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Women @ Kimberly-Clark

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

kimberly-clark

Personally, I think the only thing dumber than expecting a twenty-something to design a product that resonates with Boomers (the people with money) is to have predominantly men leading, guiding and driving innovation for a corporation whose customer base is 83% female.

Yet, that is what was going on at Kimberly-Clark.

In fact, the situation was dire enough in 2009 that it even caught the eye of the board.

If they wanted to create better products targeted to female shoppers, executives realized, they had to transform into the kind of company that propelled women into higher positions instead of letting their careers stall.

With consultants’ assistance, the company did a wide-ranging survey of what was holding women back.

These ranged from concerns that promotions would lead to putting their families second to eradicating the “mommy track” stigma to the time to commute in China.

Kimberly has moved aggressively to address the roadblocks and has accomplished a great deal over the intervening five years.

By 2013, women at Kimberly-Clark made up 26% of the director-level or higher slots, up from 19% in 2009. Female representation on the board of directors also increased.

That was enough to win Catalyst Inc.’s top award for advancing women in the workplace.

Of course, the prime question is did it pay off in terms that Wall Street could understand?

At the end of 2009, the company’s stock price stood at $63.71. By the end of 2013, it had risen to $104.46.

‘Nuff said; money talks.

Flickr image credit: Kimberly-Clark

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A Dangerous Generational Split

Monday, March 24th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/6554314203/

Generational splits are nothing new; throughout time those under X have clashed with those over X.

While the typical under/over split is alive and well, there is a new dimension in the world of technology and it’s clearly on view in Silicon Valley.

In pursuing the latest and the coolest, young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, the products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests.

This is far more serious than differences in fashion and music; this split has serious implications for the economic future of our country. (Read the article; it’s important)

Building the latest, greatest app might make the creator rich, but even a few Google’s and Facebook’s aren’t going to do much to rebuild the middle class.

Doing that takes thousands of jobs at a multitude of skills and levels

The kind of jobs created by breakthrough technologies that create entire new industries as did semiconductors.

But that kind of innovation requires focus and time—not just a few months to a fast cash out and bragging rights.

So what’s the answer?

Somehow we need to find a way to make that kind of work cool.

Flickr image credit: opensourceway

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Entrepreneurs: David Fisher

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Architect David Fisher has a vision.

It’s an 80 story skyscraper to be built in Dubai.

Similar to the Suite Vollard completed in 2001 in Brazil, each floor will be able to rotate independently. This will result in a constantly changing shape of the tower. Each floor will rotate a maximum of 6 metres (20 ft) per minute, or one full rotation in 90 minutes.

It will be the world’s first prefabricated skyscraper with 40 factory-built modules for each floor. 90% of the tower will be built in a factory and shipped to the construction site. This will allow the entire building to be built in only 22 months. The core of the tower will be built at the construction site. Part of this prefabrication will be the decrease in cost and number of workers (90 at the work site and 600 in the factory instead of 2,000 needed). The total construction time will be over 30% less than a normal skyscraper of the same size. The majority of the workers will be in factories, where it will be much safer. The modules will be preinstalled including kitchen and bathroom fixtures. The core will serve each floor with a special, patented connection for clean water, based on technology used to refuel airplanes in mid-flight.

The entire tower will be powered from wind turbines and solar panels. Enough surplus electricity should be produced to power five other similar sized buildings in the vicinity. The turbines will be located between each of the rotating floors. They could generate up to 1,200,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. The solar panels will be located on the roof and the top of each floor. Wikipedia

It is beautiful; another home for the super-wealthy.

I don’t blame Fisher for focusing on that demographic, but look again at the stats.

It’s prefab, which means hundreds of decently paying factory jobs.

Prefab cuts building time by 30%.

The building will be self-sustaining both energy and water-wise.

Think what smaller versions, filled with non-luxury units, would mean to people who are homeless or living in primitive conditions.

Not fancy, but clean, light, safe and sustainable.

Now think about the amount of government and NGO money wasted across the globe sticking band-aids on the housing, clean water and energy problems that beset most of the world’s populations.

There is nothing wrong with innovation meant for the wealthy, but we need to remember that it can be re-imagined for the rest of us.

It just takes the interest and guts to do it.

