Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

Reframing Failure as Iteration Fosters More Innovation

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the biggest hurdles in fostering a culture of innovation in an organization is the fear of failure. 

This is one of the most critical aspects of a culture. The fear of failure creates a lot of additional hurdles in the innovation process. 

  • No Breakthrough Innovation: The biggest impact on the innovation process that the fear of failure can have is that this almost ensures that there will be no breakthrough innovation coming out of the innovation process. Any breakthrough innovation requires at some stage for the team to decide to follow an insight/idea that is unconventional or against the common wisdom. This involves some amount of risk that this might not work out and could lead to a failure. The fear of this failure will ensure that the insights/ideas that are the safest bets would be consistently chosen, which could result in average, small scale incremental innovation coming out of the process. 
  • Big Failures: The fear of failure could also lead to spectacular failures. The fear of failure stops employees from raising the red-flag at the first instance when they realize that the project/product is not working out. This leads to a situation where everyone knows that the project is a failure but no one wants to be the one to admit it, which then results in continued effort and resources being put in to the project, when the project should have been acknowledged as a failure and either closed or a pivot done to continue to vie for success. 
  • Lack of learning: This fear of failure also ensures that there is not much risk being taken and hence, not many projects fail, which also means that there is not much learning happening either. As we all know that failure is a much better teacher than success.
  • Lack of Trust on Leaders: Primarily the fear of failure indicates that there is a lack of trust for the leaders of the organization, which by itself almost ensures that there are even bigger challenges that the organization needs to address in order to remain relevant and innovative. 

So, what can we do to create a culture where the fear of failure is replaced by a culture of learning and course corrections. 

Re-Frame Failure as Iterations: Re framing Failure as Iterations provides the employees the necessary cushion to explore slightly more riskier insights/ideas when going after innovation. 

As with most of the challenges relating to culture, leaders should start talking and behaving in a way that not only tells the employees that it is OK to go after big challenges and fail now and then as long as they are able to admit failure, learn from the failure and do so quickly and cheaply, continue to pivot and address the challenge through pursuing different insight/ideas. 

This simple re-framing also creates the culture of experimentation, iterations and pivots. This also reduces the overall cost of innovation, speeds up the innovation process and at the same time creates the possibility for breakthrough solutions coming through the process. 

PS: Here is a video where children have re-framed failure to iteration and not only fare better but thrive in their schools. 



What is your opinion? What would you do to address fear of failure in your organization? Do share your thoughts.. 

You could also connect with me at twitterLinkedInFacebookGoogle+


The Curious Case of Amazon Coins

November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Amazon Coins debuted among much fan fare in May this year and have mysteriously kept a very low profile since the high profile launch.

I am not sure if this is a deliberate strategy on part of Amazon or is it that no one noticed its presence (or maybe absence) in the past few months. The only time that i heard about Amazon coins is when they launched a promotion to give out 20 free coins if one downloaded a certain set of apps. Really?

Are these coins being used at all? If yes, how much is their usage? Or is it that we (including Amazon) are not willing to call it a failure yet?

What do you think?

Categories: Innovation Tags: ,

Great Teams Are a Mix of Old and New

To add to this nice post, I think that the composition of consistently high performing teams is that they have a set of core team members who enjoy working with each other and have worked together for long periods of time thereby developing the ability to understand how each other thinks and depending upon the project, you add new people to the mix to get a breath of fresh thinking into the project.
To take the analogy of the broadway or the movie business, you can see that most directors like to work with the same set of people when it comes to the core work like camera, editing, music, dialogues, etc and team up with new people for all other roles.
This provides them a heady balance of stability and creativity.

New Business Model from Very Unlikely of Places #Publishing

August 23, 2013 Leave a comment

I stumbled upon The New Enquiry by chance and was totally blown away, both by their content and their business mdoel.

They are an Ad-Free online magazine & survive by the way of subscriptions (2$ per month) & donations. And they don’t have a firewall.

So, for all practical purposes, they create and share content that is free for anyone to consume but still people are willing to pay subscription to receive the same content but in coherent, thematic clusters, which is more intuitive and easy to read.

In an interview given to “Columbia Journalism Review“, the founders claim that they recieve 30 to 50 new subscribers every week.

They also serve a very niche audience, the one’s that want to be at the intersection of culture, arts and politics.

