Saturday, October 29, 2005

Forbes goes bonkers

The latest issue of Forbes Magazine has a theme on the threat from blogs.
Attack of the Blogs - They destroy brands and wreck lives. Is there any way to fight back?
Blogs started a few years ago as a simple way for people to keep online diaries. Suddenly they are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. It's not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim can't even figure out who his attacker is. No target is too mighty, or too obscure, for this new and virulent strain of oratory. Microsoft has been hammered by bloggers; so have CBS, CNN and ABC News, two research boutiques that criticized IBM's Notes software, the maker of Kryptonite bike locks, ...” And so on.

Well, maybe they deserved it? There are a few good points in the article, but most is sensationalistic and slanted. Worth noting: I have helped Microsoft Sweden recently with guiding and encouraging their employees to start blogging. It has done a great deal to make Microsofts employees become more open and less feared.

It’s also worth noting that some facts in the Forbes article are plain wrong. The advices in the sidebar “Fighting back” concerning copyright, for example: “Find some copyrighted text that a blogger has lifted from your Web site and threaten to sue his Internet service provider under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” does not apply to any Swedish law. We have, as I understand also is the fact in the U.S., the “fair use” - quoting from other people's copyrighted work to create a new one.

A number of bloggers have already made good comments on Forbes article: Micropersuation, BoingBoing, Dan Gillmor.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Innovation Management, the talking e-book and the faith of PalmSource

Misinformed (not necessarily bad) management is the often the reason why innovative companies goes bad. An old, but interesting subject.

A couple of years ago I was in the e-book business. We tried to develop the e-book concept further with speech and multimedia. We had a deal with Microsoft to make multimedia applications for Microsoft Reader around StoryML, an XML-like framework where you could define a storyline, its structure, theme and actors as separate style sheets.

We presented the technology, based on the Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY) together with Swedish Dolphin Audio Publishing AB, at the Audio Publishers Association Conference (APAC) 2001, in Chicago if I remember right.

We did “Christmas in the Bible” and ”Berättelser ur Bibeln i Jultid”, as a pictorial e-book with audible excerpts from King James Bible and the new Swedish Bible translation Bibel 2000. The books were narrated by leading Swedish and English professional actors.

I still think it is a nice idea, but the e-book market is more or less dead nowadays. It disappeared over night when the dot-com bubble burst.

Anyway, Palm OS was great at that time. I remember it had a much resemblance to the old MacOS. Microsoft had only the complex half-baked PocketPC. But somehow Palm OS 5 got stuck in countless patches. The much-promised big upgrade Cobalt never materialized. That was “launched” winter of 2003 as the vaporware Palm OS 6. Tom Frauenhofer has a good analysis. Development tools for both systems were at best rudimentary, lacked support and were expensive. And both companies changed the APIs constantly. Developing applications was hard and expensive for all the different flavours of Palm and PocketPC.

Today Microsoft is much better off and Palm OS is lagging even more. I have both a Palm T5 and a Qtek phone with Windows Mobile. The T5 has bugs and PalmSource has a lousy technical support.

So, have Palm given up innovating Palm OS? David Beers think so. At the latest press conference Palm representatives not only launched a Windows Mobile Palm smartphone, but also said they were teaming with Microsoft to make improvements in Windows Mobile itself.

Why did Palm lose its lead? I honestly believe that Palm got engage in too much activity of the wrong kind. It started when initial owner 3Com spun off Palm and original founder Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky left. They were replaced with CEO Carl Yankowski, a marketing guy (who left Palm only two years after he took the job, mainly as a result from a series of missteps by the company.) Interestingly Carl Yankowski is not a lawyer or economist as you might expect, but an engineer “prepared to be what they call a lab rat”. He had experience from corporate giants like Proctor and Gamble, General Electric, Pepsi and Reebok, which is the big clue in this case. Industrial experience is one thing, experience in innovation and entrepreneurship is a completely different thing.

