Hasten Slowly

“Hasten Slowly.”

Early in my life someone told me this, and I wish I could remember who – I’ve always been naturally impatient. When we teach people who want to mountain bike fast we give them a  similar paradox: “Slow down, slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. You get faster by first learning to go slow.

This week the Luna HQ has been rather enraptured by the ESA Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Seeing live images (well only delayed by 28 mins; speed of light reality) of Philae detaching and then eventually landing with a couple of bounces on a comet 500,000,000km away from Earth is genuinely remarkable. Sending back images, taking samples and drilling on a comet! It was hard not to feel some emotion when the little guy’s batteries ran out last night.


A few glorious days of science experiments which took over 20 years to prepare for. The mission had been discussed since the late 70s and was formally kicked off in 1993; 11 years later it lauched in 2004. One of the great joys for me watching the footage was seeing a number of old men sitting the background at the ESA watching the separation and landing live just like us. I like to think they made or designed parts perhaps some 20 years earlier and were finally seeing the fruits of their labour. Many great and hard problems are like this – contributions from many people, often world class in their own particular field, building up to remarkable achievements as a whole.


Big problems, worthwhile problems, take teams, and they take time. Perhaps one person can climb Mt Everest alone, but I know that one person can’t get to the moon alone. How does this fit into our contemporary world driven by instant gratification, tweets, likes and ever shorter product lifecycles? The irony is not lost on me that I was able to follow a range of real time comentary from the ESA, NASA, Rosetta and Philae directly via Twitter, an application only created in 2006 – a few years after the mission had launched.


In our Agile and Lean environments we are obsessed about shorter and shorter iterations. How can we deliver customer value sooner? When will we see business value? … Sometimes I fear that in our efforts to build customer-centric and responsive orgnisations we limit our horizons and constrain our thinking to problems we can imagine solving in a few short iterations. Yes Rosetta was based on all the things we have learned from other missions, it reused a standard launch platform and so on, and yet it’s still a 20 year bet to see if it worked or not.

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Lacerta,_Cygnus,_Lyra,_Vulpecula_and_Anser In 1610, in a letter to Galileo, Johannes Kepler said:

“Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes. In the meantime, we shall prepare, for the brave sky-travellers, maps of the celestial bodies – I shall do it for the moon, you, Galileo, for Jupiter.”

Sometimes the most important work we can do is to be like Kepler and Galileo, preparing for future adventurers, creating maps and signposts. Building the right environment, systems and leadership to allow other greatness in the future.

Even in Luna Tractor’s short 4-year life we are already seeing this pattern emerge. Often we work with organisations right at the start of change and it can feel pretty hard. Always slower than we’d like… and yet we look back at these same places years on and marvel at how far and how fast they have traveled.

Hasten Slowly.

(images via ESA and Randal (xkcd))

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The Luna MBA 2014 Update

Two topics remain consistently popular on our little LT site… Agile Workplaces and the Luna MBA.  Just as we encourage all our clients and friends to keep reading and learning so we do ourselves and so we present some new reccomended additions to the MBA… If you’ve finished the current list then consider this extra credit for your degree.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure – Tim Hardford

A remarkable, if slightly repetitive set of stories showing us the unpredictable path to true innovation. He starts with the story of Palchinsky at the turn of the 20th century who may have just invented Agile approaches analysing the Russian ecconomy even before the ship building yards of the first world war; Of course he was exiled to Siberia for his efforts. He also explores our aversion to variation and experimentation – the tendency for governments and corporate bosses to love large and grandiose projects instead. As Hardford points out the proliferation of iPhone and Android apps has hidden the uncomfortable truth which is innovation is harder, slower and costlier than ever before. All the easy problems have already been solved. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book to inspire you to buy and read it.

‘Return on investment is simply not a useful way of thinking about new ideas and new technologies. It is impossible to estimate a percentage return on blue-sky research, and it is delusional even to try. Most new technologies fail completely. Most original ideas turnout either to be not original after all, or original for the very good reason that they are useless. And when a original idea does work, the returns can be too high to be sensibly measured.’

