Random finds (2016, week 16) — On corporate innovation, and raw concrete

Mark Storm
7 min readApr 23, 2016


Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.

The innovation-lab bandwagon

Recently, I attended a conference in Amsterdam on corporate entrepreneurship. The majority of the presentations and workshop, by far, were about innovation and corporate innovation labs. And although it’s always interesting to hear how well-established companies handle innovation, it left me with the feeling that most of these endeavors were just ‘talent pools’ or quirky initiatives on the outskirts of ‘business as usual’ — a must-have kindergarten for grown ups.

In So Many Corporate Innovation Labs, So Little Innovation, Saul Kaplan writes:

“The CEOs I talk with admit privately that they’re getting tired of hearing Uber, Airbnb and Netflix disruption stories. They want their organizations to play more offense. They want to be market-makers, not just share-takers. In response, CEOs have climbed onto the innovation-lab bandwagon. Corporate innovation labs have sprung up like weeds across industries around the world. Any self-respecting CEO now has a corporate innovation lab!”

Just like Kaplan, I feel that most of these innovation labs will produce only tweaks to today’s business models. “This shouldn’t be a surprise,” Kaplan writes, “because corporate innovation labs are structured, resourced and governed to produce incremental improvements to today’s business models.”

Lab projects are prioritized and funded to produce new products, services and tech-enabled capabilities that will improve performance of today’s business. The projects compete for resources based on financial metrics relevant to the current business model. And that’s fine, as long as you don’t expect these labs, accelerators or whatever name they are given, to avoid disruption or come up with projects that may cannibalize current business.

Any self-respecting CEO now has a corporate innovation lab!

Kaplan gives ten reasons why corporate innovation labs produce only tweaks. They range from CEO’s who shy away from taken ownership for the transformational agenda — instead they cede authority to line executives who are accountable for the performance of today’s business model — to putting an overemphasis on “the production of a better mousetrap, as opposed to a better business model.”

Kaplan: “An important mandate for these new innovation labs is to do R&D for new business models, the same way we do R&D today for new products, services and technologies. R&D for new business models is the new strategic imperative. Corporate innovation strategies must create discrete approaches to deliver incremental improvements to today’s models, while also enabling the exploration of entire new models. Doing so, it will require more clarity on the objectives of the innovation lab, as well as and recognition that the same structure, approach, resourcing, staffing and governance will not work for both incremental and transformational innovation.”

Having said this, Kaplan is finding more CEOs open to talking about how business model innovation fits into their strategic agendas, and he predicts that this will reflect in their organizational approaches to innovation. But for now, Kaplan stands by his observation that, despite all these corporate innovation labs, we see little real innovation happening. And that’s precisely what I felt when I left that conference last month. That we all had had a marvelous day, talking about innovation, but let’s get on with our business now. And for most that simply is the one ‘as usual’, despite all the innovation labs and corporate accelerators. It’s good fun, but often rather meaningless.

A bit more …

The Guardian reviewed Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism by Barnabas Calder. My own love for brutalism is relatively recent — I have been wandering around my university campus, bored stiff, for years without noticing the beauty of it — and unfortunately not broadly shared. So, it’s good to read that at least in the UK there seems to be a revival of brutalist architecture.

Calder is an art historian, and came to his subject via studies of medieval churches and 18th-century country houses. He describes himself as a nice middle-class boy brought up to like the sort of Edwardian terraces in which he was raised and to deplore the aggressive, stained concrete monstrosities known as brutalist. Now, he claims, he believes brutalism to be “the high point of architecture in the entire history of humanity … one of the greatest ever flowerings of human creativity and ingenuity”. I’m not sure about that but it can be stunningly beautiful.

More on Raw Concrete here: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1095022/raw-concrete.

The new world order is ruled by global corporations and megacities, not countries, writes Parag Khanna, a senior research fellow at the Center on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, and the author of the recently published book Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization.

“A simple typology helps us to understand the range of players competing in the Mindshare Matrix. These are roughly the 5 ‘Cs’: countries, cities, commonwealths, companies, and communities. What matters more than their latent power — nuclear weapons or cash piles — is their ability to deploy resources to build leverage within the system. Power, then, is a function of connectivity — only the most connected powers can win.”

“Assessing the wide spectrum of the 5 Cs together rather than separately helps us to appreciate today’s bewildering complexity. Indeed, the most fundamental attribute of our emergent global system isn’t the shift from unipolarity to multipolarity (structural change), but rather the shift from a state-centric order to a multi-actor arena (systems change). Structural change happens every few decades; systems change only every few centuries. Structural change makes the world complicated; systems change makes it complex. The forces of capital and technology, which are accelerating the rise of non-state authorities, cannot be put back in the bottle by any hegemon, whether America or China.”

There are far more functional cities in the world today than there are viable states.

“Countries run by supply chains, cities that run themselves, communities that know no borders, and companies with more power than governments — all are evidence of the shift toward a new kind of pluralistic world system.”

Read here (Co.Exist): http://www.fastcoexist.com/3059005/the-new-world-order-is-ruled-by-global-corporations-and-megacities-not-countries?partner=rss.

And here (Quartz): http://qz.com/666153/megacities-not-nations-are-the-worlds-most-dominant-enduring-social-structures-adapted-from-connectography.

Or watch Khanna’s 2016 TedTalk on how megacities are changing the map of the world: http://www.ted.com/talks/parag_khanna_how_megacities_are_changing_the_map_of_the_world?language=en.

Richard Kunert is a PhD candidate at the Donders Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands and writes on psychology, cognitive neuroscience, language and music. According to Kunert, an orchestra is arranged by the biology of the brain.

“Imagine yourself at a concert hall looking at a symphonic orchestra on stage. Have you ever noticed that high-pitched strings sit left of low-pitched strings? Going from left to right, one usually sees violins, violas, cellos and double basses. That is, one moves from high pitches on the left to low pitches on the right. Why? The orchestra’s arrangement is not a cultural oddity, like driving on the right side of the road. Rather, it is due to our own biological makeup.”

Kunert continues by describing how left-right differences outside the brain usually cross and become right-left processing in the brain. For example, the violinist you see on stage holds her bow with the right hand — which is controlled by her left brain hemisphere. When she looks at the music score, the right page will be projected to her left brain hemisphere’s visual cortex. This left-right crossing has a strange consequence for modern humans listening to an orchestra. The right ear hears high-pitched notes better, which projects to the left auditory cortex. For the listener, this is situated on the wrong side in order to optimally hear high-pitched instruments, sitting mostly to the left. The orchestra seating arrangement doesn’t take the audience’s brains into account, which prefer higher pitches from the right.

But if the right ear hears high tones better, why are high-pitched instruments located on the left? It is for the benefit of the musicians themselves, Kunert explains. They must carefully listen to each other in order to play together. Therefore, they sit in an optimal position with high pitches on the side of the body that better hears higher pitches.

“The seating arrangement of modern orchestras mirrors the listening bias of human ears. The ears project to the opposite brain hemisphere’s auditory cortex, which is where the listening bias originates. In this way, the seeming cultural oddity of who sits where in an orchestra could actually be the result of a biological oddity of brain organisation. It is not just a historical accident akin to driving on the right or left. In the concert hall, the cultural and the biological are closely intertwined.”

Read heren (Aeon): https://goo.gl/NPHoN0.

“Sunshine dulls the mind to risk and thoughtfulness.” — Adam Alter ( Why Cloudy Days Help Us Think More Clearly)



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought