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Innovation Is Too Essential for Businesses to Be Precious About

Innovation is not a romantic pursuit. The best disruptions happen on the front lines, not the sequestered labs of research and development departments.

Roger Martin: Design thinking in my view is the productive combination of analytical thinking and intuitive thinking that enables you to both exploit to the maximum what currently exists while exploring new things to invent the future so that you have both reliability, a consistent enough outcome that keeps you going and validity.  You're pursuing great things that are wonderful for users that enable you to invent the future not invented by somebody else and imposed on you.  So it's that combination, the middle ground between the extremes of pure analytical thinking and pure intuitive thinking.

A big topic in innovation is the skunk work. And it's a big topic because there's a question, and the great Clay Christiansen friend of mine, great scholar in some sense raised the profile of this question by asking the question when you're dealing with a disruptive technology you want to disrupt yourself in particular, can you do it in the main mainstream part of the organization or do you have to have it off in a skunkworks, by which is meant that this organization is outside the mainstream organization and in some sense protected from the main stream organization so they can work away and work away and come up with something?  And Steve Jobs famously created a skunk works to do the Apple Mac development.

It's an area where I'm not convinced.  I'm not as convinced as my friend Clay, although he might be right because he's super smart, I'm not as convinced that that is the optimal design.  Because I've seen too many cases where when it comes out of the skunkworks it gets killed.  So the purported functionality if you will of the skunkworks, which is protection, actually makes the need for protection greater.  So there's a feeling in the mainstream organization that those people over in the skunk works got to play by different rules, didn't have to have the same rigor that we would've had to and now they're taking their thing that came out of it and thinking that they can just give it over to us and we'll welcome it with open arms.  No, in fact we're going to hate it because it's the product of in some sense a privileged system.  We'd love to have that system but we can't it's only the skunk works.

If you really want to be an innovative company and make innovation sustainable and not just this incidental thing that happens every once in a while in a skunk works, you just got to train the whole organization to think both analytically and intuitively to both figure out how to be good at exploitation and exploration, set up your systems so that they don't stifle that and make the entire organization an organization about innovation.  That it's an organization that thinks about innovation while it's thinking about exploitation.

People think that innovation comes from R&D departments.  That's another way of hiving it off those R&D people innovate.  It shouldn't be.  The key people, a key source of innovation in and well functioning company should be the sales force.  The sales force are going to spend one way or another more time with the customers than anybody else. The people who are closest to the customer have got to be involved in innovation otherwise you're going to waste your time on innovations that seem cool for the producer but aren't awesomely needed by the user. Anybody can be innovative and if you hive off innovation and put it elsewhere I don't think it's great for the organization. 

Innovation is no longer the crown jewel of large companies that can afford to fund research and development departments. The pace of technological change, and its democratizing effects, require organizations of all sizes to continually innovate. Even if the product or service on offer is successful, companies must work to disrupt their own gains. If they don't, those gains will be short-lived, says Roger Martin, former Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.


How organizations successfully innovate is frequently the focus of Martin's attention, and here he addresses the research and development initiatives that operate outside the boundaries of day-to-day company activity. Called "skunkworks," these departments are factories of creativity and innovation that focus on exploring new possibilities, unburdened by the rigors of market requirements and efficiencies. Steve Jobs famously created a skunkworks to develop the Mac, and research and development departments are another manifestation of sequestered innovation, says Martin.

Ultimately what is needed is an innovative organization, not just an innovative department. Martin has seen many products emerge from skunkworks only to be killed by their parent organization for being pie-in-the-sky and untethered from larger organizational goals. How then does an organization become innovative such that it focuses on both innovating new ideas while exploiting current products? By listening to front-line employees, says Martin.

An organization's sales force, or other point-of-contact employees, holds the key to innovating in a way that is responsive to customer behavior. They will have more familiarity with how a given product is actually used than a room of designers locked away in a skunkworks. The result is a win not just for hardworking frontline workers over pretentious design departments, but a win for the organization as a whole as it requires a reevaluation of what constitutes innovation: simultaneous exploration and exploitation.

Roger Martin's most recent book is Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works.

Why it’s hard to tell when high-class people are incompetent

A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."

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Surprising Science
  • The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
  • Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
  • However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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Mother bonobos, too, pressure their sons to have grandchildren

If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.

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Surprising Science
  • Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
  • The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
  • Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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