Kodak Tries to Survive Creative Destruction

   A Kodak digital production printer.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

Digital photography replacing film technology is an example of Schumpeter’s process of creative destruction, and maybe also of the gradual growth of a disruptive technology.  Leading incumbent firms frequently have trouble prospering, or even surviving, during such a change.  Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times had articles on the latest news from Kodak.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times version:  

 

On Tuesday, as the Eastman Kodak Company unveiled its long-anticipated consumer inkjet printer in New York, the mood at the company’s Rochester headquarters could not have been more positive.

“People know we are back on the offensive,” said Frank Sklarsky, Kodak’s chief financial officer.  “And that’s making them a lot more charged up about coming to work.”

But yesterday, Kodak gave them reason again to feel depressed.  The company said it would cut 3,000 more jobs this year, on top of the 25,000 to 27,000 it had already said would be gone by the end of 2007.  At that rate, Kodak will end the year with about 30,000 employees, half the number of just three years ago and a fraction of the 145,000 people it employed in 1988, when its brand was synonymous with photography.

Kodak executives insist that the new cuts do not indicate any snags in the continuing struggle to transform itself from a film-based company into a major competitor in digital imagery.  And analysts, too, say the cuts are inevitable, and probably healthy.

 

For the full NYT story, see: 

CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH.  "Shrinking Pains at Kodak."  The New York Times   (Fri., February 9, 2007): C1 & C4.

 

For the related WSJ story, see: 

WILLIAM M. BULKELEY and ANGELA PRUITT.  "Kodak Sees More Job Cuts, Higher Restructuring Costs."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., February 9, 2007):  B4.

 

 

 KodakJobsBarGraph.gif KodakJobsGraph.gif PrinterMarketSharePieChart.gif   Source of the first and third graphic:  the WSJ article cited above.  Source of the second graphic:  the NYT article cited above.

 

“Good to Great” is Good, but Not Quite Great

  Source of book image:  http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/7770000/7775266.jpg

 

When Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts spoke to my Executive MBA class a few years ago, I mentioned to him that I had heard from Bob Slezak that Ricketts was a fan of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma.  Ricketts said that was true, but that the recent business book that he was most enthused about was Jim Collin’s Good to Great.

Ricketts is not alone.  Good to Great has become a business classic since it came out.  Recently I finally got around to reading it.

Well, I think it’s good, but not quite great.  I like the empirical, inductive methodology mapped out at the beginning.  And some of the conclusions ring true.  For example the importance of facing the "brutal facts."  And the importance of developing a thought-out "hedgehog" concept.  And the importance of getting the right people on the bus.  And the importance of slowly, consistently building momentum.

But I’ve got some big bones to pick, too. 

Maybe the biggest "bone" is Collins’ assumption that our goal should be the survival and greatness of a firm.  Instead of almost viewing firms as ends in themselves, why can’t we view firms as vehicles for getting great things done? 

Maybe great things can be done through firms that last and are lastingly great.  Or maybe great things can be done by shooting star firms, that are glorious while they last, but don’t last long.  Collins says it must be the former.  But either way works for me.

A smaller "bone" is the conclusion that "level 5" leaders tend to be modest.  Well maybe.  But some of that conclusion is derived from Collins’ defining "great" in terms of high growth of stock value.  A modest leader will be unappreciated by Wall Street, and her company’s stock value will show higher growth when she succeeds.  But has she thereby accomplished more than if she had built exactly the same company, but been more transparent and enthused about the company’s future prospects, and hence generated more realistic expectations from Wall Street?  Remember, the value of a stock grows, not by the company doing well, but by it doing better than investors expected.  (On this issue, Collins should read the first couple of chapters of Christensen and Raynor’s The Innovator’s Solution.)

But don’t get me wrong:  this is a very good book.  Those interested in how the capitalist system works, should read it, as should those who want to manage well.

 

The book is:

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. And Others Don’t. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.

 

Risk Diversification Only Works If Risks are Random

RiskIntelligenceBK.jpg   Source of book image:   http://www.inbubblewrap.com/2006/08/should_i_do_it_should_i.php

 

According to Mr. Apgar, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board and a former McKinsey consultant, the problem is that our traditional tool set deals only with random risk.  Equity prices, interest rates, natural catastrophes — all operate, more or less, as perfect markets, distributing risk with equal probability among all the players.  No one consistently knows more about what drives these phenomena than anyone else.  We can bear or hedge these risks in the secure sense that competitors don’t have an inside lead on the future.

. . .

