Do Sweat the Soft Stuff

Last year* I was at a conference focused on technology and processes for global product development. In the hallway a representative from Lucent Technologies offered me his latest revelation:

“Ya know, sitting in all these presentations, it’s really clear to me what the problem is. It’s not network security or the limitations of current collaboration software…it’s the cultural issues. Every speaker has said that’s a problem. How do you get your people to embrace such big changes? You should do a conference on those issues.” Continue reading


Quirky Recap S01 E05 – “Hell Yes”

The show has apparently moved to Friday nights, but that doesn’t work with my schedule, so here I am still publishing the recap on Wed, I hope you don’t mind, all two of you reading this….me and my mom.  Ok that’s a lie, my mom’s not great with a web browser.  When a show gets moved to Friday nights, that’s typically not a good sign in TV land.  So fingers crossed that Ben and Gaz get to continue their hissy quarrels and not be banished to the dungeons in the basement of the Nielsen offices.  Next week is the season finale, do you want more Quirky?  Well make sure you tell Sundance.

Time to see who will be this week’s Quirky inventor and have their dreams realized.  It has better odds than the lottery, so get over to and start inventing, you people inspired by the tuna and peanut butter in your garage.  At this week’s Eval, they have changed it up a little and are entirely focused on gadgets for coffee pod machines like the Keurig.  The whole single cup brew category has exploded in recent years, partly due their ability to economically customize beverages for individuals, so everyone in the office can have something different rather than all drink out of the same pot.  I’m sure men buy this at home too so their wives can have vanilla latte while they drink roasted mud. Continue reading

Tech Scouting: Looking for Opportunities

Article #2: Looking for Opportunities

Most companies are continually looking for opportunities to grow their product portfolios, move into new markets and make a significant impact on business.  Whether ‘transformative’ or expansionary, the key questions are:  How do you focus your search?  Where should you look?

First, opportunities are not limited to technologies.  While new and/or disruptive technologies can give you competitive advantage, other reasons to go outside include market access (customer base, distribution, brand, etc.), competencies (technical, marketing, business) and funding –as well as ideas related to serviceability, sustainability, and other attributes.  Increasingly companies are exploring open innovation partnerships in emerging markets such as China and India where growth opportunities are greater.

Regardless, the most important driver is customer need.  Ideally you will match a new technology or idea to a large, unmet and compelling need.  (Remember that invention is not the same as innovation.)

Expert Jay Paap (Management Roundtable conference chair and workshop leader), advises scouts to:

  • Seek problems, not solutions – identify the gap(s), don’t presume the answers
  • Think generically
  • Look everywhere
  • Manage internal experts
  • Keep options open Continue reading

App-athy and the Value of Information

digitalarcheologyIn the early to mid-nineties, I became enamored with the idea of lean information systems.  This was back when software applications were getting bloated and trying to be all things to all people but were unsatisfying to just about everyone. At the same time, enterprise applications were being set up to try to control all kinds of business processes in the name of cost control and efficiency. Multimillion dollar installations of enterprise systems employed countless consultants setting up, implementing and maintaining these applications that cast a generic set of industry specific best practices in the silicon equivalent of wet cement.

Lean manufacturing pundits mocked the wave of MRP/ERP implementations as a poor substitute for actually improving the flow and productivity of the manufacturing facility, while technology enthusiasts envisioned seamless integration across all business functions. Continue reading

The Hustle and Flow of Lean Product Development

In times of cerebral duress, I’ve often found myself yearning for the quiet dignity of manual labor. While jobs that are composed of repetitive tasks can quickly become boring (and are not often financially rewarding), there is a romantic appeal to clear task goals and more frequent senses of accomplishment. Activities of invention and creativity, such as marketing and engineering, offer tremendous intellectual freedom, but often at the price of a lack of direction or confidence that you are doing the right things.

If my company had a shop floor, I actually wouldn’t mind spending a couple of weeks every year running a workcell and spending my time trying to hit throughput goals. Is this just a case of the grass being greener? Consider the following book excerpt about a study done to determine what conditions create the right environment for job satisfaction:

“The types of activities which people all over the world consistently report as most rewarding…involve a clear objective, a need for concentration so intense that no attention is left over, a lack of interruptions and distractions, clear and immediate feedback on progress toward the objective, and a sense of challenge…”

[p. 65, Lean Thinking, Womack & Jones, Simon & Schuster 1996]*

The authors of this study say that when these work elements are achieved, it creates a type of psychological ‘flow’ where the worker becomes so absorbed as to lose self-consciousness and sense of time. In other words, “time flies when you’re having fun.” An appropriate sports analogy would be a player who gets “in the zone,” such as a pitcher working on a no-hitter or a basketball player who just can’t miss a shot. Athletes who seem in a constant zone like Michael Jordan often report a sense of surreal suspension or slowdown of time as a result of being into the ‘flow’ of the game. Continue reading

Is Facebook the new Windows?

Is Facebook trying to become an operating system like Windows or just look and act like one?  Something happens to companies that start off small and then become successful giants.  Often, they lose their ‘mojo’ and eventually become something that barely resembles the original.  When you move from the garage to the office campus, your spirit often doesn’t make the move with you.   Just ask the scores of Dot-com companies that crashed and burned, Icarus-style, at the turn of the century.

In the beginning, Facebook started off very simply, you put in your data, you accepted or declined friend connections and then you maybe updated your status.  That was about it and it was elegant and simple.  Fast forward to today and Facebook holds large scale developer conferences like the big boys at Apple and Microsoft, and rolls out features at a maddening pace.  They have also tried and failed several times with things like adding their own email and Groupon type discounting. Continue reading

What makes an effective technology scout?

Article #1: What Makes an Effective Technology Scout

In today’s ultra-competitive and fast-changing business environment, innovation distinguishes the winners from the also-rans. But few companies have the time, resources and/or expertise to continually develop breakthroughs on their own. The days of internal labs conducting pure R&D are long gone. Instead companies have embraced Open Innovation (OI) – going beyond their own four walls for ideas and technologies with game-changing potential.

Technology scouting represents an organized approach for identifying needs, gaps and opportunities, and then finding solutions outside the borders of the enterprise. It is a business development and growth-oriented activity that goes hand in hand with Open Innovation.  There are many forms (partnerships, licenses, acquisitions, crowdsourcing, contests, etc.) — often with multiple players – and the reach is increasingly global.

Continue reading