Archive for fatigue factors

Jun
15

Punishing Innovation: Lessons from the Court Martial of Billy Mitchell

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A grand old movie is “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell” starring Gary Cooper as the aviation innovator Billy Mitchell. Billy Mitchell has a major airport named after him in Milwaukee and there is a small museum honoring him in the airport. Today his name is honored as one of the great champions of innovation that led to the United States developing air power for military advantage. His patriotism and his commitment to progress, though, resulted in a court martial by those in the military who were threatened by Mitchell’s ideas regarding aviation.

After World War I, hundreds of airmen in the military, including many friends of Colonel Billy Mitchell, were dying due to poor maintenance of the fleet. The military was neglecting aviation. The politically powerful Army and Navy saw no need for an airforce. Only a handful of functional aircraft were in the US military. But Mitchell had a vision of the future and recognized that aircraft must be an essential part of our future military strength. He argued, he cajoled, he carried out dramatic demonstrations of what aircraft could do, all at great risk to his career. He also predicted that there would be a military strike against us at Pearl Harbor, and that we needed to prepare more vigorously. His efforts to bring change resulted in court martial and a dramatic trial.

The opposition to military innovation was so great and yet his desire to make a difference was so strong that he chose to give up his military career and push for aviation as a civilian.

If the military had listened to Colonel Mitchell earlier, if there has not been so many innovation fatigue factors hindering Mitchell, many lives might have been saved.

Thank goodness, though, that Mitchell, like many great innovators, endured and was willing to sacrifice to bring about change. He should be counted as one of the great heroes of the U.S. and of innovation.

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Mar
03

Eaten Alive By Regulation: Innovation Fatigue and Fish Therapy

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“This is something that is dangerous and clearly unsanitary,” warned New York senator Jeffrey Klein in October 2009. “Once we shed light on this dirty little process, more people will avoid it and we can ban it.” The terrifying menace that so worried the good state senator and led him to introduce legislation to ban it is a natural therapy that has been used successfully for 400 years to treat the skin of feet. 400 years of successful, healthy treatments in the form of fish pedicures. In the US, though, the process is very foreign and has a certain squirm factor to it. Small fish that nibble at dead skin are a relatively common treatment offered in several parts of Asia, but in the West, worried officials have been applying or creating various regulations to fight against the invasion of new options for beauty care, one of many highly regulated business areas where innovation fatigue often comes from the burdensome and sometimes unpredictable applications of regulation.

In the US, approximately 15 states have banned fish pedicures. Some regulators say that they require tools used for pedicures to be completely sterilized after each treatment, which would mean, of course, frying the little critters after they’ve nibbled on your feet. An expensive proposition for business owners. Several people wishing to bring this new service to their community invested heavily in the systems needed for safe, clean tanks and fish, only to have new regulations added that would single out their business and ban it.

Can’t people make their own decisions about where they stick their feet, or how they deal with their bunions? If someone wants to use a natural method that has 400 years of successful history, do we really have to tell them that they aren’t allowed to for their own good? Sure, there are risks, perhaps similar to the risk of putting one’s feet into the water at a beach or swimming pool. But regulators protecting the public from themselves with unnecessary layers of regulation and bureaucracy represent one of the most difficult and painful forms of innovation fatigue. Someday we need to allow business and innovation to flourish and just get out of the way.

Yes, I recently tried fish therapy and found it to be remarkably refreshing and effective. The fish–I think these were Chinese chin chin fish, though Middle Eastern doctor fish are most commonly used–just nibble at dead skin and leave the healthy live skin alone, so they don’t cause bleeding or irritation. It’s hard to see how this could be any more dangerous or terrifying that placing one’s foot in a lake, a stream, or swimming pool, with the exception that there are 100% organic fish like to tickle your feet. I hope to try this again.

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Jan
03

First, Align All the Lawyers

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Many companies seeking innovation overlook their own internal barriers to innovation success. One of the biggest barriers can be their own attorneys. Lawyers are needed for many aspects of innovation, such as drafting the agreements with partners in open innovation and protecting IP with patents, trademarks, and other intellectual assets. The skill of a good lawyer who understands the business and its needs will often make the difference between success and disaster. But frequently non-lawyers fail to recognize how broad the spectrum of lawyer quality is and how non-standardized and diverse the practice of law can be. People with a technical or financial background, who are used to seeking and finding “correct answers” in problems of math, engineering, and accounting, might not recognize how subjective and variable in style and outcome the work of lawyers can be. More specifically, they might not recognize how ridiculous and counterproductive the work of their attorneys is.

