Get a Dose of Innovation

May 29, 2011

I have had the great pleasure of attending the World Innovation Forum (WIF) in New York City the last two years. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the event this year (be sure to watch #wif11 on Twitter and follow the bloggers on June 7-8), as I will be in Las Vegas for HP Discover. At the HP event, I’m expecting a good dose of tech, good interaction with bloggers and I am very excited that Paul McCartney is the musical guest. HP’s history is tightly tied to innovation and they have also brought in Don Tapscott as one of the keynote speakers (I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Don twice before: at the first EMC Innovation Conference and also at BIF-6). Most companies list being innovative as a top goal, but after listening to thought leaders at previous World Innovation Forum and World Business Forum conferences, the question that arose was can large corporations innovate?

Two of WIF’s speakers that I have seen before give good insight into this question. Clay Christensen is one of the foremost experts on business innovation, and his books are a must-read for anyone in tech. Christensen’s material shows how companies can fail to take advantage of new innovations and find themselves disrupted by startups. Even when companies are aware of the new waves that are coming, the commitment to existing customers and inertia of legacy processes will cause most companies to fail to change as needed as the market demands. One of the most powerful weapons that a company can leverage is the passion of its people; this is the message that WIF participants can expect to hear from Tony Hsieh of Zappos. Tony has a powerful message (and excellent book) of how companies can deliver happiness to customers and employees. I tend to agree with a note that I saw on Twitter recently that said: companies can’t innovate, but they can get out of the way of employees who can.

My friend and former colleague, Steve Todd’s second book, Innovate with Global Influence, continues the discussion of how to be a corporate intrapreneur (see my write-up of his first book). Steve draws on teachings of Vijay Govindarajan, Gary Hamel and Daniel Pink (Steve and I saw Vijay and Gary at previous HSM events, Daniel Pink is at WIF11) to give a framework as to how employees can innovate, delivering results and working with teams around the globe. Steve readily admits that there is strong pressure by management to stay in Vijay’s Box 1 (Managing the Present, which is incremental improvements). Steve encourages employees to deliver on their commitments so that they can move to the journey of innovation in Box 2 (Selectively Abandon the Past) and Box 3 (Create the Future). One of my favorite parts of Steve’s approach is that he recommends indoctrinating new employees immediately in the innovation process. Employees who feel empowered to be innovative and who can be connected with a broad community with similar passions are more likely to be excited and happy with their work. I recommend Steve’s book to anyone who wants to grab some of the power of innovation and help make sure that your company doesn’t stop the passion of its workers.

There are plenty of ways to get a dose of innovation, whether it is hearing an inspiring speaker at a conference, reading a book or blog that makes you think or watching a video; the TED website and iPad app alone can keep you busy for a long time. What have you read or watched that has inspired you?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Innovate with Global Influence, but am under no obligation to write about it.

Stuart Miniman

http://blogstu.wordpress.com


The Elephant, The Rider and The Path to Cloud Computing

August 19, 2010

A common thread that runs between IT and innovation in general is that new ideas require change. As Chip Heath said at the World Innovation Forum in June ’10 (that’s him above): change is hard, it can be futile and most people resist and hate change.  Chip and his brother Dan have written two books, the second one is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (disclosure: I received a free copy at the conference).  Cloud computing is a big and potentially scary change, how is the industry doing at creating the correct environment for customers to undertake the new products and services?  At VMworld, “The Cube” will be broadcasting LIVE and digging deep into this topic – see all the details on SiliconANGLE and be sure to tune in Aug 30-Sept 2 for executives, customers, bloggers and analysts.

“A long journey starts with a single step.”… But you know what else starts with a single step? An ill-conceived amble that you abandon after a few minutes.

The theory of Switch is that when change works, it follows a pattern.  There are three pieces of the pattern which they describe as The Rider, The Elephant and The Path.

