Archive for August, 2014

Ten Shades of Innovation

August 12, 2014

Innovation

Innovation drives progress, stretches possibilities, expands thinking and revenues – it is the antithesis of complacency. The quest for innovation keeps people and companies current and vibrant. Pushing the innovation envelop keeps staff and customers alike engaged.

But how do you continue the quest for innovation when it’s so much easier to remain complacent and do what’s-worked-in-the-past? What kinds of innovation are there and how do you lobby for innovations that matter? Below are some things to consider in leading innovative thinking and acting.

Incremental Innovations

1. Faster – It’s a given that when an innovation takes off, like a personal computer or a cell phone, there will be innovations which would make the solution faster (with memory and broadband for example), more versatile and robust (with applications and storage for example), leading to increased adoption and markets for complementary products (like accessories) and services (security and access).

  • The iconic example of this type of innovation is around Moore’s Law: over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.
  • Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur

Which pervasive innovations continue to rise in adoption and what solutions could be sold to those markets?

2. More Cost Effective – The technological and design innovations around materials, design, integration and development will make it increasingly more cost effective to adopt these tech innovations by a larger target customer base.

  • An increased knowledge of semiconductor materials and manufacturing processes has led to efficiencies for design and production and distribution, making technological solutions more widely available for lower costs.
  • Don’t confuse the art of the possible with the art of the profitable. David Tansley

If products in your market have become a commodity (like solar panels), what tech or process innovations would set your product line apart?

3. More Complex – Along those same lines, with the advancements of technologies and processes, more complex, integrated solutions become available and desirable.

  • We went from room-fuls of servers for (comparatively) miniscule amounts of data to gigabytes on a stick. Our cell phones can do more in complexity and processing than the Hubble telescope was designed to do.!
  • Some men look at things the way they are and ask why? Some men dream of things that are not and ask why not? Robert Kennedy

Think not about complexity for complexity’s sake, but about how being able to do complex things can help solve problems, even ones we didn’t know we had.

Process Innovations

4. More Streamlined Processes – Manufacturing and operational innovations supporting the design, production and distribution to those innovations are additional ways to innovate to gain market share.

  • While not the sexy original innovations that entice entrepreneurs and execs, focusing on this will drive revenues and market share.
  • Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure. Albert Einstein

What’s blocking your company from more efficiently executing and what can you and your team do about it? How would you better and more quickly serve the customer if you did so?

5. More collaboration – Collaborating with partners of all ilks, from distribution to development to advertising, will help innovators better understand and serve the ecosystem of partners, and get products and services into the hands of customers.

  • The Japanese define a keiretsu as a set of companies with interlocking business relationships and shareholdings, an informal business group and loose collaborative alliance.
  • To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform. Theodore H. White

If we were to map our ecosystem of stakeholders, how could we each better and more collaboratively work with each other to better serve each other?

6. More Comprehensive – Moreover, deeper partnerships with a larger range of partners can facilitate the delivery of more comprehensive solutions to a broader range of stakeholders.

  • Service management has expanded and evolved from isolated fixes to comprehensive solutions which address deeper problems and systemic and infrastructure issues. The evolution of end-to-end IT services is an example of this and is impacting the traditional boundaries of IT, applications, groups and even organizational issues including governance, management, cross-group collaborations, etc.,
  • Just as energy is the basis of life itself, and ideas the source of innovation, so is innovation the vital spark of all human change, improvement and progress. Ted Levitt

If we embrace a systemic, collaborative approach, how could companies better focus on delivering their core competencies while ensuring that the customer’s needs are addressed end-to-end?

Orthogonal Innovations

7. New markets – Another way to facilitate innovation is to open up new market opportunities for proven innovations widely embraced in specific geographies, within specific audiences to solve specific problems.

  • The more adoption there is, the easier it is to expand market share to current and new geographical and profile markets. However, the more difficult it might be to see those other new markets and opportunities, as the current ones are still doing so well.
  • Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. Albert von Szent-Gyorgy

There may be policy and technical hurdles, and of course the inevitable communication hurdles obstructing this adoption into new markets, but the opportunities will be there for those who are persistent, should there also be a need and a pain in that new market.

