Wednesday, October 30, 2013

From Regulations, to QEs and Distorporations

Fred Smith, CEO at FedEx, talks with Sara Eisen about regulation in the United States, why it hurts competitiveness with the rest of the world and why he is optimistic about the budget committee.
Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive and co-chief investment officer at Pimco, explains why the United States is coming to and important turning point in the economy and how corporate cash can help lead the way.
Avenue Capital Group Chairman and CEO Marc Lasry discusses Federal Reserve monetary policy.
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The Fed was expected to wind down its third round of quantitative easing, known as QE3, at the end of this year. But most predictions are now well into 2014, with some as far out as June. 
Economists largely believe the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate have forced the Fed's hand, creating a weaker economic outlook and muddying the data the central bank relies on to make decisions. 
Given this environment and the leadership transition as Ben Bernanke's term ends in January, the Fed will likely continue its current stimulus program at full blast -- buying $85 billion in bonds each month -- until at least March 2014. 
That means QE3 could total around $1.6 trillion, calculates Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics. That's more than either of its two predecessors. In contrast, QE1 totaled $1.5 trillion and the second round of stimulus added up to about $600 billion.
Reference: This could be the largest Fed stimulus yet.

Our correspondents discuss the evolution of a new breed of company in America and whether these organisations are tax and finance scams, or if they can actually contribute to the economy.
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All these structures rest on special provisions and waivers of law, they survive on the whims of Washington. Their attempt to escape the reach of politically motivated changes in governance and taxation inevitably tends to hinge on lobbying and cronyism somewhere along the line. It is, in short, an example of how the system can be rigged to favour the connected. It may seem odd, then, that the shift has not produced more of an outcry. 
In part, this is because its complexity shields it from scrutiny, and because, unlike politicians who seek to publicise their attempts to regulate business, business tends to keep quiet about its successful acts of resistance. But it is also because the questions it raises do not fit into the established world views of either the left or the right. The left typically responds to concerns about business with a belief in antitrust actions to break up size and with strengthened regulation. The conservative alternative has been to emphasise corporate governance, level playing fields and best practices. Neither approach offers much in this case. 
But if the shift prompts genuine concerns, it is also specifically and broadly virtuous—because it enables capital to be channelled to where it can have a return, rather than sitting in the roach motel of retained earnings on which C corporations are based. That may, in the end, be the most compelling component of whatever defines the American system and enables it to be productive and innovative. For all the inequities, when vast wealth has been made through these structures, it has been in cases where the underlying assets produced more cash, not less.
Reference: Rise of the distorporation (emphasis, added).

I greatly appreciate the evolution of media and technology, particularly how we top leaders and business people consume news.  Years ago, a segment on TV aired, and then it passed away.  Now, we can go back to that segment, watch it again to study it, post it and share it.  So it was with the foregoing segments and articles.

You see, from Bloomberg to The Economist, the news I clearly gravitated to this morning had to do with US economy and Federal policy.  The government shutdown earlier this month was nothing short of an embarrassment to what is arguably the most sophisticated, powerful country in the world.  Moreover, in one press conference, President Barack Obama took a decidedly partisan (Us versus Them) tact with the Republicans, instead of, as I had hoped, a more facilitating, reconciling, bi-partisan leadership.  

There is quite a lot of complexity to these issues, which the foregoing segments and articles speak to, but in concept I believe I understand the quandary that the government is in.  Here are what I think and what I wonder about:  The economic crash in October 2008 gave the message, loudly and clearly, that more regulatory oversight was needed in business affairs, government transactions, and market dealings.  This is one point.

The second point is, the government needed to inject big cash into the remnants of this economic crash, that is, companies, agencies and programs.  This injection came under the rubric of "stimulus package" and even "bailout."  We're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, so no small injection this.  In the Marc Lasry interview, one correspondent remarked "Enough QEs, enough QE."  I learned that that meant "quantitative easing" and that we're now in the third such Federal stimulus efforts.

But I gather that regulatory oversight, along with quantitative easing, are a double-edged sword: Too much or too little is a problem.  Five years after that crash, has the proverbial pendulum swung to the too much side?  Fred Smith agrees that regulations have become oppressive to business growth and job creation.  Mohammed El-Esrian cautious the US is now approaching a critical T-juncture.  

My third point is, this economic, political and regulatory landscape has fueled a resurgence of the so-called distorporation, which Tom Easton explains in his interview with The Economist.  From my working grasp, it is a legal entity that can largely circumvent regulations, especially in regards to capital influx and tax liability.  For example, Easton argues that the US needs to invest in risky ventures, I gather, for the purposes of innovation, growth and jobs.  Business development companies, under the distorporation umbrella, can lend to start-ups or projects without the necessary constraints or scrutiny of banks.  This is the good part.