The Rider is analytical and works well with concrete examples to follow, a technique discussed is following “bright spots”.  These are not happy thoughts, but finding successful results and replicating and amplifying them.  What may look like resistance to change  may simply be cluelessness of not knowing which direction to go, so scripting the first steps will help get people on the right track.  This is similar to getting the low hanging fruit – what is the one thing that can be done or changed that get people moving in the right direction.  An example in the book was a campaign to get people to switch from whole milk to 1%.  It is a simple change that dramatically lowers the daily fat intake and compared to the food pyramid, it is easily understood and followed.  On the analytical side, customers are confronted with a lot of information about cloud computing, but it is often difficult to distinguish between vision and reality.  Plenty of companies are utilizing public cloud offerings and this puts internal IT organizations in the position of having to be competitive with the flexibility and costs that their lines of business can get directly from the cloud.  When it comes to fully virtualized solutions, the analytical customers are still asking a lot of questions about security and management.  As for scripting the critical moves, turnkey solutions and integrated stacks have been coming to market, allowing customers to deploy virtualized data centers or private clouds.

The Elephant is the automatic reaction and emotional side.  The voice of the elephant tells you to eat the entire quart of ice cream, that you must check email constantly and when it comes to change *THAT’S WRONG*.  In trying to create a major change, the action is not Think > Analyze > Change, but rather See > Feel > Change.  A recommendation for the emotional side is to find the feeling that will allow people to see and connect with the change.  Another method of motivating the elephant is by shrinking the change, breaking it down into pieces that aren’t as scary and get the snowball rolling towards the ultimate goal.  In order to avoid spooking the elephant, people must understand that change is a journey that will have peaks and valleys – “rarely a graceful leap from heigh to height” – and that if failure and challenges are listed as an expected part of the journey, that people will be less likely to give up when there are challenges.  Cloud computing has a way to go on the emotional side.  Many IT practitioners still have the elephant voice telling them that cloud = no job.  There are plenty of ways to create bite-sized changes along the path to cloud such as deploying a single application (take backup as an example).  I’ve yet to see anyone embracing failure as part of the deployment of cloud computing, but would love to hear from customers about learning experiences that they’ve had in this regard.

I’d read plenty in sales and business books dealing with emotional and analytical positioning, but Shaping The Path was new to me and resonated strongly.  Chip said that we often have a fundamental attribution error – that is we focus on people rather than situation.  As an example, if a car cuts you off on a highway, we blame the person, not the situation (which could be the road itself or extenuating circumstances that causes the person to be driving more reckless than they should).  Shaping the Path can be done through adjusting the environment, building habits or “rallying the herd”.  An example given for tweaking the environment was to give software engineers “quiet hours” (or what EMC called the “cone of silence”), specific times where they would not be interrupted and could focus on their job without having to feel guilty for not checking email, answering calls or otherwise being distracted from their primary job.  As part of building habits, Heath advocates that checklists can help people from becoming overconfident.  People think that having a checklist means that you can’t remember or don’t know your job, when it is can be a reminder of the mission-critical things that must be done and help avoid mistakes.  “So before you conclude that your husband is hopelessly absentminded, always forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning and the milk, maybe you should try shaping his Path. How about taping a checklist to his steering wheel?”  Finally, rallying the herd is about allowing reformers to have a space to discuss their change plans and let the environment become contagious.  Rather than completely separating reformers from resisters, Heath advocates going through an “organizational molting” so that the new culture takes over.  Doing a search, I see that there are plenty of Cloud Computing checklists – has anyone found any good ones?  Industry conferences can often be a great place to rally the herd and as I mentioned earlier, the live broadcast on SiliconANGLE will highlight those customers who can share “next practices” for cloud computing.

Don’t think outside of the box – find a good box and think inside it. -Chip Heath

One of the funniest things that Chip Heath said was that most people think that change is really hard, yet the #1 and #2 most stressful and challenging changes in people’s lives are sought after and embraced.  Getting married (#2) and having children (#1) are a more dramatic change than any merger and acquisition or industry shift.  Sure there are plenty of challenges in implementing cloud computing and other innovations, but with a good pattern to follow, the journey can be undertaken intelligently.

