I recently finished several books promoting innovation in many ways (some of my favorites are Driving Growth Through Innovation by Robert B. Tucker http://www.innovationresource.com/ and The Innovator’s Dilemna by Clayton M. Christensen http://www.claytonchristensen.com/news/).

I am always surprised when I read these great innovation’s supporters and finally “discover” how this is all about common sense.  I mean creating an environment encouraging innovation instead of separating activities, managing innovation not just trying to invent, creating an innovation culture instead of an innovation pressure, being patient at innovation not saying non-profit oriented, being skeptical while always positive about innovation.

What is fascinating in these books is being exposed to the true story of what happened instead of turning blind and “just” trying to repeat the output of the success. This reminds me the post-it story from 3M http://www.mmm.com/us/office/postit/pastpresent/history_ws.html for which everyone has its own version from pure luck to fully predictible success. At the end, it’s a question of promoters (believers -see below some thoughts about it-) and an environment ready for it.

In Quebec and particularly in technology transfer, my current activity, we have our Alexendria Lighthouse in that perspective. It’s called ACELP or VoiceAge http://www.voiceage.com/index.php. You may not know them, but chances you are currently using one their technologies is pretty high, for instance in your cellular phone as an audio compression algorithm. Everyone involved in technology transfer here, and I am pretty sure everyone has its one ACELP syndrom locally, would like to repeat the story and the worldwide success of this originally Sherbrooke based company (if you like these kind of story, ask Sylvain Desjardins about what being located in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada means when you are dealing with the biggest companies in this world!). 

While many would focus on the output, few will be interested to invest time in understanding or just acknowledging the path to success and the real story; the one of risk, of defending any dollar invested with no revenues, the exponential expenses on IP, and so on. The point is less repeating the story (do you agree innovators are looking for unexpected results so output can be unlimited as well ?) but what makes it happening. So while reading books on innovation and learning about it may sounds like common sense reading it after the fact, it is good to be inspired by such real stories, by authors having the right-to-the-point abilities in describing it and finally experience it by your own.

So now, let’s continue experiencing and innovate, and that’s my day-to-day work not only managing technologies for which some could revolutionize the future (I’m thinking for instance about the Fanstatic Voyage revisited from Sylvain Martel and his colleagues http://www.polymtl.ca/carrefour/en/article.php?no=2502, for which I use to say if you recall the wellknown movie of the 70s “They did it! Not thrinking people but the submarine!”) but also managing new ways of marketing innovation.

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Are We Yet in the Future?

February 12, 2008

A part of my job is to find information about tomorrow’s technologies trends.
I’m currently working on many innovations in wireless technologies and then have the opportunity to read, and think, about its future.
Christophe Caloz, one of the researchers I work with, sent me the last issue of the “Radio Science Bulletin” (Thanks Christophe!). In an article entitled “Wireless Communications: 2020”, Dr. William Webb (Head of R&D and Senior Technologist for Ofcom) describes his view of the future of wireless communications (protocole, applications, gadgets, etc…). If you have such reports, I would love to receive them!.
First key message: “Contrary to popular opinion, wireless is not an incredibly fast-moving world“. Webb estimates the new technologies can “take a decade or more to emerge” (ex: developments on UWB started around 1998 and the first applications are expected to be available by 2008 and “could take another five years to become widespread“).

So what could be the next blockbusters?
A way of predicting the future, could then be to look at those technologies under development. Webb lists some of them:
1 – Software defined Radio (multi-modal devices connecting to a wide range of different networks)
2 – Smart antennas-MIMO
3 – Mesh Networking (users in the network are utilized as nodes to relay information)
4 – Multi-user detection/interference cancellation (a receiver analyses the complete set of all signals it receives and attempts to remove those that are considered to be interference)
5 – Fiber Radio (the base-station antenna supplies its receives signal to an electrical-to-optical converter)

Are we deciding the success of tomorrow’s technologies? What the real part of technology in a deal?
Didier introduced in his last post the concept of “cool kids”. Actually I think I am one of them. Do you think cool kids, or early adopters, actually decide of the sucess of a technology? They are the firsts to buy it and “depending on their reaction, it may then become adopted more widely”. Marketing and advertising become then a must. See Apple with the iPhone (by the way, I want one! Do you know when it’s gonna be launched in Canada?)