In working with various companies seeking to promote innovation, I’ve sometimes watched in horror as a single misguided attorney not only impedes deals but even destroys relationships as he or she seeks short-term gains that destroy the long-term potential in a relationship. The tone of an attorney’s work can exude distrust and harshness at a time when trust and friendship needs to be built. Opportunities can be destroyed by an attorney urging the client to twist the screws to extort unreasonable gains from a potential partner, by pushing for extreme terms, by treating every encounter with the outside world or with inside employees as an adversarial relationship to be won at all costs. I’ve seen good innovators walk away from partnerships or even from their own companies through the antics of poor lawyers.

When it comes to innovation and partnerships, managers must not assume that their legal team know what they are doing (in spite of genuine excellence in the letter of the law), and instead must take steps to educate the attorneys about the relationships they wish to build, the tone they wish to convey, and the long-term goals they seek. Innovation success may require aligning your legal team with the not only the business goals but the principles to be pursued, the relationships to be strengthened and the spirit and character they wish to show.

Don’t take Shakespearean extremes. Rather, first simply align all you lawyers. Then you’ll be a little more likely to overcome innovation fatigue.

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Nov
20

Dehydrating Innovation in Europe: EFSA and Beverage Innovation

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One of the hottest areas for innovation globally is in improved foods and beverages that benefit human health. Unfortunately, bureaucrats are among the biggest barriers that innovators face in this field. In the United States, something as uncontroversial as the well-known relationship between citrus fruit and scurvy (that is, citrus fruit can prevent or help cure scurvy) becomes a dangerous proposition in the hands of a bureaucrat. One VP with a major global food company explained to me that selling an orange with the claim that it “may help prevent scurvy” could get you thrown in jail in the U.S. under the strict rules of the FDA, rules which make it exceedingly difficult to pursue innovation in food, no matter how strong the science is. But the innovation barriers from regulations in the U.S. may be dwarfed by those that are metastasizing in Europe, especially under the heavy hand of the EFSA (European Food Standards Authority). The fantasy land of bureaucrat anti-imagination in Europe is so other-worldly that you can become a criminal for claiming that “water may help prevent dehydration.” Incredible? Impossible? Here’s what Victoria Ward and Nick Collins report in The Telegraph, Nov. 18, 2011 (excerpt):

EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration
Brussels bureaucrats were ridiculed yesterday after banning drink manufacturers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.

EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.

Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large.

“The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are: highly-paid, highly-pensioned officials worrying about the obvious qualities of water and trying to deny us the right to say what is patently true.

“If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project then this is it.”

NHS health guidelines state clearly that drinking water helps avoid dehydration, and that Britons should drink at least 1.2 litres per day….

German professors Dr Andreas Hahn and Dr Moritz Hagenmeyer, who advise food manufacturers on how to advertise their products, asked the European Commission if the claim could be made on labels.

They compiled what they assumed was an uncontroversial statement in order to test new laws which allow products to claim they can reduce the risk of disease, subject to EU approval.

They applied for the right to state that “regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration” as well as preventing a decrease in performance.

However, last February, the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) refused to approve the statement.

A meeting of 21 scientists in Parma, Italy, concluded that reduced water content in the body was a symptom of dehydration and not something that drinking water could subsequently control.

Now the EFSA verdict has been turned into an EU directive which was issued on Wednesday.

Ukip MEP Paul Nuttall said the ruling made the “bendy banana law” look “positively sane”.

He said: “I had to read this four or five times before I believed it. It is a perfect example of what Brussels does best. Spend three years, with 20 separate pieces of correspondence before summoning 21 professors to Parma where they decide with great solemnity that drinking water cannot be sold as a way to combat dehydration.

“Then they make this judgment law and make it clear that if anybody dares sell water claiming that it is effective against dehydration they could get into serious legal bother.

EU regulations, which aim to uphold food standards across member states, are frequently criticised.

