PM Quote of the Day — Albert Einstein (attributed)

Boredom is the highest mental state.

While we love to decry boredom, it can become a pathway to enlightment and transformation.  As the Daily Om notes (here):

Boredom itself is not detrimental to the soul—it is the manner in which we respond to it that determines whether it becomes a positive or a negative influence in our lives. When you respond by actively filling the emptiness you feel lurking in yourself, you cultivate creativity and innovation. 

PM Quote of the Day — Salman Rushdie

A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.

I had never seen this quote and I very much like Rushdie’s perspective.  A few years back, I made an effort to delve into serious fiction, which in turn has increased my appreciation of the power of that “version of the world” a talented novelist can conjure.  I’ve found a great novel more conducive to breakthrough thinking than a dozen management best-sellers.

The deeper current of Darwin’s thought

When people think of Charles Darwin, they first think of evolution.  But as Matt Ridley notes in this excellent The Spectator piece (here), there are currents of Darwin’s thought that flow on almost unrecognized:

Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago next month, has spent the 150 years since he published The Origin of Species fighting for the idea of common descent…  But in some ways it is less radical and topical than his other, more philosophical legacy: that order can generate itself, that the living world is a ‘bottom-up’ place.

As regular readers know, I’m skeptical of the way many technologists don the cloak of “innovator”, or “revolutionary”, or “pathfinder” (here and here).   The role of innovators is humbler in Darwin’s world:

Every technology has traceable ancestry; ‘to create is to recombine’ said the geneticist François Jacob. The first motor car was once described by the historian L.T.C. Rolt as ‘sired by the bicycle out of the horse carriage’. Just like living systems, technologies experience mutation (such as the invention of the spinning jenny), reproduction (the rapid mechanisation of the cotton industry as manufacturers copied each others’ machines), sex (Samuel Crompton’s combination of water frame and jenny to make a ‘mule’), competition (different designs competing in the early cotton mills), extinction (the spinning jenny was obsolete by 1800), and increasing complexity (modern cotton mills are electrified and computerised).

It’s a nice bit of irony that so many of these self-styled technology revolutionaries — who often believe their innovations had no precedents — are at heart believers in theories like spontaneous generation or intelligent design.  Not the company they would imagine themselves keeping, eh?

More on the McDonald’s Revival

The New York Times yesterday had an excellent feature on the revival of McDonald’s over the past five years (here).  I don’t quite buy this characterization of the change by Bob Goldin at Technomics, however.

[T]he McDonald’s rebound had been singular because of its simplicity: “execute the basics, flawlessly.” He described the McDonald’s strategy as “three yards and a cloud of dust,” adding that “it’s not revolution stuff.”

I’m not sure what revolution looks like… a new format, new menu items, new hours, etc.?  My guess is that commentators are looking for a visible manifestation of wrenching change.  But perhaps the revolution at McDonald’s is in the way it can implement change.  From a franchisor, Ken Hullings:

It seemed like every other month I was putting something on the menu or taking something off, he says. We were looking for that magic bullet, that magic pill. And I think what we realized that it wasn’t just one thing.

I think that there’s a better football analogy for this business approach — the West Coast offense (especially Bill Walsh’s version).  This approach is in many ways conservative and disciplined, yet enables diversity and unpredictability in one’s play calling.  It also values players who can react in real-time to the unfolding competitive enviroment (i.e., the defense).  In fact, it sounds an awful lot like what the IBM Global Survey (here) envisioned as:

The Enterprise of the Future [which] embraces unpredictability as the new routine…

Example of saying “yes, but” to customers…

Per some recent comments and posts (here and here) on discussing responsiveness to customers, Henning Kagermann related a story on a call that I had completely forgotten about.  I’m certain that it has been told publicly before, but I’ve disguised it a bit just in case…

In the early 1990’s, SAP was approached by a delegation of firms w/r/t industry-specific improvements to R/2.  They had a list of demands that they wanted to see implemented in R/2.  Fair enough.  That industry was perhaps the core of SAP’s success to that time, so why not do it?  Except that SAP was in the midst of developing its next generation product, R/3.  We also wanted to expand our footprint to other industries and markets.  There was no way we could do R/3 and satisfy much of that list of demands in the current product.

If you know anything about the history and success of SAP, you can guess the answer.  We chose to spend the preponderance of our efforts on R/3.  While some of the key demands were satisfied, most were deferred in favor of ensuring that R/3 got to market.

This example illustrates the challenge well.  Most of the time you should listen to your customers so you can satisfy and delight them.  But listening for too well for too long can mean that you wake up one day and find that you’ve become a no-growth “legacy” business.  Sometimes you need to say “yes, but.”

Leo Apotheker interview on Charlie Rose

Leo recently gave an interview to Charlie Rose with Andrew McAfee of Harvard Business School (video here, transcript here at the bottom of the page).  I’ve live “replay” blogged the interview below.

