Martha Lane Fox is an inspirational leader and role model

March 31, 2015

Martha_Lane_FoxIt is easy to find examples of the dark side of charismatic leadership. Then someone comes along who restores confidence in the possibility of the bright side of positive charismatic influence

I have little doubt that Martha Lane Fox (Baroness Fox of Soho, and founder of the Last minute dot com company) started something important in the 2015 Dimbleby lecture last night [March 30th, 2015]. Her presentation was an elegant masterpiece of rhetoric for a digital age she has already helped shape.

The core of her argument to me is a simple message directed initially at a UK audience, but one that has resonance around the world. Information Technology has given us the potential for doing much more than we are for the common good. Yet it needs independent and firm monitoring to avoid abuse, not least through State-sponsored surveillance.

And without a PowerPoint in sight

Whereas others in public life have making this point every day (in lastminutepowerpointdotcom fashion), very few of us have the talent of MLF, who reminded us that PowerPoint is not obligatory to communicate a message effectively.

The self-fulfilling prophesy

Even if, like me, you missed her talk in real time, you will be able to recapture the moment easily. [In the UK you can see it on the BBC iplayer available for another 29 days ] There is further traction because Martha Lane Fox has a follow-up plan to mobilize public opinion behind her ideas. Partly, through the capacity of the web to capture and transmit messages to us all. Here we a self-fulfilling aspect of her message.

The follow-up: Doteveryone

The follow-up is the doteveryone Movement announced at the lecture, and created with the intention of influencing powerful leaders to contribute more to a new age of e-responsible actions. Doteveryone will go viral.

The lecture as a treasure trove of tweets

The lecture is worthy of close study by students of leadership. It might also have been written for mining its numerous sound-bites into memorable tweets. If you are among those tweeters transmitters of inspirational sayings, it could keep you going for several months.

To be continued

Uber’s image is taking a beating: How will the market react?

December 8, 2014

Uber barges ahead, picking up major criticisms of its business policies and practices. Will the marketplace result in a shift towards more responsible corporate behaviours?

The Uber story is heading for business case stardom. It started in 2008 as a brilliant ‘why didn’t I think of that’ idea of using new technology to revolutionize personal transport arrangements. The smart phone car service is now valued at $18 billion and rising.

Success factor no 1. Clever use of IT

The basic proposition is easy to understand. Personal travel could be revolutionized by the use of information technology.

Success factor no 2. The creative leap and ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

The creative leap is easy to communicate if the initial AHA insight triggers the admiring and envious response ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

Success factor no 3. ‘It’s so obvious. Why didn’t I do anything about it?’

Maybe the reception to its early adaption is the stronger if the now-obvious insight was already widely considered. Most of us might have speculated of using IT car-sharing. Über acted on the idea.

Success factor no 4. The founder and named executives are tennis nuts

Only partly true. The corporate web site introduces its team of dynamic young thrusters as sporting enthusiasts to a person.

The thumbnail sketch of CEO Travis Kalanick lists his achievements as founder of the first P2P search engine, and as someone who ‘racked up the second highest Wii Tennis score in the world’. It seems somewhat less keen to reveal that Travis is approaching 40, a rather ancient codger among the Wii-wielding juveniles of California’s Venture community.

No brainer or roller coaster?

Like all radical innovations, Uber looks to be thriving in crazily dangerous conditions, more roller-coaster than no-brainer for market activists.

The matter of corporate social responsibility

A highly damaging story is bubbling up [November 2014] over errors of corporate social responsibility. The whiff of near adolescent energy and self-confidence in the web-site is being linked to an apparent pride in a corporate skill at accessing information of potentially valuable but illegal kind from its customers. As such tracking is part of the Corporate USP, the story at very least suggests insensitivity to its CSR implications.

Maybe in the dash for growth, any publicity was good publicity. That has been the slogan of more than one successful entrepreneur who later modified the approach for pragmatic or ethical reasons. Meanwhile the Ubervolk continue their search for global success for a powerful idea.

Tuesday December 9th

Über ban in Delhi by Transport Authorities after an alleged rape in a Uber taxi, Friday December 6th.

To be continued

[Comments and suggestions from Uber users and leadership students are particularly welcomed]

How leaders support (and sometimes hinder) corporate innovation

September 13, 2011

Research shows that leadership commitment can be a powerful supporting factor within global new product development projects. However, the commitment can also have an inhibiting effect

The surprising result emerged from prize-winning study by a team of researchers from Europe and America who studied the relationships between leadership commitment and effectiveness of new product development (NPD) projects surveying nearly 400 global business units.

