Friday, December 25, 2015

Clean Water Lens

Together DeShawn Henry and Jim Jensen learned that "difficult problems don't necessarily need complicated solutions."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ocean Cleanup Array

Boyan Slat understands well the Tao (way) of oceans, and lets massive debris come to his Ocean Cleanup Array.

Monday, December 21, 2015


"We're harnessing rotational energy. So as the ball is rolling around the field, we have a mechanism that's rolling with it ... [that's] transferring the kinetic energy into electricity," Jessica Matthews explains.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Solar Roadways

"If we're going to cover [roadways] with these panels, using just 15% efficient solar cells, we could produce three times more power than we use as a nation," says Scott Brusaw.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Ro[botic]Birds versions must look and fly like their identified predator - falcon or eagle - to scoot unwanted birds away.

Monday, December 7, 2015


How well do you, your mate and-or your children brush your teeth? I mean, really, how well? If you're not sure, then meet the smart toothbrush, which promises to make a frequent activity more effective and efficient.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Penguin Chickbot

So how about a cute penguin chick robot, in the clever service of science? It works!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Eco Car

I love this! Engineering students from the University of Toronto create a motor vehicle that is so fuel-efficient that it can travel 2700 miles on 1 gallon of gasoline. Let me repeat that: 2700 miles per gallon! The team won the Shell Eco Marathon last year, and they're aiming for 4000 MPGs this year... whoa!

Monday, November 23, 2015


Diago Saez Gil + mates sought to raise $50,000 for their smart suitcase idea, and got $1.9 million, instead. Wow, maybe I should try that!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Apple I

"[The Apple I personal computer] is the seed artifact of the Digital Age. It's the beginning of the home computer revolution," Kristen Gallerneaux points out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Steam Engines

Historic innovations - like the steam engines - tell a tale that's worth listening to: "The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the late 18th century."

Monday, November 9, 2015

Salmon Cannon

"Salmon are a great example of fish that have to overcome huge obstacles, just to get back where they came from. Many never make it. But now those salmon have a better chance: They're getting 'cannonized'!"

Friday, October 30, 2015


The next step for SoloShot is that the camera be able to (a) "walk" so it can avoid people or objects getting in the way (e.g. like a smart robot); and (b) "fly" so it can actually track you across wider distances (e.g. as mounted on a drone).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Nano Clothing

"Did you fear that this may not succeed?"

"I always got those notions from other people. They would always try to force their thoughts into my head, saying 'No one's going to want this. No one's going to believe this. No one's going to want to buy this.' Sometimes if you really believe in an idea, you just have to drown out the rest of the world and just see what happens. So there's a big risk and an element of fear, but you have to push through it."

~Aamir Patel, 21-year old founder of Silic


Friday, October 16, 2015

The Pancakebot

"I make my imagination to do like a 'Pammcakebot' to make 'Pammcakes'."

Yes, exactly. You go, girl!


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Trackr Bravo, Iota, and Tile

As tracking devices, there is a lot of utility for Trackr Bravo, Iotera, and Tile. The distance between device and item makes a difference, so if you need one mostly for around the house, then Trackr Bravo is your solution. Otherwise, over longer distances, then Iotera is it.

Of course these devices can track not just things, but also people. By the same token, I imagine those people who track can themselves be tracked by other people. So, as it is with many inventions, I suppose, these devices can be used for good and not-so-good intentions.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Myo Armband

I'm sure the algorithms for detecting arm movements - from fine- to gross-motor - comprise of complex codes. But I imagine that the migration from mouse to Myo isn't that complex, at least not conceptually.

I like the notion of "If you're a gamer, then Myo is a game changer!" But I'm more into the arts than gaming, so I imagine Myo for orchestra conductors, performance arts directors, and innovative painters.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Bouyant Airborne Turbine (BAT)

The next generation of windmills for harnessing wind energy is the BAT: bouyant airborne turbine.  It has to be tethered to the ground, in order to transmit energy, but it reaches much higher altitudes where the wind is stronger.  Its design prevents planes and birds from flying into it, but what about its cable tethering - which could snare flying objects?

Over the next few decades, we can envision our skies full of traffic as we become increasingly less earthbound.  So I hope regulatory bodies and law enforcement are keeping up with the innovators!


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Smart Accessories

Steve Jobs made major success and beaucoup bucks with technology + design. Now with Zazzi, fashion gets in on the act!


Monday, September 28, 2015


While the self driving car is still a few years away, Cruise is the auto-pilot technology for your car and by now (I believe) it should be on sale. Invented by Kyle Vogt + team, Cruise got to market quickly because it falls under the same regulation as cruise control that is already in many cars.

Several big guns - from Nissan and Toyota, to Mercedes-Benz and GM, and to Google of course - have been investing a lot of R&D into the self driving car. But Vogt slid in with a more modest, quick-to-market invention.

Cruise is proof-positive that innovation doesn't have to be a complex, mold-breaking technology!


Friday, September 18, 2015

Igor Sikorsky

"That's part of the spark that makes a great innovator: To hold on to a dream, and to just not give up... [Igor Sikorsky] realized that he couldn't quite build the helicopter with the technology they had in 1910.  So he had the good sense to wait until things could catch up [1939]."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Visual Microphone

"What exactly is the visual microphone? Basically it's a way to recover sound by looking at the vibrations of an object from a distance. The vibrations are very small, very subtle, on the order of micrometer."

Monday, September 14, 2015

Little Devices Lab

"I tell our students, Our job is to get creatively distracted, have fun, and then eventually something will hit us."

Friday, September 4, 2015


"The SMARTwheel will light up, and sound a beep, if you use unsafe driving postures, and simultaneously a mobile app will record your driving behaviors."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Smart Cart

Instead of a friendly, loyal dog following you around, how about a smart cart that walks and talks with you, instead?

Monday, August 31, 2015


While innovation walks on the sunny side of the street, security risk lurks in dark back alleys. From Coin to NFC technology, innovators and consumers alike must account for security risk.

