January 15, 2013
"Downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store rather than online shopping."

As HMV calls in the administrators, it’s worth taking a look back at Why Companies Fail—The Rise and Fall of HMV, published last August. In the piece, former HMV consultant Philip Beeching gives an inside scoop on working with the iconic music retailer. The quote above comes courtesy of then-managing director Steve Knott, commenting right after HMV went public in 2002.

Beeching describes his reaction to this response with a thoughtful reminder: “the dotcom bubble had just burst and many people were mistaking this stockmarket meltdown for an internet meltdown.” In other words, hindsight is always 20:20 and it’s easy to scoff at those who turn out to have got something wrong. Nonetheless, the inability to imagine a different way often proves to be catastrophic.

As such, this is a useful take on a sorry and sadly somewhat typical story. Just remember: any time anyone writes something off as a “fad,” hear the alarm bells ringing. It may indeed turn out to be a gimmick of the highest order, but it’s certainly worth taking the time to take another look.

[Story via Tom Weaver.]

January 2, 2013
So Avis has bought collaborative consumption poster child company Zipcar for $12.25 a share. As you might imagine, this has sparked a number of reactions, from those concerned that, consumed by a fusty incumbent, the innovative upstart will now lose its way, to those excited at the scale Avis can lend the still-fledgling company. The press release doesn’t say much beyond the expected platitudes, though Avis “anticipates” that key Zipcar executives such as CEO Scott W. Griffith will remain at the helm of the company. It’s certainly been interesting to watch Zipcar’s journey so far—and that will continue as the firm moves to become a test case for those looking to manage disruption both internally and at scale.
Update: tweet from Zipcar cofounder Robin Chase neatly sums up the issues at hand:

“Avis buys Zipcar. Should reduce fleet costs & make zip profitable. Concerned about whether OldCo can build NewCo in new innovative economy.”

[Photo c/o Zipcar]

So Avis has bought collaborative consumption poster child company Zipcar for $12.25 a share. As you might imagine, this has sparked a number of reactions, from those concerned that, consumed by a fusty incumbent, the innovative upstart will now lose its way, to those excited at the scale Avis can lend the still-fledgling company. The press release doesn’t say much beyond the expected platitudes, though Avis “anticipates” that key Zipcar executives such as CEO Scott W. Griffith will remain at the helm of the company. It’s certainly been interesting to watch Zipcar’s journey so far—and that will continue as the firm moves to become a test case for those looking to manage disruption both internally and at scale.

Update: tweet from Zipcar cofounder Robin Chase neatly sums up the issues at hand:

Avis buys Zipcar. Should reduce fleet costs & make zip profitable. Concerned about whether OldCo can build NewCo in new innovative economy.”

[Photo c/o Zipcar]

November 2, 2012
"Some of the regulatory efforts are legitimate and aimed at passenger safety and a level playing field. Others are purely smokescreens from incumbent transport companies who have been able to get away with providing crappy services in the face of no competition."

Uber NYC & the Surge: Right, Wrong, Lessons Learned is a good piece by Hunter Walk on the lessons available for the trendy taxi service that pissed off a whole load of Sandy-sufferers by promptly raising prices. Uber’s been getting a whole load of press recently (see also Paul Carr's Travis Shrugged: The creepy, dangerous ideology behind Silicon Valley’s Cult of Disruption which is both a rambling article in need of a good shake and one that makes good points about the reality of disruptive innovation.) As someone who was once jumped on by a minicab driver in London*, I err on the side of doing everything possible to ensure passenger safety, even as I see that incumbents will cling to any measures they can in order to keep on providing those same old crappy service. This isn’t a black and white issue, but it *is* one that warrants close attention from people who have mastered joined-up thinking. 

* I hasten to add, I was fine. Unlike the driver’s car, which I’m pretty sure I dented when I jumped out and kicked it.

[Hunter Walk’s story via Jessi Hempel.]

September 5, 2012
I love this story: How Tesla plans to short circuit new-car dealers, which details how Elon Musk and co are looking to bypass traditional car dealerships. Instead, the electric car company is building Apple-inspired showrooms that don’t actually sell vehicles but will instead offer a swanky venue for potential buyers to take a look around, hassle-free. When they are ready to pull the trigger, they get to buy the car directly from the factory, via an online form. So far so ho hum: What I really, really love about this story is the final comment from Leonard Bellavia, an attorney who specializes in auto dealer laws. ”They’re a niche player,” says Bellavia of Tesla. “If they were a mainstream manufacturer designed to compete with Ford, Chrysler or Toyota — they would be the object of a lot of objection by the dealers.” At which point my ears prick up and I think to myself “do you *hear* yourself?” It’s almost like a case study about how the car industry and its utterly out-moded ecosystem was disrupted being written in real time. Which is utterly fabulous, of course.
[Image c/o Tesla; Story via Ryan Jacoby]

I love this story: How Tesla plans to short circuit new-car dealers, which details how Elon Musk and co are looking to bypass traditional car dealerships. Instead, the electric car company is building Apple-inspired showrooms that don’t actually sell vehicles but will instead offer a swanky venue for potential buyers to take a look around, hassle-free. When they are ready to pull the trigger, they get to buy the car directly from the factory, via an online form. So far so ho hum: What I really, really love about this story is the final comment from Leonard Bellavia, an attorney who specializes in auto dealer laws. ”They’re a niche player,” says Bellavia of Tesla. “If they were a mainstream manufacturer designed to compete with Ford, Chrysler or Toyota — they would be the object of a lot of objection by the dealers.” At which point my ears prick up and I think to myself “do you *hear* yourself?” It’s almost like a case study about how the car industry and its utterly out-moded ecosystem was disrupted being written in real time. Which is utterly fabulous, of course.

