Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Drought: The Genetically Engineered Food Debate!

The Great Drought of 2012 wears on across the American corn belt adding to the misery of the current soft patch in the sluggish economic recovery.   As the economics of drought emerge again, the question being debated by farmers, producers, academics, and consumers is "Do we combat drought with innovation in conventional agronomic practices, or do we look to agri-biotech to boost global food production?"

Genetically engineered foods can create plants with the exact traits needed for a desired purpose.  Plants can be engineered to withstand disease, drought, cold weather, pests, and poor soil conditions.  These enhancements reduce the risk of crop failure and
offer price stability to the world aggregate supply of grain. Plants can be enhanced to add nutritional values to help the malnourished of the world.    These are the benefits of agri-biotech. 

Concern about unintended consequences is the majority counter-argument which has been losing the debate over the past decade.  The effects of cross-contamination, allergens, unknown effects on humans, and the economics of seed cost are most often cited as reason to view genetically engineered food with caution or not at all. 
As CFO for a food producer, I witness first hand every day the volatility of the food supply.  Charts like this mean prices for food around the world are going to increase.

The demand for 40% of corn grown in America to meet USA ethanol mandates will put pressure on the livestock industry that needs corn for feed.  Livestock will then look to other grains for feed.   Demand for corn and grains then raises prices which is good for farmers.  The downside is when crops fail, families around the world pay more for food, for protein, and for fuel.  This causes the greatest suffering in the poor and developing nations of the world that depend on importing grains for food. 

Are genetically modified plants the answer to volatility, hunger, and famine?  Do we work for innovation in conventional agronomics or biotech?  Let the debate begin!

Monsanto Presentation on Drought Tolerant Corn

The Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods (Action Bioscience)

GMO drought-tolerant corn over-promises: plant scientist (Reuters)

Genetically Modified Food May Be Making You Fast (FastCo)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How Steve Jobs Solved The Innovator's Dilemma or How ClaytonChristensen Got Apple Wrong

On page 408 of Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" biography, Harvard innovation guru Clayton Christensen is quoted as saying in Wired "If Apple continues to rely on its proprietary architecture...the iPod will likely become a niche product."  Steve Jobs read Christensen's book "The Innovator's Dilemma" and solved the paradox that has brought down many a successful company. 

As one who has read Christensen and followed how he got Apple wrong, I think it is worth taking a blog to talk about why the highly regarded academic expert on innovation was outsmarted by Steve Jobs--a real innovator. 

Let's back up and define the innovator's dilemma. By doing what good companies are supposed to do--focus on pleasing their most profitable customers--industry leaders are paving the way for their own demise. How? By ignoring disruptive technologies--the new, cheaper innovations that initially target small customer segments but evolve to displace the reigning product.

From Dr. Christensen's website:

Disruptive innovation
describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors. 

An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.  Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include:  lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics. 

Because companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change, most organizations eventually end up producing products or services that are too good, too expensive, and too inconvenient for many customers.  By only pursuing “sustaining innovations” that perpetuate what has historically helped them succeed, companies unwittingly open the door to “disruptive innovations”.

In its simplest form,
the dilemma is management practices that allow companies to be leaders in mainstream markets sustaining and improving products they have innovated are the same practices that cause them to miss the opportunities offered by disruptive technologies.

In other words, well-managed companies fail because they are well managed.
Paul Smalera of Reuters puts it this way:

Christensen shows how well-managed, profitable companies can become abject failures in a breathtakingly short time by doing all the right things: They refine their existing products to be better and better. They cater to their best, biggest customers. And they try to grow their profit margins with every passing quarter. But it turns out the path they’re on is something like C.S. Lewis’s gently sloping road to Hell.

So when Christensen predicted the iPod would be cannibalized by disruptive technologies if Apple did not license its FairPlay digital rights management to other device makers or allow other online stores to sell songs for use on an iPod, he was wrong because Steve Jobs and his team solved the innovator's dilemma!

When Apple nearly closed after the John Sculley era they were three months away from a bankruptcy.  Jobs returned as iCEO and restored the passion that created Apple before profits. 

His philosophy was make great products that solve problems customers don't know they have with products they do not realize they need yet.  By not falling into the trap of sustaining profits to please investors with more profits, Apple innovated a solution to the innovator's paradox. 

Steve Denning of Forbes said in 2010 that Apple, Amazon, and others who have solved the dilemma have developed a: 

consistent ability to innovate and to disrupt their own businesses with innovation...
The stakes are high. Firms that opt not to change won’t survive. The choice for them is clear: delight your customers or die.Those nations that don’t change will not prosper. The choice for them is equally stark: promote continuous innovation or accept economic decline." 

The foundation of this blog is America is the leading creative power in the global world because we are still the leader in ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  So once again, we learn that "innovate or die" is how Apple overcame the innovator's dilemma.  

The lesson: Do not make maximum profitability your company goal.  Focus on creating value for your customers with great products, and if that disrupts and cannibalizes your own products--you have solved the innovator's dilemma.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Innovation DNA

Innovation changes people and the world.  We often say "people hate change," yet some people love change.  They are the innovators.   Walter Issacson's biography "Steve Jobs" has sparked a fascination with innovation.  When you dig into companies like Apple, 3M, HP and medical innovators such as Cleveland Clinic, you find similar DNA.

Do you have innovation DNA? Take a look and find out!

Innovator DNA (Dyer & Gregerson)

The DNA of Innovation (Innovation Excellence).

Innovator's DNA (Insead)

Innovation in Organizations (Innovation-Creativity) and a great article on barriers to innovation about half way down the page.

* This post edited due to being originally written on an iPhone app.  It needed formatting and revisions done 7/8/2012.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Free Podcasts on Thinking and Innovation

The folks over at the American Management Association have put out some great free podcasts on thinking and innovation.  I came across these while providing on-going training for our organization's managers and thought the "What's New America?" blogging community would appreciate them as well.  Enjoy!

Adam Gordon on Being Future Savvy

In order to succeed in their industries, decision-makers today need to anticipate the future outcomes not only in their own industry but also in society and technology as well. Futures analyst Adam Gordon has spent a lifetime deciphering changes and...

Alex Frankel on Working Undercover at America’s Top Companies
Curious to know just what happens behind the "employees only" doors of big companies, journalist Alex Frankel embarked on an undercover reporting project to find out how some of America's well-known companies win the hearts and minds of their retail...
Alexandra Levit on Harnessing the Next Generation Workforce
Alexandra Levit is the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College, a practical guide that delivers the vital information junior corporate employees need to succeed in today's tough business climate. As the founder of the career consultancy...
Andy Sernovitz on successful word of mouth marketing
Andy Sernovitz is co-founder and former CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, an organization that uses the latest innovations in blogs and buzz to build a prosperous word of mouth marketing profession, based on best practices, measurable...
Annie McKee on Becoming a Resonant Leader
Exceptional leaders capture passion. They lead for real: from the heart, smart and focused on the future, and with a commitment to being their very best. A new book, Becoming a Resonant Leader, by Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis and Frances Johnston...
Barry Libert on How "We" Are Smarter Than "Me"
Online Social Networking is a reality. The millions of people who have a Facebook or MySpace page, or anyone who uses Wikipedia or Google, knows this. But for today's companies, the question remains, how can we profit from the crowds who are swarming...