It Seems that Silicon Valley Innovation Models Don’t Work Everywhere Else

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak in Copenhagen at Denmark Technical University on the topic of engineering leadership and the culture of innovation. Topics included the ways that innovation goes wrong and how important it is for firms to diversify away from the business models that have worked in the firm’s past.

One of the ideas presented was that organizations often use a combination of free time and/or other ways to get activation energy to help the organization innovate. Certainly Google’s 20% and Facebook’s Hackathons are famous models of providing this activation energy. 3M and HP had versions of these models many years ago.   And these firms also developed new skills and new products by drawing out the creativity of their own employees.

After the talk, I was contacted by Zahid Abdullah, CEO of TEO, an outsourcing and software services firm operating in Denmark with offices in Pakistan. He told me a very interesting story. He actually did an experiment on this topic. He assigned his Pakistan group to activate  innovation with open-ended assignments, allowing the team to experiment in new areas. The results were surprising. In short, nothing happened. After investigation by an MBA student hired by TEO, the engineers explained that 1) they were not sure what to work on if it was not assigned and 2) they did not want to be embarrassed to show their self-assigned work. There were other factors as well.

Fundamentally, this is surprising.  We would have thought that just having the opportunity and time to do creative work would be enough. It turns out that those models that work like clockwork in Silicon Valley don’t work as well everywhere else. Unlocking the barriers to innovation seem to have important cultural aspects besides processes and skills. For more information, please see the downloadable report: TEO_SL-REPORT_PUBLIC by Aisha Gul (as MBA student, Aalborg University), “EVALUATION OF SOFTWARE LAB AT TEO”.

[Related topics: overcoming fear, risk, Silicon Valley culture transfer]

Posted by Ikhlaq Sidhu

What Can Go Wrong Part 1

This introductory clip to Engineering Leadership illustrates of what can go wrong during the process of innovation.  The clip is centered around the famous case of E-Ink which raised $120M over 7 years to commercialize an exciting new display technology.

As you watch the video, think about what the firm did right and wrong.  What could you have done better as an engineering leader?

Key concepts:
Choosing a market, choosing a business model, types of mistakes and miscalculations, technology push timeline, building ecosystems of suppliers, partners, and customers, and early stage innovation.

Posted by Ikhlaq Sidhu

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Supply Chain: World in 2050

This past week, we just finished teaching week 1 of our Global Engineering Leadership program.  On the topic of supply chains, Antonio Mansilla pointed me to this interesting video on the 5 scenarios of the world in 2050.  The video has been put together by DHL as part of their forward looking work on how logistics will evolve.  The scenarios range from Untamed Economy – Impending Collapse , Mega-Efficiency in Megacities, Paralyzing Protectionism,  Customized Lifestyles, and Global Resilience – Local Adaption.  Certainly these are all interesting future cases in Engineering Leadership. Reference: The World in 2050 – Future study presented by Frank Appel, CEO Deutsche Post DHL.

Posted by Ikhlaq Sidhu

Steve Blank

…I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the Promised Land. And I might not get there with you… Martin Luther King

The startup founder who gets fired just as his/her company is growing into large company could be a cliché – if it wasn’t so true – and painful.

Let’s take a look at why.

Full disclosure: I’ve worn all the hats in this post. I’ve been the founder who got fired, I’ve been on the board as my friends got fired and I’ve been the board member who fired the founders.

Scalable Startups at Adolescence
In our previous post we posited that Scalable Startups are designed to become large companies.  Yet at their early stages, they are not small versions of larger established companies. They are different in every possible way – people, culture, goals, etc.  Scalable startups go through an transitional form, as unique as a…

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Adam Bosworth: Analyzing Complex Opportunities

Adam Bosworth, an engineering leader, offers his perspective on opportunity in a complex market.

Adam Bosworth, pioneer of XML technology and former Vice President of Product Management at Google, illustrates the analysis that lead him to develop his company Keas.

As you watch the videos listed below, consider the way Adam deconstructs complex healthcare issues. How does he characterize the size of the opportunity and the issues that will have to be overcome?

Key ideas:

Inferred measures in place of market research, pains in the system, incentives, decision-making unit, and elasticity of demand.

More on Adam Bosworth:

Adam Bosworth is the founder and CTO of Keas, a leader in healthcare wellness services. Adam was previously Vice President of Product Management at Google Inc. from 2004–2007; prior to that, he was senior VP Engineering and Chief Software Architect at BEA Systems. Known as one of the pioneers of XML technology, Bosworth previously held various senior management positions at Microsoft, including General Manager of the WebData group, a team focused on defining and driving XML strategy. While at Microsoft, he was responsible for designing and delivering the Microsoft Access PC database product and assembling and driving the team that developed Internet Explorer 4.0’s HTML engine.

References: UC Berkeley Distinguished Innovator Lecture Series on Youtube, Wikipedia.

Image: TechCrunch

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Image: Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs speaks at a keynote session for CES2010,

Steve Blank

I ran into Ricardo Dos Santos and his amazing Qualcomm Venture Fest a few years ago and was astonished with its breath and depth.  From that day on, when I got asked about which corporate innovation program had the best process for idea selection, I started my list with Qualcomm.

This is Ricardo’s “post mortem” account of the life and death of a corporate entrepreneurship program.  Part 1 outlining the program is here.  Part 2 describing the challenges and “lessons learned” will follow.


The origin
In 2006, as a new employee of the Fortune 100 provider of wireless technology and services, San Diego’s Qualcomm, I volunteered to salvage a fledging idea management system (fancy term for an online suggestion box) by turning into a comprehensive corporate entrepreneurship program.

Qualcomm’s visionary CEO, Paul Jacobs, wanted to use internal Qualcomm ideas to find breakthrough innovation that could be turned…

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Steve Blank: Engineering Leadership includes Business Model Design

In this section of the on-line course, Steve Blank introduces concepts of business model design, customer development, and agile engineering encapsulated within this  Engineering Leadership curriculum.

The links below are from (  You can login using a Google or Facebook sign in – or create a new account for yourself.

For Engineering Leaders taking this open and free course, we recommend the following sections:

a) Lecture 1: What we know now:
In this section, Steve Blank explains a context for intapreneurial new ventures and why Business plans and product planning do not work well for new products and new businesses.  Generally in these cases, customer information is not well known.

b) Lecture 1.5: Business Models and customer development
This section explains in more detail the business model canvas and the iterative process of validating business model hypothesis.  Other concepts defined: Customer development, Pivots, and market sizing. 

c) Lecture 2: Value Propositions
In value propositions, Steve Blank defines qualitative value propositions and minimum viable product.

d) Lecture 3: Customer Segments
In this lecture, Steve Blanks defines the customer segment archetype as the counterpart to value proposition. His definition of Archetypes is similar to Personas are defined by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm.


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Defining Goals: Operational Excellence, Pt. 1

Charles Giancarlo, former Chief Product Officer of Cisco, talks about how the best firms achieve operational excellence: defining goals, aiming high, and not being afraid to change people to change management dynamic.

This segment is from the Distinguished Innovator Lecture Series at UC Berkeley.

Image: Cisco Systems, Inc.

Next lesson: Managing Acquisitions: Operational Excellence, Pt. 2
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