Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Managing the tricky transition from “idea?” to “idea!”

When Steve Jobs shortlisted the idea of portable music player during an offsite in 2001, the idea had many unknowns. These included questions such as, Who is the customer? Which technology do we use? What business model shall we adopt? Etc. Let’s denote such an idea with the notation “idea?” The question mark at the end indicates that the idea has uncertainty associated with it. Fast forward 3 years and Jobs was in Madison, New York City and he saw people wearing white headphones on every block. That is when he realized that the idea has taken off – it has become “idea!” – an idea without much uncertainty. Every successful innovation goes through this transition from “idea?” to “idea!”. However, many fumble during the transition. Let’s see how in this article.

Tata Nano stands out for the unusual pre-launch publicity it got as an innovation. As it was being launched several success stories were being written. However, the car has done far below expectations so far. In FY 2012-13, 23K Nanos were sold, in the first half of FY 2013-14 10K Nanos were sold as against the nominal factory output of 250K cars per anum (source: Wikipedia). As Nano was being designed and developed, I am sure it was being treated as an “idea?”. However, as it was being launched, was Team Nano  already treating the idea as “Nano!” – sort of “done deal!”. This part is not very clear. At this stage, the business model (Who, What, How) was still untested and hence it should have been treated as “Nano?” and subjected to rigorous testing. Based on the publicly available information, it looks as if that didn’t happen (I could be wrong here).

No matter how successful an idea is, it doesn’t last forever. Hugely successful iPod is no exception. Around a year ago  (Jan 2014), Tim Cook CEO of Apple announced, “All of us have known for some time that iPod is a declining business.” In fact, in 2009, Peter Oppenheimer, then CFO of Apple, mentioned, “We expect our traditional MP3 players to decline over time as we cannibalize ourselves with iPod Touch and the iPhone” So when did the iPod go back from “idea!” (success guaranteed) to “idea?” (future uncertain) state again? Well, it was in the same year in which Steve Jobs had seen iPod on every block in Madison, New York City – 2004. It was in this year that Jobs expressed his concern in an Apple Board meeting, “The device that can eat our lunch is cell phone.” The project that got started eventually led to the creation of iPhone.

That brings us back to the question – Is there anything like “idea!”? Can there ever be a state in the journey of a product where success is guaranteed? I don’t think so. In fact, the euphoria around the market success can be a sure shot sign of some untested assumption being overlooked. The only time an idea enters “idea!” state is while it enters the sunset zone – and the certainty is that of death! Of course, in the case of iPod, even that is uncertain in the near future.

In short, no matter how fantastic your idea is, don't be in a hurry to treat it as an "idea!". Treat it as an "idea?"  and be clear about the key untested assumptions at every stage of its evolution.

source: Steve Jobs comment on the future of iPod that he presented to the board is mentioned in his biography "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, page 465.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Realizing my biggest addiction – Thinking

I rarely drink or smoke. The last time I had a drink was more than six months ago. Don’t even remember the last smoke. Addiction has not been a problem for me. Or so I believed. Until I heard Eckhart Tolle point out my biggest addiction – Thinking. That was a rude shock. Not only was I not aware of the incessant, involuntary and repetitive thought patterns going rounds in my mind, I considered thinking to be my greatest asset. How did I get convinced about this addiction? And, what have I done about it? Let’s see in brief.

What’s wrong with thinking? Well, thinking per se is not bad. Thinking enables me to help my clients and improve the process of innovation in their organization. Thinking helps me plan and solve problems – individually and collaboratively. However, this useful thinking forms only a portion of the overall thinking that is going on. What is an example of thinking that is not serving a useful purpose? 

Here are a few samples:
  • Will my workshop go smoothly tomorrow? (anxiety)
  • Will I continue to get new projects this year? (worry)
  • Why did I have to say it that way? (guilt)
  • Wow, I managed to stay afloat for eight years as an independent consultant (pride)
  • I should get the contract (expectation)
  • If he had been more involved in the project, we would have done better (blame)

Again, there is nothing wrong with each of these thoughts. In fact, a thought like “Will my workshop go smoothly tomorrow?” may lead to an action that improves the design of the workshop. However, the problem starts when these thoughts start repeating themselves and create a snowball effect. The story in the head becomes a full-fledged movie being played in the repeat mode without any commercial break.

What percentage of my thinking is useful? Well, I don’t have a scientific answer to this question. But Eckhart claims it to be a tiny percentage, say less than 10-20%. However, the fact that I am dissipating a large portion of my energy for non-useful activity is not the main reason I started looking at it closely. The repetitive negative thinking causes psychic pollution. It affects everybody around me. When I bring anxiety home, I am affecting everybody at home. And then it affects the people I send Whatsapp and Facebook messages to. It has a huge multiplier effect.

Which one causes more pollution, my car or negative thinking? Again, I don’t know. But knowing the power of network effect, I won’t be surprised that the psychic pollution beats the car pollution hands down.

OK. So what do I do about it? Well, I am still experimenting. Last year I wrote about the practice of Attention-Alertness-Acceptance, the Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation and catch-me-if-you-can experiment. I hope to continue with this experimentation and see where it leads. No matter what happens, I am enjoying the experimentation.

Eckhart talks about thinking as the worst addiction in the popular video: How do we break the habit of excessive thinking?
10-20%: Eckhart says, “Mind is a torture instrument 80% of life” – in the interview “Conversations on compassion” at Stanford by Dr. James Doty (The quote is at: 12:10).