Friday, July 18, 2008

Open letter to Sony's Howard Stringer ...

... and a fitting closure to this blog!

Two things I've been wanting to do for some time is to make a final post to this blog now that I am no longer posting here. I also wanted to finally publish a few letters (e-mails) that I sent while working at Sony a few years back, now that I can do so with relative impunity. They encapsulate the beliefs and values behind the entire endeavour that was this blog and they make for a fitting subject matter with which to close this little exercise of mine!

The e-mails were sent while I was still working at Sony around three years ago. I left soon afterwards. They capture the essential thinking that I had recorded in this blog from its inception in 2002 but had in fact already started when I first joined Sony in 2000.

The first e-mail was sent to Sir Howard Stringer just as he had been made CEO and Sony was going through a very rocky patch that had started some time prior to that and was the very reason he was brought in. It was purely speculative and proactive - read on below:

NOTE: The slide deck referred to in both mails can be found here on SlideShare (they are slightly more refined than the original but essentially the same).

-----Original Message-----
From: Danelutti, Stephen
Sent: 01 June 2005 09:46
To: Stringer, Howard
Subject: 70% of new Innovation and Change efforts fail!

Dear Sir Howard,

Considering the imperative of the subject at Sony right now, I'd like to propose a solution.

The problem: Company transformation efforts are largely failing because innovation and change efforts are too often a top-down approach that do not sufficiently consider and involve the constituent most responsible for effective change efforts and within which great ideas most often reside - the workforce!

The solution: Technological tools, cultural alignment and process engineering that facilitate bottom-up involvement so employees can drive change efforts in the most suitable way and bring marketable ideas to the attention of top management with a high rate of buy-in followed by a high success rate in the marketplace.

Attached is a summary slide with a slightly more detailed overview of my proposed solution (with relevant online links). I would really appreciate your feedback!

From someone passionate about Sony, innovation and change but exceedingly frustrated by an inability to be more effective due to organisational constraints!

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Danelutti

Needless to say, I received no reply but then this was sent very soon after Sir Howard was appointed CEO so obviously he was a little busy. I remained undeterred and my second opportunity came up soon afterwards. In response to an idea gathering initiative that was started soon after I sent my first mail I fired off my second attempt. The initiative was communicated via e-mail by the way and responses were to be given by e-mail and supposedly Sir Howard Stringer and Dr Chubachi (COO at the time if I recall correctly) were going to personally review every idea, or some such nonsense. E-mail, can you "Adam and Eve" it...

-----Original Message-----
From: Danelutti, Stephen
Sent: 13 June 2005 12:05
To: Sony Ideas
Subject: An idea about successful idea creation and management!

Dear Sir Howard and Dr. Chubachi

I would like to commence with my e-mail/idea by saying that the Sony Ideas initiative is a very good one and a great start. However, in my humble and frank opinion, it is not enough! This e-mail (an introduction of my thinking) and the attached presentation (a more detailed, generic overview of a programme surrounding the idea) are all about my alternatives!

One additional point of clarification I'd like to make is that I use the term innovation synonymously with ideas throughout. Finally, about the idea itself! Hopefully it addresses at least two of the issues that your initiative raises: a uniform, efficient and continuous way of evaluating all ideas; a way of ensuring that you get much more than just 5 ideas, that are successful. But I hope it goes much further! Thank you for your consideration!

Why is managing ideas properly so important?

  • Because so many new ideas fail! Fail to reach the market or fail to be profitable! Improving the odds is critical!
  • Because ideas are the lifeblood of Sony and the engine of growth, managing them should be given higher priority. I believe in providing for and involving employees in a programme for continuously creating and managing new ideas efficiently that exceed the one-off, electronic suggestion box - with all due respect. This is critical for Sony's future success and effectively makes innovation management a core competence.
  • Ideas cannot be copied so easily in this world of commoditisation, or at least can be protected, sufficient to wring large profits from them!

What else is important?

  • Change is closely linked to ideas. Microsoft turned their whole company around when they discovered how big an idea the Internet was going to be and realised that they had not yet properly capitalised on it! So too Apple when they saw the potential in MP3 players. The most successful way of innovating (as you will see from my presentation) is to capitalise on opportunities as they arise - this requires being as flexible to change as Microsoft and Apple were. Also, considering that change is the only constant today, that managing it is imperative and that many programmes fail, making change management a core competence becomes critical too!
  • If you accept the link, you could conclude as I have, that innovation + change = transformation and that this needs to be done continuously and effectively in order for it to become a competitive advantage ad infinitum. More about this in my presentation.
  • As James Surowiecki so brilliantly researches and shows in his book: The Wisdom of Crowds; good ideas and actions are not the preserve of a few experts and more often than not, large groups of people have better and more successful ideas/solutions - so involve the whole workforce! Also, with regard to both innovation and change programmes, if they are handed down from management without sufficient engagement of employees, they are not as effective! A mechanism for involvement, buy-in and measurement is critical, beyond broadcast communication and a feedback channel like a suggestion box. Ideally though, it is more than just involvement, it is engagement of passion! Finally, successful ideas and change agents can come from anywhere, not just the engineering or R&D department and innovation can go beyond just products to cover business processes (like DELL) and business concepts as well (like eBay).
  • With engagement in mind but beyond "morale boosting" comes accountability, which I know ranks high on your agenda. For example, linking critical activities with success and performance goals like GE's CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt is doing. One of the ways in which he is trying to shift the current mindset at GE is with pay - linking bonuses to new ideas. Out of interest, he is also doing it with customer satisfaction and sales growth, with less emphasis on bottom-line results. Further focus areas are with risk - Spending billions to fund "Imagination Breakthrough" projects that extend the boundaries of GE and with experts - Rotating executives less often, and bringing in more outsiders to create industry experts instead of professional managers.

What are the bases for my observations?

Other than my past experience, interests and areas of study I would like specifically to speak of my experience at Sony, to raise some issues by way of example and to provide a sample voice so to speak, if nothing else!

  • Past communication/efforts. This is not my first attempt to bring my idea forward as you can see from the mails preceding this one. My last e-mail to you Sir Howard is very recent and you no doubt have been too busy to consider it but what is important is that I am using a very rudimentary channel - email - because there is no alternative. Why didn't I go to my current manager you might ask? Fairly clear evidence that this would fail based on past experience and a focus on current operations that made it impossible and irrelevant - a common problem with generic corporate ideas!
  • Isolating change management and innovation - generally accepted as a failure point. For example, one of the reasons my idea was rejected in the first round (in Europe) was because a Change Management department had just been created in Brussels and my ideas/effort (although supposedly valued) were seen to be in potential conflict with those. The other classic example at Sony concerning innovation, that has become legend, is that of Ken Kutaragi succeeding with PlayStation despite the system not because of it and with its support!
  • I was involved in the Eurostar project to move European Business Units to the UK from The Netherlands. A good example of a badly managed change programme - sorry to say and I'm sure I need not say more! The fact remains though that Sony is not the best company in managing change.
  • I was deeply involved in a due diligence exercise to evaluate a business that had been longer than a year in preparation. It had resided in this time at the B2B division of Sony Europe, PSE. It was for a business that, in partnership with Publicis the Communications group, was to provide and earn revenue for management of a digital content management and distribution system for flat display signage in major malls across Europe. Network Services Europe, of which I am a part, was asked to conduct the exercise with a view to taking the business over. Notwithstanding the confusing and long drawn out decision to hand it back to PSE as a final conclusion (with no end in sight for this business opportunity), I observed a complete lack of a unified process of submission and evaluation of the idea itself - with all due respect.
  • Generally, I have seen first hand many other examples of people who have had ideas about innovation or change but have been frustrated in their efforts. Brilliant, passionate people without a clear way of progressing or with very little support/encouragement by management. So they leave for other companies or like me they become independent, in order to carry the flame onwards. On this last point I would like to clearly state that just because I am independent (last year in my 5 years at Sony), does not mean I am not committed.