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age – Michael A Hiltzik

UnknownI recently wrote about one story from this book, but there is so much more there. It is quite hard to imagine a world without so many of the things invented at the PARC labs. So often we talk about wanting innovation in our organisation, but I think without really appreciating the investment, genius and insanity it really takes. Don’t even talk about building an innovation lab in your organisation until you’ve read and appreciated these stories. Personally my pick of this list – but I’m a nerd at heart.

The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality

Deming like Fredrick Taylor was obsessed with measurement and statistics, but also the more human side of leadership. He wrote hundreds of articles, gave speeches and wrote many books over his life – often repeating himself or retelling the same experiences different ways. This book brings together and rationalises a life time of work by probably the most significant thinker in our field to one book which is quite readable, though insulting if you run a transitional command and control system of work.

Kaizen Express: Fundamentals for Your Lean JourneyUnknown-1

So Jeff Liker wrote about the 14 management principles from Toyota in the Toyota Way (a book we have previously recommended) – It is excellent, but to be honest hard to read and hard to digest at times. Then Nigel and I had the chance to read a TPS manual from the source – A beautiful and small book – Japanese on one page, english on the next. It distills the system down into a much simpler 4 themes – unfortunately money can’t buy you a copy of this once mythical book. John Shook has now written the Kaizen Express – a guide to understanding the TPS, which both bears a strong resemblance to the real TPS manual as well as providing a bit more context and explanation rather than being a reference manual for those already deeply immersed in the system day to day.

Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead

John Shook backs it up with a double billing in this update. Imagine for a moment you didn’t want to or can’t actually embrace the fundamentals of Agile and Lean at a philosophical level for your project or organisation but still wanted things to be less awful, there are a bunch of techniques which can really help any group. Visual management, stand ups and retrospectives will help the most waterfall of projects. In the same boat using A3’s as your method of reporting or business case process rather than 400 slide powerpoint decks or heavy documents which nobody reads anyway is a great improvement for any organisation. Of course they have extra potency in an adaptive and learning culture. Great book, practical examples, even some nice folded up cheat sheets in the back… There is even an awesome cheat guide for the iPhone – but we will only tell you about that once you’ve read the book first.

How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know – Byron Sharp

coverBeing scientists at heart we loved this book.  Sharp questions the basic assumptions and wisdom which has been driving your marketing department’s strategy for decades, putting it under the lens of data and experimentation rather than following conventional best practice from text books, HBR articles and folk law.  Assumptions like customer retention being cheaper than acquisition, our consumers being a distinct (and special) kind of person and mass marketing being dead all don’t hold up to scrutiny.  I’m not sure yet how some of the lessons in the book apply to small companies or very niche markets; but if you are in business in any large segment then this book is a must read for everyone in marketing, product and strategy.

Forty Years of Teams: Tim Lister

Ok, ok – So it’s not a book – I tweeted a link to this video of Tim Lister (author of PeopleWare) and it’s really not one to miss.  It’s wonderful, humbling and inspiring all at once.

As always our personal book WIP queues are too long, but please do keep telling us what you’re reading and what we need to read too.




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Evolution of the Spacesuit

Lest you our loyal readers think things have gotten too serious here at Luna HQ with a lack of amazing space related content here’s a snippet of beautiful series of images showing the evolution of the space suit via space.com






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Weddings, Parties and Agile!

Do you think Agile is just an IT thing? Well you’d be surprised!  

It’s the 24th February 2013, and my girlfriend and I just got engaged.

I’m sure many couples planning a wedding can relate to the
“OMG moments” when realising that they have agreed to get married, but also agreed to plan this once-in-a-lifetime event, where everything will be beautiful and run more smoothly than a precision racing team.

Having run many projects and led large teams across multiple timezones – I seem less than puzzled by the thought of arranging everything. After all it’s just another project isn’t it? Wrong! At least that’s what my fiancé reminded me :)

I’ve spent the past 12 months myself on an Agile journey, learning the ways of visual management, lean and flow. With much gusto I pulled together a Trello board. I was excited, but not sure that my fiancé shared in my enthusiasm. None-the-less we pushed on and started to plan our wedding.

Wedding Trello Board

Our MVP?

This was the fun bit – we really didn’t know exactly all the details of the wedding, but what we did know was our brief : “A modern, low-fuss affair with a mix of tradition and an opportunity to party with our families and friends”. What did this mean in specifics? We had no idea.

