Tag Archives: innovation

Don’t be an idea thief

Never steal others work. Ever. Period.

Show respect, credit it, attribute it and build on top of it if you want to, but never pass it off as your own if it isn’t.

I’m not talking lazy research where you fail to properly credit published work although this is bad enough, I am talking about idea theft. If you are going to propose someone else’s idea, then credit it. Simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it is written down, formally recorded and logged or legally protected. If it belongs to someone else, then give them the credit for this.

Unfortunately, in business the idea thieves are rampant, so beware. Often the worst culprits are senior managers and executives. They should know better, but too often they think that the intellectual ideas of those who work for them are theirs to plunder.


Idea theft is still theft. When you do this you demonstrate that you have the same integrity as a thief stealing from a corner shop. You didn’t need to take it – but you did – and you deserve the loss of respect and dignity for doing so.

There is no difference.

Crediting those who created the idea not only helps those people get the respect they deserve, it means that they are more likely to work with you and want to collaborate on joint initiatives, giving you both increased opportunities. For a manager there is no greater measure of success than being able to lead a team of very smart people who respect you. If you steal their ideas this is impossible.

Isaac Newton is widely credited with the quote that best sums this up, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  He understood that the work he did was adding to a body of existing knowledge.

The academic world quite rightly requires accurate and diligent referencing, reflecting the reality that most ideas are building on the work of others. The corporate world is far less demanding, but never underestimate the risks and dangers of failing to attribute intellectual property.

You may not think I remember that idea that I emailed to you a few months ago that you have now blatantly taken the credit for. Not only do I remember, but the server logs don’t lie.

It is hard to defend against a timestamped email.

Your call.

This article is copyright Gary Burt … reference it, build on it, but please credit me. The WordPress logs don’t lie.



Don’t add features to make products successful – instead remove complexity

Adding new features to products and services will not help them be successful if this is at the expense of simplicity. Instead of simplicity you may be able to substitute the words beauty or usability, but the core point remains. If you want to add new features, then these need to be added without ruining the core values and functions of the product.

  • A new feature should never ruin the beauty of a product
  • Additional complexity should not make the product harder to use.

The temptation to add that one extra feature, is always going to be there. The demand for new features though needs to be balanced with the drive for simplicity.

Simplicity matters, because at the heart of simplicity is customer focus.

By demanding simplicity, you drive a focus on what is important to the customer. Instead of adding every feature you can, allowing every possible combination, put yourelf in the shoes of the customer and make a choice for them about what matters most. In doing so you reduce complexity for both the customer and you as the supplier. More importantly, you take responsibility for the product. You cannot hide behind always saying yes. YOU need to understand what matters most to customers and be excellent at this. Feature bloat means mediocrity. Allowing limitless options, but allowing customers to make poor choices is not a good strategy. Take responsibility and help your customer. Don’t sell them what isn’t needed. Don’t add features they will never use and don’t change something because you simply want to make your mark on an established product line.

Deliver what will best deliver the outcome that the customer wants.

Not all customers will be happy, some will demand features that were not included or options that are not available. This is inevitable when you seek simplicity. The goal is not to make everyone happy. The goal is is to exceed the expectations of your target customers; to make the customers that YOU want very happy with your product. In defining the customers that you want to sell to you need to make a choice. Successful products don’t seek to sell to the whole market. They may end up doing this and have wide appeal, but successful products start by having a target customer and being the best choice for that customer, then growing and improving.

It doesn’t matter whether the product is luxury or commodity, high or low price. The same principles apply:

  • Know your market [specifically define who it is AND who it isn’t] then design to meet their needs
  • Don’t add features they don’t want or value – never play the more is better game without validating this with customers first. Likewise don’t ignore clear demands for new features – but in adding these, add to the experience not ruin it
  • Be careful about changing the fundamentals of your product. Do this with extreme care and only after extensive testing

Extensive testing doesn’t just mean rigorous scientific sampling. It can do, but what is most important is talking to your customers. Talking to them about what they love, what they don’t like and more importantly about what they want to do, but cannot.

Your most powerful question, ‘who wants this?

Your second most powerful question, ‘why?

Your most powerful word, ‘no

Your most powerful tool, the red pen of deletion

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is easy. It isn’t. The stories about getting this wrong haunt every product manager, but the stories about getting this right should equally inspire. Building a simple product, a simple product or service gives you a great platform on which to grow a long term future. In fact it is hard to think of market leading products and even companies that have not embedded the principles of simplicity and brilliant balancing of function and form.