They describe themselves on their about page as below:

The New Inquiry is a space for discussion that aspires to enrich cultural and public life by putting all available resources—both digital and material—toward the promotion and exploration of ideas.
Though these are early days for them, I am sure that they will find ways to not only survive in this hyper-competitive world, but will also become more and more relevant to thier tribes (as Seth would describe their subscribers).
This also reminds me of the TED talk by Amanda Palmer where she talks about her exeprience with her fans. She talks about the art of asking. Can this be a valid pricing model?
Both Amanda and TNI have identified their niche audience and have sought their support successfully.
Their story also make me realize that we strive to find complex solutions for problems, while simple and easy solutions to the same problems could exist right infront of our eyes.
Almost every one complains about advertising and advertisors, the disruption in the advertising & publishing industry;  they just went ahead and eliminated advertisements altogether. What an idea!
How many such things do we complain about can be removed? A wise man once shared his wisdom about solving problems:
  • Connect the un-connected & vice versa
  • Bundle the seperate and unbundle the bundled
  • Turn a product to a service and a service to a product

The best way to solve a problem is to “SKIP IT” and I think this is exactly what these folks did.

The question that you need to answer yourself is the following:

What problem or challenge are we struggling with and one that you would be better off SKIPPING? What product are you going to turn into a service?

Do join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts by commenting below.

You can connect with me at Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

PS: Pay as you want pricing model has been around for a long time now. More information @ What happens when the newspaper industry adopts this model?

Can CIO’s or CTO’s become Agents of Innovation or Transformation

August 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Recently, Dan Burrus wrote a couple of blog post for HBR, where he expects that  CIO’s and CTO’s to embrace new roles within their organizations.

He expects and the CIO’s should embrace the role of Chief Innovation Officer and CTO’s to embrace the role of Chief Transformation Officer.

I do agree that this is an unprecedented opportunity, the current times requires organization to find ways to foster innovation, I don’t agree that every organization needs to start on a transformation journey. There are industries that are currently at the cusp of major transformations (Print media, automotive, retail). Organizations in these industries will need to re-invent themselves so that they continue to stay relevant in the new age. However, I don’t believe that this transformation will be led by the CTO. Nor do I believe that CIO’s will lead the innovation efforts of the organization.

Though we would expect the CIO’s and the CTO’s to understand, advocate and embrace the technological revolution  is happening (ever increasing bandwidth, connectedness, processing power and storage; 3D printing; the maker movement, Big Data & its impact, SoLoMo), mostly it is not the case.

My experience with the  CIO’s and CTO’s is very different and while they understand all of these changes happening all around them, most of them have not been able to connect them all back to their businesses. Most of these executives have risen to their roles from within their departments. This also means that their knowledge about their entire business is not as much as you would need in order to be able to take up such a role.

This has also been the reason that there are not many CIO’s or CTO’s that have gone on to become CEO’s or enter the board rooms.

Also, in my opinion, Innovation is not something that you can drive from one office and succeed. Innovation needs to be everybody’s business. You need to create a culture where you expect people to keep exploring new things, challenging the assumptions behind standard operating procedures, etc. This can’t be one man’s responsibility. The moment you appoint a Chief Innovation Officer, that becomes his baby, which then kills the spirit of innovation.

Similarly, business transformation responsibility lies with the CEO. He is supposed to understand the business in its entirety. The moment this becomes someone else’s responsibility, the result of the transformation effort will be a disaster waiting to happen. This is also the reason so many of the transformation efforts fail.

The role of the CIO or the CTO should be to constantly keep exploring what is happening outside of the organization. Identify potential technological breakthroughs, newer business models that new technology can enable,  that can have an impact on their business (both good or bad)  and bring it back to the organization.

Another role that a CIO or the CTO can play is one of glue. They are probably the only team in an organization that touches & connects every department within the organization. What happens if they go one step further and become the people who break silos within the organization. This does require them to develop new skills like networking, understanding of the different facets of the business,  different perspectives of the people within each department and thereby the ability to find the common ground. All this can help them be the glue that keeps everyone connected and the hammer that breaks the silos whenever they creep up.

I don’t see them leading Innovation or transformation efforts anytime soon. However, they can be the spark that ignite the people to take one the journey.

Do you think that CIO’s and CTO’s will take up the Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Transformation Officer roles anytime soon? Why? Do share your thoughts by commenting below or tweet them to me at @rmukeshgupta.

Elon Musk’s HyperLoop – Hope or Hype

August 13, 2013 Leave a comment

At last Elan Musk unvieled his design for ultra speed travel system – HyperLoop. I think that the idea that he laid out in a 57 page document, is as good an idea as we might have currently.

However, After having read through the generic description, I think that this is a good start to the pursuit of sub-sonic ground transportation. However, in its current state, this concept is impractical due to the fact that the entire concept seems to have been designed with the Los Angeles to San Fransisco route in mind, which, is mostly without much curves in the route. I am not sure how many such routes exist across many different cities.

The design that has been shared has two options:

  • Capsules that can take about 48 passengers, with a capsule leaving every 2 minutes
  • Capsules that can take 3 fully sized passenger cars in addition to the passengers.