Friday, August 21, 2015


"I could envision a day [when] there will be millions of robots. People will walk the streets with robots one day," says Bruno Maisonnier.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

iFetch, Whistle, and Petzi Connect

"Animal lovers in the tech world have decided 'It's time to let technology bring us closer to our pets." What do they mean by "closer"? For example, keeping your dog actively engaged in an activity it loves (iFetch); monitoring its activity, like a Fitbit for dogs (Whistle); and staying connected with your dog via an intercom and treat dispenser (Petzi Connect). "Closer" to your pets presumably means you use such technology only when you have to be away, such as at work, on vacation, or perhaps on an errand. Which means that iFetch etc are only interim technology solutions and that otherwise "closer" means you're actually spending time with your pets.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Drone Invasion

From law enforcement and agriculture, to security and rescue, drones offer exciting solutions. Me, it's film making.

Friday, August 7, 2015

3D Printing Amazing Things!

The history of 3D printing goes back to the 1980s, and from prosthesis and guns, to cars and houses, it has definitely come a very long way. What I find most amazing is that 3D printing can also create 3D printers, thus demonstrating that meta-3D printing has a very pragmatic, exponential effect!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Maxwell Bogue and Peter Dilworth developed the 3Doodler, and they ran a very successful fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter in 2013 ($2 million) and then a follow up campaign earlier this year ($1.5 million) to improve the 3Doodler.


Monday, August 3, 2015


In this segment from “The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation” you’ll meet the brother-and-sister duo behind goTenna, a tool that helps communication stay alive even when all signals have gone dead.
In June 2013, a friend and I were among two million fans who converged in downtown Chicago to celebrate the Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship. It was so crowded that we lost each other, and there was no mobile signal amid that thick of people. Enter: Daniela and Jorge Perdomo, who invented goTenna, which would've helped my friend and me.

Friday, July 24, 2015


So I sing Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake songs in the car, and I want to know if Autotune can make me sound like Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Age Progression Software

Ira Kemelmacher is a Computer Science and Engineering professor, and her approach to "aging" people via algorithms is systematic indeed. But I hope she incorporates specific and sufficient personal data, before she ages a particular person. Health and genetics, occupation and lifestyle, as well as climate all figure in how any of us ages. It was good that she inputted old photos of the interviewer, but she probably needed many, many more photos of him. Her progression of him to 80 years old didn't look very different at all from his current looks. So either she took a very conservative approach for this example or her algorithms need much development and refinement.

Monday, July 20, 2015


The Roundhouse is like a giant Lazy Susan, and can turn a locomotive of several tons with the brute strength of just one person.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Buckminster Fuller

This is the Dymaxion House. In the past, this was the future. But now that it's the future, this is in the past. Got it? Good.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Thomas Edison

Inventing relates to the creation of entirely new things... Innovation really is about how those things are adopted and adapted.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Orville and Wilbur Wright

From bicycling to flying, Orville and Wilbur Wright go on an unlikely journey marked by little discoveries and bold experimentation.


Friday, June 26, 2015

IBM Think on Cloud (4)

Eric Friedman, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, Fitbit, Inc. and Robert LeBlanc, Senior Vice President, Software and Cloud Solutions Group, IBM discuss cloud at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
Friedman offers a clear glimpse into the underpinnings of Fitbit: controlling capital spend at startup, while proving the feasibility of both its technology product and business model, and gathering Big Data as customers around the world unwrap their devices on Christmas Day.  The cloud enables it all for Fitbit, and its capability and capacity grow with it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

IBM Think on Cloud (3)

Hisao Tanaka, President and Chief Executive Officer, Toshiba Corporation and Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kaiser Permanente discuss new infrastructures driving new business models with Frank Gens, Senior Vice President & Chief Analyst, IDC at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
Failure of Toshiba machines can have reverberating impact on both hospital and patient, so Tanaka-san looks to technology like the cloud to ensure that such failure does not occur.  Tyson and Kaiser Permanente aim to provide the safest hospital milieu, and rely as well on technology to make big, systemic improvements, rather than incremental change, concerning safety.

Monday, June 22, 2015

IBM Think on Cloud (2)

Frank Gens, Senior Vice President & Chief Analyst, IDC discusses why cloud is the great disruptor at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
The cloud dramatically speeds up innovation, reduces costs, and bolsters competitiveness.  Such a heady claim, I'd say.  The two moves vs one move chess is certainly an evocative analogy.

Friday, June 12, 2015

IBM Think on Cloud (1)

Frank Gens, Senior Vice President & Chief Analyst, IDC discusses why cloud is the great disruptor at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
Gens speaks technically
If you consider yourself an innovator for your business and your industry, if you've not mastered cloud, and mobile, and social, and Big Data, and security technology, you need to trust this platform or you're really not mastering the IT industry.
and lyrically
I look at it as [cloud] is the palette for the artist.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

IBM Think on Big Data (2)

Terry J. Lundgren, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Macy’s, Inc.; and Matt Rose, Executive Chairman, BNSF Railway Company discuss harnessing Big Data for competitive advantage at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
From inventory and distribution, to marketing and operations, Big Data can be a major competitive advantage across many sections or functions of a business.  But that's the hype, isn't it.  As Nate Silver said in a preceding clip, if a business is to realize that advantage, it must face up to the reality of (a) what can Big Data do specifically, (b) how must a business best utilize it, and (c) whom they need to bring onboard to make it all work.

Monday, June 8, 2015

IBM Think on Big Data (1)

Remarks by Nate Silver, Author, Founder of FiveThirtyEight and Correspondent, ESPN at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
In short order, Silver makes three crucial points about Big Data and Analytics:
  • Beyond the hype, there is the inescapable reality for business and organization alike: Do you have the people with the right capability to make it all work?  
  • A prerequisite is having a highly functional corporate culture, that can adapt and change, that can criticize itself when it needs to and realize where the opportunity is potentially, they cannot fall for the hype.
  • We must check our assumptions or hypotheses, our biases or preconceptions vis-a-vis an evolving reality of evidence, and undergo continuous refinements of the former.