In real business, though, many of the risks that can potentially wipe us out are non-random — what Mr. Apgar calls "learnable risks" — involving customers, technologies, marketing strategies, supplier relationships and so on.  The challenge is not just to learn, quickly, enough about them to survive but to determine whether someone else can learn about them even faster and thus put us out of business.

. . .

. . .   Mr. Apgar also explains how to perform a "risk audit," judging a company’s current projects by how they diversify total risk or demonstrate risk intelligence.  Here is where his program differs most widely from conventional wisdom — because, as he notes, risk diversification is no virtue if the risks are non-random and we have little intelligence of any of them.  If you don’t know much about poisonous snakes, keeping several different species won’t make you any safer.

Like liberty, risk intelligence demands eternal vigilance — and for the same reason:  threats evolve.  Mr. Apgar’s analysis of the life cycle of a business risk is particularly fruitful.  He notes that a successful company needs to maintain a risk pipeline, constantly probing into areas where it has higher risk intelligence and opportunities for real diversification — just as technology and pharmaceutical companies need a proportion of blue-sky research to innovate into the future.

 

For the full review, see: 

MICHAEL KAPLAN.  "BOOKS; The Hazards of Fortune."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., December 8, 2006):  W6.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 

Evan Williams Spurns Bad Money

   Evan Williams (on left) with Noah Glass, co-founded Odeo.  Source of photo:  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/25/technology/25podcast.html?ex=1267419600&en=b80f1d3808f556cc&ei=5088

 

Evan Williams’ story illustrates Christensen and Raynor’s advice that disruptive innovators need to seek good money, and spurn bad money.  Good money is patient for growth, but impatient for profit.  Bad money is the opposite. 

 

EVAN WILLIAMS recently bought his freedom.  It cost him a bit more than $2 million, and he says it was worth every penny.

I’m not talking about paying off a big debt to one of Tony Soprano’s loan-shark underlings.  Mr. Williams is a serial entrepreneur, one of those Silicon Valley characters who start company after company.  And he purchased his freedom from the venture capitalists and others who financed his company, Odeo.  Mr. Williams dug into his pockets and gave them back their money.  He got to keep his struggling podcast company and renamed it the Obvious Corporation.

In the process, Mr. Williams, who is 34, has become something of a cause célèbre among a small group of mostly young entrepreneurs who seem determined to turn their back on venture capitalists.  They say they yearn for a new entrepreneurship model.  They talk about building ”sustainable companies” suggesting something idealistic in their quest.  With comments on blogs urging Mr. Williams to ”keep up the goodness,” it feels a bit like the birth of a mini-movement in the Valley.

. . .

In candid posts on his blog, Mr. Williams chronicled Odeo’s story, warts and all. He admitted to making mistakes.  Getting too much venture money too early was one of them.  It made it harder to persuade the board and the company’s 14 employees to change course when, for example, Apple Computer introduced a competing product that cut into Odeo’s prospects.  ”It’s a bigger ship to turn,” Mr. Williams said.

 

For the full story, see: 

MIGUEL HELFT.  "STREET SCENE: VC NATION; Yearning for Freedom From Venture Capital Overlords."   The New York Times  (Fri., November 24, 2006):  C5.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The reference for the Christensen and Raynor book is:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

 

Silicon Graphics’ Jim Clark Understood Disruptive Innovation

There’s a great passage in The New, New Thing about Jim Clark trying to convince Silicon Graphics to produce a PC.  Clark talks about how hard it is for a company to create a product that competes with itself. 

Shades of Clayton Christensen:

 

Clark thought that Silicon Graphics had to "cannibalize" itself.  For a technology company to succeed, he argued, it needed always to be looking to destroy itself.  If it didn’t, someone else would.  "It’s the hardest thing in business to do," he would say.  "Even creating a lower-cost product runs against the grain, because the low-cost products undercut the high-cost, more profitable products."  Everyone in a successful company, from the CEO on down, has a stake in whatever the company is currently selling.  It does not naturally occur to anyone to find a way to undermine that creative destruction, and he was prepared to do the deed.  He wanted Silicon Graphics to operate in the same self-corrosive spirit.  (p. 66 of hb edition)

 

The reference to The New, New Thing is:

Lewis, Michael. The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.

Christensen’s most important book is:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

Is Variety Good?

Chris Anderson has a stimulating and useful chapter in The Long Tail on why having variety and choice is good.

