Samsung chases innovation

At the top of the electronics world, Samsung is now mapping out how to survive the impending competition from low-cost competitors. After years of “fast following”, the company now leads the pack in many parts of the industry and is looking to innovation to continue to drive growth and returns.

This Bloomberg article discusses successful transformers (in the auto industry and Sony), the push by Samsung Chairman Lee Kun Hee to promote innovation and the growing threat of Chinese competition.

While Samsung has started to take gambles – most notably with its new smartwatches that it released before Apple’s expected iWatch and with its larger phablets in Asia – it has come to the conclusion that it must accelerate its innovation or risk losing out to low cost competitors .


Being more like Apple is harder than it sounds

We’re a celebrity driven culture. Business is no different, and today’s corporate Brangelina is Apple. The stock, the vision, the products and the profits – even with a recent stock slide, the company is the poster child of everything an American company should do.

So as an innovative leader, your job is to be more like Apple, right? Here I explore three Apple questions. Why aren’t you more like Apple? Can you import Apple by hiring their staff away? Most importantly, should you be like Apple?

Why aren’t you more like Apple?

Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses Apple’s competitive advantage: “Innovation is deeply embedded in Apple’s culture…it’s in the DNA of the company…the real magic happens at the intersection of [hardware, software and services].” In “Why Doesn’t Anybody Copy Apple”, the author argues that this integration is the key Apple differentiator. In other words  it is a process that makes Apple different and that makes it harder to replicate. Like any integration, pieces may be replicable but recreating the entire strategy is much harder.

Can former Apple Executives capture the magic?

Another way of looking at the same equation is to see how Apple employees fare as ambassadors of innovation and Apple culture when they join other firms. If anyone can capture Apple in a bottle, it should be the executives who contributed to the company’s success and lived it first hand. Brad Stone examines this  against the backdrop of former Apple executive Ron Johnson’s abrupt exit from J.C. Penney. He concludes that Apple executives have trouble running established large firms. Johnson ran up against price sensitive consumers who behave differently from Apple customers. Similarly, Jon Rubeinstein ran Palm in 2007 and launched a well-reviewed phone and a new mobile platform before HP purchased it in 2010. Few if any of his product improvements survived his departure in 2012.

An analyst who follows Apple disagrees with Cook’s innovation DNA hypothesis. he speculates that Apple executives have been trained to do what their CEO wanted, and that this particular skill set does not translate well. Regardless of whose hypothesis is more accurate, one fact seems to hold. As cultural export agents, Apple executives have not succeeded in exporting the ‘winning culture’ to other organizations.

Should you spend time trying to be like Apple?

In Fast Company earlier this month, Brian Millar offers 5 reasons why you shouldn’t try to be Apple.

  1. Apple does not fully understanding Apple’s thinking (capturing some level of celebrity driven fascination that borders on the obscene and revolves around others guess what Apple thinks)
  2. Observers ignore Apple’s failures and their general disdain of customer needs testing. Not all Apple initiatives are or have been successful
  3. Stealing a strategy that doesn’t exist (maybe Apple is driven by smart people making stuff up as they go along)
  4. Apple has been susceptible to Samsung’s advertising and distribution strategy,
  5. The focus should be on thinking differently and the importance of focusing on what customers will be loyal to.

The takeaway is simple. Apple is hard to copy even for Apple executives. There are a number of reasons why trying to be a different company is not a good idea. Perhaps demystifying Apple instead of focusing on your own business isn’t the best use of your company’s time…..


Can Yahoo Play Like a Startup Again?

There has been a good deal of press about Marissa Mayer’s attempts to revive the Yahoo brand and bring back some of the Startup mystique that it had 15 years ago. A recent article in the NY Times discusses Mayer’s attempts.

The highlight has been “infusing fresh blood and ideas…by buying creative start-ups”. The article highlights how Yahoo has fumbled past acquisitions such as Flickr and Delicious, companies that were successful predecessors to Instagram and Twitter.

