Entries in innovation (20)


Catalyst Content Briefing 13 April 2015

IN THIS ISSUE » MUTUALITY LAB • BlackRock CEO: Short-term thinking means important long-range goals get pushed to the sidelines • MIT study finds microcredit doesn't lift people out of property, other research suggests cash does » CULTURE LAB • Cross-team diversity greater driver of workplace innovation: Study • Productivity consultant says employees should be encouraged to adopt 'What's in it for me?' attitude about business meetings » DEMAND LAB • Lego-funded childhood play studies building blocks of company success

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Google moonshots, revisited

We recently posted about Astro Teller, the director of Google's long-term innovation lab known as Google X. Mystery PR may be priceless for tech companies -- and Google X has solid mystery credentials -- but this look at the division and its process from Fast Company last year delves a bit deeper into the team's innovation process and failure metric.

It also sets out the three overarching requirements for all Google X projects:

  1. All must address a problem that affects millions—or better yet, billions—of people.
  2. All must utilize a radical solution that has at least a component that resembles science fiction.
  3. And all must tap technologies that are now (or very nearly) obtainable.

The most interesting insight in the piece may be this: "Google X, as Teller describes it, is an experiment in itself—an effort to reconfigure the process by which a corporate lab functions."

-- Bojan Angelov


Technology, time horizons, and global growth

A recent article by Gillian Tett in the Financial Times profiles the contrarian views of a UK fiscal policymaker  regarding innovation, technology and growth. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, that is, as captured by McKinsey and others that promote unfettered innovation as the ultimate solution to the challenges facing worldwide economic expansion.

Andrew Haldane, chief economist for the Bank of England, sees things differently. In a speech entitled "Growing Fast and Slow," Haldane examines the past 250+ years and concludes that innovation is only part of the reason for the rapid growth the globe has experienced in that time. There are additional factors that are critical: rising levels of human capital (educated people), social capital (trust), and a shift in cultural attitudes towards the future (from a focus on short-term gains to planning for the long term).

Further, while innovation can enable greater growth, Haldane worries about the current direction that digital technologies are taking us. He warns that the digital revolution is increasing income inequality, and may be reducing our time horizons--making us less capable of the patience required to make the investments needed to achieve sustainable long-term growth.

Fast thought could make for slow growth."

--Andrew Haldane

Haldane ends his speech with a warning about the cross-winds associated with increasing innovation on the one hand and decreasing social development on the other. If we are not careful, global growth could end up "suspended between the mundane and the miraculous."

We appreciate an analysis that accounts for human capital, social capital, and considers the merits of a long-term perspective. What do you think about Mr. Haldane's observations?

-- Clara Shen


Can you have too much team cohesion?

A recent study out of Ryerson University questions the conventional wisdom that the performance of workplace teams always increases as their social bonds grow. Instead, the relationship between team cohesion and performance looks more like a classic bell curve -- rising significantly at first, but peaking at a certain point and declining beyond that.

One reason for the previously undocumented decline in performance at the far end of the spectrum could be that "groupthink" hampers innovation and dampens a team's urge to challenge the status quo, according to an article in Strategy+Business. The risk of teams aligning their analysis with senior leaders has been explored in the past, but those posed by intra-team social ties less so.

There are benefits to team cohesion, including higher levels of job satisfaction, fewer conflicts, and less turnover, but the implications of the study seem to be that a balancing act is required. Team leaders and managers should try to find that optimal level of social ties that promote high performance, and to monitor and make adjustments if the risk of stagnation and groupthink starts to grow.


Image: Example team connection maps. Source: Baylor University

-- Segundo Saenz, Bojan Angelov


The man behind Google's "moonshot" division

Google has a division, 'Google X', that is focused on developing long-lead projects with transformational business potential. It conducts research on "out there" technologies, seeking new problems that Google can solve (or for which it can become part of the solution), and new business green-fields for the company to enter.  Given Catalyst’s ‘H3/4’ type remit, looking into the future and working counterintuitively towards breakthroughs that can be game changing for our own business, we feel an affinity for Google X and might learn from the Google X  recipe.  You may find the recent New York Times interview with Google X director, Astro Teller, of interest as we did.

Google has come under increased pressure from shareholders and analysts to provide more transparency and ROI data for Google X -- a topic worthy of its own discussion -- and predictably the Times interview touches on this issue.  Teller provides some insight into his philosophy towards work and approach to value that are worth noting.  His description of how he wants to talk about what the division is working on -- a "philosophy of authenticity and vulnerability” — reflects a belief that to progress it's important to discuss what is working well, but also what is failing -- in order to understand real reasons for both.  Catalyst operates with a similar philosophy, even instituting a ‘failure metric’ for the team to create further incentives for risk taking, in the belief that if we always succeed with every new initiative, we are not stretching the boundaries into new frontiers where many of the truly transformational opportunities reside.  

Teller’s answer to the question of what justifies his team's work could also serve as a contribution to a broader discussion of the concept of mutuality in business: “… We need to make sure that the things we are already working on turn out to do the things we believe they can do and creating value both for the world and ultimately for Google."

Image source: Wired

-- Jay Jakub