Silicon Valley Inflection Points

Digital markets have been in flux for a while now and they are likely to stay that way. This allows us to see relatively quickly which companies are in synch with flux and which are not. A report card, so to speak, for firms on the issue of adaptability.

BTW, adaptability is the focus on Rita Gunther McGrathäs interesting book, “The End of Competitive Advantage”. Her main point is that firms that try to hold onto competitive advantage after markets adjust to what gave the advantage will fail. They need instead to find advantage, use it, learn from it, and exit. They need to adapt.

So what about the report card? BI offers this one looking at ho well firms have adjusted to the cloud. Apple and Facebook and Amazon and Microsoft have done ok.  HP and Oracle? Yikes!

More on Manufacture as the Next Big Thing

You may not know who Yet ´-Ming Chiang is. I did not until I read an article about his work today. But before we check out what he is doing with battery technology, consider this comment about the significance of his work

… Chiang’s concept is also about something more than just cheaper, greener power. It’s a model for a new kind of innovation, one that focuses not on new scientific invention, but on new ways of manufacturing. For countries like the US that have lost industries to Asia, this opens the possibility of reinventing the techniques of manufacture. Those that take this path could own that intellectual property—and thus the next manufacturing future.

New ways to manufacture leading the way to better products. If you read the story, Chiang and his colleagues have done amazing things to tweak how lithium ion batteries can be made more powerful and cheaper.  Check out the story from the above link.

And consider that just around the corner, technology will focus on manufacturing process as the key to unlock more value added. These technologies are both machine based (making factories smart) and design based (like Chiang re-thinking how to make something).

Hold on to your hat!

Manufacturing and the Internet of Things

This quote from HBR is important

Industrial companies have tended to be among the last to create digital strategies that harness the new opportunities arising from the proliferation of smart products. That lag poses dangers. Tech titans such as Google and Amazon are working to connect more and more types of objects to the web by offering mobile interfaces for managing just about anything. If someone else designs the apps and software that allow customers to monitor machines, the ripple effects across value chains could force industrial giants into the role of being mere suppliers of commodities.

The article gets into what firms can and should do to correct this. But the important thing is that manufacturing is about to hit a big inflection point. We are not quite there yet, but it is coming up fast.

What holds innovation back?

Rita Gunther McGrath launches into this in an interview. Pretty short and interesting. I am most interested in her idea of “innovation training”. We will work here in Tartu to develop an innovation curriculum. Stay tuned on that!

One interesting tidbit. Only around 11% of polled managers say that they are in a high growth sector of the economy. An equal number report that their sector is rapidly declining. That means only 22% are living with rapid change now. 78% do not have this experience. This is one reason why firms do not innovate as fast as they would like — they do not have the experience of needing it.

Another tidbit – the assumption to knowledge ratio. Rita argues that many managers value knowledge highly (that is they like operating in a low assumption to knowledge environment). But innovation requires a high assumption to knowledge ratio.  Very interesting — so how good are you at seeing the assumptions that underlay what you are doing?

Facilitating Deep Work

We are developing a model herein Tartu for what I call a “learning institution”. I know. The phrase is not new. It has been around for a long time. But we are using the term in a special sense. We want to study how well firms learn from what their workers do.

Given how low worker engagement levels are in general (studies show less than 40%), my best guess is that workers are not motivated to learn from what they do. For that reason, our proverbial learning institution has a challenge right away — if workers are not learning from what they do, how can they share learning with management?

Some firms meet the above challenge. They created high levels of engagement and sharing as part of their culture. But it appears that this is not the norm. Here is a thought about why that might be.

To what extent are workers provided the tools to do “deep work”? I make a distinction here between shallow work — work that can be done by following rules or taken over from a training session — and deep work hat

Cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.

Stowe Boyd points out for GigaOm that  our “collaborative work tools” do not promote deep work.

thinking about Cuba

President Obama has shifted course on policy towards Cuba. He wants to normalize relations and end the embargo that has been in place for over 50 years. And it is likely that this initiative will produce normalization over time.

Here is the question — what will be the effect on Cuban institutional development? By that I refer both to the public and the private sector that will emerge? This is a fascinating period and I will be tracking these questions over the next several years.

The Future of UI

UI (User Interface) has come a long way from the 19th century. Back then, users interfaced with information via reading. Books, newsprint, etc. then along came the telephone and radio. The UI shifted to voice. Then came video and TV. The UI shifted to voice and moving images. The complete package, right?

Well not really. That is because it only goes one way. From the screen to you. With the digital age, the interface is two way or more. But computer UI latched onto typing and mouse control to get us into this new domain and we still use that. Smartphones gave us touch. Nice. But where are we headed? When will UI work more seamlessly within our lives?

Lots of folks are thinking about this. One idea is for placing a voice in your ear.

The computers in the movie Her don’t demand that their users sit down in front of a screen and type on a keyboard. They connect with them using voice recognition, a tiny earpiece always present in the ear, and an ultra simple handheld device. While all of these technologies are basically available in some form or other today, the movie Her is unique in its vision in that it shows how computing could some day become so omnipresent and sophisticated that it could recede into the background and only emerge when a user needs or wants it.