Companies and organizations haven't just adapted to Federal efforts but have also evolved in ingenious, complicated ways.  I remember, early last decade, investigations revealed that Enron created sham organizations, essentially to "cook the books."  Its former CEO Jeffrey Skilling engineered corporate structures that allowed for this.  So the bad part is, that proverbial pendulum, at least for some, seems to have swung back to the Wild, Wild West of too little oversight, accountability and regulation.  

So I wonder if we're staring into an Enron all over again with these distorporations.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Global Innovation 1000 Study, by Booz

Booz & Company Partner John Loehr talks about the companies that made this year's 10 Most Innovative Companies list and tactics that lead to innovation success. This ranking comes from Booz & Company's 9th annual Global Innovation 1000 Study, which analyzed the world's 1000 largest corporate R&D spenders and surveyed 400 global executives about which companies they believe are the most innovative in the world and their companies' use of digital tools in innovation.
There are key factors that we ought to tease out, and unpack, from Booz's study, which definitely make for an intriguing, complex picture on innovation.

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Technology enables deep customer insight

Steve Jobs was known to eschew market research.  Calling upon Henry Ford, he spoke about how innovating on products that customers in particular don't even know (yet) that they want or need.  What they say they want or need may be positively conventional.  Ford apparently remarked that if he had ask customers what they wanted his company to do vis-a-vis transportation, they ask them to build a better horse.

But the reality is, only a few of us can match the visionary pulse of Jobs or Ford.  So we do have to research the market and we do have to ask customers to gain insight on what they want and need.  But the sort of customer insight that Booz highlights goes deeper indeed.  

Enter: Big Data.  With better sensor technology, monitoring devices, and analytic tools, companies can gain a comprehensive, direct pulse on what customers are doing and how they deploying their products or services.  With descriptive and inferential statistics, they, they can then discern underlying patterns on such behavior and grasp what these patterns mean vis-a-vis customer-focused actions.   

Enter: Immersion Labs.  For the longest time, I thought that realistic simulations of operations or process were crucial for training and diagnostic purpose (rf. flight simulators for improving pilot performance and testing capability).  But Booz shares case studies of client who create simulations for customers.  

Innovation efforts must arise from business purpose

It may be just semantics, but to me alignment is on the right track but it falls short of how innovation must be positioned among company initiatives and efforts.  Alignment is akin to taking any two objectives, for example, and making sure their both on the same line.  Whether those objectives have any sort of relationship, connection or shared utility is an open question.  

Instead, innovation must be defined by, must be created from, must be founded upon business purpose, vision and priority.  For example, Google didn't just acquire Android for the sake of competing with Apple or Microsoft on operating systems.  Rather, Android is essentially part of the fabric of its expanding and evolving business model: To follow us via our mobile devices, so they can gain even deeper customer insight about us (i.e., beyond just search), and thus position us better for their advertisers.

In contrast, I worked with a company that persuaded top executives to launch a sales academy, focused on building the knowledge and skills of the sales force.  It was definitely aligned with company priorities around ramping up the sales organization.  The trouble was, however, this sales academy was conceived, then implemented, without sufficient grasp of company issues and without sufficient insight into sales performance.

Challenge of using digital tools effectively

Booz & Company Partners Barry Jaruzelski, John Loehr, and Rick Holman talk about how companies are using—and should use—digital tools to enable innovation. In its 9th annual Global Innovation 1000 Study, Booz & Company analyzed the world's 1000 largest corporate R&D spenders and surveyed 400 global executives about which companies they believe are the most innovative in the worldand their companies' use of digital tools in innovation. 
In their study - Embracing Digital Technology - MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting found that while executives and managers saw the value of Booz-termed digital enablers, the planning for and the adoption of these were quite challenging for their CEOs.  The fact that a good many of these CEOs didn't prioritize digital enablers too highly on their agenda suggested that their sense of urgency was modest at best, but at worst concerningly low.  Bob Morison, a speaker at an IBM Summit that I attended, spoke about the dual aim to build capability, along with appetite, in rolling out Big Data and Analytics, in particular, in the organization.
[Caterpillar] Chief technology officer Gwenne Henricks says that the company “makes significant use of immersive visualization, where we can bring in customers, service technicians, or assemblers from the assembly line and expose them to three-dimensional, real-time virtual depictions of new product designs. It’s here that we are able to capture their feedback [in terms of] usability, serviceability, manufacturability, and the like—all of those design aspects of our product that involve interactions with humans.”
Reference: The Global Innovation 1000: Navigating the Digital Future.

