Friday, October 5, 2012

Diary of a Lead-User

 Lead-Users live in the future, which makes them both invaluable to understanding where an industry is headed, but so difficult to describe to those of us who are living in the present.

I truly believe that Eric von Hippel’s great gift to students of innovation – the concept of the Lead-User – is one of the most important elements of the “new innovative thinking” that we are seeing all around us. Yet, it is also one of the most difficult of concepts to get across to busy executives who have been browbeaten into an allegiance to everything regarding   customer centricity to the point where anything that the customer says is taken as “truth.”  In fact, the customer is as confused about the future as we all are, and, consequently, highly unreliable as a source on which to base significant long-term decisions. That’s where lead-users come in!

I think about this a lot because it is difficult to come up with meaningful examples of lead-users that are neither sports-related nor “otherworldly,” but this morning I woke-up and found that I was, myself, a lead-user!

It all started with an article in this morning's Financial Times regarding a British manufacturer of interactive white boards, which has lost 90% of its IPO value since it listed on the London exchange in 2010:   The article quotes an analyst as saying: “The company has failed to grasp just how bad things are…. It’s own take on the market has been seriously wrong.”  I think that this is both accurate, and a bit unfair. What we are seeing here is disruption in real-time, in front of our very eyes, and it illustrates just how difficult it is to protect yourself from such surprises. In fact, this is yet again another instance of sloooowprise, and the amazing thing is that no one seems to recognize this.

I have seen several big investments be made in interactive white boards at various schools in the past, and I’ve also noted that for the last several years – years; this is a long time! –  nobody uses them anymore. They’ve been disrupted by mobile phone cameras, of all things, where the participants write on non-interactive flip charts and white boards, snap a photo of their work, and email it to the professor who then displays it on the screen in the front of the room. A solution that is much simpler than the complicated, never really user-friendly, interactive technologies, and much cheaper as well!  A solution, incidentally, that has been proposed by lead-users such as myself who are eager to have their students focus on their work without being frustrated by the “only-occasionally interactive” white boards.

I’m sure that no one in the interactive white board industry ever thought that they would be disrupted by mobile phones, just as the overhead projector folks never saw interactive white boards coming, either. To say, as the analyst did, that the company in question’s “take on the market has been seriously wrong,” is, of course, correct, but unnecessary. I’m equally sure that the analysts assessing the IPO never saw this disruption either, but by 2010 it was already in full-swing.

Of course, no one that I know of who is actually working in these classrooms was ever asked about what was going on either! And, that’s where it turns out the lead-users were living.

One final thought: not surprisingly, the company in question has a completely different perspective: “Over the longer term, the impact of interactive learning technology is proven and this, coupled with the development of our integrated software and hardware strategy, means that [we] remain well positioned to benefit when market conditions improve.”  Well, they’re wrong!  The end for interactive white boards has already arrived. Thanks to mobile phones, the technology that they offer is now unnecessary. It has been disrupted by something cheaper and more accessible and the solution is better. This is how disruption unfolds, and the recognition of what is happening turns out to always be a lagging indicator for the industry incumbents, as they are never speaking with lead users. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just Say No to PowerPoint

Last week, I directed what we call a "booster program" in which six very different business teams, each composed of a CEO and 5-6 of his or her direct reports, used the workshop format of the program to prepare a strategy presentation to the Board of Directors at the end of the week. As part of the program, we work with the teams not only on what they are going to say, but how they are doing to deliver that message. This takes the form of sessions on both powerpoint delivery [one hour in the evening by a real .ppt master] & a shorter session on "presence and command of attention" based on theatrical arguments and delivered by a courtroom-experienced attorney.
This year, much to my surprise and pleasure, four of the six presenting teams made their presentations completely without powerpoint, relying instead upon visuals provided by the two full-time visual facilitators [artists] that we had as part of our team.
While the content in nearly every case was convincing, the visual approach, sans powerpoint, made it compelling! The lesson: when you have an important argument to make, just say "no" to powerpoint!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Life in Executive Education: Lessons Learned

I am no longer recommending aging as a life-strategy to my children or young friends; I've yet to find that many advantages to it!

One of the few advantages that I have found to be associated with aging,  however,  is that sometimes people ask for your opinions, and then actually listen. This happened to me recently, when a friend and colleague -- Ellie Weldon --  from both IMD and CEIBS days, who is presently at CEIBS as both Professor and Academic Director of Custom Executive Education Programs, asked me to reflect on several topics regarding ExecEd. I thought that the questions, and the opportunity to reflect on accumulated experience, were interesting enough to publish here in a slightly extended format, so here goes -- the questions are Ellie's, and the responses, for better or worse, are my own:
a.    Looking back over your career, can you identify events that had a significant impact on the way you design and deliver Executive Education? What were those events, and what did you learn?
Yes, for sure! In the beginning of my career, the events that (now, in hindsight) really impacted me had to do with getting opportunities to try things -- to be given a cameo spots in a program to see what I could do, and, of course, being mentored by some real veterans of Exec Ed classrooms. What's interesting about your question is that I have really never reflected upon this before, but now that I do what I see is that the invitations to participate at a relatively early age in my career were extremely important for building confidence and encouraging greater synergy between ExecEd needs and my own research efforts. I was extremely fortunate to be at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [now Kenan-Flagler] at a time when people such as Dick Levin, John Pringle, CL Kendall and Nanti Meyer, and the like were really quite innovative in their ExecEd designs. This extended to the younger program directors, as well, such as Jay Klompmacher, Bill Bigoness and  Les Garner [Young Executives Institute & Government Executives Institute, respectively].
As I matured and developed broad functional themes (Operations Strategy, Innovation Management, & China), I received invitations to do theme-based blocks or even programs at schools such as Carnegie-Mellon (PFE for Bob Dalton), USC (IBEAR for Jack Lewis), UCLA's Anderson School (George Yip), and Duke (Warren Baunach & Jean Hauser). These opportunities really introduced me to program design, which I had not previously been responsible for, and since some of these engagements lasted for 10-12 years, there was a real learning opportunity to develop course architecture and to bring-in partners.
Finally, I think that at IMD when I really took on significant Program Directorship roles, that that really has been the most significant learning experience. To work with Mike Stanford and his colleagues in Partnership Programs, and to be involved with a client early in the relationship and to then develop an effective learning response is something that provides a sort of end-to-end perspective on each individual part of the executive development experience. Andy Boynton [now Dean of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management] was a huge influence at this point in my life. Andy is a genius at the “choreography of the classroom” and the opportunity to watch him, and work closely with him, has been a constant source of insight and learning. For many years, Andy and I did a stream of “two-men shows” where we were both always in the classroom, playing off of each other. That, for me, was an amazing opportunity to try things with the assurance that someone else was along-side in case the experiment went wrong.
b.    In your own view, what makes you successful as an Executive Education professor?
Hopefully, I am successful. But there are three things that I think any success that I have had can be attributed to:
1.           A real sense of what my own professional mission is. In our recent book The Idea Hunter, Andy and I talk about “knowing your gig”: knowing what you are really trying to accomplish. Late in life, I figured this out and it has changed my world. In the process of writing Virtuoso Teams (again, with Andy), I discovered that my gig was really all about fighting against talent-diminishment. At the same time, my work with Charlie Fine [MIT-Sloan] in co-directing our joint IMD/MIT Driving Strategic Innovation program opened my eyes to some real principles of  innovation. I now have put my gig together with these innovation principles and I try to practice them in each and every opportunity that I have. Interestingly, these principles are mostly about “process” rather than “content”. What distinguishes my approach to executive education today is no longer solely about my opinions about what the participants should learn, but more about how they should master it: co-creation, more conversations rather than less, more participants talking rather than me, prototyping, experimenting well before the program rather than only during our time together, pull rather than push, etc.all make for a more effective learning experience for all involved --me included!
2.           A belief that my role is no longer to be the “purveyor of truth” but rather, instead, to serve as a “smart person facilitating smarter people.” This is not easy. It defies decades of professorial prerogatives and requires a willingness to cede control over the classroom experience to the participants, but it is a sober and realistic admission that the people in our executive education classrooms know a lot, are smart people, and should own the experience. My role, then, is to put them into a position where it is their program and not my own.That is not to say that I abdicate my responsibilities as an "instructor" or as someone whose job it is to observe many different managers and businesses, and to draw opinions from these experiences, but the emphasis should be on applying this knowledge to move the participants' conversations forward, rather than "dazzling" them with what I think that I know.
3.           A facility with ambiguity. I thrive in ambiguity and if you are experimenting while simultaneously ceding control, there is often a lot of ambiguity to deal with. For me, that’s a challenge, but you also need to be mindful that your client [or faculty colleagues] don’t perceive this as “disorganization.”
4.           Allow me a fourth: I’ve been consistently fortunate throughout my career to be at institutions, and working for Deans and with senior faculty, where Executive Education is seen as a legitimate and important part of the school’s mission. That has made everything else so much easier.
c.    In your own view, what can be done to help other professors develop the skills they need to be successful in Executive Education? What advice would you give them?
1.        We all need to figure our who we are and what we wish to accomplish with respect to the audiences that we deal with. Knowing “your gig” is an amazingly powerful advantage for addressing executive education.
2.        More institutions need to emphasize Executive Education not only in their revenue portfolios but also in their criteria for faculty attraction, retention and development. To separate “knowledge creation” from “knowledge delivery”, especially to a client group that is in such great need for better managerial insights, makes no sense.
3.        Those of us who are no longer novices need to invite younger faculty into the mix, in order to give them a start on their own development.
4.        And, I think that we need to celebrate and reward Executive Education successes in much the same way that we would celebrate a new book or scholarly achievement.
 When I now read this over, what strikes me is how important the generosity and mentorship of others has been as an element of my own good fortune. I always knew that this was true in my research and writing efforts, as I had great mentors all along the way, but I guess I never realized before how important all those offerings of opportunities were on the "teaching" side of my career as well. My hope is now that I've realized this, that I can be more proactive myself in creating opportunities for the next generation, as a way of repaying those who made the effort to help me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tapas for Tweeters: From Moroccan Cuisine to Fading Finnish Stars

The "real thing": a Barcelona tapas bar
Think metaphorically! That's one of the enduring lessons from The Idea Hunter, and in the spirit of that thought I have appropriated the metaphor of tapas from my visit to Barcelona last week, and am going to try to use it to serve-up, from time to time, small morsels of thought that have seen their first light in the form of tweets, but which need more explanation than Twitter's 140 characters allows.

 From Moroccan cooking to fading Finnish stars:  Here's the logic of what is clearly a prototype -- first the original tweet in bold, and then my extended thoughts on it:

  • If you read one bookreview this weekend, make it this one! Moroccan cuisine: tradition vs.  (& Kerouac too)   My wife Marie is the most amazing, and instinctively natural, cook that I have ever met, and a professional one at that. Over the years, certain names in her life have become instantly recognizable in my own, and one of these is Paula Wolfert, originally from Brooklyn [as are Marie & I] and well-known for her Mediterranean cookbooks (especially France & Morocco).  Ms. Wolfert now has a new Moroccan cookbook out and the The New York Times book review cited above is both delightful but also professionally provocative, at least if you're interested in the contradictions between innovation and tradition. What they did was to review Ms. Wolfert's book in parallel with a new book by Moroccan-born, San Francisco chef, Mourad Lahlou.  The argument is that Ms. Wolfert, who lived in Morocco many years ago, but who is still an "outsider",  is nonetheless "the stickler for authenticity and tradition," whereas Mr. Lahlou, the "insider" yet living abroad, is struggling to break-out of the "few narrow ruts" that has confined the development of Moroccan cuisine.  To be fair, Ms. Wolfert observes of Mr. Lahlou: "He has made this incredible jump, but his food is not the Moroccan cooking I know. He took steps that only he could take." I find this fascinating. Wolfert was a catalyst in the evolution of Moroccan cuisine when she started collecting recipies from families who had no tradition or sharing such treasures. Her recipes are "the real thing" -- authentic Moroccan cuisine. Without such codification of knowledge, it might never have been possible to move on to the next step of evolution of the cuisine? Lahlou, on the other hand, is sort of a "lead-user", struggling to find that next step that he feels the authentic receipes are not providing. He needs the foundation of knowledge that Wolfert codified for such exploration, but it is his "unique" experiences, as an insider living outside, that prepare him to "take steps that only he could take."  In a very real sense, both Lahlou and Wolfert are coexisting in similar but different universes -- or S curves-- but they are, nonetheless, still indespensible to each other, and we are all better off for their efforts! 
  • Iberia's new low-cost airline: what chance do I give this? Zero without a completely new star!  I was delighted when my assistant @KatrinAtWork saw fit to retweet this the other day! Why? Because this is very much a part of the leitmotif that runs through so much of what we have been working together on: Strategy is all about choice & execution! This is the familiar IMD mantra, but yet we see it violated over and over again. Here's an example: Iberia, the Spanish airline part of International Airlines Group [which resulted from the merger with British Airways] has announced the launch of "Iberia Express", a new low-cost airline. It has kept the "Iberia" name as part of the new one, and the new airline's routes are explicitly tied to the hub & spoke needs of the parent airline. The question arises immediately: How different is this really going to be? And, why do we think that with simply a new name [I realize I'm exaggerating here, but not by much] that anything is really going to change? Not surprisingly, the Spanish pilot's union has already claimed violations of contractual agreements as a result of this new offer, and cabin-crew grievances are also expected. What a mess, and they're not even operating! Real change needs new choices, and frequently new organizational cultures as well, and there's no immeditate reassurances here that that is really going to happen. Instead, it appears to be a "half-way" effort to reduce costs and "half-way" nearly never work. My reference in the tweet to the "star" is to Jay Galbraith's framework for considering managerial choices that are necesary to achieve the "cultural outcomes" one hopes for. This is one of the most useful frameworks that we rely upon, and I've blogged about it earlier on these pages. 