Get this wrong. Launch a bad product or service, particularly in the early years, and you may never be able to recover from this.

Apple is always the classic case study to show success, and its focus prioritising design and user experience shows why, but other companies equally deliver simplicity – whether at the high or low end of a market.

  • Sharpie pens vs. Mont Blanc
  • Uniclo vs. Arcteryx
  • Premier Inn vs. Four Seasons
  • Mini vs. Ferrari
  • Southwest Airlines vs. Virgin Atlantic

Looking at the list it is also clear that simplicity is intrinsically linked with customer experience and quality. These are connected. They always are. It all comes back to customer focus. Driving simplicity forces you to remove what is NOT needed, what reduces value and what makes life harder for the customer.

One final point for those who are going to drive for simplicity. Be patient. What you are proposing is not a product change, but a culture change. Technical teams will challenge you and demand complexity. Sales teams will highlight every micro-feature that the competition has and push you to replicate this. Listen, then speak to the group who really matter – your customers. Evidence from this group is what really matters and trumps everybody else every time.

Simple really.


Accenture and the future of consulting

AdAge reported last week that Accenture is buying Fjord a leading design agency. They concluded that Advertising Agencies should be worried.

I don’t think so. Not just yet.

But I think Accenture’s consulting competition should be terrified.

I don’t see this as Accenture just moving into the space of advertising. Instead I see it more as Accenture injecting itself with a shot of IDEO, mainlining Razorfish and doping with FROG. What Accenture is doing is something much more fundamental then adding some design skills. It is defining a new type of consulting business.

The consultancy and system integration skills are still there, but it now strengthens its design and innovation muscles, takes a big step away from from the pure technology consultancies and system integrators and starts to make life very difficult for its competition. This isn’t simply expansion of skills – but vertical integration and the design of a new value proposition.

Anything involving design is notoriously challenging to manage, and balancing the innovative culture of Fjord with the execution focus of Accenture will never be simple, but if does manage this, then the consulting world is going to start looking very different. This should just worry the technology and business consultancies, but also the design companies who also now face a massive potential global competitor.

The good news for the best design companies is that you are likely to start getting into some interesting partnership conversations in the coming weeks and months. Personally I’d be talking to Engine Service Design … service design is an area that is in its infancy, has massive potential and these boys are some of the best.

Accenture are the first to bite the design cherry, they certainly won’t be the last.


The Emperors New Clothes are still being made

Can I humbly give Product Managers a quick piece of advice?


Stop lying about what your product can do for me if you know it doesn’t do it.

Just tell me the truth.

Instead of telling me it can do something it can’t, or something it can do, but does badly, instead pick something that I really care about and do this brilliantly. If you don’t know what that thing is, talk to me. Watch my life, understand me, heck – ask me. Professor Keith Goffin and Dr Chris Van Der Hoven from Cranfield University offer some techniques in their article that discusses why products fail.

When you think you have found it, ask me, if you have solved a problem I have, or met an undiscovered need that I didn’t know about, I will get pretty excited about it. However raw, if the idea and concept is good, then you will quickly know because I will want it NOW!!!

I will want to buy it.

I will want to know when it is available and what it costs.

A quick test for this … write down in 10 words what it is.

Real words, not marketing’ese. Simple words.

Core functions first, state the blindingly obvious.

Think about the most basic way that you can sell the idea and the product.

If you cannot do this, then go back and refine it, keep looking, keep searching. Don’t pick that last thing that was moderately interesting and build that, look for the problem I have, or the thing I want to achieve.

It you think you have found something, make it as real as you can. Build a prototype, a mockup so I can start to imagine this in the real world, in my life. This doesn’t have to be a polished machined prototype, a cardboard mockup today is better than a polished prototype in 6 months. Whatever you have, communicate the story of what it does. Storyboards, wireframes, mockups, prototypes – whatever you need to show the idea as live as possible, as real as you can, do that.

Then iterate and make it better. And better. And better.

Set a timeframe, a quality bar, and a budget, then iterate until you pass this. You will have to deal with these trade offs, but that is what a Product Managers life is about. It is all about compromise. Product success comes from making the right judgement about the balance.

If you do this well, when you come to launch, you can tell me the truth.

You don’t need to lie.

You can tell me with confidence what your product does, and why I should care.

If you have done your job well, I will want to buy the product or service.

And I will.

It is that simple.

Of course, if you lie to me, I will find out.

