Black Swans and Blue Oceans

This post is about Black Swans (no, not Natalie Portman) and their relationship with Blue Oceans.

I just finished reading the book “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I must say all my knowledge about the topic comes from the book (I’m not an expert nor close to it) but I found it quite enjoyable. Black Swans are described as events that we can’t foresee, that take us by surprise and have a big impact on the world or society. Examples of it can be historical events like the September 11 attacks, artistic manifestations or even products of radical innovation like the personal computer. The theory defies statistics and probabilities in many cases and closely examines why we can’t predict these types of events, how we tend to rationalize them after they occurred and how we should cope with the idea that Black Swans can occur without us knowing about them. They are called Black Swans as a metaphor to our knowledge limitations when “before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white (…) confirmed by empirical evidence.”

Continuing with the metaphors, Blue Ocean is a business strategy (some say even “philosophy”) stated by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in an homonymous book, that focused in new product and business development in uncontested markets. It basically states a business approach and methodology to find markets with almost no competition, a metaphor of being in a clear Blue Ocean instead of blood-fighting competition in a red ocean. Their classic example is Cirque du Soleil, where the company joined the decaying-market-animal-hurting traditional “circus” acts with the music, customs and scenario (and ticket cost) of high-end theater, creating a whole new concept without competition and great profit.

When I read that Nassim even categorizes products, such as the computer, as a Black Swan event , I couldn’t stop thinking on their relationship with Blue Oceans (and definitely liked the poetic approach “Black Swans swimming in Blue Oceans). These are my thoughts about them:

Black Swans can create new markets, and therefore unveil Blue Ocean opportunities. Take for example what the Fukushima Nuclear disaster has done for Nuclear Installation Inspectors world-wide. After Fukoshima, it was the first time the present Secretary of Energy in Mexico visited our only nuclear plant called Laguna Verde in March 2011. And it all started with a way-out-of-proportion tsunami in Japan that no one expected (a Black Swan). It is not that there were no Nuclear Installation Inspectors before Fukoshima, but it does bring new mainstream importance with low competition in an international market.

Using this same logic, Black Swans can also ruin your business or products since the effect can work both ways. For example, what penicillin (created by a “eureka” moment) did to other medicines of that time.

“History doesn’t crawl, it jumps”, meaning it is not a progression events as we study it, we only see it that way after it has occurred and we rationalize it. The same way some products “appear” in the market. Think of internet, think of Facebook. Of course they depend on constructing upon previous knowledge, products and effort, but they are disruptive innovations that open up markets, which is just what Blue Oceans intend.

Blue Ocean methodologies can’t predict Black Swans, but they can try detecting “Grey Swans” for radical innovations to emerge.

Both books I recommend, here are their references:

Chan Kim and Mauborgne, Renee (2005) Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant.Harvard Business Press.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2010) The Black Swan, Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Random House Trade. (First edition is from 2007 in Penguin Books)

Innovation and War (The Narco Way)

Decorating this post I placed the image of "The Monster" a vehicle used by the drug cartel "Zetas", seized today by authorities at Tamaulipas. What is interesting is that the vehicle shows technological evolutions. It is heavily shielded (even the tires!), only showing lateral spaces for firing weapons. "The Monster" as newspapers have called it, even has a back compartment that throws nails and oil to the ground. But more impressive, this vehicle can run 110 km/hr compared to its earlier seized predecessor that only reached 40 km/hr and had less interior capacity. More speed while adding protection, weight and space? Something every car company would brag about.

"The Monster" reminded me about a submarine that was seized at Colombia three months ago (February 15) who had as a destination Mexico, with 8 tons of cocaine. Before I saw the news, I'd never thought cartels had submarines with autonomous navegation that could get from Colombia to Mexico carrying a heavy load. What made this particular submarine special was that it actually sumerged 9 meters below water, when all earlier caught versions almost navegated supperficially. The estimated cost? 2.12 million dollars.

