Archive for the ‘Innovation ’ Category

Kenya Delivers Open Government

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Leader of the pack

Last July, Kenya became the first sub-Saharan country to launch an open data government site, enabling its citizens to gain access to vital information. After only six months, the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) is still a work in progress, but it’s already reshaped Kenya’s culture of government.

When KODI was launched, Kenya was only the 22nd country with an open government portal. Today, 30 countries have live, open government sites, though dozens of other countries are in some stage of developing their own. Kenya’s early adoption is due in large part to the efforts of open data advocates both within Kenya’s government and among its influential technology community.


Designer. Sui Generis

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

His true legacy is that he made the digital analogue. He turned ‘stuff’ into enduring delight. And what one business would have seen as irrelevant, expensive design detail, he made glorious, emotional connectivity. ~Richard Seymour, designer

His Legacy

In countless tributes to Steve Jobs, Apple devotees are understandably praising him for redefining several consumer electronics categories — the computer, the mouse, the MP3 player, the smartphone and the tablet.

Apple’s sleek devices resonate with users through all the noise and clutter of their lives, whether they’re in Johannesburg, Shanghai or São Paulo.

But Jobs’ impact extends beyond Apple’s wildly successful product line. Jobs not only raised the bar on consumer electronics, he transformed the discipline of design. Due to the universal appeal of his work, he revolutionized the way designers everywhere approach their work.


Planning for What’s Next

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Scenarios are the most powerful vehicles I know for challenging our “mental models” about the world and lifting the blinders that limit our creativity and resourcefulness. ~Peter Schwartz

Using a longer lens

It’s been twenty years since the publication of Peter Schwartz’s insightful primer about scenario planning, The Art of the Long View. In the book, Schwartz makes a convincing case for using scenario planning in approaching strategic challenges of various kinds.

Schwartz, who led scenario planning efforts at Shell, Motorola, and Pacific Gas and Electric, concluded that the technique could be applied to handling the emergent complex threats that companies were confronting in the 90’s.

Since then, the world has grown radically more complex, more uncertain. Globalization and the Internet have woven together our institutions so that a crisis in one corner of the world can spread virally with far-reaching consequences.


The Generative Conversation

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

In his insightful book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson tells the story of Kevin Dunbar, a McGill University social psychologist, who sought to figure out in the early ’90s how research scientists generate breakthrough ideas. Dunbar videotaped and interviewed researchers working in a variety of settings.

In tracking the activities and relative successes of his subjects, Dunbar found that the greatest number of breakthroughs occurred not when scientists were peering into their microscopes, as one might suspect, but when they were talking with one another at meetings.

Why? When chatting with their colleagues who worked on other projects, the researchers tended to re-conceptualize their own work to be understood. In doing so, new ideas emerged and, occasionally, some were fruitful.


Remembering C.K. Prahalad

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Invest time in languages and intercultural awareness. Focus on becoming part of global citizenry. In exchange for the opportunity to participate everywhere/anywhere in the world you have the obligation to do something productive, which will improve the world.  ~C.K. Prahalad

Distinguished scholar and visionary

The distinguished business scholar, C. K. Prahalad, died unexpectedly last week of a lung ailment at the age of 69. His contributions to the pursuit of business strategy and innovation are unparalleled.  He’s had an enormous influence on my work and that of my peers.

Dr. Prahalad was more than a celebrated management guru, he was a visionary.  He redefined the way that a growing number of global businesses deal with developing markets, and he helped to shape a new economic paradigm.


Understanding Customer Behavior

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Why customers do what they do

It feels like we’re at the dawn of a new era in understanding how people — namely our customers — make decisions, and some businesses will benefit enormously. More importantly, customers will soon enjoy more kinds of services designed to better meet their needs.

Our collective thinking is being informed by discoveries in behavioral sciences and behavioral economics about the role of the unconscious mind and the centrality of emotions in driving behavior. Many of these findings are now verifiable through neuroimaging tools.

Among other things, we’re realizing that people aren’t Vulcan-like beings who make choices on a cold, purely rational basis. Individuals — our customers — are complicated and swayed by factors beneath the level of consciousness.


