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July 23, 2014

How Sega Came Out of Nowhere to Leapfrog Near-Monopolist Nintendo



ConsoleWarsBk2014-06-05.jpg

















Source of book image: http://images.eurogamer.net/2014/usgamer/original.jpg/EG11/resize/958x-1/format/jpg



(p. C10) "Console Wars" tells how Sega, an unremarkable Japanese manufacturer of games played in arcades, came out of nowhere to challenge Nintendo for dominance of the videogame world in the first half of the 1990s. Nintendo, which had revived the stagnant home videogame category a few years earlier, had something close to a monopoly in 1990 and behaved accordingly, dictating terms to game developers and treating retailers as peons. Sega, in Mr. Harris's telling, was a disruptive force in a highly concentrated market, introducing more advanced gaming technology, toppling Nintendo from its perch and becoming the largest seller of home videogame hardware in the U.S. by late 1993.

Mr. Harris's hero is a former Mattel executive named Tom Kalinske, who became president of Sega of America, then a small subsidiary, in 1990. Mr. Kalinske assembled a team of crack marketers who would not have gone near Sega but for his reputation and persuasiveness. Within a year and a half, according to Mr. Harris, Mr. Kalinske's leadership, along with a new gaming system called Genesis and a marketing assist from a mascot named Sonic the Hedgehog, made Sega the U.S. market leader in videogames.

And then, after only three years at the top, Sega fell from its pedestal. Sega's management in Japan, suffering mightily from not-invented-here syndrome, rejected Mr. Kalinske's proposals to collaborate with Sony and Silicon Graphics on new gaming systems. Instead, over his objections, Sega pushed out its ill-conceived Saturn game console in 1995. While Saturn flopped, Sony struck gold with its PlayStation; Silicon Graphics sold its chip with amazing graphics capabilities to Nintendo; and the game, so to speak, was over.


. . .


The author admits he has taken liberties: "I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the historical record," he writes. The result is more a 558-page screenplay than a credible work of nonfiction.



For the full review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Sonic Boom; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 24, 2014): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 23, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'Console Wars' by Blake J. Harris; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won.")


The book under review is:

J., Harris Blake. Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.






April 11, 2014

Edison, Not Antitrust, Reduced Power of Hated Gas Monopolies




Counterbalancing the angst of those hurt by the death of an old technology is sometimes the triumph creative destruction provides to those who were less well-served by the old technology. Some look to governments to restrain a dominant technology; but sometimes a more effective way is to replace the old technology through creative destruction's leapfrog competition.


(p. 84) Gaslight monopolies had few friends outside of the ranks of shareholders. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, gaslight had been viewed as pure and clean; seventy years later, its shortcomings had become all too familiar: it was dirty, soiled interior furnishings, and emit-(p. 85)ted unhygienic fumes. It was also expensive, affordable for indoor lighting only in the homes of the wealthy, department stores, or government buildings. The New York Times almost spat out the following description of how gas companies conducted business: "They practically made the bills what they pleased, for although they read off the quantity by the meter, that instrument was their own, and they could be made to tell a lie of any magnitude.... Everybody has always hated them with a righteous hatred."

Edison credited the gas monopoly for providing his original motivation to experiment with electric light years before in his Newark laboratory. Recalling in October 1878 his unpleasant dealings years earlier with the local gas utility, which had threatened to tear out their meter and cut off the gas, Edison said, "When I remember how the gas companies used to treat me, I must say that it gives me great pleasure to get square with them." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed an editorial titled "Revenge Is Sweet" in which it observed that the general public greatly enjoyed the discomfort of the gas companies, too: "To see them squirm and writhe is a public satisfaction that lifts Edison to a higher plane than that of the wonderful inventor and causes him to be regarded as a benefactor of the human race, the leading deity of popular idolatry."



Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






January 14, 2013

With iTunes, Apple Leapfrogged CD Burners (a Boat Apple Had Missed)




Is the example sketched below, and in a previous entry, a case of a first mover disadvantage? Or is it simply a case of a lucky or wise bounce-back from a genuine mistake?


(p. 382) . . . [Job's] angry insistence that the iMac get rid of its tray disk drive and use instead a more elegant slot drive meant that it could not include the first CD burners, which were initially made for the tray format. "We kind of missed the boat on that," he recalled. "So we needed to catch up real fast." The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but also that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Job's" added.)






January 10, 2013

Apple "Finding a Way to Leapfrog Over Its Competitors"




Isaacson says Jobs wanted two refinements in the iMac. One was new colors. The other is discussed below.

I am not sure what to make of this episode. Is Isaacson suggesting that it was good for Apple that Jobs made a mistake on the type of CD hardware to put in the iMac? That this added constraint "would then force Apple to be imaginative and bold"?

Or is the moral that good people who make a lot of quick decisions, make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, and that Jobs found a way to bounce back from this one?


(p. 356) There was one other important refinement that Jobs wanted for the iMac: getting rid of that detested CD tray. "I'd seen a slot-load drive on a very high-end Sony stereo," he said, "so I went to the drive manufacturers and got them to do a slot-load drive for us for the version of the iMac we did nine months later." Rubinstein tried to argue him out of the change. He predicted that new drives would come along that could burn music onto CDs rather than merely play them, and they would be available in tray form before they were made to work in slots. "If you go to slots, you will always be behind on the technology," Rubinstein argued.

"I don't care, that's what I want," Jobs snapped back. They were having lunch at a sushi bar in San Francisco, and Jobs insisted that they continue the conversation over a walk. "I want you to do the slot-load drive for me as a personal favor," Jobs asked. Rubinstein agreed, of course, but he turned out to be right. Panasonic came out with a CD drive that could rip and burn music, and it was available first for computers that had old-fashioned tray loaders. The effects of this (p. 357) would ripple over the next few years: It would cause Apple to be slow in catering to users who wanted to rip and burn their own music, but that would then force
Apple to be imaginative and bold in finding a way to leapfrog over its competitors when Jobs finally realized that he had to get into the music market.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






July 24, 2010

Android App Phones Play "One Seriously Crazy Game of Leapfrog"



DroidXphone2010-07-05.jpg












"The Droid X is the latest "best Android phone on the market."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) You think technology moves too fast now? You think your camera, camcorder and computer become obsolete quickly?

