Innovation Is About Keeping Our Options Open

4 visions of innovation with Censhare’s Dieter Reichert

Innovation is on everyone’s lips except that what we see is hardly what we get. For innovation is, primarily, a matter of vision. Technology is nice and it travels fast, but what is it to us who can understand so little about it? It’s as if we, modern day Frankensteins, had invented new creatures and as they come to life, we barely understand what is going on. As the frightful Swiss in awe with his newborn wretch, we run around like headless chickens, trying to embrace these new technological objects of ours or merely trying to survive them. What if the answer were in the hands of the Indians of an obscure tribe in a Mexican desert? I tried to find out while interviewing Dieter Reichert, CEO and founder of Censhare, a worldwide software house set to redesign the way we handle information. And God knows there is a dire need for this.

Visions of Innovation can be found in the way native Americans perceive the world around them, Reichert says
Visions of Innovation can be found in the way native Americans perceive the world around them, Reichert says

Dieter came to visit me some time ago. We had decided I would interview him about software and we came to talk about his background and experience. Talking with entrepreneurs is always a fascinating experience. One gets to understand how they innovate, how they lead their business in their daily lives, how they overcome whatever obstacles they encounter. This is a very worthwhile experience, especially when you are are yourself an entrepreneur. Talking to Dieter for a few minutes, I realised that our interview would be on a totally different level. His was not the experience of an average businessman, but a real journey through life, deeply rooted in experiments. Well, all kinds of experiments, so to speak.

Vision of innovation 1: don’t do what’s expected of you

Dieter started in a way that wouldn’t appeal to most Parents, by flunking school at the age of 18. He wasn’t “cut out for that”, he admitted. By “that”, he meant reading books, and learning with a teacher locked up in a schoolroom. He was one for larger spaces, he fled to India. There he learned Yoga, then became a teacher and eventually, got bored, because “not much happens in India” he said. Not one for contemplation, Dieter, but much of a rolling stone.

He left India soon after that to live among Mexican tribespeople. Columbus had mistaken them for Indians and named them after others, Dieter went on to live with them. He liked it a lot. In actual fact, living with them shaped his vision of life and innovation. His vision of time and understanding the cosmos. He thinks he can understand innovation better than us because of this. This is a life-shaping experience, not just any kind of experience.

So here went Dieter, from adventure to venture, from the Mexican Indians to the creation of an events organisation setting up symposiums with the Dalai Lama and other celebs, then to the creation of a drugs rehab centre, all the time working with and for Apple. Meditation being the link between these things, most probably. “Think different” is certainly a motto that Dieter could live with. For he is a very different kind of person.

Vision of innovation 2: one day, computers will be less dumb

I liked his views on IT too. It’s true that computers aren’t that smart. This is an understatement. The more we are sold new versions of AI and self-driving cars, the more we have to reboot our machines, circumvent bugs and even live without the features one used to enjoy (where has the old Phatware ICR – intelligent character recognition – feature in our year 2000 PDAs gone?) They are just miniaturised versions of their bulky elders, even though we have gone quite a long way from the prehistory of IT, I readily admit.

Yet, exactly 26 years ago to the day, I was tip tapping away on a computer just like the one I have now in front of me. It’s true I was one of the happy few to be equipped with a laptop computer, its battery life was not going beyond 1 hour and a half and it was black and white (two years later I pawned it in exchange for a brand new colour Zenith PC). Having said that, it was a PC nonetheless, with an older but reasonably functional version of Office by Microsoft. Not much less powerful than the ones we have now and certainly less bug-ridden.

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Is De-indexing (NSEO) a real threat to your business? – Part 1

In recent years, the marketing world has been shaken by a new phenomenon that has become a dirty word: Negative SEO or NSEO. The other words associated with NSEO are “De-ranking” and “de-indexing” or, in more common parlance, the “disappearance” of your link from search engine pages. Many people are wondering how real the threat of NSEO is, and what its concrete impacts on a company’s online business can be. We should start by explaining that SEO is the optimisation of your website’s visibility and by extension its position in the search engine result pages; this is done by discovering and using a number of criteria that are factored into search engine algorithms. The more closely your site matches the criteria used by search engines to determine whether content is relevant, the more other sites will post links to your site, and the higher your website will rank in the search results. This basically amounts to raising your site’s visibility without having to pay for advertising space. When a content marketing projet goes online SEO must be performed quickly to gain a top spot in search engine results in order to secure a large audience and make a quick and lasting marketing impact. This is precisely the time when the site is at risk of an NSEO attack that could cause it to lose its high ranking. But before going on to further describe and analyze NSEO, here is a bit of historical background.

The Birth of the Internet: from a mere gadget to an essential tool

At its inception (1995-2000), the Web was used by individuals and academics solely for the purposes of sharing information and communicating globally. The idea of individuals creating a website, inventing a concept and being able to put it online quickly was novel at the time.

