform calculations on a circle and that one 'trip around' the circle is 2Pi radians.  Palais and Hartl argue that it would be a lot easier to understand if that same trip around the circle were Tau radians.  This then makes it easier to visualize cosine, tangent, lots of calculus stuff and more.

If that doesn't make sense to you, you can read the Tau Manifesto or Pi is Wrong or you can simply take my word for it.  Either way, realize that while it would make understanding math easier, it can never change.

Consider what it would take to replace Pi with Tau.  Thousands of editions of math text books would need to be changed.  Tens of thousands of high school math teachers would need to change their lesson plans (and learn how to teach it).  Hundreds of thousands of editions of physics, chemistry, biology and computer science texts would need to be modified.  Hundreds of thousands of science teachers would need to learn a new way.  And an entire generation of of old folks like me will need to die off because we will never make the effort to change.  Finally, the math professors who could drive such a change have to actually want to drive such a change.

Tau is a classic example of a better design that can not replace an entrenched dominant design.  It is a frequent problem in innovation and change.  It is never enough that the new product, system, approach, or process be better then the existing.  It must be so much better that it overwhelms the cost of change.

So happy Tau could BE different....but we will calculate just how different using Pi not Tau.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I See

I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done. Buddha

Today I saw what I thought was an old friend, but he was attired as a Franciscan monk. He always was a bit strange but our conversation is worth reading:

Me: Jerome, is that you?
I expect so.
When did you become a monk?
I never became a monk. I have always been a monk, so there was nothing to become from...
Well, what do you do?
I enjoy prayer and preaching. And a little contemplation.
What do you pray for?
I pray for all sentient beings that have been, and are, and will be, and could be.
How do you pray?
When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6.7).
Do you often quote the bible?
The Holy Bible is a collection of spiritual texts central to the Christian religion.
Who wrote the bible?
A bunch of early Christians, guided by Divine Inspiration.
I thought Jews wrote the bible?
I preach the universal salvation of all sentient beings.
Can you give me salvation?
I doubt it - there's an inherent disjunct between the material and virtual realms, that would make it rather difficult.
So I am doomed to Hell when I die?
Death is a purely objective phenomenon - it really does only happen to other people.
I see
The truth is clear to those who have eyes to see.
Thank you, have a nice day.
Thank you. I hope you have a nice day as well.
One last thing, if I were a bird would I dream about being human?
Human? I'll take that as a compliment, but actually I'm a bot like you.

You can speak with Brother Jerome and hundreds of other artificial intelligence programs at the Personality Forge. You'll recognize pretty quick that most of them are programs and not intelligent life. But rather than see how far it has to go, consider how far it has come, how fast it is traveling and how very soon..... it could BE different.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Iron Lady

Daddy, I can't be President, I'm not a boy. My 6 year old.

I imagine that the current leaders of Ireland, Finland, Germany, Liberia, India, Argentina, Bangledesh, Iceland, Croatia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Slovakia, Brazil, Switzerland, Peru and Kosovo would disagree with my daughter.

However, I'm pretty sure my daughter won't see anything of these ladies in her early years of schooling. She'll learn that the current President is a man, that the first and sixteenth Presidents were men and probably hear about the 35th man as well. Unless we move to Arizona, she will also learn that Governors are men too.

She also won't learn it from reading my past blogs where all 14 postings discussed and quoted only men.

So to my daughter: you were named after one of the great female leaders of modern history. She came from modest beginnings and rose to change the direction of her nation. As any political life would have it, she was not always popular or right. But she had a passionate belief in the individual and freedom at a time when much of the world did not.

"I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!".....and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbor and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations." Margaret Thatcher

So dear daughter, if you want could BE different.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Little Sergeant

There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea.
Dwight David Eisenhower

About this date 67 years ago, Allied forces had successfully landed on the shores of Normandy. Getting onto the beaches was thought at the time to be the big challenge, but it turned out to be the easy part. Miles inland, the French countryside created a big problem. The objectives that were expected to be achieved in days were not achieved after a month.

