Tag Archives: constant improvement

The Chevy Volt and Nuance (Dragon NaturallySpeaking) – Some Thoughts on Innovation

Innovation:
1: the introduction of something new
. 2: a new idea, method, or device: novelty.

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Do you know the one indispensable business need of this era?  Here it is:  you’d best be really good at constant innovation, and a drive for constant, perpetual improvement.  If you are not, you will be left behind – in the blink of an eye.

Here are two pieces worth reading to reinforce this one undeniable reality.  The first is in the New York Times, about the constant improvement in dictation software.  The other is about the advent of the Chevy Volt.

#1 – even with a virtual monopoly, you still need to constantly innovate. The customers demand it, expect it, and if you don’t someone else might come along and pass you by.  That is the story of Nuance, the Dragon NaturallySpeaking company.  In Reliable Dictation, Down to a ‘T’ by David Pogue, there are details about the way the company continues to refine its dictation software’s smarts.  After a number of specifics, the article ends with this line:

Yes, Nuance has a near-monopoly in the speech-recognition game, but it’s nice to see it making steady improvements and price cuts as if it didn’t.

#2 – don’t panic about the pricetag of the Chevy Volt.  Less expensive models will arrive in the blink of an eye.

In The Volt Jolt: Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty price (really, really hefty) for the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward.  The first cars cost four times the average household income of the day, whereas the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.

The price went all the way down to $260 in 1925, "the least that would ever be charged for a new American car."

The article gives a quick summary of the march of price-lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen; and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag.  Gross is convinced that history and our commitment to innovation promise a similar plummeting of price for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here are key excerpts:

Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty (really, really hefty) of the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward.  The first cars cost three to four times the average household income of the day, where as the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.

The article gives a quick summary of the march of price lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen, and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag, and promises a similar plummeting for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here’s a key paragraph:

Now, of course, Ford’s achievement with the Model T was one for the ages. His manufacturing advances were quantum leaps. But auto manufacturers have continued to innovate, develop efficiencies, and offer drivers more for less. The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. A few years ago, I went to buy a bicycle for the first time in a decade and was shocked to see how far my money could go. Compare the bicycle you can buy today for $300 with one you would have paid $300 for five or 10 years ago. By the same token, a $25,000 car today comes loaded with features that would have been unimaginable five or 10 years ago.

The key phrase in all of this: The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. In other words, innovation is constant, and making many things (every thing) better, and then better yet, again and again — for less money is the new normal.

Highly Self-Correcting – A Trait Of The Successful

We all keep wondering just what sets the most successful individuals above the rest.  What do they do?  Well, here is a principle that is clear.  The most successful practice constant improvement.  How do they do that?

#1 – they figure out just what needs to be improved – starting with self!

#2 – they work — specifically, intentionally, diligently — to make such improvement.

Here are two quotes to help us understand just how important this trait is:

“People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.” (Peter Senge)

and

“Because of their motivation, highly successful entrepreneurs are highly self-correcting.  This may seem a simple point, but it cannot be overstated…  The entrepreneur’s inclination to self-correct stems from the attachment to a goal.”
(David Bornstein, from How to Change the World:  Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas).

Your assignment is simple (not easy, but simple):  first, figure out where you need to improve, what you need to correct.  Then, start self-correcting.

What makes a Great Teacher (or business leader)? – this: you don’t get better, at much of anything, by accident

The Atlantic has an article entitled What Makes a Great Teacher? by Amanda Ripley.  Based on a lengthy, multi-year study of a whole lot of data by Teach For America, some clear conclusions emerge.  Here’s my summary of the conclusions:

“You don’t get better (at teaching, or much of anything else) without intentionally trying to get better – all the time.”

I read about the article on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and he included this excerpt:

Great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: “They’d say, ‘You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you—I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.’ When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.” Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.

The parallels to business success are rather obvious.  Perpetually evaluating what to do, always looking for ways to improve effectiveness; an intense focus; a very serious approach to the task of planning, working backward from the desired outcome; not letting outside circumstances dictate success or failure.  Pretty good lessons here from the best teachers among us.

Getting Better is Hard – Staying Better is Really, Really Hard

I just came back from the grocery store.  You know, the place where when you stand in line, you see all the magazines and tabloids about people and their struggles/scandals/successes.  On the cover of one was a picture of a celebrity with a weight battle.  A big weight battle. No, I won’t name the celebrity.  But I thought of a picture I saw recently of Jared (the Subway spokesman/success story) that definitely made it appear that he has put on a few of those pounds he lost.  And I thought of the new “drive-thru diet” campaign with Christine  trumpeting the health benefits of Taco Bell (at the same time that Taco Bell is advertising their new 86 layers of cheese (ok – maybe just three or four layers) burrito).

Here’s the lesson.  Getting better is tough.  Staying better is really, really tough.

This is the essence pf the soft skills challenge.  It is relatively easy to learn a hard skill.  You can learn to use a spreadsheet; to read a spreadsheet; to produce a set of PowerPoint presentation slides.  But learning how to treat an employee, to treat a player (ask Mike Leach) is a little tougher.  And once you learn, to stay “better’ requires perpetual diligence.

Many of the business books are about getting better – better at leadership, better at employee engagement, better at customer service.  We all seem to know that it would be good to get better in such ways.  But it takes as much effort to stay better as it does to get better.

It never ends!