My point of view…
After having read this article, I think that the second key message is:
Even if you have been developing a “perfect system”(what a perfect system? Good question! May be the subject of a next post…), only the market can decide if it’s worth or not.
On the technology side, I bet on “Home networking”. Today’s Cool Kids will want more and more gadgets in the future (Forrester Research predicts than 45 million networked home by 2010).

Do you want to bet?

What’s the hell is that question? Well it’s the result of a conference I attended for the second time yesterday – as people know me for, I understand very fast, but need people to explain me for long time 🙂  -. René Barsalo, Director Strategy & Partnerships at The SAT (stands for Société des Arts Technologiques),  gave this presentation he used to give since he accepted the invitation to reinvent and develop The SAT.

René’s topic was about the faster than ever race to appropriate technologies within our communication behavior. Beside the story of how he came up with the principle explaining the underlying conflict of technology based generation at The SAT, it was so good to be faced by this reality check.

I hope René will not blame me for trying to summarize it! Basically, communication started thousands of generation from now. While earlier on, the rythm of appropriation of communication technologies was fairly long, making sure people got to fully understand it, since the mid 20’s century, the rythm of innovation in communication typically went up to a new major innovation per generation (fax, electronic, cellular, etc.). Not to say this is a problem or it is bad. But simply pointing out that while people had almost 40 years to fully manage telegraph usage, a 50 years old person, whom would have grown with TV as the communication media for instance, had to manage fax, computer, cellular, Web and so on, at the same time that his/her employees, arround their 20s consider the Web as the communication media. So here comes the terms of digital’s natives (25 and younger) and immigrants (26+).  

The question is how do you manage this technology’s based communication chasm? Well, no single answer I guess. First you need to be aware of it and recognize it. Second, perhaps more difficult for people used to controlling and managing, is to work in confidence and coaching … But this should be a specific topic to talk about!

What I like with René is that he do not only preach! He actually implement on a day-to-day basis at The SAT and many other organizations he work with. Just look what is being done in the company, mixing experts in technology with artists and creators that go far beyond geek trips (look at their work on the Website)! Another initiative to mention is the Interfaces Montréal that connects digital interface knowledge and expertise throughout the various ICT sectors in order to stimulate productivity among the many contributing researchers, entrepreneurs and artists.

So back to the question? Is this simply a question of age? I guess no! I remember the first time I heard René on this, I sent to him an email afterwards saying “René, can we be a native a 40?”. René’s answer was “theoritically no, but some 26+ will be more open to new communication medium, willing to experiment and use. Sure you can! I consider myself as an in-between”. So I suggest a new term to René : ImmiNa or iNative!

Back from the conference yesterday, Hélène, a colleague of mine, said to me: “Didier, I think you’re a Kool Kid, but who don’t know it yet”. To understand what that means and get the true story, I suggest that you attend next René’s presentation or read on his work and experience!

I look back to our visit to the Silicon Valley 2 weeks ago (see Sharing – Nothing New Isn’t It? Part #1) and really feel richer. While some have no problem with putting value on people (based on many things such as assets, successes and so on) it mays seems difficult to put value on relations. But this is essentially what we gained from our trip, not mentionning potential leads on technology transfer, hints or ideas of where we should shop our technologies, some partnerships reinforced.  I recall leaving a meeting with Bill on a Thursday, a meeting organized within the week through LinkedIn, with Thomas, and having the sensation we’d met a real interesting and important person for our business for many reasons. Bill is a successfull,  very high level but he’s also willing to share, comment, discuss. Not saying we stayed there for hours, it was an efficient discussion, perhaps an overall 30 to 45 minutes, which was, I believe, as important for Bill as for us.  We learned that we approached Bill at the perfect time! How did we know? We actually did not! It was pure chance or, should I say, we had pushed our chance to be at the right time arround (this conference in the Silcicon Valley) and contacting him at the right moment. Pure chance! Well perhaps not enterely, since we’ve been proactive in approaching people, presenting our unique organization and portfolfio of technologies. We initiated that sharing process, and got almost 100% positive feedback for face-to-face meetings. Really nothing new about the benefit of sharing, except that in our business we encounter so many people/organization not willing to share.  That’s fine is you believe your organization or yourself is the center of the universe (perhaps you’re but you know you are not alone anymore, competition is worldwide as the economy is!), in any other case, you’ll have to move forward and share what you have. You’d be surprised with the result! Again, many thanks to all the people we’ve met last week and with who we’ll continue to share.