In Appreciation

Friday, January 1st, 2010

One of the more satisfying experiences at year’s end is reaching out to clients, partners and colleagues to thank them for their business and their stalwart support.  It’s even sweeter this time while reflecting on an entire decade going back to the early days of my business.


Virgin America Transforms Air Travel

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental. ~Richard Branson

Over the years, there have been surprisingly few breakthroughs in the airline customer experience – until recently. Sir Richard Branson’s venture into the U.S. market, Virgin America, (VX) is redefining air travel by providing passengers with a fresh, distinctive on-board experience. The carrier is less than two years old but it’s quickly becoming a template for what’s possible in the future.

The choices VX is making demonstrate a “customer experience mindset” that’s all too rare in the industry. It’s evident that the VX team devoted their attention to passenger comfort and convenience. Features “baked in” to the customer experience include seats with power-outlets and USB ports. Cabins in their new A320s have soft mood lighting.


Succeeding in a Challenging Environment

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

The events of the last quarter have radically changed the game plan for service providers around the world. Business rules are being rewritten; success is being measured by new criteria. Investments in your business must produce greater returns as “breakevens” are reduced.  In these times, it makes sense to rethink what you offer and how you present it to your customers. 

While it seems like everything has changed, the axioms of business remain constant. Customers still want exceptional “value” – in fact they’re demanding it. They’re more motivated than ever to look for it. If they can’t get it from you, they’ll go to your rivals. They’ll find value in new, atypical ways to get their needs met.  Help them solve their problems and the market will beat a path to your door.

Delivering exceptional value in lean times requires smarter tools and an atmosphere that encourages collaboration and continuous innovation—always thinking: how can we make this better, cutting out what’s unnecessary.


Restructuring is What’s Next

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Nearly every business we’re working with is re-evaluating if not totally rethinking their economics.  Businesses in every sector will have to revise if not fundamentally restructure their business models. 

Companies have begunb scrutinizing their value chains from the bottom up and the top down because none of our customers has the extra time or money to be wasted by underperforming partners or suppliers.   The smart  firms have already started this process in earnest. 

Organizations we work with are mustering the self-honesty and diligence to impose greater process discipline and rigor while, at the same time, becoming “turn-on-a-dime” adaptable.  To succeed in this low-demand cycle, businesses will have to focus on what matters most to their customers and relentlessly discard what’s leftover. 


Clarifying ‘Analytics’

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Some comments I’ve received from readers indicate some confusion about what’s I mean by ‘analytics’.  Let me try to clear that up. At my company, we use the term to mean the approach to as well as the practice of mining and analyzing data as well as the tools and practices. 

Our practice is concerned as much about the human and organizational issues enabling the successful application of business intelligence and analytics. These include management vision and commitment, organizational alignment, culture, and skills. We’ve learned that buying “yet-another-tool” seems easier than solving these broader challenges, but it’s rarely the answer companies are looking for.

The most successful practitioners of analytics somehow manage to create an environment where decisions across boundaries are made on the basis of evidence that comes from rigorous analytics.  Management at those companies enncourages a “test-and-learn” approach to refine products, services and offers.  So analytics encompasses the tools and practices that produces insights as well as the way the company uses the insights to contour its offerings.  Hope this is helpful. 


Africa’s Innovation Hothouse

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Africa is leading the world in annual growth among mobile users. In markets where we’re working, penetration is still under 35% while annual growth has been over 50%.  In a continent of 800+ million potential mobile users there are only about 80 million users today, making it one of the hottest global markets in any industry.  This breakneck growth is leading to some interesting developments…

To add some perspective, there is only about one landline per 33 people in Africa and that’s unlikely to change much given the high cost of installing fixed lines in the continent’s vast, remote regions. However, mobile networks are relatively easy to install and maintain.  Thus, mobile phones have become the primary communication channel throughout the sub-Sahara.

The large transnational telecoms, hungry for growth and finding saturation elsewhere, are quickly swooping in to the region hoping to grow their user bases.  Mobile operators are investing millions of dollars in  extending their coverage across the continent.  And as competition grows, they’re pouring millions more in to expand and fortify their networks.