I write this post because I've been working on an investigation related to war-driven innovations that, as its name states, are those that emerge, or are catalyzed, by factors related to armed conflicts. War gets economy moving as well as innovation. Although these reasons will never justify a war, we can analyze what specifically helps them to develop and replicate it in an non-violent environment or even in business. Here are some thoughts:

- Strong motivation (life or death priority) and resource-allocation to defeat the opponent. The radar, rockets, satellites, vehicles (submarines, jet engines) and even internet have all been influenced by war for protection, attack, supply or communication needs, inherent to the conflicts. These needs are sometimes extrapolated to “mainstream” market needs for other innovations into our everyday objects. Ever rode a Jeep, a Hummer or even a VW Beetle? Innovations can also be in the field of processes, such as the use of paramedics in the Vietnam War. Knowledge on supply chain in logistics and even ergonomics in design come from war. Non-violent best practice: Motivate and invest knowing innovation is a matter of business survival.

- The “scaling effect” of war. In addition to the last statement, we can emphasize that war, as a conflict between groups, scales up innovations: If someone creates a weapon, the other will create a stronger weapon and a way to protect themselves from the new weapon… and the original opponent will react the same way, and so on. It is a competition-driven innovation cycle with a Just-Can't-Lose Strategy. The clearest example comes from the space race during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Non-violent best practice: Embrace competition.

- The "lead user approach". which means that the harsh and demanding conditions during war help develop complex knowledge and technologies that can later be applied to "normal" conditions with great success. It’s like designing urban auto tires by analyzing F1 racers. As an example: Kimberly-Clark had created “cellucotton” which was 5 times as absorbent as cotton and half as cheap to produce, made out of wood pulp in times when cotton was scarce for bandages. It was used by soldiers in WWI to stop bleedings but soon it was also used by allied nurses for their menstrual cycle. Born: Disposable Feminine Pads. Non-violent best practice: Anlyze your products/services in extreme conditions or by "extreme" users and observe new ways they are using it.

- With government incentives, private interests get the competition going. In the Napoleonic Wars, the French government offered 12,000 francs to anyone that created a cheap and effective method of preserving food, which led to canning food. Remember this everytime you open a Campbell's soup or a soda can. Another example, one with an unexpected result, was when in 1943, during a rubber shortage, the US government asked private companies to create a synthetic rubber substitute. The best researchers at General Electric created… “Silly Puddy”, used today as a commercially successful kid’s toy. Non-violent best practice: Search incentives, maybe if you don't get things right, it can actually be good for something else.

- The “What do we do know? Effect”. After a war ends, many resources that were used for armed purposes are left unoccupied. DuPont had created Nylon, as a silk alternative, used mainly for parachutes, tires and flak vests, that gained importance in WWII when Japan cut off the West from their silk. What to do when nylon demand for war ended? Nylon Stockings for woman! There is also a "what do we do know" effect on knowledge, for example Walter Fredrick Morrison, that during WWII learned areodinamics flying a P-47 Thunderbolt, came back to invent the "Pluto Platters" the plastic forerunner of the Frisbee. Non-violent best practice: When a door closes, another one opens, its a matter of seizing the opportunity creatively.

- The aftermaths: Important innovations also come from dealing with the damaged caused by battle, such as medical advances. Prothesis are a main example. Last year I went to a great conference held by Armando Bravo, a young Mexican innovator, who created a low-cost mechanical hand prothesis, commercialiced by his company Probionics. Another example is the use of Virtual Reality to treat post-traumatic effects of violence, as psychologist from UNAM are doing in Ciudad Juarez with specially designed software for violence treatment. (Read news in spanish at Both examples proudly made in Mexico! Non-violent best practice: Problems by definition need solutions, you can focus on finding the right problems, it is not about giving the right answers but asking the right questions.

- Unethically, war has been a "permissive" environment, with experiments made in secrecy and protection from power groups: examples in history are using human testing for medical purposes. Most of our modern knowledge on how the body reacts to freezing temperatures comes from Nazi experimentation at concentration camps searching to prevent and treat hypothermia for their soldiers. The Atomic Bomb thrown at Hiroshima during WWII and nuclear effects studies is also an example of technology put to practice in a way that it normally wouldn’t be allowed. Non-violent best practice: Of course, this is an innovation factor we can't replicate.

My investigation for obtaining a Master’s scholarship is concentrating on detecting innovations, especially in the medical fields, that can emerge (or are emerging as my hypothesis sugests) during Mexico’s war against organized crime. I'll keep posting on the subject and any contributions on the topic will be welcomed.

(1) "The Monster" photo from

(2) Colombia-Mexico submarine seized on February 2011 - photo from


This post is a tribute for one of the most important tools for exploring ideas: Napkins.
Ideas sometimes emerge during family or friend reunions at restaurants, bars or even while you are alone just taking a coffee and napkins are the ideal companions.