Try buying an app phone. In this business, the state of the art changes as often as Lady Gaga changes outfits.

Suppose, for example, that you want one of the increasingly popular phones that run Google's Android software.

Last November, you might have been tempted by the Motorola Droid, "the best Android phone on the market." A month later, the HTC Hero was "the best Android phone on the market." By January, "the best Android phone yet" was the Nexus One. In April, "the best Android device that you can purchase" was the HTC Incredible. In May, "the best Android phone on the market" was the Sprint Evo.

Either "the best Android phone on the market" is a tech critic's tic, or we're witnessing one seriously crazy game of leapfrog.

The latest buzz is about the Motorola Droid X, which Verizon will offer in mid-July for $200.


. . .


(p. B8) . . . , it's thrilling to see the array of excellent app phones that the original iPhone begat. If you who crave power, speed, flexibility, dropless calls an almost-Imax screen and Verizon's network (as opposed to Sprint and its similar Evo), the Droid X is a big, beautiful contender for the "best Android phone on the market" crown.

This month's crown, anyway.





For the full story, see:

DAVID POGUE. "State of the Art; Big Phone, Big Screen, Big Pleasure." The New York Times (Thurs., July 1, 2010): B1 & B8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 30, 2010.)





May 5, 2010

Leapfrog Competition in the Wine Industry



PlasticCork2010-05-04.jpg

"A machine makes Portugal whine." Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) ZEBULON, N.C.--In a nondescript factory in this small, wooded town, 10 giant machines worked around the clock last year to churn out 1.4 billion plastic corks, enough to circle the earth 1.33 times if laid end-to-end.

Unknown to most American wine drinkers, the plant's owner, Nomacorc LLC, has quietly revolutionized the 400-year-old wine-cork industry. Since the 1600s, wine has been bottled almost exclusively with natural cork, a porous material that literally grows on trees in Portugal, Spain and other Mediterranean lands.

But over the past 10 years, an estimated 20% of the bottle stopper market has been replaced by a new technology--plastic corks that cost between 2 and 20 cents apiece. More than one in 10 full-sized wine bottles sold worldwide now come with a Nomacorc plug, while another 9% or so come from other plastic cork makers. Screw caps took another 11% of the market.

"We infuriated the cork industry," says Marc Noel, Nomacorc's chairman.


. . .


The story of how Nomacorc and other stop-(p. A10)per upstarts broke the centuries-old cork monopoly is a lesson in how innovation, timing and hustle combined to exploit an opening in a once airtight market. It shows that any dominant industry can be vulnerable to competition, especially if it grows complacent about its position.



For the full story, see:

TIMOTHY AEPPEL. "Show Stopper: How Plastic Popped the Cork Monopoly." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 1, 2010): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


CorkPieChart2010-05-04.gif













Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






January 9, 2010

Bose Leapfrogs the Competition in Defense of Your Peace and Quiet



BoseQuietComfort15.jpg"The Bose QuietComfort 15 has refined circuitry and redesigned earcaps." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B8) . . . , if your sales are getting eaten alive by cheaper rivals, and you don't want to play the price game, you have only one option: play leapfrog. Make your gadget so much better than the me-toos that people will be willing to pay your premium once again.

That's the idea behind Bose's new QuietComfort 15 model ($300), which replaces the QuietComfort 2.


. . .


First, the QC15 model really, truly does advance the art of noise cancellation -- big time. The QC 2 headphones and my Panasonics cut the airplane roar by half. But the 15 reduced it by, say, 85 percent, leaving only a distant, whispery whoosh to remind you that you're in an aluminum tube 39,000 feet up in the air. Taking them off after a while, as you'll want to do because your ears get sweaty, is like walking into a rock concert when you've been outside the building.




For the full story, see:

DAVID POGUE. "State of the Art; Ho Ho Ho? You Won't Hear a Thing." The New York Times (Thurs., December 3, 2009): B1 & B8.

(Note: the online version of the article is "State of the Art; Bose's Latest Headphones Can Quell the Clangor" and is dated December 2, 2009.)

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 17, 2009

Electric Mitsubishis and Nissans May Leapfrog Hybrid Toyotas



(p. B6) Both Nissan and Mitsubishi have their own reasons for rushing out an all-electric car. Having invested little in hybrids, they hope to leapfrog straight to the next technology.


. . .


"You don't see many competing technologies survive in a key market for very long," said Mr. Shimizu, the Keio University professor.

And more often than not in the history of innovation, a change in the dominant technology means a change in the market leader.

"Electric cars are a disruptive technology, and Toyota knows that," Mr. Shimizu said. "I wouldn't say Toyota is killing the electric vehicle. Perhaps Toyota is scared."



For the full story, see:

HIROKO TABUCHI. "The Electric Slide." The New York Times (Thursday, August 20, 2009): B1 & B6.

(Note: The online version of the article had the title: "Toyota, Hybrid Innovator, Holds Back in Race to Go Electric.")

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 4, 2008

The Benefits from the Discovery of Sulfa, the First Antibiotic


I quoted a review of The Demon Under the Microscope in an entry from October 12, 2006. I finally managed to read the book, last month.

I don't always agree with Hager's interpretation of events, and his policy advice, but he writes well, and he has much to say of interest about how the first anti-bacterial antibiotic, sulfa, was developed.

In the coming weeks, I'll be highlighting a few key passages of special interest. In today's entry, below, Hager nicely summarizes the importance of the discovery of antibiotics for his (and my) baby boom generation.

