Archive for June, 2011

Managing new products

June 29, 2011

Product lifecycle management is an emerging term in business but is topical because of the importance of bringing out new products rapidlyto respond to new requirements.  This supplement was produced recently by Lyonsdown media and distributed with the Daily Telegraph earlier this month.

Incidentally Brian Davis, who edits the supplement, has excellent polymath credentials, since as well as being an experienced writer on technology and business, he is an accomplished cartoonist with a specialism in angels…

Be aware, in reading this, that many of the businesses covered in the supplement do have products to sell, and are using this publication as a vehicle to show them in a good light.  So the articles do tell positive stories, and don’t tend to include  much in the way of critical evaluation of the tools being used.   Nevertheless there is much interesting material here, and some valuable indications of what businesses can do to respond to changes in the landscape in which they work.

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Contextual advertising (austerity version)

June 29, 2011

Contextual advertising on the Internet thows up some interesting effects when businesses are stuggling.  First I looked at a news story about Thorntons, the chocolate company, closing 180 stores, accompanied by a helpful Google ad recommending Thorntons chocolates as a gift.  Then I looked at a story about the car manufacturer Saab, until last year owned by General Motors, being unable to pay  their employees, accompanied by a bold banner ad for a new Saab…

To be fair, neither is entirely daft: if Thorntons high street outlets are closing, then it makes sense for the company to promote Internet sales.  And if the future of Saab remains uncertain, there may be some good deals available on their products.

Thinking and predicting

June 28, 2011

While preparing my post at the end of last week on ‘anniversaries’, I came across the wikipedia entry for Thomas Watson of IBM.  With a certain poetry, wikipedia includes sections entitled ‘famous quote’ and also ‘famous misquote’, the famous quote being ‘think’ as alluded to in my post last week.  The ‘famous misquote’ is from 1943, suggesting that the world market for computers would run to a total of five.

Wikipedia conveniently links to IBM’s own archives, which suggest that this is indeed a misquote, and traces it to a remark from 1953 by Thomas Watson junior (son of the Thomas Watson who introduced the ‘think’ quote) that a particular pioneering product, for which he had expected sales of five, had secured 18 orders.  I’m cynical enough to suspect that Watson junior might have been very conservative in setting his sales targets, especially for a machine which was such a novelty, so as to increase his prospects of telling his employees and shareholders a good story.

Still, it’s a pity that the story does seem to be a myth.  Wikipedia approvingly quotes Gordon Bell who pointed out that for ten years after 1943 there weren’t many digital computers in the world.  In the late 1940s it would have been perfectly rational to predict that by the 21st century the only computers would still be large, expensive, industrial and commercial installations.  The real significance of the quote, or misquote, is that technology went on to develop in ways that were completely unexpected at the time, and on the whole that the IT industry (not just IBM) was able to adapt to those developments.

Mapping heat loss

June 28, 2011

This isn’t new (this map has been around since 2007, and an earlier version was made available in 2000) but I only discovered it recently – at http://www.seeit.co.uk/haringey/Map2.cfm you can see the heat loss from different buildings in the London Borough of Haringey.  It’s a neat example of the sort of thing that can be incorporated into mapping on the web

Anniversaries

June 24, 2011

Three different anniversaries that I stumbled across on the BBC website this month, all with some relevance to the world of business, but not a lot else in common.

One is the death, fifty years ago, of Carl Gustav Jung.  His most immediate influence on the world of business, and particlularly on our understanding of teamwork, is through his identification of personality types and particularly through the Myers-Briggs type indicator.  Along with various derivatives, this is widely used by employers to analyse different people’s preferences at work and elsewhere.  Like many other approaches used in teamwork, the application of Myers-Briggs is most effective when based on the philosophy that an effective team depends on a variety of people with different preferences, and different strengths or weaknesses.

Extraversion or introversion is the first of four dimensions of personality type identified by Jung, and is highly significant in the workplace because it’s about individuals’ interaction with others.  I would take issue with the almost throwaway line in the BBC piece that ‘Jung spelt it extravert’.  Extrovert, as used in everyday English implies a level of tangibly outgoing and gregarious behaviour.  Extravert, in Jung’s terms. has more to do with getting ideas and inspiration from the external world – indeed the Myers Briggs foundation at http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/extraversion-or-introversion.asp cautions the reader  not to ‘confuse introversion with shyness or reclusiveness’.

Almost concurrent with Jung’s death, was the launch of the magnificent, if frivolous, Jaguar E-type sports car – there’s a picture that I’ve occasionally used as an avatar, of me aged around four, standing in one of these.  The E-type was stylish and technically brilliant, if not the most practical way to get around.  In some ways, the subsequent trajectory of Jaguar’s ownership provides a view of the changes in Britain’s manufacturing industry.  First it became part of British Motor Holdings, which a couple of years later merged into the sprawling, chaotic, British Leyland group.  In the 1970s British Leyland fell into a financial crisis, and Jaguar was subsequently sold of as a separate business.  It was then owned by Ford for twenty years, before in turn being sold to the Indian group, Tata.