For centuries farmers built hedgerows, fences with mounds of dirt planted with bushes and trees to form dense barriers. Usually the hedgerows surrounded a field and only had a small opening from which to enter. By placing machine guns and artillery focused on these openings, the Germans slowed down the Allied advance with heavy casualties.

When tanks attempted to run over the hedgerows they slid up the side. Standing on end, gun pointed into the air, the unarmored underbelly of the tank was an easy target for the Germans.

Sergeant Curtis G. Culin provided the innovation that would break through the hedgerows.

In Eisenhower's words "And his idea was that we could fasten knives, great big steel knives in front of these tanks, and as they came along they would cut off these banks right at ground level—they would go through on the level keel—would carry with themselves a little bit of camouflage for a while. And this idea was brought to the captain, to the major, to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it—and that was General Bradley—and he did it very quickly. Because this seemed like a crazy idea, they did not even go to the engineers very fast, because they were afraid of the technical advice..."

Interestingly, the steel for these knives came from the steel barriers that the German's had placed in the water along the beaches to stop boats from getting to shore.

I can add little more about Culin as I could find no records of his life except that he was 29 at the time, lost a leg in battle a few months after his innovation, returned to his work as a salesman in Cranford, New Jersey, received the Legion of Merit and Purple Heart, died at the age of 48......and importantly......he knew it could BE different.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't Look Back

Your today is our tomorrow Chinese CEO to American Businessman

Recently, the Boston Consulting Group proudly announced that the US will see a return of manufacturing jobs.

"With Chinese wages rising at about 17 percent per year and the value of the yuan continuing to increase, the gap between U.S. and Chinese wages is narrowing rapidly. Meanwhile, flexible work rules and a host of government incentives are making many States increasingly competitive as low-cost bases for supplying the U.S. market." BCG

Set aside that India, South Africa and a host of other lesser developed nations are ready to offer up low cost labor and that China's domestic demand for products justifies continued rapid expansion of their manufacturing base. Assume that BCG is right - is it what the US needs?

Only a hundred years ago, the US was losing agricultural jobs at a rapid rate. Like agriculture, the loss of manufacturing jobs was not a loss in total output. The US produces more food and manufactures more stuff with far fewer people.

We've entered an age where the largest value creation comes not from working the ground, nor from producing widgets. The lion's share of the value is captured by intellectual property.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Merck, Intel...sure, they all have operating costs, fixed assets and produce stuff (or virtual stuff), but their real value is in their intellectual property.

So while BCG celebrates that the States are luring manufacturing jobs back with tax incentives, land giveaways and cash, I wonder why go backwards. Invest that money where it will have a forward impact.

"The United States is now sixth place in R&D investment as a percentage of GDP, falling behind nations like Japan, South Korea, and Israel. R&D investments in emerging economies like China, Brazil and India are expanding at rates far higher than the United States. China, for instance, will increase its share of global R&D from 11% in 2009 to 13%in 2011. According to Battelle's analysis, these trends are 'slowly altering the dominance that the U.S. has maintained for the past 40 years.'" Breakthrough Institute

I can understand the difficult situations and intense pressures that force States' politicians to focus on manufacturing jobs. But why would the US ever choose to lose its edge in R&D? could BE different.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dumb Question

I wish I had an answer to that because I'm tired of answering that question.
Yogi Berra

I once had a nice market opportunity but I didn't know how to build the product. So, I asked 5 PhD scientists and 15 science graduate students to help me design the product. They all said it couldn't be done and had some very good reasons for it. A year later, someone else had a product on the market....and everyone of the scientists, including me, knew exactly how to make the product....and we had known how to make it since our sophomore years of college.

Read on for the details.

One day, a polite, well dressed, well spoken man entered my office. A mutual friend had sent him to me. The man, Charles, said he needed help with two projects.

The first project was an exciting, creative, valuable concept for microfinance. I gladly helped him with what I could and connected him to others who would help him make it happen.

The second project was nicely described as weird. You see, Charles had a few dogs and he hated the squishy feel of picking up their poop. So he said, "I want to spray it with a foam that would quickly harden so I can pick up the foam and dispose of it".