I will tell others that you lie.

I won’t buy from you again.

And neither will others.

Your choice.

You can try and sell the Emperors New Clothes, but you will be found out, and after that no one will trust you again.

… and no one will buy anything from you, because they cannot trust you.

So the next time you go into that product planning meeting, that product marketing review, tell the truth.

You can lie, but you will be found out.

Learning from RIM – good operations cannot fix a lack of vision.

The debacle at RIM continues.

The list of problems over the last couple of years pretty much ticks every box possible on what could go wrong in a technology company:

– Service failures, botched new product releases, uninspiring product roadmaps, delays to critical updates …

And the corresponding impact of these:

– Falling sales, falling profits, missed targets and a collapse in share price.

After failing to address the problems, RIM has taken the bold move of appointing a new CEO, Thorsten Heins, to boldly lead the recovery of the company.

And the result?

The stock fell further.

The core reason being pretty simple – because RIM and the new CEO has not shown that it even acknowledges the problems that analysts see, let alone is taking actions to resolve these. It didn’t help that the CEO was previously in charge of innovation and handset development at RIM, two areas that RIM has clearly failed in over recent years.

This brilliant piece of analysis by Michael Mace from 2010 details the problems facing RIM. It correctly predicts happened in 2011.

It also shows why any CEO who fails to address the underlying problem the ‘death spiral’ is going to fail to stop the decline.

And this is why the analysts and commentators are hammering RIM …

….because you cannot solve a problem of a lack of vision by executing better on a failed strategy. 

If there is no vision, no innovation, no idea that excites customers, no roadmap to beat competitors, no thought on how to challenge Apple, to defend against Microsoft, then the only result is stalled growth, collapsing profits and ultimately company failure. As Michael Mace highlights, this is not a slow decline. It is not a smooth linear reduction, it is “like a sprinter running off the edge of a cliff“.

Heins is right that RIM needs to fix the problems in product development and engineering and his Siemens experience will be relevant for this, but  this alone is not enough. RIM needs an injection of energy, vision and innovation to convince customers why it deserves a place in the market as a major player, not a declining enterprise provider. RIM needs to show how it plans to compete against the platform ecosystems that Apple, Android, Nokia+Microsoft have. Today, this is absent.

Without a vision that shows that you understand your challenges and have a clear idea of how to address these, you are not going to give customers, carriers, analysts and partners the confidence to support your product. Without that confidence customers will not buy your products, carriers will not promote your product and developers will not build applications for your product. RIM needs a strong ecosystem, not just a new line of phones.

Nobody wants to invest time, money and potentially their career on a failing company.

3 tasks for RIM’s new CEO

1) Hire 

Hire people who will tell you the hard truth, who will challenge failed logic and call out poor design. Hire people who will inspire, who are creative, who understand about platforms and ecosystems. Hire people who are passionate about life and technology. Great engineering matters and RIM could teach Apple a thing or two about network efficiency and battery life, but in design, usability and ultimately fun, Apple gives RIM and most phone makes a complete kicking. Get people who

2) Talk

Start to engage with the your customers – and listen to them. Not just the loyal ones. Not just the Blackberry die hards. Engage with the lost customers, the disenchanted, the disappointed. Measure customer satisfaction and make this a key metric across the company. Talk to carriers, partners, new businesses. Find others who will invest to build joint success. RIM cannot do this alone, whatever it thinks.

3) Focus

Implement the changes you need to make quickly. Get serious. Inject some energy into the company. Install a sense or urgency. Set aggressive timescales for change. Set achievable goals with short timescales. Embrace agile and lean. Learn quickly, change quickly.

One final point. You have less time than you think.

Apple, Android, Nokia+Microsoft are all chasing the same pound, dollar and euro that you are, and they are not going to make it easy for you to survive. Game on.



Slaying the sacred cows of cloud technology, one by one

Take any new technology and you will have two groups of passionately arguing about it:

1) The evangelists, who espouse the transformational value of the technology, who see its potential to enable new business models, new ways of working and great savings (there is always a cost element)

2) The pragmatists, who whilst they see some value in it and understand the technology, predict that the impact will be far less than the evangelists believe and the technology is nothing more than incrementally better than what we have today, and has been around for a while anyway

And the truth is that they are both right to some degree.

The reality is somewhere in the middle. new technology can transform business models, render market leaders powerless and enable new ways of working, but the time taken usually takes longer than predicted and when it does finally peak, has an impact often greater than even the evangelists predicted.

Amara’s law, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run“, again and again turns out to be true.

And ‘cloud‘ is no exception to this.

A plethora of startups, a deluge of new ‘cloud’ conferences, and a never ending cycle of press announcements show that whether this is truly disruptive or not, a lot of people see this as a way to make money.

But is this transformational or hype?

How do you know?

More seasoned watchers will look beyond the hype, to real evidence of change. They disregard the ‘placed’ PR stories and useless predictions about hypothetical market growth, what they do is ‘look for the slaying of the sacred cows‘. These are harder to find, but these are the signs by which we can make a true judgement.

The sacred cows are the points made by the pragmatists to counter the evangelists.

They are usually pretty consistent. 

  • It doesn’t scale
  • Only applicable to startups
  • Not suitable for Government
  • Doesn’t work with technology x, y, z
  • ABC company doesn’t use it
  • Analyst XYZ said not mainstream for 3/5/7 years …

and so on, but never forgetting …

  • It isn’t secure (always the bastion of the pragmatists defence)

In the early stages, the pragmatists will show most if not all scared cows to be in their favour

So, if you want to judge whether a technology is going to be disruptive, then look for the slaying of these sacred cows.

And in cloud, boy are we seeing those sacred cows slain:

  • Amazon knocked the scalability argument into touch (does your internal IT have greater scale than Amazon? No, I thought not)
  • The customer base of Salesforce.com blew apart the startup point
  • Cloud first by the US CIO made cloud the default choice

… and the list goes on.

[Interestingly, Vivek Kundra, the former CIO who advocated the benefits of cloud, has recently joined Salesforce.com as Executive VP of Emerging Markets. Smart move by Salesforce.com, not in the recruitment, but also in the role]

The latest announcement about BBVA, the Spanish Bank switching to Google apps, knocked a major hole in the pragmatists last defence of cloud.

So, if you were a pragmatist about cloud, now is the time to reconsider your position. When finance and government customers adopt a technology the security concerns may not have been completely answered, but are answerable.

The last bastion of the pragmatist is looking like a small sand bank that is quickly being surrounded by the incoming tide. 

This will not prevent CIOs holding onto their views, defending internal IT and arguing against cloud.

They are wasting their time.

Instead of defending their departments, they are undermining their future.

There are legitimate business areas that companies may want to keep in-house and private, but to apply this policy blindly across a company is not only wrong, but naive about the value that cloud can bring.

Either you will make the decision to investigate the value of cloud, or your board will.

With consumer cloud services leading enterprise cloud in adoption levels and service richness, it is a complacent CIO who assumes that his board members don’t understand the benefits in agility, price, and scale that cloud services can bring. The reason is because they are already likely to be using them personally.

As PC manufacturers suffer in 2011, Apple stormed ahead. Lesson: DESIGN MATTERS

2011 was the second worst year for PC sales in the US.

  • HP fell 5%
  • Dell fell 8%
  • Acer fell 14%
  • Toshiba fell 2%

Q4 figures for 2011 being particularly bad for HP as the botched sale or not of its PC division resulted in a loss of customers confidence and a corresponding fall in sales of 25%.

So, a terrible year all round?

Well … no. Not for everyone.

One company bucked the trend in the US. Increasing sales in Q4 by 18%.

You know the name of course, Apple.

Before you dismiss this, it is worthy of some examination.

In an economically challenged year when consumer confidence fell and jobless figures rose, the company that bucked the trend for sales was a manufacturer of premium products. If you want a computer, whether for work or business Apple is not the cheapest option. Of course, any comparison depends on your requirements, but it would be hard to argue that Apple are the least expensive choice for most requirements.

So at a time when you would expect price sensitive buying the opposite happened.

Or did it?

If you ask look carefully at what people wanted, perhaps this is a clearly predictable outcome.

Instead of focusing (as the PC industry typically does) on chip speeds, memory size, hard drive space, blah blah blah … you focus on long term value, a great user experience, beautiful design, and build quality then you would count out most of the PC industry. Most PCs are functional and provide good bang for the buck, but in the user experience stakes … are awful.

For many people, price will have been critical, so however much they may have wanted an iMac or Air, the price of the Apple world was simply too much, so PC sales have not completely collapsed.

An analyst would point to a number of supporting factors for this: A new operating system, value of Apple stores, strong marketing and the not least the benefits of a very positive brand. They may also talk about a competitors’ lack of vision or the growth of the Apple ecosystem and the resulting pull through effects.