(p. 3) I am part of that great demographic bulge, the World War II "Baby Boom" generation, which was the first in history to benefit from birth from the discovery of antibiotics. The impact of this discovery is difficult to overstate. If my parents came down with an ear infection as babies, they were treated with bed rest, painkillers, and sympathy. If I came down with an ear infection as a baby, I got antibiotics. If a cold turned into bronchitis, my parents got more bed rest and anxious vigilance; I got antibiotics. People in my parents' generation, as children, could and all too often did die from strep throats, infected cuts, scarlet fever, meningitis, pneumonia, or any number of infectious diseases. I and my classmates survived because of antibiotics. My parents as children, and their parents before them, lost friends and relatives, often at very early ages, to bacterial epidemics that swept through American cities every fall and winter, killing tens of thousands. The suddenness and inevitability of these epidemic deaths, facts of life before the 1930s, were for me historical curiosities, artifacts of another age. Antibiotics virtually eliminated them. In many cases, much-feared diseases of my grandparents' day---erysipelas, childbed fever, cellulitis---had become so rare they were nearly extinct. I never heard the names.


Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.




November 15, 2008

Leapfrog Competition in the Smartphone Industry


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Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) In recent years Palm lost its way. Its share of the smartphone market has been halved to about 16.9 percent over the last two years. First, Research in Motion found the sweet spot of business users with its BlackBerry. More recently, Apple grabbed consumers' fancy with the iPhone.

Palm has tried to innovate beyond the five-year-old Treo with little effect. It announced with great fanfare last year that it would build the Foleo, a cross between a smartphone and notebook computer, only to cancel the project three months later. While cellphone makers like Samsung, LG and R.I.M. brought out products to compete with the iPhone, Palm has told Treo loyalists and investors to be patient. They will need to be. Palm's stock price is down 90 percent since its high in March 2000.

Mr. Rubinstein, the executive chairman, said he is convinced he can bring Palm back. "Everyone is trying to make an iPhone killer," he said. "We are trying to make a killer Palm product."



For the full story, see:

LAURA M. HOLSON. "Palm, Once a Leader, Seeks Path in Smartphone Jungle." The New York Times (Weds., August 20, 2008): C1 & C5.


ColliganRubensteinPalmExecs.jpg "Ed Colligan, left, Palm's chief executive, and Jon Rubinstein, the executive chairman, who was hired to revive the company." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




October 24, 2008

L.E.D.'s as the Next Leapfrog Advance in Light



A few years ago I presented a paper at the meetings of Society for Social Studies of Science in which I mentioned Nordhaus's wonderful paper in which he measures advances in technology that produce illumination. Some of the technologies represent leapfrog advances that are part of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.

At the end of my presentation, a member of the audience gave me a reference to the new L.E.D. light technology that he suggested was the next leapfrog advance. (Alas, I do not remember his name.)


(p. C3) L.E.D. bulbs, with their brighter light and longer life, have already replaced standard bulbs in many of the nation's traffic lights. Indeed, the red, green and yellow signals are -- aside from the tiny blinking red light on a DVD player, a cellphone or another electronic device -- probably the most familiar application of the technology.

But it is showing up in more prominent spots. The ball that descends in Times Square on New Year's Eve is illuminated with L.E.D.'s. And the managers of the Empire State Building are considering a proposal to light it with L.E.D. fixtures, which would allow them to remotely change the building's colors to one of millions of variations.

. . .

The problem, though, is the price. A standard 60-watt incandescent usually costs less than $1. An equivalent compact fluorescent is about $2. But in Europe this September, Philips, the Dutch company dealing in consumer electronics, health care machines and lighting, is to introduce the Ledino, its first L.E.D. replacement for a standard incandescent. Priced at $107 a bulb, it is unlikely to have more than a few takers.

"L.E.D. performance is there, but the price is not," said Kevin Dowling, a Philips Lighting vice president . . .

. . .

"The Marcus Center lighting will require no maintenance for 15 years," Mr. Gregory said. "That's a dream for a lighting designer."

But he does not expect standard bulbs to disappear totally. Just as the invention of the light bulb did not completely kill the candle and kerosene lamp markets, Mr. Gregory said, "there will always be a need for incandescent bulbs. They will never totally go away."

"The way an incandescent bulb plays on the face on a Broadway makeup mirror," he said, "you can never duplicate that."



For the full story, see:

ERIC A. TAUB. "Fans of L.E.D.'s Say This Bulb's Time Has Come." The New York Times (Mon., July 28, 2008): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The reference to the Nordhaus paper is:

Nordhaus, William D. "Do Real-Output and Real-Wage Measures Capture Reality? The History of Light Suggests Not." In The Economics of New Goods, edited by Robert J. Gordon and Timothy F. Bresnahan, Chicago: University of Chicago Press for National Bureau of Economic Research, 1997, pp. 29-66.


LEDsNewYearsBallFullSpectrum.jpg "The full spectrum of color, design and programming available for the Times Square ball." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





October 17, 2008

"Leapfrog Over the Other Players in Their Industry"


(p. 152) The early market is driven by the demands of visionaries for offerings that create dramatic competitive advantages of the sort that would allow them to leapfrog over the other players in their industry.


Source:

Moore, Geoffrey A. Living on the Fault Line: Managing for Shareholder Value in the Age of the Internet. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000.




October 12, 2008

Leapfrog Competition Among Three Firms in Jet-Engine Oligopoly


GearedTurboFanEnginePrattWhitney.jpg "Pratt & Whitney hopes its Geared Turbo Fan engine will defy skeptics and win it a spot on the next generation of jets from Boeing and Airbus." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) Once every 20 years or so, the companies that make jet engines battle it out for a chance to power the next generation of single-aisle airplanes.

. . .

General Electric Co. unveiled plans to develop a new family of engine cores that it said would vault it ahead of United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney, which has a two-year head start on a novel engine that promises to burn 12% less fuel than today's best engines.

GE, which is working with French partner Safran SA, said its engine will have fewer moving parts than Pratt & Whitney's, and will deliver equal or better performance. "We've been pretty quiet for the last couple of years, but we've been doing plenty of work in secret," said GE Aviation President David Joyce, in an interview. "So be it. Game on."

. . .

