On The Everything Store

I recently finished reading The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon – by Brad Stone.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

There is so much stuff that has yet to he invented. There’s so much new that’s going to happen. People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be and that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.

“If you want to get to the truth about what makes us different, it’s this,” Bezos says, veering into a familiar Jeffism: “We are genuinely customer-centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things. They are focused on the competitor, rather than the customer. They want to work on things that will pay dividends in two or three years, and if they don’t work in two or three years they will move on to something else. And they prefer to be close-followers rather than inventors, because it’s safer. So if you want to capture the truth about Amazon, that is why we are different. Very few companies have all of those three elements.

So looking back on life’s important junctures was on Bezos’s mind when he came up with what he calls “the regret-minimization framework” to decide the next step to take at this juncture in his career.

We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term. This value will be a direct result of our ability to extend and solidify our current market leadership position. The stronger our market leadership, the more powerful our economic model. Market leadership can translate direct! to higher revenue, higher profitability, greater capital velocity, and correspondingly stronger returns on invested capital. Our decisions have consistently reflected this focus. We first measure ourselves in terms of the metrics most indicative of our market leadership: customer and revenue growth, the degree to which our customers continue to purchase from us on a repeat basis, and the strength of our brand. We have invested and will continue to invest aggressively to expand and leverage our customer base, brand, and infrastructure as we move to establish an enduring franchise.

Jeff Bezos embodied the qualities Sam Walton wrote about. He was constitutionally unwilling to watch Amazon succumb to any kind of institutional torpor, and he generated a nonstop flood of ideas on how to improve the experience of the website, make it more compelling for customers, and keep it one step ahead of rivals.

Bezos was obsessed with the customer experience, and anyone who didn’t have the same single-minded focus or who he felt wasn’t demonstrating a capacity for thinking big bore the brunt of his considerable temper.

“My approach has always been that value trumps everything,” Sinegal continued. “The reason people are prepared to come to our strange places to shop is that we have value. We deliver on that value constantly. There are no annuities in this business.” A decade later and finally preparing to retire, Sinegal remembers that conversation well. “I think Jeff looked at it and thought that was something that would apply to his business as well,” he says.

“I understand what you’re saying, but you are completely wrong,’ he said. “Communication is a sign of dysfunction. It means people aren’t working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other. not more.”

That was a typical interaction with Jeff. He had this unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things he had nothing to do with, and he was totally ruthless about communicating it.

If Amazon wanted to stimulate creativity among its developers, it shouldn’t try to guess what kind of services they might want; such guesses would be based on patterns of the past. Instead, it should be creating primitives—the building blocks of computing—and then getting out of the way. In other words, it needed to break its infrastructure down into the smallest, simplest atomic components and allow developers to freely access them with as much flexibility as possible.

‘Jeff does a couple of things better than anyone I’ve ever worked for,” Dalzell says. “He embraces the truth. A lot of people talk about the truth, but they don’t engage their decision-making around the best truth at the time. “The second thing is that he is not tethered by conventional thinking. What is amazing to me is that he is bound only by the laws of physics. He can’t change those. Everything else he views as open to discussion.”

On a closing note:

Amazon may be the most beguiling company that ever existed. and it is just getting started. It is both missionary and mercenary. and throughout the history of business and other human affairs, that has always been a potent combination. “We don’t have a single big advantage,” he once told an old adversary, publisher Tim O’Reilly, back when they were arguing over Amazon protecting its patented 1-Click ordering method from rivals like Barnes & Noble. “So we have to weave a rope of many small advantages.” Amazon is still weaving that rope. That is its future, to keep weaving and growing, manifesting the constitutional relentlessness of its founder and his vision. And it will continue to expand until either Jeff Bezos exits the scene or no one is left to stand in his way.

A recommended read in the areas of technology and corporate history.

On How To Solve It

I recently finished reading How To Solve It – A New Aspect Of Mathematical Method – by George Polya.

Below are key excerpts from this book that I found particularly insightful:

A great discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest; but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery. Such experiences at a susceptible age may create a taste for mental work and leave their imprint on mind and character for a lifetime.

Studying the methods of solving problems, we perceive another face of mathematics. Yes, mathematics has two faces; it is the rigorous science of Euclid but it is also something else. Mathematics presented in the Euclidean way appears as a systematic, deductive science; but mathematics in the making appears as an experimental, inductive science. Both aspects are as old as the science of mathematics itself. But the second aspect is new in one respect; mathematics “in statu nascendi,’ in the process of being invented, has never before been presented in quite this manner to the student, or to the teacher himself, or to the general public.

Trying to find the solution, we may repeatedly change our point of view, our way of looking at the problem. We have to shift our position again and again. Our conception of the problem is likely to be rather incomplete when we start the work; our outlook is different when we have made some progress; it is again different when we have almost obtained the solution.

Where should I start? Start from the statement of the problem. What can I dot Visualize the problem as a whole as clearly and as vividly as you can. Do not concern yourself with details for the moment. What can I gain by doing so? You should understand the problem, familiarize yourself with it, impress its purpose on your mind. The attention bestowed on the problem may also stimulate your memory and prepare for the recollection of relevant points.

It would be a mistake to think that solving problems is a purely “intellectual affair”; determination and emotions play an important role. Lukewarm determination and sleepy consent to do a little something may be enough for a routine problem in the classroom. But, to solve a serious scientific problem, will power is needed that can outlast years of toil and bitter disappointments.

If you cannot solve the proposed problem do not let this failure afflict you too much but try to find consolation with some easier success, try to solve first some related problem; then you may find courage to attack your original problem again. Do not forget that human superiority consists in going around an obstacle that cannot be overcome directly, in devising some suitable auxiliary problem when the original one appears insoluble.

The future mathematician should be a clever problem-solver:; but to be a clever problem-solver is not enough. due time, he should solve significant mathematical problems; and first he should find out for which kind of problems his native gift is particularly suited.

In closing:

Going around an obstacle is what we do in solving any kind of problem: the experiment has a sort of symbolic value. The hen acted like people who solve their problem muddling: through, trying again and again, and succeeding eventually by some lucky accident without much insight into the reasons for their success. The dog who scratched and jumped and barked before turning around solved his problem about as well as we did ours about the two containers. Imagining a scale that shows the waterline in our containers was a sort of almost useless scratching, showing only that what we seek lies deeper under the surface. We also tried to work forwards first, and came to the idea of turning round afterwards. The dog who, after brief inspection of the situation, turned round and dashed off gives, rightly or wrongly, the impression of superior insight. No, we should not even blame the hen for her clumsiness. There is a certain difficulty in turning round, in going away from the goal, in proceeding without looking continually at the aim, in not following the direct path to the desired end. There is an obvious analogy between her difficulties and our difficulties.

A highly recommended read in the area of problem solving.

On Benjamin Franklin

I recently finished reading Benjamin Franklin – An American Life – by Walter Isaacson.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

But the most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. Americas first great publicist, he was. in his life and in his writings, consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona. portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity.

Franklin has a particular resonance in twenty-first-century America. A successful publisher and consummate networker with an inventive curiosity, he would have felt right at home in the information revolution, and his unabashed striving to be part of an upwardly mobile meritocracy made him, in social critic David Brooks’s phrase, “our founding Yuppie.” We can easily imagine having a beer with him after work, showing him how to use the latest digital device, sharing the business plan for a new venture, and discussing the most recent political scandals or policy ideas. He would laugh at the latest joke about a priest and a rabbi, or about a farmer s daughter. We would admire both his earnestness and his self-aware irony. And we would relate to the way he tried to balance, sometimes uneasily, the pursuit of reputation. wealth, earthly virtues, and spiritual values.

This appreciation of books was one of the traits shared by the Puritanism of Mather and the Enlightenment of Locke, worlds that would combine in the character of Benjamin Franklin.

The primary value of his “Dissertation” He’s in what it reveals about Franklins fitful willingness to abandon Puritan theology. As a young man, he had read John Locke, Lord Shaftesbury, Joseph Addison, and others who embraced the freethinking religion and Enlightenment philosophy of deism, which held that each individual could best discover the truth about God through reason and studying nature, rather than through blind faith in received doctrines and divine revelation.

There were four rules: 1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe. 2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action—the most amiable excellence in a rational being. 3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty. 4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever.

The other sins on his list were, in order: seeming uninterested. speaking too much about your own life, prying for personal secrets (“an unpardonable rudeness”), telling long and pointless stories (“old folks are most subject to this error, which is one chief reason their company is so often shunned”), contradicting or disputing someone directly, ridiculing or railing against things except in small witty doses (“it’s like salt, a little of which in some cases gives relish, but if thrown on by handfuls spoils all”), and spreading scandal (though he would later write lighthearted defenses of gossip).

First he made a list of twelve virtues he thought desirable, and to each he appended a short definition: Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; (i.e., waste nothing). Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

This attitude, and his lack of grounding in theoretical math and physics, is why Franklin, ingenious as he was, was no Galileo or Newton. He was a practical experimenter more than a systematic theorist. As with his moral and religious philosophy, Franklin’s scientific work was distinguished less for its abstract theoretical sophistication than for its focus on finding out facts and putting them to use.

But as much as he loved his scientific pursuits, Franklin felt that they were no more worthy than endeavors in the field of public affairs. Around this time, his friend the politician and naturalist Cadwallader Colden also retired and declared his intention to devote himself full-time to “philosophical amusements,” the term used in the eighteenth century for scientific experiments. “Let not your love of philosophical amusements have more than its due weight with you,” Franklin urged in response. “Had Newton been pilot but of a single common ship, the finest of his discoveries would scarce have excused or atoned for his abandoning the helm one hour in time of danger; how much less if she had carried the fate of the Commonwealth.” So Franklin would soon apply his scientific style of reasoning— experimental, pragmatic—not only to nature but also to public affairs. These political pursuits would be enhanced by the fame he had gained as a scientist. The scientist and statesman would henceforth be interwoven, each strand reinforcing the other, until it could be said of him. in the two-part epigram that the French statesman Turgot composed, “He snatched lightning from the sky and the scepter from tyrants.”

Among Franklin’s cards was his fame, and he was among a long line of statesmen, from Richelieu to Metternich to Kissinger, to realize that with celebrity came cachet, and with that came influence.

“Franklin had won,” writes Carl Van Doren, “a diplomatic campaign equal in results to Saratoga.” The Yale historian Edmund Morgan goes even further, calling it “the greatest diplomatic victory the United States has ever achieved.” With the possible exception of the creation of the NATO alliance, that assessment maybe true, though it partly points up the paucity of American successes over the years at bargaining tables, whether in Versailles after World War I or in Paris at the end of the Vietnam War. At the very least, it can be said that Franklin’s triumph permitted America the possibility of an outright victory in its war for independence while conceding no lasting entanglements that would encumber it as a new nation.

