Sunday, June 17, 2012

Innovation - Does it pay to be the tortoise or the hare?

Once upon a time there was a hare who, boasting how he could run faster than anyone else, was forever teasing the tortoise for its slowness. 

Then one day, the irate tortoise answered back: “Who do you think you are? There’s no denying you’re swift, but even you can be beaten!” 

The hare squealed with laughter. “Beaten in a race? By whom? Not you, surely! I bet there’s nobody in the world that can win against me, I’m so speedy. Now, why don’t you try?” Annoyed by such bragging, the tortoise accepted the challenge. 

So, who won the race? We all know it was the slow and steady tortoise.

Innovation is a race as well and the winner, as Scott Anthony writes in his blog "First Mover or Fast Follower?" on HBR is the first one to the finish line.

To be perfectly clear, it's not that first movers never win. Of course, there are plenty of examples where first movers have done very well.  At the same time, as I document in my discussion on the "First Mover Advantage Fallacy" in my recent book, Living in the Innovation Age, first movers are often the first to rush off a cliff. In other words, they are either running in a race not worth running or they are just simply running in the wrong direction towards a cliff. 

The Bottom Line - Think of innovation as a race. It's not just speed but endurance matters as well. Starting first is great, but a race is about finishing first. Ultimately, though, you also need to be in the "right" race. If all you are doing is racing, hard and fast, towards a cliff then being first or following fast isn't going to help at all. Everyone is going to be falling off the cliff. So, pick your races wisely and enter them for the long haul picking up momentum as you proceed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Apple kicks Google Maps off the iPhone... bundles its own Maps... Wait a minute!

I just read that Apple has kicked Google Maps off iPhone in favor of an Apple-designed alternative built into the new software for mobile devices, iOS 6, which will be released this fall. Those who want to continue using Google Maps will have to go through additional hurdle, such as finding and installing its app.

Wait just a $%#&#@ minute!

Does anyone remember United States v. Microsoft? As a reminder for those who don't, it was a set of civil actions filed against Microsoft Corporation pursuant to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 Sections 1 and 2 on May 18, 1998 by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and 20 states. The plaintiffs alleged that Microsoft abused monopoly power on Intel-based personal computers in its handling of operating system sales and web browser sales. The issue central to the case was whether Microsoft was allowed to bundle its flagship Internet Explorer (IE) web browser software with its Microsoft Windows operating system. Bundling them together is alleged to have been responsible for Microsoft's victory in the browser wars as every Windows user had a copy of Internet Explorer. It was further alleged that this restricted the market for competing web browsers such as Netscape Navigator or Opera that had to be downloaded separately or had to be purchased at a store.

Isn't Apple behaving similar to how Microsoft acted years ago in an attempt to win the browser wars? Only in this case, the "war" isn't really over mapping software; it's really about market share in the lucrative smartphone market - Apple's iPhone Vs smartphones based on Google's Android software. 

It's no secret that Apple and Google are locked in a fight for the attention of hundreds of millions of mobile device users. The battle has been building since Google's 2008 release of its Android operating system to compete against the iPhone. Android smartphones from companies such as Samsung and Google's own Motorola division are currently the chief alternatives to the iPhone. Not surprisingly, Apple has sued those manufacturers, accusing them of ripping off the iPhone's ground-breaking features (see my blog post titled Apple's "Legal Side of Innovation"). Google's Maps application has resided on the iPhone since the device's 2007 debut. In fact, at the time, the companies were so close that Eric Schmidt and Steve Jobs appeared on stage together to hail their kinship. But Android has deeply soured the relationship to the point where before he died last October, Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he viewed Android as a form of "grand theft" from Apple and declared "thermonuclear war" against his former ally. 

Well, the war is definitely on!

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Feel Good" Innovation that Saves Lives!

