Tag Archives: disruptive innovation

Is Google Failing Too Often?

I think Google is extremely successful, but they do seem to consistently have problems adding to their portfolio. They did a great job with gmail. Android has been very successful. Google Maps is great. They did well building YouTube. Chrome is very nice. Automatic translation is very nice (as is the integration with Chrome).

But so many things just don’t go anywhere. I can’t understand why they can’t take something like Google checkout and make it much more successful (there is money even Google cares about waiting for success in this area). Grand Central was great – Google Voice has not built that the way I would hope. Google has an endless stream of very small companies they buy and then the service dies.

It has been long enough now that I am starting to feel more comfortable saying Google is not doing a good job of creating and building new products. There are a few successes. And having failures isn’t a huge deal – taking risks is wise. But they just seem to be succeeding far to little, especially when you look at the talent and resources they have. Of course, some will say the resources they have is a problem. I really think it is more along the lines I see you mentioning above – they have become too rigid in development. I actually support more standardization than maybe people want (there can be big benefits) but I believe you need to then allow for exceptions. It seems to me Google doesn’t allow enough. It is tempting for managers to want to duplicate the same style that has made adwords and search successful. That might not be the answer for every project though.

They also seem to be driving away to many people with a rigid adherence to proving every little thing. Now I think some of this is a significant part of Google’s success. The trick is not to throw out all such efforts, but to find ways to gain the benefits without crushing innovative people’s will to continue.

I continue to own stock in Google and believe the future is very promising. Google does far more right than they do wrong, but they have room to improve.

Related: Why Google can’t build InstagramObservations of a New GooglerGreat Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationGoogle: Ten Golden RulesEric Schmidt on Management at Google
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Frugal Innovation

First break all the rules

The device is a masterpiece of simplification. The multiple buttons on conventional ECGs have been reduced to just four. The bulky printer has been replaced by one of those tiny gadgets used in portable ticket machines. The whole thing is small enough to fit into a small backpack and can run on batteries as well as on the mains. This miracle of compression sells for $800, instead of $2,000 for a conventional ECG

Frugal products need to be tough and easy to use. Nokia’s cheapest mobile handsets come equipped with flashlights (because of frequent power cuts), multiple phone books (because they often have several different users), rubberised key pads and menus in several different languages. Frugal does not mean second-rate.

The article goes on to talk about several methods for how to profit from reducing costs which seem misguided. Frugal innovation is about thinking about meeting the needs of huge numbers of customers that can’t afford conventional solutions. By talking a new look at the situation and attempting to find solutions with significant price constraints new markets can be opened. Often this requires thinking similar to disruptive innovation (products that serve a similar need but less completely than current options).

It also requires the engineering principles of appropriate technology. I highlight this thinking in my Curious Cat Engineering blog and find it very worthwhile. For organizations that have a true mission to serve some purpose using such thinking allows a greatly expanded potential market in which to make a difference in the world.

There is a great quote from Jeff Bezos that captures one reason why organizations so often fail to address frugal innovation: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less.” Many organizations are focused on trying to charge more, not less. Another problem is that decision makers often have no life experience with cheap solutions – this doesn’t prevent frugal innovation but it does make them less likely to see the need and to decide to solve those customer needs.

Related: Appropriate ManagementManaging InnovationProcess Improvement and Innovation

Applying Disruptive Thinking to the Healthcare Crisis

Update: Sadly MIT delete the video. It is a shame educational institutions lose interest in knowledge just a couple years later. Thankfully we didn’t have to rely on the people deleting web content at universities to keep all the historical content we have in books from hundreds of years ago. I think it is a huge lose to what the mission of these schools should be but that attitude doesn’t seem to be shared by the schools.

The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution to the Healthcare Crisis:

Christensen spies symptoms of such disruptions bubbling up in the healthcare industry, such as molecular diagnostics, imaging technologies and high bandwidth telecom, and business model innovations. Integrated health systems like Kaiser Permanente have a leg up in deploying and optimizing these disruptive technologies.