Lack of managers experienced in entrepreneurship and innovative companies is a big problem in Sweden. A disproportionately large number of Swedish companies are big multinationals.

Carl Yankowski made one of the most spectacular IPOs in Silicon Valley history and Palm got a lot of cash. The company was at that time around 500 employees. But Yankowski had only experience from large companies of 10,000 employees, so his goal was to get to 10,000 as quickly as possible. This meant massive hiring and acquisitions without any real strategy. And as a result extreme growing pains with intense corporate infighting between divisions.

Palm quickly became a victim of its own success. It had been so successful that the managers assumed they’ve found the winning formulas. But the same formulas become rigid and no longer worked when the market changed significantly, like cell phones becoming PDAs or the iPod revolution.

Good managers recognize these kinds of threats early, which also the management within Palm did. They unleashed a flood of initiatives in response. The problem was not an inability to take action, but an inability to take the appropriate action. They followed established patterns of behaviour, even in response to dramatic environmental shifts. As a result strategic frames became blinders, processes hardened into routines, relationships became restraints, and values hardened into dogmas.

Thus, the managers were not leading Palm where the market is going.

Compare to Microsoft, which have had a steady increase in both market shares and a reasonably well thought-out development strategy. Today Windows Mobile is a better product.

(I must admit that the Qtek user interface (Windows Mobile 2003 4.21.1088) sucks plenty for being a cell phone.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

It's not lack of innovation that sunk PalmSource. Or..?

It’s debatable if the latest news from PalmSorce is a bad sign for alternatives to Windows Mobile: “Japanese software developer Access Co. said on Friday it would make U.S. software developer PalmSource Inc. wholly owned in a 34.4 billion yen ($311.3 million) cash deal to strengthen its development of software for handheld devices.” Palm recently introduced a Palm Treo with Windows Mobile.

So, what went wrong? Mike Singer at ZDNet wrote thought-provoking about five reasons why Palm went from owning the palmtop platform to be divided up. Mike Singer claims, among other things, that Palm executives were slow to see the convergence of cellular phones and personal digital assistants.

I agree, but I think that any management in Silicon Valley did not see what was going on. The market was not the U.S. but GSM in Europe and Asia. Still the mobile wireless infrastructure sucks heavy in the U.S. The test bed for mobile applications is Scandinavia, Korea or Japan, not Silicon Valley.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Success for Innovation Communication

German blogger and resercher Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß speaking at the Second Conference on Innovation Journalism, held at Stanford University on Apr 4-6 2005. He was elected “PR Head of the Year 2005” by the German-speaking Public Relations community last month. (not a very good photo. I took it) The conference was arranged by the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning (SCIL) and the Swedish VINNOVA Innovation Journalism Fellowship Program, co-sponsored by the Stanford Graduate Program in Journalism and the Finnish Innovation Journalism Initiative.

The first innovation communication handbook „Neue Ideen erfolgreich durchsetzen. Das Handbuch der Innovationskommunikation” (Bringing New Ideas Across. The Guide to Innovation Communication), edited by Claudia Mast and Ansgar Zerfaß, was recently released in the publishing house of Germany’s renowned newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

The guide presents for the first time an overview of the field of Innovation Communication. It encompasses the basic concepts as well as numerous best practice examples from companies such as ThyssenKrupp, Siemens, IngDiBa and IBM.

The book presents for the first time a comprehensive overview of the field of Innovation Communication and encompasses the basic concepts as well as numerous best practice examples from companies such as ThyssenKrupp, Siemens, IngDiBa or IBM. The handbook includes a special chapter on Innovation Journalism by Dr. David Nordfors Program Leader Innovation Journalism, VINNOVA – Swedish Government Agency for Innovation Systems.

