Posts By limont

Woollies and the copied baby carrier – Lessons for creative entrepreneurs

By now you would have heard of the plight of Shannon, the entrepreneur behind the Ubuntu Baba baby carrier. If not you can read the original article here…

Dear Woolworths, you have some explaining to do.

It appears Woollies sourcing personnel bought a couple of her carriers, went to a different manufacturer to create a modified version, produced it in retail numbers and stocked it on their shelves at a third of the price. This must still be proven or admitted, but the sequence of events seems to suggest it is so.

That’s horrible for Shannon and Ubuntu Baba. I’ve met her, and I’ve even worn the product as a friend of mine works with her. Shannon is right, it is beautifully made and well designed. Impressive.

But what has Woollies done wrong?

Is it illegal to copy someone else’s creation in South Africa? Yes it is, if the invention is patented, subject to copyright, or an officially registered design.

South African copyright law only offers protection to the following categories of creations, under which the baby carrier doesn’t fit:

Literary works; Musical works; Artistic works; Cinematograph films; Sound recordings; Broadcasts; Programme-carrying signals; Published editions; Computer programs.

One can also protect a functional design in South African law, where this product may fit, but to do so you have to officially register the design and renew it annually. I can only assume that if this has been done Shannon would have mentioned in her article. Similarly I imagine if a patent had been registered she would have mentioned it.

I feel sorry for Shannon, and I hope she wins the PR battle here. This kind of poor sportsmanship by Woollies leaves a bitter taste.

But let’s not forget that Woollies is big name retailer whose primary goal is to sell reasonable quality clothing and accessories at an affordable price. Their stores are actually full of seemingly benign copies when you look a little closer.

Woollies doesn’t owe Shannon anything. They had no existing trade relationship with her, nor do they appear to be infringing on any intellectual property.

Entrepreneurs in similar situations should realise they have options they should exercise before it’s too late:

  1. Take active steps to safeguard inventions by seeking official IP protection. When an inventor has something that can be protected, but doesn’t do it, one has to ask why?
  2. Have a retail strategy if your product has mass market appeal. If Woollies can get the product to market at a third of the price, surely that means there are significant opportunities to reach economies of scale, and open up your product to a much wider audience. Why wouldn’t you want to structure your business so that the likes of Woollies would come to you and give you mass market access?

In my opinion Woollies should do the right PR thing here, and give Shannon and her business an opportunity to create a mass produced version for sale on their shelves at an affordable price.

Let’s see…

How I manage collaboration and create huge amounts of extra work time, ramping up productivity…

Originally published on linkedin Feb 19, 2019

Let me start this article by stating something…

I WORK HARD!

Unrelated to one another, I sit on an executive team, serve on a board, consult, advise, mentor, invest and seed my own commercial ambitions, and those of others, with ideas, referrals, creative outputs and capital. Some of it for gain, some just to lend a hand. I absolutely love it…all of it!

But if you meet me or work with me, I won’t come across rushed or stressed. I’ll have a lot of time. How is it possible? I have often wondered myself. This is not new, I have always been able to operate in this way, and have succeeded pretty well by most measures doing so.

Let’s be clear here, I don’t work excessive hours. I am balanced. I have plenty of quality time available for the people I love, to take care of my body and my mind, and to socialize and travel.

It happened naturally, but recently I have given it more serious thought in attempt to distill what it is that allows me to work in this way. There are a few things that contribute, but the way I manage how I interact with the people I work with is the most important.

The following four behaviors resonate with me and the way I work, and have all been identified in organisational research to be effective at reducing excessive collaboration. They are pertinent to people leading large teams or entrepreneurs that are battling to find time to work on strategy or creative elements of their businesses.

  1. Work as much as possible on the things are critical to YOUR OWN success

This means you can easily identify things that need doing, but that should be delegated or outsourced. In organisational settings, this often has the added bonus of creating a development opportunity for others.

2. Avoid the tendency to always stay in the loop and you won’t get nagged

When you always want to be kept in the loop you send the subliminal signal to collaborators that they don’t have the required authority to make choices, and they will keep bugging you!

Work with good people, make your requirements clear and get out of their way!

3. Don’t be too eager to help

When you are always stepping in to help people out you end up becoming an easy outlet for problems. You become seen as the problem solver.

