April 29, 2012

Innovate out of problems

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Sustainability — by xrematon @ 8:23 pm
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I’ve been doing some research on different corporates and the one that intrigued me most was Nike. I must confess I have become a bit of a fan as a result. In reading about their recent product launches, I came across Flyknit technology which produces a ‘shoe-cum-sock’. The trainer is made with the bare minimum amount of material and seems to be mostly woven to create an upper part of the shoe which is virtually seamless.

Nike’s trying to recreate the sensation of running with no shoe at all – but this is no emperor’s new clothes. There are several reasons why Flyknit  should mean gold stars for Nike.

  1. The resulting trainer is lighter – it weighs 160g which is about the same as a large apple. Being lighter has many advantages – not simply for the runner:  it means it costs less to transport; and that it using less material.
  2. It requires only two pieces to be sown, compared to the 38 for another popular model (the Air Pegasus 28). This means it takes less time to make and requires less labour.
  3. The knock-on of the point 2 is that the human effort required to create the shoe has been considerably reduced – so much so that Nike could make the shoe anywhere in the world rather than having to go to places where labour rates are cheap. With one innovative swoosh it could do away with that reliance on factories which have been such a thorn in its side for a long time.

But it does make me wonder – what will those workers in the factories that are no longer sewing Nike trainers do instead? It comes back to that old conundrum – is a bad job better than no job at all? Time for more innovation…

April 15, 2012

Are you part of a stir-fry, marinade or just stewing?

Filed under: Business,Coaching,Futures — by xrematon @ 8:40 pm
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Which competitive advantages have staying power? What skills matter most? How can you weigh up risk and opportunity when the fundamentals of your business may change overnight?

These questions appear in a recent Fast Company article about Generation Flux – ‘The Pioneers Of The New (And Chaotic) Frontier Of Business’. The piece includes snapshot of individuals who fit the this pioneer profile – people such as DJ Patil, 37 who has been all of the following: researcher at Los Alamos; Defense Department fellow; virtual librarian for Iraq; web-security architect for eBay; head of data team at LinkedIn, where his team created People You May Know.

The article then goes on to tell us:

Nuke Nostalgia. If ambiguity is high and adaptability is required, then you simply can’t afford to be sentimental about the past. Future-focus is a signature trait of Generation Flux. It is also an imperative for businesses: Trying to replicate what worked yesterday only leaves you vulnerable.

As someone who worked for the same company for ten years, I must confess I am feeling a little vulnerable. And I am not so keen on this emphasis on constant flitting between jobs – another way of describing this flexibility is to say that it provides only a shallow understanding of what a position requires. And what about the time it takes to build trust between teams?

Though it is undeniable the Pioneers in the article are very talented and high achieving, it is possible to find other models of success. They are based on people who have worked at the same company for years, slowly but surely working their way up to get to grips what the place where they work is really about. An obvious example is Terry Leahy, who joined Tesco in 1979 and spent 14 years as chief executive. In Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’, it is leaders who manifest personal humility and who understand their success is contingent on the many but minor accomplishments of others that build companies with the best financial performances.

To take a culinary metaphor, I am thinking of a marinade – a chance to soak up the culture and values of a place. The Pioneer model is more akin to stir-fry  – throwing different people and skills together to create something fresh and different. To be fair, there is a risk inherent in the ‘stuck it and stay’ approach – namely that the employee does not marinade but stews, becoming soggy and without ‘spark as a result.

There is a third way which takes something from both. It’s when people stay within the same company but change roles. It’s something that happened at Nike during Phil Knight’s reign as CEO – apparently he liked to shuffle people around, keeping them on their toes.

As Knight moved executives here and there, someone who was a boss one day could find himself a subordinate to his former charges the next. Rotating titles meant there might be half-a-dozen people in the company who had served in any one position, giving them license to critique the performance of the newcomer. In this setup employees learn quickly that the only way to get things done is to come up with ideas and build alliances. Brashly making demands won’t get you far.

And what of the freelancer – well – I think they are more like an ingredient which is added in and needs to work well in any corporate cuisine – versatility will be critical. Sorry – the first thing that comes to mind is Quorn, which as the website itself says, is ‘many things to many people’.

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