After numerous coffee chats we managed to pull together a list of Must have’s and Nice to haves –


  • Great ceremony venue
  • Great reception venue
  • Good food and drinks
  • Small bridal party
  • Melbourne CBD locations
  • Photographer
  • Great band
  • Celebrant
  • 100 guests
  • Stick within our budget
  • Our mate Dan as MC
  • A civil celebrant
  • Speeches
  • Modern and simple
  • All our guests to have great time


  • Wedding cake
  • Wedding cars
  • Throwing of garter or bouquet
  • Bonboniere
  • Seating plans
  • Videographer

Our Must Haves did change over time, but never too dramatically. Our budget and desire to keep the wedding modern and simple meant when we wanted to add something to the Must Haves list we really challenged ourselves. Will it really make the wedding better or us happier? In most cases we canned the idea – and were happy that we did.

Added Value

I love it when teams come up with something extra in a sprint. Something you deemed as Nice To Have is picked up and delivered. We had a couple of moments like this, my nephew offered to take some video footage with his fancy new digital SLR and friends of ours offering up the use of their shiny new Audi to get my fiancé and her father to the ceremony on time. These were little hidden surprises that made our wedding that little bit extra special.

Trade off Sliders

When I was writing this post I thought about what levers we pulled when trying to make decisions. We hadn’t actually put in place a set of trade off sliders, but subconsciously we did – there were 4 key attributes that regularly came up in conversation:

  • Budget: Least Negotiable
  • Guests numbers: Somewhat Negotiable
  • Date: Somewhat Negotiable
  • Location: Least Negotiable

The Customer and Product Owner?

Every Agile team has a Product Owner and an identified Customer – in our case my fiancé and I were both. Quite a unique position to be in as at the end of the day we are prioritising and making decisions to keep ourselves happy.

Our rhythm?

After a couple of ad hoc “wedding chats” early on, my fiancé and I soon realised that we need to lock in every Sunday night after dinner to review our plan, check in on the design of our wedding and then replan for the week ahead.


We did our retro, informally, on the flight to our honeymoon destination. We asked ourselves one question – “Did we have any regrets on our wedding day?” –  we both said “No” – we both got the wedding we  anted.

Very happy newlyeds.

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Self-Selecting teams – tales from WW2 Lancaster bomber crews

ePredix Office, Minneapolis, MN in 2001

ePredix Office, Minneapolis, MN in 2001

Back in the day, when I worked in the USA in a fascinating startup (then called ePredix, who were rolled into Previsor and are now part of SHL), I was regularly set on my chuff by one of our amazing technical advisory board members for thinking that anything at all under our digital sun was NEW, or that any of our 21st century science of Industrial-Organisational Psychology (in simple terms, big data about people, for hiring and development) could be viewed as a sure thing.

Our tech advisory board had every right to proffer those kind of opinions to a young economist whippersnapper, as between them they had invented several of the things the science was founded on!

The tools we were building at ePredix were online selection tests, delivered in short form on the web. We had patented ways (don’t get me started on patents by the way…) of serving up a couple of dozen multi-choice questions and then stack-ranking the applicants in their suitability in the role. Bloody clever, big data, but a PhD required to do the maths.

Lancaster crew WW2

One of my most memorable moments was at dinner one night when one advisory board member quietly advised me “you know, it’s all baloney really, you might as well just let teams self-select – they’ll be just as successful”. He went on to tell me of the Lancaster bomber crews of the RAF in the early 1940s, where after short training periods, Bomber Command were stuck with terrible problem of selecting the crews.

Their creative solution? Jam them all (several different flying disciplines, from multiple countries around the world) in a hangar or mess hall, and tell them they had 10 minutes to join a crew.

The result was some of the bravest, effective, well put-together teams in the history of the war. That said, the odds were against them surviving as a team – at the final tally, half the 125,000 young men had been killed or wounded in action, and nearly 10,000 became POWs. The crews had a fair idea of what they were in for – in some cases, 25% of intakes were killed in training.

With a lot of discussion at present about team self-selection in the agile world, it occurred to me the Lancaster bomber story was worth looking into again. Here’s Sandy Mamoli’s recent blog post on squadification at Trademe in New Zealand for example.