YouTube credit: Design Magazine

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If the Shoe Fits: When is “Startup” and “Innovative Culture” an Oxymoron?

Friday, March 7th, 2014

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

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Two questions:

  1. Are you working to build a culture of innovation in your startup?
  2. Do you live the startup mindset of 100 hour weeks, all night hackathons, 24/7 availability and no time for vacations?

If you answered ‘yes’ to both you’re in trouble, because a yes to the second sooner or later will nullify the first.

According to Marc Barros, co-founder and former CEO of Contour, there are five actions you can take to avoid killing off your golden egg, i.e., your culture of innovation.

Here they are, with my caveats (follow the link to read the originals).

  1. Offer Unlimited Vacation: while this isn’t always possible, and may not even work, making sure your people, including founders, take real vacations, which means no email, texts or emergencies. They should last a minimum of three days, but a week is much better. And if having you/them gone for that time will really crash and burn the company you have bigger problems than you realize.
  2. Let Employees Work Remotely: in addition to working remotely physically whenever possible be sure to provide an environment that promotes mental remoteness. In other words, they don’t have to think/work/act like you to achieve the desired results.
  3. Ditch the Meetings: make sure that those you do have are short and productive.
  4. Nix Department Goals: goals at all levels—department, team, personal, should always focus on what needs to happen to achieve specific, major, annual company goals (never more than three).
  5. Give Plenty of Feedback: just don’t make giving constant feedback an excuse or cover for micromanaging.

One of the biggest actions that Barros doesn’t mention, but is implicit in what he does, is trust.

If bosses don’t believe that their people really do care that the company succeeds and trusts them to make it happen then they will be unable to implement any of this.

In the comments section, Mick Thornton, who worked at Safeco Insurance (definitely large and definitely old-line), talks about the success of the team he was on.

The biggest keys to success for our team was a manager that understood broad goals saying things like “Here’s what we want the end to look like, now go figure it out. Let me know if things start to slide or go south, otherwise work how you want to meet the deliverable.”

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Why Cisco is My Hero

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

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CEO John Chambers has been successfully reinventing Cisco Systems for 19 years, but his best innovation has a very low profile. In fact, this is the first time I’ve heard/read about it in the nine years it’s been around.

The unsung innovation is called TacOps and it’s actually a team of heroes.

TacOps is a combination of people and equipment that bring emergency communications to areas devastated by both natural and manmade disasters.

Cisco has a special team called Tactical Operations that swoops in after natural disasters to get Internet and telephone service back up, so that rescue workers can do their jobs.

TacOps first response was in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina and its most recent to Typhoon Haiyan.

The cost of both equipment and manpower is totally funded by Cisco.

Nor does the team wait until things settle down; rather they are there with the first responders in a crisis when working communications are so critical to saving lives.

And while these deployments may showcase its equipment in a positive way you can be sure that’s not the driving factor.

If it was, we all would have heard a lot more about it over the last nine years.

So hats off to Cisco; it sure would be nice if more companies emulated its efforts in their own way.

Image credit: Cisco TacOps

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If the Shoe Fits: Making Money

Friday, February 28th, 2014

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mCraig and Randy Rubin are married entrepreneurs who built a $50 million, 130-employee company that was acquired in January by Nanotex.

20 years ago they saw a giant, although relatively mundane, need that you probably remember complaining about (assuming you’re old enough).

It was almost impossible to have a decorative fabric that would stand up to the abuse of people coming to a restaurant and spilling on it. What was used was a vinylized fabric that would crack and peel.

Craig knew textiles and had an inventive streak, so he set out to solve the problem.

They patented their space-age material, called it Crypton (more on the name in a moment) — and their first customer was McDonald’s.

Randy Rubin summed up successful entrepreneurship this way,

“If you want to become an entrepreneur, make sure you have something that fills a need or solves a problem. Someone will always pay for something if it brings value.

Perhaps the reason so many Internet businesses are dependent on ads for all or most of their revenue is because it requires real value to charge for your product.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: When Less is More

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

kg_charles-harris

There is so much noise these days about how to build companies, especially in the technology industry.  Each time building companies is mentioned, venture capital figures prominently, and it seems as if it is impossible to create great companies without VCs.

