Thursday, March 14, 2013

Grumble, Grumble

There's a long and growing list of words I dislike ...

Innovation
In its purest form it is the creation (or genesis) of an activity or practice or data which by definition is rare, uncertain, constantly changing, experimental and deviating from the past. Alas, it is commonly used to described a feature difference on an existing product to a different mechanism of provision (e.g. utility) for a pre-existing activity. The first phone, a better phone and rental model for phones are all described as "innovation" despite them being entirely different in nature. It is therefore, a fairly useless word which forces the normal response of - "What sort of innovation are you talking about?"

Commoditisation
Is the process by which an activity evolves from genesis to becoming more of a commodity and it represents a shift from imperfect to more perfect market competition. Alas, it is also confused with commodification (the process by which something with social value obtains financial value) thereby rendering it fairly useless and forcing the normal response of - "What sort of commoditisation are you talking about?"

Strategy
Is the art of manipulating an environment to gain a desirable outcome. It requires in-depth awareness of the environment (i.e. yours and competitors value chains and how this is evolving), the toolsets available (i.e. mechanisms to manipulate the environment) and experience in doing this. It is commonly confused with tactical choices, operational details, purchasing decisions, implementation details, vague aspirational statements (being innovative, being nimble etc) and other irrelevant information on how, what and when. Hence whenever I'm presented with a strategy, I'm inevitably forced to ask the question of - "Explain the why?"

Disruptive Innovation
Ignoring the issue that the word "Innovation" will immediately force me to ask the question above, the term disruption is often applied to situations where no-one is actually being disrupted. In some cases it is more of an aspirational goal. Guaranteed to send me into howls of laughter is the inevitable - "Our strategy is to disrupt this market with our innovation" - which normally translates to - "everyone else is doing this, so we're hoping our version will be better than others" - the latter statement having nothing to do with strategy, innovation or disruption.

Anyway, even if the term is used in the original sense of Christensen's work, the problem is that most disruptive change is not caused by an unexpected market change but instead an entirely predictable one such as the evolution of an activity from product to utility. In such circumstances the issue of inertia to change can be resolved with planning and the disruption that does occur is often entirely unnecessary and a consequence of executive failure to plan for the inevitable. 

Still, such issues are mainly ignored and "disruptive innovation" is used to describe all manner of situations including ones where no-one is actually disrupted or the change is entirely predictable and preventable.  Hence, I'm inevitably forced to ask the question of - "Do you know what those words mean?"

Summary
Enough grumbling for today. 

You can tell I'm reading a piece of work which talks about strategy, innovation, commoditisation and disruption and it is quite clear that in my mind the author has no clue what any of those words actually mean. I'm sure it'll soon talk about :-
  • cloud computing - using some rather mangled definition as opposed to a simple shift from product to utility
  • big data - with endless drivel on numerous Vs rather than describing the normal historical process of rapid increases in un-modeled data which over time become modeled and why the key is the models.
  • new forms of organisation couched in terms of some amazing and "innovative" change and without reference to the normal process of co-evolution of practice which occurs with any of the standard historical cycles of change leading to organisations such as American System, Fordism ... all the way to Web 2.0 etc.
Of course it'll be littered with dreadful concepts like unstructured data (as if the data doesn't haven't structure which we just don't know about yet) or paradigm shifting or one of today's favourite "one size fits all" solutions which ignores the normal evolutionary flow from chaotic to more linear order and the consequential yoyo between extremes (agile vs six sigma, push vs pull marketing, network vs hierarchical structure, innovation vs efficiency etc) which can be avoided by adopting both.

Alternatively, I can stop reading ... hmmm ... I think that one wins my vote.
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