This injection of capital is creating jobs and raising living standards in the region, and this is only the beginning.  It certainly feels like we’re at an inflection point and the socio-economic impact will be enormous.

But the African market poses some vexing challenges to operators. First, they’ll need to help the continent’s large base of very low income consumers to overcome the cost barrier of using mobile services.  Bottom line: these consumers who make under $2 a day need lower cost handsets.

Operators have been working with handset makers to produce units for as little as $15 USD. Refurbished handsets, recycled from other markets, are bringing prices down further.

Low income users are mainly interested in a phone’s basic functions—voice calls and SMS text messages—and little else. For them, battery life – especially in regions with unreliable electricity – is more important than ring tone options.

But, low income users are “leapfrogging” to mobile banking which I’ve mentioned previously.  Mobile phones are now being used in developing cash economies to pay for things or transfer money across distances. The implications of the rise of m-banking and other mobile-based services among low income users is enormous.

Meanwhile, mobile operators must also compete for higher income users. They’re rolling out and bundling higher end products like managed data services, Blackberry, WiMax, 3G and more – all of this while reinforcing their infrastructures and business processes to deliver higher service quality and reliability.

It gets even more interesting.  Most of the people who are gaining access to communications and the Internet via cell phones have no other way to access the web, unlike developed country where cell phones are used mainky for voice with Internet access being an occasional activity.

Reliance on mobile devices for Internet access means that content developers in Africa, like other emerging regions, see mobile devices not as a substitute for their desktop, but as a primary data platform.   We’re already seeing some promising examples of voice-data convergence aimed at this growing market. We may witness the first wide-scale convergence applications coming from Africa and other developing markets.

I’ve worked with some talented, dedicated people in the region’s telecom sector.  The speed with which they’re adaptaing to the market’s growth has been impressive.  They’re making strides in building their management capabilities and business processes to meet rising consumer demands.

It’s an exciting time to be working in this market. I can’t think of a more interesting, fertile business environment today than Africa’s nascent telecom sector.  It’s a veritable hothouse for business innovation on so many levels.

Re-thinking On-Board Services

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

In an Executive Traveler wiki titled, “Blue Skying It,” Ross Klein, President and CEO of Starwood’s Luxury Brands (including W Hotels), is quoted as saying, “Airlines are in the hospitality industry, although they don’t think they are,” he comments. “Flight is extraordinary, but airlines view it as ordinary.”

Klein says, “When I think of air travel, there is a conditioned response that it is going to be bad,” and adds, “We’ve forgotten it is a social occasion. I can’t think of any acknowledgement of that by the airlines today.”

He’s so right.  He’s probably someone the industry should tap to help redesign on-board service programs.  In fact, bringing experts from analogous fields like hospitality is a great place to start when rethinking services.  Successful restauranteurs can also bring a lot of practical insight.  Of course, we’d have to bring designers and artists to the party.

I like the concept of tapping experts from a variety of fields and disciplines outside the industry — along with customers — to come with distinctive alternatives that make the on-board experience more enjoyable.

Re-thinking the Hotel Experience

Friday, May 16th, 2008

An article appearing in the May 2008 issue of Fast Company by Danielle Sacks discusses how Le Meridien, a top-tier Starwood property, is rethinking its customer experience from start-to-finish. Why re-invent the hotel experience?

According to Eva Ziegler, a senior VP who is driving the transformation, “When the business guy who just did 10 meetings in a day arrives at the hotel, all he can dream of is room service and sleep,” he says. “We want to reset his mind!” She added, “My role is to create unique experiences for the guest that stimulate all five senses.”

How are they doing it? The hotelier set out to create a rich, even suprising experience for the customer from the time he or she arrives.  That includes music, art, and food—even scents that waft through the hotel.  The ambience of the hotel is infused with elements that engender a pleasurable experience.

Ziegler set up the LM100, a rotating group of artists assembled to enhance the service experience.  Her mission has been to “court LM100’s cast of artists – painters, designers, and architects – to transform more than 50 aspects of the hotel.”  The artists have created a range of unique artifacts to enhance the customer’s experience.

Le Meridien is already enjoying impressive results. In February, its 2.4 million on-line bookings were 41% higher than the year before.