Friday, May 29, 2015

IBM Think on the New Engagement Model (2)

[a] Josh Silverman, President, Consumer Products & Services, American Express Company, [b] Carlos Giménez, Mayor, Miami-Dade County and [c] Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President, Global Business Services, IBM discuss social, mobile and security - the new engagement model, at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
Silverman suggests essentially that smart technology allows American Express to shift from discerning trends or patterns in aggregate data (i.e. one to many), to forging eyes on individuals and their personal situation and matters (i.e. one to one).  Traditional science has worked on the premise and methodology of the former, simply because it was highly impractical to investigate every single member of a population under research.  So broadly speaking, science must weigh this shift carefully, as it has the potential, I think, to make its principles and approaches obsolete.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

IBM Think on the New Engagement Model (1)

Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President, Global Business Services, IBM discusses social, mobile, and security - the new engagement model at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
van Kralingen speaks to a kind of race among companies, where real time insight is crucial and split seconds matter a lot.
  1. Customize to the moment, and learn the thoughts, behavior and preferences of your customers.
  2. Win the battles in the split seconds.
  3. Build and innovate on an ongoing, daily basis, and shed the notion of a big bang innovation.
I fully appreciate her point that going forward, innovation will be about principles, values and purpose (rf. The Core Algorithm) rather than procedures and perhaps structure and hardware, too.

Monday, May 25, 2015

IBM Think on Security (2)

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, IBM discuss security at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
We do need truly smart technology that not only remembers, learns and recognizes, but also adjusts, adapts and even alters its own algorithms.  Jackson makes a good point in that such a technology ought to detect anomalies as well as precursors.  Of course anomalies may be precursors, too, if they precede a more concerning, perhaps catastrophic incident.  In any case, the idea is to anticipate any problem, before it emerges or worsens.

Friday, May 15, 2015

IBM Think on Security (1)

Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, IBM discusses the security challenge at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
If any CEO, organization or staff do not appreciate how critical security is and how alarming breaches are, then he or she has opportunity right now to do so.  To me, it seems that this equation captures what is going on:  human nature + technology channels + viral capacity = IT havoc and vulnerability.

So Rometty runs down some practical tips:
  1. Increase the security IQ of every employee, which of course speaks to knowledge, motivation and behavior.
  2. Create a response team - including legal, HR, IT, communications, forensics - that is ready and able to go, when needed. 
  3. Secure the workplace for BYOD (bring your own device).  One IT friend cautioned me from connecting my mobile to our office wireless connection, because of the risk I myself would face, if heaven forbid, I unwittingly brought a virus or a breach to the office system. 
  4. Decide what your crown jewels are.  It may be some specialized IP, like the formula for Coca Cola, but Rometty is right to say that what has to closely guarded is far more than that.
  5. Think of security as a Big Data problem.  Her analogy of germs is a curiously insightful one, I believe.  So the idea isn't to eliminate security threats completely, which may be next to impossible.  Rather, a system may let some degree of threat to exist, but monitor it closely and react accordingly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

IBM Think on the Future of Computing (2)

Robert B. Darnell, MD, PhD, President, CEO and Scientific Director, New York Genome Center; Danny Hillis, Co-founder, Applied Minds; and Dr. John Kelly, Senior Vice President and Director, Research, IBM; with Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor-at-Large, Fortune discuss the future of computing--augmenting intelligence, at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
There are some weighty issues in this discussion clip:

I imagine that some, maybe many, people will continue to see technology advancement as Man versus Machine, but indeed how we grasp issues, solve problems, and perform tasks is best served with a Man and Machine perspective.  Technology is more than poised to augment our human capacity, without necessarily losing what makes us human.

It may be easy to think that we mainly need logic and analysis to do business and improve our lot in the world.  Indeed, however, there are intuition and instinct, which perhaps take up the bulk of the iceberg that lies hidden below the waterline.  But again there is a range of views on this very matter: Can technology truly enhance the latter, or will it eventually supplant the former?

Darnell points out that the value of science is its ability to predict the future.  So, if I were to knock a glass of water off the table, gravity will pull it down to the floor.  My caveat is this: Science offers us great insight into how the physical universe works and extracts the cause-and-effect laws that govern such operation.  It is in this respect that science can predict the future.  But when we consider human phenomena, human endeavor, and human capacity, that predictive ability becomes a bit dicey.

Monday, May 11, 2015

IBM Think on the Future of Computing (1)

Dr. John Kelly, Senior Vice President and Director, Research, IBM discusses the future of computing - augmenting intelligence, at the 2014 IBM THINK Forum.
Simple mission is of course a tongue-in-cheek remark from Kelly about the thrust of IBM Research: To see the future of IT and its impact on the world, and more importantly to create the future (rf. Part 2 - Making the Future).  Our ability to do this may be limited by our technology, specifically that which manages, stores and analyzes an exponentially ballooning data set.  Also, that we have to give IBM Watson eyes, for example, to work with data as images, is testament to the fact that both volume and variety are the challenge for technology. 

That said, what Kelly speaks to reminds me of this inspiring, jazzy hit from Steely Dan:

IGY stands for International Geophysical Year from (1 July 1957--31 December 1958) of geophysical observations by about 30,000 scientists and technicians representing more than seventy countries.

I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)" is a track on Steely Dan founding member Donald Fagen's 1982 album, The Nightfly. The song is sung from an optimistic viewpoint during the IGY, and features references to then-futuristic concepts, such as solar power (first used in 1958), Spandex (invented in 1959), space travel for entertainment, and undersea international high speed rail.The song peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 on 27 November - 11 December 1982.

