Kindled Meme

– exploring the purpose of connection


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EverNote – the place information goes to die?

I saw a tweet a few weeks ago and it talked about how Evernote is the information cul-de-sac – the dead-end – the place where knowledge goes to die and rots down.

It made me think about my own note storage – what I keep and develop and what I share.

“Sometimes people are more open when the context is closed”  Makes sense – I don’t want you to read my stream of consciousness on Evernote – but that info doesn’t die either.

I have just found this quote in one folder I am guarding over – but Im letting this nugget back out – letting it come up for air.

I think I screen grabbed it from a Jive webinar – who knows – sometimes some stuff just “sticks”.  I like it.

Wise men say – we reflect

 

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Yahoo’s workplace pivot – Distance is bad

Marissa Mayer has caused a disturbance this week with the comments about making her workforce come into the office.

In a digital world where we are always on and always connected, the idea of locking someone to a desk seems backwards and not in keeping with a company trying to create itself a new future. When trying to balance up the value behind the Yahoo CEO’s moves, seeing Donald Trump backing these moves confirms the action is more aligned to industrial thinking than the digital era.

You would expect in our social age with a glut of collaboration and communication tools that we don’t need to be in the same location to do great work. The 37 Signals guys are spread all over the world and anyone who works for a tech company pretty much expects to be remote. We’ve got Hangouts and Skype for a focused ‘synchronous’ exchange and circles, yammer and email for all the other bits. There are plenty of ways to be ‘glued’ these days.

The bigger question here is what has Mayer found that needs fixing – not the choice of action.

We know we do our best work when fully engaged when we’ve got great colleagues, great products to work with and customers that are believers in what we do. That can happen whether we’re in the same office or virtually – its about having a purpose to what we do. So whats missing at Yahoo?

What’s missing in the mindset to makes it a creative and collaborative environment – a place that’s action-oriented and start banging out products ad services that people need, want and want to talk about. What have Yahoo got in their ‘unwritten rules of the game’ that is blocking the CEO’s progress – when she is putting a stake in the ground I wonder what it is that she is trying to stamp out. And what happened to the trust – the T-word that is at the centre of all collaborative work – whether near or far.

When looking into collaborative climate in organisations one piece of research that my professor on Knowledge Management pointed me towards captures the core of what is needed to be effective. These guys – Sveiby and Simons – set down a number of key dimensions to being collaborative and having people pull together.

Older is better – connecting the right people to act requires social networks within organisations that junior staffers don’t yet have

Power is knowledge – junior ranking staff do not have the influencing skills to shape their environment

Big is Better – SME’s are not as good as large firms as finding and distributing knowledge within the company

Distance is bad – initiatives that bring us closer should be profitable investments

Private is better – Public institutions are simply not as effective at knowledge sharing as private companies

Social networks, influence, sharing knowledge, proximity and effective connection of resources – at a macro level all these themes resonate with the wider digital and social environment we live within today. The goals of a collaborative climate resonate with the best digital behaviours of the social media savvy. We live in collaborative times.

And yet “Distance is Bad” does not sit so easily. And when Mayer brings her staffers back to HQ this is what she is eliminating. Surely technology has bridged this gap – is distance really a blocker these days. Trust is built through micro-interactions, project sharing is effective through Yammer conversations and the water cooler conversations are now replaced by instagram ‘likes’ and twittersphere downtime.

The Sveiby research was conducted 10 years ago – but has our Social Era technology blown away that point?

Or is it the case that you can only do great collaborative work when a group of folk are ‘connected’? Joined by a leader, a purpose or a vision – and maybe supported by common geography.

Are we getting distracted by the ‘What’ and ‘How’ of Marissa Mayers actions and not yet know the ‘why’? There has got to be a reason behind her choice. What is missing in Yahoo right now that needs recalibrating before the trust and climate come back.

And thinking laterally…. if I had the chance to be in an office with Marissa Mayer I would be taking it – wouldn’t you?


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Strategic questions – rethinking winning

I spent today talking strategy with a guy who lives and breaths it – intent on using it to push through a lasting change to the way his company serves its community. And so a post by Roger Martin on the HBR blog today came at me at a useful time.

Roger says that strategy is making of an integrated set of choices – positioning the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage relative to competition and deliver superior financial returns. He encourages people to answer 5 simple questions in a strategy – and he makes a separation between building budgets and delivery plans (which most people confuse as strategy) from the informed clarity of a strategy that sets direction for a period ahead.

Rogers questions are familiar – its the ‘Traditional Strategy’ view – about resources and winning – which Nilofer Merchant has declared as dead.

