Tag Archives: innovation

Universal Innovation

Sometimes, it seems like innovation is all anyone talks about. It’s been a really hot topic for the last five or six years; probably more. In the last two years before I left Rocketdyne — let’s see, that would have been from 2008 to 2010 — I participated in several innovation classes/exercises and, in fact, I setup the SharePoint collaborative spaces that were used by the teams in one of these exercises that were exploring different avenues for the company to invest in. I was also part of a team looking at one of the many technologies we were investigating at the time, and we even brought in a Professor from the USC Marshall School of Business to help us “learn” innovation.

I’m not going to get into my thoughts about what it takes to be innovative, or creative, but I just want to throw out this observation I’ve been mulling over for some time and see what others think about it. One of the things I think I’ve noticed is that almost everyone approaches innovation primarily as a way to come up with new products or services to sell. There seems to be what I think of as a blind spot when it comes to how we got things done, to our processes and procedures that are the backbone of our day-to-day activities. I’m also not confining the daily activities we might look at to businesses or governmental agencies and institutions either. I’m also thinking about things like mass public transportation and local traffic patterns and uses, our use of public facilities like parks and schools, the ways we approach (or choose to ignore) recycling, the value of our food and how we produce, distribute, and consume it – and on and on.

So here’s my big question for now. What if we started looking at enabling – empowering, if you will – everyone who was interested, to be involved in social and cultural innovation; in our continuous social and economic evolution . . . as citizens of our local municipalities, our neighborhoods, our nations, and even as inhabitants of the planet Earth, i.e. as a species? What if we came up with ways to encourage, communicate, evaluate, and pursue ideas that would improve – dramatically or otherwise – the lives of many people, perhaps everyone? Very public ways. What would that look like? How would we do it? What would be the biggest challenges? What infrastructure and social constructs are already in place to support such a thing?


A Slight Change of Course

Since my presentation to the American Oil Chemists’ Society at the end of April, I’ve been seeking out other engagements to talk about using social media for managing communities within an enterprise. All of my experience heretofore has been inside the firewall of a large (very large) aerospace corporation, and it was the essence of my presentation to the AOCS.

I haven’t been actually hustling engagements; rather I’ve just been suggesting I’m available and that I might have something worthwhile to say. Today, nearly four months later, I finally had the opportunity to present to an organization that could use social media to improve their ability to achieve their goals, which are manifold – but not commercial.

The organization I spoke with today is a local Rotary Club that has two major fund-raisers each year. Originally, I had spoken with my friend and former Manager who, since retiring, has joined this Club and had suggested I might present, about the one I gave to the AOCS. However, after having dinner with the President of the Club it became clear he wanted to at least partially address the difficulty he’d been having with getting the membership to “like” their Fan pages and join and engage with their group page.

So . . . I put this together somewhat hastily and concentrated primarily on the benefits social media provide for communicating and sharing knowledge, as well as addressing the issue of reluctance to participate. I finished with a little info on how its use is disruptive and pointed out how they could use Clayton Christensen‘s concept of Jobs-to-be-done (disruptive innovation is one of his as well) to address the direction they might take their new efforts in.

I also prepared the presentation exclusively using Google Docs; the first time I have ever done that. The only exception is that I imported a couple of slides from my AOCS preso, which I originally prepared using PowerPoint. I also heavily annotated the slides, which I do not normally do, and printed out a copy of them and the notes. However, I did not use them during the presentation. Once I got going I just winged it, which seems to fit my style perfectly. Having the notes kept me from being nervous, but turned out to be mostly superfluous. I only experienced one moment when I couldn’t think of the right word I wanted to make a point, but it came to me reasonably quickly.

So . . . here ’tis. I don’t know how intelligible it is without the notes. Especially considering I made these slides last close to 25 minutes, I believe. I guess having a long history and lots of stories comes in handy when you tend toward loquaciousness. :)

One more thing. I uploaded the .pdf to Slideshare in the early evening and shortly afterward received an email from them that my presentation was the most talked about one on Facebook (where I had shared it) and so they were featuring it on their home page. Frankly, I didn’t see any evidence of the discussion, but the preso had been viewed close to 180 times last I looked, so maybe I’m getting some traction there. Hope you enjoy it.