8. New Purpose – Proven innovations in one market may serve a new and original, or the same purpose in another market.

  • Consider how process innovations in the semiconductor market may impact development innovations in the clean tech or healthcare sector for example, or how IT can revolutionize healthcare.
  • Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport. Robert Wieder

What old solutions can be applied in a whole new way and change the way we all look at things and do things?

Original Innovations 

9. New Technology and Application – The telephone, the personal computer, the horseless carriage are all touted for being original innovations, far different than what-existed-before.

  • If your quest is for that original innovation, consider the detailed profile of your target customer and the painful need which your solution would serve. Get that funding behind the customer validation and design to the requirements of your target audience.
  • All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them. Galileo Galilei

Keep a log of what-you-wish-you-had. Read and experience much. And consider how your thoughts and ideas might come together so that you see the same thing in new ways.

10. Accidental Innovations – Most people dismiss the accidental innovations as they are difficult to plan, but note that innovations such as the chopsticks were designed based on necessary (it was too hot to eat something from the file so a man used two sticks), Botox was intended as a heart medication, Kevlar was originally meant for tires, Nylon quickly went from toothbrushes to stockings, and the list goes on.

  • Embrace the purposeful innovations while encouraging the accidental ones.
  • We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T. S. Eliot

What do you use every day and what other purposes could it serve?

Many leaders think that innovation is only about one shade of innovation, only the new-new. So we hope that this article helps you consider other options and methods for thinking about what innovation is and how it can impact your company. We close this month’s blog a final thought: Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future. James Bertrand Happy Innovating!

The Search for Purpose

August 12, 2014

Purpose

Happiness is tied closely to a sense of purpose. Whether your goals are for your professional, personal, or spiritual fulfillment, this search for purpose may present itself as a buzz-in-the-background, a undefined longing, or as an in-your-face insatiable achiness, an emptiness beyond fulfillment.

Some never figure out whether to search or what to search for. Others never knew that they had to search. The lucky ones found that purpose without a search.

But for those of us who want to visualize and realize their purpose, here are some guidelines and thoughts to structure and fuel your journey.

1. Passion – You can’t find your purpose unless you know where your passion lies. Find or rediscover that which you love, unfiltered by the parameters you and others are setting for you. You can decide later whether what-you-have is practical or profitable or sustainable or even silly. Start with identifying what you love and go from there to guide it in a sensible direction.

2. Curiosity – Be open-minded about who-you-are, what-makes-you-tick, and what-makes-the-world-go-around. Exploring areas of discomfort and newness can open up whole new facets of possibilities, as will opening up networks of people and resources.

3. Self-awareness – Know what you’re good at and what you’re not, what makes you happy and fulfilled, where you can learn and grow, and how others can support you as  you grow. Having self-awareness is essential to growing and learning with purpose.

4. Discipline – Nothing worth having is easy. Having the discipline to work hard and apply yourself to a specific purpose and cause is another essential element for happiness and success. There is no substitute.

5. Perseverance – Without passion, and the discipline to achieve something, there’s no momentum. And even with both, it takes perseverance and persistence to keep trying despite disappointments, disapprovals, barriers, rejections and other obstacles.

6. Practicality – Most people start with what’s practical, rather than exploring what they are passionate about. But if you should start that way, make sure that what you’re passionate about is also practical, especially if it’s related to your professional goals. If there’s no market need for that-which-you’re-passionate-about, explore the intersect between what you like and what people would pay for.

7. Experience – Having experience personal, professionally and spiritually helps you clarify your purpose. Without experience, it’s much more difficult to find your fit. So rather than focusing on what-you-did-wrong-when, focus instead on what’s ahead now that you know yourself and your world better.

8. Support – It’s hard to find your purpose, or even to know to search unless you have the foundational emotional, physiological, and financial support you need. Make choices to meet your needs and surround yourself with supportive people.

9. Connected – Surrounding yourself with a supportive network will give you the strength and resources and perspective to continue the search.

10. Led – Beyond the general network, having experienced and open-minded, someone you respect, someone you trust implicitly, support you in your search will help you think through your options and you company in your journey.

