A few thoughts on Stoos

I’ve enjoyed the bits and pieces of Stoos I’ve picked up, mostly via Jurgen Appelo‘s summaries (the discussions at the LinkedIn group have been valuable as well).  For those who aren’t familiar with the Stoos Gathering, the goal was modest, but the topic was bold:

At the Stoos Gathering we will discuss how to accelerate change in management and organizational transformation.

That’s all?  More seriously, I love the ambition and it it has been great grist for my mental mill, especially these three themes in the documents and discussions:

  1. Leaders should change themselves first: A fellow named “Hank” noted this in the pre-gathering documents.  For example, leaders who have not learned to self-forget may find they struggle to build trust.  And putting spiritual traditions aside, those who have not tended to their spiritual armor will find they cannot resist the forces of reaction.
  2. “The Problem” will prove a crafty and adaptive foe: Steve Demming notes that “the participants left for a future time evaluations of the best ways of getting from “the problem” to “the desired outcome.”  Wise move, because IMO these “best ways” will have to contend with Anna Karenina Syndrome: “Happy firms are all alike; every unhappy firm is unhappy in its own way.”  The solutions must be viral, in every sense of that word.
  3. Beware introducing “corporate managers”: I’ve seen a desire to involve corporate managers into Stoos what Jurgen calls Management 3.0.  That’s great, but some of us are “The Problem” and aren’t self-aware enough to know it (see point one).  I’m especially concerned about two types: those who’ll want to boil it all down to “one particular approach” and those who’ll pick any work product apart as “impractical”, “not actionable”, “unrealistic”, etc.

The Secret Life of Ammonia ( HT @reihansalam)

Thanks to Father Christopher’s chemistry class I knew that Carl Bosch was a job killer. Hardly any guano harvesting jobs left these days!  RT @reihansalam The industrial synthesis of ammonia: more important than is commonly understood! http://t.co/c3A4Gl19

SAP’s Sleeping Product Giant

Michael Krigsman and I had a chance to chat last week — he recorded a podcast w/ me that will be up on his blog before too long — and thankfully the chat got my blogging mojo going again. 

I don’t want to steal our podcast’s thunder, so I’ll focus on a tangent from our call — SAP’s innovation problem.  Michael himself has hoped that SAP’s leadership change would help to bring more innovation to market.  Ray Wang put it more bluntly in his take on Leo’s ouster:

[T]he issue is not sales. It’s products. Snabe and Vishal will need strong product vision to right SAP and point it in a forward direction. Engineering and products need more attention to bring out trapped innovation at SAP.

“Trapped innovation”… that’s so much of what I saw at SAP.  There are many cool technologies floating around, but they don’t fit in the “margin now” mindset that has pervaded the company.   The company is stuck in the classic [successful]  innovator’s dilemma:

By only pursuing “sustaining innovations” that perpetuate what has historically helped them succeed, companies unwittingly open the door to “disruptive innovations”.

Even worse,  SAP had deluded themselves into thinking they were responding appropriately — what was marketed as real innovation was simply new wine in old skins.  Exhibit 1 — 2007-2009 versions of Business ByDesign.

Innovative innovation myths

Here’s an old column I’ve meant to comment on for a while.  Dan Woods’s Jargon Spy is almost always a good read, and his take on The Myth of Crowdsourcing punctures some of the more cherished notions of social media and its power to create.   He goes right for the granddaddy of them all:

Wikipedia seems like a good example of a crowd of people who have created a great resource. But at a conference last year I asked Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales about how articles were created. He said that the vast majority are the product of a motivated individual. After articles are created, they are curated–corrected, improved and extended–by many different people. Some articles are indeed group creations that evolved out of a sentence or two. But if you took away all of the articles that were individual creations, Wikipedia would have very little left.  

Human innovation is the history of porting “applications” from one language, media, platform, or form factor to another.  In tech, we’ve moved app after app from pen and paper, to microcomputers, to PCs, and now to mobile.   Crowdsourcing “innovates” in much the same way, leveraging an existing paradigm but not really creating one. 

