Diversity Wins

pablo

I’ve written a bit before about diversity and how it fits into getting better results and how it is a key part of collaboration success. I’ve recently finished the book Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age by Steven Johnson. As mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of his material which I’ve referenced here and here.  He writes:

When groups are exposed to a more diverse range of perspectives, when their values are forced to confront different viewpoints, they are likely to approach the world in a more nuanced way, and avoid falling prey to crude extremism.

and a key thought:

Diversity does not just expand the common ground of consensus. It also increases the larger group’s ability to solve problems. The pioneer in this line of research is the University of Michigan professor Scott E. Page. He has spent the past twenty years building a convincing case for what he calls the “Diversity trumps ability” theory, demonstrating the phenomenon in sociological studies and mathematical models. Take two groups of individuals and assign to each one some kind of problem to solve. One group has a higher average IQ than the other, and is more homogeneous in its composition. One group, say, is all doctors with IQs above 130; the second group doesn’t perform as well on the IQ tests, but includes a wide range of professions. What Page found, paradoxically, was that the diverse group was ultimately smarter than the smart group. The individuals in the high-IQ group might have scored better individually on intelligence tests, but when it came to solving problems as a group, diversity matters more than individual brainpower.

and in summary
We want diversity for another reason as well: because we are smarter as a society—more innovative and flexible in our thinking—when diverse perspectives collaborate.
In a corporate setting, it means our teams needs to contain diverse backgrounds and experiences with some new ideas and some older experiences mixed together.
And as a leader, it means I need to really be dialed into listening to opinions of people who differ from me because they might have a perspective that I can’t see. I once told one of my staff that I was blind to something that she felt passionate about and she later told me that meant a lot to her to hear me say that to the group.
Diversity wins.

Haves and Have Nots

Last week I had a chance to spend time with a group of CIOs hosted by a well known information technology company. During the course of the 2.5 day session, the host company took some time to tell us about their IT operations and strategy.

The differences between what they are doing and what I see others doing was dramatic as the difference between black and white. Most of us, in the meeting could probably barely, barely, not at all, relate to this IT shop.

I see the same when I see the average IT spend as a % of revenue between different industries with some industries spending perhaps 15% or more of their revenue on information technology where manufacturing companies might be spending less than 2%. That difference is just staggeringly huge and it manifests itself across the whole spectrum of IT investments between those industries.

The haves and have-nots I think.

It might be that the incumbents in industries, those who have been around for a long time with embedded bases and IT foundations that just work, are going to slip behind and perhaps not be able to catch up? Start-ups who don’t have that base in place are free to startup on the newest, the latest, the cloud, the simpler, etc.

If a company is in the former situation, they need to double down on prioritzation, careful investment decisions and very strategic thinking about their IT infrastructure and operations. It is not easy.

 

Cross Disciplinary

When I was in graduate school, I remember sitting in a vector calculus class and realizing how the thoughts in this class were beginning to merge together with an earlier electromagnetic fields class and my current complex analysis class. The thoughts and ideas were overlapping and merging together. It was a moment of clarity for me as I saw how these different disciplines began to fit together.

This draws me back to Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From which I’ve talked about before here and where he writes about exaptation and liquid networks and how ideas can blend together, cross over, and become something new. He uses the phrase ‘idea sex’ where ideas blend together to become something new and perhaps amazing.

I just finished reading one of James Altucher’s books, The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth after following him online for a long time. In the book, he talks about reading all the time and in several places about tying different things/thoughts/disciplines together. He, like Johnson, use the phrase ‘idea sex’ where you combine two ideas into a new better idea.

This is not just taking a good idea and applying it to your problem or space. It is about blending ideas together in a new fashion. One day at work years ago, we had a network cut that isolated one of our key sites off our corporate network and to make matters worse, the tool we used to communicate bulletins about outages was hosted at the site cutoff. We lost the channel we used for corporate communications with this outage. In thinking about this, I realized we should have an off-network communication channel and at once, we realized that Twitter could be that channel. We could create a private account on Twitter and only allow approved people to see the tweets of that handle. Then we’d have a communication channel for broadcasts 100% off our network. We used a social networking platform in a new way to solve a problem and it cost us nothing.

I see this all the time. When I read the book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) I could see how that applies to several problems in a University setting and I shared it with friends there and I also had work related applications in mind.

Tying all this back together, I think we need to

  • Be reading all the time and reading across disciplines. Don’t just read in your area of expertise, but read across lots of areas and include fiction in your reading too.
  • Connect people together and have more meaningful conversations and not just about the weather and the score of the game. Talk about politics, about what you are reading, about what struck you on a blog post or in a twitter feed, talk about ideas.
  • Share great ideas and nuggets of information with others that might help them in their endeavors with no expectation of anything in return. Become known for sharing ideas with others.
  • Listen deeply to what others are saying and perhaps what they are not saying.
  • Become a person who facilitates the success of others. Countless leadership books talk about this.

Altucher’s book is about a lot of these ideas and he even suggests we should host dinners with interesting people. Just bring good people together to meet, share and connect. Perhaps, one of your guests might solve a big problem that another one of your guests is struggling to solve.

There was a wonderful post in the NY Times the other day called The Moral Bucket List which starts by saying:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

Be that kind of person. Be someone connecting dots and people.

Invest in Infrastructure

I’ve been reading for over a year every article I can find about electric vehicles.  I have several friends who have Tesla vehicles and have had the chance to talk with them and ride in their cars. Nissan has the Leaf, we are hearing that Apple is getting into the act, Tesla and Chevrolet are already there.

