Is The Deck Stacked Against Disruptive Innovation?

The Wall Street Journal: “Anshu Sharma, a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to do so. He calls his thesis the ‘stack theory’ … the mistaken belief that” building something new is a simple matter of “moving up the stack.”

The “stack” is a “layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user.” IBM, for example, “moved up the stack from making things that compute to selling the services that computation enables … Google tried to move up the stack from search to social networking.” Apple apparently hopes to move up the stack to make electric cars.

According to Mr. Sharma, failure to move up the stack happen when the company lacks empathy for its customers and doesn’t understand its customers’ wants or needs. It’s generally easier to move down the stack (e.g., Tesla builds its own batteries because it knows its own requirements). Uber would be more likely to succeed at building its own cars than General Motors would be at creating a ride-sharing service. That’s because “Uber has the advantage of knowing exactly what it needs in a vehicle for such a service.”

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Why Aren’t Wearables Well Worn?

In The New York Times, Nick Bilton offers several reasons why so much wearable technology has not worn so well. “First, almost all of them require a smartphone to be fully operational … a wearable becomes yet another gadget that we need to lug around. There’s also the fact that most of these devices are quite ugly … Then there’s the unpleasant fact that the technology just doesn’t seem ready … But the biggest issue may be the price … consumers just can’t justify buying a smartwatch that costs nearly as much as a smartphone.”

Geoffrey A. Fowler, writing in The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile extols the virtues of the Mio, which uses a metric called Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI), which tracks heart patterns rather than foot movement. “Mio’s hardware isn’t as elegant as others on the market, but PAI is the best example yet of how wearables can turn data into tailored, actionable advice, and hopefully longer lives,” Geoffrey writes.

“Unlike step counting, where you start over each morning at zero, PAI runs on a rolling weekly tally … Everyone’s PAI is a little different, by design. The formula takes into account your age, gender, resting heart rate, max heart rate and other unique signals. It’s personal Big Data,” Geoffrey writes.

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IBM: Where Design Thinking Is The Corporate Culture

Wired: “For going on four years now, IBM has been working to reinvent itself as a design-led business. In 2012, the computing behemoth employed just one designer for every 80 coders. Today, that ratio stands at 1:20. By the end of 2016, the company hopes to narrow it to 1:15. All-told, the company is investing more than $100-million in an effort to become a design-centered corporation.”

“That plan hinges not only on the company-wide implementation of design thinking—a framework for conducting business that puts users’ (i.e. customers’) needs first—but the establishment of IBM as a leader in the growing ecosystem of design-conscious companies.”

“Its entire design thinking manifesto is now online (link), and if you’re interested, it’s certainly worth a read. If nothing else, it provides fascinating insight into how a massively successful corporation plans to stay relevant amidst the rapidly changing worlds of computing and business. In many ways, IBM’s newfound focus on design is an admission that a good user experience isn’t always as simple as slapping on a new user interface—it can take a total overhaul of corporate culture to get it right.”

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When Dumb Devices Make Us Feel Smart

On Thursday, The New York Times ran a story about Nest, the “smart” thermostat. Apparently, a glitch in a software update caused users “across America” to lose heat on a cold winter’s night. Babies were crying and grandmothers caught chills. Customer support lines were jammed. Those lucky enough to get assistance were talked through a nine-step procedure that required a mini USB cable.

Shortly after I read this story, my own low-tech, “dumb” thermostat went haywire. Part of the house felt like St. Martin in the summertime while other rooms recalled Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. So, off to Home Depot I went, to buy a new thermostat. At the low end was a basic model, priced at $24.95. The priciest — The Nest — was ten times (ten times!) as expensive. Two hundred and forty-five dollars!

It’s often said that we tend to buy things that make us feel smart — whether that’s based on a relatively rational price-value calculation or a more emotional rationalization. All I can say is, I have rarely felt as smart (even to the point of smug) about a purchase as I did walking out of that store with my $24.95 “dumb” thermostat. The three-step installation took about 10 minutes and specified only a screwdriver.

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