Since Jaguar, along with Land Rover, was sold to Tata in 2008, Ford have not made any cars in Britain, although they employ people in Britain, they make engines in Britain, and they sell a lot of cars in Britain.  Nevertheless, yesterday I did a taster class, aimed at teenagers thinking of studying business or management, where I discussed disruptive innovation, and possible business models for electric cars.  I asked if any of them knew which company made more cars in Britain than anybody else (and whether they made an electric car) and surprisingly, somebody immediately suggested that ‘Ford’ might be the answer.

Talk of disruptive innovation brings me to IBM, which is making a lot of its 100th birthday this month.  Rory Cellan-Jones on the BBC site does focus on the positives, and perhaps understates the extent to which IBM did struggle to maintain its innovative abilities at some points in its history.  But the overall story of IBM is one of a business that has managed to reinvent itself, and to adapt to various disruptive waves of innovation, and to move from being a hardware company to a software and services company, or from a big computer company to a personal computer company.  And this sort of innovation is difficult to achieve.  It was easy enough in around 1980 to see that the market for golf-ball electric typewriters was in decline, but would have been harder to predict the importance of the personal computer to business, and harder still to predict that a little upstart firm called Microsoft would be a good business partner.  The rise and fall of IBM’s PC business remains an interesting vignette of waves of innovation – it was important for IBM to get into that business in the 1980s, but appropriate for them to leave it 20 years later by which time PCs had become commoditised.  Lenovo, who bought IBM’s PC business, still uses the name ‘ThinkPad’ inspired by IBM’s ‘Think’ slogan first used in the 1930s.

Grumpy about spelling and grammar

June 16, 2011

I’m aware that I should be careful what I say here, because WordPress doesn’t automatically mark mis-spelled words and I don’t necessarily run blog posts through the spell checker.  And I do sometimes blog in haste, so can post things with errors in them.

Still – I was disappointed to see a big poster on a tube station advertising an estate agency which was independent.  Except that it was mis-spelled ‘independant’.  It’s irritating enough to see documents which confuse the words dependant, which is a noun, and dependent, which is an adjective, but at least both these words should pass a spell checker.  But this was (presumably) an expensive advertising pitch: it’s a poster site next to a busy escalator in a tube station serving an affluent residential area.  It seems extraordinary that whoever put the poster together didn’t bother to check the spelling.

Spreading wisdom

June 16, 2011

Last month I was one of the co-authors behind a workshop about what business schools should teach, particularly in the light of changes in what employers want since the financial crisis of recent years.  One of the themes was that this could prompt a move away from universities teaching narrowly practical and vocational skills, towards a greater emphasis on knowledge and even wisdom.

Interesting then to see that this week’s cover story from Times Higher Education has Steven Schwartz, vice chancellor of Macquarie University in Australia, argues very eloquently for the same idea, and suggests that wisdom is what a university education should aim to provide.

Watching the sky

June 16, 2011

I wandered out yesterday evening to catch sight of the lunar eclipse (there’s a neat Google Doodle to mark the occasion although it hasn’t yet appeared on Google’s list of doodles that have been used).  Long summer evenings, where it’s light until almost 10pm, are one great thing about living in the British Isles…

In London the moon rising coincided with the period when the moon was totally obscured.  The old weather rhyme goes red sky at night, shepherds’ delight/red sky in the morning, shepherds warning, and any shepherds watching the sky at this time, at least where I was, would have been ecstatic just after sunset yesterday – though they would have been disappointed, and rather soggy, this morning given how heavily it’s been raining.  But even better than the dramatically red sky was the view of the moon emerging from the eclipse, first as a crescent, and the full moon being visible two hours later.

Strange mobile spam

June 14, 2011

I had a spate of unsolicited text messages last week offering me compensation for an accident.  Of course it’s possible that they knew that I’d tripped at a bus stop in April (see my blog posting on ‘ouch’) and were offering to fund my purchase of a small packet of sticking plasters from a convenience store in Finsbury Park.  More likely it’s a ruse to get details of working phone numbers – given that it’s very easy to send bulk text messages to a whole load of recipients by trying random numbers in (for the UK) the 07 range.  Still, it’s interesting to read here about what these spam messages are trying to achieve, and what their legal position is

The Internet of things gets closer

June 6, 2011

I’ve said before that this is a development worth watching – Internet-enabled fridges and heating boilers may be less glamorous than social networks but they have huge potential – so it’s good to see it getting coverage here.  And, as I’ve mentioned earlier, it markes out Pachube as a name which may become very familiar in the future.  Incidentally it’s also nice to see the reference to Nicholas Negroponte’s 1990s distinction between atoms and bits alluded to in the title of the BBC piece