Not all agree.  My old Wabash economics professor, Ben Rogge, with wry amusement, used to refer us to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock.  Toffler’s view was that choice was stressful—visualize the Robin Williams’ Russian émigré character in "Moscow on the Hudson," when he collapses in panic on not knowing how to choose amongst the variety of coffees in the Manhattan supermarket aisle.

What amused Rogge was the contrast between the old critics of capitalism, who criticized capitalism for providing too few goods for the proletariat, and the new critics, like Toffler, who criticized capitalism for providing too many goods for the proletariat. 

Although Toffler has recanted his earlier views, others, such as Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, have picked up the anti-choice banner.

Here’s my current two cents worth.  Sometimes we value variety for its own sake, and sometimes not.  I may find the variety of ethnic restaurants exciting, but not the variety of music on I-tunes.

But even when I don’t value variety for its own sake, I still may value it because it increases the odds that the product I can find matches the product I want.  Let me explain.

In the language of Clayton Christensen and co-author Raynor, in The Innovator’s Solution, generally what I want is a good that does well, a "job" that I want or need to get done.

Some critics of mass production descried the loss of the variety of products produced by pre-industrial craftsmen.  But what good did it do the peasants that no two chairs were quite alike, if all of them were too hard and misshapen for the job of comfortably sitting in them?

Mass production reduced variety, but increased quality, in the sense of bringing (cheaply) to market, products that were far better at doing the jobs that most people wanted/needed to get done. 

If the modern varieties of chairs are a response to differences in the jobs that different consumers need to get done, then I might generally, and accurately, presume that variety is usually good, not because I want to constantly sample a lot of different chairs (like I want to sample a lot of different ethnic foods), but rather because variety increases the odds that I will find the one or two particular chairs that allow me to do the job that I want a chair to do for me.  

Specifically, recently, we were looking for a chair that was firm, spill-resistant, would swivel to allow talking to someone in the kitchen, would recline for watching television, would be dog-chew resistant, and would have a color/fabric complementary to the rest of the furniture.  We shopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is the largest furniture store in the U.S., with the greatest selection, because we hoped to find the one chair that would do all of these jobs.

We came close, but I wish there was a store with even greater selection.

   

The Missing Pillow: A Lack of Incentives Leaves an Obvious ‘Job’ Undone


In late July, I had an appointment for a treadmill stress-test at Omaha’s Methodist Hospital.  They told me the process would be over in an hour, but it took about two hours, due to another patient having some sort of crisis during their stress-test. 

They had me put on a gown, they stuck an I-V "dye" drip in back of my hand, and they pasted about six electrodes to my chest, after shaving and applying something like sand paper to the parts of the chest where the electrodes were attached.  Then they had me lie on my side on a hard table, to wait.  It was very uncomfortable.  The first nurse said that there was supposed to be a pillow on the table, but did nothing to obtain one.  Every several minutes some technician or nurse would stop in to ask if I was ready for them.  (I was always ready.)  But it turned out that someone needed to do something to me first, and that person was, I guess, taking care of the crisis next door.  At least one of these visitors also mentioned that I was supposed to have a pillow, but did nothing to acquire one.  If memory serves, the first nurse came back in, and again mentioned that I was supposed to have a pillow, but again did nothing to obtain one.

These people were all pleasant and friendly.  For example, they had a lot of friendly chats amongst themselves, that I could not help but over-hear.  (One of them was pregnant with twins, but did not know the genders of the babes-to-be, and so had not yet spent the time to come up with names.)

But two hours later, when the whole process was over, I still did not have a pillow.

A week or two after the test, I received a several page survey from Methodist Hospital asking a bunch of questions about how I thought they had done during the test.  You see they really "care" about my opinion.  (They also run frequent, slick TV ads about how much they "care.")

Marketers, and management gurus, say that organizations need to invest in surveys and the like to figure out what the customer wants and needs.  And Clayton Christensen advocates spending resources to figure out what "job" the customer needs to have done.  And maybe, sometimes, it does take surveys and research.

But sometimes it is obvious that the customer needs a pillow.

What is missing is not a survey, or statistical analysis.

What is missing is the incentive for someone to go get the pillow. 

 

P.S.  You may wonder, then, if it is simply a mistake for the hospital to send out the survey?  I suspect that those who send out the survey are not making a mistake, but are trying to get a different job done than the one that appears to be intended.  It appears that they are trying to find out what customers want and need.  But maybe they already know that.  Maybe they are mainly sending out the survey so that if anyone asks if they are "customer-oriented" they can whip out the survey to prove that yes-indeed, they sure are.  In other words, the point of the survey is not to learn about customers; it is to cover rear-ends.