At first blush, Henricks speaks well enough about people, as it relates to use of Immersion Labs.  Yet, I think she misses the point: that all aspects of any product or service involves human interaction.  There is absolutely no such thing as using products or services which doesn't involve people.  Robotic, drone or weapon technology may appear to go off on their own, but every single one of these is operated by someone, albeit remotely.

Here is a quick rundown of people factors and activities, that companies must account for if they're going to innovate successfully and if they're going to drawn on digital tools effectively:
  • Building shared vision
  • Collective understanding
  • Getting buy-in and commitment
  • Training and development
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Supervision and support
  • Monitoring and accountability
  • Error management
  • Safety guidelines and requirements

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It goes without saying that these digital enablers are crucial in company performance.  But to re-emphasize Booz's point, it's the significant and effective use that matters the most:
[Bob] Esmeijer of Philips Lighting cautions that people must focus on the insights they desire from the tools, not simply the process of using them. “We have all kinds of tools at Philips that you can use to calculate or play with things. People very quickly jump on them, sometimes before they get the problem they’re trying to solve right. We want to make sure people think about the bigger picture—what we want to learn, or what we’re trying to manage—and then use the tool,” he explains. “In the end, lighting is a human experience.”
Reference: The Global Innovation 1000: Navigating the Digital Future.

Well-said by Esmeijer (emphasis, added).

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Complex Picture of Technology and Economics

Erik Brynjolfsson talks briskly about technology developments and economic benefits.  From the standpoint of data and analysis, these are quite breathtaking indeed.  He lives and works in technology, so he can see closely its disruptive nature and cross-industry impact: From one billion people coming out of poverty, to more billionaires rising out of record profits.  

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For more than 140 years, the trend in per capita GDP is clearly a geometric curve.  The rise of wealth is essentially rising faster. In other words it's accelerating.

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McKinsey more than corroborates Brynjolfsson: They extend his rundown literally into the trillions and trillions of dollars.

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Brynjolfsson acknowledges that there is nothing in economic law that says growth has to benefit everyone evenly.  My reaction:  Ain't that the truth, professor.  

I'd argue that (a) it's less about keeping up with technology change and more about helping more people gain from it; and (b) executives themselves need prompting, guidance and support to adopt and reap the benefits of technology (rf. Embracing Digital Technology).

I'd say, There is something fundamentally wrong with economic law, which makes Brynjolfsson's point such a gross understatement.  As the wealth has risen geometrically, the divide between the have and the have-not seems to have widened as well.

I've watched this interview with Andrew Keen four times now, and my reactions have shifted from rebutting his theses, to reflecting more on the underlying truths.  His main point is that the internet, perhaps technology in general, is both a cause and a consequence of frank inequities in society.  

I'd say, We need more of people who can step back, and look at the complex picture of technology and economics, both in the broad, analytic sense and at the granular, personal level.  I'm working on it: To critique and alter that economic law (rf. Eradicating Poverty).

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chat on The Leader's Journey

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disruptive Tech, by Cisco's Padmasree Warrior

As the level of connection swells over mobile and other platforms during the next decade, sweeping changes will transform how consumers shop, businesses handle data, and individuals grapple with the data available about themselves. In our special series on disruptive technologies, Cisco Systems' chief technology and strategy officer Padmasree Warrior discusses the future of connecting everything in a conversation taped at Davos with McKinsey's Rik Kirkland.
In this first part, she discusses "the Internet of Everything," which she describes as "an intelligent way to connect processes with data and things" that answers the question of how to use data to drive better processes, better decision making for businesses, and better lifestyles for users and consumers.
At a Chicago conference a year ago, Howard Tullman shared his take on key tech trends for the future, which tech firms and startup entrepreneurs ought to weigh carefully:
  • Precision targeting
  • Know before they know, know as you go
  • Smart reach ("mocial"), real time is more important than real place
He spoke mainly about targeting customers online and having such insight on what they're doing that a business can know what they want, before the customers themselves know what they want.  Moreover, a business can get this data on the go and in real time via mobile devices and social media.  

Enter: Padmasree Warrior.  

She doesn't spell it out, but I have noted the following tectonic shifts in technology: from mainframe to desktop, from wired to wireless, from set to mobile, from wearable to embedded.  She doesn't spell it out, but in time it will be The Internet of Things and People.  Everything and everyone will be connected.  

Her consideration of retail shopping is a step further from that of Tullman: Warrior speaks about people on-the-go in the physical space of a store.  Because shoppers are apparently using a tablet more now to shop, than a smartphone or a PC, she suggests that tracking them in a store affords real time data about what they're doing and where they're going.  So the store can come back to these shoppers with precision-targeted sales offers.
Think about retail, for example, how people shop today. Now, that’s dramatically changed with the mobile platform and the e-commerce platform in the first evolution of the Internet. In the last 20 years, with the Internet, and now more recently with tablets, the data actually now says that people shop more on a tablet than they do on a smartphone or on a PC. And so the commerce and how we make purchases and the shopping experience in the entire retail vertical has changed, and it will continue to change. And how might it change? This is perhaps an example of the “Internet of Things.”

