the stress ball market is on the rise

Just as the state of the construction industry can be used as a proxy measure of a country’s prosperity, the state of technology can be judged by the number of stress balls in circulation.

I went to an exhibition in London recently and was overwhelmed by the number of stress balls that I was given. I couldn’t collect all tee shirts, bottle openers, pens, flash drives and mugs on offer. I couldn’t enter all the competitions to win drones that I was asked to enter. The technology suppliers obviously have some money available for marketing.

Another interesting feature of this and other exhibitions that I have been to is how relaxed the salespeople were. They were waiting for prospects to approach rather than aggressively grabbing every passerby. Does this shows a level of confidence in their offer? The established suppliers seem to be putting their more junior staff on the stands – I guess the senior staff are busy closing deals.

It was the small companies that had the most interesting technologies. They were creating products and making the latest technological trends into something that you can touch and create value from.

A slightly worrying comment from several of these small innovative companies was that they felt shut out of major organisations. Their procurement policies sometimes favour the larger established suppliers. Partnering with these large suppliers often made things worse by closing routes to market rather than opening them. However, the small companies were determined to “find a way to build the business”.

The follow up of the companies that I spoke to has been excellent – timely, informative but not pushy or intrusive. I had one highly professional 15 minute online product demo that generated a number of ideas that I will now pursue. I feel these guys will get a lot of business.

There seemed to be an abundance of small companies from outside the UK trying to break into the UK market and looking for partners. Brexit was worrying some of them slightly but most were not particularly concerned – “people find a way to trade no matter what the politicians do”.

I came away from the exhibition feeling positive about the UK technology market. Innovation and entrepreneurship were being displayed. There may be a lot of stress balls out there but high levels of stress were not evident. The little guys were determined to overcome any obstacles – “we will find a way”!

The hype cycle vs legacy…

I am going to talk about a consequence of the hype cycle that seems to be missed by many. I will use an anecdote to illustrate the point…

Some years ago, I was engaged on a short assignment to review a new technology organization’s customer service programs. The company had grown rapidly in a new market that was now maturing. They had 3 customer service systems. They had 4 main customer groups served through 4 sales channels. Each channel used different business processes to execute the same activities and accessed all three systems. The IT solutions had grown organically with the business and were a mess! But now, with the market maturing, there were mainstream solutions from major suppliers that could replace these systems that were starting to constrain the business. However, the cost of resolving this, $15M, was seen as too expensive.

A few years later, the organization had lost its competitive position, had moved from number 1 to number 2 and was taken over by a foreign competitor entering the market. With a more complex product portfolio, more customer groups, a more complex sales model, the customer services systems were now seen as a major constraint to business growth. I happened to be engaged through another consultancy to look at the problem again. This time the cost of sorting it out had grown to $80M. Again the executive board decided that this was too expensive.

Recently, the organization merged with a major competitor. I heard that they had embarked yet again on a program to replace their legacy customer service systems. The market is now much more complex with many more products, it is also more competitive with tighter margins. The systems have grown in complexity since the last attempt to sort them out. I suspect the cost this time will be $150M or more. A ten times increase in cost in ten years. More importantly, the organization was the market leader 10 years ago but now it is in 3rd position with a likely drop to 4th.

The key point is that everything that you build before good practice emerges is likely to be poorly designed and poorly built. It should be thrown away and you should start over. If you don’t you will inevitably perpetuate bad practice. Future development will be compromised because time pressures to deliver tactical business change and the constraint of the legacy. And the cost of replacing it to deliver strategic business change will grow over time.

Sometimes I wonder why there is so much legacy. The answer is obvious if you overlay the adoption cycle with hype cycle…

So what are the lessons:

  • It is never too late to sort out your legacy
  • Don’t build on bad practice
  • The so called first mover advantage can be a handicap
  • Build knowledge before building solutions

“Failure is Wonderful”

I just read an article on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History website called “Failure is Wonderful”.  The article talks about a Creativity Round Table, held at Washington’s Cosmos Club in late April.

There are several important points were made that is:

Laurie Kahn stated “Much of creativity depends on listening, asking the right questions, and being able to see things differently.”

Greg Mortenson replied “Listen with your heart and trust your intuition, not solely your logic.”

“When people ask you a question or ask how to solve a problem,” Mortenson advised, “be hands-off so that they can figure it out using resources and thinking creatively.”

Laurie Kahn asked, “How do you sustain creativity?” Mortenson’s experience taught him you need to “take care of yourself” and “be in touch with yourself”.

“Don’t just think outside of the box,” Mortenson added, “live outside of the box. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is wonderful.”