[Image c/o Tesla; Story via Ryan Jacoby]

August 16, 2012
"When our UX is compared to the unexpected competitor Apple’s iPhone, the difference is truly that of Heaven and Earth. It’s a crisis of design."

All Things D has a copy of an internal Samsung memo that contains frank opinion from JK Shin, Samsung’s head of mobile communications. The quote above is just the start. Isn’t it fascinating to see the weight being placed on design by these huge technology bigwigs? Samsung has actually done a pretty good job of supporting design in the past decade or so. Yet in what could yet prove to be a classic example of companies failing to notice competition under their nose, it still looks like it was blindsided by a company willing to play by different rules as it was hellbent on monitoring what Nokia was up to. Fascinating.

July 27, 2012

Check out Dr Jay Parkinson talking about Sherpaa, his new healthcare startup that’s looking to disrupt the bloated, creaking, existing healthcare system in the United States. (Well, New York for starters.) Interesting that Tumblr has already signed on to offer the service to its hundreds of employees. As David Karp mentions in the piece, this allows him to compete with the likes of Google and deeper-pocketed competitors when it comes to insurance, which is a huge deal for employees in the U.S. (A rant about that at another time.) I do worry for Amanda Ferri, however, quoted in the piece as heading off to a Sherpaa-prescribed neurologist; we were told she saved money by not having to go to the ER, but we weren’t told that her Sherpaa prognosis was useful, accurate, timely or positive. I hope you’re ok, Amanda!

July 6, 2012
The always-excellent Clay Shirky closed out this year’s TEDGlobal (and with it, this unexpectedly monumental wrap-up of the conference.) He chose to focus on the expansion of the media with a message that reassured us that all the hubbub is to be expected. "More media always means more argument,” he said firmly. “That’s what happens when media space expands.” Then he focused on the open source movement to show how those on the edges fly the standard for upcoming innovation. Humor, too. “Look around the edges and see people experimenting with the political ramifications of the system,” he said, recounting how someone uploaded a tool for detecting naturally occurring haiku in State Department prose after Wikileaks. Yet there’s an important disconnect for us all to contemplate. As he put it: “The people experimenting don’t have legislative power. The people with legislative power are not experimenting with participation.” This is a problem we should all consider a little more deeply, even as I attempt to recover from writing nearly 27,000 words over the course of four days.
[Photo: James Duncan Davidson]

The always-excellent Clay Shirky closed out this year’s TEDGlobal (and with it, this unexpectedly monumental wrap-up of the conference.) He chose to focus on the expansion of the media with a message that reassured us that all the hubbub is to be expected. "More media always means more argument,” he said firmly. “That’s what happens when media space expands.” Then he focused on the open source movement to show how those on the edges fly the standard for upcoming innovation. Humor, too. “Look around the edges and see people experimenting with the political ramifications of the system,” he said, recounting how someone uploaded a tool for detecting naturally occurring haiku in State Department prose after Wikileaks. Yet there’s an important disconnect for us all to contemplate. As he put it: “The people experimenting don’t have legislative power. The people with legislative power are not experimenting with participation.” This is a problem we should all consider a little more deeply, even as I attempt to recover from writing nearly 27,000 words over the course of four days.

[Photo: James Duncan Davidson]

July 6, 2012
"Adaptation is too important to be left to the experts. Why? There are no experts. We’re entering uncharted territory, yet our expertise is based on the past… It’s up to us to look at our homes, our communities, our vulnerabilities, our exposures to risks, to find way not just to survive but to thrive. It’s up to us to plan, prepare and call on leaders to do the same even as they address the underlying causes of climate change… There are no quick fixes, no one-size-fits-all solutions. It’s all learning by doing, but the operative word is doing. Adaptation will not be painless and it won’t be perfect, but inaction — no action — is not an option."

Vicki Arroyo, the executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, gave a fiery speech at TEDGlobal in which she took on the topic of inevitable climate change disruption. Her theme may have been adaptation and figuring out how to live with what we’ve already wrought, but she was glacier icy about our need to face up to what is happening… now. As a resident of New Orleans whose family lost homes in Katrina, her message was personal and poignant. Now will anyone pay attention to what she’s saying? PLEASE CAN WE ALL?

April 18, 2012
"Rather than hoping that their future will emerge from a collection of ad hoc, stand-alone efforts that compete with one another for time, money, attention, and prestige, they manage for “total innovation.”"