Mayers’ street cred from her time at Google seem to be paying some dividends in buying Yahoo a redemptive chance to buy promising startups and acquiring their technical talent in the process. She has had to overcome the belief that Yahoo is where great technical talent goes to wilt away.

I recently had a chat with an executive at AOL about a similar effort, their Fish Bowl incubator in the DC Suburbs. He discussed similar goals to Mayers’ including infusing startup culture and finding great technical talent. Rather than focus on bringing talent in house, his program revolved around bringing in new talent for 3-6 months and facilitating developer and staff interactions.

While AOL and Yahoo have similar legacies, it remains to be seen which Innovation approach will pay the most dividends. The question that seems unanswered in both cases is after money and basic support, what the companies offer startup talent in the long term?

Target Tops 10 Most Innovative Companies in Local

Fast Company shared a list of 10 most innovative companies in local.  Interestingly, Target topped the list. The staff picked Target over notable local tech companies like Yelp and Foursquare.

Target received kudos for its urban stores with smaller store size, smaller packet sizes and layouts that allow for quicker navigation.

Usual suspects Yelp and Foursquare took the second and fourth slots respectively.

American Express snagged the fifth spot with its new MyOffers app that gives merchants the ability to reach new customers and show them available nearby offers.

Click here to check the full list.

Disruption guru Christensen: Why Apple, Tesla, VCs, academica may die

The market has often wondered how long Apple can stay on top. The company’s never ending string of products seems to have defied gravity. Can Apple be disrupted?

Clay Christensen shares his ideas about the possibility of disruptive innovation meets Apple and other big, dominant ideas. Clay Christensen, the author of the Innovator’s Dilemma, shared his thoughts at Startup Grind this past Wednesday. Check out the full post at Silicon Valley Business Journal here.

Christensen’s main premise, popularized in his book, is that innovative companies can be disrupted by less sophisticated competitors if they overshoot customer needs or cede the mass market and exclusively move up-market in response to competition.

Apple is based on proprietary technology which allows it to protect its market position. But if the company moves “up to the ceiling and the volume goes to the open players”, it could be disrupted. He argues that if the architecture becomes open, similar to Google’s OS, it may be almost good enough. Christensen argues that the real value of the iPhone is the the sophisticated manufacturing tthat is becoming commoditized.

Similarly, he argues that Tesla is susceptible to electric vehicles that cater to customers who don’t want to travel very far or fast such as parents of teenagers. Additionally, he argues that while Tesla threatens existing car manufacturers, a low end electric car would escape incumbent’s notice.

Christensen recounts his experience with Bain Capital when they were starting out. At the time they had invested $1 million in Staples, but a few years later, they had set their minimum investment at $10 million. He believes that there is an opportunity to for other funding options (he doesn’t mention it, but it’s possible that this alternative may be crowdfunding).

His final example of disruption is higher education institutions like Harvard Business School. Online options brings more higher education to a broader audience and even now, Harvard is investing millions in online education but to support their existing business model. Christensen notes that there are new different business models that are disrupting education more broadly and predicts that over half the universities will declare bankruptcy in fifteen years.



Dreamworks, LinkedIn and Google – Intrapreneurial Cultures

Programs that formalize Intrapreneurship through establishing executive level representation (eg Chief Innovation Officer) and subject matter expertise (eg Entrepreneurs in Residence) do work.

However, there are broader approaches to embed the spirit of Intrapreneurship throughout the whole organization. Here’s a quick overview. Click here to check out the full excellent blog post at Innovation Excellence.