Rick Ladd:

Nearly eight years ago I gave a presentation at a KM Cluster event held at PricewaterhouseCoopers in downtown Los Angeles. The title was “From Wright to Wrong: The Dark Side of Intellectual Property Rights” and in it I took the position that IP protection had hypertrophied to the point it was choking off innovation and providing far more protection than was either necessary or useful. I was able to find a link to the website for the event, but it was so long ago it’s been abandoned and the URL resolves to a GoDaddy Parking site (here’s the link – http://www.kmcluster.com/lax/Past%20Events/LAX_Spring_2004.htm).

The title comes from the story of the Wright Brothers’ defense of their patent for “wing warping” which, like ailerons, allows an airplane to fly straight and level. Their assertion was that they had actually invented the concept of straight and level and they were able to prevail in the Supreme Court, thereby “stunting” further development until after the outbreak of WWI, when the U.S. was desperate to produce airplanes and worked out a deal to overcome the hurdle. I’m busy recrafting the presentation I gave, ironically in part because I posted it to SlideShare and quickly received a call from my former company’s IP attorney asking me to take it down as it contained their logo, which I’m removing as well as updating the info.

I’m pretty sure Mark is being a taste satirical here, and I think he’s kind of making the same point I was. I tied my preso to the concept of knowledge management, especially with respect to freely sharing knowledge and the damaging effect I believe overzealous IP protection has on it. See what you think.

Originally posted on blog maverick:

Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I hate patent laws. I think 99pct of the time they are anti-competitive, corruptive,  impede creativity and innovation and can kill small businesses. I think the ratio of patent law doing a good job protecting company IP vs it being used purely to negatively impact competitors or to troll for un-earned revenue is probably 1000 to 1, or worse.

When I read that Yahoo was suing Facebook my immediate reaction was disdain. As I thought more about it, I came to realize that this case could be the water shed moment that causes enough people to recognize just how horrific  our patent law is.

I am not saying that there is zero value to patents. There are plenty of examples out of the however many patents that have been issued where the patent was put to legitimate use to protect…

View original 452 more words


Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.

The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.

As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.

Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.

I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.

For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.


The Hell It’s Not About The Tools!

Hand Axes

What Would Lizzie Borden Do?

I had lunch a while back with a former colleague from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. He is also a fellow cohort member from my Masters in KM program, from which we both graduated in late 2009. We have worked together extensively. After eating we were discussing the situation at my former (and his current) place of employment, which is a bit unclear at this point.

As I shared my thoughts about the value (as I see it) of using social media to increase the organization’s capabilities (you know, the innovative, collaborative, communicative ones), he said something he had said to me over and over while I was still a colleague . . . “It’s not about the tools!”

Now, essentially I agree with him – at least to a point. Tools are, by themselves, absolutely useless unless they’re used to get things done in the manner for which they were designed. Even better, if you can figure out how to use them creatively they can be even more powerful. Try pounding a nail into a stud with your bare fist, though, and then tell me it’s not about the tools.

Nevertheless, this argument is valid when taken in the context of an organization where people think that throwing tools at a problem will somehow, magically I guess, solve the problem confronting them. I have personally seen this happen quite a bit and, in fairness to my friend, it did seem to be a common occurrence at our place of employment.

On the other hand, we’re probably all aware of situations where the simplest of tools served an organization well in dealing with a particularly difficult situation. This can only happen, I think, when the people confronting the situation are open and honest about what they’re facing and how it’s affecting the processes and people who are tasked with dealing with it.

This means they have to be able to think both critically and creatively. Too often people get to thinking in predictable ways and they pigeonhole the problem, thereby confining their possible solutions to the things they’re familiar with and have previous knowledge of. This usually leads to failure.

The thing about tools, though, is that they frequently give us the ability to use a bit of lateral – or even sideways – thinking. In the case of social tools such as Jive or Socialcast or Yammer, we’re also given the possibility of working together and sharing our information and knowledge in ways not previously possible.

A perfect example of how not to do it is the way in which the company I used to work at shared their knowledge of rocket engine design and manufacture. It was always the case that younger Engineers would send email requests to their older counterparts, requesting information on design intent or material properties or manufacturing techniques, etc. The older colleague might spend days researching and crafting an answer, which would then be sent back to the requester in an email.

The problem with this was that access to all this wonderfully useful information was now confined to the two (sometimes a few more, depending on who was included initially) people engaged in the conversation. Usually, within a short while the information and knowledge so thoroughly and carefully created was lost; frequently even to the original person asking the question. This was because there was no useful method by which email could be easily searched.