The author Dan Roam has even written two books whose titles allude to napkin's role in idea generation and transmission: "The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures" and "Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures". I haven't read them, but if someone has give me your opinion.

My theory is (besides just having a napkin available right there while having lunch) that there is something about our perception of "unimportance" and "wastefulness" of a napkin that allows us to feel free to sketch and explore unstop without inhibitions. It is definitely different than the feeling of using a white sheet of paper which can impose some kind of structure and value. Napkins fold and unfold easily with no definite format; they even tear as paradigms also should; you can use different napkins or sections for different ideas; what is commonly used to clean your mouth and hands can also clear you head; and you can save them or throw them away without remorse (use eco-friendly napkins by the way).

Napkins also invite others to collaborate. I've had idea sessions with friends who ask for my opinion on some new product or business and when writing my ideas while explaining, they feel free to draw, write on top or add new things on my napkin, something I think they wouldn't do if I had a neat white sheet presentation with well organized ideas. It is as if the napkin and the informality of the session "allows" this type of interaction freedom. It also makes them feel integrated to the very beginning of the idea generation process, which is good in combating the Not-invented-here syndrome, specially if you are giving new ideas to an entrepreneur who already conceived something of his own in his mind. Personally, I also feel it gives the impression you have good top of the mind ideas that you can transmit anywhere with whatever available resources you have.

Some group creative-sessions and techniques involve the use of color Post-its to transmit and organize new ideas which preserve these feelings of informality and versatility. Still, napkins in a restaurant work better for an intimate planning rather than a group session. I've had friends telling me afterwards: "Can I keep the napkin?" which I find really funny as the once disposable napkin is now something of great value to treasure.


Here are some innovation related quotes I like and hope to keep adding new ones:

"If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough." - Mario Andretti

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Alan Kay

"You'll always miss 100% of the shots you don't take." - Wayne Gretzky

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." - Albert Einstein

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." - John Steinbeck

"Never be too exited with innovation alone. Only get excited when you know how to link innovation through performace, strategy and a commercial model. Because that's where the money is." First Lesson of Blue Ocean, Reneé Mauborgne

"The future is already here—it's just unevenly distributed." Sci-fi writer William Gibson.

“If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.” - Woody Allen

"I make more mistakes than anyone else I know, and sooner or later, I patent most of them." - Thomas Edison

“Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics.” - Coco Chanel

"The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow." - Rupert Murdoch

"Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast." - Tom Peters

"If you go into a bar in most places in America and even say the word poetry, you'll probably get beaten up. But poetry is a really strong, beautiful form to me, and a lot of innovation in language comes from poetry." - Jim Jarmusch

"Innovation is creativity with a job to do." - John Emmerling

"When all think alike, then no one is thinking." — Walter Lippman

"There is only one thing stronger than all the armies of the world: and that is an idea whose time has come." - Victor Hugo

"There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns." - Edward de Bono

"Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results, is the definition of crazy." -Unknown

"Without the playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable." -Carl Jung

"If I had asked the public what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." - Henry Ford

"The things we fear most in organizations—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances - are the primary sources of creativity." - Margaret J. Wheatley

"You don't understand anything unless you understand there are at least 3 ways." - M. Minskey

"Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." — Picasso

"In every work of genius, we recognize our once rejected thoughts." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most." - Fyodor Dostoevsky

"The world really boils down to two kinds of people: those that see shapes in cloud formations, and those that just see clouds." - Danzai Pace

"As the births of living creatures, at first, are ill-shapen: so are all Innovations, which are the births of time." -Francis Bacon

"He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator." -Francis Bacon

"Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it." - Steve Jobs

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." - Howard Aiken

"Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world."
- Sergey Brin

"The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential. - Steve Ballmer

"The lifeblood of our business is that R&D spend. There's nothing that flows through a pipe or down a wire or anything else. We have to continuously create new innovation that lets people do something they didn't think they could do the day before." - Steve Ballmer

"It's not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It's because we dare not venture that they are difficult." - Seneca

"Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity." - Michael Porter (just good because of WHO said it)

"We are always saying to ourself.. we have to innovate. We got to come up with that breakthrough. In fact, the way software works.. so long as you are using your existing software.. you don't pay us anything at all. So we're only paid for breakthroughs." - Bill Gates

"Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth." - Peter Drucker (just good because of WHO said it)

"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Recruitments in Tamaulipas

I often check out innovation job postings in different web pages since they show the market’s interest on the theme. Yesterday I saw a job posting at OCC Mundial that caught my attention due to recent news.

This week 145 (and counting) dead bodies have been found in “narco fosas” (pits where drug cartels bury their victims) at San Fernando, Tamaulipas, a small town whose most important characteristic is being the intersection towards Matamoros and Reynosa, two of the most important northern cities in the state, and sadly, two of the most damaged by drug-war violence. Government has said that the dead bodies were people trying to cross the border towards US that were caught by cartels to force their “recruitment” or die. Tamaulipas is one of the three states that has more violence and less governmental control.

What has been disturbing and controversial about the news, besides the quantity of dead bodies, is that before the findings there had only been 1 previous report of a person missing, out of 145 known victims. Omnibus de México, a transportation company, just today reported that they had 5 missing buses in San Fernando. Their report comes AFTER the body findings. HOW COME THEY SAID NOTHING BEFORE??? Families of the victims are already thinking of suing the transportation company which, on top of everything, has no insurance on kidnapping and violence, just accidents. Other transportation companies have made no public comments or statements on the problem but have stopped providing services towards San Fernando and limiting others in Tamaulipas.

The job posting I saw yesterday, as shown in the printscreen, is looking for a “Continuous Improvement and Innovation Coordinator” for Transportes Tamaulipas SA de CV (Grupo Senda), a bus company in North Mexico whose own name makes reference to the state where the violent news happened. I couldn’t stop thinking about the challenges a job such as this one could have after the recent events. What innovations could win back user confidence and security? I started to ideate forms of preventing high-way violence through communication technology or security controls inside buses, but the truth is it is a complex problem to deal with. What measures would you implement without provoking more violence to your company?

While drug cartels are kidnapping and killing people out of buses for recruitment in Tamaulipas, Tamaulipas’ bus companies are recruiting employees for innovation. Talk about ideas needed!

Obesity Business Opportunities

Business (and innovation) opportunities are linked to demographic changes and data from which you can target a large or specific population to satisfy their needs.

In September 2010, the OECD revealed that Mexico was #1 in child obesity worldwide (and not too far in adulthood either), which grew concern in governmental health departments due to the future social and economical costs this might represent. Government did pull out a reform on controlling the food (specially junk food) sold to children in schools although the outcomes are yet to be seen. The regulation was a controversial measure since it arose the question "should government regulate market or is it just responsible of creating social awareness campaigns?". It was even more complex since it affected private interests, specially from large companies such as the soda and chips industries who find in schools a great captive market.

During a consulting sales project for a soda industry, I remember working with the brand "Chubby" a few years ago. "Chubby" is a small-amount soda from Puerto Rico with fun flavors TARGETED to kids, with neon colors and cute-round packaging. In those days I never stopped to think about health hazards with the product, I guess I thought since it comes in a small amount, it is best suited for kids, being consumed as an alternative for other larger sodas which are culturally consumed anyway. The truth is, now being aware of the obesity issue (diabetes and other sickness related), sodas in general (as they exist right now) should not be a drinking alternative for kids, at least not as frequently as they are or as an alternative to water for hydration needs. It is our responsibility to teach kids about it and for us to set the example in buying healthier products, and in that way to guide market as consumers. I do agree to regulate sales in a captive environment such as schools where there are no choice of going elsewhere and where kids have the purchase decision themseleves. What is also wrong is companies having marketing strategies targeted to kids when products could have health risks.

"Chubby" is honest, the logo is a morbidly obese character with a hip hop attitude and the brand name even refers to his obesity. Why then does it prevail? I do have to say kids love it, but parents (which are the ones buying it) also do, especially due to the nostalgia of their own childhood. Whose fault is it then? Marketing is not all. I would love working again with Chubby brand, this time in a challenge where the entire marketing and product is reconfigured for new health trends.

Regulations and new consumer demands (such as healthier food), open up opportunities for new product development, inside the organizations as well as for startups. For example a new Mexican company: International Healthy Snacks has gained popularity with their products such as Fit Bits being 100% natural snacks with 0 Fat. The company is shown as successful innovation case in Mexico. I applaud this initiatives.

What I do not applaud and even condemn is what the local company Laila's is doing. Continuing my "street reporter" phase as with the Mennonite post, I took some pictures that gave me the idea for this post. Can you tell what is wrong in the picture in the headline? Even with all the obesity related information and regulation controversies going on, this doughnut company PARKS their "ambulatory" selling carts outside schools everyday for an hour or two when kids finish their classes around lunch time. Sure you can regulate inside the school, but just a few meters in the street walk where the hungry kids gather after class? I think this is damn unethical, even cynical.

I guess it is also a "business opportunity" driven from the regulations and it is infact legal, but it consciously doesn't have society's best interest in mind and hurts a good governmental intention. Don't motivate these kind of practices and don't buy from them outside schools!

Mennonites and Branding

Today I bought Mennonite Cookies in the street from two adorable girls in a gas station. Mennonite population is scarce in my city, although there are larger groups in nearby states such as Chihuahua, people still find it strange watching Mennonites in their traditional outfits and blonde traits in the streets selling cookies. You can only see them eventually in specific street crossings at un-known hours and days, and then vanish, as if not being part of society. I’ve never seen them somewhere else or know where they live. I declare I don’t know much about Mennonites, customs and beliefs and this was even the first time I bought the cookies.

The package of three Mennonite cookies had a price of 15 pesos, but two packages were sold for 20. The discount for buying the second package seemed too attractive (almost 66% discount), that in my consumer mind even made me think it was mistakenly calculated or that people were paying a high price (almost being robbed) when only buying one. Still, I just wanted one so I paid the 15 pesos and asked them if I could take a photo. They said yes and smiled. Then the little girl on the left told me “I can give you that one package for 10” and handed back 5 pesos from the money I had already given her. Of course, I told her that it was alright and she could keep the extra 5 pesos, but her actions and the entire buying experience got me thinking and deserved a post.

No ordinary person would hand back money after agreeing on the price and already being paid, especially in informal street market and for an un-harmful small amount of money. Why then offering it back? Was it because she was an innocent kid? Was it because of Mennonite beliefs and values? Was she really outsmarting me first by saying the price was 15 when in fact it was 10 and then regretted it? I’m really not sure and will never know. What became important to me is that she did offer it back.

Then there was the package. No ticket, no stamp, nothing. Just a plain transparent bag with the cookies inside and a hand-done knot. It’s clearly not a business with marketing and brand strategies, but a way of earning some money with what they like and know how to do. But then I thought again. No marketing strategy? No brand identity? What about the little blond girl in traditional dress handing me out a no-brand product when I am in the gas station? Isn’t that a marketing strategy and a brand identity? Of course it is.

I am not saying Mennonites are consciously using their traits and traditions as brand identity and therefore not being authentic (I really think they stand for their beliefs and admire them for it), but in our costumer perception during purchase it does become a brand identity issue. Think it this way: Would it be the same if you bought the cookies with an elaborated packaging and brand strategy? It wouldn’t. Would it be the same buying the cookies out of a shelf in a big international store? It wouldn’t.

Buying directly from the Mennonites on the street is an interesting consumer experience worth analyzing. Even with no brand, their own presence translates characteristics to the product, such as delicious traditionally-made cookies with a “historically special recipe” not massively commercialized and even cheap. In some strange way, a brand (like logo, slogan, elaborated packaging) could even kill the product’s authenticity and value. The marketing and branding lesson:

· Authenticity sells. We don’t want fake promises or marketing phonies, we want the real stuff that can be transmitted through many ways, not only a logo and slogan.

Second, you actually feel you are helping others that are working hard in getting the money, it seems as if you were doing it for a social benefit or charity for people that deserve it, making you feel good, even though it is not necessarily like that. The marketing and branding lessons:

· Hard work sells. Make sure your client appreciates your value for their price and gain it with hard work. More than ever, what we pay for must be worth it.

· Feeling you are helping others is part of a gratifying post-purchase experience.

Third, there is also the visual impact of the experience that can attract customers. In Mexico, European blond traits are usually found in families that come from ancestors who had or gained some kind of wealth in the country. Those in need such as street beggers and hard son-working jobs (like informal street sellers) are not associated with white-blond physical traits. And here you have skinny delicate blond girls working in the middle of the day, wearing big flower old-fashion dresses, long white stockings and prairie hats. It is visually different, and what is different can attract us. Up until I wrote this sentence is that I realized these are kids and shouldn’t be working. I never give money to kids since their parents will continue sending them to the streets. I guess this same impact of the experience I am describing blinded me of the fact that this was child labour and exploitation. What lessons I find in marketing and even in innovation?:

· What is different attracts costumers. Visual impact is part of the experience.

· When you give for granted that “it is different”, you can overlook other things. i.e. The iPAD is not a computer, you can’t expect to work like one, “it is different”. (then again we don't want phonies nor un-worthy products remember).

Buying the cookies from the Mennonites, and even being offered to get some of the money I already agreed to pay back, is definitely a strong consumer experience from which we can learn. Buy the cookies they are good!

Sacred Cows and Soccer Coachs

A “sacred cow”, as an allusion to the Hindu reverence for cows, is a phrase used to refer to something too highly regarded to be open to criticism. Robert Kriegel and David Brandt co-authored a book called “Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers” on how to eliminate outdated business beliefs, paradigms and routines in order to motivate organizational change, as the one needed in innovation.

The first time I heard the phrase "sacred cows make the best burgers" was from a manager as he was hired to evaluate employees that had been delivering poor results for a long time and were subject to layoffs but had powerful relationships in the organization. So when the new manager said “sacred cows make the best burgers” he wasn’t talking about business paradigms, but about people and his disposition to fire anyone when needed.

This week, Ruben Omar Romano, the soccer coach from Santos (a team from the Mexican Soccer League from my hometown) was fired. In the last two tournaments he had taken the team to the finals, losing both, but still achieving second place twice, which is good for a team who has only won the championship 3 times in history. Although controversial in some decisions and his relationship with the media, Ruben Omar Romano had delivered good results and achieved a solid team, just hadn’t won the finals. In this tournament his results weren’t that good, out of 7 games, he had won 3, lost 3 and tied 1. In his last game with Santos, the team played against Queretaro, the worst team in the tournament, as locals and lost. The entire crowd in the stadium asked for his exit. His reaction? The photo you see above as an insult to the assistants. Next day he was fired. There must have been other internal problems involved in his departure, but still the decision was done quickly and he was instantly replaced. It did surprise me as I thought after leading the team to two consecutive finals he was a “sacred cow” and he probably felt that way too, shown with his hand gesture.

So what is the role of “sacred cows” in innovation? “Sacred cows” can be sacred because they are good in what they are doing and deserve to be highly regarded, and these people can even be great innovation leaders. Like the photo of Barcelona's soccer coach Guardiola (down), which for me is an emblem of team support towards a strategist.

What can be wrong about the “sacred cow” concept is that people may be frightened to contradict or oppose their decisions, even when having a reason to do so. Or when the “sacred cow” does use his/her power to impose his point of view, what I’ve called the Castro Syndrome in innovation (see my 08/ 2010 post on Syndromes). Everybody should be open for constructive criticism and even motivate to be criticized for personal and professional growth. One thing is having respect for someone, and another is having a religious dogma on his opinion.

When “sacred cows” are comfortably numb in their job position they can be an innovation killer, many times rejecting everything that involves change or challenge. As a consulting team we once had a sacred cow that was even opposing implementing metrics in her department! How to deal with them? Try to see what motivates them, sometimes this is greater power illusion and respect from others that they can find in new projects, but at the same time build innovation process mechanisms that allow participation and evaluation from everyone, including others with the same or above job rank. When sacred cows oppose a project, ask them to give you the “benefit of the doubt” and make trials or simulations to gather data and arguments that support the new idea.

If it is impossible to collaborate with the “sacred cows” and are not willing to even evaluate something new (like Ruben Omar Romano and his criticized defensive line of 5)… then “sacred cows make the best hamburgers.” Quicky and effectively.

Cloud Power - Cloud Vision

Business is about money. Of course companies can have (and should have) a sustainable and ethical approach with social and ecological awareness, but top bottom, it's about money. Many businessmen would say, "this is a company not an NGO". Another common argument is: "We pay taxes and we create employment, what else do you want?”

But what is true is that in a money-driven capitalist society, the role of wealth generating organizations is crucial in every aspect of life. If an average employed adult dedicates 1/3 of his day in his job, 1/3 of his day sleeping and the last third probably spending his money in values generated by other companies, that leaves little time for actively enrolling in social programs. Although time should not be an excuse and there are many people that manage to work and help others in a frequent basis, it is true that time is a limiting aspect and restrains our social compromise probably with those closer to us (our family, friends and in the best case neighbors), not expanding our compromise to others farther away from our close circle.

I recently heard a conference of a venture capitalist that said, "I am good at doing money. Let others that are good at helping do social work with my money." And I find that true. Being supportive doesn't always mean doing it yourself, picking up street dogs or visiting hospitals. If with your money you are supporting an NGO or others that can spend their time and abilities in helping, then so be it! If Microsoft's Bill Gates is good at raising money for charity, instead of spending an hour in a hospital he could attend a party and raise money for 5 people helping the hospital for a year. I think Bill Gates has influenced Carlos Slim (both Forbees tops) into being more charitable. What worries me about the phrase "I am good at doing money..." is that it opens up the questions "how are you creating that money?" and "is that helping others too?"

The idea for this post came to me from another phrase that I heard on a TV show, which says "Los Mexicanos tenemos el corazón hacia la izquierda pero la cartera hacia la derecha." (Us Mexicans have our heart to our left, but our wallet to our right). This of course is an analogy of the heart being anatomically tilted to the left and the wallet commonly placed in the right pocket of our pants in comparison with the fact that many of us believe that left-wing social equity is needed but we are not willing to sacrifice our economy (and personal wealth) as a right-wing political proposal. It is a heart-wallet dispute.

How can you manage both needs? We need more responsible companies that can obtain benefits from their social and ecological projects tied to their business strategies and being helped by a committed community that demands these projects. Innovation also plays an important role as you need of new ways in creating forms of value through social benefit and ways to communicate them properly integrating the community.

Microsoft should advertise "Lets not only have cloud power, lets treat our cloudy vision." (see the banner I created above).

Just Add Drugs

Want to know the new beverage product trend? Just add drugs!

A company based in Soquel, California US is launching on February 2011 a new line of sodas that contain 5 to 65 milligrams of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis (marijuana). Although other companies have already done marijuana products (and individuals too), the marketing campaign for these products are particularly notorious:
Canna Cola = Coca Cola
Doc Weed = Dr. Pepper,
Sour Diesel = Sprite (lemon-lime)
Grape Ape = Grape flavor
Orange Kush = Orange Crush

They will start to sell the sodas in medical-marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, one of the 15 states in the US where medical marijuana is legal, although without medical purpose is still illegal under federal law.

But here in Latinamerica we are not far behind.

A private Bolivian company with government support has announced the release of “Coco Brynco” a soda containing coca leaves (cocaine). Although these types of leaves are not approved by the UN since 1961, in Bolivia and other Andino regions it is quite usual, especially among natives, and Bolivia is arguing for its approval. The company not only plans to release soda products, but also energy drinks, toothpaste, candy and cakes in the future. The production manager, Johnny Vargas, has said "Our aim is to cover Bolivia and start exporting to neighboring countries" It is said the plant will use 500 pounds of coca leaves per month and will bring benefits to rural communities. (video in spanish)

Let’s see how both of these ventures do on market and the reactions they generate. I would point out especially the fact of marketing these products as common colas (with a branding strategy comparing their products to the big brands) or as "candy flavoured" that can attract youngsters.

For now, lets start searching for medical purposes on heroin for those who soon will upscale marijuana and cocaine. It's a no-brainer way to win loyal clients, right?

PS: And here we are in Mexico in a war against drug cartels!

The Stone Age, the Oil Age and the What Age?

There is a quote I really like said by Sheikh Yamani, former OPEC oil minister, when asked about the oil industry's future:

"The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones."

During the present riots in Egypt due to political aspects against president Hosni Mubarak there has been uncertainty in the world about oil supply and its price. Not only because Egypt is an oil producer or because Egypt controls the Suez Canal, being one of the most important oil routes, but also because markets fear violent riots could spread among other Middle Eastern oil producing countries, as it happened between Tunisia and Egypt.

Many countries, and companies, have stated a strategy towards developing alternative energies due to the imminent future lack of oil, its prices’s vulnerability and for following the green-business trend. Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil are among the top 15 world oil producers, whose national income depends greatly on this industry. So the questions arises: are we foreseeing the future or are we more concerned in exploiting our resources?

Following Sheikh Uamani's words: are we still looking at the stone until it runs out?

As an Innovation Consulting Firm, ChromaticWorks is looking forward to help companies develop effective and commercially successful products that enhance alternative energies.