But they would be missing the real driver. All of these matter, but there is a much stronger one.

Anyone who has spoken to a recent switcher from PC to Mac would tell a different story. New to Apple buyers talk about the user experience (they don’t call it this of course), the design, the beauty, the ease of use. Seriously – they do. People who don’t care about computers become attached to Apple products. It happened with the iPod, the iPhone and is pulling through to the desktop and laptop. It is also why Apple dominates the tablet market despite hundreds of much cheaper competitors.

This change is not good news for the PC industry, because most PC makers are really bad at the things that Apple is great at. I don’t just mean poor, or not very good, I mean BAD. Products keep being released with the most basic of design flaws.

Manufacturers scrimp on design throughout the whole process, they cut corners on build quality to save a few cents, install junk-ware which kills speed and offer support that is usually painful for most.

And they wonder why they are losing business?

And here is the bad news. It  is only going to get worse; as people tell their friends, as they become part of the Apple closed wall ecosystem the personal switching costs to go back to the PC increase. With disjointed and badly designed ecosystems  and no added value from competitors they are not even going to be contenders. Talking a good story doesn’t cut it. Most Mac buyers have PCs at home at the bottom of draws that testify to the failure of the PC as a long term investment. The performance slowdown, the problems with rogue code and viruses and the slow start times being ecliped by the Apple experience.

Companies should pray that Apple decides to stay a premium provider, because if Apple decides to go for growth by releasing a lower priced range, then there will be a bloodbath in the PC market.

So is this a fait accompli?

Is the end nigh?

Are there any routes to survive?

How to compete

Option A – innovate product+service

  1. STOP looking only at the product, look at the whole product+service experience from pre- to post- sales
  2. Focus on the experience. Be the company YOU would want to buy from. Fix your service problems.
  3. Find the gaps, segments and customers where you can improve and then innovate, innovate, innovate (the process and experience)
  4. Focus on designing excellent, fun and rewarding experiences (remember, it is not just about the product, but product+service)
  5. Build on these, keep innovating and develop passionate buyers
Difficulty: Hard
Reward if successful: Your business stays alive to grow and has a solid base of buyers. You may be a smaller company, but if executed well should be more profitable and stable.
Answer this question: If I was a buyer, would I buy this? Why? Then test this with real customers.

Option B – Business as usual

  1. Focus on reducing costs to win on price. Fail to develop a service mentality.
  2. Ignore Apple, continue on with business as usual. (You may talk about design, but this is likely to be copying Apple)

Difficulty: Easy
Reward if successful: Cut-throat competition and no ability to value add. Highly volatile business with high costs, ever reducing margins. What you do win will be hard fought and low profit.

Answer this question: Can I control and manage my costs better than my competition? Do I have a predictable and flexible build model?


So is the lesson, innovate or die?

No. You can carry on as usual, but are going to find life very challenging. Margins will continue to be under pressure, you will be worried about another competitor making a slightly better product and at a slightly cheaper price, but you can continue. Of course this a challenging life, as you have no long term value to bring. You know this and so do your customers. Should the market suddenly shift, you will be unable to compete.

If you are a PC manufacturer you should be calling Microsoft now and demanding that it pulls its finger out and starts getting products out of the labs and into the OS.

The game is not over yet, but it is not getting easier.

10 other ideas to help:

  1. Hire passionate people – find young smart people and hire them. Then LISTEN to them
  2. Build diverse teams. If you have a team of engineers you will build things may be efficient, but are ugly and will fail in the market. Hire designers, artists and people who care about people.
  3. Travel the world, watch, learn and understand. Embrace ideas.
  4. Start breathing design, understand it, live it, demand it.
  5. Cut your development and prototype timescales, build or partner to be able to quickly prototype. What is your MPT (minimum pro
  6. Release innovative ideas and prototypes – build energy, interest and passion in your company
  7. Test new ideas live, release products under other brands if you need to, make limited editions, test the market with live products
  8. Make feedback as honest as possible, setup user panels, hear the harsh truth first hand, encourage honesty
  9. Find partners … be open-minded and innovative in who these are
  10. Set metrics that encourage innovation and the changes that you want.

So no easy answers or magic bullets (there never are – which is why they are called magic!), but there are options to survive.

One final point to executives in the PC market, whether software or hardware …

Don’t complain about Apple. You could see this was happening. Everyone else did.

Now the question is whether you want to sit back and let this happen, or are going to embrace the challenges and innovate and design a way out of this? Your call.