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Archive for July 2009

When Clients Drive Your Business and Drive You Crazy!

Have you ever had a client or clients that totally hijacked your business operation, strategic direction, product/service development OR innovation funnel? I bet if your like most organizations, I am sure you have.

Why do organizations do this? Is it desperation? Lack of confidence in their offering? Is the customer is always right as the old saying goes? I don’t think so. Customer service is one thing, but what do you do when a customer totally hijacks your business by demanding you add functionality to your product, or demands you do something you don’t typically do, etc? Well, there are a couple of pretty straight forward options here right? Obviously you can either say no and redirect, but what if that doesn’t work? OR you can acquiesce and comply. Either way its a lose lose for your organization.

Now you may say, if you had a strong relationship with your client this wouldn’t happen right? Wrong! To many times your customers under the guise of “partnership” will beat you up and totally take you off track. They just do it with a smile.

Over my 25 years of experience, I have seen over and over again organizations trying to win, keep or drive more revenue from their customers when the customer demands things that are unrealistic, out of scope, or not something you simply dont do. BUT….. because you want to make the client happy, you do it…. at the cost of revenue, time, focus, direction and support. I have seen it time and time again. The bigger your customer the tougher it is. Lets say your a large global organization. This organization can use its market position to force you to do what you don’t want to do i.e. “if you want to do business with megamart XYZ, you need to do it this way because this is how we do it.” So you are left with little choice or options.

So what can you do? Try these as a potential remedy to this problem:

1: Set very clear objectives and expectations on your deliverables, offerings and relationship
2: Maintain “go forward” expectations. Ask questions about future uses of your products, services etc., to understand potential hurdles
3: Know that your client will want more from you or your product and services and will more than likely ask you to do things you cant or wont do. Be prepared. Set expectations.
4: Stand firm. If the client wants something your product or service doesn’t do, you will need to take a stand, redirect, look for a work around or ultimately walk away. But be prepared to lose the business. Acquiescence is not a positive, productive or profitable option.
5: Work to build a true partnership and communicate. Most issues like this are a result in lack of clear and effective communication between parties both in your company and with your clients.
6: Ask questions. Why are they asking you these questions? What’s really driving this objective? Are their alternative solutions and work arounds? Why do they want to do what they claim they want to do? Discuss the impact to both you and they client by taking the action being discuss (demanded). By asking penetrating questions, you may discover what they are trying actually do and what they say they want to do are two different things. You will save your self a lot of money, time, energy, focus, etc. by asking questions.

Look, this stuff isn’t binary. Its complex, multifaceted, intertwined with other initiatives, business units, etc. and its sensitive. The real problem is if you acquiesce, you run the very real and probable risk or losing focus, changing your road map away from your core product or service spec, spending money you don’t have on promises, compromising your vision and confusing your market position. Yes, one large client can do all of this. I have seen it. I have seen the millions of dollars of wasted investment, distraction, employee moral plummet, resentment and ultimately a very bad business relationship will ensue. Not good.

Is there a way to strike a balance? Most likely there is, if you follow some of the rules above. It ultimately comes down to communication and expectation. But doesn’t most things in life! Let me know what you think. Have you ever had this experience?

Thanks,
-DF

Written by David Frederick

July 30, 2009 at 5:16 PM

Trend to Watch: Industries Taking New Shape

Great Blog Post on new trends as a result of the recession and global economy. Check it out!

-DF

Trend to Watch: Industries Taking New Shape

3:55 PM Monday July 13, 2009
by Eric Beinhocker & Elizabeth Stephenson

Tags:Economy, Recession, Strategy

Authors’ note: Each week in July and August, we’ll introduce a new trend you have to watch from our HBR article in the July-August special issue. We also invite you to comment on this trend and suggest what trends you think you have to watch.

People often equate downturn with slowdown, but for many trends, a downturn can be anything but a slowdown. In particular, industry structures change more during recessionary periods than in periods of prosperity and growth. One only need look at that fateful week last September when the entire investment banking industry upended to see an example of just how fast an industry can shift shape. Similarly, the speed with which GM passed through bankruptcy shows just how quickly an old stalwart can fall–and be reborn in entirely new form.

Yet, it is not just the news makers: other industries are making big moves too. Big pharma, for example, has gone through a spate of mergers this year. Cisco explicitly raised capital to help take advantage of buying opportunities during the downturn.