Besides GE and Pratt & Whitney, the other major player in the industry is Britain's Rolls-Royce PLC. Hoping to dominate the market, all three companies plan to spend well over $1 billion on their new engines, stretching the limits of their technology. Developing fuel-efficient engines requires the use of exotic alloys and ceramic coatings that can cope with internal engine temperatures that would be above the melting points of untreated metal components.

The next generation of engines may look radically different from those used today. One design that GE and Rolls-Royce are exploring separately would have a double row of propellers at the (p. B3) back end of the engine, with no protective covering. Such an engine would be noisier and significantly slower than today's planes. It also would have to be mounted at the rear of the airplane, but the companies say it would consume as much as 24% less fuel.

. . .

Pratt & Whitney had hoped to get a boost in the engine race by promoting a design called the Geared Turbo Fan. It uses a gearbox at the front of the engine that allow various fans and compressors to turn at different speeds for greater efficiency and less noise. . . .

. . .

The company has been working on the gear technology for almost 20 years, investing almost $1 billion so far, Mr. Finger said. He said that in addition to fuel and emissions savings, the new engine will cut noise by a factor of two and reduce maintenance by 40% because it will have fewer moving parts throughout the engine.



For the full story, see:

J. LYNN LUNSFORD and DANIEL MICHAELS. "Jet-Engine Makers Launch New War; Billions of Dollars at Stake in Race To Develop Efficient Power Source For Next Wave of Boeing, Airbus Planes." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 14, 2008): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)


GearedTurboFanEnginePrattWhitneyDiagram.jpg "GE is creating an engine with fewer moving parts than Pratt & Whitney's design, and seeks to deliver equal or better performance." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.




September 7, 2008

Venter's Use of ESTs "Leapfrogged" his X-Chromosome Proposal


(p. 82) Venter dubbed the fragments "expressed sequence tags," or ESTs for short.

. . .

Venter was ecstatic. He had veered wildly off course from his approved plan of research, but the risk had paid off. While the Human Genome Project grant committee was still dragging its feet over his X-chromosome proposal, he had already leapfrogged ahead of that idea and found a way to go forward even faster, using his ESTs. Venter wrote Watson to let him know what he was up to, hoping to win his approval and some funding to continue the EST project.



Reference to book:

Shreeve, James. The Genome War: How Craig Venter Tried to Capture the Code of Life and Save the World. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




September 4, 2008

McCain Proposes Prize to "Leapfrog" Battery Technology


McCainBatteryPrize.jpg "Campaigning Monday in Fresno, Calif., Senator John McCain said, if elected, he would offer $300 million to anyone who could build a more efficient car battery." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) FRESNO, Calif. -- In the 18th century the British offered a £20,000 prize to anyone who figured out how to calculate longitude. More recently, Netflix offered a million dollars for improving movie recommendations on its Web site. Now Senator John McCain is suggesting a new national prize: He said here Monday that if elected president he would offer $300 million to anyone who could build a better car battery.

. . .

"I further propose we inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people," Mr. McCain said, "by offering a $300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

He said the winner should deliver power at 30 percent of current costs. "That's one dollar, one dollar, for every man, woman and child in the U.S. -- a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," he said.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL COOPER. "McCain Proposes a $300 Million Prize for a Next-Generation Car Battery." The New York Times (Tues., June 24, 2008): A15 & A20
.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




September 3, 2008

"Leapfrog-type Competition"


Below is the abstract of a paper that mentions "leapfrog-type competition." Appendix 2 of the paper (pp. 143-144) attempts to set down a mathematical model of leapfrog competition.

(p. 135) This paper examines competition patterns and competitive strategies when technology changes continually. It first discusses optimal behavior for investment in technology. It is argued that although technological innovations supersede existing technologies, there are economically justifiable barriers to investing in the new technologies. These economic barriers, coupled with continuous technological change, have implications for certain aspects of strategy, such as entry by means of new technologies, timing of entry, leapfrog-type competition, vertical integration, the productivity dilemma, and escalating commitment. Finally, the industrial transformation of the steel industry is used as an example to illustrate these implications.


The reference for the paper is:

Tang, Ming-Je, and S. Zannetos Zenon. "Competition under Continuous Technological Change." Managerial and Decision Economics 13, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1992): 135-48.




July 7, 2008

"Become Pioneers of Leapfrog Technology"


Here is the latest entry in my continuing effort to document uses of the "leapfrog" concept in business and innovation. The entry below appears in a table entitled "Strategy Milestones" and is under the third of three column headings, which is entitled "Long Term (5+ Years)."

(p. 149) Become pioneers of leapfrog technology

Source:

Bossidy, Larry, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York: Crown Business, 2002.

(Note: the quotation is presented as being Bossidy's.)




May 3, 2008

Greenspan on Leapfrogging in India


(p. 316) India is fast becoming two entities: a rising kernal of world-class modernity within a historic culture that has been for the most part stagnating for generations.

This kernal of modernity appears to have largely leapfrogged the twentieth-century labor-intensive manuafacturing-for-export model embraced by China and the rest of East Asia.


Source:

Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World Economic Flexibility. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.




November 23, 2007

Motorola Hurt By Failing to Leapfrog Itself

 

MotorolaStockRazrBurn.gif   Source of graph:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

Clayton Christensen, in a series of books, has highlighted why it is difficult for a successful incumbent to prepare a successor for its own winning product.  The Motorola case below is another example.

Note, though, that Motorola's failure is not the understandable one of failing to prepare what Christensen calls a "disruptive innovation."  If the story below is right, it is a case of the less understandable failure to continue to deliver with what Christensen calls "sustaining innovation."

 

(p. A1)  A year ago, Motorola Inc. appeared headed for a third straight year of rich profits under Chief Executive Ed Zander, driven by its hit cellphone the Razr. "A lot of you are always asking what is after the Razr," Mr. Zander said in an April 2006 conference call after another quarter of 30%-plus growth. "I say more Razrs."

But behind the scenes, Motorola was working furiously to get a successor phone to market by the second half of 2006, according to people familiar with the matter. When it failed to do so, profit margins on handsets narrowed and the company swung to a loss. Key executives left. And as the stock slid, activist investor Carl Icahn built up a position and began campaigning for a board seat to address what he called Motorola's "operational problems."

