Has Apple Solved the Innovator’s Dilemma?

June 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Last October, along with many other tributes to the late Apple co-founder, James Allworth claimed that Steve Jobs Solved the Innovator’s Dilemma.  His explanation is that Apple avoids the traditional pitfalls that stifle innovation because:

Apple hasn’t optimized its organization to maximize profit. Instead, it has made the creation of value for customers its priority.

This analysis echoes what Steve Denning calls Radical Management, which sees the purpose of a business as providing Customer Delight rather than short-sightedly maximizing shareholder value.

To support his thesis, James cites Apple’s unusual attitude towards:

  • Profit: “there’s only one person Apple with responsibility for a profit and loss. The CFO.”
  • People: “It didn’t matter how great you were, if you couldn’t deliver to that mission — you were out.”
  • Products: “Tim Cook, on the iPad disrupting the Mac business: ‘Yes, I think there is some cannibalization… the iPad team works on making their product the best. Same with the Mac team.’ It’s almost unheard of to be able to manage disruption like this.”

While these are clearly key contributors to Apple’s disruptive success, the only show that Apple has so far avoided the Innovator’s Dilemma. Clay Christensen himself, author of the Innovator’s Dilemma and  self-appointed “Jewish Mother” to the business world, still publicly worries whether Apple has truly found a sustainable solution to that problem.

So has Apple solved the Innovator’s Dilemma, or not?  How could we know?

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The Innovator’s Restaurant: Architecting for Creativity

June 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

Andrew Dunn from Insight Labs recently posted a call for metaphors about Iterating imagination:

Creativity. Structure. The two are normally thought to be at odds. But for a large organization to produce imaginative results again and again, it must have a structure that anticipates reinvention.

He listed four models they came up with:

  • Church and Statethese two ways of thinking access different parts of the brain and people with radically different skill sets
  • Turn! Turn! Turn!The relationship between reinvention and maximization is a natural cycle
  • Planned Obsolescenceafter a set period,  switch to reinvention mode and rebuild the strategy
  • The Star Within a Star: the overall system is built in a way to blow things up again and again
These aren’t bad metaphors for organizational structure.  But, as I told Benedict Nelson, I fear they miss the most important point.

Active Identity Clients (AICs) for OpenID

November 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

“Enough is enough! I have had it with these #@%!*$ AICs and their #@%!*$ panes” — Samuel H.S. “Hammer Stack” Jackson (with apologies to Neville Flynn)


The OpenID community is still wrestling with how to deliver a first-time login experience that is acceptable to mainstream users. Research indicates we need something less open-ended than typing into a blank URL field, but neither is it desirable to push users to choose from a few (or worse, many) pre-selected identity provider logos.

One approach for solving this problem is called (for lack of a better term) the Active Identity Client, or AIC (similar to what I previously called a Chamberlain). An AIC boostraps the identity selection process at a new website (aka Relying Party, or RP) by storing some amount of identity information on the user’s home computer. The AIC uses that identity to access a persistent record of the user’s interaction with multiple sites and identity providers (IdPs) to negotiate and streamline future such interactions. This (in theory) allows the user, rather than the RP, to prioritize which providers to use.

A number of such AICs were demonstrated at last week’s Internet Identity Workshop. Rather than attempting to standardize on a single AIC, a group of us discussed developing a common infrastructure that might enable a broad spectrum of AICs to innovate and compete. Specifically, we attempted to identity conventions, best practices, and extensions to existing standards that would support both “native” and “in-browser” AICs.

This article is my idiosyncratic attempt to synthesize what we discussed into a coherent vision for Active Identity Clients. It may not fully reflect the opinions of any given participant, and certainly does not represent the views of our respective employers. Rather, it is a subjective snapshot of a still-evolving problem space, and is intended to provide a concrete starting point for further discussion, critique, and clarification. « Read the rest of this entry »

Chamberlain: A User-Serving Model for Identity Management

November 2, 2009 § 1 Comment

[Disclaimer: The following is a hypothesis I am exploring for the Nov 2009 Internet Identity Workshop. It may not even reflect my current thinking, and certainly doesn’t represent any sort of official position of my employer.]

Chamberlain: A User-Serving Model for Identity Management


Most proposals for open identity management on the Internet use the wallet metaphor, where the user is expected to choose from amongst a variety of disjoint identities when accessing a given website. This either requires typing in a complex unique identifier (e.g., a URL) or selecting from one of several provider logos (aka the NASCAR Problem). Worse, this entire ecosystem typically exists in parallel with traditional username/password authentication, increasing the complexity of the choices users are expected to make.