Sprint to Risk Billions on New Infrastructure

WiMaxSprintGraphic.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

If Sprint bets on WiFi, they’re betting with their money; if the government bets on WiFi, they’re betting with your money.  If Sprint succeeds, thereby benefiting the consumer, at no risk to the consumer, the consumer should not object to their earning huge profits.

Note also, that this is a plausble candidate for a firm trying to follow Clayton Christensen’s advice to try to disrupt itself.  (And see the comment at the end, for someone who hasn’t read Christensen, or doesn’t believe what he has read.)

 

Analysts say building a nationwide WiMax network could cost Sprint between $1 billion and $4 billion, a hefty sum for a company that is already struggling to meet Wall Street’s expectations.  Sprint said it expects to invest $1 billion on the project in 2007 and between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in 2008.

Sprint’s decision carries considerable risks:  Investors have hammered telecom companies that have made large capital investments in new technologies, banking on future markets to emerge.  For example, among other things, Verizon Communications Inc.’s stock has been under fire as the company is rolling out a costly new fiber optic network that it says will position the company to deliver a bundled TV, Internet, and phone service.  Also, WiMax technology is still untested on a large scale.

Sprint is making a huge bet that consumer demand for wireless Internet access and services such as cellphone downloads of music and video will continue to grow in the coming years.  Consumers already can get access to wireless Internet service at Wi-Fi "hotspots" in airports and coffee shops, and some cities, like Anaheim, Calif., are blanketing their terrain with Wi-Fi connections.

. . .

. . . , some analysts and industry experts question why the company is gearing up for such a major capital investment when it is already even or ahead the other top U.S. carriers, Verizon and Cingular Wireless, when it comes to data services. "Why compete against yourself? It doesn’t make a lot of sense at this point," said Mike Thelander, principal analyst at Signals Research Group who predicted several weeks ago that Sprint would choose WiMax.

 

For the full story, see:

AMOL SHARMA and DON CLARK.  "Sprint Bets on New Wireless ‘WiMax’."  Wall Street Journal  (Tues.,  August 8, 2006):  B1-B2.

(Note:  the above passages are from the online version, which was later, and less tentative about Sprint’s intentions, than the print version.) 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

Russians Try to Steal Rocker’s Vacuum Tube Factory

Mike Matthews holding one of the vacuum tubes produced in the Russian factory he owns.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  SARATOV, Russia — Mike Matthews, a sound-effects designer and one-time promoter of Jimi Hendrix, bought an unusual Russian factory making vacuum tubes for guitar amplifiers.  Now he has encountered a problem increasingly common here: someone is trying to steal his company.

Sharp-elbowed personalities in Russia’s business world are threatening this factory in a case that features accusations of bribery and dark hints of involvement by the agency that used to be the K.G.B.

Though similar to hundreds of such disputes across Russia, this one is resonating around the world, particularly in circles of musicians and fans of high-end audio equipment.

Russia is one of only three countries still making vacuum tubes for use in reproducing music, an aging technology that nonetheless "warms up" the sound of electronic music in audio equipment.

"It’s rock ‘n’ roll versus the mob," Mr. Matthews, 64, said in a telephone interview from New York, where he manages his business distributing the Russian vacuum tubes.  "I will not give in to racketeers."

Yet the hostile takeover under way here is not strictly mob-related.  It is a dispute peculiar to a country where property rights — whether for large oil companies, car dealerships or this midsize factory — seem always open to renegotiation.  It provides a view of the wobbly understanding of ownership that still prevails.

. . .

(p. C4)  If the tube factory dies, so will the future of a rock ‘n’ roll sound dating back half a century, the rich grumble of a guitar tube amplifier — think of Jimi Hendrix’s version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" — that musicians say cannot be replicated with modern technology.

"It’s nice and sweet and just pleasing sounding," Peter Stroud, the guitarist for Sheryl Crow, said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.  "It’s a smooth, crunchy distortion that just sounds good.  It just feels good to play on a tube amp."

He added:  "It would be a catastrophe for the music industry if something happened to that plant."

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "From Russia, With Dread; American Faces a Truly Hostile Takeover Attempt at His Factory."  The New York Times   (Tuesday, May 16, 2006):  C1 & C4.

 

The transistor disrupted the vacuum tube, a case that would usually be described as an episode of creative destruction.  One secondary lesson from the story above is that there may be a previously unremarked symmetry to the process of disruption.  A disruptive technology typically appeals only to a niche in the market, while the incumbent technology dominates the mainstream.  But after the disruptive technology improves sufficiently to capture much of the mainstream market, maybe there often will remain a niche market that still prefers the older disruptive technology?