The biggest waste in life has to be the waste of potential. When you are always rushing in to save the day because you know how/best, you don’t get to the things that stretch you as a person, and you deny others the opportunity to grow.

Resist it! Let people make mistakes…

And finally,

4. Be strategic about the channel you use to communicate

  • Face to face is crucial when the stakes are high, and early on so that you can pickup signs of misunderstanding and build trust and rapport.
  • Email is great when you need to document decisions and consensus, to follow up discretely or for official notifications. It’s useless in an emergency.
  • Pick up the phone instead of writing a long explanation when you see signs of confusion in the digital realm. You get on the same page quickly and can move on.
  • Team collaboration apps (Slack etc.) allow for the perfect blend of project management rigour, individual flexibility and monitoring and oversight…use them!

Well, there you have it…my contribution to the work productivity realm.

It will be an adjustment to do some of these things, but when you get used to them you will notice that you are free to be productive, and so is everyone else you are working with.

It will be liberating….try it!

Four principles underpin creative success in business and entrepreneurship! Learn them…

Good ideas don’t come out of thin air. The creative genius sitting in the corner is largely a myth. Some people consistently generate and refine great ideas, but most of these conceptual creatives are actually just well practiced (consciously or not) at following four key principles that underpin creative success.

That’s right, creativity is a science that you can both learn to be good at, and to institutionalize into your organisations.

In my various roles (Angel investor, startup founder, exec) I am responsible for driving innovation or assessing creative potential, and so I have studied creativity extensively. The latest research confirms my experience, and in short it boils down to four key principles which I summarize in this article.

  1. Volume. The more you do, the luckier you get.

It’s not always genius, it’s often math. The more ideas you come up with, the more chance there is that you will stumble on a good one.

The most successful creatives and inventors consistently pursue a large variety of ideas, concepts or creations within their field. For every idea that made it, there is a big pile of discarded sketches, sculptures, models and notebooks in the garage.

Research lots of ideas and document them. Create incentives for those you work with to do the same. Build structures for them to be communicated regularly.

2. Analogies. Existing concepts are the building blocks for new ideas.

All new creations are are actually unique combinations or applications of existing ones. The closest thing we have to a score for creative intelligence (that spark we all strive for), is just the ability to understand the general principles of how things work, and to apply these to new creative challenges.

You can think of creativity as making new images with pieces from a range of different puzzles. The more you know about how things work (or don’t), the better you will be able to link separate concepts together in new and useful ways.

Research and follow trends in your industry. Keep abreast of what technologies exist and what they can do. Make this part of peoples’ work. Put the structures in place to document, summarize and distribute these findings in your companies. Involve people with a variety of skills and points of view in your creative investigations.

If you do this, the spark will come. Do it until it does…see principle 1 above 😉

3. Manage milestones, not time. You can’t put creativity on the clock.

Ideas are not born fully formed. They are messy, and in the early stages the time and resources required to refine them are seldom known with enough certainty to plan the process accurately. Providing freedom to refine through trial and error is critical.

But I get it, you are not Picasso hibernating in a dark room. This is business, and in this context creative endeavours must achieve three miletones before they are adopted.

  • Technical feasibility – A fancy way of saying “Can it be done?”
  • Financial feasibility – A fancy way of saying “Will it be profitable?”

and most importantly…

  • Market feasibility – A fancy way of saying “Does the end user want it?”

You need a “yes” to all three of these questions. You shouldn’t continue or launch if you don’t get them. Allocate resources to finding these answers, and if you get a firm “no”, move on.

4. Discipline. Idle projects are wasted opportunities.

The habit of continuously chipping away at projects is key to creative success. When projects seem overwhelming, or when there is a “creative block”, it is still important to maintain momentum.

In both cases it helps to design simple tasks to inch the project slightly forward. This ensures it stays in mind and creates the space for the “accidental” discovery of a tangible way forward or a “no” to one of your milestones, in which case you can move on to more promising ideas.

I hope I have distilled how, as leaders of innovation in business, it is possible to institutionalize creativity. It’s not some magical thing, it can be managed!

Good luck…

AI & The Rise of the Machines – Time to plan for a quintessentially human future?

originally published on linkedin August 20, 2019

There is so much talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning at the moment, that it is hard to avoid writing something about it. If you dive into the landscape of commentary surrounding the topic you quickly realise that there are far fewer clear answers about the future impact of these technologies on people, jobs and businesses, than there are big ideas about the possibilities they will provide or apocalypses they may create.