If we can enable location for people, when you walk into the store, we will know which aisle you are going to. We know you were in this aisle, but you didn’t purchase something. And so if we can analyze that data and tell you when there’s a sale going on, that benefits you as a user as well as the retailer. And so that could be an example where there may be sensors. There will be sensors for indoor location (think of it as GPS for indoor location) and knowledge of your preferences.
Sophisticated sensors will pick up on their behavior, but they need something to send signals back.  At the least, it would have to be that tablet that, store owners hope, shoppers bring with them and enable for location.  But in the future that signal will come from wearable technology (e.g., Glass), embedded chips (rf. Bourne Legacy), and biometrics (rf. Minority Report).  

It makes perfect sense, then, that Google wants to make Glass so cool that you'd want to wear it wherever you go.  It also stands to reason that science fiction films can go a long way to influencing what is cool and what people do.

"We think IT in the future will really be a different IT industry than it has been in the past." In her conversation about the future of disruptive technologies, Cisco chief technology and strategy officer Padmasree Warrior discusses the three differentials that are driving changes in the IT organization of enterprises.
The first is the experience differential.  She speaks specifically about the Millennials, the generation born literally into this heady era of social revolution and technology disruption.  Not surprisingly, their access and their devices matter quite a lot to them.

It's intriguing that she positions cloud computing as a velocity differential, but it surely makes sense.  I saw cloud mainly as an economic alternative to purchasing software and storage and as a convenient option for accessing your stuff wherever you may be.  But now I see that it is also about speed of delivery and access.

Warrior puts the data differential in a really good, thoughtful perspective.  There is a veritable floodgate of data, unimaginably so, and available tools and methods have followed suit quite nicely.  But what do we do with all this data?  How do we actually draw actionable insight from data, that is, insight that makes a difference to a business and action a business can take?

The thrust of my initiative - Big Data and Analytics - is weighing and answering these questions.

"In the next three to five years, as users we'll actually lean forward to use technology more versus what we had done in the past, where technology was just coming at us. That will change everything, right?"
Speaking of Big Data and Analytics, Warrior quite indirectly, no doubt discreetly, touches on privacy as an ethical issue and choice as a moral imperative (emphasis, added):
Data. Usage of data. Do we opt in? There’s a lot of discussion about, let’s say, the data that is available about you. Today you don’t even know what data is about you. If it can predict and prevent some illness that I may be getting because of my gene analysis, and I don’t know about it, then I can’t do anything about it. In that case, I’d actually like for that data to be used in a constructive fashion in a health-care situation. But if it’s being used in such a way that it’s going to drive my insurance higher, then I have an issue with that. I’d like to know about that. 
So far, we’ve focused around data on, “Do you opt in or opt out?” In the future, there’s going to be a lot more work that has to be done that gives me a choice on, “When do I opt in, when do I opt out?” And I may want to change my mind. I may opt in at the beginning but as I find what that data is being used for, I may opt out. So all of this requires very sophisticated analytics—a different way to present that data. Again, up until now, it has not been the problem most creative people have been handling. 
Until now, we’ve mostly been creatively centered around the user experience. Just the experience of how information is moving, not how it’s being presented back to you. So I think there’s going to be lots of shifts in the way we deal with technology in the next three to five years.
Warrior is admittedly a technologist, so it is not surprising that her solution to the ethical and moral issues are technology in nature, analytics in particular.  At the very least, however, we ought to have conversations with one another and to carve out due periods of personal reflection, as technology develops and disrupts.  But on more serious issues, like privacy and choice, and on more life-and-death uses, as with healthcare and military, we must reconcile these ethical matters and moral imperatives.

Reference:  Connecting everything: A conversation with Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Disruptive Tech, by Google's Eric Schmidt

As we begin to say, 'We're going to take the analog world of biology—how genes work, how diseases work—put them in a digital framework, calculate for a while, do some machine learning on how things happen,' we'll be able to not only help you become a better human being, but predict what's going to happen to you physically in terms of your health.
Eric Schmidt makes vital point off-the-bat in this interview:  The question isn't which technologies are interesting.  Rather the question is which technologies can have volume impact on helping people.  

Enter: Scale concepts, which I have been mulling over and describe in a lengthy article Eradicating Poverty:
  • Geometric progression
  • Fibonacci sequence
  • Rubik's Cube
  • Mozart's opera
Enter: Biology.  In particular, Schmidt keen for technology to help us better understand how the brain, DNA and protein work.

