Business musings

Articles and thoughts about IBM

01
Oct
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Leadership  
Allan MurungiIntroducing guest writer, Allan Murungi

Today, we’re thrilled to introduce a new guest writer to our blog, Allan Murungi. As someone who is studying for an MBA at Warwick Business School, we met Allan at a WBS case study event earlier this year and were instantly impressed with his passion and enthusiasm. In his own words, Allan is an Innovation and Creativity enthusiast, IT Professional, Warwick MBA student, avid book reader and (recently) keen (road bike) cyclist.

The story of IBM’s resurgence during the period 1994 to 1998 is a story of innovation and creativity from the bottom up, started and championed by David Grossman. Grossman’s vision and tenacity resulted in IBM transforming itself from a company that was in decline into an Internet Services firm that rode the wave of e-commerce opportunities to the tune of $20 billion by the end of 1998.

And yet this begs the questions: Who was David Grossman? How did he manage to lead this innovation effort at IBM? And can this innovation and creativity process be replicated?

In organisations, innovation and creativity have traditionally been considered the domains of Chief Executives and other members of the C-suite. The best example of this is perhaps John Chen, formerly of Sybase Inc., who is now leading the turnaround at BlackBerry. As recently as June of this year, BlackBerry has, under his leadership, reported a positive net income of $23 million, up from an $84 million loss during the same period last year.

Innovation and creativity are also generally considered the domain of Research and Development. For instance, the vaunted R&D division of Apple gave us the iPod and iPhone, while Pfizer, the US pharmaceuticals giant, has maintained its dominance through such R&D as developed Viagra.

Where does David Grossman fit in all of this?

During the Winter Olympics of 1994, David Grossman, then described as a midlevel programmer at IBM, sat at home watching the Olympics on TV. As the official technology partner of the Olympics, IBM was responsible for collecting and displaying all the results. This gave the firm the exclusive privilege of displaying the IBM logo at the bottom of the screen, together with an interleaving of IBM ads at regular intervals.

However, upon surfing the Internet, Grossman discovered that Sun Microsystems had set up a rogue Olympics streaming site, complete with the Sun logo and marketing. As such, if someone only had access to this online stream, they would be given the impression that Sun Microsystems was the Winter Olympics’ official sponsor!

Grossman promptly reported this to his superiors, which resulted in IBM’s legal team sending Sun Microsystems a cease-and-desist letter. But Grossman didn’t stop there. He saw the opportunity that the Internet presented and set out to get IBM on board.

First, he set up a demonstration for senior executives in which he showed them exactly what the Web was and the vast potential it held for IBM. This piqued their interest and got their support. Grossman then became the right-hand man to John Patrick, who was present at Grossman’s first demonstration and worked in corporate strategy. Together, they worked on projects to convert IBM’s disparate divisions to the potential of the Web and to design IBM’s first homepage. Grossman and a handful of IBM’s best Web engineers rescued the website that broadcast the chess match between world champion, Gary Kasparov, and IBM Supercomputer, Deep Blue. By the time the Summer Olympics came around in 1996, IBM had built the first ever Olympics website, which also happened to be the world’s largest website at the time. And by 1998, IBM had a huge web presence!

So what does this mean for innovation in your organisation?

Grossman was just a frontline employee. He certainly didn’t have responsibility for innovation and creativity in IBM and he wasn’t part of the strategic planning team. And yet his contribution is credited with enabling IBM to successfully harness the power of the Internet at a critical time, in turn ensuring that the company maximised its potential.

The question then is: Was IBM lucky to have the tenacious and passionate David Grossman on its team?
And the answer is: Absolutely!

Would IBM have got on board with the potential of the internet without him? Maybe/Eventually/Possibly.

Our questions to you then are:

  • What is your innovation and creativity strategy?
  • What are you doing to support and engage your frontline employees in innovation for your company?
  • Are there systems in place to capture the generation of ideas, select the best ones and try them out?
And for those of you who like the research…

The complete story of IBM’s turnaround can be read at Harvard Business Review:
Waking up IBM: how a gang of unlikely rebels transformed Big Blue

Earlier this year, we were busy researching, writing and designing the challenge for the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition.

Held on 25-26 April by Warwick Business School, the competition brought together multi-disciplinary teams from 12 university-based business schools across Europe. In a close-run contest, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford emerged victorious, walking away with both the title and the £4,000 prize.

Sponsored by global providers of transformational medical technologies and services, GE Healthcare, and global business and technology leader, IBM, the competition was focused on a big data solution designed to both stimulate progress in clinical neuroscience and improve outcomes for those with a neurological disorder.

Taking up the challenge to recommend a scaleable business model for this digital product were teams from Aston Business School, Cranfield School of Management, ESADE (Spain), HEC Paris (France), IE Business School (Spain), Lancaster University Management School, Manchester Business School, Mannheim Business School (Germany), SDA Bocconi (Italy), University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, and Warwick Business School.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing the welcome icebreaker event on Friday night, the kick off of the competition day itself, and case materials.

On hand to act as a sounding board for participants as teams developed their ideas were experts from GE Healthcare, IBM, KPMG, the NHS Health & Social Care Integration Centre, University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire, Warwick Medical School, and WebMD.

Adding another invaluable perspective were Ken Howard and Dorothy Hall, to whom we were introduced by client and changemaker, Gill Phillips, creator of the award-winning Whose Shoes? approach.

Ken describes himself as an old biker, sci-fi fan, granddad, music lover and free thinker. He was diagnosed with dementia around 8 years ago but has been living with its effects for much longer. Although little can be done medically, Ken is determined to fight dementia every day by challenging himself and staying involved as much as he can.

I am conscious that I have a short shelf-life. It makes me impatient and frustrated that progress is so slow. I am trying to achieve as much as I can. There is life after diagnosis.

Dorothy is an Independent Social Worker and Practice Educator. Like Ken, and having had personal experience herself caring for a close relative with dementia, she is passionate about increasing awareness. Dorothy is also an advocate for flexible, personalised, imaginative care arrangements.

Together, experts and advocates prompted participants to an awareness of multiple perspectives and the vast array of complex challenges involved. Neurological conditions include not only Alzheimer’s disease and dementia but also stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and more. Collectively, such conditions are estimated to affect up to one billion people worldwide and the World Health Organization believes these disorders represent one of the greatest threats to public health today.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing participants meeting with experts, teams working on the challenge and a team as they presented.

Not only was it timely to focus on neurological conditions but big data solutions to global health challenges are extremely current. Enterprises of all sizes are grappling with demanding technological, regulatory and market challenges, and the business models required continue to be disruptive. Neither the participants nor the judges had an easy task ahead!

In a twist on last year’s format, teams were judged over two rounds. Mannheim Business School, ESADE and Saïd Business School, University of Oxford emerged as semi-finalists, after which the three teams were given one final challenge to reconcile against the clock.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing  the three semi-finalists (Mannheim Business School, ESADE and Said Business School, University of Oxford) in action.

After much deliberation by a judging panel that included senior industry experts and leading academics, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford were pronounced the winning team.

With combined experience in medicine, pharmaceuticals, neuroscience and computer science, the team not only delivered a strong presentation but were able to answer all the judges’ questions with persuasive reasoning and supporting evidence. Together, Grace Lam, Yen Nyugen, Marco Pimentel, and Sindhura Varanasi presented a well thought out approach to a tough challenge.

And although there could only be one winner, all were worthy contestants.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing the winner's announcement, judging in action, and experts, judges and the WBS Executive Team..

Once again, feedback on the day was incredibly positive, and as Warwick MBA student and competition organiser, Corinne Montefort, said: “The competition was a great success.”

As always, it has been our absolute pleasure to be involved. The work of both WBS staff and the Case Competition’s student Executive Team was outstanding and we’ve been privileged to work alongside such an array of great people, from sponsors to experts and judges. Thanks must go to all.

Looking forward to next year and watching the competition grow once again!

In the meantime, we leave you with kind words from two members of the final judging panel…

Debbie and Matt of Stocker Partnership prepared the case study which formed the basis of the Warwick Business School International Healthcare Case Competition 2014. The quality of their preparation and investigation was impeccable and the case set up a highly engaging and challenging scenario on which the whole competition revolved. I’d have no hesitation in recommending Stocker Partnership for this or related specialist support and I’d be delighted to work with their team again!

Dr Jagdeesh Singh Dhaliwal
Medical Advisor, Healthcare Technology & Innovation, Global Government & Health
BT Global Services

I really enjoyed the case presentation, and given the time constraints, the scope was judged very well. Complex and with sufficient detail, the literature review, ambiguous data, overview of the environment, and the setting of some true and false trails for the students all worked well. If the participants worked well as a team, with the right experts – as Oxford did – then they could make a very good showing.

Alan Davies
Medical Director, Global Medical Affairs
GE Healthcare

Coverage elsewhere around the web

Warwick Business School: Said win £4,000 and WBS Case Competition

University of Oxford: CDT in Healthcare Innovation student Marco Pimentel and team from Said win WBS International Healthcare Case Competition

Mannheim Business School: MBS participants succeed at renowned Warwick Business School Case Competition

17
May
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Leadership  Psychology  

A little while ago, I wrote about the need to recognise that every organisation is—in reality—the sum of its people and their individual acts. Recently, I came across a presentation by Joe Leech (User Experience Director of cxpartners) that offered some great insights—albeit from a rather different field.

Entitled Using UX to change company culture, the presentation is focused on web design and the problems of being non-customer focused but, broadly, the same challenges and principles apply to becoming people focused. In the second half of the presentation, Joe offers three suggestions on “what to do” to change company culture; I’ve adopted and built upon these here.

Image shows a screen grab from the final slide of Joe Leech's presentation. The text reads, "Encourage empathy. Humanise your words and approach. Tell stories." The words empathy, humanise and stories are highlighted in blue text, rather than black.

1. Encourage empathy

First and foremost, to truly understand your organisation, you need to empathise with people: employees, customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders and more. Put yourself in their shoes and experience the organisation from their perspective. What works really well and where might there be frustrations? How does your experience of the organisation change when viewed from their standpoint?

Tools such as empathy mapping can help, as can stakeholder engagement. Even when you feel you have a good understanding of a given person’s experience, it is often helpful to ask individuals for their views. Matt and I frequently encourage stakeholder engagement in our client projects and find that sometimes the answers can be surprising. In any empathic exercise, be prepared to really listen, be open minded and put aside any preconceptions you may have. Not only does this foster greater honesty but it also ensures you see the situation as it really is.

In July 2003, IBM conducted what has become known as their Values Jam: a three-day discussion via the corporate intranet about the company’s values. To begin, the comments given by employees were “disturbingly dissonant” and 24 hours in, “at least one senior executive wanted to pull the plug.” Thankfully, Sam Palmisano, CEO at the time, wouldn’t hear of it. To have pulled the plug would have been to deny the reality of employee experience and to ignore valid criticism. Instead, Palmisano listened, empathised and immediately made changes. And it seems to have worked: during Palmisano’s tenure, IBM experienced 21% annual growth in earnings per share and increased its market capitalization to $218 billion.

2. Humanise your words and approach

Rather than focusing on targets, percentages, quotas and the numbers, take time to focus on people. In Playing for keeps (which largely inspired my previous article), Frederick Harmon gives the example of a sales manager’s performance appraisal. Typically such appraisals are focused on measuring performance against numbers but Harmon instead asks:

What if her boss went beyond the numbers? What if he asked her to think about which of her recurring acts had the most power to increase profit? What if he then asked her to find ways to add more value to the way she and her team carried out each of those critical acts? What if they worked out ways together to measure her progress? What if he then regularly reviewed that progress in addition to her numbers every month? Think of the impact on her performance.