Nothing new about the benefit of sharing your ideas to the outside world so you prevent from repeating errors, get directly to results, and so on. So why, having an idea in mind, considering doing it alone? Perhaps a natural behavior of human trying to survive. But at the end, can you really survive alone? What about these welknown “if you can’t beat them join them” and others? We (Thomas and I) experience this week being at a conference, meeting new people, contacting people in case they would have a half an hour to spend with us listening to us and sharing with us. Guess what happened? It works! Not meaning people have half an hour to loose! Saying most of people are willing to share their experience, listen to you, suggest you ideas so you leave a meeting or a discussion being “richer”, not only of potential business opportunities, but simply an extented network of people you can refer to for the future. So we’ll continue on this road of sharing, sharing our ideas, our needs, our proposal, our technologies and our vision of partnership and collaboration, and we’ll see where this will lead us. Talk to you soon when back from San Jose for an update on that. In the meantine, thanks to all the people willing to share with us!

What Kills Innovation?

October 26, 2007

Tough one? Easy answer may be “no one understands me or my innovation”, “I have been cut by pure financials decisions”, “I have been told it already exists”, “People are just not open to innovation”, “your idea is great but it is not part of our policy”. May be true, may be false.

Innovation is for each of us symbolized by a specific item or process For me it’s potentially the Personal Computer as I saw how it “simply” changed the way we work. For my aunt, leaving France and looking for a place to live in Canada, then in the United States in the 60s, it was the ability to quite cost-effectively visit family in France and fly over Atlantic within a day compare to a full week by boat in its first years of travels. For my little children, it’s the ability to see me on Skype when I’m far away from home (even if they don’t always manage to understand why we are not on the same time zone!). But it may also be more incremental, some call it minor innovations (others may not consider them as innovation at all) even in our day-to-day life. For instance, it’s the way we do things at work, most of the time because we’ve been used to do it that way “why change?”. As soon as arguing starts, innovators may be off quite quickly with any new idea they suggest! Why? Because it’s a matter of facts (people can expose you for hours how they got there and why it’s good) versus matter of future and expectations, a crystal ball!. Good sellers, marketers, passionate people may be good in arguing and make innovation happens but from my point of view it’s counterproductive! We should capitalize on their ability and manage innovation. Innovation and Re-engineering should be an on-going process. And that’s not new at all. It has been proposed and adopted by many people/organization for many years. But even innovators get trapped in their own paradigm since they may not be open to innovation themselves if its affect them.

So what kills innovation?

From my point of view this is a function (hey my engineering background is back!) of lack of open-mindedness and insecurity.

I think that open-mindedness is necessary and not only for skeptical people, it especially necessary for innovators, so they can accept constructive criticism and not try to push their idea only – period! It’s characterized by the ability to make the point but also always trying to let doors opened for discussions and, more importantly, for improvement (yes our innovation can –should – be improved). Why? Because innovation does not just happen one day, it’s a continuous process. Not convinced, (if you have time. Do you really have?) make a survey of the time required between a discovery (the basic of a new thing) and its characterization into a product or a service and then its acceptance by the market. You would be surprised (I have attended a conference on early stage VC in October 2006 and there was an interesting presentation on this topic – I’ll try to find it and will put it as comment later)! So if you close doors each time one says no, chances you’ll go nowhere are very high (many thanks to Richard B. on this one!).

Insecurity is the main reason people are skeptical toward innovation: How this is gonna affect me PERSONALLY? That’s really the question. If you are insecure, you’ll have bad time with innovation, I tell you! But perhaps less than if you try to innovate and face insecurity! And this is perhaps a normal reaction, a reaction to personal experience with innovation turning bad. I am not sure of that though … I have seen so many people “fighting” against “that new software that will make miracles”, and when implemented would not go back to previous one since “this product is so good, look what you can do!”.  So what is it and what can we do? I don’t have much hint on that … Perhaps it’s a question of explaining (be patient it may required a long long time for people to understand), refining the innovation considering feedback and a question of confidence. This last one could explain how some people can manage to deploy innovation faster than others since they inspire confidence, or they have a serious track record. I’ll get back on this one since it might be a chicken-and-egg problem!