  • Look at the smile on Carlos Ghosn's face in Brazil. You can tell that he's in a BRIC & not back in Japan or Europe!  The smile says it all! You can tell that Ghosn is in a market where growth is possible, where the future appears limitless, where people are dreaming bigger! Not so long ago, I had the pleasure of having dinner in an emerging market and was seated next to a young European who was an IMD-alum. I asked him "why he was living out-here" and his response was perfect. He said "At home [in Europe], people have stopped dreaming. Here they dream big!" Is there any wonder why Mr. Ghosn's smile is so big? Can you imagine what his face looks like when he gets back home --either Europe or Japan -- and once again has to listen to the litany of why nothing is possible? 
  • "If U're in a commodity business, it's because U deserve it!" Words by Tom Vollmann; proof by Steve Jobs! C: Tom Vollmann was someone who changed my life. A close friend for many years, an IMD colleague, and someone who was instrumental in the  launch of at least three revolutions within the Operations Management field. Tom had a gift for insight and the ability to articulate in memorable ways. He always said of struggling competitors: "If you're in a commodity business, it's because you deserve it!" This all came back to me while reading James B. Stewart's Common Sense column in the International Herald Tribune, New York Times. The pc business has been a commodity business for a long while, and, to be fair, Apple's fate was to languish near the bottom of the pile, condemned to single-digit market shares. Dell, on the other hand, currently unfashionable today but a real high-performer in this industry for over two decades, loved being in a commodity business because it knew what it was doing and made great choices. Apple often appeared to be confused -- price and elegance were not what the consumer was looking for. What Apple did that so many other players didn't do, however, was to hold true to its beliefs. It would rather remain desirable and unaffordable in the pc industry than to compromise who it was and how it went to market. What really saved Apple, however, was not that steadfast allegiance to its values in the unappreciative pc business, but, rather, the ability to open-up entirely new markets in music [iPod], smart phones [iPhone] and connectivity [iPad], where the very essence of each of these industries today is a reflection of Apple's inner beliefs. So, when Steve Jobs is quoted in this article in The New York Times, as saying: "Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends-up expressing itself in successive out layers of the product or service"  this speaks to everything that we are trying to do in advancing a product or service through multiple generations of S-curves. If we can ever figure out what that "fundamental soul" is we will know what the ordinate of the "progress" curve's graph really is as well.
  • Elcoteq from  star 2 bankruptcy.  suggests value-chain failure, I hear  Tom Vollmann, who was mentioned in the comment just above this one, and another IMD colleague Carlos Cordon published a small book a few years ago on supply-chain management that I absolutely love. The Power of Two recognizes that once you strip-down the strategically abstract concept of a supply-chain to its' essentials, it's all about people dealing with other people. Did Elcoteq plunge from the heights because it chose the wrong value-chain partners? Or, did it not work well with the ones it had? I guess that either way you answer, it's all about leadership!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Score it as an Error at Fenway

One night this week, thanks to ourDriving Strategic Innovation partners at MIT's Sloan School, and as a result of the generosity of the folks at Entercom Broadcasting [sports radio: WEEI], I had the opportunity to stand on the playing field at Boston's Fenway Park and watch batting practice up-close. For a baseball fan, this may be as close to heaven as you can get, even if it was Red Sox' park and not Yankee Stadium :-)

Among the other few visitors on the field at the same time was a fellow who self-described himself to me as a "golf pro at a local club." Coincidentally, it turned out that among our DSI group was the director of R&D for a major golf equipment company. I pointed this out to my new golf pro acquaintance and then stood back to watch him take advantage of this amazing opportunity. To my chagrin, and then frustration, he chose not to pursue what just might have been an Idea Hunter's dream. What an error!

Idea Hunters believe that ideas are everywhere, but you have to hunt them. I literally lost sleep that night regretting the missed opportunity. The Red Sox turned out to be winners, but my fear is that in some small way, Golf lost.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reading Recommendations for Idea-Hunters

The onset of August always brings with it a bittersweet reminder that summer's end is not that far away, but it also means that there is still one month of summer remaining, and that that time can be well-spent reading. What better to read about, this year, than lessons from accomplished idea-hunters? There are a number of suggestions in this vein that I'd like to offer (in no apparent order):
The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence, by Martin Gayford. It's 1888, and not yet the superstars that they would eventually become, and the young Van Gogh and Gauguin were each in search of new ideas to reboot their flagging careers. Nine weeks spent together in the South of France, explicitly to learn from each other, is a wonderful insight into the lengths that some will go to seed their idea-capital. I am particularly fascinated by the thought that since they had never previously met, they sent each other self-portraits so that they could be recognized when Gauguin made it to Arles. The lessons they shared there ranged from perspectives and styles to the media with which to paint, and the book is a wonderful reminder of much of what we know about the need for agility to be able to move, both physically and mentally, to places where the probabilities of catching new new ideas will be higher.
The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. This biography of Joseph Needham, one of the 20th century's great China scholars, is a virtual "master-class" on one very successful idea-hunter's practices. Needham, who essentially established our knowledge of China's historical science and technology, went about his craft in a highly disciplined fashion and it is no coincidence that his work has had such a profound and lasting impact on those of us who study China's scientific and technical trajectories.
A Brilliant Darkness: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age, by Joao Magueljo. For me, reading this book reminded me of reading Kerouac's On the Road. As thrilling for its story as its cadence, the book spills across the tumultuous history of mid-century European physics with all of its complications and romance. Throw-in Enrico Fermi's Via Panisperna boys, and you even have a "Virtuoso Teams" story as well!
Charles Darwin "Voyaging" by Janet Browne (volume 1 of two volumes on Darwin). Darwin changed our world, but not by himself. This book is a treatise on the powers of networking and the power of including more and more different minds in idea-hunting. It is also a primer on how personal modesty and professional success do not have to be mutually exclusive, if the capacity to learn is nurtured.
Faust in Copenhagen, by Gino Segre. Also a great book on networking, this wonderful story of the "family" of scientists who in the 1930s stood at the inflection point between classical physics and quantum mechanics is a very useful exploration about how new ideas move from idea-hunter to idea-hunter and how distortions such as geographic space, political ideology and institutional pride can affect the flow of a new idea.
The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism, by Lynne Olson and Stanley W. Cloud. Perhaps, best known today for his courage in standing up against Senator Joe McCarthy, and the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s, Edward R. Murrow also deserves our respect for his work in "inventing" the modern field of broadcast journalism. This book describes Murrow's role in creating the way that today's news reaches us, and thevirtuoso team he assembled to cover the second World War.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

