Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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    Welcome to a Silicon Valley State of Mind, thoughts tips and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "Silicon Valley's Top Information Strategist."

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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

Because of my experience and credentials as a Six Sigma Black Belt, I’m often called into companies to help them improve a process that shouldn’t be improved. I was recently on a Six Sigma effort where the process was so broken we couldn’t even establish a baseline. That’s a good clue that you’re heading down the wrong path. You cannot improve a defective process—you need to replace it.

Most people identify Six Sigma with process improvement (i.e., DMAIC[1]); however, there is another part of Six Sigma that deals with process development (i.e., DMADV[2]) called Design for Six Sigma, or DFSS[3] for short. Although the two look similar side-by-side, the execution is very different. For instance, both have a measure phase following their design phase; however, with DMAIC a key goal of the measure phase is a baseline; however, with DMADV that goal doesn’t exist. Instead, you’ll focus more on obtaining a crisper understanding of how the new process will be measured.

To decide which path to pursue, ask yourself whether you have an efficiency problem or an effectiveness problem. For instance, if the process works okay; however, the results are coming out too slow, you have an efficiency problem that requires DMAIC. If however, the process doesn’t work at all, you have an effectiveness problem that requires DMADV, which is more along the lines of process innovation.

Trying to improve a dysfunctional process is like changing the oil in a blown engine. It doesn’t make any sense. Before you start a process improvement effort, make sure you first have a process to improve. If you don’t, it’s best to just start over with a new process.

  1. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control; and represents the major phases of a Six Sigma process improvement effort.  ↩

  2. DMADV stands for Define Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify; and represents the major phases of a Six Sigma process development effort.  ↩

  3. For most intents and purposes DMADV and DFSS can be used interchangeably to represent process development using Six Sigma techniques. For those who care, DFSS is more of objective-based characterization and DMADV is more of a process-based characterization.  ↩

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Posted by on in Leadership

Details on the much anticipated iPhone 5 were released yesterday—a much anticipated State of the Union by Tim Cook, the highly scrutinized successor to Steve Jobs, who was one of the most visionary leaders the world has ever seen. Since Jobs’ passing last year, many have been closely watching to see if Cook can fill Jobs’ shoes. I feel yesterday marked his chance at a real first impression of his leadership, and I regretfully admit, I’m not impressed. There are not too many pivotal moments in a leader’s career; when they come around you must seize the opportunity, not fizzle it away.

Cook gets a pass on the iPhone 4s; to me, this was a dot release that basically glided on the vision of Jobs. Some might argue that the iPhone 5 is at least in part propelled by Jobs’ petroleum; however, in the iPhone 5 release, I’m already noticing signs of a product that was released by a COO, rather than a CEO. Much of the buzz on the iPhone 5 was about a slimmer design, a bigger screen, and a faster processor. And, it seems the new iPhone 5 can plug into the LTE network, which may open up its use to a broader audience. These are nice features, but that’s about the most I can say. Where are the earth-shaking benefits Apple is known for? The iPhone 4 changed my life; now the iPhone 5 makes it a little easier. For the first major release since Jobs’ passing, Cook really needed to come out stronger than this.

It’s not like Cook didn’t have the chance, and his competitors are having his lunch. Cook decided to focus on slimmer design, while many new smartphones (BlackBerry, Android, Motorola) have already released near-field communication capabilities, which drives mobile payments. Cook decided to focus on a bigger screen when the same competitors are exploring advanced biometric security like face recognition.

I refuse to believe that Apple can’t follow an amazing release with another amazing release. It may be too early to judge, but the Jobs Factor is what brought Apple back, and if Cook and the new Apple can’t invoke that mojo, they’ll be in trouble.

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Posted by on in Innovation

People love the tried and trued. There’s great comfort in knowing a process is in place, and it works. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? I agree, as long as you’re sure it ain’t broke.

I went to Lawrence’s Meat Company in Alamo the other day, the best place to buy meat in the area. It’s the closest thing you’ll find to a real butcher shop around here—a concept that never should have been superseded by the huge supermarkets. Amazingly enough, they’ve been around since 1887, and they’ve probably done an outstanding job since then. I can certainly attest to the quality of their meat today; this this my only consideration when planning any serious meal.

While there, I noticed some BBQ sauce they were selling on the counter. Apparently, it was created in 1849, so it’s even older than Lawrence’s. For some reason, I was lured by the age of the BBQ sauce, assuming that the “old west,” had great BBQ sauce, and a flavor that’s been around so long must be good.

I was wrong.

I know everybody has their own taste, but this one isn’t mine. Maybe “old west” BBQ sauce isn’t all that great, or maybe this company just got it wrong, but after 163 years I would hope they could create something better tasting than this. I’m not sure how in touch they are with their customers, but a controlled approach to their customer experience might be in order.

In Six Sigma, there’s a tool called a control plan. A control plan is an operational tool that measures how your process is performing. You can overlay this information with your process expectations (when you do this it is not a control plan anymore, but that’s a different topic) to see if your process is consistently meeting expectations.

Of course, your expectations should be a reflection of what your customers expect. So, to ensure you’re meeting or exceeding your customers’ expectations, I advise that you collect some data from your customers on a periodic basis, and juxtapose it with your control plan.

This simple sensor should drive your entire organization. You must actively manage your markets’ expectations, and you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This also becomes the foundation for a good customer relationship strategy.

So, always challenge how trued your tried process is, especially when it comes to your customers. If you aren’t meeting or exceeding their expectations, what category would you guess remains?

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Posted by on in Innovation

Scientists have now discovered a method for storing massive amounts of data in DNA. No, IT hasn’t invented yet another acronym for us to learn, I’m talking about actual Deoxyribonucleic Acid, the same macromolecules responsible for carrying all the genetic coding for all living organisms. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, researchers have encoded a comic book (text and illustrations) onto engineered DNA strands, and have successfully decoded the strands back to the original text (an important test for usability!). Although a pricey flash drive can store about 250 billion bytes of data on a device the size of your thumb, that’s no match for DNA which can store at least 1000 times more data in the same space.

Of course, nobody’s running out to by DNA devices just yet, but who knows what the future holds? If it’s in your company’s DNA (pun intended) you might know what the future holds, or at least make a good run at shaping it. People now are trying to compare solid-state technology (e.g. flash drives) against the emerging DNA technology. There will of course be advances in solid state technology to meet the voracious appetite of data consumers which doubles every couple of years. Now with renewed possibilities for DNA storage, there will hopefully be advances in making the research more conducive to practical use.

It would be a great mistake for innovators to put DNA technology in the same category at solid-state technology. This is trying to solve an old problem with a new method. It’s one approach, but it’s boring, uncreative, and has only limited value. This thinking won’t build an innovative, breakthrough that brings a decisive competitive advantage. Doritos was a breakthrough, and still one of my favorite snacks. Ranch-flavored Doritos are pretty good, but not nearly as remarkable. Southwest Jalapeño Guacamole Doritos are silly—by this time all the value has evaporated and they’re just giving the people in New Product Development something to do. And, don’t get me started on Taco Bell.

Instead, consider looking for properties of the new technology that open up new possibilities. This concept sits at the heart of information innovation. For instance, DNA not only has dense storage capacity, but also has the ability to replicate and mutate rapidly. This could be used to solve complex problems that traditional computers cannot solve today. This is a quick idea off the top of my head, imagine what a concentrated exploration might uncover.

It all starts with asking the right questions, and committing your organization to finding an answer. You must be able to ask bold questions to get bold results. A breakthrough technology deserves a bold company to innovate a breakthrough product. Is it in your company’s DNA to rise to the challenge?

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Posted by on in Strategy

The acquisition of Frommer’s by Google is interesting to me. Of course, Google is a paragon of how to exploit information, so any move they make is interesting to me.

There’s plenty of speculation on what Google intends to do with the company, and its famous travel guide. There’s an obvious connection between this and the recent acquisition of Zagat, the restaurant guide, and travel software company ITA. Perhaps they’re making a strong move in the travel industry? They’re perhaps mounting an attack against the likes of Expedia and Orbitz?


Google is full of surprises, and they always deliver on their promise of innovating in every corner possible.

What I like from an information strategy standpoint is that they’re not trying to bake everything in-house. They’ve certainly built an internal culture that fosters innovation, and information innovation is no exception. However, they also understand there’s more than one way to flip a floppy. When you start considering the best ways to exploit information, acquisition is a very solid strategy, as long as you have the competence for merging/acquiring businesses. Frommer’s is their 116th acquisition, and their stable includes some giants like YouTube, DoubleClick, and Motorola Mobility. By this time, I think they have the formula down.

“Buy versus build” decisions apply to more than just software. If there’s a company out there with valuable, proprietary information that you can exploit, why not make an offer? The worst they can say is no.

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