Friday, May 1, 2015

CEO Reflections (3) People Analytics

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At McKinsey, we’ve been developing our own approach to retention: to detect previously unobserved behavioral patterns, we combine various data sources with machine-learning algorithms. We first held workshops and interviews to generate ideas and a set of hypotheses. Over time, we collected hundreds of data points to test. Then we ran different algorithms to get insights at a broad organizational level, to identify specific employee clusters, and to make individual predictions. Last, we held a series of workshops and focus groups to validate the insights from our models and to develop a series of concrete interventions.

The insights have been surprising and at times counterintuitive. We expected factors such as an individual’s performance rating or compensation to be the top predictors of unwanted attrition. But our analysis revealed that a lack of mentoring and coaching and of “affiliation” with people who have similar interests were actually top of list. More specifically, “flight risk” across the firm fell by 20 to 40 percent when coaching and mentoring were deemed satisfying.
Reference: Power to the new people analytics.

My intent in this article is neither to summarize it nor even comment on it.  Rather, I mean to prompt CEOs and their leadership teams to pause and reflect on their business and industry, their market and competition, and their people and resources vis-a-vis the advent of people analytics.
  • How do you understand what is going on within and outside your company, and what is your experience of it, both individually and collectively?
  • What are gaps in your understanding, which require bridging, and what haven't you experienced, which require experiencing?
  • What meaning can you draw from such reflection and understanding, that is, in relation to the vision, the purpose, and the values that are at the heart and soul of your business? 
  • Besides your analytic or rational thinking hat, what does your intuitive, creative or non-rational brain say about all of this?  
  • What diverse or critical points of view do you need to engage in this reflection, that is, from your people, networks, advisers, competitors, customers, and resources?
  • What would you like to do about it, or more pointedly what do you need to do about it; that is, what is it that you aim to accomplish?
  • How can you best accomplish what you want and need to accomplish, given the capability, motivation and energy in your current and prospective people?
  • What other reflective questions do you need to ask yourselves?
So, instead of a summary from me, CEOs can read this short article themselves and come up with their own unique, relevant commentary.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

CEO Reflections (2) Digital Value Chain

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Digital manufacturing and design are drawing attention from innovators and investors alike. Sometimes referred to as “Industry 4.0” (especially in Europe) or as the “Industrial Internet” (General Electric’s term), these labels reflect a basket of new digitally-enabled technologies that include advances in [a] production equipment (including 3-D printing, robotics, and adaptive CNC mills), [b] smart finished products (such as connected cars and others using the Internet of Things), and [c] data tools and analytics across the value chain.

These technologies are changing how things are designed, made, and serviced around the globe. In combination, they can create value by connecting individuals and machines in a new “digital thread” across the value chain—making it possible to generate, securely organize, and draw insights from vast new oceans of data. They hold the potential for disruptive change, analogous to the rise of consumer e-commerce. In 2010, when some two billion people connected online, the Internet contributed approximately $1.7 trillion to global GDP.  What’s in store when 50 billion smart machines—deployed across factory floors, through supply chains, and in consumers’ hands—can connect with one another?
Reference: Digitizing the value chain.

My intent in this article is neither to summarize it nor even comment on it.  Rather, I mean to prompt CEOs and their leadership teams to pause and reflect on their business and industry, their market and competition, and their people and resources vis-a-vis the advent of digital value chain.
  • How do you understand what is going on within and outside your company, and what is your experience of it, both individually and collectively?
  • What are gaps in your understanding, which require bridging, and what haven't you experienced, which require experiencing?
  • What meaning can you draw from such reflection and understanding, that is, in relation to the vision, the purpose, and the values that are at the heart and soul of your business? 
  • Besides your analytic or rational thinking hat, what does your intuitive, creative or non-rational brain say about all of this?  
  • What diverse or critical points of view do you need to engage in this reflection, that is, from your people, networks, advisers, competitors, customers, and resources?
  • What would you like to do about it, or more pointedly what do you need to do about it; that is, what is it that you aim to accomplish?
  • How can you best accomplish what you want and need to accomplish, given the capability, motivation and energy in your current and prospective people?
  • What other reflective questions do you need to ask yourselves?
So, instead of a summary from me, CEOs can read this short article themselves and come up with their own unique, relevant commentary.

Monday, April 27, 2015

CEO Reflections (1) Hyperscale Business

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At the extreme are hyperscale businesses that are pushing the new rules of digitization so radically that they are challenging conventional management intuition about scale and complexity. These businesses have users, customers, devices, or interactions numbered in the hundreds of millions, billions, or more. Billions of interactions and data points, in turn, mean that events with only a one-in-a-million probability are happening many times a day. 
Taken individually, each of these businesses seems like a special case. After all, how many companies can be like Google, which processes around four billion searches a day; Twitter, handling 500 million tweets a day; or Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce market, which facilitated 254 million orders in one day?
Reference: Competition at the digital edge: 'Hyperscale' business.

My intent in this article is neither to summarize it nor even comment on it.  Rather, I mean to prompt CEOs and their leadership teams to pause and reflect on their business and industry, their market and competition, and their people and resources vis-a-vis the advent of hyperscale business.
  • How do you understand what is going on within and outside your company, and what is your experience of it, both individually and collectively?
  • What are gaps in your understanding, which require bridging, and what haven't you experienced, which require experiencing?
  • What meaning can you draw from such reflection and understanding, that is, in relation to the vision, the purpose, and the values that are at the heart and soul of your business? 
  • Besides your analytic or rational thinking hat, what does your intuitive, creative or non-rational brain say about all of this?  
  • What diverse or critical points of view do you need to engage in this reflection, that is, from your people, networks, advisers, competitors, customers, and resources?
  • What would you like to do about it, or more pointedly what do you need to do about it; that is, what is it that you aim to accomplish?
  • How can you best accomplish what you want and need to accomplish, given the capability, motivation and energy in your current and prospective people?
  • What other reflective questions do you need to ask yourselves?
So, instead of a summary from me, CEOs can read this short article themselves and come up with their own unique, relevant commentary.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Christopher Vollmer (3) Digital Mistakes