I have not read it as the book only is available in German. Innovation Communication deals with of internal and external stakeholders within the innovation process (called stakeholder orientation) and the relevance of regional and branch-specific innovation systems (cluster development, that is). It also highlights the importance of communication for the implementation of new ideas, products, and services. An overview of the field in English is available here. (Warning. Academic text.)

A new survey on Innovation Communication that succeeds the previous study from 2004 will be carried out by the initiative in cooperation with the German telco company “debitel” this fall. The focus will be on the Information and Communication Technologies branch. Results are likely to be available early 2006.

The handbook (only in German) can be ordered at Amazon.

Finland launches world's first course in Innovation Journalism

On September 9 the journalism group at the department of communication at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland launched the world’s first Innovation Journalism course for university students. It will be running intensively during September-October 2005. The pilot course has 20 participants. It includes 12 h lectures, practical work and a feed-back session. The students will get three credit points from the course. During the intensive course, September-October, every student will write one or more innovation journalistic articles. The grades of the course will be based on the quality of the articles. One aim of the course is also to publish the articles in various Finnish newspapers and magazines. The lecturer of the course is Dr. Turo Uskali, who took part in the first Finnish innovation journalism research and education program 2004–2005. The course will collaborate closely with Dr. David Nordfors at Stanford University and others interested in innovation journalism education.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Music as an innovation system, part 2

“It’s really easy for all of us to blame the condition of the theaters, gas prices, alternative media, the population changes and everything else I’ve heard myself say,” said Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Amy Pascal, whose summer releases “Bewitched” and “Stealth” flopped. “I think it has to do with the movies themselves.”

The LA Times is reporting that box office executives finally confess the real problem (and taking the blame). Poor box office receipts over the summer weren’t caused by piracy, for example. Piracy is illegal, yes, but the industry is interpreting the latest piracy statistics from for example trade association and lobby group Business Software Alliance (BSA) like the devil reads the Bible.

There’s more competition in the entertainment business than ever before. And it’s going to get worse.

But I think the problem is not really the lack of good movies, although the Dukes of Hazzard maybe did not satisfy the more quality thirsty audience.

Crap is hardly a new thing. Maybe the Internet has made people more aware of the problem, but do we really think that after a century people have just caught on that most movies or music suck? More likely newer technologies provide more interesting entertainment, like game consoles, online games, and other things that either weren’t around or occupied far smaller niches a couple of years ago.

The movie industry just like the music industry has to learn that sometimes falling sales isn’t due to pirates. If you release crap movies or music compilations by techno rejects, some people will not buy it no matter how much you advertise it.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Music as an innovation system

To my great delight one of my all-time favorite bands Van der Graaf Generator (link to lead singer Peter Hammill) has reunited, and I discussed the music industry as an innovation system with a friend the other day. Is music an innovation system? But of course it is! The music industry features a complex and changing system of structures, procedures, functions and relationships. It is a major industry whose products are part of our everyday lives, and which has major economic, social and cultural influence. The music industry is an extremely interesting case study for an innovation system. I personally have good experiences from the punk rock era as a musician in the late 1970s.

Music, as all arts and in my opinion also research, is totally dependent on the right mindset and environment. The music industry today clam that that it is in deep trouble. If that is true is a matter of debate. My personal opinion is that is in a way true, but only those music publishers and record companies that are managed by lawyers and economists are in trouble.

In the 1990s the music industry made tons of money and became giants. All companies of that kind that grows large enough (music/media/publishing) seem to, sooner or later, get a lawyer or economist at the top, thanks to the stock owners. Seldom (but not always) does that kind of person know anything about the core business, music or publishing. And as a result the whole business decays.

Same thing with all those unsuccessful science/technology/innovation parks. An enterprise that is totally dependent on the benevolence of the coworkers will not succeed, unless it is “run bottom up”. Bottom up systems are built for people, instead of companies. You cannot force people to be innovative. The managers – the government, the management etc – can only create favorable conditions. You cannot buy your respect, you can only deserve it.