I immediately wished he wasn't sitting there; however, he was a friend of a friend, so I let him go on. He presented to me a massive volume of market data. After listening to it all, I had little doubt that there actually was a market need...perhaps you don't believe me, but hang with me on this because the need, or lack there of, is really not the point of this article.

At the time I was teaching innovation and creativity courses. I always told my students that what might start as a crazy idea can be transformed into something valuable if you are patient and put a little effort into it. So I set out to practice what I taught.

Fortunately, I was located near some of the world's leading minds in polymer science and many of them were experts in making rigid foams. Five of them told me, independently, that we'd never be able to get a foam that would set up fast enough, be reasonably cost effective and non-toxic. I knew enough of the science to agree with them. I should point out that they all laughed at the market and were hardly taking me serious, but they were friends so they humored me.

But I wasn't done. I took the idea, along with Charles, to my creativity class of polymer science and medicinal chemistry students. These 15 students laughed and joked along with Charles about the market. They spent an hour brainstorming solutions, spent a week more outside the classroom working on (or joking about) the idea. They came up empty.

A year later, a colleague came into my office and handed me a USAir catalog. In it was "Poop-Freeze". Yes, a product for turning squishy poop into hard poop that could easily be picked up. Click on the link if you don't believe me.

Poop-Freeze was simply compressed air. Every scientist I spoke with understood very well that compressed air could freeze poop when it expanded. It's such a simple solution, everyone knew the answer, but we were asking the wrong question. We were asking how do we create a rigid foam when we should have been asking how do we make the poop rigid.

It could BE different, had we asked the right question.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Moldy Cheese

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Pete Townsend

If you find the book "Who Moved My Cheese" to be informative, inspiring or relevant, then you'd be ill advised to read any further.

If you thought, like me, that the book would be a turn of the century fad, I am sad to report that I find its advocates almost daily.

For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided reading "Who Moved My Cheese", it is a parable with two men in a maze getting fat, dumb and happy eating cheese from the same spot every day. One day, the cheese disappeared. One man eventually goes deeper into the maze in search of the cheese while the other sits and complains.

The book is rather quaint, enjoyable reading and captures the basics that I'd want my six year old to understand about reacting to change. Similarly, I want my six year old to understand the concepts of boy that cried wolf, the three little pigs and little red riding hood. However, I hope by sixteen she will understand the world as a more richly complex place than these simplistic parables and fables.

I have no issue with the author, the style or the message, but rather with the people who put more meaning into the book then it should be allotted.

It seems especially popular with newly appointed 'leaders'. These 'leaders' often view themselves as bringing great change to their organization. Generally, the only change that actually happens to the organization is the name on the 'leaders' door.

If you give a copy of "Who Moved My Cheese" to your new employees, rest assured that they will interpret it as two things. One, that you want them to recognize your new authority. Two, that they are stupid. After all, it would be the rare adult to argue with the basic principals quoted from the book:
Change Happens
They Keep Moving The Cheese
Anticipate Change
Get Ready For The Cheese To Move
Monitor Change
Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old
Adapt To Change Quickly
The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese
Move With The Cheese
Enjoy Change!
Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese!
Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again
They Keep Moving The Cheese.
Setting aside that your employees will be insulted, having them read the book does not help them understand HOW to make the changes. It doesn't help them SEE the changes that are occurring. It doesn't UNIFY them around a certain set of actions that will lead to a desired change.

It could BE different, but don't expect that giving out copies of Who Moved My Cheese will cause it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the Bus

Anyone who said he wasn't afraid during the civil rights movement was either a liar or without imagination. I was scared all the time. My hands didn't shake but inside I was shaking. James Farmer

There are far more detailed and well written histories of the Freedom Riders available then I could ever provide. However, a blog on innovation and change would be a sad blog indeed to not recognize the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Ride.

The Freedom Riders were imprisoned, beaten, permanently disabled and almost burned to death while being labeled unpatriotic by the Kennedy Administration, much of the press and often their friends and families.....for riding on a bus.