In his presentation, Joe Leech also gives a brilliant example from Jack Dorsey (co-founder of both Twitter and Square) who, when asked by Square’s newest Director, Howard Schultz, “Why do you all call your customers ‘users‘?” honestly answered, “I don’t know. We’ve always called them that.” Jack then went on to write a letter to his team explaining that they would be removing the term ‘users’ from their vocabulary and that it should be replaced with ‘customers’ or the more specific ‘buyers’ and ‘sellers’. He writes:

While it might be convenient, “users” is a rather passive and abstract word. No one wants to be thought of as a “user” (or “consumer” for that matter). I certainly don’t. And I wouldn’t consider my mom a “user” either, she’s my mom. The word “user” abstracts the actual individual. This may seem like a small and insignificant detail that doesn’t matter, but the vernacular and words we use here at Square set a very strong and subtle tone for everything we do.

Jack even goes so far as to end with, “If I ever say the word “user” again, immediately charge me $140” (emphasis his).

3. Tell stories

Story telling is a powerful tool to humanise any aspect of your organisation. The quote from Playing for keeps with which I began my last article is a story. It’s a story about the individual acts that together influence next month’s financial statement.

Anecdotes are stories. The tales that are shared over coffee about the latest conversation with a supplier or the most recent email from a colleague can be surprisingly informative. They are also a great way to share your own experience and can provide unexpected business benefit.

In an HBR webinar, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland shared the example of the call center of a bank which, in an effort to minimise “wasted time,” introduced “non-overlapping coffee breaks” to limit “personal contact and ‘non-essential’ communication.” Rather than bringing benefit, this initiative instead had an adverse effect. Unexpectedly, Pentland’s research team were able to demonstrate that shared coffee breaks allowed employees to disseminate important information about their experiences, which, in turn, enabled staff to improve their performance. As a result, the bank reintroduced overlapping breaks and “saw improved call-handling time, which translated into $15 million per year of savings.” In Pentland’s words:

Informal communication and the exchange of tacit information and best practices proved more valuable than formal team meetings, rules, and incentives.

Stories can also be used with effect in other ways. For example, what does your annual state of the nation report look like? Is it a series of mind-numbing numbers: “Customer complaints have decreased by 20%. Competitors have gained 5% market share. In the next year, we will be increasing departmental efficiency by 16%”? How much more engaging would this presentation be if you instead told a series of stories to illustrate and explain?

In his presentation, Leech gives the example of telling a customer story. Stories are great for understanding your customers and really help you to engage with their needs and situation.

Image shows a screen grab from Joe Leech's presentation. On the left is a photo of a young man with brown hair that looks as though it was taken with a webcam. To the right, a speech bubble shows the words, "I'm a new Dad, my girlfriend has just had a baby. We're trying to buy our first home but we can't get credit. I can't even get a credit card."

Simple stories (such as that illustrated by Leech) are a fantastic place to start but if you want to build a more detailed story, personas can enable a deeper understanding. Stories and personas provide you with a human reference point against which to answer questions such as, “Would this encourage Tony to buy?” or “Will Jill find this easy to use?”.

Since the dawn of man, stories have been a highly effective communication tool—they are easy to remember, evocative, descriptive and empathic. They bring a subject alive and ensure that you talk about real people and real life situations. Increasingly, stories are emerging as a management discipline and, for some, storytelling is seen as a key leadership competency for the 21st century.

Over to you

How could you further humanise your organisation? Your business is already its people but do you see it that way? Are you distracted by the numbers, stuck in a language rut or fearful of hearing what others really want to say?

I’ve offered three suggestions here but there will be many more approaches that you could take—I’m sure you’ll even have ideas of your own. Today, dare to open your eyes and to really see the people around you. Who knows what you’ll find—you may just uncover the true source of your organisation’s potential.