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January 09, 2009


Chris Ward

There seem to be a couple of 'fields of endeavour' going on. Generically, examples might be 'Automobiles' and 'Healthcare'. They are distinguished by the question of whether you can ever have a manufacturing process. (Yes for autos, no for people).

We know ... or we used to know ... how you control a market where you have a manufacturing process. Patents and/or copyrights; you invest 'development dollars' to acquire an exclusive right to manufacture or distribute.
But those were the days of IBM OS/2 and Lotus SmartSuite; now we have Linux and IBM Lotus Symphony. It's a little confusing, but they're not going away. Revenue seems to have disappeared, and with it the value of the 'exclusive right'.

But what happens about 'Healthcare' ? You cannot have a patent or a copyright on a person, for the obvious reason that we have not yet invented a process which manufactures/replicates people. Where do you put your 'development dollars', and how do you sustain a revenue stream ?

Manufacturing and replication is going East. Businesses can go East with it , but governments cannot, and people (by the billion) cannot either. A few can, but not whole populations.

I'm not convinced that either the USA or EU 'Federal' organisations are equipped to handle the challenges. USA government support presumably will not help EU citizens to any extent; there will not be another Marshall Plan. Can we help ourselves in the EU ? Will China reach out with opportunity to the USA and the EU ?

Huge forces.

A business ... any business ... can only really do things for 'customers and employees'. IBM has a lot of customers, and a lot of employees, scattered around the world; but even so, it's not going to get 100% of the world's population into the one or the other category. It might want to, but it cannot get that sort of monopoly.

And what of the rest ? What of all those who fall between 'Customer' on the one hand, and 'Employee' on the other ?

That's Competition, I guess. Competition spurs us on, in all the fields of endeavour.

I'm sure there are fortunes to be made. I'm just not sure where and how, at the moment.

Benjamin Jiang

It was a great experience to take your class, Prof. Wladawsky-Berger. I certainly enjoyed and learned a lot from you and the class. The key reason that drove me to take this class was the reasoning of strategy: how companies, big or small, can play their cards wisely and stay on top of the next generation of competition. To recognize the next wave of competition, to me, is the key point. Just look how quick a company can go bankruptcy from a total stock market favorite (Nortel, in less than 10 years).

To steal a few points from your slides, I am a believer of:
1. Promote endlessly for the change you believe in. (Extensive communication)
2. Rapid experimentation and prototypes.
3. Differentiation and Standardization must co-exist.
4. Leadership is the foundation stone.
5. This is a point that I learned from you personally: Promote your vision, work to your goal, one baby step at a time.
6. ...

Speaking of change, I totally agree that it is one of the hardest thing to do. People are always reluctant to change. Hence we need great leaders.

On a slightly micro level (company level), Prof. Thomas Allen has some very interesting study on this and on communication as well. For example, his study in the 80's showed that communication among co-workers drops exponentially with the increase of distance.

On a macro industry/country level, however, this is totally different animal. I would bet Christensen's idea of separate unit would work to a level, such as set up separate system for healthcare and let it run independently.

In any case, it was a great pleasure to get to know you personally, Prof. Wladawsky-Berger. I hope we can meet next time you make a trip to MIT.

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