Best of luck with your journey, and kudos to those who have the courage and grit to continue the search.

Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

August 8, 2014

August8PanelAug8Pix (2) Aug8Pix (5)FountainBlue’s August 8 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have such an experienced and diverse panel, who came from a range of backgrounds representing engineering, legal, management, each with in-depth experience leading in tech companies, each with varied experiences working with and for a wide range of leaders at all levels. They collectively shared these kernels of wisdom.

  1. Politics is not good or bad – it’s just the use of power and social networking to benefit a person or team or organization. There are times it could be bad because of the intent, where someone unfairly benefits for example, because those with merit aren’t getting the credit for work well done. But if the game is played fairly and well, right and good will prevail.
  2. Embrace politics as an opportunity to build influence and relationships. Don’t get stuck into thinking that putting your head down and doing good work will be enough, or that politics is for self-serving, self-centered, power-hungry others.
  3. When faced with a political challenge, consider if you can accept the political environment and dynamics, if you can change it in some way, or if you need to leave because you can’t make it work.
  4. If you decide to change things, be strategic about what you want to change, why it needs to be changed, who is involved in making these changes, when and how it would happen, etc.,
  5. Politics is part of the journey of life, so don’t treat political incidents as transactional happenings, rather as relationship and trust-building opportunities.
  6. You are in a stronger political position if you and your team deliver based on the needs of the organization and product. From there, leverage communication and negotiation skills to further your product, team and organizational success, preferably in collaboration with others and in alignment with corporate goals.
  7. Find the win-win in every political challenge, in every M&A opportunity, in every conflict.
  8. As you rise within an organization, you will no longer just represent yourself or your project – you will also represent your team, your product and your organization. Navigating the politics will be as much of your job as delivering the tech project. It will enable your team to have the backing, support and resources in order to do so.
  9. In a tech corporate setting, the politics often centered around the product and lobbying for the resources and influence in order to support the successful delivery of that product. Help your company and team focus on the customer, rather than on personality issues and conflict and personal agendas.
  10. When leading change in a politically charged environment such as an M&A, help leaders remain unbiased, focus on delivering quality products and services, and rise above the gossip, back-stabbing and gripe sessions which can be so debilitating.

You know that you’re good at politics if:

  1. You continue to work with your team to complete projects that benefit the company financially and technologically, focusing on delivering to the needs of the customer.
  2. An expanding body of people come to you requesting advice and support for organizational issues which may not necessarily impact you and your group directly.
  3. You find yourself listening long and deep, and sharing your advice and network to help others solve their problems.
  4. You gain brownie points for helping others, rather than using your authority and power to force something to happen (which actually costs brownie points).
  5. Your sphere of influence expands: you have a growing network which thinks highly of you, and a growing network of stakeholders involved in the work you do.
  6. You get really good at helping people better understand the motivations of others and thinking through their political circumstances.
  7. You remain focused on the bigger picture, the needs of all the other teams and stakeholders. Your team and product may not always win a battle, so focus on the larger picture – with a focus on the needs of the customer.
  8. You remain other-centric – always finding out what others need and find a way to leverage your resources, knowledge and influence to support and help them. Adopting a help-me-help-you attitude will build trust and relationships.
  9. You feel your influence spread in a good way, well beyond the people with whom you directly connect.
  10. You remain true to your morals and values, and ever communicate and negotiate with authenticity.

The bottom-line advice to leaders at all levels is to leverage your influence to remove roadblocks, to build alignment, to move the needle forward. In short, use politics for the good of your team, your people, your product, your company.

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Please join us in thanking our panelists for FountainBlue’s August 8 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as our hosts at Cisco.

Facilitator Deb Kaufmann, Deb Kaufmann & Associates, Inc.

Panelist Sondra Bollar, Software Development Director, Oracle

Panelist Ruth Gaube, Vice President and General Counsel, Samsung Information Systems America

Panelist Vijaya Kaza, Senior Director of Engineering, Cisco

Panelist Karen Pieper, Senior Director of Synthesis, Tabula

Panelist Angie Ruan, Head of Retail Engineering, PayPal