Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

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.

Measurement and mathematics – two different things

A large portion of managers prefer to run their businesses “by the numbers”. Gary Metcalf wrote about measurement and mathematics, but they’re two different things. Actually, mathematics is a subset of measurement. This is clear in the writings of C. West Churchman.

I got into reading West Churchman‘s writing, since he was Russell Ackoff‘s dissertation supervisor. (Russ is 87 years old, now. Churchman passed away in 2004 at the age of 90, so it’s not like he was a generator older.) In my reading of Churchman’s writings, I came to understand that his dissertation was actually on metrology — the philosophy of measurement. Given that background, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that progress is the guarantor of the Singerian inquiring system (in The Design of Inquiring Systems).

Making a distinction between measurement and mathematics is straightforward in Churchman’s framework. Progress (including the sweeping in of new content) is the “fifth way of knowing” (if I use the ordering presented by Mitroff & Linstone in The Unbounded Mind. Mathematics is primarily an analytic-deductive inquiring system, which is the “second way of knowing”.

Disruptive innovation in services

Everyone seems to get the idea about disruptive innovation in product development.  Clayton Christensen‘s original research that led to The Innovator’s Dilemma was based on the challenge of 3.5″ disk drives and 5.25″ disk drives.  The ideas on disruptive innovation in services wasn’t so obvious to me, until I heard Christensen’s lecture on how business schools such as Harvard and Stanford seem to be overshooting the marketplace.

I was listening to an audio recording from IT Conversations, with Clayton Christensen speaking at the Open Source Business Conference 2004.  I’ve read Christensen’s writing some time ago, and was impressed by his style of presenting.  He speaks slowly and clearly, and his students must love him.  I’d heard most of the content before, but was impressed by an anecdote that is actually written up in The Innovator’s Solution (in Chapter 9):

[Clayton Christensen] … had written a paper that worried that the leading business schools’ traditional two-year MBA programs are being threatened by two disruptions. The most proximate wave, a low-end disruption, is executive evening-and-weekend MBA programs that enable working managers to earn MBA degrees in as little as a year. The most significant wave is a new-market disruption: on-the-job management training that ranges from corporate educational institutions such as Motorola University and GE’s Crotonville to training seminars in Holiday Inns.

Knowing what we want — more choice (or too much)?

In coevolving technology and business, do we actually know what we want?  This may come with a presumption that more choice is better than less choice.  In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz suggests that we may think that we’re going to be happier with more choice, but in fact, we’re probably not.

I first listened to the audio recording of Barry Schwartz’s talk, "Less is More" at the Pop!Tech 2004 conference.  (For a visual approach to the content, look at the sketch by Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studio). The idea is simple, but Schwartz isn’t just a journalist, he’s a professor of psychology.  I’ve now been reading the book.  Since I’m a reader of footnotes, the book provides a lot of foundations from psychology.

In the prologue of the book, Schwartz starts off with references to political philosophy Isaiah Berlin, on the distinction between "negative liberty" and "positive liberty".  He then cites Amartya Sen (Nobel laureaute in Economics) and Development as Freedom.  Schwartz argues that:

  1. We would be better off we we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.
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