Tag Archives: Business

Finishing up the MBA (Update 3 of 3)

mba graphic

Reference the original post here: https://41perspectives.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/updates-hackathons-big-data-mba/

Lastly, the other thing (in addition to the other retroactive updates I’ve posted, plus my full time job as an IT Project Manager and my role of husband and father – my favorite role, incidentally) that has been keeping me away from the important task of updating my blog has been completing the last few courses toward my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at The University of New Brunswick – Saint John. This was a pursuit that I started in 2009, on a part-time basis, so it has been quite a few years in the making. Completing the program has been an enjoyable experience – except for all of the work! (kidding, mostly)

Kidding aside, the program really has been fantastic, with a great mix of streams, courses, professors and students to learn from. The professors were a good mix of ‘academics’, executives, entrepreneurs and industry experts, and students ranged from other working-professional types to full-time students from countries all over the world – China, India, England, France, Saudi-Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, just to name a few off the top of my head thinking of students I’ve met and worked on projects with. The program even recently cracked the list of ‘Top Ten Canadian Business Schools’ published by Business Review Canada. Kudos UNBSJ!

While this MBA had all of the ‘core’ business and management type courses covered – from Marketing and Accounting, to Economics, Strategy and more, it also had a great mix of courses and assignments that allowed me to expand my knowledge and perspective in a number of other areas as well. Here are just a few quick examples:

  • Human Behaviour – understanding personality types, starting with – and perhaps most importantly – my own. Appreciating how differently people absorb, process and act on information. From your introverts, to your extraverts and those somewhere in the middle (omniverts, you say?), recognizing that not everyone does things the same way, and making the appropriate adjustments, is key if you’re managing, or even just working with, people.
  • Leadership – following closely on the human behaviour element noted above, the topic of leadership is huge with so many different facets. From leadership styles (task based vs. people based; autocratic vs. democratic etc.), leadership types (i.e. servant leadership, transformational leadership), to understanding motivation, Emotional Intelligence and the list goes on.
  • Ethics & Sustainability – exploring the policies and practices of organizations in many shapes, sizes and industries, looking at topics such as clean technology, innovation and product stewardship.
  • Renewable Energy – learning about energy types such as solar, wind, tidal, geo-thermal, among others. Exploring them from not only technological perspectives, but from economic and social perspectives as well.

The program also did a nice job of integrating the research and course work into initiatives that were able to provide value to the communities we are working in. A couple of examples include:

  • Wicked problems: A project that involved working closely with a local municipal department to understand and analyze issues they face, that are largely agreed upon as being ‘wicked problems’ – or problems that are difficult, if not impossible, to solve – for a multitude of reasons. (Here’s a great site and video that sums it up the idea of ‘wicked problems’ or you can read the paper where the idea originated from.) Though perhaps unsolvable by their very definition, we were able to view the situation through a different ‘lens’, and through our research and consultation we were able to present some ideas and findings that were able to add some real value.
  • Buy local: A project where we were tasked with making a case for local private and public corporations to procure ICT services from local providers. In doing so, our objective was not only to put forth a compelling ‘economic argument’, but a ‘social argument’ as well. In putting this together we looked at the practices being undertaken by countries that are global leaders in IT such as Finland and Iceland to make some extrapolations for what a ‘buy local’ strategy could mean for us locally. (See an earlier post on this here).

So, there you have it. That’s everything I learned in the MBA. I’m kidding, of course, but these are just a few of the areas that spring to mind where I feel the program provided some additional value beyond what most would consider core MBA type material (fun stuff, like NPV and IRR). Isn’t learning fun!?

In any case, it will be good to be finished, however from chatting with some of my part-time counterparts working for other companies that have finished before me, there’s a chance – so I’m told – that I may even miss it. (One even made a lose comparison to the concept of Stockholm Syndrome, which (upon looking it up) I thought was pretty funny). I guess time will tell.

Thanks for reading. More posts to follow (on a semi-frequent basis).

