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A breakthrough in the service industry was the development of the concept of the service-profit chain by Earl Sasser at Harvard. Implicitly the whole concept was about improving service levels through raised interconnectivity and personalisation for clients. If we examine a whole host of innovations in recent times, whether it’s checking in for your next Southwest Airlines flight or accessing your bank account, from Facebook to crowdsourcing, the unstated objective is that increased connectivity is good for transparency of markets, providing better service to clients and eventually increasing profitability.

Nothing could be further from the truth if you look carefully at the service strategies of many very profitable companies. Should we say successful, because they would be proud of the record when presenting to shareholders – but facing their customers they often use the sharpest of practices to avoid customer contact as well as avoiding fulfilling their contractual commitments. Read the rest of this entry »


Fast Company article on the “social currency” of brands features a study and insights from our collaborator Erich Joachimsthaler of Vivaldi Partners.  Erich also talks about challenger brands in this video.

Two sites provide insight into changing perspectives on social networking and the power of the internet.  Music guru Mike McCready asks a simple question – what does it take to break an artist?  The early promise of internet innovation in the music business allowing artists  to bypass the big labels thus heralding a new era of musical entrepreneurship is still nothing more than promising.  Mike says that innovators have mushroomed everywhere but not among artists as expected but rather around promoters who now run with smaller teams and smaller, more profitable gigs.  The idea that you could sit at home and almost casually generate a hit seems very unlikely now.  The reality is different and with ongoing concerns of privacy on sites such as Facebook one wonders if the buzz has gone off the whole concept of social media.

Last week saw us in NYC running our Innovation Architect course.  We had a good turnout with participants from a number of interesting organisations.  There was lots of good input and the feedback was extremely positive.

One of the subjects of heated debate was innovation strategy.  Did a company need an innovation strategy?  What purpose would it serve and how would you articulate it?  The group was divided initially but with some probing on basic issues – what is the objective of your innovation?  is it a top priority for top management?  is it limited in scope or should it be limited? – and so on, we started to get some consensus that, firstly, few companies had an innovation strategy and, secondly, articulating what that strategy might be would focus innovation initiatives.

Other hot topics included positioning the innovation with stakeholders, evaluating ideas, and scaling local innovations.  Every course brings a new piece of the puzzle.

Definition: Stealthstorming (STELTH-ˈsto:rming) 1. verb: to surreptitiously attack or assault  2. noun: covert decisions and actions in an organization aimed at ensuring the implementation of an innovation.

by Paddy Miller, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg and Azra Brankovic

Once the challenge for management was to get employees “innovating,” “thinking creatively” and “brainstorming.” Now reality has bitten and the innovation space is less idealistic and more Machiavellian. For those who know where to look, there is no shortage of ideas coming out of organizations. The problem lies in making these ideas gain traction in a company where innovation – despite what the mission statement may proclaim – is in reality a very low priority. Signs include:

  • Bottom-up initiatives somehow never make it very far – key decisionmakers don’t ‘get it’ or aren’t willing to put money on the table
  • Byzantine corporate politics suck the life out of innovators, eventually making them quit the firm
  • ‘Creative’ is not a word you’d want people to call you – as one manager put it, “in my company, being called creative is the kiss of death for your career.”

How do managers make innovation happen in such an environment?

The answer is Stealthstorming.

Stealthstorming is the way to make it happen when the odds are against you.

It is guerilla warfare, waged with ideas.

It is a radical thinker dressed in a suit and a tie.

It is when you abandon all the usual trappings of creativity – multi-colored hats, flamboyant workshops, cheesy change management techniques – and sneak under the corporate defenses to make it happen.

Stealthstorming is what Jordan Cohen did when he, as a regular manager, built the highly innovative service called pfizerWorks and created his dream job.

Want to know more? Come join our intensive course at IESE Business School in New York on May 5-6, where we have sessions on StealthStorming, Innovation Strategy, pfizerWorks, Reframing, and much more.

The Innovation Architect: Creating breakthrough companies

You need to be there.

A 2 minute video introduction to our intensive 2-day Innovation Architect course, taking place at IESE’s new campus in New York on May 5-6 2010.

More information on the course is available on IESE Business School’s Executive Education website.

During a recent hectic week in NYC we had a chance to meet with all kinds of people.  George Lucas was one of them and another was Antonio Perez, Chairman and CEO of Kodak.  It was interesting to observe their different approaches to innovation. 

Lucas clearly says that he isn’t on top of the technology even though his business is driven by it.  He doesn’t see the need to be when he can give a clear idea of what he wants to his people and they get on with it.  For example, the big breakthrough in Star Wars was being able to track a computer created image – Kubrick in 2001, the Space Odyssey, had shown a rocket going from left to right across a frame but Lucas managed to actually pan across the frame and follow the image.  I know, I hadn’t noticed that either.

Meanwhile, this is very different to Antonio Perez who at the drop of a hat loves to get into the technology.  He is very hands on and provides leadership through a contagious enthusiasm for the technology itself.  (For example, here are some of his ideas on intellectual property, in conversation with Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal.) 

Both men keep their audiences enthralled but with a philosophy on technology that is completely different.

By Paddy Miller and Azra Brankovic

Have you noticed that more and more video interviews and podcasts are done by amateurs (someone in the office) with a Flip or a Kodak Zi8 camera. Easy to use and download images that are good enough for any internal company presentation and come at 100th of the cost of getting professionals in to do it. Take a look at YouTube and you’ll find millions of homegrown movie makers doing their own material. Many podcasts and webinars are done directly from the office and with minimal technical ability. Wired (10/27/09) talks about it as “The Good Enough Revolution” — where just-good-enough products are gaining share (cheap netbooks, shaky phone calls over Skype, watching movies on laptop screens) because we are prizing accessibility and ease of use over quality, and indeed the notion of “quality” is being re-defined to mean cheap, accessible and easy to use. We’re busy, mobile, and wanting something that’s going to work.

Vijay Govindarajan writes about GE learning fast how to turn the good-enough-revolution into big bucks in his HBR article “How GE Is Disrupting Itself.” Vijay talks about GE spending $3 billion to create at least 100 health-care innovations that would substantially lower costs, increase access, and improve quality. Note the correspondence of those last three terms with the above. We believe “quality” here does not mean premium quality, but improved quality in the sense of just good enough. Read the rest of this entry »

The music industry is much discussed in terms of missed opportunities of major players like Universal Music and EMI, and the ability of some companies like Apple to outflank all competitors like Sony.  But there are other companies that are busily moving below the radar.  One of them is Music Intelligence Solutions, or uPlaya to its customers.  uPlaya allows artists to upload their music and have it analyzed and promoted without the intervention of a major label.  It has recently signed contracts with iTunes and MTV to give it credibility.  The company recently won an innovation award.

An innovation such as developed by MIS – essentially the ability to identify hit potential patterns within any music – may be anathema to some music fans but it has a solid research base.  The company is an extension of a company called Polyphonic, founded in Barcelona.  Its story was covered in a Harvard case co-authored by a colleague of ours, Juan Villanueva (“POLYPHONIC HMI: MIXING MUSIC AND MATH”).  It is fast morphing into something quite exciting.  Does it provide a seismic shift in the music industry, judge for yourself.

Round about the 1920’s you could have your own fold up electric three wheeler and leave it in the hallway.  

Mary Tripsas, Harvard prof, may have a point that it was too early for the market then but what about now?  It’s all a question of it fitting into a familiar category she argues.  We have tended to think that it’s a question of fitting into a consumer’s lifestyle – if you don’t have a big hallway you don’t think of this car.