Archive for August, 2010

Innovators Leverage the Deadwood

August 24th, 2010

images-8It’s time for me to come clean.  In today’s social media crazed world it will come out sooner or later anyway.  I have one high school varsity letter and it’s for bowling.  Yes, you heard right, bowling.  And it wasn’t ten-pin, but candlepin bowling.  Anyone who grew up in New England, with parents like mine who looked for ways to get the kids out of their hair on rainy Saturdays, knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Candlepin bowling rocks.

For those of you who aren’t from New England, candlepin bowling is a unique version of the sport invented in 1880 in Worcester, Massachusetts by a local bowling alley owner, Justin White.  Candlepin bowling is clearly evidence of New England as a regional innovation hot-spot. For the most part candlepin never caught on outside of New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces.  In the region candlepin bowling enjoyed a cult following including its own local television shows.  I remember Candlepins for Cash, which was a Saturday morning staple and may well have been the first reality television show.

The first noticeable difference from the more popular ten-pin variety of bowling is the small size of the balls.  Don’t look for holes for your fingers because there aren’t any.  The ball is 4 ½ ” in diameter weighing only 1.13 kg.  It fits in the palm of your hand and can literally be thrown rather than rolled down the alley at the pins.  I have seen many errant candlepin balls launched across lanes. Personal injury insurance is a must.  Back in the day I owned a set of balls (spare me the cajones jokes) and yes of course the required bowling ball bag.  The balls were a pearly white with wonderful lime green marble swirls throughout. Come to think of it I wonder where they went.  Most likely my wife sold them at a garage sale when I wasn’t paying attention. Read more

Regeneration, Unleash the Newt Within

August 17th, 2010

salamander-regrow-body-parts-1I have been thinking about regeneration.  While it is common knowledge, it still amazes me, that salamanders can regenerate body parts, including their tails, upper and lower jaws, eyes and hearts.  Yet mammals including humans can’t. Salamanders are the highest order of animals capable of regeneration. Do mammals know something that salamanders don’t? Cosmetic surgery, implants, and promising regenerative medicine research aside we humans are stuck with the body parts we are dealt for now.

I wonder if our inability to regenerate at the biological scale also impedes our ability to regenerate at a social system scale.  It seems obvious that our important social systems including education, health care, and energy need serious regeneration.  These systems have evolved over a long period of time, were built to support an industrial era that is long gone, and have built up incredible mechanisms to resist and prevent needed change.  It is not technology that is getting in the way of social system change.  It is humans and the organizations we live in that are both stubbornly resistant to change. Why are humans so incapable of regeneration at both biological and social scales? Read more

Nooks and Crannies

August 10th, 2010

english-muffin-jam2Nooks and crannies are important to both English muffins and innovation.

I haven’t been able to get a picture of a lightly toasted Thomas’ English muffin with butter and strawberry preserves oozing into those marvelous nooks and crannies out of my head.  Maybe it’s because I’m resisting the temptation while on one of my frequent short-lived diet and exercise delusions.  More likely it’s because of a story that caught my eye last week about an executive who left the company (Bimbo Bakeries, I’m not kidding) that makes Thomas’ English Muffins to join the arch enemy, Hostess Brands.  It seems that Bimbo is suing to prevent the executive from joining Hostess because they suspect he has absconded with and will divulge the secret of how to make English muffins with perfect nooks and crannies.

You heard right.  The row is about protecting the trade secret for creating nooks and crannies in an English muffin.  Bimbo claims there are only seven people who possess the trade secret and of course the executive leaving to make Twinkies is one of them.  I find it hard to believe that only seven people have the know-how necessary to create great nooks and crannies. It sounds more like a marketing ploy. But what do I know.  I thought it was just using a fork to split the muffin!  Think about it.  Samuel Bath Thomas left England headed for America in 1874 with a recipe for his muffin baked on hot griddles.  Surely in over 135 years more than seven people have accumulated the know-how for nooks and crannies. And how are we to know if Samuel Thomas didn’t borrow the formula before heading for fame and fortune in America. Not to accuse Samuel Thomas of pilfering the recipe and starting an English muffin revolution but it does sound eerily similar to Samuel Slater escaping England with the trade secrets for the textile mill, which of course started the U.S. Industrial Revolution! Read more

Innovation Lessons From Tarzan

August 3rd, 2010

images11Innovators leap across learning curves exploring new ways to deliver value the way Tarzan swung from vine to vine across the jungle.  Innovators thrive on the steepest part of the learning curve where the changing rate of learning is the greatest.  Watch how innovators manage their careers and lives. They always put themselves on a steep learning curve.  I know I always have.  Staying on a steep learning curve is the most important decision criterion for any career decision an innovator makes. Along the way innovators make many career moves none of which are primarily about titles, offices, number of direct reports, or money.  Innovators believe those things are more likely to happen if they keep themselves on steep learning curves. Every choice to take a new tack or direction is about the next learning curve. Innovators are self aware enough to know they do their best work while learning at a rapid rate and are bored to tears when they aren’t.  Steep learning curves matter most.

I have known many people who sacrificed learning curves for money and other extrinsic rewards and in the long run most ended up unhappy. In my experience innovators who follow their passions and are in it for the learning always end up happier and making more money anyway. Read more