Written by David Frederick

July 30, 2009 at 4:44 PM

Posted in Business, Economics, General

A great resource from Harvard Business School

I get these Free updates daily from HBS. I have found them to very interesting and helpful and wanted to pass on to my readers. Hope this proves helpful.

-DF

Filled with real-life examples, expert commentary, special offers and more, our email newsletters will provide you with the tools you need to tackle the management challenges you face every day. Choose from the selections below, fill in your profile information and select “Sign Up Now” when you’re done.

http://hbsp.ed4.net/prefcenter/signup.cfm

Written by David Frederick

July 30, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Posted in General

Madness or Genius? Bill Gates of Microsoft envisions fighting hurricanes by manipulating the sea

Wow…. this is interesting. I think. Frankly, I am doubtful for a variety of scientific and meteorological reasons, but interesting non-the-less. Never know. What do you think?

-DF

Bill Gates of Microsoft envisions fighting hurricanes by manipulating the sea
by Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday July 15, 2009, 7:11 AM

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates’ visit to Xavier University, hopes to fight hurricanes with giant tubs that alter the seas.

If you thought domination of the world’s software market was cool, get a load of Bill Gates’ next technological vision: giant ocean-going tubs that fight hurricanes by draining warm water from the surface to the depths, through a long tube.

A second tube could simultaneously suck cool water from the depths to the surface.

Microsoft founder Gates and a dozen other scientists and engineers have a patent pending for deploying such vessels, which they say would collect water through waves breaking over the walls of the tub. Some variations have the water moving through turbines on their way down, which would in turn generate electricity to suck up the cooler water.

As many as 200 vessels could be placed strategically in the predicted path of a hurricane, and they could be designed to be reused or to sink in place and decompose underwater. The vessels could be moved into place by towing or by dropping from airplanes.

A second patent application describes how part or all of the cost of building and maintaining the hurricane-killer ships could be raised by selling insurance to coastal residents whose risk would be reduced by using the new system.

The hurricane-killing ideas, contained in a half-dozen related patent applications, were made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Friday, with Gates listed as one of the inventors on each. The applications were submitted by Searete LLC, a subsidiary of Intellectual Ventures of Bellevue, Wash., and created by former Microsoft executives to both buy up existing patents and develop patent applications for new ideas.

The hurricane-killer system isn’t expected to be rolled out any time soon, however, according to a posting on the Intellectual Ventures Lab Web site.

Paul “Pablos” Holman, whose job title is listed as “hacker, ” said the system would be feasible only if other responses to more active hurricane seasons or more intense hurricanes caused by global warming do not work.

“This type of technology is not something humankind would try as a ‘Plan A’ or ‘Plan B, ‘ ” he wrote. “These inventions are a ‘Plan C’ where humans decide that we have exhausted all of our behavior changing or alternative energy options and need to rely on mitigation technologies.

“If our planet is in this severe situation, then our belief is that we should not be starting from scratch at investigating mitigation options, ” he wrote.

The water-moving vessels would not be limited to killing hurricanes, however. The applications also suggest the “wave induced downwelling” could stir up nutrient-rich sediment on ocean floors to promote plant and animal growth in environmentally-degraded areas.

“This may be used for developing wildlife preservation areas, wildlife recreation areas, restoring wildlife destroyed by natural or man-made causes, etc., ” according to the patent application.

Another proposal calls for moving nutrients and other material from the ocean floor to the surface to promote growth of algae to trap carbon as a tool in fighting global warming.

Intellectual Ventures was created in 2000 by Nathan Myhrvold, who was Gates’ chief technology officer at Microsoft, and Edward Jung, who was Microsoft’s chief software architect. In a May article on the unveiling of Intellectual Venture’s own patent laboratory, the Seattle Times reported that the firm has earned $1 billion in licensing revenue from patents it has acquired and about $80 million from patents for ideas it has created since its founding in 2000.

“We consider ourselves basically an invention business, ” said Marelaine Dykes, a spokeswoman for the company. “We’re a non-practicing entity, a non-manufacturing entity because we don’t produce products, per se.”

But the new laboratory does produce prototypes of some of its new inventions, she said, and subsidiaries like Searete are being formed to handle a variety of categories of the patents held or developed by the company.

