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Innovation is happening everywhere, and there’s a lot to admire about some of the insights behind these excellent ideas:

Palau:  Sharks, Better Alive than Dead
The southwestern Pacific nation of Palau consists of 250 islands, and is home to about 21,000 people.  Many sharks live there also, and in the past the sharks were killed and sold as a central element of the economy.  However, now that so many tourists come to view the 130 different shark species, the tourism industry has grown to about $120 million each year, about $6000 per citizen, which is also approximately 80% of the country’s total GDP.  In an interesting example of both logical and innovative thinking, scientists calculated that during its lifetime, a single shark is worth about $1.6 million in the local Palau economy.  If it is caught, however, it’s worth only about $100.  Consequently, Palau recently set up the world’s first shark sanctuary, banning shark fishing in an area the size of France.  Follow this very successful example, such sanctuaries are now common in the Western Pacific.

China:  15 Day, 30 Story Skyscraper in Hunan
An interesting example of innovative thinking from China is the construction of a 30-story hotel near Dongting Lake in Hunan Province, which was completed by Broad Group in 15 only days, and involved 200 workers.  To expedite the process, most of the building was prefabricated in factories and trucked to the site during construction.  The hotel was built to withstand a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, is engineered to provide very pure air, and is very well insulated to reduce energy consumption.  The rapid construction technique of assembly in the factory reduces waste and requires less energy.  The company expects to construct buildings like this all over China.  But why just China?  Indeed … (Also worth noting … when I first heard about this I was rather skeptical.  But the video is quite convincing…)

Brazil:  Innovation in Public Transit
The city of Curitiba, Brazil is known worldwide for its innovations in public transportation.  In the past, buses would move very slowly through the central part of the city because a very large number of people were getting on and off each bus, and each person had to pay the fare at the front of the bus.  To speed up the system, the city implemented miniature bus stops at many locations using simple, prefabricated structures.  Passengers pay the fare when the enter the mini-bus stops, and when their bus comes, double doors open at front and back of the bus so people can get on and off very quickly.  The city also implemented bus-only traffic lanes.  As a result, the average travel time for bus riders was reduced by nearly half, which improved the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people.  The city’s bus system includes 21 regional terminals, and seven transit hubs that connect many different types of transit systems together.  While the citizens of Curitiba on average own more cars than in similar cities in Brazil, car usage is about one-third lower than other cities because the public transit system is so effective.

Kenya:  Safer Bus Transportation
Speaking of public transit improvements, a simple approach to education has  proven effective in Kenya.  Citizens there rely on privately-operated buses to move between the countryside and the cities.  However,  drivers are often unsafe, and there are many deaths in traffic accidents.  In Nairobi, the government implemented a public awareness campaign using modern media tools such as cell phones and social media to encourage people to complain if the drivers were unsafe, and the success of this system led to a significant reduction in the number of accidents, injuries, and deaths.  Insurance claims declines by 50%, at a cost of less than $6 per year per life saved.  This proved to be a very clever and efficient use of innovation to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

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These are four among dozens of examples that we could cite.
So what should we say?
Simple.  Keep on innovating, world!

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108 mpg billboard

The acceleration of change and its impact on business and society is a theme that we touch on constantly here in this blog.  This post covers four recent events that individually and together reflect how various organizations are coping (or not) with the changing world, and how they apply innovation and creativity to sustain themselves in these very demanding times.

Sustaining the Catholic Church

In his December 21 address to the Vatican Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Catholic Church, Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for their work, their diligence, and their creativity. It is a bit unexpected for the Pope to speak of creativity, but it is certainly fitting with what we know of the world.  While it’s not a surprise to us that creativity is essential to the sustenance and indeed the survival of institutions large and small, it is notable to hear this from the Pope himself.

Sustaining the PC

In a September meeting with stock market analysts, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (who had already announced his forthcoming retirement in 2014) noted that one of the company’s goals is to ensure that the PC remains “the device of choice” for consumers.

It’s not surprising that Mr. Ballmer would say that, given that about 25% of Microsoft’s revenue comes from the Windows operating system.  It would be pretty bad PR, and perhaps even Wall Street suicide for Ballmer to admit that both the PC and Windows are dying, and since Ballmer himself owns 4% of the company’s stock, it would be a very expensive admission for him to make.

