The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Diversity of perspective and the strategic value of doubt

Strategy.gifI was in a discussion the other day with some folks espousing the view that urban lifestyles are the answer to a large number of issues faced today. Always being a bit of curmudgeon, I pushed back saying that supply and demand may have something to say about this, since the closer we push people together the more fragile the ecosystem can be, in the area of food logistics, transportation, health care and many other areas. They stated that an urban environment is more creative, like it was a fact.

 

The concept of cities being an engine for innovation may actually be more of a 20th century phenomenon. We now live with virtual communities that are incorporating devices, individuals and even corporations as collaborating entities. We can collaborate more easily and have ad-hoc interactions – bandwidth is really the measurement of distance in many ways.

 

There are also economic factors - as people migrate away from the mid-west, areas of low cost with high connectivity are created. The exodus will likely stabilize or even shift, as the market reacts to the latent value possibilities that exist.

 

I was reading a recently released book Future Smart by James Canton about how we need to open up our world view to what future possibilities may hold and the need to reinvent ourselves. The book definitely has some good ideas and references, but there is an underlying ‘Silicon Valley centric’ view of “we’ve got it right” that distracts and discredits the range of future possibilities.  

 

There are many alternatives as I think about some of the intersections between industries and the possible implications. For example: Some people view the autonomous car as the death knell of the personal vehicles – why own it if it can just be there when you need it. At the same time, the intersection between home energy generation and the storage capabilities of the electric vehicle may make it an essential component of the green home of the future, stabilizing supply and demand for a families energy needs.

 

When organizations get into strategic planning discussions, it is definitely necessary to have a range of diverse perspectives. Everyone is entitled to their option and for this type of planning it is actually the conflicts that point to opportunities. If everyone is thinking the same way, some of you are redundant.

Why do you think the world will be that way? What if it isn’t? What opportunity may exist? As we look at the exponential expansion of capabilities and the underlying shifts in what’s scarce and abundant, trying to reach a consensus will help everyone plan for the future. That process may be what the author meant by being ‘future smart’.

Strategy and abundance?

 

business questions.pngMcKinsey had an interesting article titled: What strategists need: A meeting of the minds. In the article, various strategic thinkers expressed their concerns and views on what will affects corporate strategy efforts.

 

Tthe views on strategic frameworks and goals were enlightening, but it felt to me they were too scarcity focused and not embracing the shift in what is abundant around them. It may be that they view those shifts as tactical in nature, or too simple a foundation for strategy – but I see them as low hanging fruit for organizations to consume. It creates options that can be used to advantage quickly.

 

A point made in the article I’ve seen played out over and over:

“while analysis is very important, developing strategies is ultimately a people-centric process fueled by conversation. Each player brings his or her experiences and biases to the table, and the job of crafting a strategy is to navigate those in a way that is productive. The key is the good questions, and any advice on how to improve questions would be really helpful.”

 

It is often better questions, not better answers that makes the difference in strategic efforts, often those questions can be scarce.

 

Blindsided by strategy?

strategic questions.pngI’ve mentioned before the relationship of abundance, scarcity and their role in strategy. As I was catching up on my reading this weekend, I came across the post: Where Are the Sinkholes in Your Strategy? Which touched on many of the same points I was thinking about but with better examples.

 

One great point brought out in the post was:

“Strategy is a lot like IQ for many people: to challenge their strategy is to question their intelligence.”

 

In this dynamic world, we need to bring in diverse viewpoints on a regular basis, because our assumptions of what we’re good at and what can differentiate us can be easily overcome by events. That doesn’t mean we can’t have strategy. We just need to validate its foundations more often.

The need for an innovative look at innovation efforts

innovation unlock.pngI’ve been in a number of discussion lately looking at innovation activities. In today’s dynamic business environment, the status quo is riskier than changing – sometimes it may not matter which direction you move, as long as you’re not standing still.

 

I am a big advocate for gamification, but most of these efforts are based on a bottoms-up approach that tries to leverage the ‘intelligence of the crowd’. Some interesting things definitely do come out of these efforts, but rarely are they directed on what is really needed. If 5% can be implemented, you’re doing great with these approaches.

 

That is where top down approaches to innovation come into play. They try to focus the innovation flow around a specific concern or issue. I used the term flow, because it’s happening, whether we tap into it or not – innovation is just part of being human. Top down in combination with a bottoms-up approach are more effective. Yet – they’re not effective enough.

 

I have figured out a few things (that are probably obvious to most):

  • Innovation needs a strategic focus. At the same time, the chance of getting it right the first time is slim, so an approach needs to be both strategic and agile (at the same time).
  • Innovation needs to be part of the mindset of the people involved. For many organizations, innovation doesn't feature anywhere in their plans and that’s a shame. This can be true for entrepreneurial organizations as well as large corporations. I mentioned strategic importance of innovation, yet culture eats strategy for lunch.
  • If you want to grow, you need to find a way of embedding innovation in your strategic priorities – and that means investment. It also needs to be focused on what you do and how you do it. This is one of the most frustration parts of working in the IT space. We think that being innovative in IT is something that should be recognized by the rest of the business. In many ways, they pay us (particularly service organizations) so they don’t need to see it at all – let alone view it as innovative.
  • Innovation efforts need to be measurable. Just because ideas are new, doesn’t mean there won’t be a ruler to measure progress. There will be one, why not plan on it.

A while back I mentioned that one of the first laws of technical leadership is “don’t discourage them”. The same can be true about the approach to innovation. At the same time, innovation efforts need to be focused on outcomes -- we actually need to do something and not just think about it.

 

I have come to the conclusion that we need a more innovative approach to innovation, since the whole concept is full of conflicts. One of the first things that is probably always true though is the need to develop a common understanding and definition of innovation, since it can mean so much to so many .

Is it time for a Chief Automation Officer?

Automation officer.pngOver the last few years, there has been quite a bit of discussion about the race against the machines (or the race with the machines), based on the abundance of computing available. When I think about the IoT and its implications on business, it may be that information is just a side effect of an entirely different corporate strategic effort.

 

Maybe there is a need for a Chief Automation Officer more than a Chief Information Officer going forward?!? Someone who looks at the business implications and opportunities for cognitive computing, sensing, robotics and other automation techniques.

 

Or is automation just assumed to be part of all future strategic planning activities. As I began thinking about it, it’s clear that others have thought about this CAO role as well, although mostly from an IT perspective instead of one based on business need. It could be viewed that this is a role for the CTO or even the enterprise architect.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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