This is just a pattern…which I am sure AI will soon also identify and hopefully tell us all to calm down.

When we discover something new and consequential, and we start to tinker around with it, we may think, “this is massive!” And because we realize we have something big, we either get excited and optimistic, or anxious and afraid. When there are many of us, we get both.

I’ll bet the answer will be somewhere in the middle.

The middle, for me, can be encapsulated in the following three predictions:

  1. These technologies will enhance our creative and collaborative opportunities.
  2. People, and therefore society, will have to endure some unpleasant change and adapt as certain roles and organisations lose their importance.
  3. Far from being replaced, the impact of humans will become even more obvious and enhanced.

I’ll justify all three of these predictions in more detail in a minute, but for now I present you with a question, one AI will no doubt already know the answer to…

Can you name a technological revolution in history that hasn’t satisfied all three of these predictions?

  1. These technologies will dramatically enhance our creative and collaborative opportunities.

Simply put, AI and machine learning technologies are advanced pattern recognition engines that improve as they go. What this means is that they will be incredibly good, in comparison to humans, at performing many routine tasks. They will even discover things we didn’t even know were routine i.e. patterns not previously envisaged.

This will not be good for certain jobs that have high degrees of routine mental functions, but it will be amazing for creative endeavors.

Creativity is really all about the volume of options we generate, and the ability to blend existing concepts together in new and useful ways. Technology that can reliably and quickly distill new patterns will give us more conceptual fuel for our creative fires.

That’s awesome! We get to pick from vastly more ideas and mashups to create cool stuff we want or need…what’s not to like about that?

These technologies will also increase our collaborative opportunities for two reasons. The more routine functions that can be performed by technology, the more opportunities we have to explore or curious, creative and interactive sides. Secondly, AI’s progress and trajectory in the areas of speech recognition, text to speech, speech to text, and translation look set make existing modes of digital communication significantly more accessible.

We will be able to collaborate with more people, in more places, over more channels, more often.

2. People, and therefore society, will have to endure some unpleasant change and adapt as certain roles and organisations lose their importance.

Make no mistake, lot’s of jobs are under serious threat. If your job involves high degrees of routine mental processing or diagnosis, you need to pivot or elevate very soon. Finance professionals, general practitioners, paralegals…heads up!

But very few jobs are completely routine, so what does it mean? It means that the number of people working in these fields will drop, and that the remodeled jobs in these fields will involve higher degrees of creativity or collaboration i.e. the bits of work AI lubricate well, not do on its own.

Take a good look at what you do, or what your business does. If you feel significant parts of your job/service are routine and that if systems were better integrated these tasks could be automated, it’s time to focus more on the creative, innovative and collaborative parts of your work…or if this isn’t possible, its time to move on….

But to where?

3. Far from being replaced, the impact of humans will become even more obvious and enhanced.

These technologies are set to be incredibly good at pattern recognition, to the extent that they may develop the potential to mimic human behavior, almost imperceptibly, in certain situations.

But the idea that being incredibly good at copying something, even emotional reactions, and knowing exactly which context to mimic that observed action in, is somehow the same as the intrinsic motivation humans experience to take action from a place of curiosity, love, joy, fear, or some other emotional state, is naive in the extreme.

Believing in this displays deep lack of understanding of the self and what it means to be human, and reduces us to drones, devoid of motivation, that respond to external stimuli in a particular set of predictable patterns.

That’s implausible, and to me…self-evident.

The alternative may be that these amazing stimulus-response machines one day leap across the chasm of consciousness and become self-motivated. But to believe that this will happen, in the complete absence of any intelligent theory as to how it might, or even any scientific or anecdotal evidence that may suggest it, is simply a giant leap of faith rather than a risk we need to mitigate.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need to plan for the future. We do, we just need to plan for a quintessentially human future. It’s hard to be specific about what that means, but I do know that increasingly I am focusing on elements of my work and investment life that are expressive, creative and connective.

But if you are thinking of retraining, or advising a kid on what career path to follow, one quintessentially human problem, evidenced by the alarming rise in “deaths of despair” in westernized societies, and one only real humans will be able to address, is poor mental and emotional health.

I don’t think its a stretch to assume that the rock-stars of the future will be those of us that make cool things, inspire others, or help people find happiness.

Create, teach, help…do two out of three to secure your future 😉