The Age of Speed by Vince Poscente

I was all set to be annoyed by this short book, but ended up being charmed by its cheery good-nature and earnest focus on its theme. The Age of Speed by Vince Poscente is a self-conscious little business book that is a little too aware of itself, and by no means an intellectual heavy-hitter.

Yet, perhaps because of that, it gets the job done. It drives home the message that irrespective of what you are doing (at least in the world of private enterprise), you should probably be learning how to do it faster. The message that the pace of change is important is not new — it goes back at least to Alvin Toffler and Future Shock (1970). What Poscente does is make a neat little case for adopting a certain philosophical attitude towards speed (namely “addiction” — pun not intended).

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Is Jeff Bezos the New Jack Welch?

I don’t usually read the Harvard Business Review because it is inconvenient to read for free, and expensive to pay for, but I happened to dip into the latest issue and was really impressed with the Jeff Bezos interview. Every generation in business is defined by one or two CEOs who manifest and model the defining qualities of the age. With this interview, I think Bezos is in contention for the 2000s.

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The Twitter Zone and Virtual Geography

My previous post on the 50-foot-rule led to an interesting exchange with reader tubelite, which led me to a more sophisticated appreciation of the idea behind twitter.com, and introduced me to the interesting ideas of Dunbar’s number and the Monkeysphere. After mulling the straggling exchange, and starting with tubelite’s insight that the 50-foot zone is really a zone of random background social noise, I came up with a map of modern virtualized society. At the heart of it is the new form of the 50-foot-zone, the twitter zone. Here’s the map.

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Open Innovation, or is Business War?

The catchphrase of Henry Chesbrough’s work on innovation (a doctrine called “open innovation” and described in Open Innovation, 2003, and Open Business Models, 2006), is “not all the smart people work for you.” The key operational message that corporations seem to take away from it though, is “buy and sell intellectual property vigorously and throw some money at universities.” Somewhere along the way unfortunately, a sophisticated reconstruction of the logic of innovation becomes reduced to quick-money recipes. Part of the blame rests with Chesbrough himself, for raising and framing a very important subject, but then being somewhat timid about running with the idea to some daring conclusions. In this article, I am going to rush in foolishly where, apparently, Henry Chesbrough fears to tread. I’ll interpret the idea of open innovation as business is not war, and you’ll see where that line of reasoning takes us. [Read more…]

Book Review: Blue Ocean Strategy

I don’t usually write strongly negative reviews of books, because most of the time, when you encounter a bad book, it is usually obviously bad from page 1 on. Intelligent readers don’t need help figuring that out. Blue Ocean Strategy is a bad book, but it is not your usual bad book. It is a dangerous bad book because it takes some thinking to figure out why it is bad, despite its success, and despite the fact that its key metaphor of blue ocean vs. red ocean has made it into the business lexicon and titles of innovation projects. This means that harried workers and managers, even really smart ones, who digest this on a short plane ride, might very well be led down very dangerous paths by it. So here is the first ever skewering of a book on ribbonfarm. Call it a ritual sacrifice. If you already read the book and didn’t find any serious flaws, read on for a detox course. If you haven’t read it, I hope I am able to turn you off. If you still insist on buying it, please use the affiliate link on this page, so at least some good comes from it. A better use of your hard-earned money might be buying me a cappuccino when you are done reading the review. Or buying one of the alternate recommendations at the end.

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The Fifty-Foot Rule Reconsidered

I have heard cited several times the so-called fifty foot law of sociology, which says that most collaborations happen among people who work less than fifty feet apart (the idea is generally credited to Tom Allen of MIT; the primary reference seems to be his monograph, Managing the Flow of Technology, MIT Press, 1977, which I admit I haven’t actually read). Let’s generalize and assert that most relationship interactions happen among people who live/work 50 feet apart, plus or minus an order of magnitude, say 5-500 feet. This being a probabilistic, phenomenological law, it should be interesting to mull how it is changing in Tom Friedman’s flattening world, and to what extent lives are getting transformed in terms of changes to this law.

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Disruptive versus Radical Innovations

Clayton Christenson’s seminal The Innovator’s Dilemma is now 10 years old, and its central idea of “disruptive innovation” is now part of the everyday language of innovation. Recently, I finally read the book after having loosely tossed the term around for a few years. I was shocked to discover that I had misunderstood the concept and made glib assumptions based on sloppy journalistic references. Properly penitent, I began using the term correctly and discovered, to my further shock, that nearly everybody else around me was also using the term incorrectly. By misunderstanding this one critical term, we lose much of the understanding of the innovator’s dilemma discovered by Christenson. Here is a cheat-sheet to help you understand and remember the implications of ‘disruptive.’ Should help elevate your next profound discussion on the nature of innovation. If you already knew the difference, you get to say “Ha ha!” to me.

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Visualizing the 2d World with Cartograms

Space and time are favorite subjects of mine, since they are the root concepts for two of the most fundamental types of questions we can ask, where and when questions. I discussed three dimensions in detail in a previous post, so I am going to dive into the subject of cartograms and show why you should be careful about your two-dimensional thinking as well. I’ll give you a question to stick behind your ear before I begin: how do tiny island nations like Britain and Japan manage to dramatically influence the world, while huge continents like Africa and South America often don’t even register on the radar? Let me warn you right now, that’s a trick question.

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Silos and the art of Empirical Theology

In reponse to my attempt to reconstruct the definition of a silo in a value-neutral way, Torp brings up an interesting empirical question about the relative proportions of healthy and unhealthy silos in the “wild,” and how you would add some empirical color to the discussion. It is reasonable to wonder whether any healthy silos actually exist, and ask how you might detect their existence and measure their “health.” I am going to argue here for an answer based on an analogy between macroeconomics and microeconomics that I hope you find surprising.

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The House of Tata and Indian Innovation

As a kid in pre-economic-liberalization India, I grew up with the phrase “import substitution,” and surrounded by a low-credibility innovation culture best captured by the following joke (which we retold in various forms): The US, USSR, Germany, Japan and India decided to collaboratively build a new rocket. The US supplied the design, the USSR the engines, Germany the manufacturing and Japan the electronics. Punchline: what did India contribute? We added a “Made in India” label. Today, fortunately, that joke wouldn’t work. There is a small but growing culture of true innovation taking root. A question that I have been pondering lately is “what is the DNA of the emerging Indian innovation culture?” Whatever the answer, it definitely includes the genes contributed by the House of Tata. And just what might those be? I can’t quite answer the question, but I can provide you with some raw material so you can come up with your hypotheses.

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