Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Chapter 4: Mother of Invention

There's no such thing as a free lunch...

You can download "Who Killed The Sparq?" as a free ebook.

As long as you promise to return and leave a comment below... or blog or tweet about it... or email

Click here...


"If Michelangelo was not ready to redefine what is possible he would have painted 12 frescoes the Sistine Chapel's floor rather than 300 figures on the ceiling."
Chapter 4
Mother of Invention


Previous chapters:
Chapter 1: The End
Chapter 2: Ideas Lost
Chapter 3: Who Killed the Sparq?

‘Is that your geranium?’

I raise my head and realise that I’m looking into the sun, shaded only by the dark silhouette of a man looking down at me. The sun makes it impossible to see his face but gives him a halo instead.

I’m on all fours trying to read the label of a plant in the ‘annuals’ section of our local garden centre. Having abandoned my computer and gone into the garden for some sunshine I was almost instantly ‘sent out on a mission’ to purchase some nasturtiums and geraniums. I’d been told by my other half how upset they all were that I’d been stuffed indoors working on the first fine day of the summer. I’d countered with supreme logic that working during the day was better than working in the evening and would give us more time later in the year. It hadn’t worked. Now I’m checking the nasturtiums but I’d left the previously located geraniums in the middle path and had blocked the gentleman’s way. ‘No problem,’ I say chirpily, stretching out my hand to retrieve the offending pots. As I reach across I can now see the face belonging to the cut-out. I recognise it almost immediately. I blurt out, ‘It’s Franck isn’t it?’

‘Yes it is,’ he replies, extending his arm to shake my outstretched hand. ‘And you’re going to have to help me.’

‘Help you?’ I think, ‘What with?’ It takes me a moment to understand what he means. ‘Oh!’ I gush suddenly, ‘You want to know how I know you?’

He nods in response, a slight smile playing on his lips. He’s obviously a bit embarrassed, so I explain how and when we met. Franck nods slowly and sagely as I speak, as if it’s all coming back to him. I finish my monologue by explaining what I’m doing at the Garden Centre. I say mournfully, ‘Well I made the mistake of running away from a presentation I was putting together and going into our garden – and was promptly “sent out on a mission” here for geraniums and nasturtiums.’

‘You were working on such a beautiful day?’ he asks incredulously, ‘and after all the weeks of rain we’ve had…’ his voice tails off.

I’m embarrassed. ‘Unfortunately, yes,’ I reply.

‘It must either be something really important, or something you are really dying to get done,’ he suggests helpfully.

‘It’s just important,’ I reply flatly, thinking, ‘That makes me seem like a really sad, workaholic nerd.’

‘Well, if it was that important I hope you made good progress,’ he adds encouragingly.

I snort in disgust at the thought of my wasted time. ‘My computer crashed,’ I reply, ‘and anyway I was getting very stuck. It’s to do with my new role as Director of Innovation. I have to update our Executive board tomorrow…’ My words stick in my throat.


‘And it’s all not going fast enough,’ I say in a strained voice which together with my face betray the fact that I am really stressed and thinking ‘I need to get back to work now.’

Franck ignores my obvious glance at my watch. ‘Why don’t we have a quick cup of tea and you can talk me through it. See if I can offer any ideas or at least act as a sounding board?’

Now we are sitting in the tea rooms. On the traditionally laid round white tablecloth in front of me is spread a scrumptious-looking cream tea. Franck on the other hand has stuck to just tea – and worse, peppermint tea and no scones – the masochist!

‘So, tell me,’ he asks, ‘why does your organisation need all this “innovation” so badly, why does it feel that they need it so much and so structured that they’ve even appointed someone to direct it?’ and then adds softly, as if to himself, ‘isn’t it an oxymoron? Directing innovation…’

‘Well,’ I reply, trying not to be defensive, ‘as the world has sped up and business has become global and more complex we’ve tried to stay on top.’

‘Good move,’ he responds.

‘Initially we did this by trying to maximise our growth. We did this through mergers and acquisitions but the results were disappointing.’

‘Why was that?’

You see, slapping together two companies to make a bigger one isn’t real growth. It fools the analysts and erases any baselines for business performance comparisons but at the end of the day it’s just two companies glued together. It’s what you do with them once you have control over both which can, if you’re lucky, lead to growth. But we discovered through the hardship and heartache of trying to get synergies from opposing cultures, systems and processes that in reality we were simply taking the practice of one organisation and forcing it on the other.’

‘You couldn’t get “best practice”?’

‘No, in fact talking about “best practice” seemed to be the best way to maximise the rifts and resentments between the merged companies as they battled to demonstrate that their previous practice was best.’

Franck nods appreciatively.

I continue pouring out my heart to him. ‘But the real problem is, if you think about it, if the two were struggling to grow when they were smaller and more culturally and strategically uniform, getting bigger so fast simply brings more pain and difficulty. Most mergers end up being paid for by the staff with their salaries.’ I pause, smiling grimly. ‘And now with what we euphemistically call the BRIC Wall Challenge (being beaten on price for a product offering of the same quality) and our Economic Cliff Challenge (low consumer spending though debt for some time to come) we’ve realised that we must stop playing at this fake growth by acquisition game. The real objective of that game was overall global dominance. Our only real goal should have been dominance – to get so big that you can dominate all your stakeholders and then you no longer need to pay attention to any of your stakeholders, customers, staff, banks, governments or shareholders because you are so dominant.’ I pause for effect to drive my point home.

Frank looks impressed with my logic. ‘I guess monopolies have always been a great way to print money,’ he retorts.

‘The bad news is that in each market there is only one dominant company. We realised that unless a miracle happened we weren’t going to win, be the biggest and most dominant player in our marketplace in the world. It wasn’t going to be us. The other option we had was to try to forge an alliance – a cartel – but that’s illegal.’

‘So what did you decide to do instead, since you couldn’t Dominate?’ he asks with real curiosity.

‘Well, we felt we were left with only two choices – stay on the same track without the dominant scale, jumping from one ineffective strategy to the next, secretly waiting to be snapped up by someone else, thereby allowing the Directors to pocket nice golden parachutes.’

‘But that is tantamount to effectively allowing the organisation to Die,’ he protests.

‘Yes, I know,’ I reply, ‘but you have to admit if you were a director it doesn’t seem like that bad an option.’

Franck nods, adding, ‘True, it’s not a bad option for the directors, but a shame for everyone else. What was your third option?’

‘The third option is perhaps the most difficult of the three, and I guess if you’re not dominant and if your directors don’t want to “sell out” it’s really your only choice. We came to the conclusion that it was necessary to really change, we had to invent a really new way to interact with all our stakeholders, especially the customers and suppliers. We had to Evolve, to permanently and sustainably outsmart our competitors. This is going beyond change to what we have called business transformation. Less about fattening the pig, from thin pig to fat pig, more about turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly. So four months ago our CEO announced to the analysts that we were going to become the “most innovative business in our sector.”

Franck is nodding and smiling and sipping his peppermint tea. ‘Logical,’ he says. ‘So it’s Evolve, Dominate or Die. You can’t dominate, you don’t want to die so what’s the problem?’

I can’t hide my exasperation – you can hear it in my voice. ‘Everyone seems to want innovation, everyone seems to be – or at least say that they are – supportive of it. They say great things about it but there isn’t much of it around. For a start, as a result of all our previous mergers and acquisitions we have very little cash. And all that right-sizing and synergising has left everyone really risk averse. So guess what? Well, nothing’s happened. The first guy who was given the role of Director of Innovation quit after a month, citing stress and lack of support from the board and senior management. He said that although they all “rubber-stamped” innovation they didn’t really believe in it. I’ve taken over and now one of our key people, Mark Haddock, who has always been considered as one of our ‘young Turks’, a real go-getter and very creative, who was leading our best chance at an offer to transform the industry, has just quit too! He was advised by his doctor to see a psychiatrist who told him that he was suffering from UDS.’

‘UDS?’ asks Frank, his brow undulating in puzzlement.

‘Unfulfilled Dream Syndrome,’ I reply miserably. ‘He’s left our highest-profile new product project high and dry and leaderless.’

I pause, filled with frustration and emotion. ‘I’m beginning to fear this job is going to be a lot tougher than I thought.’ As I say this my voice tightens mid-sentence and rises slightly in volume to match my level of frustration and worry.

This is taken from the manuscript of Prof Eddie Obeng's new book Who Killed the Sparq? We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Want to read more?

Chapter 5: If You Don't Mind, I'll Have Your Watch Please
Chapter 6: I Wouldn't Have Started from Here
Chapter 7: Weeding Out the Weaklings
Chapter 8: Still Hunting and Gathering


Post a Comment

<< Home