Rules banning bent bananas and curved cucumbers were scrapped in 2008 after causing international ridicule.

The ruling is more than merely laughable. For those on the cutting edge of advanced foods and beverages, it is an ominous sign of the innovation fatigue from government that is increasingly strangling Europe and much of the Western world. The inability to make reasonable, scientifically-supported claims about the benefits of healthy foods and beverages is one that will stifle innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe. I’d rather have to do my own homework to understand the validity of health claims than to have bureaucrats completely stifle innovation in health-promoting goods. Give me the Wild West of unrestrained innovation, with all the risks and bad claims that might follow, rather than a sterile 1984 society in Oceania which hordes of bureaucrats protect me from myself and everything new. But between those two extremes are many healthy, democratic alternatives in which sound legislation reduces the most egregious crimes while allowing innovators for the most part to move forward.

Here in China, where some of the best beverages in the world are to be found, I’m happy to say that soft-drink entrepreneurs appear to still have the freedom to declare that aqueous beverages reduce thirst and help prevent dehydration. Watch for the world’s epicenter of food and beverage innovation to increasingly shift toward China, if it’s not already firmly rooted here.

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Oct
12

Innovation Fatigue Through Bad Patent Law: The Innovation Burdens of the Leahy-Smith “American Invents Act”

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On Sept. 16, President Obama signed the Leahy-Smith “America Invents Act” which supposedly will strengthen innovation and improve our patent system. It’s a radical change in our patent system–one that seems to have been drafted by people who don’t fully understand patents or innovation.

Does this bill promote innovation as advertized? What about that 15% rate hike for patent fees–a new 15% tax on the IP that entrepreneurs need. That’s the most immediate and obvious change. Guess which way that increased burden tilts the balance? Economics 101 suggests that making innovation more expensive is not likely to make it more abundant. But Congress may know better.

Congress apparently recognizes that we have a problem with the patent system, where huge backlogs exist that cause enormous delay and expense for inventors. The backlog and efficiency problem they are allegedly fixing, however, does not require all the unintended consequences of revising patent law but simply improving the administration of the PTO. For example, if Congress would refrain from siphoning off many millions of dollars of PTO funds each year, effectively taxing innovation and crushing the ability of the PTO to properly staff itself and keep its systems up to date, then the backlog could be easily resolved, in my opinion. Unfortunately, we seem to have another case of politicians proposing costly solutions that won’t solve the costly problems that they caused. As long as Congress can redirect funds received by the PTO, the administrative problems at the PTO will not be resolved by changes in patent law. (See “Patent Reform–A Tax on Innovation?” and “Let the Patent Office Keep Its Money.“)

While probably not solving the problems it allegedly fixes, the America Invents Act clearly raises a host of new problems that may lead to unpredictable results in costly litigation for years to come. The radical changes involving who gets patents and what is prior art use confusing language that strips the bill of the “certainty” that its proponents allegedly sought to restore in the system. See excellent reviews of the controversies in these sources:

Harold C. Wegner of the respect form Foley and Lardner has published an analysis of the law (3rd edition, Sept. 29, 2011) which highlights its pervasive ambiguity due to poor drafting. This is a serious issue which will cloud patent law and hinder the quest for patent rights for years to come. Wegner also rules that the new law may increase backlogs because appeal judges will have to continue dealing with their heavy load of existing cases as well as take on added cases of “post-grant reviews” and other new administrative procedures (supplemental examination and transitional examination of business method patents) which are provided in the new law. The backlog is sure to increase and fees will be raised even more to cope. Meanwhile, the new post-grant review process has “dractonian” elements, as Wegner observes, that may further impede the ability of an inventor with a real invention to obtain a patent. Further, there are numerous details Wegner identifies in his 177-page text showing potential harm to “upstream” entities like universities and small inventors while benefiting those downstream entities that want to use the innovations of others for their business as cheaply as possible. I smell innovation fatigue.

In my view, the bill reflects fundamental ignorance about the nature of invention. The perplexing provisions on prior art highlight this. Years of litigation that will be needed to clarify what on earth is meant by the new prior art provisions as patent professionals already express exasperation over issues of derivation, inventorship, and prior art in the new law.

