One of the best innovation stories

August 14, 2017

By Greg Satell via hbr.org   Article

The 4 Types of Innovation and the Problems They Solve

“One of the best innovation stories I’ve ever heard came to me from a senior executive at a leading tech firm. Apparently, his company had won a million-dollar contract to design a sensor that could detect pollutants at very small concentrations underwater. It was an unusually complex problem, so the firm set up a team of crack microchip designers, and they started putting their heads together.

About 45 minutes into their first working session, the marine biologist assigned to their team walked in with a bag of clams and set them on the table. Seeing the confused looks of the chip designers, he explained that clams can detect pollutants at just a few parts per million, and when that happens, they open their shells.

As it turned out, they didn’t really need a fancy chip to detect pollutants — just a simple one that could alert the system to clams opening their shells. ‘They saved $999,000 and ate the clams for dinner,’ the executive told me.

That, in essence, is the value of open innovation. When you have a really tough problem, it often helps to expand skill domains beyond specialists in a single field. Many believe it is just these kinds of unlikely combinations that are key to coming up with breakthroughs. In fact, a study analyzing 17.9 million scientific papers found that the most highly cited work tended to be mostly rooted within a traditional field, with just a smidgen of insight taken from some unconventional place.

But what if the task had been simply to make a chip that was 30% more efficient? In that case, a marine biologist dropping clams on the table would have been nothing more than a distraction”


What percentage of startups actually fail?

August 14, 2017

By Erin Griffith via fortune.com   Article

When entering an unfamiliar society, it is wise to learn the local customs, the unspoken rules, and the names of its heroes, villains, and gods. …

Startup Land’s collective knowledge is one part mythology, one part advice, one part inspiration, and zero parts business school-sanctioned case study. (As universities add courses on entrepreneurship, Peter Thiel pays students to drop out.) Its catchphrases have been repeated so much that they are now cliched punch lines, oversimplified to the point of meaninglessness.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not true. So what happens when a piece of startup gospel is flat-out wrong?

I recently found myself carelessly repeating a statistic that I’d heard dozens of times in private conversations and on public stages: ‘Nine out of 10 startups fail.’ The problem? It’s not true. Cambridge Associates, a global investment firm based in Boston, tracked the performance of venture investments in 27,259 startups between 1990 and 2010. Its research reveals that the real percentage of venture-backed startups that fail—as defined by companies that provide a 1X return or less to investors—has not risen above 60% since 2001. Even amid the dotcom bust of 2000, the failure rate topped out at 79%.

Yet the denizens of Startup Land continue to cite the 90% figure because it serves a purpose. It comforts failed startup founders who burned through their investors’ money, laid off staff, and shut down their companies. It supports the startup world’s celebration of failure. ‘Sure, you failed, but that’s the norm,’ the thinking goes. ‘The odds were against you.’

But startup failure isn’t a natural law like gravity. It’s not a given. Normalizing the failure narrative only conceals the truth, misleads founders, and in certain cases, explains away bad behavior. …

Soak up the mantras inside the Silicon Valley bubble. But do so with a grain of salt.”


How to be a leader when you’re not the boss

August 14, 2017

By Jillian Kramer via cnbc.com   Article

How to be a leader at work — when you’re not the boss

“Here’s the thing: ‘Your boss wants to see you act as a leader’ … because ‘your boss wants to know you have what it takes to manage a project or team before he or she considers you for a promotion’ ….

‘it’s important to remember that every day is an interview. Every day you are interviewing for your next merit increase or possible promotion. Employing your leadership skills in the right manner — from a subordinate position — benefits the entire team, lessens your boss’ burden and shows you’re ready for the next step.’ … You can effectively lead in your office without stepping on your boss’ toes, our experts say. Here’s how.

1. Think ahead Leaders are proactive, not reactive. … So if you want to lead at work, you can ‘motivate yourself to think beyond your current project’ …. For example, you can ask: ‘What will the client need when this quarter is finished?’ … ‘set new goals, come up with progressive ideas, do extensive research’  or whatever you need to do to stay ahead of the curve — and on your boss’ good radar.

2. Be your boss’ right-hand man or woman This isn’t acting as an assistant when you’re three steps above that title. (And it’s definitely not about being a kiss-up.) Instead, this means you should learn from your boss by observing by his or her side. ‘Understand how they operate and what they need in different situations’ ….

3. Be an effective communicator … hone your communication skills with your boss — letting him or her know what you are doing, how you’re getting it accomplished, and why you’re spending your time on this project — you’ll not only show your higher-up the respect he or she deserved, but ‘you’ll ensure you aren’t usurping authority’ ….

4. Do it now and ask for forgiveness later On the flip side of that coin, a leader doesn’t always ask for permission. … Examples … include sending a client or vendor a thank you note, incorporating A/B testing in emails, or creating new engagement on social media channels ….”


Not carrots and sticks

August 14, 2017

By Lisa Lai via hbr.org   Article

Motivating Employees Is Not About Carrots or Sticks

“Motivating employees seems like it should be easy. And it is — in theory. But while the concept of motivation may be straightforward, motivating employees in real-life situations is far more challenging. As leaders, we’re asked to understand what motivates each individual on our team and manage them accordingly. What a challenging ask of leaders, particularly those with large or dispersed teams and those who are already overwhelmed by their own workloads.

Leaders are also encouraged to rely on the carrot versus stick approach for motivation, where the carrot is a reward for compliance and the stick is a consequence for noncompliance. But when our sole task as leaders becomes compliance, trying to compel others to do something, chances are we’re the only ones who will be motivated.

Why not consider another way to motivate employees? I’d like to suggest a new dialogue that embraces the key concept that motivation is less about employees doing great work and more about employees feeling great about their work. The better employees feel about their work, the more motivated they remain over time. When we step away from the traditional carrot or stick to motivate employees, we can engage in a new and meaningful dialogue about the work instead. Here’s how:

Share context and provide relevance. There is no stronger motivation for employees than an understanding that their work matters and is relevant to someone or something other than a financial statement. To motivate your employees, start by sharing context about the work you’re asking them to do. What are we doing as an organization and as a team? Why are we doing it? Who benefits from our work and how? What does success look like for our team and for each employee? What role does each employee play in delivering on that promise? Employees are motivated when their work has relevance. …

Recognize contributions and show appreciation. As tempting as it is to try to influence employee satisfaction with the use of carrots and sticks, it isn’t necessary for sustained motivation. Far more powerful is your commitment to recognizing and acknowledging contributions so that employees feel appreciated and valued. Leaders consistently underestimate the power of acknowledgment to bring forth employees’ best efforts. What milestones have been achieved? What unexpected or exceptional results have been realized? Who has gone beyond the call of duty to help a colleague or meet a deadline? Who has provided great service or support to a customer in crisis? Who ‘walked the talk’ on your values in a way that sets an example for others and warrants recognition? Employees are motivated when they feel appreciated and recognized for their contributions.”

 


Get in the trenches

August 7, 2017

By Justin Bariso via inc.com   Article

This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Is a Master Class in Emotional Intelligence

Tesla, the electric-automobile manufacturer led by famed CEO Elon Musk, has struggled mightily with safety over the past few years. California nonprofit Worksafe, a worker safety advocacy group, recently made headlines when it reported that the injury rate at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant was more than 30 percent higher than the industry average in 2014 and 2015.

Musk insists, however, that safety is the number one priority at Tesla. He claims that recent actions, like the company’s hiring thousands of employees to create a third shift and reduce excess overtime, have made a major impact in lowering the injury rate.

A recent email Musk sent to employees indicates just how seriously he’s taking the issue. Here’s part of the email, as reported by news site Electrek:

No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.

Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.

This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.

If Musk proves true to his word, it will be a remarkable example of a company leader who’s willing to do what it takes to affect change–and show that he isn’t afraid to get down in the trenches. …

While Musk’s opening words will prove touching to some, it’s his promise to take action that is most powerful. To personally meet every injured employee and actually learn how to perform the task that caused that person’s injury is remarkable for the CEO of any company. …

When a manager takes the time to work alongside a frustrated team member, with a goal of better understanding that person’s perspective, good things happen. This exercise, although time-consuming, builds empathy and rapport, and can prove extremely motivating. Unfortunately, few managers are willing to make that type of investment.”

 


ICQs

August 7, 2017

By Matt Levine via bloomberg.com   Article

“Is there a good way to think about initial coin offerings? The idea of an initial coin offering is that a company builds, or promises to build, some blockchain-based platform that allows people to buy or sell some product or service. (It seems like it’s usually cloud storage.) And then it creates a digital token — its own “coin” — that you have to use to buy or sell the product. And then it sells the coins, all at once, to the public, often before the product is fully up and running; the buyers can use the coins to buy the product, or try to sell them to someone else for a profit. And then the company goes to conferences to gloat about how it has disrupted the venture-capital funding model and shown the way to the future of capitalism and so forth:

More and more startups are offering tokens as a way to raise money upfront in so-called initial coin offerings (ICOs), a nod to traditional initial public offerings of securities. So far this year, 63 sales have raised $521 million, according to blockchain research firm Smith + Crown. That has already far surpassed the $260 million raised in 2016, says Emma Channing, general counsel at Argon Group, a year-old digital finance investment bank in Los Angeles.

One thing you could think about is what this tells us about how businesses should be funded. Most companies want to sell a product, don’t have enough money to build it, and so go to investors to get the money. Then they build the product, sell it to customers, get money from the customers, and give some of the money back to the investors. Raising money from customers rather than investors, as ICOs notionally do, has some obvious appeal: It cuts out the middleman, in a sense, and it also lets the company share some of its profits with early-adopter customers rather than investors. The company and the customers are necessary components to the system; the investor, in the new model of blockchain capitalism, is just an interloper, and can be dispensed with.

On the other hand, if a company has raised tens of millions of dollars by pre-selling its product to customers before ever building the product, why would it build the product(‘When ICO’s deliver 100% of the company’s expected receivables at launch, founders are incentivized to leave their project immediately thereafter,’ writes Chris DeRose.) This is a problem for investors too — if a company has raised tens of millions of dollars by selling shares to investors before ever building a product, why not run off to Belize rather than build the product? — but there is a well-developed set of legal protections for investors, for exactly that reason. The legal status of coin-buying customers is a little vaguer.”


Because they are hard

August 7, 2017

By Pascal Finette via read.theheretic.org   Article

Hardware is Hard (as is Software)…

“Whilst reading Joi Ito’s (of MIT’s Media Lab fame) new book ‘Whiplash’, I stumbled across a note in the book:

‘(…) there’s a big difference between an Apple Store and an App Store. It takes roughly $5 million to get a product, even a wristband, into enough retail outlets to turn a profit.’

It’s a curious figure which I validated with a couple of my friends (and experts) in the hardware business — and everyone seemed to agree that the number is in the right ballpark.

Which is one of the many reasons why hardware is so much harder (no pun) than software. Or so one might think…

You can get an app into the app store for a few hundred or thousand bucks… But then — there were 2.2 million (!) apps on the iOS app store in January of this year. Good luck standing out.

The moral of the story is: Regardless what you do, it will be hard. The hurdles you need to overcome are different ones, the challenges you face will be different, the skills you will need are different — the constant is that it will be a struggle.

But that doesn’t discourage you. JFK immortalized the eternal entrepreneurial struggle (and attraction) on September 12th, 1962:

‘We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.'”