Most of us immediately think of Apple and its amazing line of "i" products when we hear the term "innovation." Or maybe we think of Google or some other technology that has transformed our life in ways we barely imagined. But innovation isn't just about technology nor is it just about amazing "things" that make our life easier or more fun. For example, in my recent book, Living in the Innovation Age, I talk about a simple innovation called the "solar light bulb", which costs less than three dollars but has had an unimaginable positive impact on the slum dwellers in Philippines. This simple yet effective innovation is the reason why this year more than a million homes in the Philippines will have daylight in their otherwise dark and cramped homes! Now that's the kind of innovation that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.

A couple of days ago I read an article in Computerworld titled "Technology for the greater good." This article was about using technology for innovation. However, it was not the "Apple creating the next iPhone" type innovation but rather the "solar light bulb" warm and fuzzy type innovation I discussed above.

Here's one example. A mother in Tanzania walks for three days with a sick child on her hip, only to arrive at a rural clinic whose inventory of malaria medicine is depleted. It's a matter of life and death for the mother and child. But from a business standpoint, it's a straightforward supply chain issue. Antimalarial medicines, with a 96% cure rate, are available. Yet far-flung clinics have a hard time keeping them in stock. Having adequate supplies when and where they are needed is critical, because the medication isn't fully effective unless patients take it within 24 hours of contracting malaria. Novartis, a company whose innovations include micro-chipped pills that can track whether patients take their medication on schedule, resolved the crisis in Tanzania by relying on, of all things, SMS text messaging.

Why SMS? When one innovates in poor, rural, underdeveloped, and remote areas, the most crucial considerations are not the "coolness" or "bleeding edge" of a technology but rather its usability and affordability. So, while ubiquitous Internet access might not be readily available, the much simpler SMS certainly is. Working with IBM and Vodaphone, Novartis came up with a simple idea: Have each remote clinic text four numbers, representing the inventory levels of four different, lifesaving medicines, to distribution facilities in major cities that ship supplies. The application is known as SMS for Life. Initial results of a pilot test at 20 sites across Tanzania were daunting: More than 25% of remote facilities were totally out of stock on all medications. Once Novartis had the data, they were able to reduce stock-outs to less than 1% in a very short time. The roll out across Tanzania was soon followed by a roll out in Kenya with further roll outs being planned for Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. Millions of lives have probably been saved with this simple yet effective innovation!
The Computerworld article discusses two other innovations as well - one dealing with increasing literacy with low cost yet fun literacy tools and another dealing with a business model for "micro financing" called "MicroGraam" in the rural villages of India to enable poor, mostly women, to earn a decent livelihood and live a life of dignity.

These are, however, just three examples from the hundreds of amazing stories at the ComputerWorld Honors Program, which is dedicated to honoring those who use technology to benefit society. Check out the stories above and many more at their website.

The Bottom Line - Innovation is not just about using emerging technology to create new and better gadgets but is also about leveraging simple technologies to benefit society especially for those who live in poverty in underdeveloped, rural, and remote areas and are deprived of even the most basic necessities of life.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Is "Innovation" too much of a Good Thing?

A recent article titled "You Call That Innovation" in the Wall Street Journal has sparked quite a bit of debate by claiming that the word "innovation" like many others such as "synergy" and "optimization" has outlived its usefulness. The article was quite ruthless in its assessment of the current state of affairs. "Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovations strategies, and even innovation days. But that doesn't mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they're describing is quite ordinary."

I got a smile on my face when I saw two blog postings on HBR, side-by-side, each taking a different perspective on the views of the article. Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine and author of Practically Radical, seemed to agree with the article in his blog post Please, Can We All Just Stop "Innovating"? In his post, Bill asks whether it is time that we all stopped "innovating" and set our sights on something more meaningful and real. 

On the other hand, Scott Anthony, author of the The Little Black Book of Innovation, seems to take objection to the article calling innovation just another overused term in his blog post Innovation Is a Discipline, Not a Cliché. He agrees that while there is no doubt the term innovation has bankrupt some companies, the problem was not innovation itself but the fact it was never really understood clearly. To be honest, I think that is exactly the point the WSJ article is trying to make. After all, not all of us can be innovating all of the time, even we are Living in the Innovation Age!