The push for widespread healthcare reform must come from employers, who in spite of their declared intent to cut healthcare costs also know “they profit when their employees are healthy and productive.” Affordable healthcare, he concludes, “doesn’t come by expecting high end, expensive institutions or expensive caregivers to become cheap, but by bringing technology to lower cost providers and venues of care, so they can become more capable.”

Clayton Christensen is the rare management thinker that I feel real provides profound insights into thinking about management. There are many other good management thinkers that offer valuable idea, just most of them (in my opinion) really are presenting material in ways that offer managers a good way to take action on all the long known good management ideas that we fail to adopt successful for decades.
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Disruptive Innovation Example: Eliminate Your Phone Bill

Clayton Christensen’s ideas on disruptive innovation are very powerful. I have written about Innovation Thinking with Clayton Christensen previously. Here is an example of such innovation. All you need is a broadband internet connection and you can Kiss your phone bill good-bye:

The Ooma service uses so-called Voice over Internet Protocol (or VOIP) technology to deliver calls to your existing phone using a broadband connection. Consumers need only to buy a $249 Ooma Hub (it was a hefty $399 when the service launched last year); all domestic calls are free. (Ooma charges a few pennies a minute for international calls to landlines and 20 to 30 cents a minute for overseas calls to mobile phones. Calls from Ooma box to Ooma box are free.)

Replacing your phone service is, of course, just the start for Ooma. In some ways, calling is the Trojan horse to get the box in your house and then figure out other services to sell, like enhanced network security or kid-safe Web surfing.

I ordered mine from Amazon for $203 and have been using it for a month, it has been great. Relatively easy to setup (they had a pretty good customer survey and I recommended they use colored cables – they color cables in the drawings in the users guide but give you 3 white cable to use – they are different types of cables so it isn’t tough to figure out but that would make it a bit easier).

I have been using Vonage for awhile and it is ok, but I don’t see any reason to pay each month when Ooma doesn’t charge a monthly fee (even on the lowest option on Vonage the bill is over $22/month). When I tried to cancel Vonage they refuse to allow it through the web site. Then forced me through voice mail maze only to then say we only answer the phone for you between 9-5 EST on workdays (that is about 75% of the time they are unavailable). I called back a week later, when I got a chance and they forced me through 10 minutes of wasted time but at lest I was able to get it canceled – once they refused to allow cancellation over the web site I was worried the customer disservice would be greater than it was.

Related: Six Keys to Building New Markets by Unleashing Disruptive InnovationSave Money on FoodThe Innovators Solution by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor – Using Google to Eliminate IT Costs

Amazon S3 Failure Analysis

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) is a service providing web hosting. The cloud computing solution has been used by many organizations successfully. However the solution has experienced some problems including failing for much of the day on July 20th.

Amazon S3 Availability Event

We’ve now determined that message corruption was the cause of the server-to-server communication problems. More specifically, we found that there were a handful of messages on Sunday morning that had a single bit corrupted such that the message was still intelligible, but the system state information was incorrect. We use MD5 checksums throughout the system, for example, to prevent, detect, and recover from corruption that can occur during receipt, storage, and retrieval of customers’ objects. However, we didn’t have the same protection in place to detect whether this particular internal state information had been corrupted. As a result, when the corruption occurred, we didn’t detect it and it spread throughout the system causing the symptoms described above. We hadn’t encountered server-to-server communication issues of this scale before and, as a result, it took some time during the event to diagnose and recover from it.

During our post-mortem analysis we’ve spent quite a bit of time evaluating what happened, how quickly we were able to respond and recover, and what we could do to prevent other unusual circumstances like this from having system-wide impacts. Here are the actions that we’re taking: (a) we’ve deployed several changes to Amazon S3 that significantly reduce the amount of time required to completely restore system-wide state and restart customer request processing; (b) we’ve deployed a change to how Amazon S3 gossips about failed servers that reduces the amount of gossip and helps prevent the behavior we experienced on Sunday; (c) we’ve added additional monitoring and alarming of gossip rates and failures; and, (d) we’re adding checksums to proactively detect corruption of system state messages so we can log any such messages and then reject them.