What’s happened in technology is that a new set of ultrapowerful, ultralight, ultraconductive
materials can now be manufactured at scale. And there’s a revolution, largely driven by a set of
universities, around new kinds of these manufacturing services that will change everything. 
So that revolution, plus the arrival of three-dimensional printing, where you can essentially build
your own thing, means that—during the rest of our lifetimes, anyway—it’ll be possible to build very interesting things from very interesting, new materials, which have all sorts of new properties.
Hobbyists shall have their heyday: With 3D printing, they can create sophisticated models on their computers, then conveniently "print" them as plastic objects.  But rightfully so, Schmidt envisions broader, more substantive purposes, using increasingly lighter and diverse printing material.  Think how much this will revolutionize what manufacturing companies can, and must, do.

So I think we're going to go from the sort of command-and-control interfaces where you tell the computer, like a dog, 'Bark,' to a situation where the computer becomes much more of a friend. And, a friend in the sense that the computer says, 'Well, we kind of know what you care about.'
And the ultimate model is that the computer does what it does well, which is these complicated,
analytical needle-in-a-haystack problems, and has perfect memory. And humans do what we do well, which is judgment, and having fun, and thinking about things. The relationship is symbiotic.  The computer is making suggestions that are pretty good, they’re pretty helpful, but you’re ultimately in charge.
Reference: Disruptive Technologies.

I watched Bourne Legacy this week, and again last night, and it comes to mind now as Schmidt relates this notion of My Computer, My Friend.  The film is just one of many films, portraying this vision of a super human being.  In this case, it's neurochemistry and neuropsychology to enhance physical and cognitive abilities.

That's one point.

Here's my second point.

This is something I wrote about in Kenji and our Human Reality and Paradox.  We may tout how much more capable machines and computers are than, say, a humble, earnest worker.  Yet, we work at creating said machines and computers to think, behave and relate like said worker.

So on the one hand it's intriguing to me to imagine my laptop becoming my friend at some point in the future.  On the other hand, what Schmidt says is positively silly and naive.  We may very well create such a friendly computer, but why do so?  Is it an effort to fabricate the perfect friend, that is, super human?

The technologists' comeback may be why not?

I say, Let's reflect on this paradox, and work at reconciling it better.

I want to reiterate that friendly computers are very intriguing to me, and I believe that it is simple a matter of time before we do see a prototype of what Schmidt envisions.  The possibilities for utility, enhancement and enjoyment are wide-ranging.

But what I bring up is a moral caution: Not that we abandon our efforts, as this is virtually impossible, probably.  But that we reflect, we weigh, we debate, we reconcile what it is we, each as part of humankind, want to do and what we're actually doing.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD        

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Disruptive Tech, by S+C's Chamath Palihapitiya

The venture investor and former Facebook executive [Chamath Palihapitiya] examines technologies he thinks will improve the quality of life and economic output—and explains why most executives undervalue technical proficiency. In this first chapter, he discusses the three technologies he's most excited to watch: [1] sensor networks, [2] automated transportation, and [3] a very specific application of big data to genetics.
This McKinsey video comes at the heels of a set of posts on Google+, where I highlight key findings from a study by MIT Sloan and Capgemini - Embracing Digital Technology, A New Strategic Imperative:

Many executives (78%) know that social media, mobile devices, and data analytics are crucial for business. But nearly as many (63%) say digital change in their company is too slow.

Lack of urgency is the main obstacle to digital change. It is not a fixed agenda for many CEOs.

I'm afraid that social media and high tech have come way too quickly for many executives, and they need our expertise in change management, people skills, and inspirational transformation ... seriously!

In this article, I expand on these findings via the broader, more comprehensive research by McKinsey -  Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy - beginning with Chamath Palihapitiya's pulse on the subject:
“Technology will disrupt every facet of every job.” For executives, [Palihapitiya] argues, it isn’t enough just to understand the technologies, such as sensors and autonomous vehicles, that will have an outsized impact on improving the quality of life and economic output. New waves of technological disruption will probably blindside executives who don’t build technical proficiency into the way they manage their organizations. 
Such a pronouncement makes me terribly excited, as we're poised for a higher-order (exponential) technology curve.  Yet, such a pronouncement also butts against veritable human (leadership) difficulties in adopting these fundamental technologies, never mind disruptive.  There is no question about the marvel that the human mind can produce, but I daresay such minds are relegated to a select few.  The minds of vast hordes of us will have frank difficulties grasping, intuiting and utilizing technologies.

It is akin, I'd say, to people being asked to drink from the proverbial, high-pressure and high-volume fire hose, when all they they drink at any one time is a glass of water.

I'd say, Get real, in response to such pronouncement.  Let's slow things down a bit, shall we, and first unpack what Palihapitiya relates:

[1] Sensory Technology

This spring Under Armour brings you Armour39™ – the first-of-its-kind performance monitoring system made for athletes and the only device capable of measuring your WILLpower™ – the first true measure of an athlete. Armour39™ is the only device engineered to provide athletes with precise, instant information that helps them train to improve, regardless of sport.
Armour39™ is an example of the sensor devices and networks that Palihapitiya talks about.  Sensors are already everywhere around us, it seems, but they are even more everywhere, when we consider wearable technology.  Moreover, they aren't just targeted at business process, customer data, or performance indices.  They are also trained on our bodily functions for health and athletic purposes, among other things, I'm sure.  It is the dawning of the Digital Self.  So when technologies talk about The Internet of Things, they mean to say The Internet of People, too.

Just yesterday I was speaking to a colleague, regarding an emerging trend in accounting and the need for senior leaders to see the value-add of this trend.  In brief, the ROI is established from the get-go, and efforts to implement a new accounting process must realize that ROI.  But to ensure that it does, we need to monitor these efforts on an ongoing basis.  Real-time data can tell us if we're on track or if we're off-track, and point us quickly to getting things right.

Enter: Sensors.

[2] Automated Vehicles

We announced our self-driving car project in 2010 to make driving safer, more enjoyable, and more efficient. Having safely completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, we wanted to share one of our favorite moments. Here's Steve, who joined us for a special drive on a carefully programmed route to experience being behind the wheel in a whole new way. We organized this test as a technical experiment, but we think it's also a promising look at what autonomous technology may one day deliver if rigorous technology and safety standards can be met.
Google posted this video on March 28th 2012, and with nearly 5 million views we can easily call it viral.  We saw driverless cars in the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report, highways-full of them, in fact.  I daresay that this little Google car is simply conventional technology for what will increasingly become, as Palihapitiya pronounces, most unconventional technology.  Steve, in the video, jokes "No hands!" because he's sitting where any driver normally sits and he has the customary steering wheel in front of him.  Which he does not touch at all.  In the future, the Google car will be re-designed to be driverless, that is, probably no steering wheel and comfortable seating for everyone inside.
What Google is pioneering in the autonomous-vehicle space. It is probably the one thing that I’ve seen that could fundamentally have the high-order-bit effect on GDP. You can completely re-envision cities, transportation models, and commerce with all these autonomous vehicles, with the ability to ship goods. 
So you can imagine a fleet of small electric cars that deliver all mail. A fleet of drones that drops off parcels from Amazon, Walmart, and Target, right to your doorstep. A fleet of trucks that doesn’t cause traffic and congestion. An entire fleet of city vehicles paid for and bought by a state or by a city that provides public transportation in a predictable way. All these things have massive impacts to commerce and the mobility of individuals. And I think it’s not well understood.
Reference: Managing disruptive technology: A conversation with investor Chamath Palihapitiya (emphasis, added).

In other words, Google is just the beginning.  We ain't seen nothing, yet.

[3] Big Data on Healthcare

Before Big Data can unleash its considerable potential in healthcare, we must have technology that can house it and analyze it.  Enter: IBM.  "Watson is very different. Watson is thinking like a physician," Omar Latif, MD concludes.  

Palihapitiya zeroes Big Data onto genetics in particular, because, from what I can surmise, genetics is the biological correlate of subatomic physics.  In effect: Learn how to manipulate at the microscopic level, and you can manipulate the broader system, such as the human body.  Crack the code of the small, and you've cracked the code of the big.  
And then the last idea is that big data is kind of like this stupid buzz word—like “growth hacking,” frankly—where you’re really talking about just creating more noise and not enough signals. But in the specific case of genetics, I think we’re making an extremely important shift, which is shifting the burden away from biologists to computer scientists. 
Because when you sequence an entire genome, what you’re really doing is spitting out a 4 GB to 5 GB flat file of codes, which can be interpreted, where you can build machine learning—supervised or not—to intuit things, to make connections, to find correlations, to hopefully find causality. And across a broad population of people, you have the ability to use computer science to solve some of the most intricate problems of biology and life. 
And so I suspect in the next 10 to 15 years, you’re going to see these massive advances there, where it will literally be a group of computer scientists who basically say, “If you express the BRCA1 breast cancer gene, here’s the protocol that we’ve seen across a wide population of women that actually prevents the onset of breast cancer.” Amazing.
In Closing: Change Management

You see, Under Armour, Google and IBM, above, know change management quite well - what it takes to adopt new technology, specifically.  
  1. They provide a heads-up, well before an innovative product hits the market.  More than that, it gets hordes of us jazzed about whatever that product will actually be.  Case in point: The Under Armour video has 1,678,940, to date.
  2. They facilitate a personal experience, that is at once extraordinary in an ordinary circumstance (e.g., going for Taco Bell).  Steve, in the Google driverless car, is easily enthralled.  4,959,180 of us are enthralled, along with him.
  3. They arrange for client testimonials, which speak for the phenomenon that Watson is.  No, at 1658 views, this IBM video hardly qualifies as viral.  Yet, we see that WellPoint is literally just the tip of the iceberg of the potential for everything about the human body and its care.
More to come on grasping disruptive technology and embracing its potential, in subsequent articles.  So stay tuned!

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Apple CEO Wins Over Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts

Sharif Sakr, senior European Editor at Endgame, discusses Angela Ahrendts move to join Apple as senior VP of retail and online sales and the challenge of bringing changes to Apple's retail outlets.
Bloomberg senior West Coast correspondent Jon Erlichman and Gilbert Harrison, chairman & founder at Financo, look at what former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts brings to Apple as senior VP of retail and online sales and how her luxury background may translate into driving technology sales.
With competition fast on its heels, and some arguably past its whole feet, and with Wall Street's confidence in its future flagging at best, Apple makes a big move, to the say the least.  It isn't just an effort to leverage its 16,000-a-week foot traffic or to optimize its online and retail sales, but perhaps also a play on fashionable technology.  Google knows that the success of Glass depends in part on how cool customers look when they wear it.  Apple, through Steve Jobs, also knows how crucial design is.  So the advent of the iPhone 5c - the colorful new offerings - may simply be a harbinger of things to come.  Angela Ahrendts, simply being another figure in that.  

What does Apple CEO Tim Cook have to say (emphasis, added)?
I am thrilled to announce that Angela Ahrendts will be joining Apple as a senior vice president and member of our executive team, reporting directly to me. Angela is currently the CEO of Burberry. 
She will lead both our retail and online teams. I have wanted one person to lead both of these teams for some time because I believe it will better serve our customers, but I had never met anyone whom I felt confident could lead both until I met Angela. We met for the first time last January, and I knew in that meeting that I wanted her to join Apple. We’ve gotten to know each other over the past several months and I’ve left each conversation even more impressed. 
She shares our values and our focus on innovation. She places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience. She cares deeply about people and embraces our view that our most important resource and our soul is our people. She believes in enriching the lives of others and she is wicked smart. Angela has shown herself to be an extraordinary leader throughout her career and has a proven track record. She led Burberry through a period of phenomenal growth with a focus on brand, culture, core values and the power of positive energy. 
Angela will need to focus over the coming months on transitioning her current role at Burberry and will then join Apple in the spring. I am sure as all of you meet her, you will see why I am so excited that she is joining our executive team. I’d like to add a special thanks to all of our retail leaders. Your strength, talent and leadership afforded me the luxury of taking the time to perform an exhaustive search to find the best person in the world for this role. 
Reference: Tim Cook on Apple’s New Retail Chief, Angela Ahrendts.

In a lengthy interview on September 9th 2010 - Earning her Stripes - The Wall Street Journal described Ahrendts as such below its headline:
From small-town roots in Indiana to the big time as head of Burberry, a $2 billion fashion empire and one of the most widely recognized brands in the world, Angela Ahrendts takes it all in her stride, propelling the company into the digital age without compromising the brand’s soul—or her own
Ahrendts even referenced Apple back then:
“If I look to any company as a model, it’s Apple. They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle, and that’s the way I see us,” she says.
China is on the radar of any CEO with any wider intention of growth, and this point, too, may be part of what is looking more and more as a multiple-pronged play by Apple:
China is the second most important market for Apple after the United States in terms of revenues. The market for high end smartphones is near saturation in the United States but this is not the case in China. From a growth perspective, China is more important than the United States to Apple. 
Under Ahrendts, Burberry showed remarkable growth in China. China has 30 cities the size of Paris. All of these cities are ripe for more than one Apple store.
Reference: Apple's New Store Chief Brings Impressive Track Record From Burberry.

Finally, Ahrendts' embrace of, and savvy with, digital makes her a superb, all-around attraction for Apple.  

It is a wise decision on her part and Apple's to take a methodic approach to the transition:  Besides giving her the opportunity to wrap up her affairs at Burberry, it affords the iconic fashion house time to select her successor.  In the meantime, as much as time will allow, she can school herself further in Apple's business, people, culture and priorities.  I'm sure she'd begun this process well before today's announcement.  But this methodic approach gives her the luxury, really, of transitioning without the outright pressure of Apple's and analysts' expectations.

Congratulations, Angela Ahrendts!

