Tag Archives: RAZR

Is This the Day the Data Died?

Who can forget Don McLean’s iconic “American Pie”? Released in 1971, it was a four-week No. 1 hit in the U.S. It is listed as the No. 5 song of the century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts. The original 16-page manuscript sold for $1.2 million last year.

For me, the most memorable line in the nearly 800-word, eight-and-a-half-minute song is: “The day the music died.” It marks Feb. 3, 1959, where there was a seismic shift in music. The senseless and untimely deaths of rock-and-roll legends Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) are interpreted in highly symbolic and blurry verbal pictures.

After the recent presidential election, the question before us is whether Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, will become known as “the day the data died.”

No matter your political or ideological viewpoint, no one predicted what happened at the polls. Even with mountains of data and 21st century technology, mainstream media and academia completely missed the mark — and not by a little. We now know that the data wasn’t just slightly off track; it was a couple of interstate exits away from reality.

See also: Some Things Are Too Important for Paper

To try to figure out where we in the insurance industry should go from here in terms of thinking about how to use data and of projecting trends, I revisited a number of new technologies that either did not live up to the hype or just never achieved the projected dominance. Here are some of my favorites and their potential insurtech applications:

Quadrophonic Sound

Debuting in 1971, it had four-track sound instead of a stereo’s two. And everyone knows more is always better. Quadrophonic sound was portrayed as not just sitting in front of musicians but sitting in the middle of them. I actually bought a quad system with four speakers and some tapes. The problem was that there are about a billion ways to produce recordings, and no single format was ever agreed on.

Implications for Insurtech

Standards are vitally important for insurance data exchange and widespread blockchain deployment and success. But, as a McKinsey report noted, the insurance industry is not known for its cooperation, its creation of standards, its adoption or its enforcement of standards.

The Segway

Steve Jobs said it would be bigger than the PC. Time magazine called it “reinventing the wheel.” Venture capitalist John Doerr (who backed Netscape and Amazon) said it would be bigger than the internet. Jeff Bezos spurred huge hype, saying the Segway “is one of the most famous and anticipated product introductions of all time.” With pre-orders from the National Park Service and the U.S. Postal Service and with more than $90 million in venture capital funds, the Segway’s inventor, Dean Kamen, said it would be to the car what “the car was to the horse and buggy.” All original 6,000 Segways were rapidly recalled because of customer injuries when the battery was low. While it has bounced back a little bit, the Segway never lived up to its hype.

Implications

If you Google “insurtech,” you get more than half a billion hits. With more than 800 insurtech startups and almost 150 deals worth $3.5 billion of investment since 2015, insurtech is a force to be reckoned with. There is more than enough hype to go around. Remember that just because an analyst, consultant or media outlet writes about a company or technology does not mean it is destined to take over the world — or even survive.

Microwave Ovens

Everyone reading these words probably just about blew a gasket when they saw microwave ovens on this list of technologies that have not lived up to their promise. With more than 100 million units shipped in the past 10 years, how could microwave ovens be declared a failure? Well, microwaves were originally advertised as the death knell of traditional ovens. It’s not that microwaves are a failure, per se, it is that they never lived up to the hype. More than three million traditional ovens are still being sold annually, with a full 33% increase in sales over the past five years. As microwave radiation (yes, radiation) is used to heat water inside of food, it cooks from the inside-out. While microwave ovens are great for popcorn and reheating, they still cannot brown or fry, nor are they terrific for baking. I once caused a minor event (a fire) at work when I reheated some chicken in the microwave. I had failed to notice that the paper wrapping from the grocery store where I bought the chicken was lined with foil. While the ensuing fireworks and smoke were entertaining, my coworkers were less than thrilled.

Implications

While I keep count of the number of times I’ve ridden Pirates of the Caribbean in Walt Disney World (42 as of this article), I have completely lost count of the number of times the death of the mainframe was pronounced with great fanfare and assurance. The tablet was supposed to replace the PC, but, like the microwave, it has become a complementary device. We all need to exercise patience and caution whenever the next “bright shiny object” is set forth.

Razor Phone

No, this is not a spelling error or an April Fools’ prank. Not only did someone actually think it was a good idea to combine two wildly different technologies in a single device, someone else approved and financed it. I find it hard to understand what a cell phone and electric razor have in common other than they are both battery powered and operate next to your face. Having a similar name to Motorola’s Razr phone turned out to create colossal confusion; the bottom line is that consumers were not at all attracted to this “cutting edge” device.

Implications

Putting together different technologies may make some sense or add value on the surface, but it may also have unintended consequences. I once worked for an insurance company that built a 40-story headquarters. It aggressively employed all the latest safety designs and technologies. One Monday morning, I woke up to discover that I could not go to work because of a significant fire on the fourth floor. It was later discovered that an office machine caught fire and burned undetected for about eight hours, causing considerable damage and disruption to the company. How could a fire burn that long without being detected, you may ask? The problem was the same as the Razr Phone: two technologies that seemed to make sense but had results that were problematic (at best). Smoke detectors were imbedded into the ventilation system and, to conserve electricity, the ventilation system had been turned off over the weekend, disabling the smoke detectors’ sensors. With no smoke detectors, the fire was allowed to burn until an overnight computer operator happened to open the door to the 25th floor stairway. With smoke billowing out, the operator manually pulled the fire alarm. One other note: With its reliance on all the latest technology and fire resistant materials, the building did not have sprinklers, much to the chagrin of the insurance company, the architect and city officials who approved the plans. A state-of-the-art sprinkler system was retrofitted, costing much more than if it had been installed during the original construction.

See also: The End of Leadership as We Know It?  

While no one should boast about the outcome of the recent elections, we all should question what is going on when it comes to the media and “the experts” who proudly boast they know the truth because they have the data.

In these cases, their feet were firmly planted in the air.

innovation

Does Your Culture Embrace Innovation?

Why does it matter whether your organization embraces innovation by design? We are at the beginning of an era where the confluence of increasingly powerful computing capability, ease of starting a tech-intensive firm and massive data in a deeply networked world will drive more innovation more broadly than ever before. The rate of change and, indeed, the speed with which new incumbents enter markets and existing players fail will only increase. This means innovation must become part of a company’s fabric and its culture to ensure success.

Looking over the past 20 years to gain a better view of the next 20 years, there are three things that stand out, are surprising and are instructive.

  1. Science, geo-politics, sports, weather, information technology and cyber are all areas full of events that, a year or two before the “event,” prominent insiders would have said were not in the realm of possibility—they were not just unlikely but impossible, if not loony.
  2. While impressive, the huge growth and acceleration we have seen in information technology, social media, mobile, big data, several areas of science and cyber all exhibit patterns of the beginning of something—not a pattern of stability, maturation or, even, peaking. The amount of data, the amount of IP-enabled nodes and the throughput cost of computing could all scale 100 – 500 times in the next decade, making today just the beginning of a hockey-stick-like curve.
  3. The simple truth, threat and opportunity is that the rate of change is increasing across all areas of life while the scale of change is expanding.

What does all that mean? One thing is certain: Being agile is not enough. Those who effectively embrace innovation at an organizational (if not cultural) level will fare better than those who do not. Indeed, if this is the beginning of accelerating rates of change with massive outlier impacts, then driving innovation pragmatically across an organization is imperative.

See Also: Innovation Trends in 2016

If, from the top, the mission for everyone in an organization includes being innovative, this can become part of the fabric, the culture of the organization. Businesses that effectively embrace innovation at a cultural level will fare better than those that do not.

Still, there is a massive amount of fog surrounding the word “culture.” I often hear it is the insurmountable obstacle to innovation at scale and pace.

One Fortune 500 Example: Motorola

In the early 2000s, I was an officer with tech and business responsibilities at Motorola. The culture was largely internally focused, obsessed with continuous (often marginal) improvements, in love with engineering and intellectual property (IP) filings and not necessarily the monetization of IP. It was a family-oriented culture with, literally, generations of the family working at the firm. But the firm was failing.

The board brought in a new CEO from Silicon Valley, and we changed the company culture radically in 18 months. We did six simple things, instigated and championed by the new CEO:

  1. Clearly communicated a broad new mission about being externally focused, fast-paced, innovative and customer-centric
  2. Set out the behaviors that we expected and that the company would reward, as well as behaviors we would punish
  3. Continually “sold” (over-communicated) the rationale of why we were changing
  4. Made sure rewards and punishments were publicly meted out to support the new direction
  5. Matched structure to mission and talent to task; (when the game changes from soccer to rugby, not all team members have a role despite prior excellent performance)
  6. Eliminated active objectors and passive resistors who simulated support but were not rowing the boat (a third of the top 120 executives changed in about 12 months, mostly for this reason)

Motorola changed its culture and performance radically in 18 months. We released the breakthrough RAZR phone, which became the best-selling phone of all time. IT, for example, became a platform for tech breakthroughs and even had a venture arm for emerging tech.

Unfortunately, shortly after that, Apple made a thing called the iPhone, we made some very bad leadership talent decisions and we backed hardware over software in our largest business unit.

No amount of motivation or positive innovation culture will save you from a bad strategy that is married to poor talent decisions in key posts, compounded by groundbreaking, world-class competition.