Companies are not getting enough value out of their investments in digital. Christopher Vollmer, Managing Director for Strategy&’s Digital Services, shares the top three digital mistakes that are holding companies back.
The moral to the story that Vollmer relates is this:  Proceed with thought, caution and courage.  Indeed the successful general in the field of battle has a bias for action, but he engages in war thoughtfully and planfully, along with bravely and expediently.  Moreover, success depends on an ongoing review, and revision as necessary, of his battle plan, and not just his battle plan, but also his inner assumptions (beliefs) and desires (needs).  Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler stirred up national fervor among Germans in the last century, but their bellicose bent masked their grandiose persona.  It was the latter that was their downfall, and the cause of two generations of suffering and humiliation for their people, resulting from World War I and World War II. 

So before you as the CEO get caught up in action, such as a big investment in new technology, initiatives in digital transformation, and misguided focus in relation to customers, it is important to (Step 1) begin with the end in mind (clarify carefully what you're trying to achieve; (Step 2) walk backwards to map the pathways (i.e. from where you need to be to where you are now); and (Step 3) walk these pathways (act forthrightly and expediently, and also mindfully and honestly, on what it is you need to do to get from here to there).  These three steps comprise The Core Algorithm, and it is a meta-methodology for weighing digital transformation:  meta-, because The Core Algorithm puts vision and mission; priorities, aims and values; and people, their capabilities and potential before digital transformation, not necessarily to diminish the role or impact of the latter, but instead to put it in its proper context.  In other words, The Core Algorithm is a methodology for helping you determine what is indeed the best methodology to employ vis-a-vis your vision etc.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christopher Vollmer (2) Digital Trends

Looking to give your company a digital edge? Focus on the top three digital trends shaping the future – mobile, personalization, and data analytics. Watch Christopher Vollmer, Managing Director of Strategy& Digital Services, explain his key insights on how to get ahead in the digital race.
Vollmer does a fine job of simplifying and summarizing these digital trends.  However, the CEO appreciates that if his or her company wishes to embark on a digital transformation, then there has to be broader look and deeper dive into what these trends mean vis-a-vis the company.  Mobile is ubiquitous indeed, and hordes of companies are looking into or are being advised to look into it, in order to tease out market opportunities.  I think this poses two challenges: (a) How do you differentiate your insight, strategy and approach from those of your competitors, that are broadly and deeply eying these trends?  (b) Mobile is not the only device that customers are using, so where do traditional fare like desktops or laptops, even TV and radio fit for your target and prospective markets?

Personalization and data analytics really go hand in hand.  While Vollmer is right that companies ought to provide a personalized experience for their customers, this is a more complex, sensitive issue than he covered in short order.  From our social media activity, to our online itinerary and device usage, there is an unbelievable amount of information we, all of us, generate and companies ought to be licking their chops about how much they can know about us.  But how must they, or how can they, draw actionable insight and ensure business impact from a veritable googol of data?  Furthermore, whereas effective, value-add data analytics requires both statistical prowess and business savvy, personalization demands a judicious balance between access and privacy.  Too many companies over the past few years, from Google to Facebook, have breached customers' trust.  So how do you as the CEO create a personalized experience without being creepy, illegal or unethical?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Christopher Vollmer (1) Digital Disruption

It’s time to stop wasting money and start your company’s digital transformation. Christopher Vollmer, Managing Director of Strategy& Digital Services, explains how to start using digital to fuel your company’s growth today.
Digital disruption is, according to Vollmer, about (a) great change driven by technology, (b) huge business model and product innovation, and (c) significant changes in customer behavior.  The disruptor may be an up-and-coming start up or it may be a major player in an adjacent industry that, up until now, wasn't on your competitive radar.  In either case, if you're the CEO of an established company, you undoubtedly have a bulls eye on your back, and if you're standing still to boot, you make your company a much easier target for an upstart or a flank attack.

So what are you to do?  

First, it isn't just making improvements to your current business, but rather it's re-imagining how you do business, where you do business, and even what business you do.  Second, you must put digital at the center of your strategy.  I believe digital should be well within your radar, but what should be dead center depends a lot on your vision and mission; priorities, aims and values; and people, their capabilities and potential.  Finally, you must keep customers front and center.  The key phrase from Vollmer is human-centered design thinking.  You as the CEO must engage your company with customers on creating, testing and driving product and service development.  While Steve Jobs seem to have eschewed the very things Vollmer suggests, he had an uncanny ability to discern deeply what mattered the most to customers and he had the marketing prowess to convince them that Apple had what mattered the most to them.  Which is actually what Vollmer suggests.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cloud Computing (3) Business Priorities First

Cloud-based solutions can be sold into the lines of business, spun up on a credit card and never touch the technology team. Is this changing the role of IT?
Wow if the prediction that Chief Marketing Officers are likely to carve out a bigger technology budget by 2017 than their Chief Information Officer colleagues truly becomes a reality, it will radically alter the value, strategy and operations of said CIOs.  The gentlemen interviewed in the video were demure and diplomatic, to be sure, but if these CIOs don't act commensurate with this evolution in cloud computing, then they and their organizations will go the way of dinosaurs thousands of millennia ago.  For example, Tim White of Lundbeck referred to technology hurdle: In my experience technology organizations can be obstacles with their antiquated machinery and bureaucratic process.  So putting access to technology with more sophisticated tools and more efficient uses squarely in the hands of CMOs is indeed removing that hurdle.