A crucial part of the ignorance here is on the nature of invention itself, amplifying the confusion created by the judiciary regarding what is patentable. Viewing business methods and software as somehow being non-technical, in spite of typically involving highly technical systems and tools, opens many cans of worms. If something is novel, useful, and non-obvious, why should it not be patentable if it involves computers and electronic data? But the judicial backlash against vaguely defined “business method patents” has been institutionalized in this new law, where business method patents dealing with the financial services industry (thank you, Wall Street lobbyists) have been given special treatment, allowing Wall Street to have a special route to invalidate patents that otherwise have survived basic prosecution, reexamination, and prior litigation. Section 18 of the law describes how those being sued by a “covered business method patent” can have a special hearing to invalidate the patent. That section includes this gem to define that key term:

(d) DEFINITION.–

(1) IN GENERAL.–For purposes of this section, the term “covered business method patent” means a patent that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service, except that the term does not include patents for technological inventions.

(2) REGULATIONS.–To assist in implementing the transitional proceeding authorized by this subsection, the Director shall issue regulations for determining whether a patent is for a technological invention.

The drafters of this law apparently view “business method” inventions as distinct from “technological inventions.” If science were to rule, it would be clear that one cannot clearly distinguish between “technological inventions” and a claim involving data processing or management of a financial product or service when technology is involved. Why is a new use of a computer to advance financial services not “technological”? Why is it a less worthy invention than a new use of a polymer or of amide chemistry or of coherent photons? This probably relates to the non-scientific but widely held view among judges and politicians that information, data, and electronic signals are somehow not part of the physical universe and should be viewed as abstractions rather than concrete entities that relate to physical measures such as entropy and require tangible matter and real energy to manipulate. Note that “technological” is undefined, perhaps because it cannot reasonably be defined in this unreasonable provision of an fatigue-generating law. I wish the best of luck to the Director of the PTO in clarifying this opaque miasma.

The richest innovations transforming our era involve inventions rooted in the processing and manipulation of information and these innovations must be encouraged and rewarded, not excluded from patent coverage because some failing but well-connected ‘too big to fail” entities don’t want patents from others to stand in their uncreative way. The AIA clearly shows the power of those Wall Street entities in guiding legislation and giving them special breaks, breaks that will do anything but strengthen innovation. Like much of the rest of the law, it’s directed at fixing the wrong things in the wrong way. May wiser heads quickly repeal or massively revise this legislation before backlogs explode and innovation fatigue is further spread across the US system.

Meanwhile, from my vantage point in Shanghai, I see China increasingly strengthening incentives for innovation and strengthening patent rights. This bodes well for the competitiveness of China in the future. America will soon be wondering how to catch up. How about some real patent reform down the road?

For a rather optimistic but definitely helpful overview of the impact of the AIA on patent practice, see PLI’s page, “America Invents Act: How the New Law Impacts Your Clients and Your Patent Practice.”

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Oct
03

Malinvestment: Crushing Innovation Where It’s Needed Most

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One of the biggest problems from economies directed by bureaucrats rather than a free market is that the bureaucrats don’t just spend money on foolish areas that don’t make sense economically, but their diversion of funds causes money to dry up where it is needed. Thus the housing bubble, created by government intervention and waste, resulted in billions of dollars being lost for unnecessary home building when it could have been helping small business grow. When government creates artificial markets and bubbles that are sure to pop, there is a lot of hidden carnage in addition to the obvious disasters one sees down the road. A top victim of bureaucratic excess and meddling in the economy is innovation.

Right now, for example, the government continues to direct billions into solar energy in the name of advancing innovation, while simultaneously increasing the cost of patent protection for all innovators by about 15% due to the harmful new patent legislation that was just signed into law. Government interventions in the field of energy are often likewise tailored to increase the cost of energy to consumers in order to achieve political objectives that make little economic sense. We have not yet learned from the Solyndra scandal but continue to misdirect billions into areas with simply no hope of being economically competitive. The problem, again, is not just that those projects will fail. The deeper problem is that the innovators who really could make a difference are less likely to gain access to capital and less likely to be noticed in the market because of the artificial barriers they will face. The market is being skewed and real innovation by real entrepreneurs, the kind of innovation that can succeed and make economic sense, is likely to suffer as a result.