China By the Beach

For me, one of the best parts of summer is the ability to sit on the beach -- in Liguria, or North Carolina -- and catch-up on my reading. Without exception, I always start with Homer and the Greeks [except this year the cycle is Virgil and the Greeks], but (to paraphrase NC's own James Taylor) I always have "China on my mind" as well! Recently, I was asked by some colleagues in the IMD Dutch alumni community to suggest some summer China reading. In response, I've tried to come up with a brief but interesting list that would be good for the beach:

To Change China by Jonathan D. Spence. Originally published in 1980, this is the book that I always use to start any reading list on China. Spence, a distinguished China scholar, offers us a sobering view of the futility that has marked the efforts of past generations of Western missionaries, aid-providers, and business people engaged in attempting to change the mind of China in a variety of what appeared to them as logical and attractive ways. This was the book that left the biggest impression on me prior to our moving to China in 1980, and the one that I think of instinctively whenever I hear the dreams of a new-to-China enthusiast.

On China by Henry Kissinger. Published only a few months ago, Kissinger's book (reviewed by Jonathan D. Spence in The New York Review of Books) is the only book on this list that I have not yet read, but it is in my pile for this summer. Although the book hardly mentions China of the 21st century, I am including it because Kissinger is in a unique position to offer us a historical and politically-interperative overview of Chinese history, and I think that such a historical treatment is a well-worthwhile foundation upon which to build an awareness of contemporary and future China.

When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques. We have used this book as a primary reading for IMD's EMBA discovery expedition to China for the past two years, and it has served us well as a platform for bridging China's omnipresent past with it's accelerating drive into the future. Jacques, who writes for The Guardian, offers an informed and wide-ranging view of China's political and social infrastructure and how they interact with the rampaging economic machine that it transforming the global economy.

The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Richard Mcgregor. In the midst of our adulation of the Chinese growth experience, it is always a danger to discount the role of the Communist Party in all of this. As the old song title indicates, it's very likely true that: Without the Communist Party, there Would be No New China. The Financial Time's Richard Mcgregor has produced a very accessible and informative introduction to this most mysterious of growth catalysts.

The Beijing Consensus: How China's Authoritarian Model will Dominate the Twenty-First Century by Stefan Halper. Could China's success persuade other emerging markets to give-up on democracy and market mechanisms and adopt a more "directed" approach to economic growth and social organization? Halper provides a good overview of this recent political movement.

Ultimatum by Matthew Glass. Just as I was about to post this, my good friend Katrina Garner pointed out that no beach reading list would be complete without a good novel. I think that she's right and Matthew Glass's first novel is an amazing one for the beach. Climate change and US-China rivalry combine in an incredibly realistic and gripping yarn. Even if you are not interested in China, this is a good one for the beach!