After all, Wikipedia is just another manifestation of an encyclopedia.  And who do we credit for that, the classic editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica, which were inspired by Diderot’s Encyclopédie, which built on Chamber’s Cyclopedia, and so on, and so on..?

SAP’s product side is the problem

Dennis Byron here gives the most succinct gloss I’ve seen on the challenge before Hasso:

Hasso Plattner wants to drive a great deal of technological innovation at SAP, and did not believe it could happen under Leo’s leadership, and without Hasso’s very direct involvement…. The product organization is full of conflicting technologies, conflicting interests, and conflicting agendas. Driving change in this kind of climate will be very challenging for Jim [Snabe] and Vishal [Sikka].

Hasso stalks the product halls?

There’s one more challenge: SAP hasn’t been honest about what is working on the product side. BYD folks walked around like the cocks of the walk long after it was clear that BYD was in deep trouble.  And the leadership let them…

Hasso’s right: Leo couldn’t call BS on the product side effectively enough.  From what I can tell, he’s the only one left in SAP who can meld innovation with the market AND is credible and powerful enough to actually do it!

Unfortunately, I can imagine that many on the development time think that they’ve won and happy days are here again.  Hasso’s back and it’s innovation for innovation’s sake at SAP!  What…monetize?  Isn’t that what sales people are for?

Wow, Leo Apotheker’s gone already?

Unbelievable that Leo Apotheker has already fallen on his sword.  There has been tons of chatter about Leo and his demise (Dennis Howlett here, Larry Dignan here, Michael Krigsman here, and the #leogone Twitter feed is here).  Here are a few of my thoughts and questions:

  • Everyone at must be relieved that Hasso is back in charge, morale at SAP has been a mess for a while.  The honesty from Hasso in his press conference was refreshing…the lack thereof is one of the reasons I’m not there.
  • Blaming Business By Design on Leo seems ridiculous…I’ve seen that mentioned a couple of places (here’s Bloomberg).  Didn’t Peter Zencke fall on his sword for this already?  Anyway, absurd.
  • How can anyone have any confidence that giving the development side more power will be fruitful? (see “Blaming Business By Design on Leo seems ridiculous” above)  I agree this represents a shift back to product development.  But what then? 
  • What does the field have left?  Leo supposedly represented the field, but IMO the field has been carrying SAP for a long time.   Will Werner Brandt’s beatings continue until the field’s morale improves?
  • Who else is leaving?  I’m not sure that current leadership gets what Peter Goldmacher states bluntly: “I think SAP is structurally impaired.”  The rot runs much deeper than Leo.

Balancing today’s and tomorrow’s business

Scott Anthony had a post on Bloomberg that summarizes what must have been a bang-up discussion on growth and innovation (post here).   He captures the balance we must strike between “winning the game” and “changing the game” well in his opening graf:

Take a deep breath, and repeat after me: “My [business model, product, business unit, brand, offering] has a finite life. I’m going to make that life as happy and productive as possible, but I also have to think about what’s next.” 

Perhaps this mantra can also help shed some light on the “manager vs. leader” question that so many seem interested in (it is my number one post and its here).  The manager is most interest in today’s “life” while the leader is focused on tomorrow’s.

The real innovators and revolutionaries

Spock builds a WYSIWIG word processor with stone knives and bear skins.

Spock builds a WYSIWIG word processor out of stone knives and bear skins.

Folks in the software business love to the don the cloak of “innovator”, or “revolutionary”, or “pathfinder”.  The dirty secret of our industry, however, is that much of what passes for innovation is simply porting and popularizing (e.g., GUI work done by Xerox PARC shows up in Apple Mac, evolution of spreadsheets from mainframe, to Visicalc, then Lotus 123, finally Excel). 

Those are achievements, no doubt.  But they’re incremental achievements: building on, adapting, leveraging, etc. the work of others.

Now, if you want to see something closer to revolution, check out what these dudes were up to in 1968.  Doug Engelbart and crew’s “Mother of all Demos” is astounding (here).  It will take a while — and the Flash files are quite hinky — but it is worth the time.

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