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Innovation Lessons from 16-Year Old Kelvin Doe

Kelvin Doe

Fast Company runs down their 100 Most Creative People in Business 2013, and I studying all of them one by one.  Nate Silver, who predicted the outcomes of the 2008 (49 out of 50 states) and 2012 (50 out of 50 states) US presidential elections, is #1 on the list.  Bryan Cranston, he of the Breaking Bad fame, comes in at #8.  But by far the most enthralling has been #43:  Kelvin Doe.      
Sixteen-year-old Kelvin Doe has an endless desire to tinker. When he was just 11, he started collecting discarded metal and electronic scraps, eventually gathering enough bits to put together mini generators. Last year, he cobbled together an amp, a mixer, and enough equipment to launch a one-young-man radio station. He broadcasts to the residents of the Dworzark Farm neighborhood of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s ramshackle capital, where he’s also known as DJ Focus. “I am curious,” Doe says simply of his wunderkind accomplishments. That curiosity well explains why his first trip out of his native Sierra Leone was to MIT, where he worked on engineering projects last summer. He’s spoken at TEDxTeen and wowed people in a short documentary about him and his inventions on YouTube. But Doe’s definition of success is unselfish: His current project focuses on building a windmill to provide power for some of his Freetown neighbors, and he hopes to become a scientist to help improve life throughout Sierra Leone. “I love my country,” he says. “I love my people.”
15-Year-Old Kelvin Doe is an engineering whiz living in Sierra Leone who scours the trash bins for spare parts, which he uses to build batteries, generators and transmitters. Completely self-taught, Kelvin has created his own radio station where he broadcasts news and plays music under the moniker, DJ Focus.

Kelvin became the youngest person in history to be invited to the "Visiting Practitioner's Program" at MIT. THNKR had exclusive access to Kelvin and his life-changing journey - experiencing the US for the first time, exploring incredible opportunities, contending with homesickness, and mapping out his future.
THNKR is proud to present the next chapter in the riveting story of 15-Year-Old engineering prodigy Kelvin Doe. THNKR has exclusive access to Kelvin as he returns to the United States to deliver a riveting talk at TedxTeen and grapples with the impact of newfound YouTube superstardom. 
So what do we learn about innovation from this boy?

If you've reached this point in my article, without having read his story and watched his videos, then please go back and do so.  None of these is lengthy.

I encourage you to simply experience what he has to say and what others have to say, then reflect on your experience.  What thoughts, emotions and reactions come to you?  Make note of them.

If the spirit so moves you, as the spirit has moved me, re-read and re-watch.  Keep a mindful, reflective look at what you think, feel and do, and note it down wherever you usually note things.

Top leaders, business people, professionals and consultants alike seem to be under such pressure to innovate, that I sometimes wonder whether, or how well, they can actually innovate.  In part, this is what Clayton Christensen speaks to as the innovator's dilemma:  the wish to create is often at odds with the need to produce.

So, if only for the sake of this little exercise I am walking you through, simply experience first.  Learn from what you experience.

How do we ever innovate when resources are limited?

I hear that often, and variations on a theme: We need more tools, we need more staff, we need more budget.

What if you had next to nothing at your disposal, instead?  Speaking of disposal, what about the things we've disposed in the trash bin?  We wealthy, resourceful Westerners don't do that, do we.

Ah, Kelvin Doe isn't a Westerner, and he hails from an impoverished family in Sierra Leone.  He finds what he needs from trash heaps.

No doubt, he also finds things he isn't looking for necessarily, but discovers some other purpose or avenue for these things.  He tinkers with whatever he has at his disposal.  He tinkers with ideas that amble on inside his head.  He uses his hands to make something like a music system from the trash he finds and tinkers with.

So, if you simply cannot get the resources you ask for, what do you choose to do:  Stop trying to innovate, out of disappointment, frustration or even anger; or look around and tinker, look around some more and tinker?

What do we do with the things we find and tinker with?

We see that Kelvin Doe is no geeky kid who tinkers at all hours, all alone, simply for the sake of tinkering and for the sake of his own curiosity.  No, he doesn't seem to a young man who's prone to isolate him or think solely of himself.

Instead, there's a wonderful spirit about him that's purely with the people and of the people in his community.  We Westerners may take our social media and high technology for granted, when we think about reaching others.  But I often wonder, How much of us is truly about engagement, relationship and community?

The catch phrase we toss around now and then is, It's not about ourselves, rather it's about others.  I don't know whether Kelvin Doe even knows this phrase, but consider this:  Thousands of miles away from home, in a country where technology is everywhere and beds are soft, he misses his family.  He is after all a boy, and he is far from home.

Innovation is quintessentially a human endeavor.  It is indeed naturally about people and for the people.  We lose sight of the basic humanity behind it, and innovation is a meaningless proposition or, perhaps worse, a failed effort.
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD