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Archive for the ‘BOOKS’ Category

It was in 1991 that Kenich Ohmae’s book Borderless World first made its impact on me and got me into trying to becoming a global executive as against a local executive.  In those years, it was an attempt to try and innovate in your functions rather than product innovation.

Being a Product Marketing Manager in India, for products built and developed in the US for most part, it was innovative approaches to positioning, bringing and getting people to adopting it in India.  Sixteen years later, we are now in a completely different world.  A borderless, or FLAT as we call it now, yet, innovating on all fronts.

I had a chance to read excepts of the new book by John Kao, an innovation consultant, who points out in his new book, Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back, all the key advantages once enjoyed by the U.S. are nearly gone.


His strongest point is that the geography of innovation is changing. For much of the 20th century, the locus of leading-edge thinking was the U.S. and Western Europe. The rise of Asia is evening that out, redistributing the fruits of innovation: wealth and power.

 

From Borderless World  to a Flat World to Innovation Nation to Borderless Innovation – how did things change so soon?


Global Talent. The return to greatness of Asia’s older universities and the building of new educational institutions mean that brainpower is more evenly distributed. In addition, a giant reverse diaspora is under way as tens of thousands of Chinese and Indian scientists and engineers, many of them tops in their fields, leave the U.S. to return to their homelands to teach and work.

Venture Capital Availability. Venture capital pools are operating all over Asia and Europe, speeding the generation of new startups. European and American VC firms have offices in most major cities in Asia and Eastern Europe. Initial public offerings have totaled $40 billion in China so far in 2007. Two of my good friends from the Silicon Valley have set up large funds to assist new ventures with a focus on India.

Silicon Valley is no longer only in CA. The social and economic ecosystem that has been so productive in Northern California is being reproduced all over the world. Bangalore in India and Biopolis in Singapore , have found the magic once mainly centered in U.S. innovation hubs.

Dollar is losing its foothold –We see buying power across a few nations growing and Euro gaining strength.  In countries like India, which seem to be delivering the recent additions to the list of billionaires – including arguably the new #1 Mukesh Ambani.

 

_Lower barriers to entry – With access to top computing power, labs, design schools and JIT access to latest and most current, countries like India and China are able to bring out the best products, programs, methodologies that best help their respective economies as well as gain global footage.

 

eShowcase- With the advent of ecommerce, web commerce and ability to show and tell from any part of the world, competitive innovators are able to attract potential clients and user from all across the world.  Thus removing yet another barrier of travel, visa, language and possibly even capital to just show sample work.

 

Kao probably underplays a critical issue: the role of global corporations in innovation’s changing geography. Such companies, he suggests, “operate with increasing independence from their country of origin…. They are shipping manufacturing, design and especially R&D abroad at a ferocious pace.” So fast is this happening, says Kao in his book, that Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel (INTC ), told him his company might not even qualify as American anymore. Is this the beginning of the Borderless Innovation?

Global corporations are benefiting from this global shift. Just as the fall of communism led to a wider pool of labor and capital, so too will the global spread of innovation create a wider pool of talent for companies. Albeit originating this time from the east rather than the  traditional west or to be precise – America.


But Americans are not gaining as much from all this.  In the past, economic benefits have gone mostly to the first mover—the innovator, entrepreneur, or creator. Not to mention the location of the first mover – in a conducive environment like the Silicon Valley for example.

Kao notes that the U.S. already spends more per public-school student than any other major country. He wants new ways to teach, such as integrating game culture with curriculum development. What will it take for more Americans to start getting into the mainstream of engineering, design, technology, medicine instead of the now popular “liberal arts” major?  Will America be able to leverage the education system and potential by collaborating with the universities and curriculum in India and other parts of Asia that is producing these brilliant, wide pool of talent?  Will America start looking at the seeding stages of education while also looking at the seeding capital for Silicon Valley companies?  Will we truly be able to work seamlessly in a world economy that co-exists because of the quality and value of what each delivers and not because of the currency differences and labor arbitrage?

Agood blend of the east and west has always delivered interesting progressive results.  Can we potentially bet on the future by applying some innovative approaches to education and betting on the next generation to bet on the future? Is Global Mentorship an approach?  Is America open minded about a novel “innovative approach”? Only time will tell…..or  will it be too late? 



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During one of my many visit to book stores, this time in Japan, I happened to pick Prof, Albert Lszlo Brabasi’s book ‘Linked-How everything is connected to everything else and what it means to Business, Science and Everyday life’. I was not only fascinated by the topic, but also intrigued by the way in which he had handled the subject.

Many years later, I would apply the framework and even subscribe to tools to enable me build a good and effective linking system of human relations and associations.

So, with blogging and reading, I was tempted to try and capture a few key elements of this book. I found a well captured essence in the NY Times article I decided to share.

ALBERT-LASZLO BARABASI, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, became fascinated with the structure of the Internet in 1998. He and his student researchers designed software robots that went out on the Net and mapped as many of its nodes, hubs and links as they could. He then began studying other networks and found that they had similar structures. The Internet in particular, he found, had taken on characteristics of a living ecosystem.