Cultural obstacles

A well-communicated mission, backed up by clarity on what garners rewards and punishments, is key. The rewards and punishments must be broadly, consistently and continuously meted out for the behaviors that merit them. This will drive the behaviors in the organization. Lots of organizations get the reward part generally right, but they fail miserably on the punishment side, then wonder why they have cultural obstacles.

Done properly, rewards and punishments drive the behaviors inside your organization. The sum of those behaviors is your culture. 

Tips for building an innovation culture

Innovation must be about both big and small innovation, not just breakthroughs. Almost all organizations have an untapped wealth of innovation they can access by just eliminating the longstanding negativity that confront the rank and file daily. The front-line person in accounts payable and customer service or the distribution center in Managua may have process ideas that are innovative and high-impact for the whole organization.

See Also: Tech Innovation Is No Longer Optional

The simple question, “What really dumb stuff do we do around here?” in the right penalty-free environment usually unleashes a torrent. But without a culture of innovation, small, incremental, continuous improvements lie dormant.

Idea platforms and innovation/suggestion processes are all well and fine, but they should live inside an innovation culture where everyone thinks it’s part of their individual mission, with the underpinning or institutional agility and continuous improvement that goes with it. Again, you are not asking each person to reinvent Google, Facebook or the low-cost Fusion; you are rewarding them for innovative improvements.

To keep up with the changing external environment, an organization must be adaptable, agile, great at managing change and effective at the necessary but mundane underlying program management. An organization must also be deeply externally aware and manage emerging potential challenges, opportunities and threat profiles as far in advance as possible. No culture can remain innovative if it is internally focused and not connected purposefully to the outside world.

One simple approach to help instantiate innovation is to use “HLI” and that modern cultural artifact PowerPoint to drive innovation into the bedrock of the culture. I did this at several firms where PowerPoint was closer to an addiction than a facet of the culture. Quite simply, I insisted every program update, every group or function presentation, start with HLI.

  • H = Highlights: Show highlights of what the team did well. The real objective is to say “thanks” and acknowledge a mini win. Over time, teams start to think in terms of what they can put under ‘H’ on the front page. Accomplishment and recognition of accomplishment are necessary for a motivated environment.
  • L = Lowlights: Here you want to see some stretch, some failure. But, most of all, you want to see some learning and experimenting. By reviewing this without beating anyone up—maybe even praising the effort—you eliminate the fear. The message quickly goes through the organization that no one got killed for stretching or trying harder and occasionally dropping the ball. This also helps kill one of the most anti-innovation elements in business, the “under promise, over deliver” malaise.
  • I = Innovation: This is simply asking what you tried that was new, what you grabbed from phase two and did in phase one, what serial process you made parallel, what new method or tool you used, what you borrowed from prior efforts, etc.

If anyone shows up with a presentation that doesn’t lead with HLI, you politely cancel the meeting and get them to come back later. Over time, this creates activity inside teams so they can fill in the three sections. Teams start to have early conversations about how they are going to innovate, stretch and learn.

Innovation at scale requires change management 

There are many stories about the initial excitement of going big on innovation that are then followed by failure and disillusionment because the leadership attention waned as the novelty of the program passed and the hard work of change management, scaling and maintaining ensued.

I cannot talk about creating a culture of innovation without also teaching which change management models work best. It sounds obvious to say driving a culture of innovation is change-intensive, yet I almost never see a decent understanding of change management models and which one is most effective.

There are four basic management models:

  1. Edict
  2. Persuasion
  3. Participation (the communities of interest help define the change)
  4. Intervention (the sponsor justifies the need for change, monitors the process and communicates progress)

The change management model that has the highest frequency of success is intervention. It is at least twice as effective as the next-best model. It requires active leadership to continually “sell” the vision or plan, even while executing it. Understanding how that works and making sure everyone understands and follows the changed playbook are topics for a later article.

Suffice it to say, if you were to map the change processes at most firms, they often resemble spaghetti–an inefficient, unintended, sub-optimized maze. The majority of large tech-intensive programs are late, over budget, deliver less than promised or all of the above. Most companies have never mapped their processes and assume all is well.

Bottom line

Creating a culture of innovation inside a supporting ecosystem with a modicum of useful tools and the right leadership can lead to great success. Innovation is a pragmatic, broad-based journey, not a fad-centric exercise. Done well, innovation is the key to being effectively agile, and it is a concrete force multiplier. It very well may be the only sustainable competitive advantage over the next decade.

Do you have a culture that can innovate broadly, or do you have a silo-ed innovation team or champion or campaign?