First, he was far more comfortable with democracy than most of the delegates, who tended to regard the word and concept as dangerous rather than desirable…Second, he was, by far, the most traveled of the delegates, and he knew not only the nations of Europe but the thirteen states, appreciating both what they had in common and how they differed…Third, and what would prove most important of all, he embodied a spirit of Enlightenment tolerance and pragmatic compromise.

There are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power and the love of money Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but, when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects,.. And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preeminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits.

At times, Adams charged, Franklin was hypocritical, a poor negotiator, and a misguided politician. But his essay also included some of the most nuanced words of appreciation written by any contemporary: Franklin had a great genius, original, sagacious and inventive, capable of discoveries in science no less than of improvement in the fine arts and the mechanical arts. He had a vast imagination … He had with at will. He had a humor that, when he pleased, was delicate and delightful. He had a satire that was good-natured or caustic, Horace or Juvenal, Swift or Rabelais, at his pleasure. He had talents for irony, allegory and fable that he could adapt with great skill to the promotion of moral and political truth. He was a master of that infantile simplicity which the French call naivete, which never fails to charm.

Franklin’s belief that he could best serve God by serving his fellow man may strike some as mundane, but it was in truth a worthy creed that he deeply believed and faithfully followed. He was remarkably versatile in this service. He devised legislatures and lightning rods, lotteries and lending libraries. He sought practical ways to make stoves less smoky and commonwealths less corrupt. He organized neighborhood constabularies and international alliances. He combined two types of lenses to create bifocals and two concepts of representation to foster the nation’s federal compromise. As his friend the French statesman Turgot said in his famous epigram, Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis, he snatched lightning from the sky and the scepter from tyrants. All of this made him the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become. Indeed, the roots of much of what distinguishes the nation can be found in Franklin: its cracker-barrel humor and wisdom; its technological ingenuity; its pluralistic tolerance; its ability to weave together individualism and community cooperation; its philosophical pragmatism; its celebration of meritocratic mobility; the idealistic streak ingrained in its foreign policy; and the Main Street (or Market Street) virtues that serve as the foundation for its civic values. He was egalitarian in what became the American sense: he approved of individuals making their way to wealth through diligence and talent, but opposed giving special privileges to people based on their birth. His focus tended to be on how ordinary issues affect everyday lives, and on how ordinary people could build a better society But that did not make him an ordinary man. Nor did it reflect a shallowness. On the contrary, his vision of how to build a new type of nation was both revolutionary and profound. Although he did not embody each and every transcendent or poetic ideal, he did embody the most practical and useful ones. That was his goal, and a worthy one it was. Through it all, he trusted the hearts and minds of his fellow leather-aprons more than he did those of any inbred elite. He saw middle-class values as a source of social strength, not as something to be derided. His guiding principle was a “dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people.” Few of his fellow founders felt this comfort with democracy so fully, and none so intuitively. From the age of 21, when he first gathered his Junto, he held true to a fundamental ideal with unwavering and at times heroic fortitude: a faith in the wisdom of the common citizen that was manifest in an appreciation for democracy and an opposition to all forms of tyranny It was a noble ideal, one that was transcendent and poetic in its own way. And it turned out to be, as history proved, a practical and useful one as well.

A highly recommended read in the areas of leadership, history, politics, and humanity at large.



On Madame Curie

I recently finished reading Madame Curie – A Biography by Eve Curie – translated by Vincent Sheen. While I had some exposure to Madam Curie from my studies, this book further elevated my admiration for her not just as a scientist but as a visionary and a humanitarian at large.

Below are selected highlights from this masterpiece:

On the geopolitical environment Marie was born into:

Since then everything had been done to enforce the obedience of a Poland that refused to die…But in the other camp resistance was quick to organize. Disastrous experience had proved to the Poles that they had no chance of reconquering their liberty by force, at least for the moment. Their task was, therefore, to wait—and to thwart the dangers of those who wait, cowardice and discouragement. The battle, therefore, had changed ground. Its heroes were no longer those warriors armed with scythes who charged the Cossacks and died saying (like the celebrated Louis Narbutt): “What happiness to die for my country!” The new heroes were the intellectuals, the artists, priests, schoolteachers—those upon whom the mind of the new generation depended. Their courage consisted in forcing themselves to be hypocrites, and in supporting any humiliation rather than lose the places in which the Tsar still tolerated them—and from which they could secretly influence Polish youth, guide their compatriots.

On the early tragedies in her life:

Deprived of her mother’s tenderness and the protection of her eldest sister, the child grew older, without once complaining, in partial abandonment. She was proud but she was not resigned. And when she knelt in the Catholic church where she was used to going with her mother, she experienced the secret stir of revolt within her. She no longer invoked with the same love that God who had unjustly inflicted such terrible blows, who had slain what was gay or fanciful or sweet around her.

On her husband, Pierre:

Thus his (Pierre) was a strange and almost incredible adventure, for it mixed the essential aspiration of his mind into the movement of his heart. He felt himself drawn toward Marie by an impulse of love and at the same time by the highest necessity. He was even ready to sacrifice what people call happiness to another happiness known to him alone. He made Marie a proposal which at first seems fantastic, which might pass for a ruse or an approach, but which was characteristic of his nature. If Marie had no love for him, he asked, could she resolve upon a purely friendly arrangement at least, and work with him “in an apartment in the Rue Mouffetard, with windows giving on a garden, an apartment which could be divided into two independent parts?”

On their work together:

Let this certainty suffice for our curiosity and admiration. Let us not attempt to separate these creatures full of love, whose handwriting alternates and combines in the working notebooks covered with formulae, these creatures who were to sign nearly all their scientific publications together. They were to write “We found” and “We observed”; and when they were constrained by fact to distinguish between their parts, they were to employ this moving locution…”one of us”…

On celebrity aversion and humility:

The aversion which celebrity inspired in the Curies had still Other sources besides their passion for work or their fright at the loss of time. With Pierre, who was naturally detached, the attack of popularity encountered the resistance of principles he had always held. He hated hierarchies and classifications. He found it absurd that there should be “firsts” in a class, and the decorations which grown persons coveted seemed to him as superfluous as the medals awarded children in school. This attitude, which had made him refuse the Legion of Honor, was equally his in the realm of science. He was devoid of all spirit of competition, and in the “race for discoveries” he was able to endure being beaten by his colleagues without annoyance. “What difference does it make if I didn’t publish such-and-such a work,” he had the habit of saying, “since somebody else has published it ? This almost inhuman indifference had had a deep influence on Marie. But when she fled before the evidences of admiration it was not in order to imitate her husband and not to obey him. The war against fame was not a principle with her: it was an instinct. An irresistible timidity, a painful shrinking congealed her as soon as curious glances were fastened upon her, and even provoked disturbances which brought on dizziness and physical discomfort.

On opening the Insitut du Radium and advancing science:

This victory came upon its heroine when she was no longer either young or strong, and when she had lost her happiness. What did it matter, since she was surrounded by fresh forces. since enthusiastic scientists were at hand to aid her in the struggle? No, it was not too late. The glaziers were singing and whistling on every floor of the little white building. Above the entrance could already be read these words, cut into the stone: Institut du Radium, Pavillon Curie. Before these sturdy walls and this exalting inscription Marie evoked the words of Pasteur: If conquests useful to humanity touch your heart, if you stand amazed before the surprising effects of electric telegraphy, the daguerreotype, anesthesia and so many other admirable discoveries: if you are jealous of the part your country can claim in the further flowering of these wonders—take an interest, I urge upon you, in those holy dwellings to which the expressive name of laboratories is given. Ask that they be multiplied and adorned. They are the temples of the future, of wealth and well-being. It is there that humanity grows bigger, strengthens and betters itself. It learns there to read in the works of nature, works of progress and universal harmony, whereas its own works are too often those of barbarity, fanaticism and destruction.

On true scientific research:

A large number of my friends affirm, not without valid reasons, that if Pierre Curie and I had guaranteed our rights, we should have acquired the financial means necessary to the creation of a satisfactory radium institute, without encountering the obstacles which were a handicap to both of us, and which are still a handicap for me. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that we were right. Humanity certainly needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without the slightest doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.

On her final moments:

Her last moments revealed the strength, the terrible resistance, of a creature whose fragility was only apparent, of her robust heart, trapped in a body from which all heat was departing, which continued to beat tirelessly, implacably…The young scientists sobbed before the inert apparatus at the Radium Institute. Georges Fournier, one of Marie’s favorite Students, wrote: “We have lost everything.”

A must read!

On Einstein

I recently finished reading Einstein – His Life and Universe – by Walter Isaacson. As introduced: “Looking back at a century that will be remembered for its willingness to break classical bonds, and looking ahead to an era that seeks to nurture the creativity needed for scientific innovation, one person stands out as a paramount icon of our age: the kindly refugee from oppression whose wild halo of hair, twinkling eyes, engaging humanity, and extraordinary brilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius. Albert Einstein was a locksmith blessed with imagination and guided by a faith in the harmony of nature’s handiwork. His fascinating story, a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom, reflects the triumphs and tumults of the modern era.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found very perceptive:

On his approach:

His success came from questioning conventional wisdom, challenging authority, and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals. Tyranny repulsed him, and he saw tolerance not simply as a sweet virtue but as a necessary condition for a creative society. “It is important to foster individuality,” he said, “for only the individual can produce the new ideas.”‘ This outlook made Einstein a rebel with a reverence for the harmony of nature, one who had just the right blend of imagination and wisdom to transform our understanding of the universe. These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the twentieth century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.

On using suspicion successfully:

Throughout the six decades of his scientific career, whether leading the quantum revolution or later resisting it, this attitude helped shape Einstein’s work. “His early suspicion of authority, which never wholly left him, was to prove of decisive importance,” said Banesh Hoffmann, who was a collaborator of Einstein’s in his later years. “Without it he would not have been able to develop the powerful independence of mind that gave him the courage to challenge established scientific beliefs and thereby revolutionize physics.”

On Einstein’s ability to pursue several ideas at once:

A Strength of Einstein’s mind was that it could juggle a variety of ideas simultaneously. Even as he was pondering dancing particles in a liquid, he had been wrestling with a different theory that involved moving bodies and the speed of light. A day or so after sending in his Brownian motion paper, he was talking to his friend Michele Besso when a new brainstorm struck. It would produce, as he wrote Habicht in his famous letter of that month, “a modification of the theory of space and time.”