Stuart Miniman

http://blogstu.wordpress.com

Share

PS – Speaking of Tweaking the Path, check out the new “Tweet” button (below), a nice new option on WordPress from Twitter to make it easy to share articles like this (go ahead and try it)


Warning: The Internet May Cause Distraction and Inability to Learn

July 11, 2010

If Nicholas Carr is correct in his recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, you will not read this entire blog post. The main idea of the book is that the internet causes our brains to be easily distracted and also makes us less able to learn deep ideas as we skim more and read deeply less.  The book digs into the science of how the human brain learns.  The brain has “plasticity” – meaning that it will adjust to the activities that it does often, similar to what our muscles do.  Carr lays out the history of communication from the first written world, through the mass production of books, to the internet age and analyzes the impact that these technologies have on society and the human brain.  As he points out in the book, for every new technology, there have been those that have said that it will doom the way that we think or take away the very things that make us human.  But this time, according to Carr, there are real issues.

The Internet Distracts People with…SQUIRREL

Like the dog Dug in the movie Up! (SQUIRREL!) – internet users can find it hard to stay focused.  While I agree that almost any repetitive activity can potentially become addictive, I believe that most people can take control of the tools that they use for communication rather than letting them control you.  Even in pre-internet days, the draw of interrupting technologies was there – do you finish the task that you’re working on, or answer the ringing phone or watch TV (or even read a book)?  The brain can get so used to a stimulus that it will make you crave it when it’s not there – this even affected Dilbert back in 1996.
The difference with the internet is that it is everywhere and people can become like a mouse pressing a lever for a pellet by constantly checking email, RSS, Facebook, or Twitter.  These activities can be properly worked into the flow of the workday rather than as a distraction from getting things done.  Personally I know that I have a tendency to want to stay connected and respond rapidly to messages. (Disclosure: Hi, I’m Stu and I’m an internet addict, see me on Twitter)  The more we allow ourselves to be interrupt driven, the more our brains will see that as “normal” and it will become harder to stay focused for longer periods of time.  Recent studies (including some in the book) show that the cost of context switching is larger than any gains for multitasking.  You have the power to take control of your environment: finish conversations without interruption, check messages when you’re done with a task, not when an alarm tells you that it comes in.

Reading vs. Skimming

If you’ve read this far, congratulations!  In the age of the internet, most people skim rather than read.  The book describes that people read in an “F” shape, that is that they read the first line or two, then partial lines and eventually just start scanning down the page.  As a blogger, I try and keep my posts short (500 words for most posts or 1000 for a deeper discussion) and also try and break up the text visually with some bolding, italics, headers and photos.  Carr also says that even the basic web format with hyperlinks is very distracting.  Each hyperlink that you reach makes you think about clicking it and if you do will you ever get back to where you started (for this article, I put some links at the bottom rather than throughout the text).  There is fascinating research in the book which explains how memories are created and the science behind short term and long term memory.

“How do users read on the web?”…”They don’t”

While in general I feel that Carr is a bit of a pessimist about technology, I do believe that he is correctly raising an alarm on this topic.  The argument in the book is that as we skim more and rely on the internet to store information rather than our brains that our brains will have less context for problem solving or deep thoughts and that we become shallower.  Mass production of books brought learning to everyone, the internet increases information flow, but potentially we understand and internalize less.

There are a few ways that we can still absorb information in the internet age.  Of course the first is to read deeply – I’d recommend picking up The Shallows if you’ve found this discussion interesting (I think that it should be required reading at colleges). Another way is to write; the process of organizing your thoughts and translating them into words helps your memory and critical thinking.  A third way is to have deep discussions with friends and family – nothing like a lively debate to get the brain going.  A final way is just to give yourself some free time to think – where new information isn’t flooding in so that you can sort and process what you’ve brought in.

I consider myself a pragmatic optimist on the new technologies.  Like some of the optimists in the articles listed below, I believe that the internet age brings proliferation of information and opportunity for a globally connected community.  It’s the core of the company that I work at now.

Where do you stand?  Are you an internet optimist? Do you believe that there is validity in Carr’s positions?  Will the internet turn people into shallow shells that can’t function without computers?

