Planning has long been one of the cornerstones of management. Early in the twentieth century Henri Fayol identified the job of managers as to plan, organize, command, coordinate, and control. The capacity and willingness of managers to plan developed throughout the century. Management by Objectives (MBO) became the height of corporate fashion in the late 1950s. The world appeared predictable. The future could be planned. It seemed sensible, therefore, for executives to identify their objectives. They could then focus on managing in such a way that these objectives were achieved.
This was the capitalist equivalent of the Communist system’s five-year plans. In fact, one management theorist of the 1960s suggested that the best managed organizations in the world were the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the Roman Catholic Church and the Communist Party. The belief was that if the future was mapped out, it would
Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of an incredible new frontier in Artificial Intelligence (AI). From fintech to edtech, what was once fantastically improbable is now a commercial reality. There is no question that big data and AI will bring about important advances in the realm of management, especially as it relates to being able to make better-informed decisions. But certain types of decisions — particularly those related to strategy, innovation and marketing — will likely continue to require a human being who can take a holistic view and make a qualitative judgment based on a personal consideration of the context and facts. In fact, to date, there is no AI technology that is fully able to factor in the emotional, human, and political context needed to automate decisions.
For example, consider the healthcare industry, where AI is having a huge impact. Even if AI
Despite good intentions—and widespread acceptance of the importance of innovation—efforts to innovate at large companies often lack a clear mission and framework, and as a result, they go off the rails.
At one large European energy company we consulted with, no less than four separate corporate functions were supposed to be working on innovation—yet none of them was supporting critical needs at the business unit level. To make matters worse, the various functions involved were competing internally for space and resources, while duplicating each other’s work.
Without realizing it, even well-managed businesses versed in modern management practices can generate an environment that is hostile to innovation. For all of these reasons, large companies need to have a distinct Innovation Unit headed up by a senior executive who ideally reports to the CEO.
In our work at the European Center for Strategic Innovation (ECSI), we have extensively
Not a day goes by without the announcement of the appointment of a new VP of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a Chief Data Scientist, or a Director of AI Research. While the enthusiasm is undeniable, the reality is that AI remains an early-stage technology application. The potential is vast, but how managers cut through the AI hyperbole to use its power to deliver growth?
In our consulting work, we often encounter managers who struggle to convert AI experiments into strategic programs which can then be implemented. Michael Stern (not his real name), for instance, is the Head of Digital for a German Mittelstand office equipment company. Michael is used to starting new projects in emerging areas, but feels unable to fully understand what can AI can do for his business. He started a few experiments using IBM Watson, and these produced some clear, small tactical gains. Now Michael
3D printing is on the verge of mainstream adoption, which will mean a fundamental shift in manufacturing. The driving force is not improvements to the technology, although those are also important, but rather a transformation in the industry’s business model.
For the last decade, the 3D printing sector has been dominated by closed systems, in which 3D printers could only be used with the manufacturer’s resin and software. The trouble with closed systems is that they limit innovation. One printer manufacturer alone cannot offer the variety of materials needed for the thousands of potential 3D printing applications. As a result, the development of new end-user applications and materials has stalled, and growth in 3D printing has plateaued. To break out, the industry must reinvent itself and become open.
There has been progress in that direction. Players from adjacent industries have recently started to move into the sector.
In March 1848 San Francisco newspaperman Samuel Brannan announced that gold had been found in California. In the gold rush that followed, more than 300,000 people headed to the area to make their fortunes. Over 150 years later, there’s still a gold rush in California — now re-located to Silicon Valley. Even organizations that remain headquartered in other cities have set up innovation outposts there in the hope that high-tech silicon dust will rub off on them.
Setting up innovation outposts in global technology clusters, such as Silicon Valley, Boston, and Tel Aviv, is highly popular among Fortune 500 corporations. The logic is that if you are present where new trends, ideas, talents, and start-ups are generated you might be able to recognize and assimilate them into your firm’s innovation pipeline. And, of course, it looks cool — both inside the organization and to outsiders.
Persuaded by such logic, companies agree to
When your laptop malfunctions, you usually can find a fix on an Apple or Dell user forum within minutes. Consumer-facing (B2C) companies like these and many others have long realized the power of online digital networks to address the questions or issues of their customers. As Bernard Hours, the former COO of Danone, put it, “On the internet, a brand has to become a person, to listen and to answer questions.”
In the B2B world, though, the experience is very different. Companies have been reluctant to open up to their customer networks and rely on the traditional way of engaging with prospects and customers. If you have a problem with your industrial cement mixer, you usually have only two options: read the manual or call your sales rep.
But B2B customers are mobile, fully engaged in social media, and well educated: