Archive for the ‘Innovation Strategy’ category

Socializing Knowledge Practices

December 17, 2007

Yes, this was really about Innovation at first. But like authors that avoid the use of the verb “to be,” I am attempting to write about systematic product and systems design without using the “I” word. I’d like to write about creating a “Culture of Innovation,” but I agree with Peter Merholz and others who suggest the term is overused. (Especially in UX.) But innovation is not going away, so let’s find ways to make it work.

What concerns me about contemporary organizations is the extent to which top office-holders push the idea of I without understanding how I really happens. How does I really happen, and how is it diminished? Most of us in the design professions readily respond by insisting that creative, divergent thinking must always be pushed to the lowest level of management where the action happens. Design or UX management, who are ultimately responsible for designing new artifacts for competitive advantage. But how do we resolve the subsidiarity of designing with the strategic imperatives of product portfolio management, or revenue responsibility for the next year? Where do the trade-off decisions affecting what we call “innovation” really happen?

What I call socialization comes from empirical observations that people who take ownership of their processes in organizations establish the practices best suited to their products and strategy. It applies to design, product management, user experience, and strategy – all knowledge practices.

HBR’s Working Knowledge posts a special discussion on What Is Management’s Role in Innovation? 76 comments (none of them mine, because I blog instead) show a huge degree of “spreadthink,” the opposite of groupthink, with comments all over the map. A closer look shows the same age-old controversy in organizational management and advising which is (always) of two positions: Management’s role is A) Significant, and the Executives better Get It, or B) They’re in the Way, and those close to the customer/problem should innovate.

Of course, it depends on the organization and their type of innovation problem. Even readers of HBR (OK, online) are revealing their spreadthink about the very definition of innovation. Again, two extremes often show up: Innovation = Creativity/ Invention, or Innovation = business process. Answer = both and neither.

But this article follows another relevant piece that complements the discussion. The larger issue of effective leadership in complex organizational settings (typified by product development and innovation) is showing up. In An Inside Job: Best Practices from Within, December’s Strategy+Business tells us “the best solutions to an organization’s problems may be found among its members.” The article reports on the Pittsburgh VA Hospitals’ use of the Positive Deviance knowledge acquisition process (which they term a strategy, perhaps a knowledge startegy), to locate wisdom about infectious disease prevention and mitigation from practitioners within the institution. Positive Deviance is a kind of lead user approach for identifying practices at the fringes that might be developed and deployed institutionally. (One would hope infection management practices would not be THAT deviant in a hospital!) But this article, and the HBR online, both present innovations emerging from ground level practices that become institutionalized through recognition of value and managerial deployment.

Should UX designers advise on revenue models?

December 7, 2007

Following up on “The Affordable Content Ecosystem.” There are huge opportunities for macro-design that should not be let go without a fight. Essentially, Jaron Lanier’s argument leads to the consideration that our “free web” has become a “free market web” that works for big guys, the content providers, but not for little guys, the artists and inventors. It was not designed that way, it is ecological, as my friend Tarver in Toronto says, “Things are the way they are because they got that way.” Media companies have the footprint to carve our niches in the content ecosystem. As individuals we do not. But as design thinkers, maybe we do, in the form of influencing service design, and something we might call “design for a monetary interaction system.”

Ten years ago J Nielsen predicted and advocated for micropayments, and we all know that did not happen. Perhaps the idea was insufficiently designed and tested. The ecosystem was never seeded with a workable model that could be evaluated over uses and iterated over time. Radiohead’s recent foray into a pay-what-you-can model with In Rainbows showed mixed success – the sheer level of music that “wanted to be free” was overwhelming, and they wound down the experiment. Few bands are as rich as Radiohead, so its unlikely that model will be tried again. However, the mere existence of a micropayment model would make it possible for artists and media companies to try out a wide range of incremental or micro-payment methods. But no large organization wants to be first to break their current business model, even if they barely work in the new era.

Designing a content ecosystem is not like a complex engineering project. It is more like a community agriculture project, requiring numerous patches of cultivation that are tended over seasons and nurtured against the elements and pollutants. As designers, many of us are beholden to the business models of our clients, and we are implicitly – or explicitly – engaged in helping them maximize the impact of their current business model with design thinking. Even if we have evidence that it doesn’t work well. But we somehow believe we can design “experiences” but not “revenue models.” Would it not create a significantly different brand interaction if we considered the revenue system part of the design ecology? How can user experience design influence the reasoning around the value propositions for monetizing content providers?