Tim Minahan from SAP conveys a message that is worth emphasizing:  Don't think of cloud computing as rip and replace, that is, as simply migrating the same old tools and applications from local servers to centralized ones (i.e. the cloud).  Instead, review strategy and operations carefully, and make informed decisions on how to enhance the overall business process vis-a-vis such priorities as strong customer relations and experiences.  For one, it may mean keeping certain tools and applications where they are, but then drawing on the cloud to extend their impact.  It may also mean reviewing and modifying our business models.  In other words, using the language of The Core Algorithm, cloud computing must serve business ends and it must not be the end in itself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cloud Computing (2) Data, Services and Technology

Cloud computing’s true value to business is becoming clearer by the day: faster innovation, new collaboration platforms and new engagement models are all creating a better customer experience.
Just as colleagues and managers in an organization can share knowledge via cloud computing, so can customers do their research, collaborate with others, and tap social media before making any decision to purchase products or services from that organization.  The old sales and marketing campaign long fell by the wayside, it seemed, with the emergence of Google and Wikipedia, plus Facebook and Twitter.  The evolution of customer behavior and experience prompted - undoubtedly drove - the need for more specialized data, more real-time apps, and more sophisticated technology, all of which, for small to medium size enterprises, may be too cost-prohibitive to acquire outright.  I see more clearly now than before that cloud computing is rife with options and reach.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cloud Computing (1) From Knowledge to Customers

click to watch the video

I imagine that for some CEOs, cloud computing remains too nebulous (pun intended, that is, in the form of a cloud or haze) to have practical impact and business value.  A few years ago, cloud computing sounded more like a centralized data storage, such as that provided by Dropbox, Drive and iCloud. So instead of relying on our personal (local) hard drive, we can draw on a far greater space for whatever document, image or video we want to store.  But these days, cloud computing provides far more: It is an online access to a wide range of computer services and resources.  So the definition of what cloud computing is, in a nutshell, has evolved.   

That said, I wondered what mechanisms more specifically does cloud computing offer or enable for engaging more effectively with customers.

Here is my take: At a fundamental level, cloud computing allows colleagues and managers to share their knowledge, for example, from files stored in a place that they can access.  Of course, for true learning to take place, they would have to (a) reflect on and talk  through whatever is contained in those files, (b) make sense of it and draw conclusions, then (c) take better informed, coordinated action on issues.  I suspect that T-Mobile, the case example that Tim Minihan from SAP spoke to, drew on this cloud-enabled learning to gather critical data on customer churn and employed cloud-based analytic tools to identify factors that directly impacted churn.  In this case, then, cloud computing helped T-Mobile better engage customers who were at risk for leaving.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kalia Firester on Science (and Art)

Kalia Firester certainly sounds like a bright, poised young lady, and deserving of this Intel award, meant to encourage girls to go into science and technology.  Her project already sounds positively academic, but I am glad she explained it well in layperson language.  I hope, though, that just as she speaks against the risks of using pesticides, she is mindful, too, of the potential risks of engineering plants.  I hope she has advisers who can dive into the scientific process and also step back to keep the bigger picture in mind. 

Firester makes a terrific point at the end: People may draw arbitrary lines between science and art, when in fact some, like her, possess interests and talent in both. 

The interplay of science and art, plus religion is at the crux of Tripartite Model.  In brief, I argue that while people certainly have the choice, and have chosen, to ground their lifetime work on one of these disciplines, we must draw on any or all three to solve day-to-day problems and wider ranging, social issues, such as poverty, disease, conflict and environment.  For example, we ought not rely solely on a scientific, analytic approach, when people in general are both rational and non-rational in thought, emotion and behavior.  Also, we can laud how clever and creative artists are, regardless of genre, but we ought not rely exclusively on an intuitive, subjective way of understanding ourselves and the world around us.  Finally, whether we define religion in strict terms, for instance, according to Christianity, Islam or Judaism, or in broad strokes, such as spirituality, purpose and meaning, we not ought get swept up with a purely religious frame of reference.

All three - science, art and religion - have an intricate play in a more complete grasp of things around us and in a more effective way forward with these things.  In essence, this is what Firester speaks to. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Patricia Arquette on Gender Equity and Narratives

Like musicians and athletes, actors have a privileged platform from which to speak good and do good.  Their renown, if drawn on sincerely, wisely and actively, can advance whatever philanthropic effort they and others are engaged in.  So it is for actress Patricia Arquette, who recently won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Boyhood.  I very much agree with her that people have already had a lot of conversation about pay equity for women and that it is time to really make something happen.

For Arquette, it happens through her medium, her art, and after nearly 30 years of acting, her renown as an Oscar winner.  To her point, Hollywood may have largely ignored the narrative of a single mother who worked her ass off to raise her children.  Movers and shakes in Tinseltown better listen, then, or else they lose sight of something that, as I mentioned in the preceding article, can make them money and let them do a social good at the same time.  Nowadays, with social media and mobile technology so freely at our disposal, there are so many ways that people are speaking to whatever moves them.  There is no excuse, therefore, for those Tinseltown titans not to listen and make something (doubly) good happen.

By the way, Richard Linklater, the genius behind the very thoughtful films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, is also the writer and director for Boyhood.  I am inspired by the very unlikely, very creative approach he took to making this film:

Shooting the film spanned across a 12-year period from 2002 to 2014, Boyhood depicts the adolescence of Mason Evans, Jr. (Coltrane) from ages six to eighteen as he grows up in Texas with divorced parents (Arquette and Hawke). Richard Linklater's daughter Lorelei plays Mason's sister, Samantha.

The project began filming without a completed script, with only basic plot points and the ending written initially. Linklater developed the script throughout production, writing the next year's portion of the film after rewatching the previous year's footage. He incorporated changes he saw in each actor into the script, while also allowing all major actors to participate in the writing process by incorporating their life experiences into their characters' stories.
Arquette must've felt very fortunate to have worked with Linklater, and of course vice versa, too.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Julianne Moore + Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis: L’Oréal

I've always found Julianne Moore to be a graceful, talented and beautiful actress.  While her recent Academy Award for Best Actress in the inspiring film Still Alice can be celebrated, it is merely one marker in an oeuvre that spans 25 years.  In other words, this Oscar acknowledges the quality of her work, but it doesn't define it. 

