Steve Jobs & Keeping Silos from Abusing Their Power

I was pondering Steve Jobs’ legacy again recently. And I continue to be fascinated that he showed that integrating less advanced, but more solid, technologies can deliver far more consumer power than exotic technological advancement. In a sense, with much of Apple’s work integration IS the innovation. And in doing so, Jobs showed that being jack of all trades is often the only way to deliver something exceptional.

But Succeeding with Integration isn’t Easy. In the Isaacson biography of Jobs, I was fascinated by how hard he had to work to keep the drive for perfection within silo’s (where, often the product must be perfect according to each silo’s criteria) from destroying good product. And I’d guess some of his well-documented rudeness comes from the frustration of this challenge.

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Kickstarter Mythology Needs Some Retail Reality


Kickstarter mythology has outgrown reality.

(But let me be very clear. I’m NOT talking about Kickstarter art, music, and movie projects. It was designed for these and they seem to be running pretty well overall.)

I’m talking about Kickstarter campaigns that raise money by Directly Selling new Products that have never been built – and taking orders for lots of them. In the computer business we used to call this selling vaporware and investing in businesses dedicated to vaporware led to the dotcom crash. Segway and Google Glass were both massive vaporware disasters.

Now, by selling vaporware with Kickstarter, we’re seeing amazing train wrecks among the most highly successful money raising campaigns. These train wrecks are all made possible by the mythologies that drive Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites. (Incidentally, a comment below points out this is a far more dramatic version of the direct mail practice of “dry testing”. There is already FTC guidance on dry testing.)

The Mythology of Kickstarter for Inventors. Inventor mythology starts with a belief that it’s enough to come up with a good idea and some money to build it. And Kickstarter appears to “unshackle” inventors so this can happen.
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Where There’s New Media Smoke, There’s Usually a Smoke Machine

I modified a JFK attributed quote for this title. But also thought another modification explains a lot about one of the biggest hassles in modern marketing:

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually deep pockets writing a check.

Marketers today are pummeled with smoke — especially about new media, brand love, and about big data. And there’s a reason the smoke is so thick… There’s a set of big companies, venture startups, and VCs that think they can make big money by selling these ideas. And that opens their checkbooks wide.

But just because the checkbook is open doesn’t mean they’re selling anything important. All it means is that a pile of VENDORS stand to make big money if they can only convince you that what they have is important. (Most often they’re the ONLY ones making money through the idea.)
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Is Disruption the Most Important Model for Innovation?

The theory of “Disruptive Innovation” is an idea that has come to dominate business. Why? Business pundits and consultants would tell us it points the way to the strongest business success. iStock_000017829020Medium

Except I think there’s a different truth. The thing the disruption theory does most reliably is give you a great way to sell your business to funding sources, to the press (who LOVE a great disruption story), or to that narrow niche of customers who passionately hate the “old ways” and don’t care if the new way is really any better. The theory of disruption is even being used to sell changes designed for wholesale destruction of our public school system in the US (with an odd leap of faith hoping that whatever replaces it will be better). (More on schools here.)

Using theory to promote an idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But truth is important for businesses to succeed. Is there really a strong connection between disruption and long term success? That’s far more tenuous. At least that had been my growing sense of the theory.

And now I see that battle has been joined on exactly this issue. Writer and Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore fired the first shot with an excellent article in The New Yorker (“What the Theory of ‘Distruptive Innovation’ Gets Wrong”).
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Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.
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“Practicing on the Bandstand”. Some Thoughts about Miles Davis, Improvisation & Business.

Business has a tremendously complicated relationship with improvisation – often preferring a mythological quest for risk-free management and ignoring the value of leaving room for improvisation.

I think it’s a fear of losing absolute corporate control (absolute control being another myth) and fear of mistakes. In fact, some companies spend so much money avoiding mistakes that the mere cost of doing business skyrockets to where its impossible to do new things. And by rewarding detailed planning over end results (usually implicitly rewarded through corporate politics), too many companies ensure that no one will take the risks necessary to drive new innovation.

20130114-191437.jpgSo I was struck by a story about Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles and his band were on a road trip in the 1960s when one night the sax player trotted out a set of new solo licks and used them during the performance – flawlessly and perfectly. The report is that Miles was furious and chewed the guy out saying “I pay you to practice on the bandstand.”

Yes. Miles meant practicing in front of an audience. He meant making mistakes in public. And all this can be a very uncomfortable idea – especially if we don’t grasp it in context.
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Apple vs Samsung Reminds Us: What’s Obvious Today Was Obscure in the Past

‘The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.

“Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they’ll say it was obvious all along.” Alan Ashley-Pitt as quoted in “The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age” by Eda LeShan

And so we find on Page 46 of 109 in the Apple-Samsung jury instructions this rather concerning issue: “Obviousness”. Specifically:

“A utility patent claim is invalid if the claimed invention would have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the field at the time of invention”

Now I’m no expert in the specifics of this trial. But this fundamental idea concerns me. Because there’s a strange relationship between what’s obvious today and what would have been obvious before a product was released.

Copying Apple makes it far easier to introduce new phones and give them the appearance of “exciting”.

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