Managing Your Innovation Portfolio is the lead feature story in this month’s Harvard Business Review. Written by my colleagues, Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff, the piece describes the practice of “total innovation,” by which executives can simultaneously invest in three levels of innovation ambition: core; adjacent and transformational. Most crucially, the system allows them to manage the balance between the three and thus avoid the many factors that commonly trip up innovation initiatives. Super interesting premise, and well worth the read (if you can get behind HBR’s paywall, that is.)

March 22, 2012
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

The Problem With “Innovation” is a great, great post by Bryce Roberts in which he cites the above quote from Buckminster Fuller and points out that what looks silly, superficial, inconsequential and downright distracting when they’re first proposed can “suddenly” have fundamental consequences for society as a whole. Or, as he puts it:

New models create new markets, but they’re often misunderstood at the outset. Stupid checkins reshape how we explore and experience the real world. Prepaying for tick tock watches reshapes financial markets. Silly status updates spark revolutions. And grainy glitchy video calls cut into the commercial air travel.

Super useful to bear this in mind.

[Story via Erik van Crimmin]

January 18, 2012
Will This Product Save Kodak? Unlikely

Promised as a “sporty camera that makes a big splash,” the “Easyshare Sport” Camera was one of the rather lackluster introductions from Kodak at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show. It must be a difficult time to be at the storied photography company, for whom the death bell has begun to toll even as the employees are expected to go about their daily business. In Fortune's The Kodak Lie, Doblin founder, Larry Keeley (see disclaimer, below), takes issue with the idea that the demise was a result of Kodak executives not knowing how to manage impending disruption. He writes:

The basic buzz is that Kodak missed the moment. Addicted to film photography, they never really could (to borrow a phrase from another brief strategic fashion) “cross the chasm” and drive the growing new digital photography field.

Yet, he asks, what if this theory isn’t the whole truth, after all? 

What if this convenient analysis is just too superficial? The demise of Kodak isn’t merely the classic disruption story that everyone loves to tut tut over. Nor is the company’s downfall merely a result of recent bad decisions or the mismanagement of senior executives. It is the more nuanced story of how easy it can be to get things wrong, even when trying with the best of intentions to do everything right. It’s a cautionary tale of the need for deeper understanding of what innovation really means, and how it is infinitely more vital than most people think it is, even as it isn’t about any single product or widget or technology.

Larry then gets into the theory of convergence, a concept that supersedes the longheld management ideology of core competency and vertical integration. This is something that he’s been thinking about for a long time, and there’s (much) more to come on the topic soon. For now, take a look at the piece — and do let me know what resonates.

* Disclaimer: I work for Doblin, which makes Larry my boss, though it’s a term he refuses to countenance. Still, this is a piece whose content is closely related to a lot of the work I’m doing at the company, so I’m hardly an unbiased supporter of it. Caveat lector, and all that.

January 11, 2012
"Ironically, the six major movie studios have a great technology lab in Silicon Valley with projects in streaming rights, Video On Demand, Ultraviolet, etc. But lacking the support from the studio CEOs or boards, the lab languishes in the backwaters of the studios’ strategy. Instead of leading with new technology, the studios lead with litigation, legislation and lobbying."

— In Why the Movie Industry Can’t Innovate and the Result is SOPA, entrepreneur Steve Blank breaks it down. I’d never heard of the "great technology lab" he refers to, which looks super interesting. Elsewhere, Blank is acidic about the threat of the Stop Online Piracy Act—and those who support it: “when lawyers, MBAs and financial managers run your industry and your lobbyists are ex-Senators, understanding technology and innovation is not one of your core capabilities.”

December 14, 2011
Interesting piece in Tech Review about the inevitable-seeming demise of Kodak, the former giant which now faces bankruptcy. (An aside, but in this Bloomberg story from October, Google is said to be examining Kodak’s assets. Now that’d be a story.)
Anyhow, in You Press The Button. Kodak Used To Do The Rest, writer Christian Sandstrom tries to answer the question so many have asked before: given that Kodak was a leading developer of digital imaging technology, how come it was *still* beaten to the punch? His answer: “The problem facing Kodak wasn’t just that film profits had died but that those revenues could not be replaced.”
That’s not the whole story, of course, but it’s certainly a large part of it, and one that once-dominant incumbents are horrified to find themselves facing, time and again.
[Image c/o WilliamCho.]

Interesting piece in Tech Review about the inevitable-seeming demise of Kodak, the former giant which now faces bankruptcy. (An aside, but in this Bloomberg story from October, Google is said to be examining Kodak’s assets. Now that’d be a story.)

Anyhow, in You Press The Button. Kodak Used To Do The Rest, writer Christian Sandstrom tries to answer the question so many have asked before: given that Kodak was a leading developer of digital imaging technology, how come it was *still* beaten to the punch? His answer: The problem facing Kodak wasn’t just that film profits had died but that those revenues could not be replaced.”

That’s not the whole story, of course, but it’s certainly a large part of it, and one that once-dominant incumbents are horrified to find themselves facing, time and again.

[Image c/o WilliamCho.]