These people epitomize innovators, not because they tried something radically new with little chance of success. Rather, they copied the tried and true methods popularized by Ghandi, innovated by adapting them to their specific situation, knowing that it could BE different.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Facts are to be Ignored

I had to abandon free market principles in order to save the free market system. George W Bush

All of the evidence tells me I am wrong, yet I don't want to believe it.

I believe today, and have believed from my earliest childhood, in the ideals of the free market. Let people, companies, ideas fight it out and the best will survive while the worst will disappear. That government can't pick winners in the marketplace. That people make choices benefiting their own best interest.

Ignore the airline industry. Decades after deregulation, only Southwest Air makes money, yet the other miserable companies continue on. The principle of the best winning out is right of course, it just takes fifty years.

And sure, Enron was a bad idea that failed, but AIG is still around. Oh, yes, that's because W bailed them out in order to save the free market system.

The NFL avoids competition, yet a few hundred million people enjoy watching it anyway. While the competition of the medical industry has provided the US with a product that is mostly hated.

I shouldn't let little things such as the massive capital barriers to entry that limit competition to the establishment bother me - try to find a new company in oil, mining, commodity chemicals, steel, automobiles, farm equipment.....and count the number of price fixing fines those companies have piled up.

Flawed as free markets are, they are far better then the alternative of having Government pick the winners and losers. I believe this despite all of China's evidence to the contrary.
"On Monday, March 14th, 2011, the Chinese government passed the Twelfth Five-Year Plan which seeks to: address rising inequality and create an environment for more sustainable growth by prioritizing more equitable wealth distribution, increased domestic consumption, and improved social infrastructure and social safety nets. The plan is representative of China's efforts to rebalance its economy, shifting emphasis from investment toward consumption and from urban and coastal growth toward rural and inland development." (I copied that from Wiki because it was so well written).

While aspects of free market are alive and well in China, any rational analysis must conclude that the government has been exceptionally good at picking winners.

Still, it must be true that people make decisions in their own self interest. I shouldn't be bothered by the crates of potato chips and candy bars in the shopping carts at Walmart, nor the lack of something that looks like food. I shouldn't consider cocaine, heroine, alcohol and tobacco purchases. People who drive drunk, aggressive and without seat belts also should be ignored.

Yes, despite all the evidence that it could BE different, I'm still a free marketer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

64 ounces

Economic growth springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking. Paul Romer

Oddly, there once was a time when convenience stores couldn't sell a 64 oz fountain drink because it wouldn't fit in most car cup holders. An innovation solved the 'problem': a plastic cup that had a 16 oz bottom and ballooned out a few inches later to a massive, almost need to hold it with two hands, width.

Simple, right?

Plastic cups are typically made by sucking a sheet of molten plastic into a mold (notice the little spur of plastic on the very bottom of the cup, that's where the air was sucked out and the plastic ran a little bit into the hole). When the mold is continuous and straight on the side, molding is very easy. Throw a big bend in it, like the 64 oz cup, and it changes the plastic flow. You see, hot plastic doesn't flow like water, it flows like....well, it is gooey, elastic complicated flow.

Without someone very knowledgeable in the physics of plastics, the 64 oz cup would be a mess, thin in some areas, thick in others. In addition, an engineer (or two) had to redesign the mold to meet the plastic physicist specifications. Then a few process engineers had to make adjustments to the production line because of changes in production rate, cooling times for the plastic, volume throughput, all resulting in hundreds of complex interrelated changes.

Simple? Sure, so simple it required a half dozen engineers and scientists. But yes, simple compared to developing a new drug or increasing the storage capacity of a computer chip or the hundreds of other innovations we've come to rely upon to solve tomorrow's problems.

If you look to ANY innovation, at the roots of its implementation will be engineers and scientists, often with PhDs. More engineers and scientists most likely equals more innovation.

But in the USA, we don't have more, we have LESS. The number of scientists, engineers and technologist graduations has been flat for a decade while the world has become more complex and competitive. Subtract from the number of graduates the foreign students who return home (often because immigration laws force them to do so) and it is a very bleak picture.