“Mass consumerization of health information”

August 18, 2007

What does that really mean? Here’s the reference, from this week’s NY Times: Google and Microsoft Look to Change Health Care (And since they charge for content once its a few days old, I’ve posted a few paras fair-use style below).

I see the possible head-on collision of supply-side healthcare information services with the recognition of individual health needs. The fact is that people also use Google to search for sites that might contain valid information or perspectives on a disease condition. That does not ipso facto lead to people storing their healthcare records with Google’s servers.

In the US insurance system, I would not even want my search history of healthcare related issues to be available. Trust Google with personal information requiring that level of privacy? Would you trust your permanent record with Google?

The article suggests some powerful directions for systems and services designers to consider: Healthcare must become more collaborative. Patients with chronic disease conditions interact with multiple healthcare professionals, and ask different questions and express different needs at different times. With the U of T Laboratory for Collaborative Diagnostics we are exploring diagnostics tools and collaborative informatics for collaborative practice. We are also creating new tools for engaging the individual as a central participant in their healthcare intervention. Not just patient-centered medicine, but individual-centered collaborative healthcare.

What will Google and Microsoft do? Well, Microsoft has already purchased Medstory – We should start exchaning our experiences with using it for real clinical issues. (I’m not sure it helps any more that a straight Google search for the trials I’ve made with it.) So, what else do we think Google or Microsoft will show up with? Are these strategic acquisitions?

Here’s some of the article, from Steven Lohr – who covers this beat for the Times:

In politics, every serious candidate for the White House has a health care plan. So too in business, where the two leading candidates for Web supremacy, Google and Microsoft, are working up their plans to improve the nation’s health care.

By combining better Internet search tools, the vast resources of the Web and online personal health records, both companies are betting they can enable people to make smarter choices about their health habits and medical care.

“What’s behind this is the mass consumerization of health information,” said Dr. David J. Brailer, the former health information technology coordinator in the Bush administration, who now heads a firm that invests in health ventures.

It is too soon to know whether either Google or Microsoft will make real headway. Health care, experts note, is a field where policy, regulation and entrenched interests tend to slow the pace of change, and technology companies have a history of losing patience.

And for most people, typing an ailment into a Web search engine is very different from entrusting a corporate titan with personal information about their health.

Google and Microsoft recognize the obstacles, and they concede that changing health care will take time. But the companies see the potential in attracting a large audience for health-related advertising and services. And both companies bring formidable advantages to the consumer market for such technology.

Microsoft’s software animates more than 90 percent of all personal computers, while Google is the default starting point for most health searches. And people are increasingly turning to their computers and the Web for health information and advice. A Harris poll, published last month, found that 52 percent of adults sometimes or frequently go to the Web for health information, up from 29 percent in 2001.

If the efforts of the two big companies gain momentum over time, that promises to accelerate a shift in power to consumers in health care, just as Internet technology has done in other industries.

Today, about 20 percent of the nation’s patient population have computerized records — rather than paper ones — and the Bush administration has pushed the health care industry to speed up the switch to electronic formats. But these records still tend to be controlled by doctors, hospitals or insurers. A patient moves to another state, for example, but the record usually stays.

The Google and Microsoft initiatives would give much more control to individuals, a trend many health experts see as inevitable. “Patients will ultimately be the stewards of their own information,” said John D. Halamka, a doctor and the chief information officer of the Harvard Medical School.

Already the Web is allowing people to take a more activist approach to health. According to the Harris survey, 58 percent of people who look online for health information discussed what they found with their doctors in the last year.

It is common these days, Dr. Halamka said, for a patient to come in carrying a pile of Web page printouts. “The doctor is becoming a knowledge navigator,” he said. “In the future, health care will be a much more collaborative process between patients and doctors.”

Microsoft and Google are hoping this will lead people to seek more control over their own health records, using tools the companies will provide. Neither company will discuss their plans in detail. But Microsoft’s consumer-oriented effort is scheduled to be announced this fall, while Google’s has been delayed and will probably not be introduced until next year, according to people who have been briefed on the companies’ plans.

A prototype of Google Health, which the company has shown to health professionals and advisers, makes the consumer focus clear. The welcome page reads, “At Google, we feel patients should be in charge of their health information, and they should be able to grant their health care providers, family members, or whomever they choose, access to this information. Google Health was developed to meet this need.”

A presentation of screen images from the prototype — which two people who received it showed to a reporter — then has 17 other Web pages including a “health profile” for medications, conditions and allergies; a personalized “health guide” for suggested treatments, drug interactions and diet and exercise regimens; pages for receiving reminder messages to get prescription refills or visit a doctor; and directories of nearby doctors.