Why should you consider my idea?

Although I really do want to keep the focus of this mail on my "idea about idea management", I feel I would not do it credit or myself without pointing out my value to Sony beyond the idea itself and competence to propose/manage/support it, but also in terms of my other relevant skill sets. Without wanting to send a CV or make a large issue of it I have summarised salient points below:

  • Succesfully set-up a CRM programme for Digital Imaging Europe across Europe - key future focus for Sony is customer focus. Past experience and study has focused on this area too!
  • Successfully set-up and managed a professional services group steering European software development activities - key future focus for Sony!
  • Bridged the gap from device to content by working on a mobile entertainment project (full track download and streaming to mobile phone - StreamMan) as part of a largely content driven group, DADC in Salzburg - key future focus for Sony!

What am I asking for?

  • My idea requires refinement and validation! The validation could be either theoretical with the support of a reputable research body or practical by implementing at a relevant department. Ideally both occur and this could be concurrent or linear with practice following theory.
  • Sony is currently undergoing a massive transformation. I am deeply passionate about the company and its products, would really like to see a success story but better still, be a part of it and I have in-depth knowledge about the company and its future focus areas. Finally, considering that change and innovation are critical factors in the success of the transformation effort at Sony, then I would make a very able agent, if I may say!
  • Bottom line: Let me implement or support the implementation of my idea (or a modification of it where necessary) at Sony or at the very least let me take a part in Sony's transformation efforts where I will in any event carry out my research independently and can contribute learning accordingly.

Many thanks once again for your time, attention and consideration!

Yours sincerely

Stephen Danelutti

No reply from above either - no surprises there. I left soon afterwards to start up netoCiety to do for companies the very things I wanted to for Sony but couldn't. I'm still doing it and will be for a long time to come :)

So apart from trying to achieve closure on one of my blog journeys so far what can I glean from this little trip down memory lane?

1. Sony still have a long way to go in transforming themselves
2. My views are still spot on and Sony should hire netoCiety :)
3. The living embodiment of my thinking has finally been realised with a prototype we at netoCiety have just released and called netoVation (or networked innovation) - check it out
4. I now have closure on a certain period of my life and can move forward with wild abandon


Friday, May 23, 2008

Innovation UK - A nation on the edge

Attended a conference hosted by Nesta ( the other day and other than the prominence it was given by speakers like the Prime Minister Gordon Brown (see pic) and Sir Bob Geldof who gave an excellent keynote, I did not really get the impression this event covered the cutting edge of innovation in the UK. In the area I cover especially (use of social networking/software to facilitate innovation - check out there was a pronounced lack of depth and coverage, even in the supposedly related session covered by Charles Leadbetter on social networking. See Nesta site for videos, podcasts, etc.

Posted by ShoZu

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Start them young ...

My 4 1/2 year old daughter at the helm and perfectly comfortable with it - brilliant!

This is also a test of from my Nokia N95

Posted by ShoZu

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back...sort of!

This long overdue post is just to a testament to my existence, for me if no one else...

I've been a busy bee! I've switched to Mac - yyyeeehhhhaaaaaaa! Everything it was cracked up to be although some don't agree (read the full post - it's definitely not pro regardless of what you might infer briefly from the title - as well as a brilliant follow up which sheds some light on the dark side of an Apple obsession). Despite the ease of the switch there is some work to do. Amazingly (although not surprisingly), the problems that remain are still with Windows which I'm running on the seriously nifty piece of software from Parallels.

I've been really busy at my company with new clients, a new site which is not live yet and working on some events (a Confluence user event coming up in London). I've barely written on the company blog but anything I have managed to do has been there.

I've been thinking a lot about this blog and my company blog and how I need to integrate them or find a better way of maintaining two blogs essentially. I might try this one for a while as a microblog of sorts with snippets of info, pics, videos, etc. I'll try it with the new Sony Ericsson K850i I might get, if I don't go for the iPhone that is :)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Crossing the Chasm Redux

A refreshing piece over at Read/Write Web by Alex Iskold on a time-tested but potentially worn strategy that could do with some updating. Also, an interesting analogy of Apple's use of the strategy but I think it is missing some points and this impacts on the overall analysis. I commented there. Here is the gist:

Unlike its competitors who were in the market first with MP3 players (the likes of iRiver, Rio, etc.), Apple had a compelling service that matched the product - iTunes.

The service was as compelling as the product (the emphasis of the analogy) and allowed an active user base to migrate to a legal platform from the then illegal Napster, at least those fearful of the RIAA's increasing threats and actions. As part of the service, Steve Jobs had managed to convince a hugely sceptical music industry to allow tracks to be sold digitally. Not that they had much choice in the face of ever increasing declines due to ever increasing piracy but a huge feat nonetheless.

The point is that Steve Jobs managed to tap into demand that already existed (MP3 players were already selling and digital downloads had already started, albeit illegally), very innovatively and very quickly and he threw all his might at it. He took advantage of an opportunity and according to research into Innovation success rates that I recently read about, this is the greatest determinant to Innovation success.

The key points of my very long winded comment (:-)) is that matching demand with innovation is a key ingredient for crossing the chasm, ingredients very often missing from many a start-ups portfolio in their quest to "cross the chasm". Of course as you pointed out, money and brand are important, but these points I've just mentioned are too. Hope this contributes to a worthy topic...

I'm just back from a little break and after reading two interesting articles in the latest print edition of Newsweek (yes I still do some of my reading offline :)), I thought I'd share links to the online versions here which might go to show that enterprises have finally "crossed the chasm", if any evidence was still required:

  • Power In Numbers How wiki software is reforming bloated bureaucracies and changing the face of communication
  • A 'Free-Form Attitude' As corporations, nonprofits and even governments make use of the free-form technology that is the wiki, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales weighs in on the power of collaboration.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Networked Enterprise, Innovation and Competition

Just spreading some good news! My company netoCiety is part of a consortium which I cannot say much about now but we (the consortium) have been selected to go through to the next stage in the UK Technology Strategy Board's Spring 2007 Competition. There is a two stage application process for funding, an outline application followed by a full application for projects successful at the outline stage.

Full deets here

Friday, July 13, 2007

Knowledge / Digital / Network Age tipping point?

In my view we are currently undergoing a transformation as fundamental as the one between the Agricultural Age and the Industrial Age in the early part of the last century. We are now being supplanted by the Knowledge/Digital/Network (add own sobriquet here) Age.

Merely wanted to link to some great posts/occurrences that might show this and most importantly, get to the heart of this post which is: Have we reached a tipping point yet?
  • My last post (Latest on the transformation debate) covers two big pieces of commentary (one a book) which, whilst both are disparaging of the changes currently taking place, at the same time give credibility to the argument that we are undergoing a fundamental transformation. Links to the pieces as well as controversy they have stirred are included - check it out.

  • From the normally sceptical Nicholas Carr of Does IT Matter comes the announcement of his new book that will be published early 2008: The Big Switch - Our new Digital Destiny. The title itself implies we are at a tipping point (same must apply to Nick because this seems like a complete reversal of his views in Does IT Matter?). NOTE: the topic is not so much about the transformation in and off itself but specifically about a form it will take - utility computing. But relevant excerpts from the blurb are telling:
    A hundred years ago, businesses began dismantling their waterwheels, steam engines, and generators. After producing their own mechanical power for centuries, they suddenly had an alternative. They could plug into the newly built electric grid and get all the electricity they needed from central stations. The cheap power pumped out by electric utilities didn't just transform how businesses operate. It set off a chain reaction of economic, social, and cultural changes that brought the modern world into existence.

    Today, a new technological revolution is under way, and it's following a similar course. Companies are beginning to dismantle their private computer systems and tap into rich services delivered over the Internet. This time, it’s computing that’s turning into a utility. The shift is already remaking the computer industry, bringing new competitors like Google and to the fore and threatening stalwarts like Microsoft, SAP, and Dell. But the effects will reach much further. Cheap, utility-supplied computing will ultimately change society as profoundly as cheap electricity did.