The paper by Elko Kleinschmidt, Ulrike De Brentani, and Søren Salomo won the Susan Moger and Tudor Rickards best paper award for 2010, voted by the editorial board of Creativity and Innovation Management Journal.

The study

The study draws on information processing theories of innovation which explore the relationships between information technology deployment and knowledge conversion into new products. The researchers examined the impact of senior managers internally as moderating factors in the process.

Such research requires the most careful attention to methodology to arrive at claims for reliability and conceptual validity of conclusions. The difficulties increase when the studies are multi-level (internal to the firm, and out into the wider global environment). The authors are careful to address these issues.

The anticipated findings

Among the anticipated findings was the conventional wisdom that top management commitment enhances innovation efforts. The authors were to find the view only partially confirmed.

The actual findings

“The research indicates that Senior Management Involvement does not impact global NPD outcome directly, but that there are significant interactions with the two [internal environmental factors]. One may speculate that Senior Management Involvement permeates all aspects of international NPD – but, in a leadership, visioning and delegating fashion – and that its real impact on performance is primarily indirect, through its moderation of all related systems and activities”.

The research adds evidence to another suspicion among technical professions, that top management enthusiasm for a technological fix may result in over-zealous involvement and perhaps ‘meddling’

On getting too involved

“By supporting the IT-Comm Infrastructure of their firms, senior management gives it relevance and legitimacy, potentially making its use an integral part of the global NPD culture of the firm and thus ensuring its use throughout the organization. At the same time, getting too involved in the day-to-day NPD operations can be problematic. Already developed capabilities in the form of routines for concrete problem solving could be weakened through ad hoc approaches introduced by top management.”


The researchers were honoured at a dinner in Corpus Christi college Cambridge [September 7th 2011] hosted by Dr James Moultrie, Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University as an event within the 1st Cambridge Academic Design Management Conference (CADMC). James was the recipient of the award in 2009.

The photograph shows from left to right Professor Olaf Fischer, University of Twente; Susan Moger, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester; Emeritus Professor Elko Kleinschmidt, McMaster University; Emeritus Professor Tudor Rickards, Manchester University; Dr James Moultrie, Cambridge University; Dr Søren Salomo, Danish Technical University; and Dr Klassjan Visscher, University of Twente.

Olaf and Klassan are co-editors of Creativity and Innovation Management Journal [with, in absentia, Professor Petra de Weerd-Nederhof, University of Twente].

The BBC still doesn’t understand social media

February 12, 2010

An investigation carried out by the BBC shows that despite the multi-million investments on web-based business, the corporation still doesn’t get it

A BBC investigative reporter cut himself off from mainstream media this week. He was attempting to investigate claims of the power of the internet as an alternative to traditional news media. From the start, the exercise was grounded in a poorly-formulated assumption. After a week, it only confirmed that the BBC culture is hopelessly mired in its increasingly obsolete mindsets.

To test the power of the internet, the journalist imposed a ban on all contact with news from traditional media – including his own organization, to see whether access to the internet would be a substitute or even be something better. The motivation was stated to be a remark by a tweeter that she doesn’t need to find news, because important news will find her.

That’s a promising start, and offers a testable hypothesis. But the conditions introduced by the investigator could hardly be more flawed. He decided that he would use only his active surfing to substitute for his normal informational diet. While he would get to twitter, for example, he would not follow-up any links on the tweets he found, on the grounds that such actions would lead him back to stuff originally generated by traditional news media such as the BBC.

Now what sort of experiment is that? One which tries to avoid any reflection of how the internet media works. It’s naïve or disingenuous to treat it as a substitute for a person’s normal flows of information. A far more meaningful investigation would consider how long it might take to have gone beyond the start-up stage and get to a reasonably stable set of links. How those links add value. Whether added value was found. Where it comes from, and so on.

At the end of a week of self-imposed apartheid system of information management, the journalist concluded that the social media offer a poor substitute for the news generated by institutions with proper journalists like himself.

A contrary view is one shared by the experiences of personal acquaintances who, having become involved in the process of news gathering on some professional or technical issue, are disillusioned about the outcome as their comments are reinterpreted into a news story. Now that’s a story worth investigating. But don’t bother to wait for the BBC to do it justice.