Motorola's travails illustrate the risks for a company that rides high with a big consumer hit. Amid its success with the Razr, it fell behind on developing a phone with the next generation of technology. Missing a beat is especially hazardous in cellphones, where it can take two to three years to develop a new line.

. . .

(p. A14)  As the Razr grew hot, some former designers and engineers say Motorola repeated mistakes it had made a decade earlier with another big hit, the compact flip-top phone known as the StarTAC. That phone was a huge seller, but it also was an analog phone, and its popularity blinded the company to an industry shift to digital technology. Similarly, while Motorola was selling countless Razrs, competitors were hard at work on more sophisticated products for 3G networks.

Motorola put engineers and designers who could have been working on new products on the Razr and its derivatives, some former executives say. "All resources went to feeding the beast," says a former Motorola designer. "Suddenly, you created this thing that requires a lot of energy and attention." Other former executives dispute that the focus on the Razr diverted work from other products and contend Motorola was right to ride the still-popular Razr as long as possible.

 

For the full story, see: 

CHRISTOPHER RHOADS and LI YUAN.  "DROPPED CALL; How Motorola Fell A Giant Step Behind; As It Milked Thin Phone, Rivals Sneaked Ahead On the Next Generation."   The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., April 27, 2007):  A1  & A14. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The most complete source of Christensen's theory and examples is:  

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

 

ZanderEdMotorolaCEO.gif  Motorola CEO.  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




July 13, 2007

"The Companies Are Leapfrogging One Another"

 

. . .  More than 17 million travel insurance policies are sold each year, according to the United States Travel Insurance Association, whose members have seen a surge in interest since Sept. 11, 2001. Policies typically cost between 4 percent and 7 percent of the price of the trip, with fees based on the traveler’s age and on the cost and length of the trip.

As the market matures, “the companies are leapfrogging one another” to expand coverage, said Chris Harvey, chief executive of Squaremouth.com, an online travel insurance agency. “One will come out with $50,000 medical, the next $100,000.”

More traditional travel insurance policies reimburse travelers who are forced to cancel because of weather, airline strikes, acts of terrorism that affect their destinations, serious illness or the death of the traveler or a close family member. Typical policies also provide coverage for medical emergencies, lost or damaged luggage, and major travel delays. But until recently travelers weren’t reimbursed if they simply changed their minds and decided not to go. AIG Travel Guard’s new Cancel for Any Reason add-on coverage, offered on two different package plans, reimburses 75 percent of the trip expenses if a traveler cancels a covered trip up to two days before departure — no questions asked. It follows a similar policy introduced by TravelSafe Insurance in 2005.

This flexibility comes at a price — 30 percent to 40 percent more than for standard coverage. But the option may be worth considering if you want the flexibility of changing your travel plans at any time without losing the bulk of what you paid.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHELLE HIGGINS.  "PRACTICAL TRAVELER | TRIP INSURANCE; Protecting Against the Dread ‘What If?’"  The New York Times, Section 5  (Sun., May 6, 2007):  6. 

(Note:  the ellipsis and the bold were added.)

 




May 20, 2007

Should Netscape Be Viewed as a Failed Company, or as a Successful Project?

 

(p. 53)  Recall the story of Netscape, once the darling of the New Economy.  Netscape was formed in 1994.  It went public in 1995.  And by 1999, it was gone, purchased by America Online and subsumed into AOL's operation.  Life span:  four years.  Half-life:  two years.  Was Netscape a company---or was it really a project?  Does the distinction even matter?  What matters most is that this short-lived entity put several products on the market, prompted established companies (notably Microsoft) to shift strategies, and (p. 54) equipped a few thousand individuals with experience, wealth, and connections that they could bring to their next project.

And Netscape is not alone.  A University of Texas study found that between 1970 and 1992, the half-life of Texas businesses shrank by 50 percent.  Likewise, a Federal Reserve analysis of New York companies found that the type of firm that created the most new jobs (microbusineses with fewer than ten employees) often had the shortest life span.  The life cycle of companies has been that jobs, too, have diminishing half-lives.  Ten years ago, nobody ever heard of a Web developer.  Ten years from now, nobody may remember Web developers.

Most important, at the very moment the longevity of companies is shrinking, the longevity of individuals is expanding.  Unlike Americans in the twentieth century, most of us today can expect to outlive just about any organization for which we work.  It's hard to imagine a lifelong job at an organization whose lifetime will be shorter--often much shorter--than your own.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




April 22, 2007

Dilbert's New Product Leapfrogs the iPod

 

  Source:  scanned from Omaha World-Herald (Fri., April 20, 2007):  7E.

 

Today's entry is part of my continuing effort to document the concept of "leapfrog" competition, which I take to be Schumpeterian in spirit, though I have never found anywhere that Schumpeter himself used it.

 




April 16, 2007

Leapfrog the Elevator Competition into a Blue Ocean

 

(p. 178)  They wanted to cut waste, freeing people to produce higher-quality elevators faster at lower cost to leapfrog the competition.  But plant employees could not have known that.

 

Source: 

Kim, W. Chan, and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2005.

 




April 8, 2007

Kodak Tries to Survive Creative Destruction

   A Kodak digital production printer.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

Digital photography replacing film technology is an example of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction, and maybe also of the gradual growth of a disruptive technology.  Leading incumbent firms frequently have trouble prospering, or even surviving, during such a change.  Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times had articles on the latest news from Kodak.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times version:  

 

On Tuesday, as the Eastman Kodak Company unveiled its long-anticipated consumer inkjet printer in New York, the mood at the company’s Rochester headquarters could not have been more positive.

“People know we are back on the offensive,” said Frank Sklarsky, Kodak’s chief financial officer.  “And that’s making them a lot more charged up about coming to work.”