On his background:

“A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way,” Einstein once said. “But,” he hastened to add, “intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience.” Einstein’s discovery of special relativity involved an intuition based on a decade of intellectual as well as personal experiences. The most important and obvious, I think, was his deep understanding and knowledge of theoretical physics. He was also helped by his ability to visualize thought experiments, which had been encouraged by his education in Aarau. Also, there was his grounding in philosophy: from Hume and Mach he had developed a skepticism about things that could not be observed. And this skepticism was enhanced by his innate rebellious tendency to question authority.

On his dual approach to his research:

In it Einstein pursued a two-fisted approach. On the one hand, he engaged in what was called a “physical strategy,” in which he tried to build the correct equations from a set of requirements dictated by his feel for the physics. At the same time, he pursued a “mathematical Strategy,” in which he tried to deduce the correct equations from the more formal math requirements using the tensor analysis that Grossmann and others recommended…Einstein’s “physical strategy” began with his mission to generalize the principle of relativity so that it applied to observers who were accelerating or moving in an arbitrary manner. Any gravitational field equation he devised would have to meet the following physical requirements: It must revert to Newtonian theory in the special case of weak and static gravitational fields. In other words, under certain normal conditions, his theory would describe Newton’s familiar laws of gravitation and motion. It should preserve the laws of classical physics, most notably the conservation of energy and momentum. It should satisfy the principle of equivalence, which holds that observations made by an observer who is uniformly accelerating would be equivalent to those made by an observer standing in a comparable gravitational field.

His peer’s on his discoveries:

Its equivalence to acceleration, and, Einstein asserted, the general relativity of all forms of motion. In the opinion of Paul Dirac, the Nobel laureate pioneer of quantum mechanics, it was “probably the greatest scientific discovery ever made.” Another of the great giants of twentieth-century physics. Max Born, called it “the greatest feat of human thinking about nature, the most amazing combination of philosophical penetration, physical intuition and mathematical skill The entire process had exhausted Einstein but left him elated. His marriage had collapsed and war was ravaging Europe, but Einstein was as happy as he would ever be. “My boldest dreams have now come true,” he exulted to Besso. ”General covariance. Mercury’s perihelion motion wonderfully precise.” He signed himself “contented but kaput.”

On his reaction to his discovery:

Einstein’s decision reflected a major transformation in his life. Until the completion and confirmation of his general theory of relativity, he had dedicated himself almost totally to science, to the exclusion even of his personal, familial, and societal relationships. But his time in Berlin had made him increasingly aware of his identity as a Jew. His reaction to the pervasive anti-Semitism was to feel even more connected— indeed, inextricably connected—to the culture and community of his people.

On his view about education:

The Times called it “the ever-present Edison questionnaire controversy,” and of course Einstein ran into it. A reporter asked him a question from the test. “What is the speed of sound?” If anyone understood the propagation of sound waves, it was Einstein. But he admitted that he did not “carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books” Then he made a larger point designed to disparage Edison’s view of education. “The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think,” he said.

On challenging authority:

This wariness of authority reflected the most fundamental of all of Einstein’s moral principles: Freedom and individualism are necessary for creativity and imagination to flourish. He had demonstrated this as an impertinent young thinker, and he proclaimed the principle clearly in 1931. “I believe that the most important mission of the state is to protect the individual and to make it possible for him to develop into a creative personality,” he said.

On morality:

The foundation of that morality, he believed, was rising above the “merely personal” to five in a way that benefited humanity. There were times when he could be callous to those closest to him, which shows that, like the rest of us humans, he had flaws. Yet more than most people, he dedicated himself honestly and sometimes courageously to actions that he felt transcended selfish desires in order to encourage human progress and the preservation of individual freedoms. He was generally kind, good-natured, gentle, and unpretentious. When he and Elsa left for Japan in 1922, he offered her daughters some advice on how to lead a moral fife. “Use for yourself little,” he said, “but give to others much.”

On realism:

Einstein’s concept of realism had three main components: 1. His belief that a reality exists independent of our ability to observe it. As he put it in his autobiographical notes: “Physics is an attempt conceptually to grasp reality as it is thought independently of its being observed. In this sense one speaks of physical reality.’ ” 2. His belief in separability and locality. In other words, objects are located at certain points in spacetime, and this separability is part of what defines them. “If one abandons the assumption that what exists in different parts of space has its own independent, real existence, then I simply cannot see what it is that physics is supposed to describe,” he declared to Max Born. 3. His belief in strict causality, which implies certainty and classical determinism. The idea that probabilities play a role in reality was as disconcerting to him as the idea that our observations might play a role in collapsing those probabilities. “Some physicists. among them myself, cannot believe,” he said, “that we must accept the view that events in nature are analogous to a game of chance.”

On his final moments:

The aneurysm, like a big blister, had burst, and Einstein died at age 76. At his bedside lay the draft of his undelivered speech for Israel Independence Day. “I speak to you today not as an American citizen and not as a Jew. but as a human being,” it began. Also by his bed were twelve pages of tightly written equations, littered with cross-outs and corrections. To the very end, he struggled to find his elusive unified field theory. And the final thing he wrote, before he went to sleep for the last time, was one more line of symbols and numbers that he hoped might get him, and the rest of us, just a little step closer to the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe.

His eulogy:

“No Other man contributed so much to the vast expansion of 20th century knowledge,” President Eisenhower declared. “Yet no other man was more modest in the possession of the power that is knowledge, more sure that power without wisdom is deadly.” The New York Times ran nine stories plus an editorial about his death the next day: “Man stands on this diminutive earth, gazes at the myriad stars and upon billowing oceans and tossing trees—and wonders. What does it all mean? How did it come about? The most thoughtful wonderer who appeared among us in three centuries has passed on in the person of Albert Einstein.”‘

On curiosity:

A tenet of Einstein’s faith was that nature was not cluttered with extraneous attributes. Thus, there must be a purpose to curiosity. For Einstein, it existed because it created minds that question, which produced an appreciation for the universe that he equated with religious feelings. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing,” he once explained. “One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”

On freedom:

Einstein’s fundamental creed was that freedom was the lifeblood of creativity. “The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit,” he said, “requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice.” Nurturing that should be the fundamental role of government. he felt, and the mission of education.

On religion:

Einstein considered this feeling of reverence, this cosmic religion, to be the wellspring of all true art and science. It was what guided him. “When I am judging a theory,” he said, “I ask myself whether, if I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way.” It is also what graced him with his beautiful mix of confidence and awe. He was a loner with an intimate bond to humanity, a rebel who was suffused with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos. the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.

A must read for all.

On The Bright IDEA BOX

This week, I have the pleasure and privilege to review Jag Randhawa’s book: The Bright Idea Box – A Proven System to Drive Employee Engagement and Innovation. Jag had approached me about his new book, having previously read Blue Ocean Strategy. Given that this book is about employee engagement and innovation, two topics I am very passionate and intimately involved with I was very much looking forward to reading and reviewing this book.

As the title indicates this is a book about innovation. Jag begins by making it clear that it is the employees within the organization that drive innovation:

It is never an idea, technology, market forces, or access to capital that makes a company innovative. What differentiates an innovative company from an average company is the people working inside the company.

Subsequently, their engagement level correlates to the level of innovation:

Researchers have long argued that a strong correlation exists between employee engagement and innovation. A highly engaged workforce can transform an average company to an innovative company, while a disengaged workforce can kill a great company.

The main premise of the book is to provide a framework for a bottom up employee driven innovation program:

This book offers a framework to create such a program, in which employees submit ideas to create operational efficiencies, improve business processes, increase customer satisfaction, and grow the business. This book mirrors the program I created at my work after years of reading, researching, and trial-and-error learning…This book is not meant to persuade anyone why he or she needs innovation, but rather to show how to get started on this journey.

Tying this back to employee engagement:

Creating such a program has an amazing effect on employee engagement. Let’s assume for a moment that you get absolutely no good ideas out of this program; then, you will still benefit from increased employee engagement. Establishing this program creates a new sense of worth among the employees, which, by itself, will increase their engagement. They will feel that you value their input— that they are intellectual human beings and their work makes a difference to their company’s bottom line. They will feel they are an integral part of the organization and not a dumb or easily replaceable component . Employee engagement increases trust between management and employees. Every job is important in an organization, and every job can be done better. You need to communicate that to employees. Ask them to look for ways to improve functions, processes, and products. If you feel there is any particular role that is not important or could not be improved, you are not thinking hard enough. Sometimes the problem lies in the definition of the role, and at other times, it is the person in that role. Take appropriate actions to make sure you address the actual problem.

The word innovation has been overused as of late, so Jag ensures he defines it and characterizes it for us:

The essence of innovation is to add value for customers. Inventions that wow people, but don’t add value, rarely survive for long, and they often end up costing more money than they add to the bottom line. For an invention to become innovation , it must add value for customers. The value can come through lowered cost, new features, aesthetics, convenience, ease of use, enhanced experience, or meeting emotional needs. Sometimes the value comes in the form of helping customers make more money , attain goals, or safeguard valuables.

Innovation = Invention + Execution + Adoption

Why is innovation so hard? And why do numerous companies don’t do well/fail in it?

Most companies fail to innovate because they are not receptive to the idea that enhancing existing products is innovative. The grass always looks greener on the other side . They cling to the notion of developing new products, which often end up costing companies more money than the new revenues they generate. This belief is further engrained in their minds by the notion that innovative ideas emerge in full form with “success” written all over them. In reality, this notion could not be farther from the truth.

What are the main areas of innovation that a company can focus on:

These areas of focus for innovation can be broadly classified into four business domains: • Revenue Generation • Cost Reduction • Business Process  • Business Model

REVENUE GENERATION The revenue-generating domain of innovation pertains to ideas that contribute to top-line growth. This focus is the most obvious for many organizations, and under this focus, creating new products is the most prevalent strategy.

COST REDUCTION As the name suggests, this domain encompasses ideas that help lower the operational costs of a business. Wal-Mart and Southwest relentlessly focus on providing value to customers through lowered cost. Therefore, ideas that help lower operational costs are given precedence over all other types of ideas.

BUSINESS PROCESS Process innovation is perhaps the most overlooked and underappreciated domain of innovation. In my view, business processes are perhaps the most important domain to innovate— especially customer facing processes.

BUSINESS MODEL Business model innovations address the “how” part of the value proposition of a business. A business model is the overarching process of an organization and explains how it transforms the input of labor, knowledge, material, means of distribution, and other resources into a product or service that customers feel is worth the money they pay for it. Business models also address how an organization acquires and serves its customers, and, at times, how it charges its customers in exchange for the value it delivers. Business model innovations entail changing one or more input resources in ways that deliver value to customers. Most business model innovations tend to be large, strategic initiatives, and you may not see many ideas in the business model innovations category from your employees.

What are the essential ingredients within a company for innovation?

As we discussed in Chapter Two, innovation has three critical components: invention, execution, and adoption. All three pieces must come together for any idea to see the light of day. All ideas face capital, intellectual, technical, and political challenges. These challenges can be overcome only if management creates the focus and employees align their efforts toward that focus and find creative solutions to make the products successful. This alignment and focus can be driven by strong management directives and processes, or it can come from employees as a passion to do great things, be part of something bigger, and make contributions toward a greater cause . The successful companies leverage both to drive continuous innovation.

Is it enough to have top-down innovation or bottom-up innovation?

A good organization is a mix of both top-down and bottom-up innovation. Top-down innovations are very important for dreaming big. Without top-down innovation, we would have never set foot on the moon, built the personal computer , or promoted personalized healthcare. It is the job of visionary leaders to push boundaries and constantly disrupt the market with new and innovative ways to add value for customers. However, leaders cannot be involved in every activity that goes on inside an organization . As the company grows, the only way to succeed is through delegation. The question then becomes: Are the delegates engaged at the same level as the leaders? Is their intent, energy, and focus aligned toward the same vision? Do they feel like part of that vision? Do they see themselves as an important piece of the puzzle in bringing that vision to reality? Creating a bottom-up innovation program can also be instrumental in bridging the gap between strategic intent and execution. When employees are more engaged, they provide superior service to customers and come up with ideas from a very diverse perspective that often gets missed in a top-down view.

Jag makes a very valid observation – and a key differentiator for this book – in that although attention has traditionally focused on product innovation it can and should also apply to services:

As I started my journey of innovation, I found that Service Industries have been largely neglected by most innovation experts and authors. A lot of books have been written on product innovation that teach how to develop new products, how to create prototypes, how to test markets, and how to build demand for novel products, but very limited literature exists on how to innovate in the Service Industry.

Subsequently, the framework for rolling out an employee-driven innovation program is introduced:

In the following chapters, I’ll introduce the Six-Step M.A.S.T.E.R. Innovation Program. Here are the steps: STEP 1: Mobilize STEP 2: Amass STEP 3: Support STEP 4: Triage STEP 5: Execute STEP 6: Recognize

On Mobilizing:

The first step in creating the Bright Idea Box program is to define and document the program’s vision and purpose. A clearly defined purpose statement will help ensure the entire workforce is marching in the same direction. The purpose statement should be a working document that captures the program’s essence, how it works, and the types of ideas you are seeking. It should be a three-part document outlining the purpose, objectives, and guidelines…This purpose statement is the overarching and simplified vision of the program that serves as a guiding beacon for employees who are thinking of new ideas, as well as those responsible for supporting and ensuring that valid ideas get implemented in a timely manner…The second part of the document should outline the area of focus and the program’s business objectives. The program’s objectives should be closely aligned with business goals and values…The last section of the purpose document should outline the guidelines for participating in the program. In this section, you can include what and who is outside the scope of this program.

On Amassing:

For this reason, at the heart of this program is an easy to use and easy to access Idea-Capturing System, which is available to all employees to capture ideas when they are fresh in their minds.

Idea Questions: 1. Name: What is the name for the idea? 2. Description: What is a brief description of the idea, including what problem it addresses and how it solves it? 3. Benefits: What value or benefits will the idea deliver to the customer or company? 4. Cost-Benefit Rationale: How much will it cost to try or implement the idea? Does the cost justify the benefits?This information is like a mini-business case for the idea. For an idea to be accepted and implemented, the employee must provide answers to all of these questions .

On Supporting:

The most important thing employees need is support and encouragement from management, and a little bit of freedom to contemplate and develop ideas. Creating an environment where management encourages employees to submit and develop ideas is the most important investment you need to make. You need to create an environment where employees feel comfortable bringing out the issues inside the company , flaws in the business processes , and weaknesses in your products.

On Triaging:

The next step in building the bottom-up employee innovation program is to create effective means for screening and prioritizing ideas…The best way to accomplish this is to form an Idea Screening Committee that meets on a regular basis to review newly submitted ideas and discuss changes to existing ideas.

On Executing:

Once an idea has been approved and financed, it must be implemented in a timely manner. Without a clearly visible process and a push from the top, an idea can easily vanish into the vast depths of corporate bureaucracy. As part of designing the program, you need to decide how you are going to test and implement ideas. You need to flush out who is responsible for implementing the ideas and what type of commitment you need from the impacted parties…There is no faster way to kill the innovation program than by not implementing good ideas.

On Recognizing:

The final step in developing the program is deciding how to recognize employees for their ideas and efforts. Recognition is the lifeline of the Bright Idea Box. Setting the right kinds of rewards is critical to the program’s longevity and ensuring that employees stay motivated to submit new ideas . Recognition is an opportunity to encourage desired behaviors and reward employees for thinking and acting in ways that add value for customers and the company.

What are some key leadership principles to help develop employees into innovators?

Below are the four leadership principles that play a vital role in developing and transforming employees into innovators. DRIVERS OF HIGHER ENGAGEMENT 1. Ownership: Give people responsibility and ownership. 2. Personal Growth: Grow people on a personal level so they can grow professionally. 3. Solution Mindset: Foster a Solution Mindset that promotes progress. 4. Partnership: Treat employees like partners so they will act like partners.

Ownership—Ownership instills a feeling of pride. Nothing motivates people to do more than pride. People work a lot harder for pride and often go to extremes to prove themselves. How can you take advantage of this human condition? Make employees the boss. Give them responsibility.

Personal Growth—Growth is the fuel of the soul. Without growth, even the masters can lose interest.

Solution Mindset—A solution mindset is a problem-solving approach that recommends that, no matter what the problem is, your first response should always be how to solve or get around the problem…A solution mindset, on the other hand, encourages progress. The goal is to keep moving forward. No matter what the problem is, focus on how to get around it and make progress…A solution mindset, on the other hand, encourages progress. The goal is to keep moving forward. No matter what the problem is, focus on how to get around it and make progress…To foster a solution mindset, tell employees that you are not interested in who or what caused the problem. You are only interested in hearing how we plan to go beyond the problem.

When launching the innovation program it’s important to sell it to all stakeholders:

To launch the Bright Idea Box program, you need to appeal to the rational and emotional brains of three distinct stakeholders. First, the top management, the executive leadership team in the company. Second, the middle management layers, and third, the front-line employees. I recommend that you create distinct sales pitches for each group to address their functional needs.

What are skills that we can all work on to further enable our innovative thinking abilities?

I have compiled a short list of skills that you can share with employees when you roll out the program . This is by no mean a comprehensive list of skills or techniques, but rather a starting point and enough to jump-start employees’ innovative thinking abilities. It is a short list that employees can easily understand and put to use immediately.

CURIOSITY Curiosity is perhaps the most imperative trait of all innovators. Being curious about what is on the other side and why things are the way they are is a great tool for making breakthrough discoveries.

LISTENING Customers are always telling us what they want, but employees on the other end are often not listening. There is no incentive for them to put up with customer complaints all day.

MINING Every frustration presents an opportunity. Instead of getting frustrated and blaming others for incompetence, mine your frustrations to look for ways to solve the problem…1. Not stopping at the first obstacle 2. Keeping a positive attitude 3. Always learning 4. Collaborate— share and ask for help 5. Solution finding rather than complaining.

BORROWING We like to believe that our problems are unique, but more often they are not. Often the problems we are wrestling with have been solved by others in different industries and in different products. Steve

NETWORKING The most innovative ideas often lie at the intersection of two different paths. We get some of the best ideas when we network with people from different disciplines .

WRITING Ideas often come when we are not looking. This is because of how our brain works. Our cognitive brain, which is responsible for decision making, has a limited capacity to process information, but our intuitive brain, which works in the background, can process a lot more information and make new associations that trigger aha moments…ideas. The second limitation of our cognitive brain is its ability to convert short-term memory into long-term memory. Often we get ideas, but they get lost in the rush of a million other things to do and remember. For this reason, recording problems and thoughts is essential to generating ideas.


Getting a flywheel started takes a lot of energy— you push, and you push, and you push. Then with every turn, it becomes easier and easier to turn the wheel . And finally, it starts to generate its own momentum and what once took an enormous amount of energy becomes almost self-sustaining. It is the same for starting a bottom-up innovation program . It is a cultural shift and you will need to make a really strong push in the beginning and keep pushing until it gains momentum. With time, the recognition and the buzz created by this program will create a desire among employees to submit ideas. Pretty soon, you will have ideas pouring in at a speed faster than you can handle. The key is not to stop pushing.

What sets this book apart is its high degree of practicality – Jag has thought through and included the material not only to introduce the framework itself but how to operationalize it successfully – which is typically the harder part.

A recommended read in the area of innovation and employee engagement.

The Innovator’s Solution

It is hard to read any business article, blog, journal or magazine without coming across the word innovation. And while the profile of this topic has risen to prominence in the last few years, it is one that has been thoroughly studied particularly by professor Clayton M. Christensen. He is considered by many as “the architect of and the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation.” A few years ago, I read his seminal book in that area – The Innovator’s Dilemma, and recently I finished reading his second – The Innovator’s Solution which he co-authored with Michael E. Raynor.

Below are the key lessons from it that I wanted to share with you.

On the premise of the book:

If I wanted to start a company that could become significant and successful and ultimately topple the firms that now lead an industry, how could I do it? If indeed there are predictable reasons why businesses stumble, we might then help managers avoid those causes of failure and help them make decisions that predictably lead to successful growth. This is The Innovator’s Solution.

This is a book about how to create new growth in business. Growth is important because companies create shareholder value through profitable growth. Yet there is powerful evidence that once a company’s core business has matured, the pursuit of new platforms for growth entails daunting risk. Roughly one company in ten is able to sustain the kind of growth that translates into an above-average increase in shareholder returns over more than a few years. Too often the very attempt to grow causes the entire corporation to crash. Consequently, most executives are in a no-win situation: equity markets demand that they grow, but it’s hard to know how to grow. Pursuing growth the wrong way can be worse than no growth at all.

Can innovation be made predictable? Can it be turned into a process?

What can make the process of innovation more predictable? It does not entail learning to predict what individuals might do. Rather, it comes from understanding the forces that act upon the individuals involved in building businesses—forces that powerfully influence what managers choose and cannot choose to do. Rarely does an idea for a new-growth business emerge fully formed from an innovative employee’s head. No matter how well articulated a concept or insight might be, it must be shaped and modified, often significantly, as it gets fleshed out into a business plan that can win funding from the corporation. Along the way, it encounters a number of highly predictable forces. Managers as individuals might indeed be idiosyncratic and unpredictable, but they all face forces that are similar in their mechanism of action, their timing, and their impact on the character of the product and business plan that the company ultimately attempts to implement. Understanding and managing these forces can make innovation more predictable.