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The Innovator’s Dilemma

Innovator's Dilemma

This is a book that I’ve recently read for my latest MBA course on Managing Innovation. It’s kind of one of those ‘must-read’ books for business/technology types and aspiring super-nerds like me. Without giving it all away, the crux of it is, when it comes to certain types of innovations (“Disruptive” Innovations), engaging in smart business practices may be the last thing you’ll want to do.

Intrigued?

It is a bit of mind bender, but Clayton Christensen goes into a fair bit of detail (don’t say I didn’t warn you) – using predominately the computer disk drive industry as his testing ground – to outline how doing things like listening to their customers, investing in the highest ROI opportunities and allocating resources to continue to innovate and improve on products and processes has actually lead to the demise of many organizations.

As I said, it’s a bit of mind bender.

If you’re interested in learning more about how doing these seemingly ‘right things’ can in some cases end up being the ‘wrong things’ (hence the dilemma),  I’d recommend checking out this book. Alternatively, if you want the Cole’s notes version, along with some of my insights on how I think that the Internet is “disrupting” the education industry, continue reading to check out a short paper that I recently submitted for the class.

Abstract

This is a book review on ‘The Innovators Dilemma’ by Clayton Christensen, being prepared and submitted for MBA 7351 – Managing Innovations, at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John. It will begin with a summary of disruptive technologies and innovations, as outlined in the book, to demonstrate an understanding of the concepts. It will be followed by a discussion on how the internet has and will continue to disrupt the education industry. The paper will then end with a brief conclusion.

A Summary of Disruptive Technology & Innovations

In ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’, Clayton Christensen does a deep dive into the paradox of how, when it comes to dealing with ‘disruptive’ technologies, following good management practices can – and often does – lead to poor results. He focuses predominately on the computer disk drive industry as the focus of his research for the book, since as is still largely the case; it is an industry that moves at a staggering pace making it an easy target for research of an evolutionary (or in this case, revolutionary) nature.

Since ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ was first published some ten years ago, the term ‘disruptive’ has become somewhat ubiquitous, but as is often the case, it is used loosely and often incorrectly. As such, before proceeding any further, it will be helpful to first define what exactly a ‘disruptive’ technology is, as defined by Christensen.

Technologies and innovations can fall into one of two categories. The first is what Christensen calls ‘sustaining’ technologies, which are the most common. These are the types of advances that improve on existing products or services. They can be incremental in nature but they can also be radical. This is important to note, as sometimes radical, sustaining technologies are mistaken for disruptive technologies. Sustaining technologies, whether incremental or radical, are in fact the types that, “foster improved performance of established products along dimensions of performance that mainstream customers in major markets have historically valued” (Christensen, page xviii). As Christensen outlines, using examples from the disk drive industry, as well as others such as the excavator and motorcycle industries, sustaining innovations progress along the same performance trajectories whereas disruptive technologies redefine performance trajectories.

Disruptive innovations, unlike sustaining innovations which continue to advance existing technologies and products, often – at least in the short term – offer worse performance than is currently in the market. As such, when they first emerge they are of little, if any, interest to the mainstream market. And why should they be? A fundamental tenant of business is to seek out innovation as a way to create and maintain a competitive advantage in the market place. Another is to listen to your customers and to give them what they want. Yet another is to invest funds and allocate resources where you can get the highest returns. Understanding all of this – as good companies (companies not unlike the organizations featured in the book including IBM, Seatgate, Quantum and others) do – that is how businesses are typically managed. They seek out innovation (most often sustaining in nature); they listen to their customers; they astutely invest and allocate resources based on their expert knowledge, industry research and best practices. Yet, despite all of this, many wind up losing their industry leadership positions and eventually fail. Why does this happen? This is, in part, the “Innovator’s Dilemma”.