The hurricane killing plan was the product of a gathering of scientists and invention developers more than a year ago.

“These are brainstorming sessions where we come up with and develop ideas around particular topics, ” she said. “We bring in smart people from all over, depending on the topic.”

Gates, an investor in Intellectual Ventures, has attended several of the invention salons, resulting in his name being added to the ensuing patent applications.

Others listed on those patents include a nuclear reactor designer, an aerospace engineer who has designed reusable launch vehicles, and a climatologist researching ways of increasing water droplets in upper-level clouds to reflect sunlight into space to fight global warming.

New Orleans residents might be keen on at least two other ideas for which Gates and his allies have sought patents: an insulated container that can be used as a beer keg and a fence using photons — particles of light — to shoo mosquitoes away from homes.

For information about the patents, visit the company’s Web site at http://www.intellectualventures.com.

To read the actual article please visit: http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/07/bill_gates_of_microsoft_envisi.html

Written by David Frederick

July 15, 2009 at 8:36 PM

10 Must-Read Articles from HBR

If you read nothing else, read these 10 articles from HBR’s most influential authors, covering the essential management topics.

-DF

To read the summary and more, visit: http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/web/collections/10mustreads

# Christensen on Disruptive Change
Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change (full article for subscribers only)

# Davenport on Analytics
Competing on Analytics (full article for subscribers only)

# Drucker on Self-Management
Managing Oneself (full article for subscribers only)

# Goleman on Emotional Intelligence
What Makes a Leader? (full article for subscribers only)

# Kaplan and Norton on the Balanced Scorecard
Putting the Balanced Scorecard to Work (full article for subscribers only)

# Kanter on Innovation
Innovation: The Classic Traps (full article for subscribers only)

# Kotter on Change
Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail (full article for subscribers only)

# Levitt on Marketing
Marketing Myopia (full article for subscribers only)

# Porter on Strategy
What Is Strategy? (full article for subscribers only)

# Prahalad and Hamel on Core Competence
The Core Competence of the Corporation (full article for subscribers only)

Written by David Frederick

July 15, 2009 at 8:08 PM

Posted in Business, Management

Your Medical Information in the Digital Age by John D. Halamka, MD

Very interesting article from The Harvard Business Review. Thought you guys would find it interesting.

-DF

Visit our special section on Health and Well-Being, created in association with Harvard Health Publications, and focused on one of the most important topics facing executives today: their health.

The U.S. is moving toward electronic health records. Here’s how to make that work for you.

You probably take for granted that you should manage your own résumé. After all, it catalogs your professional history and accomplishments—who else would manage it well? But chances are you don’t oversee your own medical records. Until now, doing so has been difficult because bits and pieces of your information are probably scattered across the files of several doctors, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies. That’s an inconvenient—and potentially dangerous—state of affairs, but one a new federal law may help to remedy.

TO READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE PLEASE VISIT – http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/web/2009/health/your-medical-information-in-digital-age

Written by David Frederick

July 15, 2009 at 8:04 PM

Posted in Technology

U.S.: Reaction to the CIA Assassination Program

More inexcusable negligence by congress. Very interesting read.

-DF

U.S.: Reaction to the CIA Assassination Program
July 15, 2009 | 1634 GMT
Global Security and Intelligence Report

By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton -Stratfor http://www.stratfor.com/

On June 23, 2009, Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta learned of a highly compartmentalized program to assassinate al Qaeda operatives that was launched by the CIA in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When Panetta found out that the covert program had not been disclosed to Congress, he canceled it and then called an emergency meeting June 24 to brief congressional oversight committees on the program. Over the past week, many details of the program have been leaked to the press and the issue has received extensive media coverage.

That a program existed to assassinate al Qaeda leaders should certainly come as no surprise to anyone. It has been well-publicized that the Clinton administration had launched military operations and attempted to use covert programs to strike the al Qaeda leadership in the wake of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. In fact, the Clinton administration has come under strong criticism for not doing more to decapitate al Qaeda prior to 2001. Furthermore, since 2002, the CIA has conducted scores of strikes against al Qaeda targets in Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the MQ-1 Predator and the larger MQ-9 Reaper.

These strikes have dramatically increased over the past two years and the pace did not slacken when the Obama administration came to power in January. So far in 2009 there have been more than two dozen UAV strikes in Pakistan alone. In November 2002, the CIA also employed a UAV to kill Abu Ali al-Harithi, a senior al Qaeda leader suspected of planning the October 2000 attack against the USS Cole. The U.S. government has also attacked al Qaeda leaders at other times and in other places, such as the May 1, 2008, attack against al Qaeda-linked figures in Somalia using an AC-130 gunship.

As early as Oct. 28, 2001, The Washington Post ran a story discussing the Clinton-era presidential finding authorizing operations to capture or kill al Qaeda targets. The Oct. 28 Washington Post story also provided details of a finding signed by President George W. Bush following the 9/11 attacks that reportedly provided authorization to strike a larger cross section of al Qaeda targets, including those who are not in the Afghan theater of operations. Such presidential findings are used to authorize covert actions, but in this case the finding would also provide permission to contravene Executive Order 12333, which prohibits assassinations.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush and the members of his administration were very clear that they sought to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the members of the al Qaeda organization. During the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections in the United States, every major candidate, including Barack Obama, stated that they would seek to kill bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda. Indeed, on the campaign trail, Obama was quite vocal in his criticism of the Bush administration for not doing more to go after al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan. This means that, regardless of who is in the White House, it is U.S. policy to go after individual al Qaeda members as well as the al Qaeda organization.

In light of these facts, it would appear that there was nothing particularly controversial about the covert assassination program itself, and the controversy that has arisen over it has more to do with the failure to report covert activities to Congress. The political uproar and the manner in which the program was canceled, however, will likely have a negative impact on CIA morale and U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Program Details

As noted above, that the U.S. government has attempted to locate and kill al Qaeda members is not shocking. Bush’s signing of a classified finding authorizing the assassination of al Qaeda members has been a poorly kept secret for many years now, and the U.S. government has succeeded in killing al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

While Hellfire missiles are quite effective at hitting trucks in Yemen and AC-130 gunships are great for striking walled compounds in the Somali badlands, there are many places in the world where it is simply not possible to use such tools against militants. One cannot launch a hellfire from a UAV at a target in Milan or use an AC-130 to attack a target in Doha. Furthermore, there are certain parts of the world — including some countries considered to be U.S. allies — where it is very difficult for the United States to conduct counterterrorism operations at all. These difficulties have been seen in past cases where the governments have refused U.S. requests to detain terrorist suspects or have alerted the suspects to the U.S. interest in them, compromising U.S. intelligence efforts and allowing the suspects to flee.

A prime example of this occurred in 1996, when the United States asked the government of Qatar for assistance in capturing al Qaeda operational mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was living openly in Qatar and even working for the Qatari government as a project engineer. Mohammed was tipped off to American intentions by the Qatari authorities and fled to Pakistan. According to the 9/11 commission report, Mohammed was closely associated with Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani, who was then the Qatari minister of religious affairs. After fleeing Doha, Mohammed went on to plan several al Qaeda attacks against the United States, including the 9/11 operation.

Given these realities, it appears that the recently disclosed assassination program was intended to provide the United States with a far more subtle and surgical tool to use in attacks against al Qaeda leaders in locations where Hellfire missiles are not appropriate and where host government assistance is unlikely to be provided. Some media reports indicate that the program was never fully developed and deployed; others indicate that it may have conducted a limited number of operations.

Unlike UAV strikes, where pilots fly the vehicles by satellite link and can actually be located a half a world away, or the very tough and resilient airframe of an AC-130, which can fly thousands of feet above a target, a surgical assassination capability means that the CIA would have to put boots on the ground in hostile territory where operatives, by their very presence, would be violating the laws of the sovereign country in which they were operating. Such operatives, under nonofficial cover by necessity, would be at risk of arrest if they were detected.

Also, because of the nature of such a program, a higher level of operational security is required than in the program to strike al Qaeda targets using UAVs. It is far more complex to move officers and weapons into hostile territory in a stealthy manner to strike a target without warning and with plausible deniability. Once a target is struck with a barrage of Hellfire missiles, it is fairly hard to deny what happened. There is ample physical evidence tying the attack to American UAVs. When a person is struck by a sniper’s bullet or a small IED, the perpetrator and sponsor have far more deniability. By its very nature, and by operational necessity, such a program must be extremely covert.

Even with the cooperation of the host government, conducting an extraordinary rendition in a friendly country like Italy has proved to be politically controversial and personally risky for CIA officers, who can be threatened with arrest and trial. Conducting assassination operations in a country that is not so friendly is a far riskier undertaking. As seen by the Russian officers arrested in Doha after the February 2004 assassination of former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, such operations can generate blowback. The Russian officers responsible for the Yandarbiyev hit were arrested, tortured, tried and sentenced to life in prison (though after several months they were released into Russian custody to serve the remainder of their sentences).

Because of the physical risk to the officers involved in such operations, and the political blowback such operations can cause, it is not surprising that the details of such a program would be strictly compartmentalized inside the CIA and not widely disseminated beyond the gates of Langley. In fact, it is highly doubtful that the details of such a program were even widely known inside the CIA’s counterterrorism center (CTC) — though almost certainly some of the CTC staff suspected that such a covert program existed somewhere. The details regarding such a program were undoubtedly guarded carefully within the clandestine service, with the officer in charge most likely reporting directly to the deputy director of operations, who reports personally to the director of the CIA.
Loose Lips Sink Ships

As trite as this old saying may sound, it is painfully true. In the counterterrorism realm, leaks destroy counterterrorism cases and often allow terrorist suspects to escape and kill again. There have been several leaks of “sources and methods” by congressional sources over the past decade that have disclosed details of sensitive U.S. government programs designed to do things such as intercept al Qaeda satellite phone signals and track al Qaeda financing. A classified appendix to the report of the 2005 Robb-Silberman Commission on Intelligence Capabilities (which incidentally was leaked to the press) discussed several such leaks, noted the costs they impose on the American taxpayers and highlighted the damage they do to intelligence programs.

The fear that details of a sensitive program designed to assassinate al Qaeda operatives in foreign countries could be leaked was probably the reason for the Bush administration’s decision to withhold knowledge of the program from the U.S. Congress, even though amendments to the National Security Act of 1947 mandate the reporting of most covert intelligence programs to Congress. Given the imaginative legal guidance provided by Bush administration lawyers regarding subjects such as enhanced interrogation, it would not be surprising to find that White House lawyers focused on loopholes in the National Security Act reporting requirements.

The validity of such legal opinions may soon be tested. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, recently said he was considering an investigation into the failure to report the program to Congress, and House Democrats have announced that they want to change the reporting requirements to make them even more inclusive.

Under the current version of the National Security Act, with very few exceptions, the administration is required to report the most sensitive covert activities to, at the very least, the so-called “gang of eight” that includes the chairmen and ranking minority members of the congressional intelligence committees, the speaker and minority leader of the House of Representatives and the majority and minority leaders of the Senate. In the wake of the program’s disclosure, some Democrats would like to expand this minimum reporting requirement to include the entire membership of the congressional intelligence committees, which would increase the absolute minimum number of people to be briefed from eight to 40. Some congressmen argue that presidents, prompted by the CIA, are too loose in their invocation of the “extraordinary circumstances” that allow them to report only to the gang of eight and not the full committees. Yet ironically, the existence of the covert CIA program stayed secret for over seven and a half years, and yet here we are writing about it less than a month after the congressional committees were briefed.

The addition of that many additional lips to briefings pertaining to covert actions is not the only thing that will cause great consternation at the CIA. While legally mandated, disclosing covert programs to Congress has been very problematic. The angst felt at Langley over potential increases in the number of people to be briefed will be compounded by the recent reports that Attorney General Eric Holder may appoint a special prosecutor to investigate CIA interrogations and ethics reporting.

In April we discussed how some of the early actions of the Obama administration were having a chilling effect on U.S. counterterrorism programs and personnel. Expanding the minimum reporting requirements under the National Security Act will serve to turn the thermostat down several additional notches, as did Panetta’s overt killing of the covert program. It is one thing to quietly kill a controversial program; it is quite another to repudiate the CIA in public. In addition to damaging the already low morale at the agency, Panetta has announced in a very public manner that the United States has taken one important tool entirely out of the counterterrorism toolbox: Al Qaeda no longer has to fear the possibility of clandestine American assassination teams.

Written by David Frederick

July 15, 2009 at 7:52 PM