But yesterday, Kodak gave them reason again to feel depressed.  The company said it would cut 3,000 more jobs this year, on top of the 25,000 to 27,000 it had already said would be gone by the end of 2007.  At that rate, Kodak will end the year with about 30,000 employees, half the number of just three years ago and a fraction of the 145,000 people it employed in 1988, when its brand was synonymous with photography.

Kodak executives insist that the new cuts do not indicate any snags in the continuing struggle to transform itself from a film-based company into a major competitor in digital imagery.  And analysts, too, say the cuts are inevitable, and probably healthy.

 

For the full NYT story, see: 

CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH.  "Shrinking Pains at Kodak."  The New York Times   (Fri., February 9, 2007): C1 & C4.

 

For the related WSJ story, see: 

WILLIAM M. BULKELEY and ANGELA PRUITT.  "Kodak Sees More Job Cuts, Higher Restructuring Costs."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., February 9, 2007):  B4.

 

 

 KodakJobsBarGraph.gif KodakJobsGraph.gif PrinterMarketSharePieChart.gif   Source of the first and third graphic:  the WSJ article cited above.  Source of the second graphic:  the NYT article cited above.

 




April 5, 2007

Jim Collins on How Boeing Leapfrogged McDonnell Douglas

(p. 202)  Wisely, through the 1940s, Boeing had stayed away from the commercial sphere, an arena in which McDonnell Douglas had vastly superior abilities in the smaller, propeller-driven planes that composed the commercial fleet.  In the early 1950s, however, Boeing saw an opportunity to leapfrog McDonnell Douglas by marrying its experience with large air-(p. 203)craft to its understanding of jet engines. 

 

Source:

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. And Others Don't. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.

 




December 11, 2006

Playstation 3 Fails to Leapfrog Xbox 360

  If Schiesel's review is on-target, these shoppers, waiting to buy Playstation 3, may regret having camped-out at the store to be among the first to buy the new game platform.  Source of photo:  http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/11/17/business/15game1.650.jpg

 

(p. B1)  Howard Stringer, you have a problem.  Your company’s new video game system just isn’t that great.

Ever since Mr. Stringer took the helm last year at Sony, the struggling if still formidable electronics giant, the world has been hearing about how the coming PlayStation 3 would save the company, or at least revitalize it.  Even after Microsoft took the lead in the video-game wars a year ago with its innovative and powerful Xbox 360, Sony blithely insisted that the PS3 would leapfrog all competition to deliver an unsurpassed level of fun.

Put bluntly, Sony has failed to deliver on that promise.

Measured in megaflops, gigabytes and other technical benchmarks, the PlayStation 3 is certainly the world’s most powerful game console.  It falls far short, however, of providing the world’s most engaging overall entertainment experience.  There is a big difference, and Sony seems to have confused one for the other.

The PS3, which was introduced in North America on Friday with a hefty $599 price tag for the top version, certainly delivers gorgeous graphics.  But they are not discernibly prettier than the Xbox 360’s.  More important, the whole PlayStation 3 system is surprisingly clunky to use and simply does not provide many basic functions that users have come to expect, especially online.

 

For the full commentary, see:

SETH SCHIESEL.  "VIDEO GAMES; A Weekend Full of Quality Time With PlayStation 3."  The New York Times  (Mon., November 20, 2006):  B1 & B7.

(Note:  the bold has been added to "leapfrog.")

 




November 12, 2006

"Bet the Company"

When entrepreneurs, or innovative companies, take large risks, and succeed, we sometimes begrudge them their success.  But we should remember that sometimes they took great risks, and that they could have lost everything if they had lost the 'bets' they made.

One of the most famous examples of 'betting the company' is when Tom Watson, Jr. of IBM 'bet the company' on the development of the expensive, but pathbreaking, system 360.  

This episode is mentioned many places.  One that I ran across recently is in Gerstner's memoir of his own time at IBM.  The following lines appear in Gerstner's brief summary of some important periods in IBM's earlier history:

Much has been written about this period and how Tom "bet the company" on a revolutionary new product line called the System/360---the original name of IBM's wildly successful mainframe family.

To grasp what System/360 did for IBM and its effect on the computing landscape, one needs to look no further than Microsoft, its Windows operating system, and the PC revolution.  System/360 was the Windows of its era---an era that IBM led for nearly three decades.  (p. 114)

 

The reference to the Gerstner book, is: 

Gerstner, Louis V., Jr.  Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change. New York:  HarperCollins, 2002.




November 10, 2006

Gerstner Mentions "Leapfrog Competition"

After hearing a "leapfrog competition" mention in Gerstner's book, I did a phrase search in Amazon.  Apparently he uses the phrase once, as follows:

 

(p. 159)  This doesn't mean it wasn't a good transaction for AT&T.  It allowed AT&T to leapfrog its competitors.  But for IBM it was a strategic coup.

 

The book is:

Gerstner, Louis V., Jr. Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.




October 18, 2006

"Man in White Suit" Science Fiction, Now Nearly Science Fact

PART of what sold James Tirey on a change in attire was the coffee spilled on his legs during a rough flight.  ''It stayed sticky until it dried,'' he said, ''about mid-Atlantic.''

To avoid such incidents, he bought a new pair of pants with an invisible, high-tech surface suited to the exigencies of business travel.  These pants look and feel like most others, but the ingenious finish on the fabric is different:  it is made of tiny, nanosized particles that repel water, ketchup, honey, blood, vinaigrette and a thousand other potential indignities.  With such a surface, he said, ''if coffee is spilled on you, it just beads up'' or runs off.  The pants can be wiped with a paper napkin -- even the skimpy cocktail kind handed out on airplanes -- leaving the material dry and unscathed.

Mr. Tirey, who lives in northern Virginia, bought his pants, called the Steel Pant, at Beyond, a Eugene, Ore., company that makes and sells outerwear for men and women at BeyondFleece.com.  The material is manufactured by the Swiss company Schoeller Textil, which makes both the weave and the nanofinish, called NanoSphere.  On the Beyond Web site, the pants cost $119, the nanocoating an additional $15.  ''It was definitely worth the money,'' Mr. Tirey said of the purchase.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANNE EISENBERG.  "NOVELTIES; The Chemist's Find: A Way to Shrug Off Spills." The New York Times , Section 3(Sun., August 27, 2006):  5. 




