Tag Archives: paradigm shift

On Innovation, Paradigm Shifts, and Intentional (Or Unintentional) Blindness

Here’s an article by Ryan McCarthy that describes how Nokia could have been ahead of the game on the iPhone type phone, and then dropped the ball: Counterparties: Why big companies are bad at innovating.

…as early as 2000, the Finnish phone maker had designed a proto-iPhone – complete with a color touch screen and geo-location, gaming, and e-commerce capabilities.  

This McCarthy article, quoting Peter Thiel, (actually, this “criticism” is kind of swirling around on the internet right now) describes how big companies might just get too big to innovate.  The bigger they get, the more “set” they become, and the more blind they become to a great new idea – even if the idea comes from someone within their own company.

This has been written about by many, with years of recommendations about “skunk works,” secret teams…  But it is just further proof that we get so very , very set in our ways.

It reminds me of the story of the invention of the battery powered watch.  I listen to it from the “Paradigm Shift” guy, Joel Barker, every semester, on his video The Business of Paradigms.  He tells how a man in a Swiss watch company invented this new fangled watch, and then showed it to the folks in his company.  “That can’t be a watch – it doesn’t have a mainspring,” went the refrain.  Well, the rest of the world saw it at some international watch convention, Seiko ran with it, and the Swiss lost their dominance in the blink of an eye.

Yes, there are a lot of bad new ideas out there.  And, I assume that someone at Nokia said “this is a bad idea” with that new fangled phone.  What we know is that they did not develop the idea.  But others did.

And the rest, as they say, is history.


This Is One That Really Bothers Me – We’re Not Getting Better, We’re Getting Worse

I read a lot, but there is simply no way that I can keep up with my blogging colleague Bob Morris.  In fact, I can barely keep up with reading just his blog posts.  But I try to.  {Yes, I am writing a blog post about a blog post on our own blog.  Sorry about that.}

Bob posts:  interviews with authors that he conducts, book reviews that he writes, personal reflections – and then, Bob posts excerpts and links to an array of newsletters and articles of great value.  I have written before, and a number of times, that reading Bob’s blog posts provides a true, ongoing business knowledge education.

And lately, he has had some great jewels buried in his posts, like this quote from here:

Book writing has many purposes, but surely among the most important is to spark conversation, and maybe even controversy. What did we get right? More importantly, where did we go wrong? What can we do to sharpen and refine these propositions?

So, I try to read Bob, I like what he writes and posts, and generally gain great benefit.  But sometimes, I don’t like what Bob posts. (“don’t like,” in the sense that – “this is probably true, and bothers me because it is true…”) And recently, Bob posted some thoughts from John Hagel III and John Seely Brown that have really bothered me. A lot.

Here’s the key section:

The Red Queen was optimistic. Nearly everybody in management is familiar with the Red Queen effect [click here], taken from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: this is the notion that “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

It turns out the Red Queen represents an optimistic view of the world. Despite long-term increases in labor productivity, the average return on assets (ROA) of US companies has steadily fallen to almost one quarter of what it was in 1965. We’re running faster, but still losing ground. There is no sign of this long-term erosion flattening out, much less turning around.

The conclusion is inescapable: our management practices and corporate institutions are fundamentally broken. The good news, if you can call it that, is that this isn’t sustainable for much longer: the trend line on ROA approaches zero in 2020. If you believe that markets spur innovation, however, it does bring up a conundrum: Why haven’t companies yet figured out how to compete more successfully? One reason is because…

Value ain’t where it used to be. Competition is not only intensifying, it’s changing the source of value creation from and the means for value creation from push to pull. These changes require such fundamental shifts in mindset and approach that most executives are unable to make the leap from their current ways of seeing and doing. Thus their companies remain mired on the downward slope of performance.

This is the summary quote: “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

And, here’s my reflection.  For nearly 13 years, I have helped business leaders and thinkers discover the key content of business books.  With my colleague Karl Krayer, we present the book synopses/briefings at the First Friday book Synopsis, a monthly event at which we have now presented close to 300 book synopses/briefings.  We know the key themes, the key findings, the key recommendations of the best selling business books.  And now, with Bob Morris on our blogging team, we are exposed to even more useful and valuable information.

And so, we all have this great amount of insight, and intruction, and corrective from the best business writers of this generation. And yet, after this enormously prolific period, Hagel and Brown tell us that the whole system is amiss, sliding backward, is…broken.

We either have a lot of worthless knowledge, we don’t implement what we learn (which means, in actuality, we didn’t actually learn it), or in spite of our best efforts, we just have not yet learned what is most important.   But what if the authors are correct — what if the entire system is, in fact, broken?  Maybe all those small paradigm shifts have not given us the big, great over-arching paradigm shift we need.

I don’t have a solution.  But this really has me bothered.  And I think we all need to put our best thinking caps on and ask, what do we do about this?

The Throes of Change – and the Unsettledness of an Era

throes: A condition of agonizing struggle or trouble

Last night, at a business gathering, a woman said to me, in the context of the upheaval of our era, that she thinks we are living in the end times.  She admitted that other generations have felt the same way, but she really thinks this is it.

Yes, this is the feeling of many people in many different generations.  And I know too much history, and so I’m a little reluctant to jump on that bandwagon.

But do you get the feeling that everyone seems a little insecure, maybe more than a little nervous – as though we are in the midst of, in the throes of, some kind of wrenching, agonizing change?  I do.

The Future of Management

The Future of Management

In The Future of Management, Gary Hamel hints at such unease:

Unlike the laws of physics, the laws of management are neither foreordained nor eternal…  Whiplash change, fleeting advantages, technological disruptions, rebellious shareholders – these 21st- century challenges are testing the design limitations of organizations around the world and are exposing the limitations of a management model that has failed to keep pace with the times.

I think he is right.  There is a great inadequacy of models – management models, governing models…  The models we have seem to be lacking, and seem to not be working.  It all seems so unsettling.

Recently, on one of the many blogs I read (this one a political blog), I read this quote.  The author is Daniel Quinn from his book Beyond Civilization.  Here’s the quote:

No paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one.  It’s almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one.  The people of the Middle Ages didn’t think of themselves as being in the ‘middle’ of anything at all.  As far as they were concerned, the way they were living was the way people would be living to the end of time.  Even if you’d managed to persuade them that a new era was just around the corner, they would’ve been unable to tell you a single thing about it – and in particular they wouldn’t have been able to tell you what was going to make it new.  If they’d been able to describe the Renaissance in the fourteenth century, it would have been the Renaissance.
We’re no different.  For all our blather about new paradigms and emerging paradigms, it’s an unassailable assumption among us that our distant descendants will be just exactly like us.  Their gadgets, fashion, music, and so on, will surely be different, but we’re confident that their mindset will be identical – because we can imagine no other mindset for people to have.  But in fact, if we actually manage to survive here, it will be because we’ve moved into a new era as different from ours as the Renaissance was from the Middle Ages – and as unimaginable to us as the Renaissance was to the Middle Ages.

I think we are in the throes of an agonizing change:  a shift, a true shift.  We think we know some of the causes, but we may be fooling ourselves if we think we know where it is all going.  But – I think the shift is coming.  Don’t you?


You can purchase my synopsis of The Future of Management, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.