I believe that the best way to solve these problems is to move to an entirely different metaphor. Rather than thinking of identity as something manually managed by the user (like cards in a wallet), I believe the vast majority of users want identity to be something that is managed *for* them — the way a chamberlain in a palace might keep keys to all the rooms, and control who was allowed to go where in accordance with royal policy.

From this perspective, the real challenge is understanding what kind of experience users want when using an identity system, and then building an architecture optimized for enabling that kind of experience. This “chamberlain” approach leads to very different questions and outcomes than the traditional model. Designing such a system will require making hard choices about what sort of security non-technical users truly need and want, as well as about the metadata necessary to support those choices. Moreoever, implementations would require significant client-side support, and create different winners and losers than existing systems — both of which could hinder broad adoption.

That said, the potential payoff is an architecture that would work reasonably well with the web as it is today, and scale cleanly to support more elegant mechanisms in the future. While my initial proposal below is unlikely to achieve all those goals, hopefully it will at least provoke others to come up with something even better.
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Free The Geeks: Towards A Liberal “Tech” Education

July 9, 2008 § 1 Comment

Harvard University raised a minor ruckus last year when they revamped their core liberal arts curriculum. Regardless of the merits of their specific plan, they deserve credit for being willing to reexamine, redefine, and reinvent their scholarship to better fulfill their unique mission: training the next generation of “cultural elites” who will guide academia, industry, and government.

In this era of declining computer science enrollments — and ongoing concern over the math and science competency of American students — I believe it is time for technical institutions to undertake similar soul-searching. In particular, we need to rethink the historic divorce of science and engineering from the so-called liberal arts — those nominally intended for “free men.”

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Things I wish CompSci courses would teach

June 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

1. effective email communication and managing online teams (cf. Open source governance)
2. event-based multi-core programming (cf. Erlang, the Actor model, NSOperation)
3. real-world profiling and optimization (cf. DTrace)
4. data-parallelism via the GPU (cf. OpenCL – Open Compute Language) 
5. “holistic” application design (cf. interface-first programming )

Character-Driven Branding

November 14, 2007 § Leave a comment

Steve Jobs once famously claimed that Apple’s Executive Team spent “zero” time focused on branding; instead, they worry a lot about “who they are”, and ensuring that their actions are consistent with that.

While that may reflect the luxury Apple has as one of the world’s best-known brands, it raises a crucial point. In today’s Web 2.0 world, many organizations (and individuals!) obsess about branding — but typically in an image-driven sense, starting from how they want to be perceived.

In this post, I want to present an alternative process, which I call “Character-Driven Branding.” In this view, the key is (as Steve Jobs said) having a deep understanding of “who you are” — and who you want to become — then learning how to progressively articulate that. The advantage of this approach is that — when done correctly — ultimately everything one does becomes part of the brand.

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Poppendiecks on Lean Software Development

November 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

Thomas and Mary Poppendieck are to Lean Product Development (for Software) what Charles and Ray Eames are to design. LPD can be considered the project management aspect of Agile, to complement the software engineering practices of, e.g., Behavior-Driven Development. Some of my favorite essays from their website are:

It’s the System, Stupid

August 29, 2007 § Leave a comment

A brilliant essay by my new favorite website, on Lean Software Development.

Which is more important – process or people? It helps if we trade in the overloaded word “process” and use “system.”In the article “Managing a Living System, not a Ledger” H. Thomas Johnson says “Managers at Toyota believe that improving the system is the surest way to improve long term financial results.” He points out that Toyota takes lots and lots of measurements, but they do not use these as performance measurements. Johnson writes: “…Toyota makes virtually no use of management accounting targets (or ‘levers’) to control or motivate operations… Toyota focuses its operations on continuous system improvement through endless rapid problem solving. And they emphasize genchi genbutsu, or ‘going to the place,’ to see where a problem occurs, firsthand. 

Eben Moglen: Public Policy in the “Free” World

July 25, 2007 § Leave a comment

Yesterday Eben Moglen made headlines during the O’Reilly Radar at OSCON with a (somewhat) surprising attack on “Open Source” in general, and (more surprisingly) Tim O’Reilly in particular:

Today Eben had the stage to himself, to share his thoughts on The Legal Policy of the Free World in the Age of Web 2.0. The following are my (copious, unedited) notes…
Pick up on theme from earlier remarks (explicitly: at Ubuntu live, not yesterday’s Radar :-).

Licensing is NOT where it is at in the “next little while.” Protecting free software’s right to be free is not a “licensing job”; what lawyers do at the SFLC is “keep communities strong.” Licenses are a type of “constitution” that shape the resulting community (cf. MIT vs. Apache).

The issue is not technical details of “copyleft” et al, but the nature of the “Republic” being established [place of both public and private community with certain rules/norms]. GPL has the most comprehensive view of such as a Republic — but licenses are merely the beginnings. Life of the community is much deeper and richer [than the written license].

Underlying 21st century political economy: neither factories nor individuals are the unit of production, but communities. No mass-market product is without its community (e.g., cola websites). Both producer and consumer communities need to be nurtured and protected from disruption (external competitors or internal stresses). GPL (inadvertently) addressed these very presciently.

GPLv3 discussions [with corporations] were more thorough than most outsider commentary, exemplary form of serious public policy development for the long-term viability of the community (cf. Apache 2.0, CDDL, MPLv2, etc.): recognize that community interests must be served.

Have we been successful? This year much easier to be us than Microsoft. 🙂 We have turned an eternally important corner: we will never go away now! Nothing can extirpate the free business model.
Yes, we are facing patent threats and competitive heat, but those are small compared to our fundamental engineering strengths, and we have taken steps to prepare for those challenges [cf. GPLv3’s “correct” solution to problematic patent covenants]. Not a big deal; we [SFLC lawyers] do this sort of “preventive medicine” all the time.

Winning in the court [as happened recently] is the second-best outcome; first-best is for the problem to not arrive. Note: Open Source “litigation rate” is far less than in the commercial world; time to celebrate rather than point fingers or monger fears. Large capital growth with low investment and huge social benefit, with “low friction/low confrontation” mechanisms.

If we have done well [which we have], we ought to understand why. Not to avoid disaster [not gonna happen], but because we are a “city on a hill”, setting an example, but not receiving enough credit or being emulated because of “ludicrous” narrative about relationship of ownership and innovation.

We have to be more attentive to the fact that this is a political achievement: building a good republic, more than a good store/school/product. Pragmatic business questions are important — spend a lot of time on it — but are short term/small beer compared to “fundamental issue of how we build the free community so it builds stronger and more efficient over time” as it becomes larger and (frankly) more unequal.

Why didn’t community fall apart (as widely predicted) when economic inequality increased as a consequence of success? Institutions of equalization (e.g. email) powerful democratizing force in “our” Republic. Meritocracy always a relevant question; sense of shared equality, self-reliance, Emersonian virtues. Almost, but not quite, Libertarian: still believe in community rather than individual as “atomic” unit of value.

Service provision in the GPL: not a matter of business strategy (Google-bashing), but fundamentally a question of rights [Ed: deductive vs. inductive]. Fundamental rule: persons right to run whatever they want wherever they want — including sovereign right to provide services! Ties into right of private modification, including right not to share (cf. freedom of speech includes right to not speak, not to be compelled).

Sometimes, of course, we find ourselves compromising among rights when such conflicts exist. In those cases, it is important to define those rights precisely in order to make a reasoned decision. In Eben’s experience, did not hear a compelling argument for overriding First Two Freedoms for compulsory release of modifications for SaaS; created bridge to “technical experimentation” (Affero?) without “lightly throwing aside long years of argument of principle”.

That’s as far as the license can take us; NOW is the time the interesting conversation can begun.

But, that’s only one. Patent threatening topical, but merely a “family squabble.” Bigger challenge is patent reform. We know something [Congress doesn’t] about the harm to innovation caused by patent system. Patent policy is at long last a subject of public discussion; up to us to do what we can to share our “knowledge and wisdom”. IT organizations are also “feeling skeptical”; but we need to stay engaged ourselves to ensure appropriate representation.

cf. ODF: Public data ought to be in a form the public can access, without any intermediary. We can as citizens to effect this issue for all our common good. This of fundamental relevance to what we have learned about how to build “peaceable kingdoms.”


Though democratic in principle, we hold no elections. We need to move as far/fast we can to institutions that are selected by voting. Not proposing how/when, but pointing out that need legitimacy that comes from representation. “My lawyers [and RMS!] work for you more than they work for me, or our donors.” We will work better as we recognize this and improve representation.

Nobody elected Gates either, but this is something we know in our communities: self-governing, legitimate leadership. Nothing more to say: “Republic is not going to be kept strong by speeches made by me… but by you.”

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