Sunday, November 9, 2014

Leadership and innovation at the country level

I have been in Estonia for a couple of years now on a full time basis. Although I visited Estonia regularly for the past 15 years, the experience of living here, gave me a deeper and far more interesting view of the dynamics that have taken place in this country pertaining to technology.

At first sight, one can easily miss the technological revolution that took place in Estonia in the Post-Soviet era if one just focuses on the pronounced rural life that dominates most of the land. But one cannot really miss it once you interact with the system. Some claim that Estonia now has more start-up per capita than the Valley.

The theory is that the smallness of Estonia coupled with the small population in addition to security risks posed by their prominent neighbors, pushed the country to excel and take leadership in certain areas. And in the absence of an infrastructure in the Post-Soviet era, that land was just ripe for that thing to be technology!

Some of the e-experiences ranging from paying for parking with a phone (since probably the last century), the amazing digital banking, the school system, the 7-minutes tax filing, public transportation, and every service you can imagine are simply something Estonians are proud of and rightfully they should be.

Estonians brought forth lots of start-up success stories in the past and an interesting pipeline in the making securing the country the title "tech powerhouse". Lots of investments in Apps, Mobile, Mobile banking and many new comers like Taxify, Transfer Wise, GrabCat, Mobile billing, and  lots more. Very impressive! Estonia definitely took the plunge with the national identity gone global. The e-Estonia initiative has been gaining some momentum with global aspirations.

Interestingly, the start-up friendly government is helping push the envelope via enabling investments, facilitating the inflow of talent and programs with a focus on a mobile digital society. Additionally, there are close ties with Silicon Valley and other large metropolitan cities around the globe to encourage investments and deployments. I understood the president is personally interested and taking an active seat driving some of these programs.

Another aspect that is interesting for start-ups is that the local market is tiny which means that new companies must have broader global views and ambitions if they want to do well.

I get a kick every time I visit the main site for citizen services (see below). There are two options (Citizens and Entrepreneurs). I think that says it all.

By any means, it's not perfect - there is some bureaucracy as well just like every other place, but just in smaller doses. I know I am probably less exposed to this by virtue of being a foreigner. In most of my interactions, where bureaucracy is about to show it's ugly face, I seem to have the advantage of speaking in English and the primary concern of the person I am speaking with is to understand and make the conversations short so they place less of an effort on fencing. I suspect others may have a different view or experience.

The bottom line, is that Estonia is in the vanguard of of all digital societies on earth and is headed in a unique direction. With continued government support and the e-residency program, you can bet that the number of start-ups with global penetration will double or triple within the next five years. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

4 things partnerships MUST have to enable innovation

Partnerships are hard! However they are at the core of enabling innovation for small businesses and start-ups. If they are well planned, they make or break the possibilities. Two or more brains are almost always better than one.

These few articles are really good at summing up the basics when planning partnerships.

Some of the basic lessons to pay attention to when structuring and driving partnerships include:

  1. Over communication (frequent and transparent). Agreeing a head of time and sticking to communication mechanisms and frequency is very important to ensure continuous alignment.
  2. A Common Plan, ambitions and a common goal or destination. Keeping in mind that at time destinations change so a continuous alignment communication is essential.
  3. Pre-Agreement about Separation. It's imperative to go separate ways and this must be documented and agreed upon.
  4. Clarity on Roles and Responsibilities. every partner adds different aspects, but everyone is contributing, It's super important to determine the roles and responsibilities from the very beginning. This may also change with time so good to revisit.
By the way, points 2-4 depend on point #1

Happy Partnerships!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The power of multi-discipline in innovation

I get really excited when I see things like that "Harvard cracks DNA storage and crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram".

This reminds me of something that Tom Peters said about continuous learning. He asserted that the value of multi-disciplines allows for "the ability to draw upon analogous ideas from disparate fields to form analyses about problems closer to home". Well said!

The lack of shared vocabulary between people from different disciplines and communication overhead is a big challenge, but a multidisciplinary team can be exceptionally effective and is known to accelerate innovation once the basic communication challenges are managed. Leading multi-disciplinary teams creates better results, but requires significantly more effort. The pains are often worth it as multi-discipline groups can have pivotal insights of the creation of new products, solutions and paradigm shifts.

When you consider amazing things like landing on the moon as a generic example, you'd realize that that can only be possible when you have a multi-discipline scenario. Consider the creation of the iPhone or Microsoft Excel - do you think these would have been possible without a multi-discipline team?

It's important to note that this is not saying that same discipline teams are not as good, but simply pointing out that break-through innovation is much more pronounced in the multi-discipline environments when observations through diverse lenses are made possible.

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