One of the mysteries of the current economy is why so little capital is going into business investment now in spite of all the billions being dumped into the economy. Part of the problem is that the artificially low interest rates being set by the Fed create an easy, low-risk way for banks to make money at our expense. They can borrow money from the government for almost free and then simply buy treasuries to collect the interest. When a risk-free cash cow is created this way, why should they want to make money the risky, market-based way by investing in businesses that can fail? But this cash cow distorts the economy and makes innovation more difficult in the long run. Innovation fatigue.

Want less innovation fatigue? Let’s not pretend that bureaucrats in DC know which innovations deserve billions of dollars. Let the market decide. And ditto for interest rates. Get the Fed out of that equation and let the market set the cost of money.

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In the United States and many other nations, a question is being asked by many who struggle with the brutal reality of innovation fatigue. In many sectors, it is taking bigger investments, longer times, and much more pain to deliver innovation, and much of what passes for innovation in some sectors ends up being incremental fluff or mere cost-cutting. Some blame it on employee productivity, some blame it on short-term thinking in pubic companies driven by the unnecessary compulsion to please stockholders above all others, some blame it on the MBA culture instilled by leading business schools, and others blame it on governments that make every entrepreneurial move a slow trudge across the regulatory mire and a possibly fatal descent into quicksand. Some point to numerous factors including the capital crunch, creating a perfect storm in which even cash-rich companies are afraid to invest in real innovation because of uncertainty and fear.

Innovation fatigue, of course, is not uniform. Individuals and individual companies often buck trends and rise above currents of fatigue, and sometimes entire sectors seem energized and vibrant with innovation. For example, innovation in mobile applications and devices seems vigorous, but even then we have former innovation leaders like Nokia and Motorola feeling the burn of fatigue across many parts of their business.

Where are the real pressure points? What are the next steps that America or other nations need to take to restore a vigorous innovation culture across many sectors and help their nations overcome innovation fatigue? What do corporate leaders need to be doing differently to turn their companies in havens of innovation that can deliver growth and success for the long term? What do our political leaders need to do and understand to let the fire of innovation burn more brightly?

Let me know your thoughts. The five answers I like best will be rewarded with a free copy of Conquering Innovation Fatigue mailed to wherever you are. All submissions will implicitly have your permission to share them, though I will withhold your name if you ask me to. Send your comments to jeff at magicinnovation d0t com.

Feb
14

A Burning Platform: Nokia Faces Its Own Innovation Fatigue

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A painful message from the CEO of Nokia, shared below, reminds us that the pain of disruptive innovation often catches major incumbents unaware. As they listen to their existing customers and improve existing products and services, often incrementally, they may not sense the tsunami of change that is coming from afar. The innovations that will disrupt them often seem not good enough to threaten their core business. By ignoring the threats and opportunities around them, they continue to focus on core competencies and core markets and feel little pain until the new competition, ignore too long, has developed the skills and competencies to strike at the core itself. When the pain is felt, it is often too late. When the heat of a raging fire is finally felt and awakens you from your dreams, it is often too late. You may escape if you are lucky, but the building is likely to be lost. How will Nokia cope? Read the speech below, then we’ll discuss their newly announced plans.

Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, gave this speech to employees last week and the transcript has been posted on several sites such as Casey’s Daily Dispatch, the Wall Street Journal’s TechEurope Blog, Ongo.com, MSDN.com. It is brutal and painful. A few years ago tech stock experts recommended Nokia as one of the leaders in the business and best investment opportunities. But by focusing on their existing markets and competencies, they missed the changes that would envelope the market and misallocated their innovation resources. They are now on a “burning platform.”

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or he could plunge 30 meters into the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high end, they are now winning the midrange, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one-third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now we have a great opportunity to do the same.

Stephen.

Alex Daley’s commentary at Casey’s Daily Dispatch on this memo is among the best. A few excerpt from Alex follow:

But one of the mobile world’s most celebrated early stars is fading, and fast – Nokia. The Finnish mega-company traces its roots all the way back to the rubber industry in 1865. But it evolved over nearly a century and a half into the largest mobile phone supplier in the world. At its peak, the company accounted for the majority of all phones in the world. However, lately things have begun to unwind. Market share for the company has slipped from 39% in 2008 to 35% in 2009, and again to 30% in 2010.

