Thursday, April 28, 2011

Will The Next Bill Rasmussen Please Stand Up

Innovation, the key to sustainable economic health, has been missing in action in Connecticut for the past 30 years. The state's traditional companies such as SNET, Pratt & Whitney, Sikorksy, Hamilton Standard, Aetna, Travelers, Stanley Works, and Perkin Elmer are in the maturity phase of their life cycle and no longer lead Connecticut's innovation.

It's been over 30 years since Connecticut has had a major business innovation. People asked Bill Rasmussen why he started ESPN in Connecticut in 1978.  "It's simple", he said.  "I live here".  Here's a Hartford Business Journal article about Bill.

Connecticut's innovative past included some pretty cool "firsts".
  • Artificial heart
  • Anesthesia
  • Helicopter
  • Nuclear submarine
  • Retractable tape measure
  • Vulcanized rubber
  • Magnetic core computer memory
  • Semiconductor injection laser
  • Polaroid photography
  • Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus
  • Football rules - Walter Camp
  • Paper clip mass production
  • Dictionary
  • Can opener
  • Steamboat
  • Newspaper
  • Cotton gin
  • America's factory town
  • Movable parts mass production
  • Insurance company
  • Public art museum
  • Portable typewriter
  • Sewing machine
  • Ice-making machine
  • Pay phone
  • Telephone exchange
  • Collapsible toothpaste tube
  • Hamburger
  • Lollipop
  • Frisbee
  • Wiffle Ball
  • Silly Putty
  • PEZ Candy
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • UHF TV station and FM radio station
  • Color television
  • Colt Revolver

Who will be the catalyst to rekindle a long history of innovation?
Will the next Bill Rasmussen please stand up.

[Read this article and this one to see the details.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Double Railroad Performance and Reap Great Byproducts - Just Like the Space Program

Think about all the great byproducts from the space program [see yesterday's blog].  They've impacted every aspect of our lives. They weren't planned, but innovators took advantage of NASA's investments and found great commercial and public sector applications.

What's to prevent us from reaping unplanned rewards from investing in our rail system? President Kennedy's goal was to win the space race by safely landing an American on the moon in less than a decade. Why shouldn't the USA be able to upgrade its railroad system to be equal or better than any other country's?  Currently the highest train speed in the USA is 150 mph.  The average for the rest of the world is 357 mph.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Great Byproducts from Achieving Ambitious Goals

In 1961 when President Kennedy set what most perceived to be an overly ambitious goal of safely landing an American on the moon in less than 10 years, his sole objective was to pass the USSR in the race for space.  No one could have imagined the thousands of by-products that would impact computer technology, environmental and resource management, health and medicine, industrial productivity, manufacturing technology, public safety, transportation, along with home, recreation and consumer products.

If it weren't for the space program we wouldn't have the iPad, iPod, CDs, DVDs, microcomputers or Wii virtual reality games. We wouldn't have non-invasive medical imaging devices.  Automobile designers wouldn't have been able to benefit from aerodynamic design software.  Air quality monitoring systems that have helped us to significantly improve our environment wouldn't exist.  Photovoltaic solar systems wouldn't exist.

I also learned that NASA technology has been leveraged to produce enriched baby foods and water purification systems for underdeveloped countries. Scratch resistant lenses and ribbed swimsuits were also invented using space technology - even the DustBuster.

Maybe we're beginning to reach the point of diminishing returns relative to continued benefits associated with space program investment, but I doubt it.  My point is that the investment of time, creativity and money in achieving monster goals will produce significant byproducts if we act with wide peripheral vision.

JFK's 10 year horizon looked impossible to reach, but look what his legacy has delivered 50 years later.

If you'd like to read about unplanned byproducts whose roots are in the space program, check out this article.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cloud Computing: Nothing really new here

Here's an example of how acquisitions can kill a company's innovation culture.

Back in 1974 an innovative company known as Telenet, Inc. was established by BBN.  Telenet offered a cloud based packet switching network.  Customers connected their computers to the cloud.  Their users would dial into the cloud and connect to their host's network address.  This saved customers from having to design, install, maintain, upgrade and manage their own private networks.  It also enabled employees to work remotely and and globally and for customers and vendors to "connect", which created efficiencies and a competitive advantage.

In the early days Telenet's customers were primarily the early adopters who saw the benefits and were willing to "make it happen" for their companies.  As they proved the benefits of cloud computing, the mass market pragmatists jumped on board.  This set the stage for AOL and other Internet communities that hit the scene in the 1980s.

Then, in the late '80s, Telenet continued its innovative product line strategy by offering cloud based email and EDI services to customers who had gained confidence in using its cloud based dial-up network services.

Unfortunately, when it was acquired by Sprint, Telenet's product innovation came to a halt as Sprint milked Telenet as a cash cow and force fitted Telenet into its telecom carrier services culture.

If this acquisition hadn't happened, cloud computing services would have been available many years ago and what we're reading about today wouldn't be such big news.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our Acquisitions Have Been Unified "In Name Only"

In my experience with clients who have grown by acquiring others with similar products and services, I've noticed a common thread, which smacks of short term thinking.

While adding the revenues [albeit for the short term] from newly acquired customers, they do a good job of cutting costs wherever duplicate administrative jobs exist.

However, these quick hits to the income statement don't produce a sustainable boon to the balance sheet or pro forma income statement.

I believe that these company leaders are following financial and operational paths, but not assimilating acquisitions into a unified marketing culture that reaps the benefits of consolidated business development processes.

I've noticed that they allow individual sales, marketing and customer service environments to continue to operate as if the newly acquired businesses were still independent entities.  They do not follow simple logic that suggests a centralization of processes like lead generation and lead nurturing.  They do not systematize one sales process across all business entities.  They do not subscribe to a common approach to ensuring customer satisfaction which breeds retention and referrals.

Is it a lack of courageous leadership where short term thinking is the path of least resistance? Or, does the acquiring company not have a strong marketing culture in which to assimilate new acquisitions in a planned fashion.Or, maybe the acquiring company does not have bullet proof sales, marketing, support and business development processes that will enable a "whole greater than the sum of its parts"?

It's easy to cut costs, but there's only so much that you can squeeze out of the sponge.  The marketing, sales, customer service and business development stuff is tough - the things that great companies are made of.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pay Attention to First Impressions

I thought I was interested in a potential new client who could benefit from my "change agent" services in their business development environment.

I experienced three negative initial impressions; the first was when they called me to set up a planning telephone call. It was reinforced when I visited their headquarters for the first time.

For the initial telephone planning session, they called 30 minutes later than the scheduled time.  They told me matter of factly that an unexpected situation caused them to be late.  I had to reschedule the call because I had another appointment.  A few days later they sent me an email asking to re-reschedule the planning call because of a new unexpected situation.  My antenna went up.  Was this the way they treated their employees as well?

A week later when I walked into their well-adorned lobby, I was greeted by an unfriendly receptionist.  I felt like an invader.

As I was escorted to the conference room, I passed quiet employees who were alone in their cubes and didn't look like they were enjoying their day.

When the managers who could benefit from my services entered the conference room, I sensed a very negative air about them even before the first words were spoken.  The conversation was very superficial and we never got to the heart of the matter after one hour of skirting the issues.

I decided to not follow through with the engagement.

The moral of the story is to pay attention to the environment before you decide to pursue an opportunity.  Maybe it's just one person who is relaying a questionable signal.  But if you find consistency in at least three separate interaction points, something's up.