Nowadays we can do much better. We have tools, applications, and systems available to us that provide functionality like instant broadcasting (micro-blogging), collaborative creation (wiki, even Google docs), and ubiquitous indexing and search. There is, in my opinion, no excuse for not taking advantage of as many of these tools as is reasonably affordable – taking into consideration the culture of an organization and its tolerance for experimentation and change. Frankly, from what I’ve experienced and from what I learn from friends and others who are engaged in community organization and leadership, there are ways to introduce, champion, and develop these kinds of tools in just about any organization.

So I would wish to characterize the use of tools just a bit differently. I would say it most definitely IS about the tools, but it’s just not entirely about the tools. Having functionality available that was not possible five or ten years ago can change things dramatically. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a conscious effort and, sometimes, dramatic changes in the culture of an organization. Nevertheless, the pain associated with change is usually ameliorated by the newfound capabilities the change brings; the possibilities of developing innovative processes and organizational structures and of increasing both the efficiency and effectiveness of those things we engage in. If anyone tells you it’s not about the tools, as if to say they aren’t important, ask them when was the last time they combed their hair with a fork!


Obvious to Him . . . Perhaps?

The Obvious?

Euan Semple is a friend of mine; at least in the sense we are “friends” on Facebook and we are “connected” and have engaged in an email conversation on LinkedIn. I also follow him on Twitter and read his blog (somewhat infrequently, I must confess). I know he’s read my blog at least once because he commented on a post of mine. We have not yet met face-to-face, nor have we had an actual conversation where we could hear each other’s voices (each others’ voice?), say . . . over the phone or with Skype.

This morning I came across an item on my Facebook wall from him. It was a link to a video of his Do Lecture, shared through his blog, “The Obvious?”. I don’t see too many things from Euan in Facebook, so it caught my attention. I clicked on it to open a tab with the link so I could view it later. Many times I don’t end up viewing the item I’ve set aside, but this time I did. I’m very glad too. You can listen yourself here.

Euan is probably best known for his introduction of forums, blogs, and wikis to the BBC and now spends his time advising organizations on how to integrate these and other “social” applications into their businesses. You can learn more about Euan from his blog or from his website.

As I’m writing this I see one of his friends has commented on the original Facebook post. She says she finds his talk bitter sweet, because he says what she’s been saying too . . . to no avail. I have to admit to feeling the same way, though I did manage to get some traction in changing the organization I spent nearly a quarter century with.

Euan clearly knows what makes an enterprise tick. He also is keenly aware of the numerous ways in which traditional organizations and management waste time and energy and, actually, hinder progress in most every enterprise that’s built on the traditional, hierarchical business model we’re all so familiar with.

I strongly suggest you listen to his lecture yourself. It’s only about a half-hour and it’s quite enlightening and entertaining. He’s a wonderful storyteller. I actually took some notes while I was listening – which is not like me at all – and here are some thoughts that stood out. I’d sure be interested in hearing any of yours.

Euan points out that fear of messiness is troubling. I forget his exact word, but I wrote down the thought it triggered for me, and that was fear of messiness stifles creativity and, therefore, innovation. In addressing the fear that using social media would get out of control, he reasonably points out we still need middlemen to make sense of all the data and information out there. I have heard the people I believe he’s talking about referred to as curators or gardeners. He goes on to point out what we don’t need are gate-keeping middlemen who add no value at all.

He makes quite a few points about culture and how best to deal with the inevitable resistance and fear one encounters when even talking about social media. One of them is a reference to the concept of Trojan mice, i.e. unobtrusive, small things that generate change through their adoption and use. Another comes from one of the few slides he used with words – “Easier to build a tool for the community than a community for the tool” – though he expresses a bit of distaste for the way many view communities. Here he points to the difference between conscripts and volunteers and, for me, invokes the value of emergence, that communities spring up from recognized, shared needs and desires, not from the dictate of management.

I think my favorite thing he talks about is the dreaded ROI argument; one I was beaten about the head and shoulders with for many years, both in terms of knowledge management and later regarding the use of social media (which I have argued elsewhere is what KM is really about; surely the kind of KM I’m most interested in!) to connect people. In a sense, it’s what the entire lecture is about, but he offers up what he calls a Scotsman’s tip about ROI – “Keep the I really small and no one will give you shit about the R”. I got a kick out of that.