Not only is their global market share decreasing, they’re being assaulted from every side and find themselves with shrinking influence, shrinking margins and shrinking options. Apple, RIM, and the contingent of Android phone manufacturers around the world have gulped up the overwhelming majority of the high-end smartphone market, where profit margins are high. On the other end of the spectrum, Chinese technology outfits have begun to lock up the massive lower end of the market, turning out designs and equipment at a breakneck pace.

Desperate to find relevance in a market moving on without the company, last year they appointed former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop to the position of CEO. He has been pretty quiet since he joined the company, taking his time to learn the business and get to the root of the issues that cause the market to value this technology giant at less than the $43 billion in revenue it generated last year. Quiet until now….

And [Elop’s] use of the term “platform,” while symbolic, seems like a calculated choice for a company that staked its future on a failing developer platform known as Symbian, and a long delayed smartphone platform called MeeGo yet to even launch nearly four years after the iPhone was originally released….

The question of the hour is not just whether or not that will happen, but whose platform it will be. Apple doesn’t license. HP has locked up WebOS with its Palm buy. That really only leaves Google, whom Elop cites as a competitor, and Microsoft, his Alma Mater, which goes completely unmentioned in the damning note….

Elop’s failure to mention Microsoft was certainly deliberate, for a few days later he announced a major partnership with Microsoft aimed at saving the company. See “Microsoft, Nokia Agreement Signals New Smartphone Game,” a Feb. 14, 2011 story from EWeek.com.

Microsoft and Nokia announced a wide-ranging partnership Feb. 11, which will include running Windows Phone 7 on Nokia smartphones, in a combined bid to blunt the competitive momentum of Google Android and the Apple iPhone.

“We have a formidable plan to ensure our collective leadership in the smartphone market and in the ecosystem that surrounds it,” Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told a London press conference. “Our long-term strategic alliance will build a global ecosystem that creates opportunities beyond anything that currently exists.”

Now comes the hard part: actually building that ecosystem.

A formidable plan? I’m sorry, but part of me cringes when anyone declares that the plan they created is “formidable.” Too close to “fool-proof.” And we went from desperation on the brink of ruin on a burning platform one day to a formidable plan the next? Eweek mentions some reasons to restrain enthusiasm:

“Microsoft wins big in this arrangement, having gained a partner for an OS that is struggling in the market and losing share even among its current device suppliers (e.g., HTC),” Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates, wrote in a Feb. 14 research note. “Nokia brings huge scale and can dramatically increase WP7 market share beyond its traditional reliance on vendors with much lower market share. And this precludes Microsoft from having to enter the device market directly (as it did with its Kin disaster).”

However, some analysts see the deal as a decidedly negative one for Nokia, particularly in the longer term.

“We think Nokia has created a new set of issues—a lack of ecosystem control, margin decline and a raft of new royalty payouts—in return for a ‘unique relationship,'” Lee Simpson and Andrej Krneta, analysts with Jeffries & Co., wrote in a Feb. 14 research note. “With WP7 as Nokia’s new primary smartphone OS, why would any operator take an end-of-life product (Symbian)? This can only cap the top line for Nokia going through 2011 and much of 2012.”

The analysts believe that Nokia’s first Windows Phone 7 devices will be “hollowed out ‘N8s’ or the like,” referring to one of the manufacturer’s higher-end smartphones. “Despite longer-term assertions of speedy time to market designs, the overhauling of road maps (and cancellations near-term) will likely dent near-term progress and leaving Nokia dangerously exposed to further market-share erosion.”

I wish Nokia success, but feel that it will take more than Microsoft to bring them success. Innovation fatigue needs to be addressed at multiple levels in the company and the culture radically strengthened to reach their destination. Otherwise, further fatigue may stand in the way.

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Nov
22

The Invention of the Computer: Pulitzer-Prize Novelist Will Tell the Untold Story

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I am delighted to see Wired Magazine feature a story about the new book on the largely untold story of one of the original inventors of the computer. Nearly everyone has heard the standard story of the invention of the ENIAC computer at Penn State by a team led by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert Jr. However, as is so often the case in the world of innovation, those who get public credit for an invention may not be the original inventors. In many cases, one can make a case that key elements of a successful invention were borrowed or even stolen from a neglected inventor who deserves at least some of the credit.