Finally, we want you to know that we are passionate about providing the best storage service at the best price so that you can spend more time thinking about your business rather than having to focus on building scalable, reliable infrastructure. Though we’re proud of our operational performance in operating Amazon S3 for almost 2.5 years, we know that any downtime is unacceptable and we won’t be satisfied until performance is statistically indistinguishable from perfect.

The failure was significant but in my view the advantages of Amazon S3 are still very significant. A huge advantage is how quickly you can scale if needed be. If your application is not hosted on Amazon S3 and it grows enormously you have to physically deal with buying servers, installing them, installing software… All this takes time. On Amazon S3 when you need the bandwidth you can get it, when you don’t need it you don’t have it sitting around unused. In that way it is very lean, it seems to me.

And while server infrastructure failures are bad, for most organizations the option is not Amazon S3 or some solution that is 100% reliable. Currently it is difficult to keep IT infrastructures online and operating and coping with shifting demand… For many situations Amazon S3 seems to be a great resource. They need to keep improving; and they seem to be doing so. Being open and honest about the challenges is a good sign. And improving the system, not blaming a person is another good sign.

Related: Bezos on the Internet BoomAmazon’s Amazing AchievementBezos on Lean ThinkingCERN Pressure Test Failure12 Stocks for 10 Years Update (June 2008), Amazon is up 116% in the portfolio since 2005, just behind Google and ahead of Petro China

Some Good IT Business Ideas

Paul Graham has some excellent ideas. I have written about some of them previously: Innovation Strategy, What Business Can Learn from Open Source and Google and Paul Graham’s Latest Essay. Y Combinator, which he founded, provides seed funding. Here are some ideas they would like to fund:

Outsourced IT. In most companies the IT department is an expensive bottleneck. Getting them to make you a simple web form could take months. Enter Wufoo. Now if the marketing department wants to put a form on the web, they can do it themselves in 5 minutes. You can take practically anything users still depend on IT departments for and base a startup on it, and you will have the enormous force of their present dissatisfaction pushing you forward.

Online learning. US schools are often bad. A lot of parents realize it, and would be interested in ways for their kids to learn more. Till recently, schools, like newspapers, had geographical monopolies. But the web changes that. How can you teach kids now that you can reach them through the web? The possible answers are a lot more interesting than just putting books online.

Off the shelf security. Services like ADT charge a fortune. Now that houses and their owners are both connected to networks practically all the time, a startup could stitch together alternatives out of cheap, existing hardware and services.

Related: Our Policy is to Stick Our Heads in the SandFind Joy and Success in BusinessInnovative Thinking from Clayton Christensen

Using Google to Eliminate Some IT Costs

Computer Science 101: A Case Study In Google Applications:

Sannier plans to shut down the university’s own e-mail servers later this spring. When that happens, thousands more will move over. The portal provides access to other functions of Google Apps, including calendar (which users can now share online, something they couldn’t do before), instant messaging, and search. Within the next two months, Sannier expects to offer personalized home pages and Google’s Docs & Spreadsheets applications combo.

The cost to ASU: zero. The university had been spending a half-million dollars a year on servers and storage for its open source e-mail system, including administrative support costs. More important is the faster pace of innovation. “Now we’re on Google’s development curve, not ours,” Sannier says.

Google’s efforts with Google Apps have fairly quietly become quite significant. I find gmail excellent (and Google talk and Google calendar are good but hopefully will be improved significantly). I must say I find Open Office very good and so don’t quite see the value in Google docs but maybe I am missing something (for those few documents that benefit from collaboration Google’s model sounds interesting – though a wiki seem like the best option in that case). Seems very possible Google Apps are an example of Clayton Christensen’s concept of disruptive innovation.

Six Keys to Building New Markets by Unleashing Disruptive Innovation

Six Keys to Building New Markets by Unleashing Disruptive Innovation by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor, and Scott D. Anthony in Harvard Management Update:

Companies have two basic options when they seek to build new-growth businesses. They can try to take an existing market from an entrenched competitor with sustaining innovations. Or they can try to take on a competitor with disruptive innovations that either create new markets or take root among an incumbent’s worst customers. Our research overwhelmingly suggests that companies should seek out growth based on disruption.

Clayton Christensen has put forth this position in several of his books including the Innovator’s Solution.
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