We often admire the intuition that successful entrepreneurs seem to have for building growth businesses. When they exercise their intuition about what actions will lead to the desired results, they really are employing theories that give them a sense of the right thing to do in various circumstances. These theories were not there at birth; They were learned through a set of experiences and mentors earlier in life. If some people have learned the theories that we call intuition, then it is our hope that these theories also can be taught to others. This is our aspiration for this book. We hope to help managers who are trying to create new-growth businesses use the best research we have been able to assemble to learn how to match their actions to the circumstances in order to get the results they need. As our readers use these ways of thinking over and over, we hope that the thought processes inherent in these theories can become part of their intuition as well.

On the difference between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation and the associate strategies associated with each:

We must emphasize that we do not argue against the aggressive pursuit of sustaining innovation…Almost always a host of similar companies enters an industry in its early years, and getting ahead of that crowd—moving up the sustaining-innovation trajectory more decisively than the others—is critical to the successful exploitation of the disruptive opportunity. But this is the source of the dilemma: Sustaining innovations are so important and attractive, relative to disruptive ones, that the very best sustaining companies systematically ignore disruptive threats and opportunities until the game is over. Sustaining innovation essentially entails making a better mousetrap. Starting a new company with a sustaining innovation isn’t necessarily a bad idea: Focused companies sometimes can develop new products more rapidly than larger firms because of the conflicts and distractions that broad scope often creates. The theory of disruption suggests, however, that once they have developed and established the viability of their superior product, entrepreneurs who have entered on a sustaining trajectory should turn around and sell out to one of the industry leaders behind them. If executed successfully, getting ahead of the leaders on the sustaining curve and then selling out quickly can be a straightforward way to make an attractive financial return…A sustaining-technology strategy is not a viable way to build new-growth businesses, however. If you create and attempt to sell a better product into an established market to capture established competitors’ best customers, the competitors will be motivated to fight rather than to flee. This advice holds even when the entrant is a huge corporation with ostensibly deeper pockets than the incumbent.

On where disruptive innovation occurs:

Because new-market disruptions compete against nonconsumption, the incumbent leaders feel no pain and little threat until the disruption is in its final stages. In fact, when the disruptors begin pulling customers out of the low-end of the original value network, it actually feels good to the leading firms, because as they move up-market in their own world, for a time they are replacing the low-margin revenues that disruptors steal, with higher-margin revenues from sustaining innovations.

We call disruptions that take root at the low-end of the original or mainstream value network low-end disruptions…New-market disruptions induce incumbents to ignore the attackers, and low-end disruptions motivate the incumbents to flee the attack.

And why do executives of existing companies segment markets counterproductively?

There are at least four reasons or countervailing forces in established companies that cause managers to target innovations at attribute-based market segments that are not aligned with the way that customers live their lives. The first two reasons—the fear of focus and the demand for crisp quantification—reside in companies’ resource allocation processes. The third reason is that the structure of many retail channels is attribute focused, and the fourth is that advertising economics influence companies to target products at customers rather than circumstances.

How can this be resolved?

Identifying disruptive footholds means connecting with specific jobs that people—your future customers—are trying to get done in their lives. The problem is that in an attempt to build convincing business cases for new products, managers are compelled to quantify the opportunities they perceive, and the data available to do this are typically cast in terms of product attributes or the demographic and psychographic profiles of a given population of potential consumers. This mismatch between the true needs of consumers and the data that shape most product development efforts leads most companies to aim their innovations at nonexistent targets. The importance of identifying these jobs to be done goes beyond simply finding a foothold. Only by staying connected with a given job as improvements are made, and by creating a purpose brand so that customers know what to hire, can a disruptive product stay on its growth trajectory.

On extracting growth from nonconsumption (new-market disruption pattern):

1. The target customers are trying to get a job done, but because they lack the money or skill, a simple, inexpensive solution has been beyond reach.

2. These customers will compare the disruptive product to having nothing at all. As a result, they are delighted to buy it even though it may not be as good as other products available at high prices to current users with deeper expertise in the original value network. The performance hurdle required to delight such new-market customers is quite modest.

3. The technology that enables the disruption might be quite sophisticated, but disruptors deploy it to make the purchase and use of the product simple, convenient, and foolproof. It is the “foolproofedness” that creates new growth by enabling people with less money and training to begin consuming.

4. The disruptive innovation creates a whole new value network. The new consumers typically purchase the product through new channels and use the product in new venues.

On what makes competing against nonconsumption so hard for existing companies?

In a very insightful stream of research, Harvard Business School Professor Clark Gilbert has helped us understand the fundamental mechanism that causes the established competitors in an industry to consistently cram the disruptive technology into the mainstream market. With that understanding, Gilbert also provides guidance to established company executives on how to avoid this trap, and capture the growth created by disruption instead. Gilbert’s work, fortunately, not only defines an innovator’s dilemma but suggests a way out. The solution is twofold: First, get top-level commitment by framing an innovation as a threat during the resource allocation process. Later, shift responsibility for the project to an autonomous organization that can frame it as an opportunity.

On determining the right scope for the business:

When the functionality and reliability of a product are not good enough to meet customers’ needs, then the companies that will enjoy significant competitive advantage are those whose product architectures are proprietary and that are integrated across the performance-limiting interfaces in the value chain. When functionality and reliability become more than adequate, so that speed and responsiveness are the dimensions of competition that are not now good enough, then the opposite is true. A population of non-integrated, specialized companies whose rules of interaction are defined by modular architectures and industry standards holds the upper hand. At the beginning of a wave of new-market disruption, the companies that initially will be the most successful will be integrated firms whose architectures are proprietary because the product isn’t yet good enough. After a few years of success in performance improvement, those disruptive pioneers themselves become susceptible to hybrid disruption by a faster and more flexible population of non-integrated companies whose focus gives them lower overhead costs.

On how to avoid commoditization:

1. The low-cost strategy of modular product assemblers is only viable as long as they are competing against higher-cost opponents. This means that as soon as they drive the high-cost suppliers of proprietary products out of a tier of the market, they must move up-market to take them on again in order to continue to earn attractive profits.

2. Because the mechanisms that constrain or determine how rapidly they can move up-market are the performance-defining subsystems, these elements become not good enough and are flipped to the left side of the disruption diagram.

3. Competition among subsystem suppliers causes their engineers to devise designs that are increasingly proprietary and interdependent. They must do this as they strive to enable their customers to deliver better performance in their end-use products than the customers could if they used competitors’ subsystems.

4. The leading providers of these subsystems therefore find themselves selling differentiated, proprietary products with attractive profitability.

5. This creation of a profitable, proprietary product is the beginning, of course, of the next cycle of commoditization and de-commoditization.

A reminder that integrated companies possess a strategic advantage in their ability to respond to changes of value across the value chain:

To the extent that an integrated company such as IBM can flexibly couple and decouple its operations, rather than irrevocably sell off operations, it has greater potential to thrive profitably for an extended period than does a nonintegrated firm such as Compaq. This is because the processes of commoditization and de-commoditization are continuously at work, causing the place where the money will be to shift across the value chain over time.

The concept of core competency, which is often used to determine which part of the value chain to keep in-house, is misguiding:

Core competence, as it is used by many managers, is a dangerously inward-looking notion. Competitiveness is far more about doing what customers value than doing what you think you’re good at. And staying competitive as the basis of competition shifts necessarily requires a willingness and ability to learn new things rather than clinging hopefully to the sources of past glory. The challenge for incumbent companies is to rebuild their ships while at sea, rather than dismantling themselves plank by plank while someone else builds a new. faster boat with what they cast overboard as detritus.

To successfully build and manage growth businesses you need the right people, processes and values:

Executives who are building new-growth businesses therefore need to do more than assign managers who have been to the right schools of experience to the problem. They must ensure that responsibility for making the venture successful is given to an organization whose processes will facilitate what needs to be done and whose values can prioritize those activities. The theory is that the requirements of an innovation need to fit with the host organization’s processes and values, or the innovation will not succeed.

On managing the strategy development process:

In every company there are two simultaneous processes through which strategy comes to be defined. Figure 8-1 suggests that both of these strategy-making processes—deliberate and emergent—are always operating in every company. The deliberate strategy-making process is conscious and analytical. It is often based on rigorous analysis of data on market growth, segment size, customer needs, competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and technology trajectories. Strategy in this process typically is formulated in a project with a discrete beginning and end, and then implemented “top down.”…Emergent strategy, which as depicted in figure 8-1 bubbles up from within the organization, is the cumulative effect of day-to-day prioritization and investment decisions made by middle managers, engineers, salespeople, and financial staff. These tend to be tactical, day-to-day operating decisions that are made by people who are not in a visionary, futuristic, or strategic state of mind…When the efficacy of a strategy that was developed through an emergent process is recognized, it is possible to formalize it, improve it, and exploit it, thus transforming an emergent strategy into a deliberate one. Emergent processes should dominate in circumstances in which the future is hard to read and in which it is not clear what the right strategy should be. This is almost always the case during the early phases of a company’s life. However, the need for emergent strategy arises whenever a change in circumstances portends that the formula that worked in the past may not be as effective in the future. On the other hand, the deliberate strategy process should be dominant once a winning strategy has become clear, because in those circumstances effective execution often spells the difference between success and failure.

On the execution of the strategy, three points of leverage:

1. Carefully control the initial cost structure of a new-growth business, because this quickly will determine the values that will drive the critical resource allocation decisions in that business.

2. Actively accelerate the process by which a viable strategy emerges by ensuring that business plans are designed to test and confirm critical assumptions using tools such as discovery-driven planning.

3. Personally and repeatedly intervene, business by business, exercising judgment about whether the circumstance is such that the business needs to follow an emergent or deliberate strategy-making process. CEOs must not leave the choice about strategy process to policy, habit, or culture.

General rules of thumbs relating to the financial management of growth businesses:

  • Launch new-growth businesses regularly when the core is still healthy —when it can still be patient for growth—not when financial results signal the need.
  • Keep dividing business units so that as the corporation becomes increasingly large, decisions to launch growth ventures continue to be made within organizational units that can be patient for growth because they are small enough to benefit from investing in small opportunities.
  • Minimize the use of profit from established businesses to subsidize losses in new-growth businesses. Be impatient for profit: There is nothing like profitability to ensure that a high-potential business can continue to garner the funding it needs, even when the corporation’s core businesses turn sour.