October 14, 2006

R&D Stats Better; But Still Omit a Lot of Innovation

GDPgrowthWithR&Dgraph.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

Note well Romer's caveat below that, although we may be measuring better, we are still not measuring Schumpeterian innovations (such as the Wal-Mart innovations that are vastly increasing the efficiency of retailing).

 

That research and development makes an important contribution to U.S. economic growth has long been obvious.  But in an important advance, the nation's economic scorekeepers declared they can now measure that contribution and found that it is increasing.

. . .

Since the 1950s, economists have explained economic output as the result of measurable inputs.  Any increase in output that can't be explained by capital and labor is called "multifactor productivity" or "the Solow residual," after Robert Solow, the Nobel Prize-winning economist considered the father of modern growth theory.

From 1959 to 2002, this factor accounted for about 20% of U.S. growth.  From 1995 to 2002, when productivity growth accelerated sharply, that grew to about 33%.  Accounting for R&D would explain about one-fifth, by some measures, of the productivity mystery.  It suggests companies have been investing more than the official data had previously shown -- a good omen for future economic growth.  "The slump in investment is not as drastic as people thought before they saw these figures," says Dale Jorgenson, professor of economics at Harvard University.

Mr. Jorgenson noted a lot of the multifactor productivity growth remains unexplained.  "The great mystery of growth . . . is not eliminated."

Paul Romer, an economics professor at Stanford Business School, said the better the measurements of R&D become, the more economists and policy makers will realize other factors may be more important.  "If you look at why we had rapid productivity growth in big-box retailing, there were lots of intangibles and ideas that . . . don't get recorded as R&D."

 

For the full story, see:

GREG IP and MARK WHITEHOUSE.  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., September 29, 2006):  A2.

(Note:  The slightly different online version of the title is:  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth.")

(Note:  ellipses in Jorgenson and Romer quotes, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

 




October 4, 2006

Sprint to Risk Billions on New Infrastructure

WiMaxSprintGraphic.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

If Sprint bets on WiFi, they're betting with their money; if the government bets on WiFi, they're betting with your money.  If Sprint succeeds, thereby benefiting the consumer, at no risk to the consumer, the consumer should not object to their earning huge profits.

Note also, that this is a plausble candidate for a firm trying to follow Clayton Christensen's advice to try to disrupt itself.  (And see the comment at the end, for someone who hasn't read Christensen, or doesn't believe what he has read.)

 

Analysts say building a nationwide WiMax network could cost Sprint between $1 billion and $4 billion, a hefty sum for a company that is already struggling to meet Wall Street's expectations.  Sprint said it expects to invest $1 billion on the project in 2007 and between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in 2008.

Sprint's decision carries considerable risks:  Investors have hammered telecom companies that have made large capital investments in new technologies, banking on future markets to emerge.  For example, among other things, Verizon Communications Inc.'s stock has been under fire as the company is rolling out a costly new fiber optic network that it says will position the company to deliver a bundled TV, Internet, and phone service.  Also, WiMax technology is still untested on a large scale.

Sprint is making a huge bet that consumer demand for wireless Internet access and services such as cellphone downloads of music and video will continue to grow in the coming years.  Consumers already can get access to wireless Internet service at Wi-Fi "hotspots" in airports and coffee shops, and some cities, like Anaheim, Calif., are blanketing their terrain with Wi-Fi connections.

. . .

. . . , some analysts and industry experts question why the company is gearing up for such a major capital investment when it is already even or ahead the other top U.S. carriers, Verizon and Cingular Wireless, when it comes to data services. "Why compete against yourself? It doesn't make a lot of sense at this point," said Mike Thelander, principal analyst at Signals Research Group who predicted several weeks ago that Sprint would choose WiMax.

 

For the full story, see:

AMOL SHARMA and DON CLARK.  "Sprint Bets on New Wireless 'WiMax'."  Wall Street Journal  (Tues.,  August 8, 2006):  B1-B2.

(Note:  the above passages are from the online version, which was later, and less tentative about Sprint's intentions, than the print version.) 

(Note:  ellipses added.)




October 2, 2006

Markets, Not Courts, Should Decide Intel Market Share

Intel executives, coming up on a pre-trial conference in a case that could decide their company's fate, should be looking with envy and admiration at Tiger Woods, and wondering how to make their business more like his.

If golf followed the same path as other businesses, Tiger could expect to face a lawsuit contending that his dominance of professional golf is based on unfair competition.  And in fact,  a few years back Sergio Garcia whined that Tiger got better practice times, favorable treatment around the course, more protection against distracting fans -- little things that could, Mr. Garcia intimated, explain Tiger's edge.  Sportswriters responded swiftly, deriding Mr. Garcia for looking to blame others for his being outcompeted.  They understood that sports contests belong on the field, not in the media or the courts.

The same should be true of business.  Market-based economies thrive on competition.  The competitive economy doesn't yield an infinite number of equally successful firms producing indistinguishable products, but lets winners and losers emerge from marketplace competition.  The (inevitably) temporary dominance of one product or one firm spurs others to compete harder.  Today, however, many businesses -- especially American ones -- find it easier to restrain a dominant competitor through the courts than to beat it in the market.

Take the case of Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, the dominant chipmaker for PCs and servers.  AMD for years played the role of Phil Mickelson to Intel Corporation's Tiger Woods -- the talented rival who keeps coming up short in head-to-head competition.  Last year, it decided to model Mr. Garcia rather than Mr. Mickelson, filing an antitrust action against Intel, charging it with a variety of unlawful actions.

. . .

AMD finds fault in Intel's continued market dominance:  Because Intel has had 80% or more of the x86 chip processor market for many years it must be doing something illegal to keep rivals out.  Yet, George Stigler, among others, long ago debunked the significance of market share as a measure of competition.  Duopoly markets, like the market for large commercial aircraft, can be fiercely competitive.  Ask anyone working at Boeing or Airbus.

