Monday, December 31, 2007

Innovation without a market

As part of my professional activity I meet quite a few people attempting various kinds of innovation. From engineers with a passion for how things could work better, to marketeers inspired by the seemingly boundless possibilities of new technologies, to operations types focusing on efficiency, to financiers approaching age old financial problems from new angles, they all try to offer something different. Their pursuits and motivations are as diverse as one can imagine. All too often though, they fall in the traps of:

  1. innovation for the sake of innovation

  2. innovation without clear boundaries and scope

  3. innovation based on untested ideas in uncertain markets

It's what I call the "banana sharpener syndrome", i.e. the elaborate engineering of a sophisticated solution to a problem that exists only for the creator of the solution. The name of the syndrome comes from an excellent piece of the Muppet Show embedded below.

At the end of the day there is a lot of creative energy that goes into unnecessary forms of innovation that could be saved and applied to something else if only there were fairly straightforward ways to discriminate between options. Aside from testing concepts and piloting with customers, innovators should also ponder the sustainability of an innovation, a criterion that will grow increasingly important in the years to come. Sutainability is about long term adoption and usage of an innovation; therefore it's about matching innovation to market and making sure the market keeps generating demand. Who needs a banana sharpener?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Season's greetings

Best wishes to all of you with something to make you smile, hoping that your experience of this theoretically quiet period will be at least marginally better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Le Web 3 - questions

Attending a couple of interesting presentations yesterday I got some pretty good food for thought, which translates in a few questions:

  1. in a panel (yes that one was interesting) a guy working for Facebook said they knew for sure the online behavior of their users was similar to their offline behavior. I wonder how they actually know: can they really characterize their audience in terms of behavior?

  2. a lawyer who was on the same panel claimed that owners of major sites had to choose whether to protect their users or to abide by the laws and help authorities enforce the legislation citing Yahoo in China as an example. I wonder: has he ever heard anything about civic dissent?

  3. somebody mentioned the issue of proprietary corporate content being exposed on social networks and the issue of loss of corporate control over intangible assets such as business networks and networks of customers when somebody working for a company changes jobs. I wonder: how will that affect the relationship between workers and their employers? What does it mean in terms of balance of power and in terms of nature of contracts? Will that actually drive more coherence in the workplace where knowledge workers would be held accountable for their results instead of being accountable for contributing time of presence? What does it mean in terms of how intangible assets should be managed? Is this finally the time of flat and distributed organizations attracting talent through other means than compensation?

  4. Evan WIlliams of Twitter gave an account of the power of "less is more" in terms of designing a product and user experience. He said they tried to think about what could be eliminated in terms of product features to create something new. I wonder: how many creators of new stuff, how many entrepreneurs, how many technologists will actually try this?

  5. Philippe Stark highlighted the importance of having compelling concepts and made a passionate statement about his ultimate belief that whatever we do is worth doing only if it actually contributes to enhancing the power of love and compassion. He also claims that a product ought to be making a point, a political point, to be the material expression of a statement about the world and what drives it. Strange as it may seem, focusing simply on the concepts of love and compassion one can seriously re-thing and re-imagine probably any business activity and in particular the business of marketing and communications. I wonder: how many people will dare trying this?

  6. Hans Rosling highlighted the importance of storytelling in helping the world build a finer and more accurate view of the actual state of the world. He showed how important this is in view of the environmental challenge we face and in particular how ridiculous the claim of developed nations is about the fact that China and India are among the most damaging nations in environmental terms. I wonder: what impact will individual stories and person-to-person experience sharing in the future of business? How can that help business be a force in favor of the environment?

  7. how sustainable is the current paradigm of social networks and blogging? What is the real economic value and productivity of effort spent in all the stuff currently being done? Is Facebook really worth billions of dollars?

Le Web 3 - impressions

This year's edition is reasonably well organized although sometimes I felt there is room for improvement in the content delivered by speakers and panelists.

A curse of many such events is that panelists spend more time speaking about themselves than discussing the matter of focus and when they do discuss it ends up being a sort of cacophony of parallel monologues without much actual value...  I wonder whether this is a matter of

  • moderation of the panel

  • definition of the motivations and objectives of panelists during the selection phase

  • structuring of the process itself, which may actually benefit from using tools such as De Bono's hats

  • ...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

At Le Web 3 2007

I am currently attending Le Web 3, a conference about new web based tools and the ways they are used. Twice as big as last year, it seems better organized although connectivity still sucks (writing this from my E61i).

Interestingly identification of participants and rogue behaviors is a topic and that means this space is maturing. Implications are significant because consolidation will quicken as a result and some business models will be short lived.