Google executives would not comment on the prototype, other than to say the company plans to experiment and see what people want. “We’ll make mistakes and it will be a long-range march,” said Adam Bosworth, a vice president of engineering and leader of the health team. “But it’s also true that some of what we’re doing is expensive, and for Google it’s not.”

At Microsoft, the long-term goal is similarly ambitious. “It will take grand scale to solve these problems like the data storage, software and networking needed to handle vast amounts of personal health and medical information,” said Steve Shihadeh, general manager of Microsoft’s health solutions group. “So there are not many companies that can do this.”

This year, Microsoft bought a start-up, Medstory, whose search software is tailored for health information, and last year bought a company that makes software for retrieving and displaying patient information in hospitals. Microsoft software is already used in hospitals, clinical laboratories and doctors’ offices, and, Mr. Shihadeh noted, the three most popular health record systems in doctors’ offices are built with Microsoft software and programming tools.

Microsoft will not disclose its product plans, but according to people working with the company the consumer effort will include online offerings as well as software to find, retrieve and store personal health information on personal computers, cellphones and other kinds of digital devices — perhaps even a wristwatch with wireless Internet links some day.

Mr. Shihadeh declined to discuss specifics, but said, “We’re building a broad consumer health platform, and we view this challenge as far bigger than a personal health record, which is just scratching the surface.”

Yet personal health records promise to be a thorny challenge for practical and privacy reasons. To be most useful, a consumer-controlled record would include medical and treatment records from doctors, hospitals, insurers and laboratories. Under federal law, people can request and receive their personal health data within 90 days. But the process is complicated, and the replies typically come on paper, as photocopies or faxes.

The efficient way would be for that data to be sent over the Internet into a person’s digital health record. But that would require partnerships and trust between health care providers and insurers and the digital record-keepers.

Privacy concerns are another big obstacle, as both companies acknowledge. Most likely, they say, trust will build slowly, and the online records will include as much or as little personal information as users are comfortable divulging.

A person might start, for example, by typing in age, gender and a condition, like diabetes, as a way to find more personalized health information. If a person creates a personal health record and later has second thoughts, a simple mouse click should erase it. The promise, the companies say, will be complete consumer control.

There are plenty of competitors these days in online health records and information from start-ups like Revolution Health, headed by AOL’s founder, Stephen M. Case, and thriving profit-makers led by WebMD.

Potential rivals are not underestimating the two technology giants. But the smaller companies have the advantage of being focused entirely on health, and some have been around for years. WebMD, for example, traces its lineage to Healtheon, a fallen star of the dot-com era, founded by the Netscape billionaire Jim Clark.

Google and Microsoft are great companies, said Wayne T. Gattinella, WebMD’s chief executive, but “that doesn’t mean they will be expert in a specific area like health.”

Specialized health search engines — notably Healthline — are gaining ground and adding partners. AOL recently began using Healthline for searches on its health pages, even though Google is a close partner.

Still, 58 percent of people seeking health information online begin with a general search engine, according to a recent Jupiter Research report, and Google dominates the field. “Google is the entry point for most health search, and that is a huge advantage,” said Monique Levy, a Jupiter analyst.

Indeed, it is the market reach and deep pockets that Google and Microsoft can bring to consumer health information that intrigues medical experts, and has lured recruits. Dr. Roni Zeiger, a graduate of Stanford’s School of Medicine, a medical informatics researcher and a former primary care doctor, joined Google last year. The 36-year-old, who still sees patients some evenings and weekends at a nearby clinic, said, “At Google, I can use my expertise and knowledge to potentially help millions of people each day.”

End of the Master Brand Strategy

August 13, 2007

Brandchannel announces that your Master Brand strategy is dead. Master Brands were so millennial anyway, long before Web 2.0 and UGC drove brand messaging up the wall with its po-mo Cluetrain messiness. As this notice issues from the famously inward-looking industry itself, we can assume the trend has been underway for some time. Here is the full paper (from Straightline).

For those who don’t work the consumer-facing side of marketing and design, the Master Brand concept was driven through the influence of giant marketing consultant Interbrand‘s strategy of establishing a mono-megalithic brand that subsumes other brands in a brand family relationship. Since corporate value accrues to the highest-level meaningful brand, the Master Brand presented a way to manage message, visual and corporate brand identity, brand creep – and it attempted to roll up consumer perception to the brand owner as much as possible. A proliferation of brands dilutes the corporate brand and reduces effectiveness, and increase choice complexity – so the Master Brand has its place.