I wasn't acquainted with Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, until now.  She founded Classes 4 Classes:
Classes4Classes was founded on the belief that when we teach kids empathy and tolerance there is no room for hate.

We provide a social network that connects teachers and students with other classrooms. What better way to enhance teaching and learning a true social curriculum than by connecting?
Then, I learned about her story, in her own words:  Teaching Compassion After the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting:
In the days and weeks following December 14, 2012 I was left reeling. I was searching for answers (that would never come), desperately trying to regain a sense of security and safety. I was desperately yearning to return to the life I knew on December 13th, one that seemed a world away. Eventually I came to realize that I was never going to answer why; not then, not now, not ever. In coming to this realization I had to instead focus my energy on questions that I could answer. One stood out from the rest, and that question was, 'How do I make sure this day does not come to define my students or myself?' I didn't know the answer right away, but I knew I had to find it.
The answer for Roig-DeBellis was Classes 4 Classes, and in 2013 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth and Points of Light Honor 10 Inspiring Women Making Beautiful Differences in their Communities:
Bound by a deep sense of purpose and appetite for change, this group of women will join the community of 70 esteemed Women of Worth honorees from the past eight years. Tackling society’s most pressing issues, from helping victims in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, to enabling terminally ill seniors accomplish their bucket lists, to building a nonprofit restaurant that helps at-risk youth learn life skills, the 2013 Women of Worth honorees are united in their quest to fuel the future.
And back to Moore:
An Oscar winning actress, Julianne is the essence of the modern woman - natural, independent, and committed. 
Her beauty transcends the generations and her firm beliefs have made her an incredibly inspiring figure.
"I am honoured to convey the idea of self-confidence with the motto Because You’re Worth it."

A major figure in the movie world, she is the essence of the modern woman: at once natural, independent, and committed. Today, L’Oréal Paris is delighted to welcome her as the Brand’s Global Ambassador.
It is my firm belief that making money (business) and doing good (philanthropy) are two sides of the same coin.  Each under girds the other, and each is an essential part of the purpose for the other.  For example, the spirit of business ought to be philanthropy, and philanthropy sustains itself by adopting an effective means for making money (i.e. business model).

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ram Charan and Jerry Useem on Why Companies Fail

(image credit)
June 13th 2002 notes on leadership, business and economics

Why Companies Fail is a persuasive article: It speaks to the fundamental fallibility of the human psyche, and despite the fact that the CEO is the powerful head of a company, his or her psyche is no less fallible than yours or mine.

Here are authors Ram Charan and Jerry Useem's take on the failure factors: 
  1. Softened by success
  2. See no evil
  3. Fearing the boss more than the competition
  4. Overdosing on risk
  5. Acquisition lust
  6. Listening to Wall Street more than employees
  7. Strategy du jour
  8. A dangerous corporate culture
  9. The new-economy death spiral
  10. A dysfunctional board
Why is it that very smart, highly accomplished individuals fail to appreciate the import of negative signs? In part, it is because they are smart (and successful) that they can read a sign, and flat-out rationalize it, minimize it, deny it.

Cognitive Dissonance argues that people will work to reconcile discrepant information in ways that shape their beliefs and perceptions powerfully. They come to believe their reconciliation because it removes the discrepancy.  It reinforces not only of the re-formulated belief, but also the very process of cognition, because it removes the highly discomforting tension, anxiety, or other dysphoric emotion.

Another way of explaining it: It is a failure of the ego to do its function as reality check and the executor of adaptive behavior. It is also a failure of, or a squelching of, the superego to put the ethics-transgression check on the decisions and actions of the ego.

What makes these two important psychic agents fail? 
  • Too powerful id impulses (greed, aggression, pleasure).
  • Weakened states of ego and superego, due to high stress, constant pressure, little rest and recovery.
  • Fundamental deficits in the ego and superego, arising from missing or insufficient nurturing of these agents in an earlier life stage.
  • Defensive mechanisms deployed to guard against some underlying, unconscious anxiety, and the intensity and the endurance of the anxiety necessitate an equally entrenched set of defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms serve its purpose of keeping the ego at some level of comfort and equilibrium, but at the expense of its optimal functioning.
Charan and Useem’s quick fixes:
  • Re-engineer the board
  • Turn employees into corporate governors
  • Banish EBITDA
The CEO can certainly engage in ego- and superego-strengthening activities. Also, the CEO can install key people who can effectively assume ego and superego functioning for the the CEO.

This sort of people installation really ought to be a group that can withstand the powerful pathological forces that swirl around the CEO. Alternatively, it can be a group that is outside the CEO’s organization altogether.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

McKinsey on The War for Talent

(image credit)

April 30th 2002 notes on leadership, business and economics

I finally began to read this book during our Saudi Aramco trip. I know I must read more books, especially those that top business people out there read. I must read more books to build my knowledge, my vocabulary, my thinking about the things that are critical to my work as a PDI consultant, that is, in the broadest sense: their business, their organization, their talent.

Michaels et al. identify five imperatives that companies must act on, if they are to win the managerial war for talent. In a nutshell these are the imperatives that high-performing companies have already woven into their organizations, in some form or other:
  1. Embrace a talent mindset
  2. Craft a winning employee value proposition
  3. Rebuild your recruiting strategy
  4. Weave development into your organization
  5. Differentiate and affirm your people

Establish a talent mindset
  • Establish the gold standard for talent
  • Get actively involved in people decision deep within the organization
  • Drive a simple, probing talent review process
  • Instill a talent mindset in all managers through the organization
  • Invest real money in talent
  • Hold themselves and their managers accountable for the strength of the talent pools they build
Case Study: Les Wexner of The Limited

Began in 1963, The Limited grew to be a “retail and marketing marvel” under Wexner stewardship. By 1990, it had 3800 stores and $5 billion in sales. But in the 1990s, its earnings hit the wall and its stock plunged. Wexner was beside myself.

So with the access he had with top people, he went about to speak to them about what they were doing to run their companies so well: Jack Welch (GE, of course), Wayne Callaway (PepsiCo), and Steven Spielberg (director). Wexner found that, unlike him, they hardly spent time checking sales, reviewing new ads, or working on new product concepts.

But what did they do with most of their time? They said they spent about half their time on people:
  • Recruiting new talent
  • Picking the right people for particular positions
  • Grooming young stars
  • Developing global managers
  • Dealing with underperformers
  • Reviewing the entire talent pool
Wexner not only gained insight on the criticality of a talent mindset and talent management, but also quickly adopt these and implemented them:

1. He worked with his HR people to list the company’s top 100 senior people and take stock of each of them.

2. He hired Len Schlesinger, an HBS professor, as a consultant and confidante, to help him put together a talent review process.

3. He then began to pump the organization with new talent, probably head-hunting other major organizations, including their competitors: Estee Lauder, Banana Republic, J. Crew, and The Gap. He also grabbed talent from Pillsbury, PepsiCo, and BellSouth.

Over three years, more than half of the top 250 positions were changed. One-third of the replacements were from the outside, and two-thirds from the inside.

Results: Profits grew from $250 to $445 M, and the company’s stock price almost doubled.

Wexner declared:
I used to pick sweaters; now I pick people.
Reference:  The War for Talent.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Security and Strategy in the Post-9/11 World

(image credit)

April 25th 2002 notes on leadership, business and economics

Ralph Schrader and Mike McConnell, senior executives at Booz Allen Hamilton, lay out the harsh reality of our post-September 11th world. At the same time, they lay out hope for thriving in such a world. An integrated dance (my word) between security and strategy is the key.

Security must be built into core processes, budgeting cycles, and strategic planning, not just bolted on. Here are the key areas to secure:
  • People (“The implications for recruitment, retention, and productivity are real”)
  • Core business (systems, facilities, infrastructure [assets, really], and processes)
  • Networks
Peter Drucker identified four key sources of disruption:
  1. Globalization (of the economy)
  2. Technology (explosion of new technologies)
  3. Pluralism (growth of pluralism)
  4. Knowledge (emergence of knowledge as an asset)
Nokia is a good case example:
The peril for the unprepared can be profound---as can the opportunity for ready competitors [Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson of Sweden v. Nokia Corporation of Finland; p 40].
A fire in the New Mexico semiconductor plant of Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV disrupted their supply of chips, and Nokia officials noticed a hiccup in the product flow even before Philips informed them. They acted immediately to bring in their chief supply troubleshooter, and within two weeks a global team of 30 officials patched together a solution:
  • Redesigned chips
  • Accelerated a project to boost production
  • Used its company clout to get more chips from other suppliers
Result: Nokia gained three share points, and Ericsson not only lost the same but also ended up exiting the handset market.

Booz Allen Hamilton has used strategic simulations to analyze conflict situations. In a well defined scenario, teams of client personnel (and consulting personnel, I imagine) represent the key forces, methods, or ideologies in question and compete against one another.

Idea: Contact Lou Quast and Cori Hill about how to leverage this in our client work. I believe Active Leader builds off of such thinking. Perhaps PDI senior management might utilize it to strengthen its business.

For example, Caterpillar has used strategic simulations to break the truck market into several segments. The experienced executives who took part
did not know how much they knew about what they marketplace wanted until they matched wits against one another [p 40].
Schrader and McConnell make a persuasive argument about the importance of companies partnering with government and other public organizations. In the age of fear and insecurity, both need to be on the same side and not be foes.

For instance, Chevron partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to ensure environmental compliance as it developed oil and gas reserves in the eastern half of New Guinea.
“The environment inside the oil fields is actually in much better shape than outside the fields,” said Jared Diamond.
Idea: I see Scott Alford and I going to a Chicago official and exploring ways that PDI can help ensure security for the people in the city.

Reference: Security and Strategy in the Age of Discontinuity: A Management Framework for the Post-9/11 World.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wendell Weeks on Broadband Transforming Internet

Wendell Weeks

April 18th 2002 notes on leadership, business and economics
Do people really value high-quality connections?
Absolutely. We always want the highest-quality connection we can have. Why don’t we use more videoconferencing? Because the quality of the connection is so poor. We value connection to the point where you’ll get on a plane and use a day for a two-hour meeting that you could have done in a video conference, but didn’t - because videoconferencing isn’t good enough.
Wendell Weeks is the President of Corning Optical Communications. His point is that while the investment community is skeptical right now of fiber optics, he believes in the innate value of optical technology for the things that people and businesses need. 

He also appears to have a really good handle on the supply-and-demand phenomenon of business and on the larger business landscape:

Corning Optical Communications is restarting to manufacture fiber because optical-fiber inventories of their customers have come down to a “level appropriate to our ongoing order rate. Restarting production will match our operations to demand.”

To his credit, Weeks does not view the lowered inventory and increased orders as a signal that the market has turned around. Instead, more reasonably, he views these as warranting the statement: “business conditions are not worsening.” 

Weeks does believe that broadband will transform the Internet. Fiber optics is, of course, the vehicle by which more and more things go through fatter and fatter pipes (broadband) at much higher speeds than they could otherwise in the old telephone lines. Broadband will provide the “visual richness” (and speed, of course) that people value dearly in their efforts to connect.

He acknowledges that people got on the Internet bandwagon without really thinking through the needs and implications of their business: “People began to shift everything over to the Internet without paying attention to fundamental economics, such as having [the market] to actually pay for it [e.g., Netzero, "Defenders of the free world”]. Then classic economics stepped in, and the capital markets stopped giving money to every idea. First everything was good; not it’s all bad. It’ll [all] even itself out.”

Reference: French, T.D. & Subramaniam, S. (April 2002). The future of fiber. The McKinsey Quarterly.