Now, Elan has already indicated that he is too busy to build the network himself and would like to see someone take this concept design, use open-source contributions and build the line. He also indicated that he  could build a working prototype in about  three to four years (if no one comes forward to build this).

Now, the design itself is of not much interest to me as I am sure that with any project that is as ambitious, this will not finish on time or on budget. However, what is interesting to me is the following:

  • There seems to be a growing need for significantly safer, faster, cheaper and greener travel options between pairs of cities (Los Angeles – San Fransisco; Delhi – Mumbai and similar) which have a lot of traffic between the cities.
  • The hype and interest that Mr. Musk was able to generate for the concept. There is a lot of learning for marketers here on how to build expectations and get media attention on their terms. This, I shall cover in a separate post shortly.
  • HyperLoop is conceptualized assuming that the current mode of transportations (Air, Rail, Road & Boat) have reached their limits and can’t be improved further to make them significantly safer, faster, cheaper and greener. I do think that this may not be the case. There could be potential ideas on how to make one of these transportation modes significantly to enable us to travel at about 600 – 700 kms an hour. Now, the question is if we are even looking at these options as well before we set out to create a totally new network which will not only cost billions of dollars but will take years or maybe even decades to complete. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier post, the solution proposed by Elon might look sexy and innovative, but, in my opinion, is not the best solution to the transportation challenge that we face – Significantly safer, faster, cheaper and greener alternative to the current options.
  • It would be interesting to watch this space to see if the idea of having an open-source concept development in such a large scale public project attracts interest. If there is significant interest in improving the concept and design from the community, this could also pave the way for a possiblity of a much more deeper engagement with the community in all future large scale public projects, which in a way could lead to a cheaper cost of the project and could also enable us to contribute in any which way possible. This will herald us in a true era of private-public partnership.

Having said all this, my opinion is that, this concept does fill me with hope that significantly safer, faster, cheaper and greener transportation options will be devised within this decade.

What do you make of this concept? Would you like to participate in an open-source project to enhance this design or even to work on creating ideas to significantly improve the current transportation options? Do let me know by commenting below or by tweeting to me at @rmukeshgupta.

First Step in the Journey Towards Becoming a Real-time Business

July 1, 2013 2 comments

There is a lot of talk about Real-time data and how real-time data can provide organizations to be able to respond in near real-time to business events.

However, to realize such a vision, there is a lot that needs to change in the way we do business. One of the most basic thing that needs to change is how we run our business itself.

Most organizations currently operate in the mode where the decision making sits at the top of the hierarchy. We have a C-Suite where we have the Chief Executives, who decide the strategy and roll-it out for others in the organization to execute.

  • The strategy is designed by the C-suite and cascaded down for execution.
  • The KPI’s are defined (annually, in most cases) and cascaded down.
  • Bonus structures are defined (annually, in most cases) and cascaded down.

What this means is that there are multiple layers of management (depending on how big an organization is) before any true decisions are being made.

In a vision of a real-time enterprise, this needs to change completely.

The front-line employees, people who are interacting with your customers, partners, suppliers,

  • the sales executive who sells your products and competes with your competitor or
  • the support executive who supports your customers when something breaks down or
  • the engineer or product/service developer who designs and produces the products

are the one’s who get to know if something in your business environment has changed. They are the one’s who need to respond to these changes.

In order to realize the vision of a real-time enterprise, we need to be able to spend time training these people to identify such shifts and provide them the real-time information that organizations are capable of in a way that they can make sense out of the data and respond appropriately, without having to go through a series of approvals, et al.

What would help organizations become real-time would be:

  • Move from a pyramid shaped organization structure to a concentric circles shaped organization, where, the customer is at the core of the organization, surrounded by the customer facing employees (sales execs, support engineers, product development folks, etc). Each outward circle represents a layer of people who shall support these customer facing employees in serving the customers needs in the best way possible.
  • The core employees are trained in identifying trends and insights and create the strategy with the guidance from the other execs in the organizations.

This more like improv theater. Just like in a theater performance, the actors (in front of the customer) are the most important people when it comes to the audience (as they execute the vision of the writer and the director). Every one else is there to enhance or complete the experience.

So should organizations realize that the true heroes or stars for your customers are the folks who perform in front of them. The role of the others is of support cast and need to find, train the best actors and put them in the spotlight.

Also allowing the actors to improvise (if needed) has the potential to improve the overall experience for the audience substantially, similarly empowering your front line employees to improvise can improve the ability of the organization to adapt to any situation that they can come up with.

This will be the first step that an organization can take to move towards becoming a real-time enterprise.

This is not easy, but as people say – “Simple, but not easy”

PS: The best improv show that I have seen – “Whose Line is It Anyway”