To use Danny DeVito’s example in "Other People’s Money," the car may have disrupted horse-and-buggies.  But for some nostalgic "jobs" the horse-and-buggy may still be the better product, so there will likely remain some demand for buggy whips.

To the extent that this phenomenon is significant, it might serve to ease the labor market transition when one technology leapfrogs another.

 

VacuumTubeBox.jpg A vacuum tube used in guitar amplifiers, that was produced in the factory that Mike Matthews owned.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

Disruptive Innovation in Medicine

DoctorWaitingRoom.jpgSource of image:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114540135592529301.html?mod=home_personal_journal_middle

  

(p. D1) The dysfunctional doctor’s office is getting a makeover.

A growing number of programs around the country are helping doctors redesign their offices to wring more profit out of their practices and fix problems that have long frustrated patients: weeks-long delays to get appointments, hours in the waiting room, too-brief visits with the doctor, and the near impossibility of getting the physician on the phone.  While the goal is to improve care, the programs also aim to avert a looming shortage of primary-care doctors who are frustrated with low pay, long hours and rising overhead costs.

The new programs borrow lessons from other industries to help doctors work more efficiently, especially those in solo and small group practices who account for the majority of outpatient office visits.  One approach employs calculations used by airlines, hotels and restaurants to predict demand:  The idea is that doctors can cut patient waits much the way restaurant chains seat diners and turn over tables efficiently.  Others involve relatively simple changes, such as leaving afternoon appointments open for urgent visits, or having patients fill out paperwork ahead of time online.

Managed-care giant Kaiser Permanente is launching a program to help 12,000 doctors that contract with its health plan increase their efficiency with a new electronic-medical-records system.  Portland, Ore., physician Chuck Kilo, whose GreenField Health Systems helps restructure medical practices, and is assisting with the program, says that too many doctors’ appointments take up valuable office time with follow-up that could be accomplished with phone calls and email.

Other models involve more-radical change, such as one called "Ideal Micro Practice" that sharply reduces or even eliminates support staff.  With this blueprint, doctors rely on electronic health records and practice-management software to quickly dispense with administrative tasks.  And they may run their offices solo, greeting patients personally as they come in the door.

"The office practice hasn’t changed much in 50 years," says John Wasson, a Dartmouth Medical School professor and practice redesign expert who is helping to launch a national program to expand the Micro Practice concept.  "This is a disruptive innovation that can lead to increased quality and reduced costs."

 

For the full story, see: 

LAURA LANDRO. "Cutting Waits at the Doctor’s Office; New Programs Reorganize Practices to Be More Efficient; Applying ‘Queuing Theory’." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 19, 2006): D1 & D3.

  

  Source of graphic:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114540135592529301.html?mod=home_personal_journal_middle

 

 

Google Evolves

Gary Hamel has recently penned some thoughtful observations about what practices of Google have led to its success.  An excerpt from that analysis appears below.  (Hamel earlier wrote a popular book in which he makes extensive use of Schumpeter’s process of creative destruction.)

Only time will tell whether Google has succeeded in building an evolutionary advantage.  But consider:  Since it’s founding, it has repeatedly morphed its business model.  Google 1.0 was a search engine that crawled the Web but generated little revenue; which led to Google 2.0, a company that sold its search capacity to AOL/Netscape, Yahoo and other major portals; which gave way to Google 3.0, an Internet contrarian that rejected banner ads and instead sold simple text ads linked to search results; which spawned Google 4.0, an increasingly global entity that found a way to insert relevant ads into any and all Web content, dramatically enlarging the online ad business; which mutated into Google 5.0, an innovation factory that produces a torrent of new Web-based services, including Gmail, Google Desktop, and Google Base.  More than likely, 6.0 is around the corner.

Of course Google may ultimately fall victim to hubris and imperial overstretch as it takes on Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, the occasional telecom giant and pretty much everyone else in cyberspace.  Or like Microsoft, it may simply become like every other big company as it grows.  But that’s not the way I’d bet.  Google seems to have grasped the new century’s most important business lesson:  The capacity to evolve is the most important advantage of all.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Hamel, Gary.  "Management à la Google."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A16.

 

 

 

And here is the information on Hamel’s most recent book:

 

Hamel, Gary. Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life. Revised & Updated ed.  Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

 

 Source of image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EPFVBE/sr=8-1/qid=1146333251/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8