  1. Look for it — to recognize potential Intrapreneurs
  2. Be Transparent — to share the big picture and align new ideas with a bigger vision
  3. Be Inclusive — to make enfranchise Intrapreneurs
  4. Give People Ownership — to empower people to make decisions
  5. Make Risk-Taking and Failure Acceptable — to facilitate innovation
  6. Create a Learning Culture – to allow possibilities to be seen and explored
  7. Train Employees on Creating and Selling Innovation — to create engagement, happy employees and teach them how to pitch their ideas successfully l
  8. Support People With Ideas — to help them develop
  9. Offer Room to Play around — to spur innovations like Gmail and Google earth
  10. Create a Safe Place for Innovation — to remove short term pressure for immediate returns like Toyota’s Prius
  11. Celebrate and Reward Intrapreneurial Behavior – to encourage and retail Intrapreneurs
  12. Encourage Cross-Discipline Project and Collaboration — to increase the chances of success like 3M
  13. Encourage Networking and Knowledge Sharing — to create a network with internal influencers and connectors
  14. Focus on How to Better Serve Customers — to create the context, stimulus and ideas that facilitate success
  15. Be Sensitive to External Changes — to stay ahead of trends and competition
  16. Shorten the ‘Yes Chain’ — to allow ideas to get to the Yes stage like Apple
  17. Create and Allocate a Funding Pot – to feed projects and move them forward




Four Tips to Foster Intrapreneurship

A note from Davos on Social Intrapreneurship by Gill Bulloch, the head of Accenture’s Development Partnership…

Intrapreneur is not a job title. They’re “two-thirds change maker, one-third trouble maker”. Look at Vodafone’s M-PESA Mobile Banking business in Kenya. It was an Intrapreneur, known to his firm as a Marketing Manager, who developed the idea and sold up the chain at Vodafone.

Here are the Gill’s tips for fostering business benefit with social good:

  1. Leadership needs to provide cover to protect the bottom-up ideas. Without a high level champion, middle managers will likely derail the idea before it can develop 
  2. Harness the trouble maker. The Social Intrapreneurs are different from their peers. Ensuring that their enthusiasm and ideas are channeled is key to incentivising them to develop their ideas
  3. Realize the value of retaining these actors. Making a difference matters to them and that can coexist with making money.
  4. Base decisions on the Business Case. The numbers still have to add up and the innovations have to add value to the business to be sustainable.

Branding Yourself as an Intrapreneur in a “Belonging” Culture

Richard Branson shares how the immigration queue at the British Virgin Isles is split between Belongers and Non-Belongers. For those who travel often, this is a nice change from Residents and Non-Residents. In this article, a personal branding blog applies the same concept to companies asking what a corporate Belonger is? You are given the freedom and empowered to create and innovate. In the past, Intrapreneurs were not mainstream and worked on the fringes in corporate settings. Compare that to how Google enables employees to spend 20% of their time on projects they’re interested in.

It is important to relate the sense of belonging to a group-oriented cultures with driving Intrapreneurship within a corporate environment. Intrapreneurs are effective when they balance the belonging (and thus advancing their ideas) with innovating (and improving the status quo).

Having recently read the Innovator’s Dilemma though, this article reaches a different conclusion from Christensen who argues that Innovators should be separated from the parent company to allow them to flourish.

Do you agree the Belonging article above or Christensen? How can an Intrapreneur balance belonging and innovating?

Sometimes Less Is More

Talk of innovation and intrapreneurship is often about adding new groups, new product features and new processes to business as usual. The author of “The Laws of Subtraction” talks about how less can be more.

He uses examples such as how W.L. Gore eliminated job titles to increase employees’ creativity and how Scion (the Toyota car brand) reduced the number of standard features to allow customers to customize their cars. He further notes how the iPhone created a revolutionary cellphone by removing the physical qwerty keyboard.

The author recommends making a “not to do list” along with your usual to-do list. He also recommends asking those closest to you about what they would like you to stop doing. It’s not just about what you would do, but also about what not to do.  Read the full article at the NY Times here.


When not to Innovate

This post is terrific for a couple of reasons. One is that everybody always talks about innovating being a panacea for every corporate problem. Two is that understanding some scenarios where innovation would make things worse or handicapped efforts before they even start is as useful as understanding the best ways to innovate.

The three scenarios that I found most interesting are:

  1. When your clients are even more conservative than you are
  2. When everybody says: “Innovate!”, but no one wants to be responsible
  3. When everyone fears failure

Check out the 21 situations when innovation may not be the best idea.