That made for a valuable insight in itself. But Professor Barabasi went a step further and analyzed the genetic networks of various living organisms, finding that their genes and proteins interacted in much the same networked way as the Internet.

This conclusion, described in Professor Barabasi’s new book, “Linked: The New Science of Networks”, could alter the way we think about all the networks that affect our lives.

Professor Barabasi’s well written book will be understandable to most readers, but its core concept takes a moment to absorb.

Start by thinking of a highway map of the United States before the advent of the Interstate System. Each city, or node, was connected pretty much at random to others in the network of American cities. Each city has the same relative weight, or “scale,” in Professor Barabasi’s terminology. Knocking out one city doesn’t disrupt the network. Traffic can be rerouted easily.

In contrast, consider the airport hub-and-spoke system that dominates the nation’s airline transportation. A few nodes like Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth have become far more important than, say, Lincoln, Neb. Knocking out the important nodes has serious cascading effects throughout the network.

This is similar to a disruption on the Internet. Because the nodes of these networks do not have the same scale, Professor Barabasi calls them scale-free, a concept that permeates the book.

Once you understand that concept, you’re off on an intellectual detective journey. Professor Barabasi has invented a vocabulary to talk about the structure of networks.

“We are witnessing a revolution in the making as scientists from all different disciplines discover that complexity has a strict architecture,” he writes. These networks do not operate at random, the author contends; there are laws that govern their behavior.

In the case of human genes, scientists have decoded the genes and proteins of DNA, but that is just the first important step in understanding how genes and proteins interact, Professor Barabasi says. The next step, he writes, is understanding how genes and proteins interact as part of a network, and he predicts the discovery of a clear set of rules for their behavior that will help unlock some mysteries of the human body.

Professor Barabasi makes that prediction partly because he and his researchers mapped out the interactions of 43 primitive organisms and found they took the form of a network with rules.

There are many examples of scale-free networks. Even a cocktail party can be mapped that way: the most sociable people are the “hubs” that link all the guests in a pattern that can be drawn. Other scale-free networks include the electrical power grid, companies and consumers linked by trade and the nervous system of living creatures.


Business writers have long talked about “network effects,” meaning that a network generates more power than individual parts can do by themselves. That was part of the intellectual case against allowing Microsoft to dominate so many personal computers using its operating system.

But Professor Barabasi has put more flesh on the relatively primitive concept of the network effect. His work is relevant not only to physicists and mathematicians, but also to business executives, computer scientists, sociologists and biologists.

Networks have strengths and weaknesses, and Professor Barabasi contends that we have to understand both. On the positive side, because of the multiplicity of connections, some things happen quickly. A good idea can win rapid acceptance.

Professor Barabasi uses the example of Hotmail’s explosion in popularity. Created on July 4, 1996, by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, it had one million users within a year. By the time Microsoft came knocking on the door to buy it a year later, it had 10 million. “Innovations and products with a higher spreading rate have a higher chance of reaching a large fraction of the network,” he argues.

By contrast, networks have what he describes as an Achilles’ heel. Knocking out a single major hub can cripple the network, which the Sept. 11 attacks almost succeeded in doing. In the United States, the airline system, financial markets and telecommunications networks all suffered grievous blows.

The extensions of Professor Barabasi’s thinking go in many directions. What caused Cisco Systems and other technology companies that outsource much of their production to be so clobbered in 2000 and 2001? Cisco, in particular, had bragged that its Internet-based supply chain meant that it would never be surprised by having too much inventory. But, Professor Barabasi writes, Cisco did not understand network effects and had to pay for billions of dollars’ worth of components in its extended supply chain; oddly, Cisco, the master of the network, didn’t think in network terms.

“A me attitude, where the company’s immediate financial balance is the only factor, limits network thinking,” Professor Barabasi says. “Not understanding how the actions of one node affect other nodes easily cripples whole segments of the network.”

Professor Barabasi makes a provocative argument about “the market.” For hundreds of years, economists like Adam Smith have argued that there may be an “invisible hand” guiding the market but at the end of the day people cannot understand how the market works because it is too big, too complex, too random.

Nonsense, Professor Barabasi says. “In reality, the market is nothing but a directed network,” he writes. “Companies, firms, corporations, financial institutions, governments, and all potential economic players are the nodes.”

If you understand the structure and evolution of this network, you can, in fact, understand how the market performs, the author contends. That is sure to bring howls of derision from proponents of the dismal science known as economics.

If there is any criticism that can be leveled at him, it is that the reader is left wanting to understand more of the implications of his work. If we understand the network of the human body, can we cure cancer? If we understand the network of the global economy, can we stop recessions? If we understand the network of Al Qaeda, can we eradicate terrorism? The answers may be elusive, but Professor Barabasi’s argument suggests that answers may indeed be found.

 

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