The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton Christensen | Book Review

The Innovators Dilemma is a fascinating read. It’s one of those books that once you get into it, you just know the insights are going to be invaluable.

This was one of the hardest posts I have written – simply because there were so many invaluable take homes and it was difficult to think about how to structure it. But, here is my best shot:

In a nutshell, the central theme of the book is why most companies miss out on the next wave of innovation and as a result see their business disrupted by new entrants – often taking them by suprise and with disastrous results.

The scary thing is that it would be easy to jump to poor leadership or execution for the root cause. But on the contrary, in many of the case studies discussed in the book, their downfall was caused by some of the best leadership in the industry making sound, logical decisions and executing well – kinda demoralising if you are in a leadership position huh? 😉

It explains how companies that become very successful, naturally establish their own value networks (cost structures and expected benchmarks for commercial success) that become engrained in their culture.

This in itself causes them to make decisions on resource allocation that lean towards building better products (improvements to sustaining technology) for their existing customers as these always boast the biggest margins and have well known customers needs and markets.

When you think about it – it’s the most logical and safest way to continue to drive profit and growth and defend your market share from competitors – which management always feel great pressure to deliver.

To give it some context, when faced with a decision to back one of the following two projects, which would you choose as a senior manager?

Project A:

  • involves improvements to sustaining technology
  • predictable margins at the level that the business is used to seeing
  • clearly identified customer needs
  • clearly identifed market

Project B:

  • involves innovative & disruptive technology (normally unstable and with many unknowns)
  • unpredictable margins and in general the opportunity is insignificant compared to the growth needs of the organisation
  • poorly defined customer needs
  • poorly defined market

It’s certainly the safest career choice for managers who have the responsibility for greenlighting projects and allocating resources to always go for project A. So much so, that the most senior managers may never even get to see project B land on their desk as an option as it will have been weeded out lower down in the organisation by middle managers not willing to back it.

It’s also interesting that established companies didn’t seem to have troubles with actually developing the disruptive technology – in fact it seems that most were able to develop it just fine. What they struggled with is giving it the resources and making the right decisions for how to commercialise it early on.

It is suggested that those companies who did manage to be succesful at commercialising disruptive technologies almost always set up a seperate organisation (either by setting it up themselves or by acquiring one). This meant that they didn’t inherit the value networks of the existing organisation and did not compete for priorities and resources with the rest of the companies projects.

They were often in a different location, had their own leadership and had full autonomy to develop the disruptive technology and find their own customers / markets. They could get excited about and be commercially successful with lower margins.

Their strategies and plans were focused on learning and discovery – not execution. They allowed themselves to fail knowing it was part of the discovery process and getting it right (product and market) first time was not important. Instead they tested the market regularly with minimum viable products and conserved resources to be able to iterate and have several stabs at it. In short, they didn’t go big until their market was better known.

They didn’t search for a technology breakthrough which would allow them to sell to a mainstream market – instead they found new markets where the weaknesses in the mainstream market were actually seen as strengths in the new markets.

The existing business would have had huge trouble wrapping their head around this way of working – it’s all far too risky.

And here’s the kicker – the capabilities of the disruptive technology would grow at a faster rate than the sustaining technology (often the key sign it is a disruptive technology). Eventually the disruptive technology would be able to be competitive on features and when that happens the customer would start to favour reliability and convenience – something which the disruptive technology would normally do better. And thats where the disruption occurs.

The big companies who failed to allocate resources towards disruptive technology and approach it in the way outlined above, now were themselves disrupted by companies who could directly compete with their customers and were enjoying a first mover advantage with the new technology.

To give everything here context, The Innovators Dilemma looks thoroughly at the disk drive and excavation industries in which disruptive technology played out in a fascinating way. At the end it also takes a look at the electric vehicle and how the car manufacturer industry might approach identifying it as a disruptive technology and how to tackle it.

As I am in the gaming industry, this book really gives you a better understanding as to why mobile has been so disruptive to the console / web market. A few years ago, many held the view that mobile was uninteresting as a gaming platform – its technology was inferior, the market wasn’t clear and there was no obvious way to be able to monetise at the level that console / web companies were used to enjoying.

Fast forward to today and mobile technology has improved leaps and bounds – and at a faster rate than console technology. It’s slowly started to be able to satisfy gamers needs and it’s now pulling customers away from console and web in big numbers. Mobile teams are able to ship more quickly and cheaper and we’ve started to see some very impressive commercial successes – e.g. Super Cell & Natural Motion.

Well, I’ve rambled enough. just go buy and read the book – you won’t be disappointed.

P.S – Thank you to Ben Cousins for talking about this book so much – it was what caused me to pick it up and read it.

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Taking things a day at a time

Lately I’ve realised the importance of taking one day at time when it comes to my personal life.

I am incredibly self critical and can beat myself up really bad when I screw up or even just don’t do things perfect – this can become a vicious circle as I go on a trail of self destruct because of how disappointed I am in myself.

For example, if I get tempted to eat some junk food, I will become immediately frustrated with my lack of will power and this can often allow it to spiral into a cycle of eating poorly for days, or even weeks.

Likewise, a skipped gym session can sometimes turn into weeks or months of inactivity.

The key is letting go of the past. No matter how things went yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year – you have the power to change the trend when you wake up to start your day.

You have the opportunity to start with a blank canvas and have an awesome day.

And then you can build on that the following day – and the next day – and so on.

Set aside half an hour to plan out an awesome day. Keep it simple – just 3 or 4 things that will make your day pretty awesome. And then do that.

Likewise if you screw up in the morning, you can still have a great afternoon, it doesn’t mean you have to write off the whole day. Re-group and plan out an awesome afternoon. And then do that.

What are you going to do with tomorrows bank holiday?

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My Results on Paleo

After reading Robb Wolfs book The Paleo Solution, I was convinced it was the right path to good health.

So, 30 days ago I commited to the Paleo Diet – avoiding dairy, grains, processed foods, sugars, beans, starches and alcohol. Eating lean meats, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, seafood and healthy fats.

I’ve managed about 80% consistency. I’ve taken a couple of days off and have had the odd slippage here or there – but for the most part I’ve stuck to the script.

It wasn’t crazy hard to do. It definately requires some preparation (I planned my weekly meals out at the beginning of the week and did a big food shop) and conscious decision making around snacking and eating out – but for the most part it’s suprising how the shift to eating Paleo doesn’t feel like a major shift.

My breakfast tended to be either scrambled eggs / bacon / tomatoes or fruit and nuts.

My lunch was normally left over dinner from the day before or fruit and nuts.

My dinner was usually things like meat & vegetable stir frys, home made burgers & sweet potatoes wedges, big salads, steak & vegetables etc.

When eating out I would just lean towards meat type dishes without the starches and order an extra side of vegetables to fill out the meal.

In short – I really, really like Paleo.

As I said in my previous post, I’ve tried many things in the past – but this is the first approach that actually feels like a lifestyle and has long term good health at the heart of it – rather than just short term weight loss.

So what results did I notice? Well two main things:

1. Weight Loss

Even though weight loss was far from the primary reason to go Paleo, I did in fact lose weight. Previously I was maintaining my weight consistently at 13 stone, 7lbs (189lbs) using a 5/2 diet (well actually 4/3) and doing approx. one crossfit session a week and running on average fifteen miles a week.

Over the last twenty-five days my weight has dropped to 13 stone, 1 lb (182lbs) – a loss of 6lbs. Whats interesting is because of some lower back / calf injuries, I’ve only been able to manage one low intensity gym session a week – so the weight loss would have likely been more if my exercise had of remained at it’s higher, previous level.

For me that’s awesome, because I really feel like maintaing a weight of 12 stone, 7 lbs (175lbs) is about right for me and it’s a good sign that it shouldn’t be terribly hard to get there.

Whether the weight loss came from calorie reduction (Paleo meals do tend to be calorie light – although I should note I wasn’t intentionally trying to eat less calories and it didn’t feel like I was) or the subtraction of the ‘avoid’ foods I don’t know. But the facts are the facts, my weight dropped nicely and with less exercise.

2. Feeling Awesome

Aswell as weight loss, I simply feel much better avoiding starches (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, cereals etc.) and processed foods.

Previously I would finish a meal and really feel quite awful – sleepy, bloated etc. I now find myself no longer feeling bloated or sleepy after meals – yet feeling full. In general I just felt leaner and less bloated most of the time.

What was also noticeable was about 15 days in I made a decision to take an entire day off Paleo due to a social event. I ate bread and some processed foods and felt like absolutely crap later in the day and for a couple of days afterwards.

So I lost weight and felt awesome which is obviously… well… awesome. And I haven’t even mentioned short and long term health benefits (the key driver behind me starting Paleo). Obviously this wasn’t going to come through in the form of tangible results in a twenty-five day period, however Robb Wolf lays out the health benefits incredibly well in his book The Paleo Soltuion and I’m concvinced it’s a much healthier way of living.

It goes without saying I will be continuing to eat a Paleo Diet from here on and will be working to improve upon my 80% consistency.

If you want to know a bit more about Paleo and how to get started yourself, check out the What is the Paleo Diet section on Robb’s site.

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Do These Two Things to Significantly Improve Productivity and Success

When I have felt the most productive and successful, there are two things I was consistently doing.

Rise early

This one changed my entire life and I’ve never looked back.

There is something so incredibly powerful about early morning time – its focused, you literally get extra hours to work with and you start the day off on a strong foot (which has a huge impact on how you move through the rest of day).

For me, getting about three extra hours and balancing that time between myself and work is key. The holy grail (again, for me) looks like this:

  • 4.30 – 6.30 – two hours focused ‘me’ time
  • 6.30 – 7.30 – shower, eat and get to work
  • 7.30 – 9.00 – 1.5 hours focused work time

I know 4.30 seems crazy early, but I’m naturally an early riser so is doesn’t feel so crazy to me. 🙂

I got in the habit of doing something similar to the above a while back and I was on fire. I’ve let that slip and it’s noticeable how less productive I feel – so I’m going to work hard to get back to it over the coming weeks.

Try it for yourself. If you aren’t used to waking early, go about it slowly. Start with just rising 15 minutes earlier than you are used to for a week and make good use of the extra time – and slowly increase it from there. Figure out what works for you as it could be that simply an extra one hour of focused time in the morning is best for you.

I can guarantee that once you become an early riser, you’ll never look back.

Also, check out The Unfair Advantage – Achieve More Than Others Do The Entire Day – Before Breakfast! for a fantastic and short read on rising early.

Plan out the day

Taking the time to consciously map out what you will do for the day is SO powerful (incidentally, getting up early gives you the focused time to do this).

I used to just jump into the day and start ‘doing’. I would find myself being dragged into all sort of things – many of them urgent, but not necessarily important. When you think about it, it’s the equivalent of a business having entirely no strategy and just doing a bunch of slightly random things each day.

Nowadays I take at least fifteen minutes to think quietly about what I want to achieve for the day. What are the items which will make the biggest impact and allow me to move significantly forward – try and think what is important to do, not necessarily urgent.

I think about what things to do, how long each will take and in what order I should do them and that translates into a realistic plan for the day. You should be able to look at this and know that if you achieved it, you would feel awesome at the end of the day.

Having such a plan puts you in a great position to be able to make conscious decisions about your priorities throughout the day (you’ll find yourself starting to say no to things more).

Lastly, be flexible. Most days it’ll be unlikely you get everything done, perhaps less than 50% some days. This is because we tend to be unrealistic with what we can do in a given day and secondly because you will undoubtedly come across things which rightly deserve to be a higher priority than what you set out at the beginning of the day. And that’s ok, because you’re now making a conscious decision on priorities.

Again, play about with daily planning and figure out what feels right to you.

Having some structure to hold onto before you set out will put you ahead of virtually everyone else. Try it and see 🙂

Personal Reflection

It felt good to write about rising early and daily planning.

It’s been rattling about in my head for a few days and lately I have strayed from how disciplined I was in these areas. I got more clarity on why they were important and I’ll be making moves next week to start getting back to where I used to be with these habits.

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Little and Often is Always Best

When you are trying to do something new – little and often is always best.

Little can mean as few as two minutes. Often means daily.

Sounds obvious and easy right? But it isn’t easy to stick to this, even if we know deep down that it’s the best approach.

Most people (me included!) tend to think that small is a bit pathetic, perhaps even a waste of time – especially when you have it in you to do more in a given session.

I mean why get outside and run every day for just five minutes if you are capable of fifteen minutes?

Isn’t taking five minutes to be calm a bit of a waste? Surely meditating for thirty mins is a much better length? I mean it’s only sitting still right? What will you get out of just five minutes?

But heres the kicker. When you are starting out, establishing a habit is so much more important than exactly what or how much of it you do – especially for the long run. And you would be suprised just how many results you will see from little and often.

I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to do too much and then subsequently failing to establish a habit many times in the past. Luckily nowadays it’s becoming few and far between, but I still screw up now and again.

The other important thing to remember is not to be so hard on yourself. Doing new things can be difficult and often it will take a little getting used to. If you don’t do things perfect, don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember that simply taking the time to do something on a daily basis is significant progress in itself – and it’s quite amazing how quickly you adapt and become better at what you’re doing by practicing daily.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the point:

Mobility:

Lately I have had lots of injuries and niggles as a result of exercising. It was a stark reminder than I need to make mobility a much higher priority. I found it incredibly tempting to put together a really thorough mobility routine that covered all angles. I could have easily pulled together 15 or so exercises, which would have taken the best part of 45 mins to complete.

Instead, I fought the temptation (and given how much I need to improve, it was very tempting) and decided little and often was better – establishing a habit of daily mobility exercises is absolutely the MOST important thing for me right now.

So, every morning I do the following:

  • foam roll
  • hamstring band stretches – 1 x 15 on each leg
  • 90 / 90 glute stretch – 30 secs each side
  • air squats – 1 x 10 reps
  • good mornings – 1 x 10 reps

I can whizz through this in ten minutes. At the end I always feel I can do much more, but I rarely do. Instead I just move on with the rest of my day and repeat it the following morning. It’s slowly getting easier and becoming more normal for me to do every morning when I wake. Soon I will start introducing a new exercise or two and will slowly expand my ten minutes to fifteen minutes – being careful to only do so after I feel I have properly estabished the daily habit.

Meditation:

I have tried to get into meditation quite a few times in the past, but often ended up frustrated and finding myself quitting. I would set myself a goal of sitting still for thirty minutes and most of the time got very frustrated with how much my mind would wander and how much I just wanted to get up and do other stuff. It started to feel like a drag and wasn’t enjoyable at all – hence why I would quit after just a few days.

However lately I have been using an app called Calm and it really is quite good. It has seven guided lessons to listen to, each one lasting approx. 6 minutes – with the seventh step lasting only nine minutes. After that you can either repeat them or just set a custom time and continue being calm for that length of time. The app does a fantastic job of reminding you that little and often is best – and that you won’t do it perfectly to start with and that’s ok. Daily practice is the most important thing.

I’ve now taken the time to be calm every day for 8 days and I look forward to each session and soon might be able to commit to 10 minutes each day. What a massive contrast from trying to commit to thirty minutes and quiting after three days.

Little, often and not being hard on yourself can be applied to mostly anything you are trying to learn.

If you want to read, just read for 5 minutes a day (every day).

If you want to write, just write a paragraph or even a sentence (every day).

If you want to exercise, just get out the door and walk for 5 minutes (every day).

If you want to drink water – just drink half a glass when you wake up (every day).

Well, you get the idea 😉

Have a think about applying ‘little and often’ to something you have been trying to get to become a habit recently – I promise you won’t look back.

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