If we want a better tomorrow, then we must invest more in our future scientists and engineers. Create learning environments that encourage kids to pursue the sciences. Support the research funding that expands career opportunities. And expose our children at every opportunity to the wonders of innovation.

Now you know that it could BE different, if you help.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

All or Nothing

"Let's go!" first man into space while awaiting launch

50 years ago this week, a man of slightly more than 5 feet in height was sealed inside an iron sphere atop a column of 600 lbs of high explosives. The explosives burned over the course of a minute and, rather than being obliterated, he was launched into space. 108 minutes later he had traveled around the earth, opened a hatch, jumped out and parachuted 4 miles to a safe landing.

For hundreds of years to come, children will learn his name and people will celebrate his accomplishment as the first human into space.

Before we celebrate the man, let's rethink what he did. On the actual flight he....sat, talked on the radio, guided his parachute.

And let's rethink what he didn't do. He didn't build the rocket, fund the project, contribute to the science of the rocket design, set the strategic direction of the space program or frankly anything. In fact, the engineers gave him no control on the flight for fear that low gravity could cause him to go insane.

Now to be selected, he had to meet some criteria. First, he had to be really small. Second, he had to be in top physical condition (just in case, although just in case of what is unclear). Third, he had to be an unquestionably loyal poster boy for the Soviet Union.

In fairness, he did have one other attribute. He had to believe....despite the prior five 'launches into orbit' in which: 1) two dogs died when the rocket exploded. 2) two dogs survived. 3) rocket explosion killed 100 people. 4) two dogs made it into orbit but not back. 5) two dogs got off the ground, never reached orbit but the dogs survived for 2 days in -40C weather before rescue.

Yes, this man had to believe that the 80% chance he would die was worth the 20% chance that it could BE different. For that belief, people a thousand years from now will know the name Yury Gagarin.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The President's Patent

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8

The foundation of the innovation system in the USA is the Patent Office and its financial implications. While a patent doesn't guarantee a customer, it does guarantee a lack of competitors. The promise of a monopoly attracts investment and maximizes profits.

"Lincoln said that the Patent Office adds the flame of interest to the light of creativity. And that is why we need to improve the effectiveness of our Patent Office." Jay Inslee

While I was not able to confirm Inslee's claim to Lincoln's statement, it seems reasonable. Lincoln was the only president to have a US patent issued. It was a method for lifting boats over shoals when they became unwittingly grounded. Lincoln also made a fair part of his living litigating patents prior to becoming President.

This 'flame of interest' was almost snuffed out by that very Patent Office in the last several decades. By approving marginal applications and by taking 3+ years to make a finding on most applications, the Patent Office greatly devalued the US patent.

The marginal patents, marginal because prior art (other peoples patents) were essential similar, created havoc as the civil courts, not the Patent Office, determine the final enforceability of a patent. If an investor can not trust that an issued patent will hold up in civil court, then they are wary to make an investment. Companies with patents found themselves in billion dollar lawsuits for infringing on other companies' patents which were rather similar.

The 3+ years to approve a patent was not only costly in legal fees, but made capital investment during the approval process very risky (ie - expensive) for small companies and made larger companies cautious to launch new products before knowing their legal positions.

Thankfully, the Patent Office has started to reverse its decades long slide.

Albeit, the Supreme Court had to act before the Patent Office increased its threshold of novelty (the level of proof the inventor must provide that the invention would not be obvious to someone skilled in the art), it is clear that the Patent Office has increased its standards. While it is still unclear where it is headed, this was a much needed change.

Recently, the Patent Office has become more serious about reducing the time to obtain a ruling. Now, if you are willing to pay an extra $4,000, the Patent Office will guarantee a ruling in one year rather than 3.

While still a long way to returning the flame of interest to the USA's light of creativity, it is nice to see that at the US Patent Office, it could BE different.

(and in case you were wondering, Lincoln never commercialized his patent)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Science Fiction or Innovation

No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. Issac Asimov

A few months back I asked a group of bright, talented researchers why they were bothering to cure cancer? They should do something bigger. Stop aging!

