Of farms, innovation and all that…

The other day, a few of us got together and the discussions moved on to how we would need to consistently work on ourselves to stay relevant in today’s fast moving world. A collegue Kartic pulled out a slender book “How Stella saved the farm“, and recommended we read it – this is a mini story of how we make the transition from cash cows to the “next big thing” he said.

The book lay on my table until yesterday – when I tentatively started to read it. It proved to be a quick and awesome read – and seemed to be just the topic to offer on the blog post.

First up, you should know that its two authors (Chris and Vijay) are experts at innovation – so expect that to be the theme of the story. Delightfully though, the book is shorn of jargon – and is plotted around an animal-run-farm (yes you got that right!) which is trying to find its next growth business. Its certainly fun and has been written to engage – its hard to not be regaled when stallions, bulls, turkeys and sheep are the central characters in a book – and with a little poetic license it may even turn out to be a good bedtime story for your kids!

Now the story reads well and it has a few questions at the end – if you want to go into “back to school” mode, all you need to do is sharpen your pencils and there are enough queries to have you working for 3 hours or more. There were certain takeaways though that I thought were important – and sharing those in this post:

1. Existing businesses and the “next big thing” both need attention – albeit on different aspects. That said, they also need to coexist and even share some parts (maybe some teams/ infrastructure etc.). And the extent of sharing isn’t static – it keeps changing. So you need to keep your ears close to the ground – The leader makes 5 org structures in the book to reflect changing needs.

2. Next big things(NBT!) need some dedicated teams and they should be measured on different metrics. The book offers a wonderful insight of how viewing NBT progress as a series of disciplined experiments is a better approach than using traditional metrics. This is so cool an idea, I think I need to dedicate one whole post to this sometime. You also need to have the right experts and may need to bring them in from outside – enthusiasm is good, expertise is a must!

3. It has some wonderful leadership stories. How the young CEO’s open dialogue with a very disgruntled (but high performing) elder convinces him to stay on for instance. Or a clarion call to the teams on the ground to stay together and work as one – when things are at their worst – is inspiring. Or the CEO’s ability to create new roles, change operating structures, connect across levels and generally be very agile in her thinking – is worth emulating. Finally, the ability to be humble and own up her mistakes (she forgets to close the gates and a few hens escape!) . Good stuff.

A good yarn – the last time I enjoyed an animal story was a decade or more back when I chanced upon “Animal farm”. That book moved me – this one doesn’t go that far, but its certainly inspiring – and a in a few ways enchanting.

Are there things I would have liked added to the book? A couple – one, the motivations of the animals seem to be very similar to the humans it models – and that is a bit of a downer – but then this is but a fable. Also, there is very little focus on the joy of working (except w.r.t maisie the cow) – its my belief that its this joy is what keeps the folks “in search of he next big thing” going – even more than market conditions?

Thanks kartic for the wonderful share – and will now pass the book along – and keep the learning going.

Apple explores newer horizons

It was “apple week” last week. Some loved the event, some hated it – no matter which way you swung though – it was one of the most talked about event in technology news ever since of course – last month’s iPhone 5S and 5C launch!

The events (and the products!) got me thinking – was something big happening out here? Is it just me or did Apple just unleash new categories with its launches? Consider:

The iPhone 5s launch repositions the phone as a “fashion statement”, essentially a new category for phones – while its 5c variant battles on the technology/ innovation plank with samsung and the other boys.

And doesn’t Apple’s hiring Angela Ahrendts (CEO of Burburry) reinforce this intent – here’s a good Forbes article arguing for it?

And how about the iPAD Air? Its not really a conventional tablet, its not a net book, its not a laptop nor a phone. So who is its competition – again no one – allowing it to charge that big premium – while the older gen iPAD and iPad minis continues to slug it with the samsung tabs of the world.

So while the competitors seem more focussed on the cheaper, faster, better (think chromecast/ htc one/ samsung tab etc.) planks – apple seems to be going for “lifestyle” – a new dimension for the industry itself. And that I think its cool.

Just wait a minute though. Samsung did a category definition with its note 2 (the “phablet” with the “s pen” right?). And with its new samsung gear+ note 3 combo?

Perhaps yes, but I think these are still products on the technology/ innovation plank focussing on faster/better/ cheaper – the note essentially did what the phone and the tablet could do and the gear is essentially an extension of the note 3 (a more versatile accessory than the stylus, its newer avatars of course may be a whole new story taking the fight into the nike fuelband category!!). Apple on the other hand seems to be going a whole new route – the closest analogy I can think of is the time when watches started appearing in jewellery shops as luxury goods. Thoughts?