On a concluding note:

Many successful companies have disrupted once. A few, including IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Cisco, and Intuit, have disrupted several times. Sony did it repeatedly between 1955 and 1982, before its engine of disruption got shut down. To our knowledge, no company has been able to build an engine of disruptive growth and keep it running and running. That reality has made this a risky book for us to write: Few business books say “Do this; no one’s ever done it before.” But there is little choice. Creating and sustaining successful growth has, historically speaking, vexed some great managers. Given the existence of principles but no precedent, we have simply done our best to suggest how successful growth can be created and sustained. We have offered an integrated body of theory derived from the successes and the failures of hundreds of different companies, each of which has illuminated a different aspect of the innovator’s dilemma. And so we now pass the baton to you, in the hope that you will find our efforts to be a valuable foundation upon which to build your own innovator’s solution.

I highly recommend this book, as a follow-on to Clayton’s earlier work.


The Shipping Container Revolution

In late December 2013, Bill Gates posted a list of his Best Books of 2013, and featured The Box by Marc Levinson as one of his selections:

You might think you don’t want to read a whole book about shipping containers. And Levinson is pretty self-aware about what an unusual topic he chose. But he makes a good case that the move to containerized shipping had an enormous impact on the global economy and changed the way the world does business. And he turns it into a very readable narrative. I won’t look at a cargo ship in quite the same way again.

His recommendation intrigued me to order this book, read it and share with you.

As with any innovation, the ascent of containerization was faced with fierce opposition:

Powerful labor leaders pulled out all the stops to block its ascent, triggering strikes in dozens of harbors. Some ports spent heavily to promote it, while others spent huge sums for traditional piers and warehouses in the vain hope that the container would prove a passing fad. Governments reacted with confusion, trying to figure out how to capture its benefits without disturbing the profits, jobs, and social arrangements that were tied to the status quo. Even seemingly simple matters, such as the design of the steel fitting that allows almost any crane in any port to lift almost any container, were settled only after years of contention. In the end, it took a major war, the United States’ painful campaign in Vietnam, to prove the merit of this revolutionary approach to moving freight.

The impact of containerization was not merely one of more economic transport, it had deeper reaching impact on logistics and enabled other innovations such as just-in-time manufacturing:

Transport efficiencies, though, hardly begin to capture the economic impact of containerization. The container not only lowered freight bills, it saved time. Quicker handling and less time in storage translated to faster transit from manufacturer to customer, reducing the cost of financing inventories sitting unproductively on railway sidings or in pierside warehouses awaiting a ship. The container, combined with the computer, made it practical for companies like Toyota and Honda to develop just-in-time manufacturing, in which a supplier makes the goods its customer wants only as the customer needs them and then ships them, in containers, to arrive at a specified time. Such precision, unimaginable before the container, has led to massive reductions in manufacturers’ inventories and correspondingly huge cost savings. Retailers have applied those same lessons, using careful logistics management to squeeze out billions of dollars of costs.

Containerization also developed a strong feedback loop with global trade growth. The more efficient transport became, the more the volume of international trade rose.

Some scholars have argued that reductions in transport costs are at best marginal improvements that have had negligible effects on trade flows. This book disputes that view. In the decade after the container first came into international use, in 1966, the volume of international trade in manufactured goods grew more than twice as fast as the volume of global manufacturing production, and two and a half times as fast as global economic output. Something was accelerating the growth of trade even though the economic expansion that normally stimulates trade was weak. Something was driving a vast increase in international commerce in manufactured goods even though oil shocks were making the world economy sluggish. While attributing the vast changes in the world economy to a single cause would be foolhardy, we should not dismiss out of hand the possibility that the extremely sharp drop in freight costs played a major role in increasing the integration of the global economy.

Another consequence of containerization and perhaps the deepest reaching, is as an enabler of globalization – more specifically decoupling of economic activity from national boundaries:

The third intellectual stream feeding into this book is the connection between transportation costs and economic geography, the question of who makes what where…Globalization, the diffusion of economic activity without regard for national boundaries, is the logical end point of this process. As transport costs fall to extremely low levels, producers move from high-wage to low-wage countries, eventually causing wage levels in all countries to converge. These geographic shifts can occur quickly and suddenly, leaving long-standing industrial infrastructure underutilized or abandoned as economic activity moves on.

Marc recounts the history of the shipping container, first, the environment at the time, was ripe for the picking:

Shippers wanted cheaper transport, less pilferage, less damage, and lower insurance rates. Shipowners wanted to build bigger vessels, but only if they could spend more time at sea, earning revenue, and less time in port. Truckers wanted to be able to deliver to and pick up from the docks without hour upon hour of waiting. Business interests in port cities were praying for almost anything that would boost traffic through their harbors. Yet despite all the demands for change, and despite much experimentation, most of the industry’s efforts to improve productivity centered on such timeworn ideas as making drafts heavier so that longshoremen would have to work harder. No one had found a better way to ease the gridlock on the docks.

As is the case with many innovations, this one was primarily driven by an outsider to the industry – Malcom McLean:

The solution came from an outsider who had no experience with ships…McLean reconsidered his plan. He had realized that carrying trailers on ships was inefficient: the wheels beneath each trailer would waste a lot of precious shipboard space. Pondering that problem, McLean came up with a still more radical idea. A government maritime-promotion program made leftover World War II tankers available to ship lines very cheaply. Pan-Atlantic would buy two and convert them to haul truck trailer bodies—trailers detached from their steel beds, axles, and wheels. Subtracting the frames and wheels would reduce the space occupied by each trailer by one-third. Even better, the trailer bodies could be stacked, whereas trailers with wheels could not be. As McLean envisioned it, a truck would pull the trailer alongside the ship, where the trailer body, filled with twenty tons of freight, would be detached from its steel chassis and fitted aboard ship. At the other end of the voyage, the trailer body would be lowered onto an empty chassis and hauled to its destination…The concept that became container shipping was Malcom McLean’s…McLean understood that reducing the cost of shipping goods required not just a metal box but an entire new way of handling freight. Every part of the system—ports, ships, cranes, storage facilities, trucks, trains, and the operations of the shippers themselves—would have to change. In that understanding, he was years ahead of almost everyone else in the transportation industry. His insights ushered in change so dramatic that even the experts at the International Container Bureau, people who had been pushing containers for decades, were astonished at what he had wrought. As one of that organization’s leaders confessed later, “we did not understand that at that time a revolution was taking place in the U.S.A”.

Then came the creative destruction – that is the innovation of the shipping container:

By the middle of the 1970s, the New York docks were mostly a memoryThe revolutionary changes in cargo handling had far more dire implications for off-dock workers in transportation and distribution. Between 1964 and 1976, the number of trucking and warehousing workers rose nationally, but the number in New York fell sharply after 1970. With fewer vessels calling at New York City, fewer trucks were needed to deliver and collect cargo at the piers. Transit warehouses were abandoned or put to far less labor-intensive uses, such as parking…The changes in transport costs induced by containerization hit manufacturing, too, eliminating not only factory-floor jobs but also related trucking and distribution work as plants moved out of New York…There can be no doubt, however, that containerization eliminated one of the key reasons for operating a factory in New York City: ease of shipment…The container was not the sole cause of the surprising and painful economic changes of the 1960s and 1970s, but it was an important cause. Container technology developed far more quickly and affected transportation industries far more significantly than even its most ardent proponents had imagined. New York was only the first established shipping center whose economy would be transformed in ways that were unimaginable before the container arrived on the scene.

Which left some tough questions to be answered, as far as how displaced workers should be treated/compensated:

Despite these discontents, the longshore unions’ tenacious resistance to automation appeared to establish the principle that long-term workers deserved to be treated humanely as businesses embraced innovations that would eliminate their jobs. That principle was ultimately accepted in very few parts of the American economy and was never codified in law. Years of bargaining by two very different union leaders made the longshore industry a rare exception, in which employers that profited from automation were forced to share the benefits with the individuals whose work was automated away.

For this innovation to be universally adopted, some conformity was required. It wasn’t until some standardization for containers was introduced, that international container shipping took off:

Yet after 1966, as truckers, ship lines, railroads, container manufacturers, and governments reached compromises on issue after issue, a fundamental change could be seen in the shipping world. The plethora of container shapes and sizes that had blocked the development of containerization in 1965 gave way to the standard sizes approved internationally. Leasing companies began to feel confident investing large sums in containers and moved into the field in a big way, soon owning more boxes than the ship lines themselves…Finally, it was becoming possible to fill a container with freight in Kansas City with a high degree of confidence that almost any trucks, trains, ports, and ships would be able to move it smoothly all the way to Kuala Lumpur. International container shipping could now become a reality.

On the domestic end, it was not until containers were transported by trucks or train that adoption took off:

Most big shippers had no pressing need to use coastal shipping services, whether containerized or not. They used ocean freight for exporting or importing—but only a handful of containers were being carried on international ships. Most freight shipments were domestic, going cross-country by truck or train. Not until container technology affected land-based transportation costs would the container revolution take firm hold.

As the industry matured, so did the associated costs of maintaining the required infrastructure, leading to higher concentrations on specific ports:

These two unrelated developments—the rise of New York, the neglect of Tampa and Mobile—revealed the economics that would affect seaports as container shipping grew. For ports, capturing container traffic was going to be expensive, requiring investments out of all proportion to what had come before. For ship lines, the days when vessels meandered along the coast, calling at every port in search of cargo, would soon be over. Every stop would mean tying up an expensive containership that could generate revenue and profit only when it was on the move. Only ports that could be relied upon for large amounts of freight were worth a visit, and all others would be served by truck or barge.

Eventually, and as with any rising industry, growth gave in to a bust, and to a new reality of depressed margins. This lead to further consolidation within the industry (note the modern parallel to the airline industry):

Demand, robust through it was, could not possibly keep up with this explosion of supply. The result was a new and painful experience for the shipping industry: a rate war. Overcapacity was an old story in ocean shipping. The flow of cargo had always been volatile, based on economic growth, changes in tariffs and trade restrictions, and political factors such as wars and embargoes…Far fewer independent companies were left, and they had no illusions about the future. Rate wars would obviously be a permanent feature of the container shipping industry, recurring every time the world economy turned down or ship lines expanded their fleets. Shippers would pay according to the distance their containers traveled, regardless of the weight or the nature of the contents, and in difficult times rates would dip so low that carriers would barely cover their operating costs. Ship lines would be under constant pressure to build bigger ships and faster cranes to reduce the cost of handling each container, because at some point overcapacity would return, and when rates collapsed the carrier with the lowest cost would have the best chance of survival.

The deregulation in the 80s both on land and sea, helped pave the way for further cost reductions for the consumer:

Deregulation changed everything. In two separate laws passed in 1980, Congress freed interstate truckers to carry almost anything almost anywhere at whatever rates they could negotiate. The ICC lost its role approving rail rates, except for a few commodities such as coal and chemicals…Perhaps no part of the freight industry was altered more than the container shipping. The ability to sign long-term contracts gave railroads an incentive to develop a business that had languished for two decades, with assurance that their investment would not go to waste….Rail rates fell so steeply that by 1987, more than one-third of the containers headed from Asia to the U.S. East Coast crossed the United States by rail to international trade had given way…The Shipping Act of 1984 rewrote the rules governing international shipping through U.S. ports. Shippers could now sign long-term contracts with ship lines. In return for guaranteeing a minimum amount of cargo, a shipper could negotiate a low rate and specific terms of service, such as the frequency of ships…Shippers’ newfound power put enormous downward pressure on freight rates.