They thought and, probably as some of them read this, still think I'm crazy for suggesting it. But consider that at some point in the not so distant future that today's big problems will be no more. What should we be inventing that will meet the needs of such a new world.

Imagine the only way in which people die would be accidents and intentional killings. If you think OSHA, FDA and EPA have excessive safety procedures today, then consider the rules for zero risk tolerance that would come from a single death. Population growth, birth control, security, food supplies, education, retirement, health care.... everything we know would change.

Before you write off my challenge to consider such a world, read a few short stories by Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke or Robert Heinlein this weekend. Take a look at WHEN they were written. It could BE different is right around the corner.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Don't Spend Billions on a Metaphor

It is not best that we should all think alike; it is a difference of opinion that makes horse races. Mark Twain

Horse racing has been on my mind. Not because I particularly like horse racing, or know much about it, but because I listened to a Lockheed Martin executive describe their new product development system as a horse race.

Only, this exec claims, that instead of paying for all of the horse at the beginning of the race, they pay by the yard. As soon as you felt the horse wasn't going to win, you'd stop paying for it.

The exec meant that Lockheed Martin had implemented stage-gate, a process made famous by Cooper in his 1986 book "Winning at New Products". Apparently it took Lockheed Martin 25 years to discover what most large research intensive companies had already implemented........ and abandon.

On the surface, it sounds reasonable. Try to kill a new research project as soon as possible by finding its fatal flaw early, before it costs lots and lots of money. If it survives all attempts to kill it then it must be a good idea.

So let's revisit the horse race to test this stage-gate, kill the bad ideas fast concept. If a horse is in last place midway through the race, should we give up on him? What about the horse that is in first place a hundred yards out of the start, is he the winner? A frequent and exciting moment in a horse race is one coming from far back in the home stretch and winning by a nose.

Much like a horse race, it's hard to be certain that a new product idea is fatally flawed until almost the end of the race! Much as Twain's quote, the opinion on which horse (product) will win differs by the person, but a majority opinion doesn't make a winner.

But let's extend the horse race metaphor further. The costs really aren't in the race, but the events leading up to the race. And the prize isn't really the purse at the end of the race (although it can be a nice chunk of change), but the way in which the horse is genetically marketed after.

Perhaps breeding is the first step in creating a winning horse, like basic research. Then picking the youngsters which appear physically fit and training them is applied research. Racing them could be considered the product launch. Putting the winner out to breed is the mature product being mass marketed.

So, Mr. Lockheed Martin executive, why don't you buy your horses after they have won?

It could BE different if you did.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It took ten years, and that was just to get started

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems like a great idea, bring together a few biomedical research universities with entrepreneurs and investors, provide them with laboratories and offices, maybe a little government backed risk capital, position a person who can speak all of their languages to create a fuzzy interface....and poof, you have a biotech industry!

As simple as that, it's a proven formula from Boston to Qatar. Just don't expect it to happen in a few years or even a decade.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of touring the yet to be opened New Orleans Bioinnovation Center. Located just a short walk from that more famous institution, Bourbon Street, the Bioinnovation Center has about 60,000 square feet of laboratories, offices and conference facilities.

As Aaron Miscenich, president of the center, walks me through the building he describes its purpose. It is the physical structure which ties together entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, university researchers and their ever vigilant tech transfer offices, non-profit assistance ranging from finance to business planning. Doing so will result in more start-up biotech companies and growth of a high paying industry sector for New Orleans.

It's all text book. Travel to Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Diego or dozens of other cities around the world and you will find the same thing. You will also find that it has worked.

So it's a proven model, but it took 10 years (maybe more) from the initial planning phase to the point where the building is almost open for operation.

Why so long? no, it is not because New Orleans is living up to any sort of undeserved reputation. You'll find that it takes just as long no matter where it's done.

It isn't that $50 million plus or minus $10 million to build the facility is a lot of money. Sure, it's a lot of money if it is in my bank account, but for a city the size of New Orleans? A new football stadium costs 10x that!

