Thursday, June 29, 2006

More examples of convergence and competition from left field

I briefly mentioned the photographic industry a while ago and this article in Smarthouse (may need to register to read it) prompted more thinking. Basically the 35mm SLR camera business has been dominated by Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus (apologies to the rest of the market) for so long that was hard to imagine any major change happening anytime soon. Of course then the charge coupled device (CCD) came along and we went digital at the point and shoot end quicker than you can click a shutter. Seemed that quick anyway. That hurt film companies, big processors, minilabs and lower end camera sellers like Kodak. In a race to move fast Kodak probably missed the inital boat and has taken a while to catch up. Hard to know why they waited so long with the memory of Polaroid still pretty fresh in their minds.

Anyway, it's another classic case of disruptive forces at play.

The hardware and film makers got the shakes about 5 years ago because new, alternative (digital) technology finally came of age. Enough people had computers with big enough hard drives, fast burning optical media and hi-res printers to make digital seem doable. You could argue that film is superior until you are blue in the face - and they did - but it's no longer that much better, certainly not at the low to medium end. And home printing is faster, more selective and more convenient than even waiting an hour to find your happy snaps are blurred.

So the camera guys get shaken up by the computer and consumer electronics guys. New technology proliferates, new brands emerge and a brand new price war erupts. It also drives sales of computers and hi-res colour printers. Film is dying.

Now some crossover was already happening with Canon leveraging their optical competence in the scanner market and diversifying into printers. And the big SLR makers could only hold out so long before swapping their most popular film-based SLRs for digitals at similar but higher price points.

They love selling SLRs because each one can be accessorised. And they had managed to avoid any dominant standard of lens mount, so if you bought a Pentax or a Nikon you were pretty much obliged to buy Pentax or Nikon lenses, apart from a few aternatives with adapters. It manufactures loyalty. Once a Pentax buyer, always a Pentax buyer - if only because it's too expensive to swap over a whole fleet of flash lenses. So it's a pretty attractive market from a profit perspective.

Enter the disruptors. It's been brewing for 10 years or more. More and more electronics had stretched the old mechanical linkages between lenses and camera bodies already, so the buyer was getting more reasons - or opportunities - to swap brands. If I had to buy a whole fleet of new lenses anyway, because the mechanical links to aperture control were now electronic or because autofocus required a new mount anyway, well I may as well look around. I always fancied a Nikon... ;-)

So digital is the latest and probably greatest incentive to switch brands. The race is on to once again lock customers into proprietary camera to body designs. Camera makers without the resources to go digital will have to consider their alternatives. Pursue the high-end highest-resolution traditionalists and pros who won't, or can't yet, drop film, or get out. Konica-Minolta did both. They hived off their 35mm SLR business to Sony and concentrated their resources on the medium-format higher resolution film-based business.

Sony brings a big brand into the SLR market. A brand that bridges successfully from the consumer electronics end of the spectrum to top-shelf pro video gear. If they are serious about it then they should take a big slice of the market and put the heat on the rest.

Looking for MBA resources?

Try these previous posts...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Leadership part 2

An interesting article via BNET on Leadership development. Entitled 'A Systems Approach to Leadership' it begins, "What Is Leadership Anyway? Despite decades of research and a constant search for capturing and nurturing the essence of leadership, consistent, proven approaches to leadership development have proven elusive. The primary reason for varying perspectives and methods is that most definitions and development practices focus on selected aspects of the phenomenon. All to often popular literature and organizations latch onto the latest “reductionistic” fad hoping to create better leaders faster. Why doesn’t this work?"

It's a good short summary and worth a read. Register at BNET and try this direct link. It's written by Schoonover Associates, Inc and seems to tap into a few textbook ideas I've read and make sense.


Don't get offended if I mention a German leader from the mid 20th Century, however in the context of learning about leadership - the art of mass persuasion, if you like, Hitler is a classic example. (In this case creatively turned into a short play, a trial if you like, on matters of leadership style.) He may be an example that shows us the dangers of truly hypnotic leadership, and in that there's a lesson indeed, but we may also see echoes of his speeches in own own political leaders as they try to get us to follow and embrace their decisions. There's s lesson in that as well.

Warning: We are looking at leadership styles and their effectiveness, not doing a values analysis. Hitler quite clearly was an exceptional orator who tapped into his audiences feelings in a way few leaders had done before - certainly not on that scale. He also demonstrated a cruel disregard for human life and was the cause of immense hardship and suffering. Despite - or perhaps because of this - his leadership style is worthy of deeper analysis. More here and here on Hitler's style and impact.

Economic context of management

Folks, there's another MBA study sample posted here that gives you an idea or 2 about one approach to writing a report to a board. It relates to the economic context of management decision making - looking around you and into the future before jumping into markets, new products or new strategies.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Strategy and product lifecycles

MBA students love case studies. So to help out (hehe) I do some simple analysis of product life cycles and strategy with regard to Telcos vs VoIP and Dell vs the full solution. It could give you some ideas. It's not deep analysis but it gives you some idea.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Harvard resources for MBAs

Well Harvard resources for anyone who wants to read 'em, really. When studying for your MBA read widely and reference every influence, not just your quotations. Different standards apply at different Universities but in general quote often to back up your thinking and remember to answer the question. These resources are broad - and free - but require rego.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Apple and innovation, take 2

Now I contend that Apple is over-rated on innovation. There's little in an i-Pod that wasn't already around, but that the fusion between i-Pod and online music distribution is a worthy innovation. And so on. Now here's another view of Apple and innovation - from Tom Yager (always a good read on geeky, tech-driven matters and often ahead of the game):
"Before consummate wealth and success, Steve Jobs was the poster boy for that misunderstood fraction-of-a-fraction to which my erstwhile handlers referred. Jobs was odd man out for being inventive, curious, tenacious, fearless, opinionated, and insatiable. These ingredients make an innovator. Jobs built a company, then a culture, and then a product line...". The full Infoworld article is here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Optimum team size - Wharton article

Optimum team size - now that's an interesting question. My unscientific opinion is that 5-7 people is optimum, but you have to have a good mix of skills and motivators. So teams - I call them cells - averaging 6 working in larger groups of 6 "organs" if you like give you 36 people arranged in a "body". That to me is the upper limit to 'team size', above that it breaks down fairly comprehensively. You can make larger groups of up to 200 "work" but they don't really work as a team, although they are more cohesive than 300. In my as yet untested theory 200 is your upper limit, but you can group teams of 200 into corporate bodies as big as you like as long as you don't exceed 200 in any one extended family of bodies. 200 is my limit because you can get to know 200 people by name. Thus you know your 36 key co-workers well, your 6 team mates very well but just enough of the 200 to keep you feeling "a part of the whole". Well that's my theory!

Here's the Wharton article that started me thinking.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

HR impact - remote working

It's obvious enough that when you work in the one building you eventually get to know and converse with - if not everybody - a lot of those people. That's good for cohesion, teamwork, culture and you name it. But what happens when you work remotely? Is it enough to simply email workmates, to telephone them or to use instant messaging? How do you generate those chance encounters? Who do you deliver your elevator pitch to when you don't even have an elevator?

Here's a Workforce Week article on how the US FAA has dealt with part of this issue and some further virtual working options. The key I think is the last para of the article:
"If you just tell them, ‘Here is your software, now go work on it,’ you won’t be successful," Drakos says. "You may just end up with a big, empty virtual space."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Not as silly as it sounds

One thing that you can achieve out of an MBA - apart from the sense of personal achievement, a new network of newbie managers, lots of articles on strategic anything and a nice piece of paper, is an understanding of the Lingo of Obfuscation, those weasel words we know and love. Seriously (and actually I was serious before, too) we do need to use language that makes sense, is understandable and is descriptive of what we want to achieve. We can't always dumb it down as much as some may want, going forward. Business is no different from neuroscience in that respect, is it?

Anyway, a reasonable read on recent business argot here, in the WSJ.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

HR and MBA resources

Welcome to TheSpiel

Folks, we have refreshed the front page look of TheSpiel. You may find it easier to navigate to our business resources from here.

The objective of TheSpiel remains the same: to provide relevant information that may assist you personally in business and to foster sustainability.