Efforts to implement a high-quality content strategy can be destroyed by one NSEO attack. Hence the importance of being vigilant and protecting your website from such attacks.

From the year 2000 on, as interest in this new communication medium grew, more and more people began to use the Internet, and consumers especially became interested in exchanging information about products and services; it was at this time that price comparison websites appeared. Companies came into direct competition due to this new and unanticipated use of the Internet.

Around 2005, marketing departments started telling management that it was important to be present on the Web, although at that time the commercial side (sales of new products, before and after-sales service, etc.) was not yet part of that presence. With sites like eBay and PriceMinister, exchanges and sales of secondhand goods developed exponentially. Marketing departments quickly realized that it was to their advantage to use Internet too: there were opportunities for product advertising and promotion, for using new marketing tools, maintaining customer databases, tracking customer behavior, etc.

amazon e-commerce site

As the Web and especially the social networks developed, marketing departments kept control over the company website without necessarily working with their IT departments, although they were in charge of DATA and network services. They gradually turned their sites into sophisticated and highly customised marketing machines that became the chief source of data on customers’ online behavior in addition to data from their retail outlets. Social networks also made it possible to communicate directly with customers.

Today, the situation can be described as follows: the company website has become the cornerstone of sales and marketing activity for companies across all sectors. Another interesting fact is that IT departments are often not part of the team when projects are being implemented, although they should be included not only in the technical side (hardware, back and front office software), but also in Web security in order to protect the investment made by the marketing department.

The aim is not to pit company departments against each other, but to show that historically Internet has arrived in businesses from an unexpected direction and responsibility for Internet activity sits between two departments with different cultures and ways of working. Therefore, website security and NSEO attacks were not necessarily on the marketing department’s radar screen, especially when they were under pressure from the sales department which was following its own agenda. This created a kind of no-man’s land between SEO as it was understood from a marketing standpoint and Web security as seen by the IT department.

While this situation still exists today, the website is now critical to the life of a company. In addition, the fact that the Web is global and totally open has resulted in the appearance of techniques designed to thwart the sales and marketing strategies used by marketing departments on the corporate website; these techniques are questionable (if not outright dishonest) and extremely devious, and one of them is NSEO.

What exactly is NSEO and what are its impacts on content marketing?: information or disinformation?

In the keen global competition that companies encounter on the Web, some may be tempted to harm their competitors by using means that verge on the illegal. These damaging tactics are nearly impossible to trace and have a direct impact both on the company’s turnover and share price. Expedia appears to have been the victim of precisely such tactics in the U.S. in January 2014. Read more

Disruption explained in a few hundred words

Whether in Silicon Valley, or basically anywhere else in the world, people talk about ‘disruptive innovation’ or simply ‘disruption’. Do they really know what it means? Or they are just trying to follow that new trend, and fit in the ‘innovation world’? Actually, knowing what disruption means makes you more sophisticated than just randomly using the word. This is why this article is a must-read.

What is disruption?

You should thank Clayton Christensen, of Harvard Business School for this “new” term. He used it in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, to describe innovations that created new markets by discovering new categories of customers. I believe that these two words are losing their serious aspect, and are becoming more of “buzzwords”, that a lot of people use on social media. Indeed, the word was mentioned more than 2,000 times in articles last year. But a lot of people still get it wrong.

There are two types of “innovators”: those who simply work to improve existing products (this is what we call ‘sustainable innovation’). And those who invent new products, creating new markets. And these are called ‘disruptive innovators’.

Let’s go back in time, when people used to go from one place to another in horse carriages. Back then, “innovators” obviously tried to find ways to make the horses go from point A to point B faster. Until the first automobile was invented. New markets were created. Also, new needs and demands had to be served. So, in other words, new business models had to be put in place. As a matter of fact, disruption is a process, not just a product or a service offering, like a lot of people might believe.

This gives you a clearer picture of what a “disruption” or a “disruptive innovation” is. It is a new way of exploiting old or existing technology, to create something pioneering.

sustainable vs disruptive innovation
There is a fine line between sustainable innovation and disruptive innovation

What is uberization

Uber, the multinational online taxi dispatch company, is the first example that comes to one’s mind when talking about ‘disruption’.

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B2B sales: The downfall

In this article, we discuss how different sectors such as banking and accounting were affected by the growth of digital transformation. We emphasise  the impact digital transformation has on sales. The B2B sale sector was considered to some extent protected from the transformation wave. But it somehow appears to be hit by this phenomenon too, in a big way. Actually, there are two sides to this story that are debatable. 

B2B sales impacted by digital transformation and Big Data

On the one hand, B2B sales is said to be resilient, since it is based on one-to-one contact and individual salesmanship. 10 years ago, famous author and researcher Bernard Cova told me that a B2B brand appears to be less important than a B2C brand. He believed then that the contact with the salesperson at the time of the purchase was a definite advantage, as opposed to B2C. What he meant by that is that it doesn’t matter if your brand changes or even disappears, as long as there’s someone to explain it to customers. In a way, what Bernard said is true. In fact, a small consulting firm like ours, is able to gain the trust of big accounts. It’s simply true because of our capabilities to explain and deliver services to clients in earnest, based on our expertise.

Ironically, buyers dislike salespeople, but they love to buy from them

Nevertheless, all that Bernard Cova told me 10 years ago is no longer entirely true anymore today. B2B sales is changing completely, in all types of markets (lower-end, mid-tier and high-end markets). Ironically, buyers dislike salespeople, but they love to buy from them.

B2B sale
B2B sales caught in a downward spiral

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Low impact of digital suggests acceleration of pace of change in future

It is customary to say that we are living very innovative times, that the changes we are going through are huge, and that our economy is fast-paced and innovative. When asked for evidence, technology pundits will always come up with the same answer: Internet and Smartphones are ubiquitous. While there is no denying the fact that both the Internet and Smartphones have had a tremendous impact on our lives and the way we do business, our times may well be far less innovative than originally thought. In his piece “Beyond The Internet, Innovation Struggles to Lift Productivity” (published by WSJ on August 12, 2015), Greg IP offers explanations, beyond mere appearances. As I read his piece this Summer, it also triggered thoughts that, if anything, one will have to accelerate the integration of digital in the “real world” in the next few years, not slow it down. This may come as a shock to many people.

The crux of the problem is here: does technological innovation have an impact on overall productivity? Apparently it doesn’t (“productivity grew just 0.4% per year over the past five years, one of the slowest stretches in the period since World War II” says IP). Many things, beyond the Smartphone, have not changed that much. In the past 30 or 40 years. Indeed, according to Greg IP, there are three possible reasons for this:

1. pessimistic assumption: innovation is happening and is grossly exaggerated. It has no, or not much impact,

2. optimistic assumption: it does have an impact but it can be measured,

3. neutral (neither optimistic nor pessimistic) assumption: it is happening but has no impact on the “real” world. It only

Construction of the metroplitain subway in paris 60 728

Legend: It took four years for Paris Metro engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe to finalise his plans for the crossing of the Seine. In 1910, he directed the works which led to the freezing of the soil for a length of approx. 70 yards with 57 17m deep shafts filled with brine of calcium chloride at -27°C. Imagine doing that in 2015? In 2015, the extension of line 4 for 1 extra station beyond the peripherique was finally completed after 4 years of disruption.

Explanations for the low impact of digital on productivity gains?

IP opts for solution number three and has an explanation for this (based on the work of Michael Mandel for the progressive Institute):

1. advances in applied sciences (like thermoplastics and maybe new alloys and metals) have stalled. All the new products which the 1950-1960 golden era of chemistry has produced are now ubiquitous. Innovation is only marginal. biosciences aren’t working – this is IP speaking – or rather are unable to produce such breakthroughs as the invention of antibiotics. A rather negative statement, yet many of my discussions with my scientific-trained wife end up in the same alley: there are few advances in those departments nowadays, or at least they tend to be less spectacular,

2. productivity gains are far less impressive – still Greg IP speaking – than ever before. Planes carry more people but there aren’t very different from what they used to be in the late 1950s. With With the loss of the Concorde, one may even find that speed has decreased. One of the reasons for this may be that our Society is less focused on innovation, and technological prowess, and more prone to raise issues about safety. Both subjects aren’t that compatible,

As our workforces (in Western countries at least) are moving rapidly away from manufacturing and focusing massively on service and knowledge work (I’ll get back to that when I analyse the latest McKinsey report), I would however disagree with IP’s point about productivity gains. Even though it’s hard to measure. I know for sure how I can assess the impact of new technologies on the kind of work that I, and our consultants at Visionary Marketing, are doing. Most of us are able to manage or even deliver, single-handedly, up to 10 different engagements at the same time. That would not have been possible even 10 years ago. Maybe the maximum of projects I could have managed up until the end of the 1990s was 2 or 3 (I mean large ones). The increase in productivity in that department, really is spectacular. Yet, it is hard to measure with hard facts and figures. It took years before can manufacturing was taken into account in the calculation of GNP according to French economist Daniel Cohen, it may well then take another 10-20 years before IT and digital are actually accounted for in productivity gains when economists decide to measure them.

All I know however is that the current impact of digital on most industries is still weak and changes are taking place very slowly. It may not look like that to many professionals who are already struggling with the idea of making digital technology and ally in their daily tasks, but if anything, the pace of change is bound to accelerate; not slow down. That’s how I see and interpret Mandel’s study: productivity gains due to digital may be low at the moment, but chances are that, for that very reason, the implementation of digital change in organisations will tend to intensify in the future. Be ready for it.