Innovation

Within seconds of the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on June 28, people who had been watching the live stream of the launch took to social media with a familiar line.

When Deutsche Bank named John Cryan as its new chief executive three weeks ago, the commentary had an insidious subtext. He has “an enormous brain”, one friend told the FT. “Very thoughtful,” said a former colleague. Ominously for Mr Cryan, these comments echoed those made about Vikram Pandit when he unexpectedly stepped down as Citigroup’s CEO in 2012. He was “too cerebral”, said critics of the Citi boss.

Coming to San Francisco for the first time in a few years brings home how much it has been transformed. Whatever you call what is happening — a boom, a bubble or a flood of money into what was known as new technology before the “new” became redundant — has augmented the city’s reality.

When it comes to management challenges, fish fingers and circuses are at opposite extremes: one product is the acme of industrialised food processing, the other the ultimate expression of human creativity and energy. Somehow, private equity has found room for both: last week, Permira agreed to sell Iglo, which makes Birds Eye fish fingers in Europe, after nine years running the frozen foods company, while another buyout group, TPG Capital, led a deal to gain control of Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil.

“To become a bigger company, we need to try something new”, Yamaha Motor’s chief executive Hiroyuki Yanagi told the FT recently. The novelty in question is a two-seater “city car”, cleaner and more fuel-efficient than existing vehicles, that the motorcycle manufacturer could launch in 2019.

Whenever chief executives babble about “ecosystems” — as they often do — I picture one of those school biology diagrams of a pond: bacteria at the bottom, algae floating on top, and maybe a stickleback or two darting about below the surface.

John Gapper

Here is a quiz: with which big three auto companies has Google partnered to build a self-driving car? If you guessed Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, you are wrong. The correct answer is Bosch, Continental and Delphi, three of the industry’s global suppliers.

Nicolas Brusson, the founder of BlaBlaCar, the French ride-sharing start-up that in June raised $100m to expand across Europe, got the biggest laugh of the week at the DLD technology conference in Munich. Asked about operating in a “single market” with 28 sets of laws and regulations, he replied: “When you start from France, everything looks simple.”

Emma Jacobs

Wobbling among the Elsa princess outfits and the dinosaur models at the Toy Fair in London’s Olympia exhibition centre this week was a four-foot, buildable robot, the $399 Meccanoid G15 KS.

With its big saucer-shaped eyes and moveable limbs, the toy has revived interest in its maker: Meccano, which was created by the British toy maker, Frank Hornby, a century ago.

Spin Master, the Canadian company that bought Meccano in 2013, hopes it will be essential kit for parents hoping to get their child interested in building and engineering.

It is very much in the spirit of the “maker movement” — an enthusiasm for manufacturing and making things, helped in part by the rise of 3D printing. Read more

John Gapper

  © Charlie Bibby

It was a kinder, gentler and more strategic Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, who took to the stage at the DLD technology conference in Munich on Sunday to offer the mayors of European cities a “new partnership” with the ride-hailing network, rather than a bitter legal and regulatory battle. Read more

William Agush, founder of Shuttersong (Bryce Vickmark)

In the popular imagination, technology entrepreneurs are scientific whizzkids barely out of college. The reality is a little different, according to research from Endeavor Insight, a US-based non-profit organisation that supports entrepreneurs.

The most successful founders of technology companies, it found, were steady mid-career specialists with a significant amount of industry experience.

Using data from social media sites including LinkedIn and interviews with 700 technology business founders in New York, Endeavor found that the average age a founder started their company was 31. More than a quarter were over 35 when their company was established.

Youth, it discovered, had no bearing on success. Using earlier research by the Harvard Business Review, Endeavor compared technology entrepreneurs’ ages and obvious measures of success – such as company headcount – and found age was irrelevant. Read more

If you have ever attended an innovation conference, you will be familiar with consultants’ graphs that show how, say, the second half of the 21st century will belong to African millennials relentlessly networking via wearable mobile devices. But what has struck me recently is not so much the extraordinary potential of the future, but the extent to which innovators draw on ingredients from the present and the past.

Andrew Hill

Joanna Shields, chair of Tech City UK  © Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

When the first dotcom bubble burst, one theory that did the rounds in New York, where I was working, was that such a scarring experience would deter a whole generation of 20-somethings from ever becoming entrepreneurs.

But Joanna Shields, the UK’s ambassador for digital industries, puts a different spin on the aftermath of the dotcom bust. The US – and specifically Silicon Valley – profited from the experience of failure, she says, while innovation and entrepreneurialism in the UK took a hit from which the country is only now recovering. Read more

Andrew Hill

Karl Lagerfeld (Getty Images)

I have spent more than a third of my professional career living and working abroad, so you would expect me to lap up research that suggests foreign experience increases creativity. But as companies find it ever more expensive to send managers on expatriate assignments – and rightly choose to hire and train skilled executives locally – they will have to look to other methods to encourage innovative thinking. Read more

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.