Given the blistering rate of change, increasingly savvy consumers, and a noisy market, businesses must change the way they engage customers, particularly for new product innovation. Here, the requirements are nebulous, ever-evolving, and customers have as vague a notion of what they really need as their suppliers do. There are tools for navigating this grey-zone of ambiguity. One of them is co-creation.
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Robustness vs. Resilience

An awesome slide presentation from Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge. Black Swan Events, Power Law Distributions, and Pareto. Enjoy!

Moving from a system designed for robustness to one that supports resilience represents a significant strategic shift. Whilst systems have commonly been designed to be robust – systems which are designed to prevent failure – increasing complexity and the difficulty it poses to fail-proof planning have made a shift to “resilience” strategically imperative. A resilient system on the other hand accepts that failure is inevitable and focuses instead on early discovery and fast recovery from failure.

The Longitude Problem

Expert entrainment is both good and bad depending on the domain in which it is applied. Dave Snowden‘s video explains why. Not only is this instructive, it is humorous. The main points I took away were:

  1. Despite having a plausible theory and good empirical proof, uptake of a new idea is not a slam-dunk. External pressure is needed to to drive change in many instances.
  2. Mental filters cloud our thinking. Adapting one set of mental tools to solve a problem in another domain can fail when you are operating the complex domain.
  3. And finally, the Welsh discovered America.

Leading change effectively means dealing with expert entrainment by adding competing perspectives. Enjoy…

Fons Trompenaars on Cultural Leadership and Innovation

I’ve been a fan of Fons Trompenaars ever since I read the book “Riding the Waves of Culture” about a decade ago. See the Books page on this blog for a link. Enjoy these two short videos by Dr. Trompernaars.

Multicultural leadership is about reconciling the differences in culture.

Innovation also leverages cultural diversity.

Software – Artistic and Innovative Expression

Creating great software is a lot like creating great music. Both require skill, practice, and technical knowledge. Both require creative thinking, collaboration and involve good judgment. Both have an end-customer. Both have a user-experience.

As software professionals we have deadlines. So do musicians. I think about being in a studio, engineer behind the console, producer on the clock, and you gotta create. Pressure… You often hear about the emotional war that takes place between band members, in many respects similar to what software teams go through. You want to add that great new riff you invented, and you search for a place to insert it but sometimes, you just have to save it for another day because it adds weight without value. Similarly, code bloat also occurs because a team member wants to make something cool happen in the code that does not add value. We often hear the words that musicians should “check their egos at the door”. This was made famous by Bob Geldof during Band Aid, the huge Ethiopian famine relief benefit. Bob insisted that the event was not about the musicians, but about helping those in need. As software professionals we can all take a page from that book. Set our egos aside. Create something of value for our customers. Celebrate the success together. Learn from our experience and make the next one even better.

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Collaborative Innovation with Customers

About a year ago I watched a TED talk on collaborative innovation by Charles Leadbeater. I just watched it again. It’s good to be reminded of the roots of great ideas that turn into markets for millions of consumers. Does it pay to collaborate with your customers?

Users define the experience they want. The experience emerges from what appears to be a disorganized band of consumers who work with each other, and with collaborative suppliers to cobble together the experience they want from a product. It starts with dissatisfaction with what is currently on the market, and the desire to scratch that itch. The biggest payoffs in innovation come from ideas with the biggest uncertainty. In large companies, the incentives for these high risk-high return ventures are limited. Companies that want to profit from innovation need to understand that collaboration with Customers is the key to generating the next killer product. This goes to the heart of Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation from the Agile Manifesto. The first iterations of these new product ideas become full-fledged commercial products over time. Leadbeater cites a few examples in his talk including SMS and mountain bikes.

If you work in a large corporation, start asking yourself how you can engage dissatisfied end-users and start a dialogue that leads to collaborative co-design. Traditional large organizations are not set up to work this way. Leadbeater explains why. If your R&D is far-removed from your customers, you’ll struggle to have this experience.

One of the reasons I champion Agile methods in my company is the highly collaborative and interactive experience I have had over the past five years in the Korean market. My Korean customers demand face time, interaction, collaboration, and co-development. What we learned in Korea has helped us build better, more robust wireless telephony networks for our other customers around the world.

Watch the talk, and then ask yourself, where’s my itchy Customer?