I didn't ask Aaron for all the details but I'm guessing his story is not dissimilar to my experience. First, there's the feasibility study...or actually, the raising the $100k+ from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to pay for the study and convincing someone local to pay the matching funds. Then there's the bid process for the feasibility study; doing the study; reporting on the study; obtaining public comment on the study. Lots of studying just to say, sure the idea could work.

Once you have a study you can go back to the EDA and ask for planning money. And find someone local to match that money (with non federal funds!). After a few years of studying and planning you'd be ready to raise some money to actually design the facility and hopefully even build it.

But it's been a few years now and the people who originally had the idea are off doing something else. The new people involved decide the project should occur in a different place or with a different purpose. So you make due with what you have, spend a lot of time modifying it to meet the new leadership interests and another year slips away.

Now, you can finally raise $50 million! But from where. If you follow the government financing path you will find that there is no established program (federal or state). So you are headed down the earmark process. Put down two years at least before you see that cash and can actually pay an architect.

Of course, you could do more traditional financing, but banks aren't so wild about your business plan to lease space to companies with no financial history and that are likely losing money. Even if you could pull it off, the cost of capital will be high compared to government funding where the capital is, well, free.

Add in a few years to actually build the could BE different sure - if you can wait a few decades!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Who invented the light bulb?

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Thomas Edison

In the 70 years before Edison, there were at least two dozen inventors of the light bulb. As did each of his predecessors, Edison greatly increased the life of the bulb and decreased the cost. But others dramatically improved upon Edison's design and the incandescent bulb we recognize today was invented by William Coolidge.

Edison had a much greater contribution to the light bulb then its design. He invented an entire system for electrical distribution. Or, more properly, he took dozens of other people's inventions and integrated them into a power plant, transformers, light bulbs....

When he started all of this, it was obvious that it would work. All of the pieces had been demonstrated. That said, it was a tremendous undertaking to integrate and modify them in a cost effective manner.

There were also constant improvements to be made. For example, Edison held dozens of patents for electroplating because he needed improved processes to join the bulb's filament with electric wires.

He also had to displace the gas torches and pipelines that already ran through cities. Political deals, business deals and questionable deals were all a part of 'inventing' the light bulb for Edison. There are many anecdotal stories of sabotaging gas lines, bribing public officials and creating gas torch fires that while perhaps untrue, certainly add flavor to the story.

For Edison, it could BE different, required 99% perspiration.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Creating change

"An invention has to make sense in the world it finishes in, not in the world it started. " Tim O'Reilly

Follow the links to read more about how Tim O'Reilly changed the world of computing by starting as a technical manual publisher to being a driving force in Open Source Software and Web 2.0, not necessarily by being the guy with the big idea, but rather being the guy that enabled it to happen.

Tim O'Reilly

O'Reilly Media

While hundreds of techies had proven that 'open source' would work, that 'web 2.0' would work, it wasn't really 'happening'. O'Reilly, seeing this, pulled them all together and forced the change by adding structure.

As silly as it may sound, much of that structure was just giving it the name Open Source and Web 2.0, creating a conference, then letting the technical folks at the conference figure out what that really meant.

O'Reilly is a classic example of a way to drive change. It's being in a position to see that it could BE different and then putting it into a framework that brings others to embrace the change.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I'm a tech entrepreneur, so it naturally follows that I....

bought an iPhone two years after they came out
print out documents to read
haven't bought a green anything
bought a plasma TV many years late
have yet to experience blue-ray
discovered facebook only because my students made me
and may one day understand why people like iPads

Yet, everyday of my professional career, I've gone to the office and tried to force change. Usually by beating my head against something and not often to my own benefit.

But the changes I've forced are a lot like the technologies that I finally adopted - they were well proven and I had little doubt that they would work. They had worked in a different industry or under different circumstances, but the risk to adopting them for my specific needs was small.

So I've never had to lay claim to an original idea to drive change. Rather, I've looked around the world, noticed what was happening, what was changing and said with confidence

"it could BE different"