  • The arrival and battle amongst the so-called DIY social networks (great article from Richard McManus over at Read/WriteWeb): services that allow you to create a custom social network for any topic. These services can be either hosted or based on your own server. In many ways, these services represent the second generation of social networks, after Friendster, MySpace and Facebook. You could argue virtual worlds are 'next generation' too, but in any case custom social networks are certainly a step up from proprietary SNS like MySpace and Facebook. I believe this is a new iteration of the social network that will be much more powerful than the sometimes "closed" social networks like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook. As such they represent to my mind, a tipping point. Services analysed are: Ning, vibEngine and PeopleAggregator.

  • Interesting post over at Communities Dominate brands which tries to collate various data sources on spending on social networking related activities globally, and as of end of 2006 (in what has to be seen as a very nascent market), the aggregate is a whopping $ 6.5 Billion.
I'm going to try and gather more evidence of this in some way or other, this was just a hurried start to an important direction for this blog...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Latest on the transformation debate

There are two views currently doing the rounds (with much associated controversy) that touch on the effects that Web 2.0, social computing/networking, etc. are having (or not) on society as a whole and will continue to have in future. They are both decidedly sceptical in their outlook and with many good reasons to be but they still miss the point as I see it.

First, the views are those expressed by Michael Gorman in his articles on the Encyclopaedia Brittanica Blog entitled WEB 2.0: The Sleep of Reason. The second is from the book by Andrew Keen entitled The cult of the amateur: How today's internet is killing our culture. You wont have to go too far to get an idea of the debate these views have stirred up, mostly pitting the sceptics against the utopians and so the arguments are largely skewed.

A balanced contribution is from a normally sceptical voice and although he retains a useful sense of scepticism, he comes close to making the point. I'm talking about Nicholas Carr of Why IT doesn't matter fame. A quote from his article on the Brittanica Blog on the subject:

So while I’m happy to line up on Gorman’s side in battling the hive mind fabulists, I’m not going to kid myself that it’s anything more than a sideshow. We’re not going to see the rise of a superior collective intelligence – those awaiting a higher consciousness will end up, as always, either disappointed or deluded – but neither are we going to see the survival of a way of thinking shaped by the careful arrangement of words on printed pages.

The point? I've made it before or rather I've borrowed someone else's view to make it in this post :) In essence it is this:

Global connectivity, real-time information, and the other usual suspects of visionary business books won't change the business world, they already are changing it, they have changed it in the past, and they've been on their way to changing it for more than three decades, ever since the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency first successfully tested the ARPANET, the forerunner of today's Internet.

This can apply equally to society as a whole. An important aspect (as Spinoza the great Dutch philosopher once said) is to "view passing events under the aspect of eternity". When you view things in the context of very long time horizons as Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor did (quote in previous paragraph), then you see the real impact of the internet and how it has changed things and will continue to change things moving forward. Some positive and some not so positive as Andrew Keen points out. Change and ultimately transformation is inevitable and we should think about how we can harness it effectively - not harp on and debate endlessly about its merits and demerits.

"Just do it" I say (in the immortal words of that great shoe manufacturer). Here endeth today's lesson...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Blending of social software components for best performance

This as an unashamed punt of a post I have just made covering the topic on my company blog. To be honest, I am a little ashamed although I'm not sure I should be, i.e. should I or should I not avoid this crass commercial up-selling of my company on a supposedly unbiased personal and professional blog? Any thoughts???

My other dilemma is that I am currently contributing to two blogs and this is time consuming so I am considering a merger of sorts but the problem and headache is integration of my archive. Also, the company blog is built into the platform we use for the site itself (Atlassian's Confluence Enterprise wiki) which as the post suggests, scores highly as a platform that blends social software components, but as I conclude in the post, I'm not sure the end-to-end solution in this case works, i.e. is Confluence's blogging function an adequate replacement for this blog. Currently it isn't but I am working on something. Any ideas/suggestions in this area would also be welcome!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Delicious gadget loveliness and wikimania

To boost an already great Friday I thought I'd cover two areas of passion and get the weekend party started - hope I'm not the only one that this benefits :)

The first was prompted by some news I picked up of new handsets that have just been launched by a manufacturer (I'll leave it to you to find out who but won't be difficult). I have written about mobile phones before, you may have noticed. They are a passion, they are the future and they are generally from companies I admire or at least phones I admire. This time was no different but I was struck at how unmoved I actually was on seeing the new devices which is not an altogether new occurrence of late and was especially marked since the are really nice devices. On examining further, I realised it was because of Apple's new iPhone which I have written about before. They have raised the bar so high it makes it difficult to get excited about anything else. I've not posted pics to drool over before so here is a great one:

The other topic/passion is about wikis and I recently came across a brilliant piece of research being conducted on the use of wikis within Enterprise (a subject close to my heart as well as business). Penny Edwards is working on the study as part of her MBA Technology Management research with the Open University Business School, UK. She's conducting the survey to gather data on wiki management practices as well as the relationship between wiki management and organisational learning. If appropriate or interested I urge you to take the survey which is published on her wiki. It takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

It would tie in very nicely with the research programme I am currently exploring with a client and prominent UK univeristy and I will be hoping to coincide as far as possible with Penny's efforts.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Social Networking gives rise to Networked Society

Just posted this over on my company blog but thought it might be useful here too:

I've long thought this - the reason why I helped create netoCiety in the first place (netoCiety is a combination of the words Networked Society which I in turn first read about in Howard Castells, The Rise of the Network Society). Pretty obvious stuff you would say and I'd agree but that is not the point of this post.

I was reminded of my long-standing beliefs by this excellent post from Stuart Brown over at Wisdump entitled The Ebb and Flow of Social Networking. It observes the phenomenon of "countless communities online that have grown, peaked, and slowly faded into obscurity. Like a roving band of wildebeest, it seems communities arrive en masse, graze for a while, and move on to pastures anew."

He plots a graph, not unlike Gartner's Technology Hype Cycle series that has a peak and a plateau but unlike Gartner, it has a decline. This might lead one to believe that this cycle of birth, death and rebirth has no cumulative effects. I'm not saying that is what is being said but my point is that the cumulative effects of all this luvvly jubbly web 2.0, social networking, community and Enterprise 2.0 stuff on the Internet is giving rise to something in the long term, as fundamental as what was postulated in the book by Howard Castells. That is, aside from the ebb and flow we see in the present time. I've tried clumsily to represent my simple point below:

Something revolutionary is happening! Now let me get off my cloud and start some serious weekend partying :) / CBS deal observations

Couple of observations on the (popular social music site) sale to CBS Corp (US media giant), picked up first by me here.

  • A commenter in this article (covering the fallout from users baulking at the possibilities of interference) is possibly right that all CBS wants is a better pulse on GenX/Y audiences but they wont interfere and in the name of research, they'll run at a loss. This is a sensible citizen research source strategy but is it sensible business strategy. Why buy just to be able to tap into a research base (blogosphere is just as good and free) in order to then build elsewhere based on the knowledge (as suggested by commenter)? All the value is in the acquired service brand and with its users and not doing anything to influence enhancements sensibly in line with CBS strategy does not make sense.
  • Price ($280m/£140m) is steep for 15 million "active" users considering the above and ROI is going to be a long time coming unless they get their act together on a sensible revenue stream.
  • On the last point, I have it from various sources that mobile is hot on the agenda, either directly from management or from CBS or both. Sensible considering mobile music is hot, hot, hot! I only have to look at the latest acquisition in this space (my erstwhile employer - Sony NetServices, purchased by Real Networks). Nice take on that deal by GigaOM here. Of course there's Apple's strategy with iPhone to consider as well which I wrote about here.

As an avid user myself (see playlist at right), I'm not holding my breathe that this deal will have any positive impact on the service, certainly not in the short term while the integration work proceeds. I'll be watching...

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