Nilofer questions whether this self-serving view of strategy is still valid in todays world and looks rationally at the role of collaboration and communities and their co-dependence. This coupling of organisations is know to drive innovation and offer all kinds of benefits as part of a business model – and a strategy is more about a company being ‘coupled’ than about the firm winning alone.

I like Nilofer’s contrarian views and in many cases agree with her – Ive seen the impact and opportunity in innovation partnerships in the UK  – people working as complements to each other can be a real asset and open up opportunities well beyond the capabilities of a single firm competing solely upon its own resources.

Yet, if a firm is resource-rich its theory of business will be grounded in making the most of what its got and controlling all that you need internally – removing ambiguity, being planful and  being in control. The guy I was meeting with today was within a multinational bank – you can be sure he has resources.

I recently found this video by Clay Shirky talking about the communites in the software industry – a great speaker –  he talks about how value is created in loosely-coupled but strongly aligned open-source communities. If you like control and your own resources this doesn’t compute. He makes fun of guys at AT&T who didnt get the open philosophy – about how you can be ‘porous’ to external value.

“They didn’t care that they had seen it work in practice becasue they already knew it wouldn’t work in theory”

It depends how you see the world – and its a strategic choice as to how you leverage partners, customers, suppliers and your own staff. Getting intimate, listening and learning, and acting in close-step with external groups around your business is not for everyone – but the evidence is there that it pays off.

Roger’s article says Strategy is about answering 5 questions – and hurrah – you should  be able to do that on less than 5 pages. Not because strategy is light weight – but because the choices it captures are built upon solid thinking, research and market insights.

When you have the facts to hand – the killer choices you should make become much clearer.

Rogers 5 questions are these:

What is our winning aspiration

Where will we play

How will we win

What capabilities need to be in place;

What management systems must be instituted

When I think of Rogers focus on winning I think of the anecdotes from Prussian military strategy that my MBA taught. Its pretty clear its about winning – with stories of fools that get it wrong.

Rogers questions are not the same questions that my Prof challenged us to ask – but then there is no one dominant way to do strategy. No one model that is correct – we accept all have strengths and weaknesses. All though, are good at framing an inquiry amongst teams and offer a common language make sense of our worlds and structure our choices.

And when I think of Nilofers perspective of how strategy needs to change, I think of new business models with the Key Partners and emerging social business channels that are shaping the world today. Both need engagement, shared beliefs and some degree of trust to make them work.

We still need to win but we will be doing it through others – sharing risk and co-building value. When I look at the ‘TS’ perspective – about the resource-based view of strategy – about finance, IP, assets that you have as the basis of a plan- these are all still valid – but relational capacity is about to become so much more important – culture, attitude and collaborative beliefs that underpin our reputation as good people to do business with.

For my part I believe that traditional strategy is still valid we just have to rethink how we define winning – keeping our eyes on creating and unlocking value and less focus on spilling our competitors blood on the streets.

For a bit of cheeky fun – check out Nilofer Merchants obituary to traditional strategy below.

And this is the link to Roger Martins Blog that started off my reflection.

Nilofer-Obituary-for-traditional-strategy


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The ten year old leader – moving mountains

Every collaboration needs a leader. To start with he might look unlikely – but when the cause is compelling people will step up.

Its not always about moving mountains but it can make a change – get people to step out into the rain and work together. Create a moment that connects and builds smiles. Be comfortable walking it alone to start with – change and leadership is not about fitting in.

Some old doozies will of course sleep through the whole thing and miss the event. But we didn’t need them anyway.

Enjoy this video – share it and talk to it. A beautiful metaphor.


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Influencing the UK’s Innovation – Collaboration with the TSB

The are many factors that compel companies to work together on their innovation programmes – learning and exploration of new markets and technologies, or tapping into each others resources and capabilities. But in the UK – when asking SME business leaders what gives them the push to collaborate – the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and its grant funded innovation schemes is a major driver for being part of the UK innovation ecosystem.

While ‘Open Innovation’ is often cited in academic literature as being tough for SME’s  – they have a “liability of smallness” and don’t have power and influence in their industry or the resources and maturity of multi-nationals – none of that is a barrier for agile and adventurous UK SME companies – and the path to collaboration is made all the easier due to the policy choices of this UK government body.

When performing the literature review for my own research, the world of innovation and collaboration throws up lots of lessons – but when trying to pin down the academic understanding of “What drives successful inter-firm collaboration?” – government intervention was not what I was looking for.