As Christensen illustrates throughout the book, the undoing of these otherwise well managed firms comes from their inability to make strategic decisions to embrace disruptive technologies; or at least while there is still time to do so. What has happened time after time and in industry after industry, is a disruptive technology will emerge onto the scene, and true to the earlier noted disruptive attributes of being a worse, not better performer by traditionally held standards, will be met with little fan fair from organizations trying to continually one-up the competition with the latest sustaining advancement. As a result of the inability to break into traditional markets, the disruptive innovations have to figure out an entirely new value proposition for a new, often smaller market. In doing so, what happens in these new, often fringe markets, is the disruptive innovation gets momentum and advances – through advancements in sustaining innovations on this new performance trajectory – until it can move ‘up-market’ to serve the very industries that weren’t initially interested. This then gets the attention of the often larger, established firms who will sometimes scramble to try and get on the bandwagon, but often it’s too little too late. It’s particularly interesting, and perplexing, how the when it comes to disruptive technologies, the attributes that make them “unattractive to mainstream markets are the attributes on which the new markets will be built”. (Christensen, page 267).

To illustrate these points using an example from the book, we’ll look at the disk drive industry where Christensen takes the readers through the progression of disk drives from being 14 inches (diameter) to 8 inches, to 5.25 inches, to 3.5 inches, to 2.5 inches and eventually to 1.8 inches. Initially the 14 inch drives, for use in mainframe computers, were the industry norm. In 1974 their average storage capacity was 130 MB (megabytes). Through sustaining innovations, disk drive makers were able to keep their customers happy by increasing capacities at levels the customers had come to expect. By the early 1980’s several entrant firms had emerged, producing smaller 8 inch drives with much lower capacities – from 10 to 40MB – nowhere near the requirement for a mainframe computer. As such, the mainframe computer users weren’t interested in these drives, despite the fact that they were smaller. Size wasn’t a factor for mainframe users, capacity was. So in order to survive, the smaller drive makers (Shugart Associates, Micropolis, Priam and Quantum) started selling to firms in a newer, smaller market than mainframes: minicomputers.

As the 8 inch drives gained momentum in the minicomputer market, developing sustaining innovations (at a faster rate of the established firms in the mainframe market) on this new performance trajectory, they were eventually able to begin serving the mainframe market, thus pushing out the established incumbents. Christensen goes on to walk readers though how this cycle repeats for all of the different drive sizes from 14 down to 1.8 inches.

In examining how disruptive technologies have lead to the demise of organizations that were once atop their industries, Christensen ensures that his readers understand that it wasn’t in these organizations’ lack of technical capability. He outlines how, in some cases, the industry leading organizations had working prototypes of the disruptive innovations ready to be taken to market. The reasons for their failures were largely related to what Christensen calls ‘value networks’ and their related cost structures. Essentially, large organizations in large markets are organized internally and within their supply chain to serve large markets. In the same vein, large companies require large markets to meet their growth targets and the smaller, fringe markets opportunities presented in the early days of disruptive innovations are generally not attractive propositions.

Similarly, he goes to great lengths to ensure that his readers understand that it wasn’t their inability to diligently manage their organizations. In fact, the diligent management of their organizations was the reason for their demise. They were innovative. They invested wisely. They listened to their customers. But what did their customers want? Better performance or worse performance? What made sense to invest in? Established markets with high returns, or fringe markets with low returns and little or no market research data?

With disruptive technologies, “doing the right thing is the wrong thing” (Christensen, page xxxiv). This is the “Innovator’s Dilemma”.

Impact of Disruptive Technology/Innovations on the Education Industry

At the risk of stating the obvious, the internet has and continues to have a profound effect on many industries. It has been a driver of both sustaining innovations as well as disruptive innovations.

Some of the more prevalent and talked about industries impacted by disruptive innovations tend to be the music (iTunes vs. brick and mortar music stores), video (Netflix vs. Blockbuster), and print media (Online news, Google, blogs, Twitter and others vs. traditional newspapers) industries as a result of the major changes that have already, and are continuing to take place.

There are other industries that are still in the very early days of what may become disruptions, some of which include the electric car (i.e. Tesla) and P2P currency (i.e. Bitcoin) – each, among others, were strong candidates for further exploration in this paper.

An industry that is somewhere in the middle is the education industry, which will be explored in more detail in this section. This industry is an interesting one in that it is being impacted by the internet for both sustaining innovations and disruptive innovations. Further, within areas that can be defined as disruptive, there are areas of similarity of those explored in “The Innovator’s Dilemma” as well as areas of difference making it a good candidate for inclusion here since certain aspects of the internet’s impact – and if they are truly disruptive in nature – may still be subject to some debate.