Branding consultant Steven Addis observes: “The old-school version of this would have been to put together a committee, redesign the hotel, and that’s it.” He adds, “Instead, these guys are going to be perpetually curating on behalf of — not marketing at — its audience.”

Design-minded Virgin America

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Before launching their operation, Virgin America set out to create a distinctive customer experience to differentiate their brand.  They succeeded by creating a breakthrough on-board service product about which I commented in an earlier post.

VA’s success stems from their attitude that the customer is at the center of their universe.  They relied on service design – the art and science of devising an environment that enables the customer to enjoy a rich, satisfying experience.  Unfortunately, it’s an approach that has been largely ignored by the industry.

Design-minded managers relentlessly ask: Who is the person we’re serving, and how can we make their service experience better?  That thinking encourages listening intently to what the customer says along with what isn’t said, but is felt.

Design-mindedness is uncommon in a traditional, operations-centric industry where running an efficient operation is prized above all other endeavors.  That mindset inhibits innovativeness, and too often, the customer is left out of the equation.

As a result, commercial air travel, with some notable exceptions, is perceived as a commodity, i.e. competitors’ services are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and customers tend to buy on price or schedule-convenience alone.

Historically, the major airlines have viewed their central challenge as getting passengers from point A to B as safely and efficiently as possible.  Their organizing principles arise from a linear manufacturing model which hasn’t changed much over time.

The University of Toronto’s Roger Martin observes, “The dominant attitude in traditional firms is to see constraints as the enemy and budgets as the driver of decisions… The traditionalist belief is, “We can only do what we have the budget to do.”

By contrast, design thinkers view their central challenge as solving “unsolvable” problems. Design-thinkers venerate the customer, and relentlessly seek novel novel ways of overcoming constraints.

VA’s corporate culture – clearly influenced by Richard Branson’s intense creativity and drive – is customer-driven, encouraging design-inspired choices.  Branson’s mission for the Virgin group is to make flying fun again.

Recognizing that they’d have to look outside the industry – to Silicon Valley – VA hired software engineers rather than airline vendors. The mix of engineers and process owners led to some interesting choices.

For one thing, they came up with the novel idea of using an open-source (Linux) platform, named Red, to power a range of nifty features, like touch-screen food and beverage ordering, on-demand media on a high-resultion monitor, and even in-seat chat. Internet connectivity will be available soon. Moreover, Red affords VA the flexibility to support future low, cost innovation.

There are bugs to be worked out. Customers have reported re-boots and other glitches. But, I think VA is well ahead of the innovation curve, and their service platform gives them a clear competitive edge.

How will the industry respond?  Carriers are taking a beating from record fuel prices and reduced demand, and in this cycle, the carriers will be treading water for some time. Under the circumstances, will the U.S. airlines open the door to design-minded, customer-centric thinking? What’s next is anybody’s guess.

“Design and the Elastic Mind”

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Paola Antonelli, curator of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art discussed MOMA’s current show, “Design and the Elastic Mind” on the Charlie Rose Show [interview…] last week.  Ms Antonelli described the “elasticity” necessary to cope with a fast-moving world, and the way designers help us “stretch” to better adapt.

Antonelli says that complexity is a driving force in today’s world.  Design, an intrinsically human-centric endeavor, helps people deal with that and other disruptive forces.  Designers, she thinks, are becoming the new intellectual pragmatists who must bring together an array of disciplines that need to converge to help us navigate complexity.

She discusses themes at the confluence of design, science and technology that affect future the way we refine our services the “day-after-tomorrow”.  It’s a terrific conversation.

> Related: Check out Paola Antonelli’s talk (’07) at TED in Monterrey, Treating Design as Art .

Asking “What’s Next?”. Obsessively

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

I think what sets our company apart is our obsessive inquiry into what works today and what will work tomorrow.  Asking what’s next inspires more creative thinking, while broadening the conversation.  This dialectic prompts even more questions: How can companies across industries and continents succeed in an ever-flattening world where competitors are hungrier and customers more demanding?

How does a telecom firm in Ontario inspire new ways to extract value for companies in Doha and Johannesburg? How does an airline in Singapore show a high-speed rail company in France how to deliver a more seamless customer experience?  How does a leading British hotel chain show a new comer in Dubai how to anticipate customer needs?

More broadly, how can what works in one market be transferred to another?  What works in mature markets and in emerging ones, and in all markets?  What works today, and how can it be adapted in tomorrow’s market?

What has worked and probably what will work ahead? It’s not more bells and whistles or silver bullets, but a clear, customer-driven focus—new, creative ways of mobilizing talent and allocating resources to fulfill the brand promise consistently, reliably and efficiently.

About the ‘creative’ part.  It’s essential, but so elusive.  Our experience shows that the most creative leaders “see” — patterns and trends — that others don’t. Innovative leaders design their service models to take advantage of them . By recognizing drivers that others don’t, true innovators overcome constraints that their rivals consider to be immutable.

However, leaders typically struggle to explain how they did it, and they often attribute it to good fortune. We’re convinced that game-changing results can be generated repeatedly.  But doing so requires challenging the tendency for habitual thinking.

So, what also sets us apart, I think, is our incessant curiosity. We’re looking for ways to foster collaborative intelligence and build communities of knowledge and practice.

We’re always on the hunt for novel tools and practices that can create substantial value. And we experiement, harnessing the best, most practical ones.  We do all of this, of course, while obsessively probing the ultimate questions: What’s next, and who will figure it out?

The New Business Gurus

Monday, May 5th, 2008

Babson professor and writer Thomas H. Davenport ranks business “gurus” that are in demand these among business executives, as he did in his 2003 book, “What’s the Big Idea?”  Davenport’s work is described in today’s Wall Street Journal piece, “A New Breed of Gurus”.

Among other things, Davenport notices that today’s most most pressing themes are globalization, motivation and innovation. He also observes that traditional business gurus writing “weighty tomes” are giving way to thought leaders from fields like psychology, journalism and experienced C-suite executives.

He’s so right about this. Traditional business writing doesn’t address the complex forces driving the marketplace these days.

Smart, creative practitioners are continuously looking for new insights which they can use to solve their most pressing challenges–especially challenges concerning collaborating with peers and partners alike to solve pressing challenges across time and space.

I agree with some of Davenport’s picks, but most especially top-ranked guru, Gary Hamel, who has written one of the most compelling business books around, The Future of Management (’07), and one that is inspiring a new way to think about organizational management.  While Hamel’s academic credentials may place him in the “traditional” category of thinkers, his work is revolutionary.

Hamel writes, “You can’t shuffle your way to the next S-curve.  You have to leap.  You have to vault over your preconceived notions, over everyone else’s best practices, over the advice of all the experts, and over your doubts….[You] don’t have to leap with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, or with your career dangling precariously out of your pocket.  You don’t have to leap with no sense of where you’re going to land.  But you do have to leap—at least with your imagination.”

Hamel’s approach is ideally suited for an emerging business gestalt in a world that moves faster every day.  His work is emblematic of why we’re increasingly looking outside traditional business management for creative ways to solve problems.  His work validates the notion of looking outside the box for novel yet practical ways of solving problems.

Frugality, Innovation & the Kindle

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Business Week interviews Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in their current innovation issue. The conversation entitlted, “How Frugality Drives Innovation,” is a think piece – in brief – on how to start from customer needs and then develop the capabilities necessary to meet those needs. According to Bezos, that’s how the Kindle was developed.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Q: Every company claims to be customer-focused. Why do you think so few are able to pull it off?

A: Companies get skills-focused, instead of customer-needs focused. When [companies] think about extending their business into some new area, the first question is “why should we do that—we don’t have any skills in that area.” That approach puts a finite lifetime on a company, because the world changes, and what used to be cutting-edge skills have turned into something your customers may not need anymore. A much more stable strategy is to start with “what do my customers need?” Then do an inventory of the gaps in your skills.

Kindle is a great example. If we set our strategy by what our skills happen to be rather than by what our customers need, we never would have done it. We had to go out and hire people who know how to build hardware devices and create a whole new competency for the company.”

Intrigued?  Be sure to catch Charlie Rose’s interview (11/07) with Bezos about the Kindle, and Amazon’s “recipe” for innovation.