This plus the expectation that self-driving cars, and more importantly trucks are going to result in massive changes. Industries will be impacted. Startups are looking at how to retrofit existing trucks. Our cities might look different. And trucking itself is a massive employer in many regions. The article that got me first looking into this is here.  Tesla hints at how this world will work.

The issue of jobs and impact and change are real and they are coming. Quite probably, the benefits of such far outweigh the negatives but it will be disruptive. Most technical and society shifts results in those who benefit and those who are disrupted. Uber and similar is another dynamic here too.

I’m particularly interested in the infrastructure to recharge electric vehicles. All of them have you install a recharging station in your garage or wherever you park your car at night. But they ALL need a nationwide infrastructure where you can recharge your vehicle away from home. It doesn’t take a real leap in thinking to realize that the right answer is a common recharging platform and infrastructure on a national scale. We don’t need BetaMax versus VHS again.

This brings in the Seth Godin’s article of last year where he says, “infrastructure investments are most effective when they are centralized and consistent.” Federal governments, in all countries, can do some of their best work for the future when they bring people together, set some standards, and then facilitate investment in these infrastructure platforms. The Interstate highway system in the US is an example of this working well, but the US has also failed in things like a national high-speed rail system.

These companies need to work together and agree on standards. Governments should facilitate this. The leverage would be huge.

 

Homogeneous Environments

Dear IT Vendor,

Don’t show me presentations that are just about your eco system of tools and how well interconnected they are and how all are problems are solved with your complete set of tools or systems.

You need to understand that nobody has an IT environment that is 100% your systems. You might want us to have only your ‘stuff’ but it isn’t going to happen. And I’m not going to write a check for you today to replace all my other systems with just your systems. You don’t know all my constraints and prior decisions and poured concrete so don’t show me a magic fairy tale.

Instead, you’ve got to talk to me about interoperability. You must talk to me about how I can connect your messaging tool with the one I already have in place. Further, you’ve got to show me examples of where this is working. And you’ve got to convince me that this is what you want to support. You’ve got to talk about openness, open standards, APIs, etc. And don’t try to steer me in a direction that is going to lock me in. I’ve got enough of those lock-ins and I’ve grown tired of them so I’m on to you.

If your story is only about you, then I’m going to tune out.

Thank you,

Mark

[wrote this post long ago and it never got published for some reason…]

ERP and the Innovator’s Dilemma

A few weeks back I made some notes as I was thinking about the Innovator’s Dilemma and its relation to ERP and the big ERP vendors of today (SAP and Oracle). The Innovator’s Dilemma comes from Clay Christianson’s book entitled  The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business which develops the idea of disruptive innovation.  A disruptive innovation is a new idea or innovation that disrupts or destroys or replaces an existing market.

The existing leaders in the ERP space make a lot of money on selling licenses and maintenance for their products. Most of the major companies of the world are running on their software quite successfully and many a CIO have risen and fallen based on projects with these systems.

The problem is that as new technology comes along (Salesforce.com, Workday, etc.) it is hard for these leading current companies to make the shift to these new ideas. The reason is that they are getting their income and their leadership from the old way of doing things and the new way brings risk and uncertainly and perhaps not a leadership position. The old ways created careers for the people who need to make the decision to pursue the new.

I figured someone has to have written on this before and sure enough I found several posts online saying the same. See Techcrunch’s article entitled Great Acquisition! Now Put A Fork in ERP and Innovator’s Dilemma at its Finest – SAP, Oracle and the Cloud. And I wrote about the Changing Landscape of Enterprise Software before too.

The same thing is happening in storage with existing large storage vendors seeing lots of start-ups and new ideas being developed. Perhaps the same with PCs and the rise of tablets and smart phones.

Disruptive innovation.

[wrote this post long ago and it never got published for some reason…]

 

 

Change

pablo (2)

Seems to me that lots of change is about to happen in corporate IT. There has been chatter for years about everything moving to the cloud and disk drives are dead or everything must be mobile or the like and most of those brash predictions are just nonsense. They might be true in a corner or in a niche or in some limited applications, but in general, they are nonsense. Few things in IT change overnight or even in a year. Many times is takes decades.

WSJ just posted an article about things we’d like to see die (fax machines) and it is mostly about right. The bulky ERP on the list is right and wrong. Yes, we’d like them to go away and magically be in the cloud, which means someone else’s computer, but it just can’t happen quickly for big organizations. The shift to some of these platforms is really, really, really hard.

However, this time it feels like change is happening. Incrementally. Here are some thoughts:

  1. There is going to be turmoil and turnover in applications used and deployed in the coming years. It is likely that apps installed and put into production last year will be replaced by different applications next year. There are new SaaS solutions appearing weekly and some vendors are integrating lots of functions into a suite (ServiceNow, Salesforce.com, WorkDay, etc.).
  2. Data growth will continue with no real slowdown in sight. Storage is cheap and the engineers want to save everything forever. The data scientist types will want the data saved forever too.
  3. Turmoil will continue with hardware and software vendors. The current wave of M&A activity will continue. Suites gobble up small application companies. Infrastructure companies gobble up other infrastructure companies. Others just won’t make it. The hype cycles will continue.
  4. Security or information protection is getting harder. No easy end in sight.
  5. Lots of stress in IT. Do all of the above, spend little or less, keep everything secure and be faster.

What else?