I live in the greater Silicon Valley and am an entrepreneur who has started several companies, some successful.  I started my first company while living in Scandinavia, together with a friend from graduate school and a work-mate of his.  After the introduction and decision to start the company, we very quickly got down to starting to architect the product – a phase that I had very little understanding of as I wasn’t particularly interested in computers at that time.  As they were defining the features and building the architectural framework, I was largely left on my own and wondered what my role in creating the company was.

The two gentlemen in question were both technologist and computer programmers, and very bright.  I, however, was more of a jack-of-all-trades who had studied several subjects, traveled widely and had too many interests.  In short, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up.

All of us had left our jobs and were focusing on our startup – working literally day and night.  Or at least they were – I had no idea what I should be doing so I did a lot of coffee making and getting pizza.

Once we had an understanding of what the product would be and had programmed a VERY light prototype, we immediately tried to get projects where we could use the skeleton we had created to garner revenue.  The reason for this was not because we understood the Lean Startup methodology, but simply that we were in an area where there was no venture capital available, and especially not for software startups that had no inventory or fixed assets.

It was very difficult to get our first couple of customers and we had to lean heavily on our relationships as they were purchasing something that didn’t exist.  We made it, however, and managed to grow the business to around 200 employees before exiting.

The reason I’m telling you this story is because I now reside and work in an area that has hundreds of venture capital funds, angel investors and ecosystems devoted to entrepreneurial activity.  Yet, I’m not sure that it’s a good environment for launching a company. 

There is a consequence of having access to capital, and that is that there is less of a need to truly align oneself with what the customer actually needs until much later in the process.  One can have a good idea, raise capital to execute on the idea and create a viable product without ever having to interact with a real customer willing to pay full price for the product.  This leads to misalignment with customers, missed product-market fit and expensive pivots. 

This means that a non-trivial amount of the allocated capital is wasted within the startup ecosystem.  I’m not sure, but it may actually be good to start a company in a cash constrained environment – though the experience is actually so tough that it defies description.

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If the Shoe Fits: Innovation that is Beautiful and Timeless

Friday, January 17th, 2014

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

What do you get when you cross an engineer, a craftsman and an artist?

A timeless, utilitarian piece of art that consistently rises in value and can’t be duplicated with technology.

YouTube credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Ducks in a Row: Adam Bryant on Culture of Innovation

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joannaleeosborn/9802436943/

Twice a week Adam Bryant interviews CEOs from a myriad of companies, large and small, across the industry spectrum, for his Corner Office feature in The New York Times.

As with anyone who spends time talking with CEOs about staying competitive the constant theme he’s found boils down to one word—culture.

Now Bryant has distilled the knowledge and insights gathered from hundreds of interviews into a new book, “Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading C.E.O.’s on How to Create a Culture of Innovation”

The six key tenets identified should come as no surprise,

  • A Simple Plan
  • Rules of the Road (corporate values)
  • A Little Respect (embedded in the culture)
  • It’s About the Team (performance and accountability, trustworthiness and dependability)
  • Adult Conversations (frank discussions to work through disagreements and misunderstandings)
  • The Hazards of Email (ease of misunderstanding)

Not new and certainly not rocket science, but worth reading (at the very least read the article).

Good information to help you improve nimbleness and innovation in your own organization.

And a great gift if you happen to work for bosses who don’t see the point.

Flickr image credit: Joanna Lee Osborn

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If the Shoe Fits: Third-party Innovation

Friday, December 20th, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

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Not trying to insult you, but do you truly innovate or are you basically a third-party idea extension?

There are thousands of start-ups on these sites and in press releases, most with some level of funding, that are variations on Uber, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Tinder, Snapchat, Craigslist, Airbnb, Pinterest and a “for” for any other half-successful start-up out there.

Silicon Valley and its clones are following in Hollywood’s footsteps as it continues its sequels, prequels and remakes.

It’s not that some of them won’t succeed and even turn into significant businesses.

And some actually do address real pain (as opposed to inconvenience), but that doesn’t make them truly innovative.

While you have to sell your “innovation” to investors and include it in your vision to excite your employees, at least be honest when you are alone with yourself.

Honest as to its originality and honest regarding the need.

I seriously doubt that providing yet another way to have meaningless sex compares with creating jobs out of poop.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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