The Day to Day and the Dreamier Aspects of Google…and Alphabet

Great move Google…I mean Alphabet! Today’s NY Times reports that Larry Page and Sergey Brin will re-organize their company to separate the new ‘big bets’ from the ongoing operations of search.  Calico, Sidewalk, Next and Fiber, will become their own business units, along with GoogleX, the newstreams incubator, and a Finance company.  They want to model their approach after GE, Page says, which has obviously grown into new domains through acquisitions as well as organic growth and development to become a global powerhouse over the years.  But actually, it’s possible they’re following 3M’s model..a more organic model of new business creation.  It all depends on how Page and Brin think about the role of the centralized Corporate functions.  GE depends heavily on a strong Corporate Research Function, and strong corporate strategy to guide their decisions for investments. 3M allows a more free flowing ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach.  I imagine Google Glasses, driverless cars, and drones, all housed within GoogleX, could become their next new divisions.  How will that be decided?  And how will the decisions about resource allocations be made between Google and the new fast growth, non revenue generating entities?  It’s all good, and what a great next step for this company.  While Jordan Rohan, founder of Internet advisory firm Clearmeadow Partners, is quoted in one of the Times’ articles as characterizing the new CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai as being able to handle ‘the day to day and the dreamier aspects of Google,’ this organizational structure allows the same for Page, Brin and the stockholders. Now…who gets to work in the newstreams, and who gets to stay in the mainstream?

A Breakthrough Invention is not a Breakthrough Innovation

A Breakthrough Invention is not a Breakthrough Innovation

The recent news of the ‘Cured AIDS baby’1, the second person ever to be cured of AIDS brought to light a news story from 20062,3when Timothy Brown was the first.  Timothy Brown’s story is amazing, starting in 1995 when he was diagnosed HIV+. He began taking anti-retroviral therapy. While this is a common story for HIV+ patients, Brown’s was not. In 2006 Brown’s health suffered a major setback when he was diagnosed with an acute myeloid leukemia, a fairly common form of cancer. Brown underwent a round of Chemotherapy; however, this made him prone to infections.  At this point, Brown and his doctors sought a new treatment in the form of a stem cell transplant. What happened next was a breakthrough in medicine. His doctors scoured the globe for a stem cell donor who had a mutation known as CCR5, which is known to make cells immune to the HIV virus.

The CCR5 stem cell  treatment cured Brown.

Now the question you have all been asking: why am I writing about this on a Breakthrough  Innovation blog? This is easy to answer: if there has been a  cure for AIDS known for years… why hasn’t it been brought to market? You may believe that having a cure for AIDS is enough for some socially responsible person or company to pursue it for commercial development and use. But, it’s not that easy. The treatment is cost prohibitive and too difficult to be mass marketed (i.e. it requires finding a compatible donor that has the gene and then harvesting their bone marrow. On top of the cost and difficulty concerns the procedure has potential side effects that can be as detrimental to one’s health. These side effects include: surgical complications, paralysis and potentially death.

The market needs a solution that everyone can participate in, not a one of a kind situation that is only cost effective  as an AIDS cure for those who have cancer. The market needs a couple of things to more forward:

·First it needs a solution that can be simplified and that doesn’t have serious side effects, e.g. creating a viral vectors for gene therapy.

·Secondly,  it needs process innovation along with the initial invention, i.e. solutions for mass production and distribution.

·Finally it needs to make sure the customer base can afford the solution.

This cure for AIDS is a huge advancement in medicine. The next big leap is to make one that can be mass commercialized to treat those suffering from this terrible disease. I guess that’s why breakthrough innovation takes so long. There’s enormous work to be done to move from the initial opportunity to commercial reality, no matter how important the game changer is.

We are seeing people take up the challenge presented, research into turning CCR5 into a drug therapy has started. In the research paper “Establishment of HIV-1 resistance in CD4+ T cells by genome editing using zinc-finger nucleases” the scientific team has looked into the possibility of creating a gene therapy to exploit this solution.4





We’re back with thoughts on boring breakthroughs

Greetings all! It’s been a long, long time. Lois and I have been way busy with the third phase of the Radical Innovation Research program. We have visited 9 companies in 3 countries over the past year and conducted over 150 interviews. Lots to digest about roles and responsibilities for Breakthrough Innovation in large established companies. But enough about us. There’ll be more to follow as we figure out what we’re learning. Right now it’s like drinking from a firehose.

Even more exciting is what’s happening at the Lally School…our school. We have an incredible group of MBA students who are extremely interested in this whole breakthrough innovation/corporate entrepreneurship thing. They are an inspiring bunch. Some of them have asked about why this blog has stalled,…and have offered to help. So I’d like to introduce one of them, Peter Roberts from Utah. See below some thoughts on the Tesla Electric Vehicle. Let us know what you think.


The Tesla/New York Times spat this February overshadowed a great achievement in innovation. Some would say that Tesla’s model S is a radical innovation; however, they would be wrong, Thomas Parker invented the electric car in 1884. The real radical innovation from Tesla was accomplished was with the refueling stations. Tesla has already made inroads on the west coast as seen in this map. Tesla has been working to this implemented since 2011. By focusing on changing current infrastructure, Tesla is setting themselves up for success. They now aim to expand electric car potential from their lone pair of charging stations in NY and DC throughout the east coast.
In a broader sense, Tesla has opened up several possibilities for the future. By controlling both the vehicles and the charging stations, Tesla can work out pricing strategies with electricity and/or vehicles. Tesla is creating a whole new market and setting up the infrastructure for this market. The question we should all be asking is, ‘when the rest of the automakers jump on the electric bandwagon will Tesla’s infrastructure make them a dominant player in the marketplace?’.
Others seem to agree with this, see Adam Morath’s blog from 2/14/13 ( Still other see adoption of the of the electric car will require an infrastructure revolution See Ben Holland post in January of this year (

So, while electric cars are all the rage, they’re the small part of the picture. It’s the infrastructure that’ll make this happen.

Words from our visiting scholar- Suman Lodh

I am a visiting scholar at the Lally School (RPI), working on the Radical Innovation project of Dr. Gina O’Connor. I had the opportunity to attend the Corporate Entrepreneurship Conference, June 2010 at RPI. The two-day thought-provoking discussions, presentations, speeches of panel of experts…were really like giving the power of “Grabbing Lightning”. From the researchers characteristics-“Truth, Beauty and Justice” to the corporate excellence-“Shifting the Paradigm to Schumpeter 2.0”, the conference had lots to learn. However at the end of the day, a few ideas kept on striking me that how the risk of inaction (or taking care of the opportunity lost) is, in practice, looked upon by the young corporate entrepreneurs and at the same time the career issue of the entrepreneurs has enough incentive to undertake breakthrough innovation project.
CE literature suggests that the density and quality of relationship among firms and supporting institute are not sufficient to determine the innovative capabilities of a firm. My feeling is that, we need highly mobile and technically skilled entrepreneurs (apart from Scientists) to adopt the innovation strategic initiatives. In fact, to reduce the cost of information, established firms use their existing assets as long as the innovation in the industry remains incremental. But new entrants or the entrepreneurs with their new strategy of ‘recombining’ the existing technologies (controlling for their overhead costs) can introduce radical innovations in the sense that they make existing technology obsolete for greater reward.

Looking forward to attend another such conference at Lally School.

Suman Lodh
PhD Student, Department of Economics
University of Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy

Worlds apart, yet so similar: Breakthrough Innovation in two organizations

In the last couple of months we’ve had the opportunity to work with two very different organizations; both want to improve their innovation capability. These contrasts help point out that the principles of breakthrough innovation are similar across a wide variety of organizations. The first was a very large oil and gas company, concerned with technological innovations that could dramatically alter their business. They wanted to understand how to improve their breakthrough innovation capability, and so they paid us a visit back in May. What a great day, and ongoing relationship with them since. They are experiencing one very typical challenge to Breakthrough innovation: they view the issue as one of technology only. How do we find the most radical technology possible to commercialize in our current businesses? While this is a great question, it’s overly constraining. Unless companies realize that technology is just one aspect of Grabbing Lightning, they’ll never be able to commercialize the new opportunities that breakthroughs present.Business models, customer markets, organizational business unit structures will all have to be reconsidered if a company wants to properly innovate via breakthroughs.

The second organization is a Credit Union. Amazing to see a senior leader of a not-for-profit cooperative so proactive about step-change innovation. But he is. He’s designated an innovation team to find new ideas. They are experiencing another very typical challenge, though different from the one our oil and gas company exhibited. In the case of the Credit Union, all innovation is being managed the same. Incremental, evolutionary and breakthrough are all handled by the innovation team, and are all evaluated via the same criteria, and are all managed using the same processes. Secondly, while the innovation team is great at receiving and developing innovation ideas, there’s no one in the organization tasked with conducting mine experiments to see how viable they are. No incubation capability. ..until now, we hope! Distinguishing types of innovation on the spectrum of uncertainty really can make a difference. Manage them differently, and start to see the outcomes.

Happy Graduation!!!

Every year it’s a bittersweet time in May, when our MBA’s graduate. Posted here is a pic of one of our favs….Sabeer. His mother traveled all the way from India for the big event! Lois and I have enjoyed working with Sabeer very much these past two years as his interest and acumen for innovation has continued to grow. And of course he’s not the only one. BTW, he has supported our blog site for his entire time as a student. What will we do without him????

It’s wonderful to have innovation enthusiasts in our classes. We wish them all well and know that we can call on them whenever for networking, updates, etc. And they surely know where to find us! Student

Wake up Business Leaders.Learn to Innovate

Last week I was at a small gathering of really cool companies in Boston, organized and sponsored by our friend Peter Koen at Stevens’ Institute of Technology. Peter runs a consortium of companies who are all concerned with ….you guessed it… to make innovation happen better in their companies. Kraft, ExxonMobil, P&G, HP, Becton-Dickinson, Corning were there. The specific topic was how to organize for innovation. Should an innovation group be separated or embedded in the business units???? This was the subject of debate.

The speakers were yours truly, as well as George Westermanof MIT, and Bruce Harreld of Harvard , though he was formerly Sr VP of Strategy for IBM and engineered their famous Emerging Business Opportunities management system. With Bruce was Caroline Kovac, who ran IBM’s Life Sciences EBO very, very successfully.

I think there were 35 people in the room. All of them smart. All of them pretty high powered. Some were CTO’s and Chief Engineers. Some were from the Strategic Marketing community. Some were from the HR/Talent management/Org Design communities of their organizations. Others were from the Finance community. All were part of the Innovation initiatives in their companies….and all of them seemed to learn a lot during the two days. The questions were rich. Their engagement was wonderful. They struggled with some of what they were hearing, but it felt like a high level Executive MBA course, in some ways. They really dug in, and seemed to absorb so much of what they were hearing.

What strikes me is how much education there is to be done about this emerging management discipline. We know a lot more about it than we give ourselves credit for. We know how to make it work. Listen to Bruce Harreld and Caroline Kovac. It is not rocket science. It’s naivete at this point. Educators and those who are experienced in this can contribute so much right now.

So, we keep talking. All week. Every week. Next month I’ll be doing a webinar for the Management Roundtable. Hope to hear from some of you!