Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Requirements … or … dreams?

This blogging area is about coevolution, and specifically coevolution of technology and culture. OK, maybe we haven’t said that so explicitly, but that is the larger process that would include coevolution of technology and business, or technology and work, or technology and enterprise.

How much of this is really about “requirements” at all? The definitions of requirements, as Martin has pointed out, are so dry and pedestrian. Requirements may be compulsory, requirements may be needs.

I like to think that much of what we do, even in business applications of technology, is about desires. Or, in the words of one of our IBM colleagues Sukanya Patwardhan, maybe it is about dreams.

What is it that gets right to the heart of what a user of technology aspires to? What can fulfill their human desires for success? How does this trace back to the levels of the Maslow hierarchy, from physiological survival to psychological actualization?

What is a ‘Requirement’?

I have set out my intention before to argue that Requirements Gathering does more harm than good. The first step was to argue simply that ‘Gathering’ is a passive affair. Now I want to raise a more substantive objection. I want to explore what we mean by ‘Requirements’. I believe that what we mean:

  1. is too varied and contradictory to be useful
  2. does not differentiate between ends and means and is therefore dangerous

If I’m right, it means that the term ‘Requirements’ cannot be used effectively in practice and does more harm than good.

So, taking each point in turn.

1. What we mean by requirements is too varied and contradictory to be useful.

At its simplest a requirement is a noun

1 something required; a need.

2 something specified as compulsory.
(Oxford Compact Dictionary)

At once we can see that there is at least a dichotomy if not a contradiction.

A need can be challenged and explored. ‘Why do you need that’? ‘What goal are you trying to satisfy’? ‘Is the need you have expressed the best way to satisfy that goal’?

Something specified as compulsory is not.

Curriculum in a coevolving world

If the world is changing so that co-evolution of organizations and technology is required, what is the content that students should be trained in?

Here’s an interesting high-level view of “New ICT Curricula for the 21st Century“:

… the Career Space consortium recommends that ICT Curricula should consist of the following core elements:

  • a scientific base of 30%,
  • a technology base of 30%,
  • an application base and systems thinking of 25% and,
  • a personal and business skills element of up to 15%.

It’s probably something that should be noted, given the “brand name” recognition of sponsors associated with the consortium.

I’m active in the systems science community, so I find it interesting that “systems thinking” is named on the list. This requirement is less surprising, given the origins of the initiative in Europe.

So, should we have a similar interest in “systems thinking” in North America?

Collaborative innovation – stories

Irving Wladawsky-Berger described colloborative innovation as “innovation coming from people working together in open communities”.  His interest was in open source software development, in particular.  In two talks that I heard today at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, in Orlando, Bernie Meyerson (IBM Vice President for Strategic Alliances, and Chief Technologist, Systems and Technology Group) and Tony Scott (Disney Senior Vice-President and CIO) provided reflections on collaborative innovation in two different contexts.

Bernie Meyerson described the development of the Cell microprocessor, with IBM in joint development with Sony and Toshiba.  The large investment required to develop basic technologies underlying the new processor was prohibitively high, but made collaboration made it practical.  The basic technologies were shared, with alternative manufacturers and suppliers brought on board at a later date.  Meyerson said that this story was described in Radical Innovation.

Tony Scott showed a 3.25″ floppy diskette — a reduced-size version of the 5.25″ diskette that Dysan didn’t quite get to production.  He was on the management team for this product that never saw the light of day, after Apple installed the Sony 3.5″ floppy diskette in a hard case.  (There’s some talk about this on Wikipedia).  Dysan didn’t listen to customers who were looking for media in a more durable carrier, and had started investing in producing the 3.25″ floppy diskette drives itself.  Scott made it sound as if this management decision was a leading cause of the failure of the company, a few years later.

What precedes an Emerging Business Opportunity?

I had done some briefings for a client in western Canada, and the client executive asked if I would be interested in coaching one of their senior executives on some case studies. The client has retained an independent consultant specializing in executive development, and that consultant had suggested that the board work their way through some Harvard Business School cases, namely Emerging Business Opportunities at IBM (A), Emerging Business Opportunities at IBM (B) and Emerging Business Opportunities at IBM (C): Pervasive Computing. This key executive that I was to coach was to prepare himself to act as a resource to the board members. Our preparatory teleconference ended up with some discussions on organization culture, deeper than I would have anticipated.

The cases describe an IBM study in 2003 that recognized difficulties in starting up new businesses in six root causes:

  1. Our management system rewards execution directed at short-term results and does not place enough value on strategic business building.
  2. We are preoccupied with our current served markets and existing offerings.
  3. Our business model emphasizes sustained profit and earnings per share improvement rather than actions to drive higher P/Es.
  4. Our approach to gathering and using market insights is inadequate for embryonic markets.

Coevolving a nation and a business

This blog is centred on the idea of coevolving technologies with business, but there’s also other types of coevolving. The takeover of the Hudson’s Bay Company by an American draws attention to the linked heritage between the company, and the opening up of Canada.

In the Toronto Globe & Mail, Val Ross cites The Empire of the Bay by Peter C. Newman, which appears to have first been published by Viking Press in 1989, made into a PBS series in 2000, and then republished in 2002 by Penguin Canada / Madison Press as The Illustrated History of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The article drew attention to the artifacts produced by explorers in the 19th century.

“It’s the only company that became a country,” notes Peter C. Newman, author of Empire of the Bay. And with the transfer of the company could go artifacts and art that are part of this country’s DNA.

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