In “Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelist Tells the Tale of the World’s First Computer” by Gary Wolf, we learn that John Vincent Atanasoff with his partner Clifford Berry were already working in the 1930s on assembling a computer in the basement of the physics building at Iowa State University. Their invention was finished in 1942, four years before ENIAC was finished. About the size of a large desk, the Atanasoff-Berry computer (ABC) could do laborious calculations rapidly. It was relatively unknown, but was known and admired by other inventors working on related problems, including some of the team that would develop ENIAC.

Now a novelist will help set the record straight. Jane Smiley, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has written The Man Who Invented the Computer to tell Atanasoff’s story. He had a successful career, but his magnum opus, the computer, was “forgotten until the late 1960s, when a legal battle broke out over the patents that the ENIAC project leaders had filed on basic computing concepts. In the course of the bruising litigation between the Sperry Rand Corporation, which had purchased the ENIAC patents, and Honeywell, which wanted to break them, it was proven that the ENIAC team stole key ideas from Atanasoff. The patents were declared invalid by a federal judge. But Atanasoff’s achievement never became widely known or celebrated.”

Smiley learned about his life at Iowa State, where Smiley studied and taught.

[At Iowa State,] she met someone who plays a minor, ignominious role in her tale: a professor who told her that, as a graduate student, he had been the one to dismantle and throw away the prototype of some strange calculating device that had been left behind in the basement of the physics building. The first digital computer was lost. “He ultimately went on to become the head of the computer science department,” Smiley says, “and he told me that destroying that computer was one of the great regrets of his life.” It is out of such personal twists and ironies—a novelist’s materials—that Smiley builds her tale, capturing both Atanasoff’s genius and, at the same time, the forces of chance that influence invention.

It is of such twists and ironies that the journeys of many other great inventors are formed, some of whom we discuss in Conquering Innovation Fatigue. The problems that deprive inventors and innovators of the due credit and reward for their work are often part of the innovation fatigue factors that can wear innovators down and decrease incentives for innovation for many. There are things inventors can do to improve the odds of success, and of receiving credit for their work. May great inventors never be forgotten!

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Oct
04

Ethics Fatigue

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Here’s a story I’ve heard too many times. I spoke recently with a businessman who developed an advanced formulation for a product that beat the market leader. He invested thousands in the product and found a manufacturer that expressed interest in his work and offered to be a partner in commercializing it. The businessman invested more to finalize the product and prepare it for commercialization, only to have the company come back later and say that they decided to drop it from their plans. Can you guess what happened next? The company actually went ahead and launched the product on their own. The developer got nothing more than a “thank you” for a nice idea. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a patent in place to protect himself. Non-disclosure agreements regarding the formulation might have helped if the formulation really were a trade secret that he had shared. He trusted and got burned.

Many companies strive to be ethical and operate by high standards. Some companies are simply unethical. I don’t think that describes the company in question. Here’s an important lesson: many companies strive to be ethical but operate by low standards. How low? As low as they think the law will let them operate. The obvious ethical thing from your perspective, and what you and an individual leader at another company might naturally see as ethical and fair, may look completely different when others who don’t know you are reviewing the proposed terms. “Why should we pay this person any of our money for this product?” “Because he invented it and brought it to us.” “But now we’re developing it on our own. If he doesn’t have a patent, there’s no reason why we can’t make this ourselves. At most he could ask for a finder’s fee, but we have no obligation to pay him anything. All he’s done is give us an idea. We’re grateful, but why pay?”

Companies proud of their ethics can have shamefully low standards. Sometimes their standards in the end are those of the lowest common denominator in their legal department or leadership team. Investigate their reputation and their ethics in practice before you trust them too fully.

Poor ethics, even from companies proud of theirs, are one of the banes of this world and the cause of so much unnecessary innovation fatigue. Be cautious, maintain good records, use non-disclosure agreements, protect your intellectual property, and stay clear of people and companies that don’t maintain high ethics in practice, not just in print.

Categories : fatigue factors
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InnovationFatigue.com is the official blog for the new book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. Here we provide supplementary innovation, news, tips, updates, and, when needed, a correction or two, to keep those who are using the big on the inside edge for innovation success.