So, please take a half hour of your time (plus however long it took you to read this far) and check his lecture out. It’s quite good. It helped me get to know Euan a little better, as well as reinforced my thoughts about so many things I don’t know where to begin. It is, indeed, bitter sweet for me as well.


It’s Getting Chilly, or How I’m Planning on Doing Some Cold-Calling

Well, I’ve finally decided to go out in earnest and get some clients. I don’t think I’ve mentioned much (if anything) about what I had hoped to do with my life after leaving Rocketdyne and, frankly, it was a bit amorphous in my mind for some time as well. I keep looking for ways in which the knowledge I’ve gained over the years can be put to good use for others. I’m beginning to see some fairly clear outlines of just how I might be able to do that. It isn’t all about “clients” either.

Today I met with the Principal of my youngest daughter’s school, Sycamore Elementary in Simi Valley; on Friday I am meeting with the Principal of my other daughter’s school, Vista Elementary also in Simi. I decided a while back I wanted to see if I could bring something to the table that might improve the educational system . . . some small but significant contribution I might offer that would take advantage of my Knowledge Management, Social Networking/Computing experience, as well as my overall skill set acquired from well over four decades of business experience.

Today’s meeting was a bit of serendipity, actually. I take my children to school every morning, dropping the older one off first, then dropping my youngest off on the way back home. Today I also walked the youngest in and watched her play a bit before class started. I then went into the office to talk to the Principal. My intent was to have essentially the same conversation I had with the Principal at Vista. After all, it resulted in an appointment to delve further into the issues. All that I could have asked for. I discovered today was the one day out of only a few in which she has set aside some time to have coffee and a chat with whichever parents happened to show up. Lucky for me!

Double lucky . . . the President of the PTA was there as well. She was very interested in what I suggested which, btw, was that I learn how they do “business” with an eye toward discovering ways they can take advantage of new tools, services, and techniques that might relieve them of any pain they’re experiencing. I know they’re experiencing it. You can’t be paying attention and think the schools and their ancillary organizations aren’t suffering from any number of headaches and problems which would improve the educational experience for students, teachers, parents, and administrators alike if they could be even partially solved.

So that’s what I offered to give to both schools. I have suggested I can afford to put in at least four hours a month per school and I am both willing and eager to do so. I plan on taking the same attitude to commercial and industrial establishments as well. I believe there are lots of ways in which social computing can be put to good use for small, medium, and large businesses. I also believe there are a lot of people out there who are holding themselves out as Social Media “Experts”. I am not doing that. I’m merely saying I think I can help – first and foremost – understand what kinds of problems any particular organization has that they want to address. Only then can they even think about what tool, service, process, or technique might serve to do so.

In order to drum up business that will actually make me income, I have developed my first piece of “Collateral” to leave behind after visiting the organizations I offer my services to. Anyone who is following me on Twitter, is my friend in Facebook, is connected with me through LinkedIn, reads this blog, or connects with me in any one of numerous other ways probably knows I’ve shared a few presentations I’ve given in the past – when I was still an employee of Rocketdyne. They can be found on Slideshare, here. I want to share what I’ve done in creating a brochure to leave behind after an initial conversation with a prospect. My intent is not for this brochure to introduce me, but rather to serve as a reminder of the conversation I expect to have with whoever it is I’m discussing these things with.

I know, from my years of pursuing knowledge in this field, through literally hundreds of conversations on the subject, and from following and reading the work of dozens of people whose intelligence I have nothing but the deepest respect for, that almost anyone; every process; every business; yes, even every institution – up to, and including, those of government at any level – could be improved through the intelligent application of social computing. Of course, every situation is different. The City Council here in Simi surely would neither benefit from, nor require, the same thing that might benefit the U.S. Senate, and a small restaurant surely doesn’t require the same capabilities that a large manufacturing or distribution enterprise would find helpful.

So . . . that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Below are the two pages of a three-fold brochure I’m going to get printed shortly and start bringing with me as I literally knock on doors. It’s not the only method I intend on using, but it gets me out of the house, and that’s a good thing. I’d be interested in any feedback those of you who might read this post have to offer. I’m a work in process. Aren’t we all?

Click on Image for Larger (Legible) Version

Click on Image for Larger (Legible) Version

P.S. – Special thanks are due to my friend Luis Suarez, who was kind enough to look over what I had done and make some very useful observations and suggestions. Thank you so much, Luis. You are one of those people whose presence I value dearly.


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