Leveraging the internet to provide learning opportunities has been around since almost as long as the internet itself has been around – or at least the internet as we know it today (post Windows 95 era). While generations past – including my own – used to have learn things the ‘old fashioned way’ (i.e. buying and reading a physical book, or setting foot in a physical classroom), now it is often as simple as a performing a Google search for an insightful blog or YouTube video to find the knowledge that you seek. Similarly, universities and educational institutions have been leveraging the power of the internet to extend learning capabilities to its students through such things as learning portals, such as the ‘Desire to learn’ portal currently deployed with the University of New Brunswick, Saint John. When the internet is used in this fashion, these are sustaining types of innovations. They further improve on an existing service. They add value – incrementally or radically – in ways that users have come to expect.

Somewhat more recently, as broadband internet becomes more accessible, combined with other factors such as rising university tuition costs and a generation of people doing more and more things online (i.e. working, communicating, watching TV, listening to music), opportunities to learn online are also increasing and more people are taking advantage. According to a recent study commissioned by The Sloan Consortium – a leading professional online learning institution, “over 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year” (2013, The Sloan Consortium).

Where things start to take on disruptive characteristics are in a couple areas. Firstly, many of the entrant firms providing these online learning platforms are not your traditional, established firms (akin to the “IBM’s” in the disk drive industry). They are smaller, start-up firms such as Coursera and Aacademicearth, both education companies that partner with top universities and organizations around the world to offer courses online for anyone to take. Another – and arguably the most important reason they stand to disrupt this industry in a big way is – the courses are free.

Recalling that when disruptive technologies arrive on the scene they are often thought as being inferior offerings, it’s not a major surprise that there is still much debate over their merits within academic circles, with many education purists insisting that there is no substitute for the value of face to face interaction and collaboration that happens in a physical classroom.

One of the findings from the earlier noted study by The Sloan Consortium, was that “only 30.2 percent of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education – a rate is lower than recorded in 2004” (2013, The Sloan Consortium). However, the same study also found some evidence to indicate that reaction is still in fact mixed, with many academic institutions continuing to ponder as to how they will continue integrating online learning into their long-term strategies.

While traditional brick and mortar institutions continue working toward figuring this out, it’s hard to deny how providing a free education from top universities – the likes of which could include MIT and Harvard – for free no less, is opening the door to an untapped market for these technologies to get the momentum they require to become a real threat.

Interestingly, two of the major institutions driving online learning agendas are in fact two of the most established brick and mortar institutions: MIT and Harvard. These two academic powerhouses recently teamed up to develop an initiative called ‘edX’, a program that builds further on MIT’s existing OpenCourseWare platform (thousands of free online courses), to provide not only a library of free, online courses but also an open-source technology platform free for use by other universities looking for follow suit.

Conclusion

It will now be interesting to see how many of the traditional brick and mortar universities react to these disruptive innovations. Will they simply pass them off as an inferior product and continue developing sustaining innovations to serve their existing, mainstream markets hoping (or not aware of) the sustaining innovations advancing in the smaller markets below them (at potentially advancing at greater rates), as we have seen in the past? Or, will they take a hard look at what steps may be necessary – within their value networks, cost structures and organizational cultures – to not let history repeat itself in yet another industry.

References

(2013) Retrieved from:  http://academicearth.org/

(2013) Retrieved from: https://www.coursera.org/about

(2013) Retrieved from: http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/changing_course_2012

Christensen (2000), The Innovator’s Dilemma

Dunn (2012, May 2) Harvard and MIT Introduce edX: The Future Of Online Learning.
Retrieved from: http://www.edudemic.com/2012/05/harvard-and-mit-to-form-new-online-learning-project/

Horn (2012, April 12) Yes, University of Phoenix is Disruptive; No, That Doesn’t Make It the End-All. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelhorn/2012/04/12/yes-university-of-phoenix-is-disruptive-no-that-doesnt-make-it-the-end-all/