But during 12 semi-structured interviews ‘The TSB” kept emerging. I’m all for the force of innovation and collaboration – but I found that effective macro-economic policy also plays a part in supporting the UK as a place to be ‘open’ in innovation.

Out of twelve C-level interviews, eleven of the candidate use TSB funding.

This is what they said:

“I mean the Technology, Strategy board, actually is probably a fantastic example of enabling Open Innovation in UK because of all the TSB funded projects. We’ve done one –  we’ve been involved in three big ones and we’ve got a fourth one where we are putting the final application in now.  And they’re obviously, you know, you have a collaboration agreement, you have a number of companies involved and they’re very good at getting people working together.  Maybe companies are not being as open as they could be, they don’t have to be totally open, but they do get people sitting around together and talking which is very good.”

“The TSB is picking up a large chunk of the role of the US VC fund because we don’t quite have the same investment culture here. A lot of the early-stage investors have gone away. We don’t quite have the investment culture here in the UK.”

“I must keep highlighting that the Technology Strategy Board has a key role to play – they are pretty good – they could probably do even more if they have more money – but they are a big help – the key mechanism for driving businesses to work with other businesses.”

The TSB and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and the “_connect” infrastructure also uncover potential new markets

“We are member of a couple of the knowledge transfer networks. We are just in receipt of a confirmation letter from the TSB for a collaborative activity around an innovative use of our equipment.”

While the TSB has formal programmes these can be used to support growth in venturing too

“We have used our IP to form a new company that was done with a TSB grant. We licensed some of our IP into that new company. That company was established and we together assigned a value to the IP that we took as a stake in the company as part of the funding round.”

Working under TSB requirements also give a structure to a partnership and can set out key terms, boundaries and expectations:

“You have to start to be very careful about co-creating explicit IP and if you actually expect to create protected IP. We will do that but we have to go through more detailed negotiations. It tends to be more of the TSB funded grant where you have to make sure that everything is notified in advance. This is inconvenient but we have done it and it’s fairly surmountable and were also on an EU grant at the moment where these things have to be codified in advance.”

The TSB funding is UK-centric – the world may becoming ‘flat’ – but the stimulus is local. Yet opportunity is frames by such boundaries

“Up comes this call for TSB funding and we looked at them and thought this is just perfect for the first time ever I am looking at TSB opportunity that fits exactly what we need and we’ve managed to find UK manufacturing partners and fabricators who are willing to partner in that.”

“I think what the TSB do is fine, within the terms of their remit. The problem is they are not on a firm footing – they are bounded to support UK-only partnerships – and the industrial base of this country has been so badly damaged. If you look at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany there are so many of them – such a fertile ground because there are just so many small family run manufacturing businesses within with an interest in innovation within Germany.”

Often Universities can be good partners – but more than that the TSB encourages this connection:

“There’s this one particular project I’m working on well with thinking of setting up a knowledge transfer partnership which would involve the University so we’re looking at a particular case because the university have access to a particular expertise that we want to benefit from.”

“You sometimes need a university when you go after aspects of different funding, you need a university partners sometimes to access the funding. If they see ‘multinational company’, ‘service company’ and ‘university’ together then they will fund it if you bring in all three parties.”

“We have had two TSB grants to work with Universities on for Cambridge and one for UCL and we have an ongoing relationship there.”

Buts its not just TSB funding –  early stage and highly innovative companies in the bio-tech, chemical, medical device and  software also tap into Research Council grants such as EPSRC ,and EU sources of funding permit partnerships beyond the UK.

In the future we see us doing more of our own in-house product development its just and we have programmes in place to do that but again these are grant funded through EU  funding that we have been able to secure –   we just cant justify the cost of doing that on from investor capitol.

Under the auspices of framework 6 and 7 programs of European Union funded activities we have developed new techniques  new service and products.

The choice and approach to funding was strategic and not just a form filling exercise – there are many stakeholders that can help drive your choices  and for those that scan the globe in search of knowledge you may build partnerships that allow you to tap into schemes such as DARPA – a practice that has been very successful for some UK businesses as these guys show here.

Understanding funding and its role in innovation is clearly a strategic capability in the UK and Europe.

While innovation partnerships are talked of as burdens on the SME (transactional costs) – leveraging the TSB with the right partners is a rite of passage for the UK innovators I interviewed – connecting knowledge, businesses and facilitating conversation and structured outcomes.

Having a government intervention is not the ideal of free-market efficiencies – but it does seem to making up for market failings – it gives the collaboration conversation some real teeth.

Business was always about scarce resources – with this funding strategy it seems the open innovators are finding what they need.

Well done TSB.