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Writings about the business of design and strategy.

The Next Smartphone Frontier: Prepaid

We live in a unique cellphone bubble in North America: We are the only region in the world where the majority of people get their cell phone service with a subscription. Here, prepaid phones are a fringe minority, relegated to lower-income populations, very infrequent users, and loaner phones. But in the rest of the world, prepaid phones vastly outnumber subscriptions, in some cases by 5-10x.

Don't Criminalize Test-Driving Your Competitors

In a talk earlier this year to employees, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop asked a question that many were probably afraid to answer truthfully, given how Nokia is struggling to combat the iPhone. As BusinessWeek described it:

Why iCloud Will be as Important as the iPod

Apple's World Wide Developers Conference keynote last week will be remembered for two things: the bloodbath of disrupted developers and apps it left in its wake, and that it was as important for cloud services as the iPod was for digital music, and that the iPhone was for smartphones.

Collaboration Is a Team Sport, and You Need to Warm Up

How do you build a collaborative mindset in a company? Collaboration needs to be seen as a process that happens over time, and that the crucial groundwork for successful collaboration needs to be laid before the "actual" collaborative work happens.

Thinking Big? Then Think Little Bets

I recently interviewed Peter Sims about his upcoming book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, as it tackles a topic that is near and dear to us at frog: trying a lot of ideas quickly in order to rapidly find the most promising one. Sometimes this can be seen as a scattershot approach, but if done smartly it is usually more reliable than an approach that puts a lot of effort behind a small number of risky bets.

Peter Sims is the coauthor with Bill George of True North, the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek best-selling book. Little Bets is published by Simon & Schuster: Free Press and will be available in mid-April.  Peter has had a long collaboration with faculty at Stanford’s Institute of Design (the, his work has appeared in Harvard Business ReviewTech Crunch, and Fortune, and he’s a contributor to the Reuters and Harvard Business Review blogs.  Previously, he worked in venture capital with Summit Partners, a leading investment company, including as part of the team that established the firm’s London Office.

Staying Ahead of Innovation Challenges

We recently hosted at frog a group of mid-career executives who are in the Global Executive MBA program at the IESE Business School in Barcelona. We have done this collaboration for several years now, and it's enlightening to see how the students are facing an ever-changing set of innovation challenges. Given the diversity of countries and industries (everything from energy to telecom, government to nonprofit) and company sizes (multinationals to startups) there are some striking commonalities that emerge. See if these feel familiar, and consider if they are trending up or down for your business:

Thirty Years Ago the Future Arrived: The Sinclair ZX81

ZX81 photo by Mikey Walters

Thirty years ago, on March 5, 1981, in England, a small black box was unleashed onto the world that almost single-handidly created the home computer revolution in the UK: The Sinclair ZX81. To a teenage boy with no particular interest in computers to that point, it was like being handed my own spacecraft, a sleek slab of the future.

The Wonder of Craft

I really enjoy watching people who are superb at their craft: I like watching them while they are practicing their craft, and I like hearing them talking about it. The various "How It's Made" type shows are one window into this for mass-manufactured items, but they are too depersonalized and miss the stories about the people doing the making; even on a manufacturing line, people are not robots, no matter how much that might be desirable from an efficiency standpoint. But often what you find is that a lot of mass manufacturing also requires a lot of skill and implicit knowledge, knowing how to make small adjustments and deal with unexpected contingencies on the fly, which can only be gained with experience over time. Finding out how skillful people do this and watching them do it with apparent ease is fantastic.

Mad Men Offices, Silicon Valley Style

I was going through my image archives and ran across these photos I hastily took with a cameraphone one time when I had a chance to visit Hewlett-Packard's HQ in Palo Alto, and see the offices of the founders, William Hewlett and David Packard. The offices have been preserved just as the founders left them when they retired, and they are a great time capsule within one of the most technologically advanced companies on the planet.

The two offices, back to back. They are in the building that now houses HP Labs.

Lessons in Adaptive Strategy

Here's a company I can be pretty sure you've never heard of: Grace Manufacturing. I'd never heard of it either until this New York Times profile, though I've seen and used its products — "microplanes" for shaving cloud-like piles of parmesan, truffles, and other high-end ingredients. Microplanes for kitchens now make up 65% of the company's revenue, yet it was a product category completely different from what Grace started out doing, and only got into reluctantly. It's a fascinating example of questioning assumptions about your business domain when under pressure, staying alert to customer needs, and being open to opportunities as they appear.