Lancaster by Leo McKinstry 2009I found this book by Leo McKinstry from 2009. Here’s the key quote that validates what I heard way back in 2001:

“Once all the initial course had been finally completed, the recruits were sent to an Operational Training Unit, where they began their real preparation for bomber combat. It was at the OTUs that the individual trainees formed themselves into crews for the first time. After all the formality of the previous selection procedures and examinations, the nature of ‘crewing up’ seemed strangely haphazard, even anarchic.

“There was no involvement from the senior commanders, no direction, no regimentation. Instead, the trainees were all taken to a large hangar or mess room, and just told to choose their colleagues to make up the 5 man crew: pilot, bomb-aimer, gunner, wireless operator and navigator. The engineer, who had to undergo specialised training, and the second gunner, would join at a later stage. Without any guidance or rules, the trainees had to rely entirely on their own gut instincts in selecting which group to join.”

Location 4295 of 12152 in Leo McKinstry, Lancaster, 2009 (Kindle Edition).

The book goes on to discuss the kind of people who made up the trainee group of Bomber Command – aged between 17 and 27, self-selected into the jobs (not conscripted), intelligent, inwardly motivated, with broad-based educations.

“They did not need leaders or formal structures” concluded Frank Musgrove in 2005 (Dresden and the Heavy Bombers).

This story sounds a lot like the thinking at Zappos at the moment around Holacracy, and other innovative organisations like Valve and Spotify.

As someone deeply involved in my own day job experimenting with REA-Group’s organisation with new ideas that change traditional leadership roles and formal reporting structures, I’m excited to find these kind of references. I see similar patterns in the world of rock bands and music – but that’s another blog post!

Let me be the first to concede that RAF Bomber Command is a horrific story, for both the crews and the millions of civilians who bore the brunt of this brutal military strategy on both sides of the war. But the extreme nature of the situation called for unusual methods to be applied – we should not ignore them today as we find old ways of running things coming up short and wasting time and money.

And as a grandson of a UK war veteran, I offer a moment of thanks for their sacrifice.

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Lunokhod Art – in stamps, all the way from the Ukraine

As the humanists (and Dan Pink!) will remind us, so often a “thankyou” can be as big a reward as any monetary thing, and in this case – doubly so. An enterprising Melbourne agilist enlisted family members in the Ukraine to find us some amazing Soviet-era Lunokhod stamps. Some all the way from Cuba and Mongolia!

So thank you Anna!

Lunokhod stamp 1


Lunokhod stamp 7

Lunokhod stamp 8Lunokhod stamp 6

Lunokhod stamp 12Lunokhod stamp 9Lunokhod stamp 11


Lunokhod stamp 10



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Clayton Christensen – living treasure, speaks in Melbourne

The Innovators Dilemma 1997On our Luna MBA booklist you’ll find The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. Written in 1997, you shouldn’t be bragging about just discovering it now, though many people are. Better late than never I suppose. I love Clay’s thinking and the way he writes – he crystallised some frightening trends in the shrinking lifespan of business models that became evident in the 1980s, in language that everyone could understand.

Thus, when the opportunity to see him in person came up this week, I was compelled to go. Sure, it was $800 a ticket. Sure, you can read the books (we have). Watching and listening to this giant of a man (in all senses, he is 203cm tall!) is like seeing Leonard Cohen in person, rather than downloading his greatest hits on iTunes. Or perhaps trekking to town and buying vinyl in James’ case.

Clayton Christensen

With his entire oeuvre of change and business teaching available (8 books!), what did this towering figure from management literature choose to talk about?

1. Disruptive Change

First Clay reminded us how disruptive change is defined in his work – that disruptive innovations create new customers and markets, rather than fighting in the home ground of existing products or services. This makes them very different to changes that you invent to sustain your current business model.

His personal example was transistor radios adoption by teenagers in the 1950s. At the time, the Regency_transistor_radiocore consumer market for radio and TV was wealthy middle class families – spawning a massive industry supplying valve based products to US consumers that were large and costly.

Realising that the transistor was going to be part of the future of the technology, the main industry players invested $3b on R&D to develop transistors that would produce high fidelity sound and pictures. None of which delivered a new product in the short term for consumers.