  • Oops… Charlie both mangles Leo’s name and implies that SAP is based in Paris.
  • Leo’s description of IT as the “central nervous system” is useful.  In my mind, I think of configuring, coding, and implementing enterprise software as creating a virtual model of the enterprise.  Extending Leo’s metaphor would mean that such projects are “virtually wiring” an enterprise.
  • About 2 minutes in, Andrew McAfee gave about the best concise explanation I’ve heard of how IT can be used to differentiate competitively (and why it isn’t a commodity).
  • About 9 minutes in, there’s an interesting discussion about barriers to entry and how they have little to do with technology.  As Leo says, “sometimes there’s a spark”, but most often the technology becomes widely available and commoditized very quickly.  The differentiation is in the richness of the ecosystem and the melding of business and technological expertise.
  • About 13 minutes in, Leo spends sometime talking about business networks and their emerging role in innovation (Procter and Gamble as an example).  He also talks about the parallel role of process and human collaboration, which we tend to talk about separately.  This last point hits one of my pet projects — encouraging more tightly coupling process, project, and knowledge management.  Too often KM is divorced from the “way we work.”
  • Finally, Andrew McAfee alludes to the boundaries between “designed” and “emergent” processes/structures, but he never explores the topic in depth.  To me, the debate between design and emergence advocates isn’t that useful — too much either/or.  Exploring the boundaries and potential co-existence between these approaches is where I want to go.

P.S. — I think someone clarified SAP’s location for Charlie via his earpiece at the very end…

Patenting Business Processes (and in general)

I’ve always thought the idea of patenting business processes was almost ridiculous on its face.  So many of the famous process patents, like the one-click Amazon patent, seemed to fail the non-obviousness test.  Sadly, the US Patent Office appeared to become another victim of regulatory capture.

Hat tip to Mary Adams (here) for pointing out that recent court rulings are tightening up the granting of such patents, at least.  She links to good posts on the topic here and here.

PM Quote of the Day — Mr. Spock

Emotions are alien to me. I’m a scientist

Of course, any Trekker knows that emotions are hardly alien to Mr. Spock.  Of course, in this episode (This Side of Paradise) an outside agent brought his emotions to the surface.  Spock’s emotions are usually presented as a weakness introduced by his human half… or at least he thinks they’re a weakness. 

When I remembered this quote, I laughed at his suggestion that emotion and science can’t mix.  Spock must not have read Thomas Kuhn‘s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  One of Kuhn’s insights — that resistance to the new paradigm is most fierce just before the shift — implies that science doesn’t always have much to do with reason.  More specifically, according to Kuhn, whether a new solution is “normal” or “revolutionary” science depends on the perceived similarity between the proposed new solution and the existing paradigm.   Just how do we subject perception to strictly rational rules? 

Remembering Kuhn’s insight prompts me to stand back when presented with a problem or an answer that doesn’t quite match the puzzles I’ve seen before.  I hope I can recognize that which is driving my fear or embrace of the “new”.

IT/Business Marriage Counseling

I agree with most of Susan Cramm‘s pieces, but she goes on a bit of a rant on the role of line managers in making IT’s life impossible (here).  While there is at least a grain of truth in her complaints, the IT “can’t do” attitude that infuriates line executives pervades the piece.

IT managers are tired of being treated like high priced waiters serving technology de jour on a moment’s notice.

Perhaps IT managers should stop acting like waiters and order takers for the business. It would be nice if IT wouldn’t “need to study” a request to deploy only somewhat new technology — e.g., Enterprise 2.0 — then come back and say “yes, but”.  Perhaps IT could anticipate what the business needed, for once?

Luke’s business “partners”… in their single-minded pursuit of customers, products and profit [emphasis mine],… simply forgot about IT.

If only IT knew what it’s like to have a single-minded pursuit of those pesky customers, products, and profit.  Not like that’s where their paychecks come from…

Alignment is meant to ensure that the right IT products and services are available to meet business needs with minimal angst for all involved [emphasis mine].

This definition/goal sounds good, but articulates a common IT mistake about defining alignment — avoiding conflict (“yes, but”).  Continue reading

Microlending and Microprojects

I’ve seen a few blogs I follow mention Kiva the past few days — first hat tip to Dennis Howlett here — so I need to remember to look at it more closely going forward.  Microfinance is one of the most effective ways to reduce the vulnerability of the poor while removing the stigma of dependency.  We have participated in Heifer International programs regularly, but Kiva looks like a way to kick up our involvement a notch.

In a related topic, microprojects are an emerging topic in our field.  We struggle with managing the balance between ensuring control of small initiatives while not smothering them.  I really like the discussion on small projects in Eclectic Bill’s blog (here).

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