Myers (2011, November 13) Clayton Christensen: Why online education is ready for disruption, now.
Retrieved from: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2011/11/13/clayton-christensen-why-online-education-is-ready-for-disruption-now/

Myers (2011, May 14) How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education.
Retrieved from: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2011/05/14/how-the-internet-is-revolutionizing-education/

Stokes (2011, April 14) Is Online Learning a Disruptive Innovation?
Retrieved from: http://hepg.org/blog/54

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Rework

rework

I picked up a couple of books the other day and this was one of them. Its authors, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are the founders of a company called 37 signals. These guys are perhaps best known for their immensely popular web based Project Management tool, Basecamp. I’m only about 40 pages into the book so far but I felt like a quick post about it was in order.

It’s Fantastic!

Of the few topics they’ve touched on so far, it’s almost as though they’ve been able to channel some of my own thoughts. Topics like ‘Planning is guessing’, notes how plans are really, as the title denotes, just a series of guesses – strategic guesses, financial guesses etc. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t plan. You should. However, your plans should be flexible enough to allow you to embrace current opportunities and allow you to pivot if and when a change may be needed.

They also touch on topics such as ‘growth’ in a section titled, ‘Why grow?’, where they make a case – citing their own experience at 37 signals – where sometimes a company’s ‘perfect size’ might not be big number and why growing to gargantuan proportions is often the default goal of many companies, and how this approach is often at the company’s own peril, or at least at the peril of their employees and culture.

Another interesting topic is something they refer to as ‘Workaholism’, how throwing sheer hours at problems, rather than applying innovative thinking to find efficiencies to get the work done smarter is too often the approach; and how this approach is not only accepted, its often commended and even revered.

Anyway, great stuff so far. I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of it, at which point I will likely create a follow up post on how it turned out.

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Greetings and salutations

So I started a blog.

I realize I’m a bit late jumping onto the proverbial bandwagon here, but better late than never right? Actually, truth be known while I’ve never maintained a blog per se (mostly true) I have built and maintained a couple of sites over the years – so I’m not a total ‘noob’ when it comes to user (self) generated content.

Now these sites have long since been retired and my HTML/web development skills (if you could even call them that) have long since deteriorated from the perspective of me actually writing any code – though as a practicing Project Manager I’m still pretty close to the action. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your outlook on the world, we now have tools like WordPress that make this sort of thing pretty darn easy, even for PM types like me, so here we are. Hi, I’m Evan. Nice to me you.

So what’s the point?

Good question. Firstly, like the rest of the people on this planet I just don’t feel complete unless I’m sharing my every thought with anyone that cares to ‘follow me’. Ok, this is mostly untrue but it would be pretty ridiculous to start a blog and claim to be indifferent as to whether anybody reads it. So yes, what I write, I hope people will read. There, I said it.

So what are you going write/post about?

The plan (though you know what they said about the best laid plans) is to post about topics related to my professional life – project management, consulting, business and technology. As I learn about new (or new to me) methodologies, technologies, tools, etc. or just want to blather on about some topic that I may feel compelled to blather on about on a given day, I will have now have a forum for my ramblings. Isn’t the internet great!? (For ramblings of a more concise nature, follow me on twitter here).

In addition, I’ve been working on an MBA part-time for the last few years and though I’m a little late getting to this (per my opening remarks), I thought I’d use this little piece of real-estate on the internet to write, reflect, perhaps even pontificate if the mood strikes, on some of my key learnings – from both my remaining classes as well as anything I’ve already done that might be worth re-visiting in the name of contributing to the ‘blogosphere’.

As this is the inaugural post, this is where I’m supposed to say how I will be updating this all the time and you should check back often; since we all know a blog without current content/frequent posts isn’t worth the ‘paper’ it’s written on. To this I say, (1) WordPress happens to be free and (2) since I’m not trying to sell you anything I have nothing to lose (beyond your dedicated followership – which I do appreciate by the way), I don’t have to make such commitments since we both know they’d just be bogus anyway.

So to recap: this is my blog. Welcome to it. PM stuff. MBA stuff. Maybe other stuff TBD. Updated sometimes. I hope you stop by from time to time.

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