The industry disruption occurred because of a change in the metric of performance from quality of sound to portability of sound. Teenagers were perfectly happy with static-filled rock and roll music if they could listen to it away from the prying and censoring ears of their mothers!

The key question around this kind of disruption becomes “is it better than nothing?” rather than “is it better?” The disruption is occurring away from the core market, in a place that likely seems unattractive to the incumbent players.

He used the Peapod electric car (later seemingly a victim of the downturn in the US car industry) as another example – are there possibly customers for a car that won’t go far or Peapod Electric Car GMfast? Yes – parents of teenagers. Compare that to manufacturers chasing the easier to understand mid-range and higher end electric car segments – Toyota producing the Prius, and Tesla the $100,000 Model S.

He talked about the emerging trend of corporate universities eg Purdue Chicken’s university (as opposed to the prestigious Purdue University!); and how in the 1960s a Toyota Corona was so much better than walking to a college student. In his books he details the disruption of the floppy and hard disk industries in the same way.

Now – were stupid managers to blame for missing these opportunities and driving 9 out of 10 of the main American consumer TV and Radio manufacturers into bankruptcy? No! Turns out that the rational pursuit of increased profit  drives managers to focus on products and segments with bigger margins, often in luxury or higher end market segments, and allow low cost disrupters to get a footing (steel mills, cars, disks).

Those bottom-end disruptive entrants that went on to disrupt the established, high margin players started out by chasing markets the big players never wanted. Astonishingly, after adjusting for inflation, the first Toyota in the USA cost 1/4 the price of a Model T! How did they do this? The clue is in the supply chain, which for a Ford was 60 days in the 1960s (including how long components took to order, build, deliver and store for the production line). Toyota made that a 2 day process – just in time personified.

A ‘technological core’ is what enables disruptive innovation in his parlance. In the US steel industry example, the mini-mill, which improved dramatically over time (through measurement of the ingredients making the output of steel products from rebar to finished sheets predictable) was exactly such a core. You could take that technology and move your way up the market to the top, eventually displacing the old industry players.

Hotels don’t have such a core – to move up-market you must emulate the higher priced options down to the uniforms of the staff and the chocolates on the pillow. In that market the disruption comes from outsiders like AirBnB. Higher education had no such technological core, until the internet came along!

So now you don’t really need to read The Innovator’s Dilemma.

2. The Church of New Finance

The way new, disruptive market entrants are born and grow up can be described as a cycle, beginning with ‘market-creating‘ innovation; followed by sustaining innovation (which increases the capability of your existing product or service, often beyond the useful requirements of the consumer by the way); then finally efficiency innovations. The latter eliminate jobs and free up capital.

How is that capital then used?

By the 2000s, the Church of New Finance, a less than holy alliance of business school professors, accountants and financiers began to advocate ratios as the new measure of business’s success/ profitability (as opposed to weighing ‘tons of cash’). Managers now fiddled with whichever was the easier number (between denominator and numerator) to manipulate the fraction – eg improve ROC by getting assets off the books through outsourcing.

One result was companies reinvesting savings made from efficiency innovations back into further efficiency innovations  with a 2 year payback vs 10; thus avoiding the need for capital and risk associated with market-creating innovations. This breaks the cycle in Clay’s view.

Mini mill disruptor of integrated steel millsAs an example, the steel industry got obsessed with gross margin percentage. If they had thought about net margin per tonne instead, and they would have likely stayed in the low end of the market, and defended their industry against the smaller electric powered steel-making plants called mini-mills.

This is what Clayton calls ‘the capitalist dilemma’. One result is too much money is released that isn’t applied to disruptive innovation, and with this flush of cash, when the cost of capital tends towards zero, measures like NPV become useless. The time value of money in the future is worth the same as today – zero. Traditional economic analysis busted!

Trillions are now languishing in investment funds globally, with nobody daring or bothering to invest in the riskier disruptive innovations.

He talked about ‘royalty capital‘ – a new model of funding startups and post-startups (those likely to be beyond the venture capital stage, and more likely to be taking private money than listing publicly with all the management overhead).

With royalty capital you bring cash into a company as licensed ‘IP’ with an annual royalty of say 3%, payable when revenue starts to come in. The royalty builds up until it pays off the capital sum, and the license to use the money as pseudo-intellectual property is taken off the books.

This apparently aligns the investor and the entrepreneur for growth, longer term. There is less obsession with liquidity – much better than venture capital, which wants in and out quickly.

Another economics ‘bust’ is how traditional assumptions that the ‘do nothing’ scenario that your boss made you prepare for the economic analysis of your business case is value neutral, whereas it is more likely to now be destructive to revenue, and of negative value to your business. The net present value (NPV) calculation thus has to include the avoidance of the negative outcome. Good point, though never built into any business case I have ever seen. Way easier to just do nothing it seems, as you can’t be blamed for waiting and seeing what happens next.

asustek disruptor of dellWith an industry example close to my heart, Dell got out of the motherboard business by devolving production to Asian supplier Asustek, who originally only made simple circuit boards. They then chipped away at assembly, then logistics, until all Dell had left was the brand. With no assets, ROC was better for Dell every year! Genius right? Nope, because they had just funded a vicious competitor in the US PC market.

Thus, in business, the right metric of profitability might just be good, old-fashioned money.

With an increasing level of interest in education, Clay also pointed out that measuring kids this way is distorting their education, and leaves us not caring for 10 year outcomes.

3. PROBLEM: marketers analyse customers, not the job to be done.

This is a useful insight from his work in The Innovator’s Toolkit. Imagine your product or service is not a thing, but a person. That person can be hired, or not hired. What job are you hiring them to do?

iphone app realcommercialIt’s a good way to jolt yourself out of traditional thinking for a minute. In a nutshell, marketers and product people don’t spend enough time thinking about for what purpose (or a job that needs doing) a consumer would ‘hire’ this imaginary person.

In my day job context – why would a person hire our REA Commercial iPhone app? What job were they hoping it would do for them? When you understand this (as I believe we do), you’re in a much better place to innovate.

Clay gives us this framework for thinking about the architecture of a job to be done:

1. What is the job to be done? (Functional, emotional and social dimensions).

2. What experiences (in purchase and use) do we need to provide so the job is done perfectly?

3. What and how to integrate within that experience?

4. Purpose brand: a snapshot or glimpse of a brand that represents all of the above.

Turns out the hard bit to copy is the link between #2 the experience, and #3 the integration steps, with a good example being Ikea (good people to hire when the job to be done is to furnish an entire apartment). Why has nobody followed Ikea?

Clay Christensen talks about retailers

Obsessing about the job to be done is the Clayton Christensen secret, as opposed to obsessing about consumer behaviour, products and services, which are easily mimicked. He went on to talk about retailers, and their spectacular miss with this point. Are you listening Australia?

4. Final thoughts.

During the final panel session, I enjoyed a great quote from Alan Kohler, founder of the Business Spectator in Australia, who was famously fired from Fairfax for predicting that the end of newsprint in its traditional form was nigh – way back in 1993:

“When it comes to predicting the future, being early, and being wrong, amount to pretty much the same thing.”

On surviving disruptive innovation, there were too few cases that are easily drawn on for organisations that have successfully adapted over time. Clay offered an unlikely metaphor (being a deeply Christian person ;-) that as individual humans, we don’t evolve in our lifetime (like products, we are engineered for a fixed duration), but populations do. In parallel, business models don’t evolve, but corporations can over generations.

His example given was IBM moving from $2m mainframes, the size of a building, to $200,000 mid-range computers (the IBM 36 features in my career) to $2,000 PCs, then consulting, and finally to Bill Lowe inventor of the IBM PCsoftware. It’s a radical example, where the centres of innovation had to be geographically at opposite ends of the USA to survive. Today’s obituary of IBM’s own inventor of the PC, William Lowe, tells a bittersweet story of that organisation’s treatment of its disruptive innovators.

In the closing panel, Clay also made the observation that data is heavier than water in most companies. It stays at the bottom while managers try desperately to find the solution and float that upwards toward the boss, making themselves look good. Thus the chances of a CEO knowing the truth are low, the Chairman even less so, explaining why so many smart executives and directors miss opportunities to see disruptive change coming.

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