Here’s a blurb:


Master brands and brand architecture are two of the many inward-focused notions that have come to define the world of branding. While these concepts heralded an important milestone, continued adherence to their principles may lead to branding’s downfall. Inflexible models and exclusive language inherent to these concepts are alienating branding’s most critical potential proponents, giving the impression that as branding practitioners, we have built artificial processes to justify higher fees for what otherwise would be considered “expensive marketing.” In this article, we will make the case that traditional brand jargon, brand architecture and its numerous flavors – such as Branded Houses, Houses of Brands, Endorsed Brands and Sub-brands under a Master Brand, and any other “branding” term that puts unnecessary conceptual distance between a business and its brand(s)—is ultimately detrimental to the discipline of branding. We will then provide an alternate view of brand system management that we feel is more relevant to the needs of businesses and the many stakeholders they serve.


Here’s where I really agree with their strategy and intent. They say: “However, to realize its operational and strategic potential, branding must evolve beyond its inaccessible jargon and artificial models to play a more dynamic, inclusive role that bridges connections between stakeholders and adequately represents management challenges and the cultural and motivational realities of the companies they serve.” This part sounds like a dialogic design problem space, and the paper goes on to show how they are encouraging a type of dialogue among various stakeholders, and not a consistent brand image.

I wonder if they have such a methodology for sufficiently engaging multiple, competing, disagreeing stakeholders to reach consensus on a common brand identity and plan? Something like our Dialogic SWOT Analysis?

The Strategy Paradox

July 30, 2007

Read: The Strategy Paradox: Why committing to success leads to failure (and what to do about it)

Michael Raynor spoke at the business/innovation conference (aptly titled The Overlap) in June, and we received his book as a conference favor. If given a fair hearing, I expect Raynor’s book to force business practitioners to think more deeply about formulating strategy and structuring the organization for competitive advantage. Most treatments of strategy address competitive dynamics (in the line of Porter), likewise positioning, or competency leverage (Collins). Raynor leverages insights from his research and publishing in innovation (The Innovator’s Solution), Harvard doctoral research, and the practical understand that comes from actually consulting. In the case of strategy, the consulting experience lends valuable grounding – as opposed to theory-heavy work or easy-reading strategy-lite. This book could anchor a top-notch MBA course – but it could lead a good company’s board to make much better strategic decisions.


I would not compare The Strategy Paradox with popular business books, such as The Long Tail or even Good to Great. This is a book about the perils and promises of strategy formulation, the management of strategy and commitment, and the design and execution of strategic options. Keep in mind that, regardless of what you think you know about strategy research, most of what’s published in journals and books is very loose, or even just junk research. Strategic management remains largely influenced, in the real world of corporate decision making, by Porter’s 5 Forces, SWOT, and resource allocation. Who should care? Just about every executive, business unit-level manager, and all professors or consultants focusing on business strategy and organizational dynamics. It is one of the few works on competitive strategy that guides organizational strategy as well – not directly through guidance on org design, but in terms of organizational function necessitated by requisite uncertainty. Raynor never mentions “strategic alignment,” a troublesome notion from consulting with no good research support. Rather, he demonstrates how the organizational focus implied by “alignment” results from appropriate structural intention generated by appropriate distribution of uncertainty and commitment in the hierarchy. In time for Alfred Chandler’s handoff to history with his passing in May, Raynor retrieves the effectiveness of hierarchical management, obviating the need for “alignment,” based on good theory and sound research.
For example – I know (well) of one firm that leads its market in products and share, and was able to maintain its position by good old-fashioned installed base lock-in and monopoly rents with long-term contracts. With the luxury of not having to follow their own strategies well, they jumped around from Good to Great, then acquisition mania, product integration and overhauls, a China program and off-shoring, process redesign. At the end of the day, they were just acquired – and their product line now internally competes with its new owner’s. Could the Paradox have saved this firm? If taken seriously, yes – they appear to have violated nearly everything Raynor suggests.

Raynor explains complex business scenarios with a brisk storyline. The footnotes are a fascinating secondary read – the points are backed up by his research, Harvard studies, and dozens of well-cited papers. While optional to the main points, the research is actually useful and interesting, and much of it new to business research (consider his retrieval and application of Elliott Jacques’ work on requisite organization in the principle of Requisite Uncertainty.)

A week after reading the book, in late June, I referred to Raynor’s concepts in a conference presentation about structured dialogue for decision making in the intelligent enterprise, (the book was a timely, disruptive influence). I found a significant symmetry between Requisite Uncertainty and the principles for dialogic design we have been developing. The strategic horizons for strategy vs. commitment map to our stages of strategic dialogue (where a group of stakeholders formulates strategy, scenarios, and action plans in a structured dialogue). Since I consider time horizon the most pivotal factor in group decision making, the relationship of temporal uncertainty to priority and opportunity now becomes a key organizing principle.

