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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Tech Startup Life Can Be Brutish and Short

The Economist: “Software firms are supposed to be a paradise for ‘talent.’ Not only are their workers fabulously paid, but they are showered with perks as well … However, a career as a software developer or engineer comes with no guarantee of job satisfaction. A survey last year of 5,000 such workers at both tech and non-tech firms by TinyPulse … found that many of them feel alienated, trapped, under-appreciated and otherwise discombobulated.”

“Only 19% of tech employees said they were happy in their jobs and only 17% said they felt valued in their work … 36% of techies felt they had a clear career path compared with 50% of workers in areas such as marketing and finance; 28% of techies said they understand their companies’ vision compared with 43% of non-techies.”

“Tech firms that offer lavish perks to their staff do not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They offer them because they expect people to work so hard that they will not have time for such mundane things as buying lunch or popping to the dry-cleaners … The tech industry offers fabulous rewards for a fortunate few … But the industry is also rife with disappointments: endless toil that produces meagre returns; and dreams of reinventing the world that turn into just another tough and insecure job.”

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Deep Work: Finding Focus in a Distracted World

The Wall Street Journal: A new book attacks the trend toward open offices and embraces the virtues of focused thought. In “Deep Work,” Cal Newport “acknowledges the good intentions behind open offices: They are meant to encourage serendipity and teamwork. But he argues that burdening workers with perpetual distractions constitutes ‘an absurd attack on concentration’ that creates ‘an environment that thwarts attempts to think seriously.'”

The antidote is to expand “your capacity for ‘deep work,’ ruthlessly weeding out distractions and regularly carving out stretches of time to sharpen abilities … Most corporate workers, Mr. Newport argues, don’t have clear feedback about how to spend their time. As a result, employees use ‘busyness as a proxy for productivity.'”

“This presents an opening for people who are willing to tame these distractions … Such individuals cut down anything that could be outsourced ‘to a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training,’ and create rituals of delving into ‘the wildly important goal’ of their trade … No job is excused as too mundane for his approach, even in industries that value, say, rapid customer-service responses.”

“You don’t need a rarified job,” Mr. Newport writes. “You instead need a rarified approach to your work.”

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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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Volvo Promises a Death-Proof Car by 2020

Christian Science Monitor: “Volvo says its “vehicles will be death-proof by 2020, making good on industry promises that autonomous vehicles are not just cool, but life-saving … Volvo’s 2020 plans will bring together sensor technology like adaptive cruise control, which can work in stop-and-go commuter traffic; it’s already an option in its XC90 SUV, which won the North American Truck of the Year award and a Top Safety Pick Plus from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.”

“The company’s supposedly death-defying cars will also use sensing and alerting technology to let drivers know when it senses the car is going off the road, turning into oncoming traffic, or about to hit a cyclist or large animal — and if that doesn’t work, they’ll put on the brakes automatically. The vehicles will even keep an eye out for sleepy or distracted drivers, sounding a warning if erratic driving suggests someone’s nodding off behind the wheel.”

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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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GE: Perfect Homemade Pizza For Just $10,000

Business Wire: “Perfectly crisp crust. Browned, bubbling mozzarella. GE’s Monogram Pizza Oven brings restaurant-quality cooking capabilities to the home kitchen, enabling home chefs, entertainers, families and pizza enthusiasts to recreate their favorite pies—from the perfect Neapolitan to New York style and everything in between—quickly and with ease … the Monogram Pizza Oven brings authentic old world taste to today’s high-end kitchens.”

“The Monogram Pizza Oven was developed through FirstBuild, a new model of manufacturing that challenges makers around the world to ideate and help design innovations in home appliances … The Monogram Pizza Oven is available May 2016, with an MSRP of $9,900.”

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The Bon Marché Merchandises “Poetry, Beauty, Dreams”

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has turned the Bon Marché department store in Paris into an art gallery, reports The New York Times. “Anyone needing more evidence that the distinctions between public and private, high and low, art and commerce, and actual versus Internet celebrity have now imploded beyond recognition need look no further than this example of a populist Chinese dissident artist exhibiting in a luxury department store in one of the world’s fashion capitals.”

“Why the Bon Marché? Mr. Ai said that no French museums had contacted him about organizing a show … The Bon Marché first contacted the artist in late 2014, when he was still prevented from leaving China, said Frédéric Bodenes, the store’s artistic director. Mr. Bodenes said the store was not worried about souring ties with China.”

“We’re about poetry, beauty, dreams. We’re here to entrance our customers, and there’s no politics behind it,” Mr. Bodenes said. “Art is a value-added thing that we give our clients.”

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Ace of Lace: Adidas Soccer Boot Fits Like a Glove

Gizmag: “Dubbed the ACE 16+ Purecontrol, Adidas’ newest wheels do away with conventional laces and use a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) cage to secure the middle part of the foot. There’s also an internal locking system and the upper section is made from a combination of open and loose knitted structures, something called Primeknit which featured in Adidas’ all-in-one boot/sock hybrid concept from 2014.”

“The upshot of all this is, according to Adidas, a football boot that fits like a glove and offers closer ball control thanks to its larger surface area and absence of pesky laces. Beginning this weekend, some of the world’s most high-profile footballers will slip into the ACE 16+ Purecontrols and take to the field in professional competition … There’s no word on pricing, but a limited number will then become available in Adidas’ flagship stores in Paris, Marseille, London, Barcelona and Manchester and from selected retail partners.”

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The Glass Frog Croaks at Zappos

The Atlantic: “Why are so many employees leaving Zappos? Backtrack to 2013: Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s CEO, started promoting a new management structure called holacracy. It’s a setup that’s supposed to encourage collaboration by eliminating workplace hierarchy—meaning no more titles and no more bosses. The system instead asks workers to track all strategy decisions and their outcomes in a web-based app called Glass Frog.”

“But there was a result of holacracy that the company didn’t anticipate (but probably should have): confusion. Self-governing produced a bit of a mess, with some workers telling reporters that they weren’t sure how to get things done anymore. The New York Times reported last year that those in charge of payroll, for instance, had trouble determining salaries after titles had been banished, and some employees wanted a boss to consult when making important decisions.”

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