Thursday, July 25, 2013

12 Disruptive Technologies You Need to Know About by Erik Sherman for Forbes

Look at the history of entrepreneurship and you see a repeated story of technology disrupting industries. With the ever accelerating rate of advancement in many fields, the chance of future disruptions over most industries becomes almost a certainty.
So where should you pay attention? Here's a list of 10 disruptive technologies as identified recently by the McKinsey Global Institute. According to its estimate, the total potential impact could be between $14 trillion and $33 trillion a year by 2025.
  • Mobile Internet--Mobile Internet is far more than having access to a browser from your smartphone or tablet. It will affect service delivery, worker productivity, remote healthcare, and consumer habits and preferences in shopping. Some of the technologies that it, in turn, will affect are battery technology, advanced displays, new user interface designs, further miniaturization of electronics, and wireless.
  • Automation of knowledge work--The combination of artificial intelligence, natural user interfaces, and big-data technologies will start doing many tasks that formerly required people, so expect further downsizing. Also, tools will leverage professionals of all sorts and affect such fields as education, diagnosis and drug discovery in medical, legal work such as discovery and patent filing, and accounting and investments in finance.
  • Internet of Things--With sensors on devices, clothing, machinery, and virtually anything else you can think of, all using wireless and near-field communications to communicate with networks and the rest of the Internet, there will be major impacts on business process optimization, manufacturing, natural resource use, utilities, energy delivery, and remote healthcare.
  • Cloud--Cloud technology can provide centralized computing resources to serve many users, whether internally in a company or through a third-party service. More efficient use of resources will put pressure on the computer and IT industries, as more work is done by fewer machines and people. At the same time, cloud can offer software and computing services that let businesses run more efficiently and enable many technology entrepreneurs to get the resources they need far more economically than by building their own systems.
  • Advanced robotics--Exoskeletons, artificial and enhanced sight and hearing, remote physical manipulation, and artificial intelligence will make changes in manufacturing, healthcare and surgery, such basic service activities as food preparation and cleaning, and consumer use.
  • Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles--Self-driving cars already exist in prototype forms. Add in computer vision, sensors such as radar and GPS, communication with networks, and remote control, and you affect transportation and shipping.
  • Next-generation genomics--Gene sequencing, analytics, and synthetic biology are coming into their own. Combining the ease of getting information with much faster analysis will affect disease treatment, agriculture and food production, and probably insurance.
  • Energy storage--Energy storage has been a major limiting factor in many technologies, whether consumer electronics, vehicles, remote mechanical systems, and alternative energy production. Find better ways to store energy via new approaches to batteries, nanotechnology, and advanced materials, and you could find entire new applications possible that couldn't have been done before.
  • 3D printing--Whether high-profile use in producing individual guns or research that could allow devices to literally make meals, 3D printing is rapidly gaining prominence. Printers could change the way companies make almost anything through distributed manufacturing, enable consumers to make products themselves, or create tissues and organs for transplanting.
  • Advanced materials--Materials science has been an important area that many people have ignored. But modern plastics, specialized automotive steel, and semiconductors are just three areas where it has been important. The influence will only expand as such technologies as graphene, carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles, and memory and self-healing materials affect energy storage, computer displays, enhanced chemicals and catalysts, consumer electronics, medicine, and many types of manufacturing.
  • Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery--Even as alternative energy resources expand in commercial scope, petroleum and gas are important in many manufacturing processes as ingredients or components. Fracking, horizontal drilling, and microseismic monitoring will be important in shale gas, light tight oil, and coal-based methane.
  • Renewable energy--Between global climate change and finite petroleum resources, the world needs energy to do literally everything. Photovoltaic cells and other forms of direct solar, geothermal, wind, and various forms of hydroelectric will not only help generate electricity, but allow distributed energy production, which could change many industries.
Here is a graph of the expected economic impact by technology in trillions of dollars:
disruptive technologies
Even though keeping tabs on these technologies is something for the long term, it's also immediately important. Any day you might hear of an advance that could make a big difference for your business--or the next one you will launch.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Getting Naps Ahead of the Competition by Arianna Huffington for HBR

People in every age think they’re living in a time of transition (I’m sure Adam turned to Eve and said, “Darling, I think we’re living in a time of transition”), but some ages really do usher in broad and deep change.

Read the whole story at Harvard Business Review.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Madison’s Scanalytics hoping to leave its footprint on the retail experience by In Business Madison

Everyone’s had a bad retail experience, and most of us have gathered one or two choice anecdotes about customer service gone horribly awry. But in the annals of bad-retailer stories, Joe Scanlin’s is a classic – and if all goes well, it could one day make him as rich as Stephen King.
It all started when Scanlin entered a department store and, five minutes into his shopping excursion, still hadn’t been helped. He took his business to a competitor, and that’s when the wheels of invention really got set in motion.
“I went home and I calculated how much money they lost from me as a consumer for about six years,” said Scanlin. “And I saw that number, and I saw the other things that I took note about my shopping, and I thought there needed to be a product that provided organically true data about how I was moving through that space and how they could most effectively use it to engage me.”
“A lot of people think that Internet shopping is ubiquitous, but it’s still a fact that over 76% of shopping decisions are made in the physical world.” – Joe Scanlin, founder and CEO, Scanalytics
The product Scanlin had in mind was an intelligent mat device that could record foot traffic, compiling consumers’ engagement level and tendencies so that retailers could get a better handle on how their customers behaved. So like a true innovator, instead of just wishing that something like that existed, Scanlin immediately got on task.
“I actually went home after that and … I started building my first intelligent mat device,” said Scanlin. “I built a prototype. I taught myself how to do it in about three days, and it worked, and I saw how I could scale it and started looking at different materials, and then I basically started engineering what we have today.”
What the start-up has today is a system that starts with a recording device and then provides tools that allow retailers to analyze the data and attain goals such as increasing engagement times with products.

Indeed, the way the company itself describes its system is no doubt tantalizing to any retail establishment: “Our algorithms automatically report data based on the decisions you make, and outline the ones that produce the best results. There are a lot of decisions made every day. Understanding the impact of those decisions on your bottom line will help you stay lean and increase your profitability.”
“So [retailers] can understand different things like tipping points; they can understand different things like how long someone takes to make a decision to pick something up, and they can leverage that to be able to basically provide them with the information at the right time instead of just sending over a sales clerk to see someone,” said Scanlin. “They’ll understand how people respond organically to different stimuli. Some things could be as easy as adding a light or adding a smell that might change how people react to certain things, but they don’t know that through looking at receipts. Receipts aren’t telling them how many people just walked past a display, and if they added something, how did that change the capture rate for something?”

Landing big fish

Despite being a fledging company, Scanalytics is already catching the notice of some big players, which have signed on as clients – though Scanlin is still bound by agreement to keep those names out of print.
“I would say that we have some of the biggest retail names as far as stores are concerned, and we have two of the world’s largest trade show operations companies,” said Scanlin. “We have a good spectrum.”
The company also has its sights set on tackling one of the most vexing problems facing retailers today – so-called “showrooming,” in which customers scope out products at brick-and-mortar stores and then purchase them for less online. While the conventional wisdom is that online shopping is on the rise and traditional shopping is on its way to obsolescence, Scanlin is saying “not so fast.”
“A lot of people think that Internet shopping is ubiquitous, but it’s still a fact that over 76% of shopping decisions are made in the physical world,” said Scanlin. “A lot of shopping online happens, but [people in the industry] have told us that the physical world is still going to be that major medium, so that’s the lifeblood of a lot of big corporations, and even small ones. So that’s why we’re creating this environment that could help replicate online or at least bring some of those elements of online shopping back to the physical.”

For example, Scanlin imagines a system in which a customer can be prompted to purchase a pair of jeans that might go perfectly with a shirt he or she is looking at in the store.
“Those elements are actually not as complex as people might think, and so if we can provide that and we are kind of providing that vehicle to be able to bring those comforts of shopping online into the physical world, then we can kind of revive the life of the physical shopping world,” said Scanlin.

Forward momentum

So far, the company – led by Scanlin and VP of Business Development Matt McCoy – has grabbed the attention of more than just retailers. Last year, the company won the People’s Choice Award at the Early Stage Symposium’s Elevator Pitch Olympics, as well as first place in the BizStarts Collegiate Business Plan Competition. It also got a big boost through its affiliation with gener8tor, a local technology accelerator.
“Gener8tor allowed us to reach people that we wouldn’t [otherwise] be able to reach, and the community they provided and the network they provided were absolutely pertinent to our success and were a crucial element to our growth,” said Scanlin.
That growth seems like it very well could be on an upward trajectory. Scanlin and his team are not focused only on attracting big retailers as clients. The system is designed to be used by everyone from small retailers to big-box stores to big brands, and it’s also been crafted to emphasize ease of use.
“We built it so that anybody can put [the mat] on the ground and plug it in and basically start getting data from it,” said Scanlin. “It’s actually very simple.”
Of course, the technology is also potentially a boon to larger chains, which can use it to measure the tendencies of different populations, instead of trying to find one-size-fits-all solutions.
“What we’re trying to present is a world where extrapolating data and then just multiplying it across every store isn’t the solution anymore,” said Scanlin. “It can be something that’s very specific to every store, because even if you own a retail store on one side of Milwaukee or Madison and then you have another one on the other side, those two can have completely different shoppers and those shoppers can have completely different responses to different stimuli and are telling you a lot of different things that you can’t just multiply across the stores.”
Right now, the funding Scanalytics has secured through the help of gener8tor and through other sources is going toward R&D, manufacturing to satisfy purchase orders, and growing the company’s team.
Scanlin says that five or 10 years down the line, he’d like to see his company involved in helping out more industries.
“We’ll be able to do some analysis on people in all sorts of different industries, and really understand consumers’ behavior and leverage that to create an environment that’s beneficial to everyone involved,” said Scanlin. “We’re doing some very interesting things in the medical field right now, where we can start to understand things that people are doing organically and start preventing costs that are involved in the medical field.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Unexpected Antidote to Procrastination by Peter Bregman for HBR

A recent early morning hike in Malibu, California, led me to a beach, where I sat on a rock and watched surfers. I marveled at these courageous men and women who woke before dawn, endured freezing water, paddled through barreling waves, and even risked shark attacks, all for the sake of, maybe, catching an epic ride.
After about 15 minutes, it was easy to tell the surfers apart by their style of surfing, their handling of the board, their skill, and their playfulness.
What really struck me though, was what they had in common. No matter how good, how experienced, how graceful they were on the wave, every surfer ended their ride in precisely the same way: By falling.
Some had fun with their fall, while others tried desperately to avoid it. And not all falls were failures — some fell into the water only when their wave fizzled and their ride ended.
But here's what I found most interesting: The only difference between a failure and a fizzle was the element of surprise. In all cases, the surfer ends up in the water. There's no other possible way to wrap up a ride.
That got me thinking: What if we all lived life like a surfer on a wave?
The answer that kept coming to me was that we would take more risks.
That difficult conversation with your boss (or employee, or colleague, or partner, or spouse) that you've been avoiding? You'd initiate it.
That proposal (or article, or book, or email) you've been putting off? You'd start it.
That new business (or product, or sales strategy, or investment) you've been overanalyzing? You'd follow through.
And when you fell — because if you take risks, you will fall — you'd get back on the board and paddle back into the surf. That's what every single one of the surfers did.
So why don't we live life that way? Why don't we accept falling — even if it's a failure — as part of the ride?
Because we're afraid of feeling.
Think about it: In all those situations, our greatest fear is that we will feel something unpleasant.
What if you have that scary conversation you've been avoiding and it ends the relationship? It would hurt.
What if you follow through on the business idea and lose money? It would feel terrible.
What if you submitted the proposal and you were rejected? It would feel awful.
Here's the thing: More often than not, our fear doesn't help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination, or the frustration of a stuck relationship. I know partnerships that drag along painfully for years because no one is willing to speak about the elephant in the room. Taking risks, and falling, is not something to avoid. It's something to cultivate. But how?
Which you get by taking risks, feeling whatever you end up feeling, recognizing that it didn't kill you, and then getting on the board and paddling back into the surf.
Have that difficult conversation. Listen without defensiveness when your colleague criticizes you. Name the elephant in the room. Get rejected.
And feel it all. Feel the anticipation of the risk. Feel the pre-risk cringe. Then, during the risk, and after, take a deep breath and feel that too.
You'll become familiar with those feelings and, believe it or not, you'll start to enjoy them. Even the ones you think of as unpleasant. Because feeling is what tells you you're alive.
You know that sensation you get after you've done or said something weird or awkward? How you turn around and kind of wince in embarrassment? Next time that happens, take a moment to really feel it.
When you do, you'll realize it's not so bad. Maybe you'll admit, "I don't know why I just said that," and apologize. Then maybe you'll both laugh it off. Or maybe you'll get into that conversation you've been avoiding for years but you know you need to have.
Soon, you won't fear feeling. You'll pursue it like those courageous early morning surfers. You'll wake up before dawn and dive into those scary conversations and difficult proposals. You'll take the risks that once scared you. And you'll fall; sometimes you'll even fail.
Then you'll get up and do it again.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It All Started With A Safari Jacket: The Banana Republic Story

By Colleen Oakley for Forbes
It’s the quintessential American concept: Start a business from a simple idea, and then watch it explode into a multimillion-dollar corporation.
Mel and Patricia Ziegler, the couple behind the clothing empire Banana Republic, had none of these things. But, in 1978, they did have a vision. “We were both doused with romantic fantasies of Hemingway and adventure,” says Patricia. “We wanted to figure out how to travel and see the world.”Of course, most people who decide to become entrepreneurs have a plan. A little money, perhaps. And maybe some contacts.
The Zieglers knew it wouldn’t be possible to travel the globe with the paltry salaries that they made working for the San Francisco Chronicle, so they decided to start a business. They just had no idea what it would be.
When Mel came back from assignment in Australia wearing a safari jacket that he’d bought for $5, it dawned on them—with no fashion or business experience between them, mind you—they’d start a clothing store.
The couple’s journey to success is documented in their new book, “Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic.” LearnVest sat down with Patricia to find out more about the duo’s unconventional business tale.
LearnVest: You were a courtroom illustrator and Mel was a newspaper reporter. What made you think that you could make and sell clothing?
Patricia Ziegler: We were young and having fun, and we kind of felt like we had nothing to lose. Well, except the $1,500 we had in savings between us! Also, it was the late ’70s—not a great time for fashion. Everything was polyester and disco shiny. We were craving clothing with character.
So you decided to make that clothing yourself, based on Mel’s safari jacket.
Exactly. We went to a surplus store in town and spent most of our savings on these paratrooper shirts that were $1.75 a piece. We figured that I could sew a few elbow patches on them, switch out the buttons and then sell them at a higher price at a flea market. The first weekend we priced them at $6.75, and we sold four or five. It was not good. We knew we needed to do something different. So, the next weekend, I put on some tight jeans and heels, along with one of the shirts. I belted it, rolled up the sleeves and put a sign on the table that said, “Short-armed paratrooper shirts, $12.95.” We just about sold out. It was our first big business lesson about the importance of presentation and perceived value, based on price.
And then?
[Laughs.] We decided to set up a store.
With no business experience to speak of, right?
We really were just learning as we went along. Mel found a real hole in the wall for $200 a month, and then we figured that we should probably get a business loan so we could buy more surplus to stock the store. When we went to the bank, the loan officer said that we didn’t have any of the 3 C’s needed to get a loan—capital, credit history or collateral. But he said that we had character! And then he told us that some stores offer a 30-days-to-pay option, so that’s how we stocked our shop in the beginning. We figured that we could sell the merchandise in 30 days in order to pay the surplus stores what we owed them.
So what were some of your biggest lessons?
Go with what you’ve got. It’s an old journalism adage—when you have a deadline, but you don’t have everything you need for the story, you just have to go with what you’ve got. We didn’t have money, but we had imagination. We didn’t have fabric, but we had surplus, so we went with what we had. We also firmly believe in the idea that you never give up. Refuse to fail. That’s how we operate.
Any advice for other couples who are thinking about going into business together?
When things started taking off, we had some issues stemming from lack of sleep. But, overall, we work really well together because we completely trust each other’s judgment. Mel would never question my decisions—even the time in the beginning, when I spent a lot of money on 3,000 big, baggy shorts. He looked at them and thought, well, if she believes in them, let’s go with it. And when he wanted to rent a warehouse—even though I had no idea how we were going to pay for it—it was like, I know he understands that, so just go for it. One hundred percent trust and faith in each other gives you that extra dimension of strength. After all this time working together, we don’t know what people have to talk about if they don’t work together!
What’s next for you guys?
We love talking about our book because we want to inspire young people and let them know that it doesn’t matter what you don’t have. You have yourself and your imagination, so just go for it. We’re also working on a new food-product business that will launch sometime this summer. It’s fun! We thrive on possibility.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to Listen When Someone is Venting by Mark Goulston for HBR

Disclaimer: It's probably not a good idea to read this before you eat.
I still remember how it felt when, as a medical student, I drained my first abscess in a patient. We called the procedure "I & D" which stands for "Incision and Drainage" (I told you not to read this just before you eat).
When you do an I & D, you locate what is the most protruding and bulging part of the abscess, wipe it off with alcohol, than pierce it with a scalpel. At that point the pus comes out first, followed by any blood. After this procedure, you may put the person on an antibiotic. Over time, the wound heals from the inside out. If you don't drain the abscess first, and just start with the antibiotics, the undrained pus may prevent the wound from healing.
Today as a practicing business psychiatrist and CEO advisor, I've noticed that when you're faced with an upset customer, client, employee, shareholder, child, parent, spouse, friend, it can actually feel like they're bulging with emotion and about to explode. Your instinctual and intuitive reaction may be to try to calm them down, urge them to cool off, suggest it's not worth getting so upset about. And sometimes that may work. But in cases where they're really upset, you may need to drain their emotional abscess just as you would have to do with a physical abscess. In those situations, asking them to calm down before they've vented will be about as useful as skipping straight to antibiotics before cleaning their wound.
And yet a lot of people don't know how to listen to someone venting. Usually, people take one of two attitudes. Option 1 is to jump in and give advice -- but this is not the same as listening, and the person doing the venting may respond with "Just listen to me! Don't tell me what to do." Option 2 (usually attempted after Option 1) is to swing to the other extreme, and sit there silently. But this doesn't actively help the person doing the venting to drain their negative emotions. Consequently, it is about as rewarding as venting to your dog.
The way to listen when someone is venting is to ask them the following three questions:
1. What are you most frustrated about? This is a good question because when you ask them about their feelings, it often sounds condescending. And if you start out focusing on their anger, it sounds as if you are coldly telling them to get a hold on themselves, which may work, but more often will just cause the pressure inside them to build up even more. However, asking them about their frustration is less judgmental and can have the same effect as sticking a scalpel into their abcess. Let them vent their feelings and when they finish, pick any of their words that had a lot of emotion attached. These can be words such as "Never," "Screwed up," or any other words spoken with high inflection. Then reply with, "Say more about "never" (or "screwed up," etc.) That will help them drain even more.
2. What are you most angry about? This is where their emotional pus drains. Again let them finish and have them go deeper by asking them, "Say more about _________ ." Don't take issue with them or get into a debate, just know that they really need to get this off their chest — and if you listen without interrupting them, while also inviting them to say even more, they will. If you struggle to listen when someone is venting because intense negative feelings make you feel upset yourself, try this: Look them straight in the left eye (which is connected to their right emotional brain) and imagine you are looking into the eye of a hurricane, allowing whatever they're yelling to go over your shoulders instead of hitting you straight in your eyes.
3. What are you really worried about? This is like the blood that comes out of wound following the pus. It is as the core of their emotional wound. If you have listened and not taken issue with their frustration and anger, they will speak to you about what they're really worried about. Again push them to go deeper by asking them: "Say more about ___________." After they finish getting to the bottom of it, respond with, "Now I understand why you are so frustrated, angry and worried. Since we can't turn back time, let's put our heads together to check out your options from here. Okay?"
As I have written before, when people are upset, it matters less what you tell them than what you enable them to tell you. After they get their feelings off their chest, that's when they can then have a constructive conversation with you. And not before.
Original article found at:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Sets Effective Middle Managers Apart by Behnam Tabrizi for HBR

Over the past 20 years, no group has endured greater pain and humiliation within organizations than mid-level managers (MLMs — managers from two levels below the CEO down to the line managers). Before the IT revolution, MLMs wielded genuine power within companies, acting as gatekeepers of crucial data, financials, and intelligence. Then, automation and the Web put senior executives in touch with their own front lines — and handed many MLMs their pink slips. MLMs who remained were labeled "dinosaurs" or "overhead."
I recently conducted a study of 56 randomly selected companies involved in major change and innovation efforts in the high-tech, retail, pharmaceutical, banking, automotive, insurance, energy, non-profit, and health care industries. Nearly 68% of these large-scale change and innovative efforts failed.
I controlled for industry growth, makeup, and innovation type and used data on over 1,000 MLMs and senior executives involved in the major efforts. Then, I looked at a period of three to five years to see the direct effect of these major transformations. I examined each company's internal documents, interviewed participants in all ranks, and analyzed market data; I also used outcome measures directly tied to the innovation/change. The result was startling: Aside from the role of the senior executives, the most important determinant of success was the role of MLMs. In the successful initiatives, MLMs served as levers of change, influencing those above and below them in the corporate hierarchy.
In the successful initiatives, MLMs were empowered in three ways. First, they were able to see how the initiatives aligned with their own personal and professional aspirations. Second, through cross-boundary and cross-functional teams, MLMs were typically the major authors of the initiatives. Finally, MLMs ensured the direct participation and authorship of individual contributors. In contrast, in the failing innovation/change initiatives, more than 60% of the MLMs' time was spent in efforts devoted to sheer corporate survival. Focused on pleasing people rather than doing their jobs, they procrastinated on decisions for fear of failure, blamed others for mistakes and avoided taking risks. These MLMs were alienated and felt senior executives had used them as tactical tools.

Large-scale innovation and change include hundreds or thousands of moving parts that require palpable, intelligent, and emotional steps that no IT system can execute. Because of their 360-degree view of organizations, MLMs are uniquely positioned to implement such large-scale initiatives. Yet, as our research found, MLMs have become cautious and unsure of their authority due to their experiences during the IT revolution and the recession. I think of it as a sort of occupational post-traumatic stress syndrome.
In order for companies and MLMs themselves to realize their value, they need to reinvent the MLMs' role; I propose a triple-A leadership model. Organizations from IBM, Apple, and Li & Fung to Santa Clara County, home of Silicon Valley, have achieved great results with triple-A leadership:
In the first stage, the MLMs' values are aligned with the goals of the change initiative. The alignment can take place in training sessions and/or via conversations between MLMs and executives, and can be led by the MLMs themselves or by executives. When MLMs' core values are in line with their work, they're better able to realize their full potential, and the organization benefits.
Next, organizations create cross-functional teams of MLMs, who author change and innovation plans that turn executives' visions into concrete steps. MLMs can also take the initiative here, forming their own teams with other MLMs. In turn, the MLMs need to involve the individual contributors to co-author the plans with them. Authorship creates ownership and commitment, and ultimately leads to creative and impactful solutions.
MLMs must be responsible for the success of the initiatives they author. They need to remove daily obstacles through uncompromising persistence. Steve Jobs told a group of Apple MLMs: "When a janitor is faced with a locked door, it's okay for them to come up with an excuse or a reason; however, you are not allowed to come up with any excuses or reasons."
MLMs should not wait for senior executives to initiate the triple-A; rather, they should become the change champions within their companies. At a minimum, MLMs should create triple-A models within the organizations that report to them.
The IT revolution devastated the ranks of MLMs. But people are not machines; they don't go obsolete. What has gone obsolete are not MLMs, but what we think MLMs can be.