Procedures Consult – Immersive experience in rich content

July 16, 2007

Nothing but medical procedures. No tagging, no RSS feeds, no social networking. (Not yet anyway.) The innovation was in discovering exactly what was required for the intensive education of doctors in residency programs, delivering these capabilities and minimizing all other distractions. Here the user experience is in the transparent immersion in the details of anatomy, positioning, approach and entry points, techniques, and simulations of all the internal parts you never could see even with live patients.
Elsevier released ProceduresConsult this month, to institutional subscribers. This e-learning service provides animated and acted video and text details for common internal medicine procedures, so you can learn to do arthrocentesis at home. (Hopefully, only if you are in a residency program). Medical residents in internal medicine (and soon Orthopedics and Anethseia will be able to locate detailed interactive procedures education with extraordinary video produced by Harvard’s Dr. Todd Thomsen.


Both 320 (on-page) and 640 (video player) videos are provided for every procedure. Text is shown in two full-scrollable pages, Quick Review and Full Details. Navigation was based on how residents typically work with one procedure at a time – while you can search, browse and jump around, the nav model focuses attention within the procedure and limits the opportunity to link away from the page.

We started on this service from nearly scratch 10 months ago, and leveraged an existing platform (based on Elsevier’s Nursing Skills product) to deliver the testing and tracking capabilities rapidly. The interaction design was totally drawn from user research, from multiple interactions with physicians and residency program staff. The content design was generated in collaborative design with the product manager (the indefatigable Rolla Couchman), Dr. Thomsen, and the product and editorial team. We conducted multiple onsite user research sessions, evaluating the site structure and navigation, visual and interaction design, content layout, video interaction, and administrative tools in a series of iterations and increasingly-defined prototypes. Jez Alder of Elsevier produced the visual design, over multiple iterations. Look for navigation and content enhancements soon.

Semantics of Innovation

July 3, 2007

“That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone. “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”

Lewis Carroll (1872) Through the Looking Glass

What twists and turns we put to the word “innovation .” We make it mean everything from original invention to “good design,” to creativity, to product development. We all think we know what it means, from our own experience. But we rarely do the rather churlish academic thing of stopping someone and requesting “What do you mean by innovation?”

I like primary research, so I tend to go with definitions that support Rogers’ (1962) Diffusion of Innovations. Innovation differs from invention in that adoption is implied. An intentional invention must end up somewhere useful to qualify, or at least be “overlooked” by the market of the time – the implication being that its adoption failed due to poor timing.

In 2002 I wrote in the DMI Review: When Successful Products Prevent Strategic Innovation

First, let’s define innovation, a misused concept assigned to a range of meanings from “creativity” to the vendors’ “making new versions of the same product.” I express innovation as significant invention with the capacity for transformation. Strategic innovation sustains business strategy through significant invention, designing new or breakthrough products to fulfill strategic intent. And not all innovations are successful. Market success also requires fulfilling user intent; innovations must map to known user needs or emerging user desires.

Another definition I like is clear and yes, academic: Garcia and Cantalone (2001). A critical look at technological innovation typology and innovativeness.

“Innovation’ is an iterative process initiated by the perception of a new market and/or new service opportunity for a technology-based invention which leads to development, production, and marketing tasks striving for the commercial success of the invention.”

So what seems to be happening today? First, business culture and then popular culture has held an extended love-in with the very idea of innovation. So back in 2001, when I was wondering whether we would see (e.g. early forecast) the Next Big Thing coming our way, I admit I did not think it would be the Same as the Last Big Thing. Where other late-90’s trends peaked and expired, Innovation came back to stay. (So maybe it made sense after all to study and get the doctorate in Design and Innovation Management in 2000.) After all, Knowledge Management didn’t survive the purge very well, and now isn’t Web 2.0 and user participation the height of innovation?

Maybe, maybe not. There’s a principle in socionomics (social macroeconomics) forecasting that suggests that when pop culture picks up a tech or business trend and exploits it to the extent that it appears on magazine covers, your 15 minutes may be up. Market timers use such indicators to call tops (and bottoms). Innovation may be due its morph into its next phase as soon as the business cycle changes (resulting in disappoint with the last cycle’s memes). And we’ll we looking for the NBT again. Hint: Look for those disappointments to reveal the next trend. Is the new Transparency already an early indicator of the disappointment with the technology-driven lifestyle? Or will it morph into more of the same?