Innovation

Andrew Hill

 

Codejam-filled Doughnut – GCHQ head office in Cheltenham (Crown Copyright)

GCHQ – the UK government electronic eavesdropping agency – could be the most innovative employer in Britain. But short of a management-obsessed successor to Edward Snowden daring to leak its org charts, it would normally be hard for anyone to find out.

Its press officers will not reveal their last names, its automated welcome message warns that calls “may be recorded for lawful purposes” (immediately reminding callers of the grey area between lawful and unlawful phone-tapping), and it will say only that it employs roughly 5,000 staff. GCHQ is, however, said to be building a happier workplace for those staff. In fact, its innovative change programme has won a prize. Read more

While waiting in a big Manhattan hospital about 15 years ago, I glimpsed the chairman of one of the world’s biggest banks in a consulting room. I never found out why he was there. If he was ill, his employer never said and the man is now enjoying a long and apparently healthy retirement.

The Innovator’s Dilemma was published in 1997, so when The New Yorker last week printed a detailed dissection of disruptive innovation, the idea at the heart of Clayton Christensen’s book, my first reaction was: what took critics so long?

Andrew Hill

Clayton Christensen (Peter Foley/Bloomberg)

Clay Christensen is a gentle man, of devout Mormon faith, prone to sentimentality and beloved by many – not least for his lessons to students on how to find fulfilment, which he turned into an unexpected bestseller, How Will You Measure Your Life?

But the avuncular Harvard Business School star is hot under the collar about this week’s New Yorker attack on the book (The Innovator’s Dilemma) and theory (disruptive innovation) for which he is best known.

What seems to have made him particularly angry is the fact that the author, Jill Lepore, who is also a Harvard academic, did not drop by to chat to him about her detailed allegations that his theory does not stand up. Read more

I met Carey Eaton only once, at a conference five weeks ago in Switzerland, far from Kenya, where he grew up, lived and built a thriving internet business. He was engaging, upbeat and generous with his time and knowledge.

Andrew Hill

Clayton Christensen: straight talking on complex ideas about innovation Photo: Bloomberg

And still they come. The stream of articles, books and research purporting to tell people how to innovate is unending. But is there anything new in innovation?

A lot of what is sold as new thinking is actually “people applying their own language to something that isn’t really different from what has been applied before”. That is the view of Scott Anthony, a Singapore-based partner at Innosight, the consultancy co-founded by Clayton Christensen – an acknowledged master of using straightforward language to help business people understand complex ideas on innovation. Read more

John Gapper

We have been presented this week with two visions for the future of innovation in the pharmaceuticals industry. One is encouraging, the other is not.

You would be quite happy to allow someone else to open the boot of your car and drop off your groceries while you are absent. You would trust random strangers to deliver your new shoes on their way past your home. You would gladly accept a prescription-drug order from an unidentified flying object hovering outside your door. All to avoid going the extra mile to pick up cheap goods ordered online in person.

Bitcoin is being forced to grow up fast. The arrest last week on money laundering charges of Charlie Shrem, a leading Bitcoin champion, coincided with a regulatory hearing in New York to consider what on earth it is – a virtual currency, speculative asset or a means of exchange?

Tom Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, made a terrible mistake by comparing criticism of rich Americans – the “1 per cent” – to the Kristallnacht attack on Jews in Germany in 1938. Mr Perkins, co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, has since apologised.

Thousands of chief executives, politicians, leaders of non-governmental organisations and media folk are once again assembled in Davos for their annual debates on how to improve the world. It is a worthy affair, with “stakeholders” discussing how best to combine business with societal good, like an ersatz global parliament.

Ravi Mattu

Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat (AP)

Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.

But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.

In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs. Read more

What struck me most forcefully in the profile of Jack Ma, Financial Times person of the year, was not the Alibaba founder’s youth, his love of martial arts, or his against-the-odds subjugation of eBay, once the dominant force in Chinese internet auctions. It was this: what a failure he was.

Andrew Hill

Come dine with me: Quid's Gourley takes on SAP's Graf (right)

“I refuse to accept that small companies innovate and disrupt and large companies don’t, because that’s fundamentally wrong.”

That was the response of Peter Graf, Silicon Valley-based chief sustainability officer of SAP, to some sustained needling from Sean Gourley, co-founder of Quid, at a debate I chaired last week at the FT’s Innovate America conference on the Stanford campus. (The full video is here – things really start to kick off about eight minutes from the end). Read more

If a destination’s desirability is measured by the number of maps that claim to lead you to it, innovation is the corporate world’s Taj Mahal. Among the manuals on sale is an Innovator’s Guide, a Cookbook, a Toolkit, a Path, a Way, a Handbook and a Manifesto.