Nevertheless, PC shipments in 2013 were down about 10% compared with 2012, and with the growth of smartphone and tablet sales, it’s hard to see how the decline in PC sales could possibly turn around.  Microsoft made a tacit admission of this with the release of its Surface tablet device, but unfortunately the company was forced to write down $900 million of Surface inventory due to sales being drastically lower than expected.

All of this raises the interesting questions, Who made the sales forecast in the first place, and based on what data?  Forecasting the sales of a new product is indeed one of the most difficult tasks for an innovation manager to do, but missing by $900 million suggests that the innovation methodologies that Microsoft is using could stand a pretty thorough updating.

Innovation management must also concern itself with whatever lies beyond the PC, which is apparently not going to be the Surface device.  So where will Microsoft’s future revenues come from?  And where will it’s growth come from?  Whoever replaces Mr. Ballmer as CEO will have those questions front and center in their attention, and indeed the CEO search, now ongoing, is certainly focused on finding someone who can lead this effort with both credibility and confidence.  But there seem to be very few executives who are really qualified.

Sustaining Success in China

Speaking of problems in the tech industry, the links between the private sector and government are being ever more entangled in technology, as the following story reveals.  The $2 billion Louisiana Sheriffs’ Pension and Relief Fund filed suit in Manhattan federal court last week claiming that IBM defrauded investors by concealing a decline in its sales following the release by Edward Snowden of NSA surveillance information.

It seems that Snowden’s leaks revealed that IBM was providing surveillance information on its customers in China to the NSA, and as soon as this information was revealed publicly IBM’s sales in China dropped precipitously.  In Q3 2013, IBM total business in China declined by 22%, and its hardware business was off 44%.  IBM’s stock value declined by $12 billion when these sale figures were announced, and the lawsuit claims that IBM knew this would happen, but failed to disclose it.

Business leaders throughout the tech sector are expending a great deal of thought concerning their role in NSA spying, both on other nations and also on Americans, and there are no clear cut answers as to where their correct role and responsibility lies, and in figuring out how their choices will impact on their business prospects throughout the world.

Sustaining Competitive Advantage

In contrast to the party line reflected in Ballmer’s comment, Ford CFO Bob Shanks commented this month on the intense competition in the auto industry by saying that “You really can’t sustain any competitive advantage, ever.”

That is a refreshingly honest assessment of the auto industry, and indeed of just about every industry.  One of the few valid (and obvious) responses to these problems of increasing competition is an ongoing effort in innovation.  And Ford has recently announced two new electric cars that get the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon.  (A billboard ad for those cars is the photo at the top of this post.)

Interestingly, one of the few executives who may be qualified to lead Microsoft is Ford’s current CEO Allan Mulally.  Having brought Ford back from the brink of disaster since he took over in 2006, is he interested in a new challenge?  In a few months we’ll know if he gets the job, but it may take a few years before we know if he, or whoever actually is the next CEO of Microsoft, is up to the challenge of recreating a giant company in the face of accelerating change in one of the most difficult industries around, hi tech.

As these comments make very clear, innovation remain an issue for Microsoft, IBM, and Ford, and even the Catholic Church.  And it should be an area of focus for your company, as well.

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Warren Buffet’s Money Problems, and the Future of Energy

November 20, 2013

Warren Buffet has a money problem.  It’s not the sort of problem that an average person like you or I might have, but it is a problem nonetheless:  He has too much cash. Specifically, Mr. Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, is throwing off cash by the billions, and so he is obliged to find homes for […]

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Your Organization is at Risk

October 9, 2013

This is the first of a multi-part series on the trends creating significant impacts on society and creating a digital revolution which may turn out to be the ‘new industrial revolution.’ Every organization is at risk of not adapting to these trends as many industries are already being disrupted and key players are losing their foothold.

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A Great Learning Opportunity in London

September 9, 2013

Science, technology, and medicine are shaping our individual and collective futures.  So are cities, and robots, and data analytics.  So is your own creativity.  These are vitally important themes that are surely fascinating, and sometimes frightening as well.  They are frequent topics of this blog, and for good reason, as they are surely worth time […]

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A Visionary’s Despair Creates Hope for a Better Future

August 18, 2013

While many of us admire the unconventional thoughts and unexpected ideas created by innovative and visionary members of society, and sometimes we envy their great intellect or deep insights, the life of a visionary has its own particular difficulties and challenges.  The unique quality of a visionary is a clear grasp of the future, but […]

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