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 Robert Kriegel and David Brandt co-authored a book called “Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers” on how to eliminate outdated business beliefs, paradigms and routines in order to motivate organizational change, as the one needed in innovation.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.

British Humor or Damaging Stereotypes? BBC Top Gear

The British program Top Gear on BBC did a humor sketch using Mexican stereotypes that has created national controversies and caused the Mexican embassy to ask the BBC for an apology.

Although the video does hurt all of those who work our brains out, and still have a world stereotype of laziness, we also have to understand British humor.

I really don't care about stereotype jokes, as Mexicans we are good in humor (although British humor we don't get that well) and if there is one thing we know how to do is to laugh at ourselves. I think what offended me was the fact that they were criticizing Mexican design, saying our "Made in Mexico" products should have a negative identity and values transmitted to them. As an Industrial Designer and innovation promoter in our region, they are not only stereotyping my culture, but are creating aversion towards products that is my job to defend and in which I believe.

In Top Gear, they were talking about cars, do they know the amount of cars that get manufactured here in Mexico and exported worldwide? Manufacturing is not design? Check more information on Mastretta Design – Tecnoide SA de CV . I am almost sure the car they showed in the video is actually from Mastretta Design and this company is definitely an example of success, as even the Mexican government and CONACYT have recognized (from where I got the picture). I also think we have a lot of positive values, good humor included, that our design identity can integrate into shapes.

I think we should not give this video great relevance, they are comedians after all, but we should be concerned on how to change the stereotypes, as hard as that can be, proving we are hard workers as well as developing strong product design. We have a long way to go and I see that as a reason and a challenge to my job. As for me, even with all the troubles in Mexico and Latin America which I also expose in this blog, when I wake up and remember I am Mexican, I go and work harder knowing I can make world-wide quality results.