Here are some related articles that I’d recommend:

Are You An Internet Optimist or Pessimist? The Great Debate over Technology’s Impact on Society by Adam Thierer  (Adam also reviews The Shallows)

I Know I’m Not the Only Internet Optimist… by Andy McAfee

Carr’s article from The Atlantic: Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Does Multitasking Lead to a More Productive Brain? from NPR

A couple of posts of mine discussing similar topics after reading a book by Neil Postman

 

Added May 2013: The Shallows cartoon edition

Nicholas Carr on The Colbert Report


 

 

 

Share


The Power of Adjacent Communities

April 14, 2010

I recently read a book written by a coworker, Steve Todd, Innovate with Influence.  The book tells the story of Steve’s career, the storage industry from RAID to XAM and gives some good lessons about influence and innovation.  Steve talks about how he has created innovative products through connecting adjacent areas of expertise and knowledge – what he calls Venn Diagram Innovation (and Venn diagrams are just the coolest).  This topic resonates strongly with me on how when you make connections both internally in a company (breaking out of the “silos of excellence”) and to external communities.

Inside a large corporation, it becomes very easy to always interact with the same people.  Connecting with people outside of your work area will not only expand your knowledge, but helps to bring you fresh perspectives.  In the online community, there is also the opportunity to span between different groups of people.  Whether you are talking about blogs, Facebook or Twitter, it can be very interesting when you span multiple interests.  My primary technology focus is storage and virtualization, but I learn a lot from the innovation and social media communities.  There are often unexpected overlaps between the various groups and lessons that can be learned from all of the groups that can be applied across the board.  While it’s true that if you want to be the “expert” in a certain field that staying focused on a specific topic can help build your brand, most people wear more than one hat and you shouldn’t be afraid to post and engage on more than one topic.  What I have also found, is that if you are really willing to engage, that it is still easy to converse with real thought leaders that are online.  If you become part of the 1% of the internet that is contributing on a certain area, you can become well known on the subject and get to know others who are driving thought leadership.

I’d recommend picking up a copy of Steve’s book (Disclaimer: Steve is a friend a colleague, but I bought my copy and was not asked to write this post).  For some background on other business books that I’ve enjoyed, see my post Read this or fail to communicate from last year.  I’m always interested in hearing of good business books, I like storytellers with some applicable lessons, please comment on anything that you’d recommend.  If you’re new to this site, please consider subscribing to this blog.

Stuart Miniman

http://blogstu.wordpress.com

Share


Amusing Ourselves to Death

July 13, 2009

One of my favorite things about social media are the little things like finding new music or a good book recommendation.  The following Twitter post from Andrew McAfee last month caught my eye:

“Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” – N. Postman

I had just reread Huxley’s Brave New World, and the quote struck a cord with me.  I did a quick search and found that the quote came from Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death. I bought it and found it to be a fascinating read.  The first half of the book examines some of the history of communication.  In social media spaces, there is an ongoing discussion that the communication content is much more important that the technology (but there is a lot of discussion about the various tools and the appropriate use of the tools).  Postman writes that while the message is an important piece, it is impossible to not have the message effected by the medium through which it is transmitted.

The book is primarily a criticism of television and in the introduction, Neil’s son reflects on how his father may have considered the technology changes that have come in the two decades since the book’s publication in the mid-80′s.  Many of the basic questions about the utility of technology hold true throughout the ages.  He quotes Henry David Thoreau on the building of telegraph lines:

“”We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate…We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but  perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping couch.”

The same concerns held for television and many have made similar attacks against Twitter and other web tools.  I plan to take a couple of posts to look at the internet age as an extension of Postman discourse on the Television Age.  As Nicholas Carr wrote, in the age of Google, many have trouble focusing (and I would add that most don’t find the time) on anything more than a paragraph, so I’ll try to keep the posts short. While Web 1.0 is an extension of books, radio and television (1-way communication), Web 2.o is a continuation of the telegraph, telephone and email (2-way communication).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers