July 2009 - Posts

Welcome to the Innovation@Merage Blog
The Paul Merage School of Business is pleased to provide this blog for discussing information on all aspects of innovation and how it is impacting businesses and academics. We hope you will find our blog to be an engaging way to communicate about the latest topics on thought leadership.  

  • Smart Moves in Tough Times

    In Business Week’s July 27 issue, there’s a simple chart that tells a big story. Creative Beginnings in a Downturn shows that Hewlett Packard learned to buy game-changing companies in recessions, that Genetech leaned to use strategic partners when they couldn’t afford research labs, and that Google snagged top talent after the tech bust.
    In another article in the same issue, General Mills reports increased sales, stemming from bigger marketing budgets, exactly when everyone else is cutting back.

    They are just a few examples of some counter-intuitive strategies that smart business people have used successfully in past recessions. When others are cutting back, you can launch new companies, new products, and new approaches when the competitors are not circling around. And years of statistics prove that people who invest in research and marketing in recessions emerge as leaders for years or decades to come.

    What’s more, in cost-cutting climates, people are more willing to risk doing business with a new supplier who can accomplish things faster, better or cheaper.  That incumbent relationship may not survive belt-tightening, especially if the procurement guy has been laid off.

    For those who aren’t frightened, it’s a perfect time to launch your innovative ideas, and watch them take off faster than the recovery.

  • Little Green Companies Coming to a Planet Near You

    Business Week calls them under-the-radar start-ups in alternative energy, and warns that they may not be the ground floor opportunities that investors are seeking. What’s amazing about this list, however, is the wide range of approaches these companies are taking.

    Geothermal energy. Making ice at night. Cylindrical and thin film solar cells. Wind turbines that fit on a house. Ocean and river generators. A truck-top plant to convert industrial waste to biofuel. New ways to conserve, meter, and sell energy. New ways to finance solar panels. Algae for jet fuel, and that elusive clean coal technology.

    Maybe none of these will work commercially. Maybe all of them. More likely, some portion of these and others that are not on the radar screen this month will be changing the way we run our homes, offices and vehicles over the next few decades.

    If any of these technologies work, we could be on the verge of a new industrial revolution—one that won’t take our depleted natural resources for granted. When everyone is busy looking backwards at how we got ourselves into this financial and environmental mess, it’s exhilarating to see how we just might find out way out.

    The Next Energy Innovators, BusinessWeek


  • The Ikea Approach

    On my way to an Ikea exhibit in Stockholm last month, I took a plane, train, taxi, subway, and ferry to the art museum. Once there, I was impressed by how both experiences underlined the Swedish approach to design, and what we can learn from them.

    First the Ikea part. It started with a young entrepreneur who tried to sell cheap furniture through the mail.  Since it was difficult and expensive to ship, he figured customers might be willing to assemble it themselves to save money. When existing furniture manufacturers boycotted him for undercutting their business model, he had to design his own, and he decided that his customers deserved good design as much as wealthy people did. Hence the strategy of Design for All that has driven the company to international success.

    That same strategy applies to transportation in Sweden. The airport is a dream, with easy security, uncrowded gates, polished wooden floors, walls of etched glass, even luggage carts that look like sculpture. The train and subway stations are easy to navigate, clean, cheerful and efficient. The ferry is a pleasure. Everything is designed to make getting around a large city built on 14 islands easier than getting through two suburbs in L.A.

    While the latest trend is to talk about being customer-centric, most of our public and private efforts fall woefully short of that ideal. Because we focus on the short-sighted decisions that make shareholders happy, we don’t reap the long-term benefits of creating a better world, with better products and services for everyone.  Perhaps we too should think about Design for All.