Containerization played and continues to pay a significant role in changing companies’ strategies particularly as it relates to vertical integration and supply chain management:

As freight costs plummeted starting in the late 1970s and as the rapid exchange of cargo from one transportation carrier to another became routine, manufacturers discovered that they no longer needed to do everything themselves. They could contract with other companies for raw materials and components. locking in supplies, and then sign transportation contracts to assure that their inputs would arrive when needed. Integrated production yielded to disintegrated production. Each supplier, specializing in a narrow range of products, could take advantage of the latest technological developments in its industry and gain economies of scale in its particular product lines.

While the primary lesson from The Box is one on innovation, Marc also conveys another more subtle lesson in this book on the unpredictability of the impact the shipping container has had when it was first conceived:

How innovation really works is certainly one of the lessons of The Box, but for me there is another that looms even larger: the role of unintended consequences. Economists, myself included, are in the business of predicting events; we like to think that we can analyze what has happened and draw insight into what will occur in the days to come. Business school students take a similar approach, learning to apply quantitative analysis to historical data in order to draw conclusions about the future. In the business world, this way of looking at the world through a spreadsheet is treated as modern management thinking. It’s the bread and butter of some of the world’s most famous, and expensive, consulting firms. The story of containerization attests to the limits of this sort of rational analysis, for the developments recounted in The Box turned out not at all as expected…Absolutely no one anticipated that containerization would open the way to vast changes in where and how goods are manufactured, that it would provide a major impetus to transport deregulation, or that it would help integrate East Asia into a world economy that previously had centered on the North Atlantic.

Along the same lines, hindsight is 20/20, but at the time it was nearly impossible to predict the colossal impact the shipping container has had on modern economy:

The history of the shipping container is humbling. Careful planning and thorough analysis have their place, but they provide little guidance in the face of abrupt changes that alter an industry’s very fundamentals. Flexibility is a virtue in such a situation. Resistance can be a vice, but so can a rush to action. In this kind of situation “expect the unexpected” may be as good a motto as any…That simple metal box was what we today label a disruptive technology. Even now, more than half a century after it came into use, it continues to affect our world in unexpected ways.

On a closing note:

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about the remarkable history of the box is that time and again, even the most knowledgeable experts misjudged the course of events. The container proved to be such a dynamic force that almost nothing it touched was left unchanged, and those changes often were not as predicted.

The Box is a must read in the areas of innovation, logistics and trade. Looking back it is astounding to learn how the shipping container has and continues to have such an impact on driving our modern economy. Within the container’s history, there are numerous innovation lessons that are transferable and just as applicable in today’s setting across the various industries.

On Steve Jobs

I recently finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” he said. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” It was as if he were suggesting themes for his biography (and in this instance, at least, the theme turned out to be valid). The creativity that can occur where both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.”

2- “His wife also did not request restrictions or control, nor did she ask to see in advance what I would publish. In fact she strongly encouraged me to be honest about his failings as well as his strengths. She is one of the smartest and most grounded people I have ever met. “There are parts of his life and personality that are extremely messy. and that’s the truth,” she told me early on. “You shouldn’t whitewash it. He’s good at spin, but he also has a remarkable story, and I’d like to see that it’s all told truthfully” I leave it to the reader to assess whether I have succeeded in this mission. I’m sure there are players in this drama who will remember some of the events differently or think that I sometimes got trapped in Jobs’s distortion field.”

3- “Jobs said that his appreciation for Eichler homes instilled in him a passion for making nicely designed products for the mass market. I Jove it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,” he said as he pointed out the clean elegance of the houses. “It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.””

4- “The Blue Box adventure established a template for a partnership that would soon be born. Wozniak would be the gentle wizard coming up with a neat invention that he would have been happy just to give away. and Jobs would figure out how to make it user-friendly, put it together in a package, market it, and make a few bucks.”

5- “Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”

6- “Jobs is a complex person, he said, and being manipulative is just the darker facet of the traits that make him successful. Wozniak would never have been that way, but as he points out, he also could never have built Apple. “I would rather let it pass,” he said when I pressed the point. “It’s not something I want to judge Steve by.””

7- “Apple. It was a smart choice. The word instantly signaled friendliness and simplicity. It managed to be both slightly off-beat and as normal as a slice of pie. There was a whiff of counterculture, back-to-nature earthiness to it, yet nothing could be more American. And the two words together—Apple Computer—provided an amusing disjuncture. ”

8- “Jobs’s father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough. This passion for perfection led him to indulge his instinct to control. Most hackers and hobbyists liked to customize, modify, and jack various things into their computers. To Jobs, this was a threat to a seamless end-to-end user experience.”

9- “Markkula would become a father figure to Jobs. Like Jobs’s adoptive father, he would indulge Jobs’s strong will, and like his biological father, he would end up abandoning him. “Markkula was as much a father-son relationship as Steve ever had,” said the venture capitalist Arthur Rock. He began to teach Jobs about marketing and sales. “Mike really took me under his wing,” Jobs recalled. “His values were much aligned with mine. He emphasized that you should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.””

10- “Was Jobs’s unfiltered behavior caused by a lack of emotional sensitivity? No. Almost the opposite. He was very emotionally attuned. able to read people and know their psychological strengths and vulnerabilities. He could stun an unsuspecting: victim with an emotional towel-snap, perfectly aimed. He intuitively knew when someone was faking it or truly knew something. This made him masterful at cajoling, stroking, persuading, flattering, and intimidating people.”

11- “But even though Jobs’s style could be demoralizing, it could also be oddly inspiring. It infused Apple employees with an abiding passion to create groundbreaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible.”

12- “The best products, he believed, were “whole widgets” that were designed end-to-end, with the software closely tailored to the hardware and vice versa. This is what would distinguish the Macintosh, which had an operating system that worked only on its own hardware, from the environment that Microsoft was creating, in which its operating system could be used on hardware made by many different companies.”

13- “Their differences in personality and character would lead them to opposite sides of what would become the fundamental divide in the digital age. Jobs was a perfectionist who craved control and indulged in the uncompromising temperament of an artist; he and Apple became the exemplars of a digital strategy that tightly integrated hardware. software, and content into a seamless package. Gates was a smart, calculating, and pragmatic analyst of business and technology; he was )pen to licensing Microsoft’s operating system and software to a variety of manufacturers.”

14- “I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I’m not there, but I’U always come back. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times. artists have to say. “Bye. I have to go now. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.”

15- “Jobs sometimes avoided the truth. Helmut Sonnenfeldt once said of Henry Kissinger, “He lies not because it’s in his interest. he lies because it’s in his nature.” It was in Jobs’s nature to mislead or be secretive when he felt it was warranted. But he also indulged in being brutally honest at times, telling the truths that most of us sugarcoat or suppress. Both the dissembling and the truth-telling were simply different aspects of his Nietzschean attitude that ordinary rules didn’t apply to him.”

16- “For all of his willfulness and insatiable desire to control things. Jobs was indecisive and reticent when he felt unsure about something. He craved perfection, and he was not always good at figuring out how to settle for something less. He did not like to wrestle with complexity or make accommodations. This was true in products, design, and furnishings for the house. It was also true when it came to personal for the house. It was also true when it came to personal commitments. If he knew for sure a course of action was right. he was unstoppable. But if he had doubts, he sometimes withdrew, preferring not to think about things that did not perfectly suit him.”

17- “Ever since he left the apple commune, Jobs had defined himself and by extension Apple, as a child of the counterculture. In ads such as “Think Different” and “1984,” he positioned the Apple brand so that it reaffirmed his own rebel streak, even after he became a billionaire, and it allowed other baby boomers and their kids to do the same. “From when I first met him as a young guy, he’s had the greatest of the impact he wants his brand to have on people,” said Clow. Very few other companies or corporate leaders—perhaps none— could have gotten away with the brilliant audacity of associating their brand with Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso, and the Dalai Lama. Jobs was able to encourage people to define themselves as anti-corporate, creative. innovative rebels simply by the computer they used. “Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,” Larry Ellison said. “There are cars people are proud to have—Porsche, Ferrari, Prius—because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.”

18- “One of his motivating passions was to build a lasting company. At age twelve, when he got a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, he learned that a properly run company could spawn innovation far more than any single creative individual. “I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company,” he recalled. “The whole notion of how you build a company is fascinating. When I got the chance to come back to Apple, I realized that I would be useless without the company, and that’s why I decided to stay and rebuild it.”

19- “Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products. we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a -visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. X involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.”

20- “Despite his autocratic nature—he never worshiped at the altar of consensus—Jobs worked hard to foster a culture of collaboration at Apple. Many companies pride themselves on having few meetings. Jobs had many.”

21- “”From the earliest days at Apple, I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software, we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected, there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get Started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” He knew, however, that the best way to stop piracy—in fact the only way—was to offer an alternative that was more attractive than the brain-dead services that music companies were concocting.”

22- “But Sony couldn’t. It had pioneered portable music with the Walkman, it had a great record company, and it had a long history of making beautiful consumer devices. It had all of the assets to compete with Jobs’s Strategy of integration of hardware, software, devices, and content sales. Why did it fail? Partly because it was a company, like AOL Time Warner that was organized into divisions (that word itself was ominous) with their own bottom lines; the goal of achieving synergy in such companies by prodding the divisions to work together was usually elusive. Jobs did not organize Apple into semi-autonomous divisions; he closely controlled all of his teams and pushed them to work as one cohesive and flexible company, with one profit-and-loss bottom fine. “We don’t have ‘divisions’ with their own P&L,” said Tim Cook. “We run one P&L for the company.””

23- “Despite being- a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” So he had the Pixar building- designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.””

24- “Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time. “There is no one better at turning off the noise that is going on around him,” Cook said. “That allows him to focus on a few things and say no to many things. Few people are really good at that.” In order to institutionalize the lessons that he and his team were learning. Jobs started an in-house center called Apple University. He hired Joel Podolny, who was dean of the Yale School of Management, to compile a series of case studies analyzing important decisions the company had made, including the switch to the Intel microprocessor and the decision to open the Apple Stores. Top executives spent time teaching the cases to new employees, so that the Apple style of decision making would be embedded in the culture.”

25- “”Steve has a particular way that he wants to run Apple, and it’s the same as it was twenty years ago, which is that Apple is a brilliant innovator of closed systems.” Schmidt later told me. “They don’t want people to be on their platform without permission. The benefits of a closed platform is control. But Google has a specific belief that open is the better approach, because it leads to more options and competition and consumer choice.””

26- “The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation crammed with A players.”

27- “The saga of Steve Jobs is the Silicon Valley creation myth writ large: launching a start-up in his parents’ garage and building it into the world’s most valuable company. He didn’t invent many things outright. but he was a master at putting together ideas, art, and technology in ways that invented the feature. He designed the Mac after appreciating the power of graphical interfaces in a way that Xerox was unable to do. and he created the iPod after grasping the joy of having a thousand in your pocket in a way that Sony, which had all the assets and heritage, never could accomplish. Some leaders push innovations by being good at the big picture. Others do so by mastering details. Jobs did both, relentlessly. As a result he launched a series of products over three decades that transformed whole industries…”

28- “Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was, indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power. Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead. Steve Jobs thus became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now. the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.”


Omar Halabieh

Steve Jobs

On The Alchemy Of Growth

I recently finished reading the Alchemy of Growth – Practical Insights For Building The Enduring Enterprise – by Mehrdad Baghai, Stephen Coley and David White. This book was referenced during a recent CIO conference I attended.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Growth’s transformative power is akin to the alchemy of old. Always a mystery, alchemy’s magical blend of science, philosophy, art, and spirituality held secrets that even its practitioners found difficult to penetrate. Still, they were all drawn to its alluring aim: to transform the everyday into the exalted. The pursuit of corporate growth has prompted a similar reaction in the field of management. Although excited by growth’s promise, executives are uncertain about how to capture it. Feeling ill equipped to lead a growth charge, many seek a approach that shows them how they can actually attain and sustain growth. This book is addressed to them. It attempts to arm business leaders for growth by laying out a proven practical framework for the holistic management of a growing enterprise. The ideas and approaches suggested here are applicable to businesses and business units of all sizes, in all locations. They are intended to provide guidance to all levels of business leadership.”

2- “Our research makes it clear that very few companies sustain above-average growth for their industry year after year. Indeed, some of the companies we studied have already suffered slowdowns, and we fully expect more to do so. But these setbacks do not detract ft-om the lessons to be learned from the sustained phases of growth; indeed, they serve to reinforce the need for new approaches to help executives keep growth going. Our own approach has been specifically developed to help companies grow throughout the business cycle – not only sailing through the upswings, but also maintaining growth during the downturns.”

3- “Horizon 1 encompasses the businesses that are at the heart of an organization – those that customers and stock analysts most readily identify with the corporate name. In successful companies, these businesses usually account for the lion’s share of profits and cash flow. Horizon 1 businesses are critical to near-term performance, and the cash they generate and the skills they nurture provide resources for growth. They usually have some growth potential left, but will eventually flatten out and decline. Without the support of a successful horizon 1, initiatives in horizons 2 and 3 are likely to stagnate and die. Management’s primary challenge in horizon 1 is to shore up competitive positions and capture what potential remains in the core businesses. Even when these are mature, continuing innovation can incrementally extend their growth and profitability. Traditional sales force stimulation programs, product extensions, and marketing changes can aim contribute. Restructuring, productivity enhancement, and cost reduction measures will also help maintain healthy performance for as long as possible.”

4- “Horizon 2 comprises businesses on the rise: fast-moving, entrepreneurial ventures in which a concept is taking root or growth is accelerating. The emerging stars of the company, these businesses are attracting investors’ attention. They could transform their company, but not without considerable investment. Though substantial profits may be four or five years away, they have customers and revenue, and may already generate some profit. More important, they are expected to become as profitable as horizon 1 businesses in time. Horizon 2 initiatives are usually characterized by a single-minded drive to increase revenue and market share. They need continuing investment to finance rollouts or otherwise accelerate the expansion of the business. In a few years, horizon 2 initiatives should complement or replace a company’s current core businesses. They may represent either extensions of these businesses or moves in new directions. Horizon 2 is about building new streams of revenue.That takes time and demands new skills. Without horizon 2 businesses, a company’s growth will slow and ultimately stall. A good growth company needs to have several of these emerging businesses “on the boil,” working to convert promising ideas into future earnings generators.

5- “Horizon 3 contains the seeds of tomorrow’s businesses – options on fiiture opportunities. Although embryonic, horizon 3 options are more than ideas; they are real activities and investments, however small. They are the research projects, test-market pilots, alliances, minority stakes, and memoranda of understanding that mark the first steps toward actual businesses, even though they may not produce profits for a decade, if ever. Should they prove successful, they will be expected to reach horizon 1 levels of profitability. A company that thinks it has a promising horizon 3 just because it compiles a long list of whiteboard ideas at a management retreat is fooling itself. Without deliberate initiatives to develop good ideas into horizon 3 opportunities, a company’s long-term growth prospects will fade. The options in horizon 3 are rarely proven opportunities, but they need to be promising and to have the support of management. Building successful businesses means seeding numerous options. Some will fail for internal reasons; others will fall victim to shifting industry winds. Most will never grow to become successful new businesses. Given these odds, a great deal of horizon 3 activity is needed to cover the multitude of possible futures. A company’s goal should be to keep he option to play without committing too much capital or other resources. The challenge is to nurture promising options while ruthlessly excising those with diminishing potential.”

6- “The three horizons can be used to promote growth in three ways. First, as a diagnostic tool, the three horizons can help managers assess the prospects for growth at any level in an organization and reveal possible gaps in the volume and consistency of new profit sources. Second, as a language, the three horizons approach offers a coherent way to communicate with employees and investors. Its simple terminology makes it easier for both groups to understand and discuss corporate priorities.”

7- “An excessive focus on growth can be just as much a problem as because they have failed to fill their business creation pipeline. others lose the right to grow when they become obsessed with new businesses. The novelty of these opportunities can be so exciting that managers take their eyes off horizon 1, forgetting that it must be maintained in order to provide the financial capacity to drive growth.”

8- “Another troublesome pattern occurs when companies have strong horizon 1 businesses and lots of ideas in horizon 3, but few people working to turn these ideas into real businesses. No matter how exciting the ideas may be, horizon 2 will remain empty until businesses are built. A company can find itself in an insidious situation as promising horizon 3 options lull it into a false sense of security. To complicate matters, these options can also inflate market expectations for growth far beyond the company’s capacity to meet them. As the gap between market expectations and the company’s actual growth widens, a steep fall in stock price becomes more likely.”

9- “If there are no hard and fast numbers to determine ideal balance across the three horizons, how should you define it? The standard is simple: balance means having the next engine of growth ready when it is needed. Applying the standard, however, is far from simple. The definition of balance varies from company to company. Consider the following factors: Pace of industry evolution…Degree of uncertainty…Managerial and financial capacity…Shareholder expectations.”

10- “Pruning the portfolio of businesses through divestment creates capacity for growth. Although a business unit may still be earning adequate profits, these must be weighed against the opportunity costs of management distraction and competition for resources. Management attention and other resources are often more productively focused on growth opportunities than on businesses with limited potential…Shedding unsatisfactory businesses has the added benefit of signaling strategic intent to both stock markets and employees. Conversely, not pruning increasingly irrelevant businesses can send mixed messages about a company’s direction and resolve to grow.”

11- “In our work, we have looked for ways to open managers’ eyes to hidden opportunities. To this end, we have developed a tool that we call the “seven degrees of freedom.” By systematically addressing each degree of freedom in turn. managers can learn to think more broadly about growth opportunities in their businesses.  1. How could we increase sales to the same customers with the same product mix? 2. How could we extend the business by selling existing products to new customers? 3. How could we grow by introducing new products and services? 4. How could we expand sales by developing better delivery systems for customers? 5. How and where could we expand into new geographies? 6. How much could we grow by changing the industry structure through acquisitions or alliances? 7. What opportunities are there outside existing Industry boundaries?”

12- “Companies are right to be cautious about pursuing growth initiatives. But to let due caution prevent them considering unusual ideas is foolish. Collins and Porras strike the right balance: “We’re not saying that evolutionary progress equals wanton diversification…. Nor are we laying that the concept of ‘stick to the knitting’ makes no sense. The real question is: What is the ‘knitting’ in a visionary company?””

13- “Whether the process is top-down or bottom-up is beside the point. It is not just the breadth of involvement that matters. but the breadth of the search. In the end, whatever the process used and resources deployed, finding attractive opportunities is always as much art as science.”

14- “Executives who want to develop horizon 3 options into core profit engines face two big problems: market uncertainty and gaps in their skills, assets, and relationships. We have found that successful growers typically address these problems by taking not bold leaps, but a series of measured steps. Each step takes them a little closer to their ultimate :es money in its own right, and adds capabilities that prepare them for further opportunities. When these growers look back on what they have achieved, they see not a chaotic zigzag but a distinctive staircase pattern.”

15- “No formula can substitute for managerial iudement. Even so analysis of more than 100 growth staircases reveals a consistent pattern. Virtually all successful staircases proceed in four phases: seeding the initial growth options; testing the the business model; replicating and extending the business; and managing for profitability.”

16- “Even when there is strong capability building at each step, migrating an idea from a horizon 3 option to an emerging horizon 2 enterprise and on to a horizon 1 core business is tricky. The advantage of taking many small steps rather than a few big leaps is that it helps companies manage the risks that arise on two fronts. First, market uncertainty makes it impossible to predict the success of a business: for every great idea, there are many that will fail. Second, new businesses call for capabilities that a company does not yet have; without them, the promise these businesses hold out will not be realized.”

17- “A broader definition of capability is required that includes all resources useful in gaining competitive advantage. In addition to operational skill, our definition of capability includes three other classes of resources: privileged assets, growth-enabling skills, and special relationships.”

18- “Only by differentiating their management systems across the three horizons can corporations avoid the barriers to growth that most systems inadvertently perpetuate.If all managers are evaluated purely on the profitability of their businesses – a good measure of horizon 1 performance – they will have little appetite for building horizon 2 enterprises. If some leadership time is not systematically reserved for building fledgling businesses, the needs of the core business will consume all managers’ days and nights, and they simply will not have a free moment to build horizons 2 and 3.”

19- “Horizon 1 operators: Deep functional and/or industry expertise Strong drive to hit targets and meet plans consistently, Discipline; Horizon 2 Business builders: Entrepreneurial desire to create, Comfort with ambiguity,  Top-line-focused, sharp decision makers ; Horizon 3 Visionaries: Champions, Unconventional thinkers”

20- “Our research indicates that about three-quarters of the companies that sustain high growth and high shareholder returns make acquisition a critical component of their growth strategies. They frequently acquire other companies – often up to five a year – to further the development of their growth staircases.”


Omar Halabieh

The Alchemy of Growth