Moreover, markets can change rapidly, especially high-tech markets, often in ways unanticipated by antitrust suits.  Witness the changes in computing that caused the government's antitrust case against IBM to implode.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

RON CASS.  "RULE OF LAW; Tigers by the Tail."  Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 23, 2006):  A7.

 




September 27, 2006

"Crystal Fire" Gives Insights on Birth of the Transistor

  Source of book image:  http://www.etedeschi.ndirect.co.uk/homecompbiblio.htm

 

Crystal Fire is a well-written book which highlights many important aspects of the birth of computers.  Not a perfect book---I could have done with a few less details about personal information, like who liked to play bridge and poker, and whose mother was a frustrated artist, and the like.

On the good side, they note how transistors were originally designed to replace vacuum tubes.  The eventual main applications, as memory and processor chips in computers, only came later.  (Another application of Fubini's Law.)

They have a nice discussion of how American science was applied, versus the pure theory of the Germans.  (E.g., to the Germans, some key phenomena leading to transistors, were dismissed as "dirt effects" (pp. 74 & 78).)  The whole episode is a good example of the claim (see Terence Kealey) that very good science can come out of 'industrial' labs. 

They also have a good example of serendipity, in the discussion of the strange chunk of silicon with unusual conductivity properties (circa p. 95).  Reading this episode, it occurred to me that one key enabler of serendipitous discoveries is a scientist or engineer who is carrying around a problem, to which the serendipitous discovery is a solution.  Buddhists need not apply---to carry around problems, you need to be dissatisfied--a milder version of what Tom Peters describes as 'innovation coming from pissed-off people'  (see his Re-Imagine!)

 

Citation to the book:

Riordan, Michael, and Lillian Hoddeson.  Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age, Sloan Technology Series: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

 




September 24, 2006

Life Is Better, But Could Be Better Still

  November 9, 1952 NYT ad announcing the introduction of the snowblower.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  When the first snow falls on the North Shore of Chicago this winter, Robert Gordon will take his Toro snow blower out of the garage and think about how lucky he is not to be using a shovel.  Mr. Gordon is 66 years old and evidently quite healthy, but his doctor has told him that he should never clear his driveway with his own hands.  “People can die from shoveling snow,” Mr. Gordon said.  “I bet a lot of lives have been saved by snow blowers.”

If so, most of them have been saved in the last few decades.  A Canadian teenager named Arthur Sicard came up with the idea for the snow blower in the late 1800’s, while watching the blades on a piece of farm equipment, but he didn’t sell any until 1927.  For the next 30 years or so, snow blowers were hulking machines typically bought by cities and schools.  Only recently have they become a suburban staple.

Yet the benefits of the snow blower, namely more free time and less health risk, are largely missing from the government’s attempts to determine Americans’ economic well-being.  The same goes for dozens of other inventions, be they air-conditioners, cellphones or medical devices.  The reasons are a little technical — they involve the measurement of inflation — but they’re important to understand, because the implications are so large.

. . .

(p. C10)  In the early 1950’s, Toro began selling mass-market snow blowers, which weighed up to 500 pounds and cost at least $150.  As far as the Bureau of the Labor Statistics was concerned, however, snow blowers did not exist until 1978.  That was the year when the machines began to be counted in the Consumer Price Index, the source of the official inflation rate.  By then, the cheapest model sold for about $100.

In practical terms, this was an enormous price decline compared with the 1950’s, because incomes had risen enormously over this period.  Yet the price index completely missed it and, by doing so, overstated inflation.  It counted the rising cost of cars and groceries but not the falling cost of snow blowers.

. . .

Mr. Gordon, besides being a fan of snow blowers, also happens to be one of the country’s leading macroeconomists.  A decade ago he served on a government-appointed group known as the Boskin Commission.  It argued, as Mr. Gordon still does, that the government exaggerated inflation by more than one percentage point every year.

. . .

. . .  Mr. Gordon’s adjustments show that men actually got a 27 percent raise in this period and women 65 percent.  The gains are not as big as those of the 1950’s and 60’s, but they do sound far more realistic than the official numbers.  Think about it:  we live longer than people did in the 1970’s, we’re healthier while alive, we graduate from college in much greater numbers, we’re surrounded by new gadgets and we live in bigger houses.  Is it really plausible, as some Democrats claim, that the middle class has made only marginal progress?

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "Economix; Life Is Better; It Isn’t Better. Which Is It?"  The New York Times  (Weds., September 20, 2006):  C1 & C10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 PayTwoViewsGraph.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited above.




August 26, 2006

Canon Prospers By Ignoring the 'First Mover Advantage'

CanonHV10.jpg  Canon's new HV10 high definition camcorder.  Source of image:  the NYT article cited below.

 

In the dot-com era, many believed that in each niche, the future belonged to the company that got-in, and got-big, first.  Sometimes this was called the 'first mover advantage.'  There are many counter-examples.  Here is one more:

(p. C1)  Next month, Canon will release the world’s smallest and least expensive high-definition tape camcorder, a one-handable beauty called the HV10.

. . .

This image-quality business, as it turns out, is the new Canon’s specialty.  Talk about being blown away the first time you play back your recordings — let’s hope you have a sturdy couch.

Several advances are responsible for the brilliant picture quality.  First, Canon has paid extra attention to two of the most important aspects of HD recording:  focus and stability.  Because the high-def picture is so sharp and so wide, moments of blur-(p. C11)riness or hand-held jitters are far more noticeable and disturbing than in regular video.

So the front of the HV10 bears a special external sensor that, when you change your aim, handles the bulk of the refocusing extremely rapidly.  A standard through-the-lens focusing system does the fine tuning after that.  Together, these two mechanisms nearly eliminate the awkward moment of blurry focus-hunting that mars other camcorders’ output.

. . .

. . . , by entering the high-def camcorder market a year and a half after its rivals, Canon has played the same conservative waiting game it once used with digital cameras and camcorders.  Its goal, of course, is to watch and learn as the pioneers get all the arrows in their backs.

If the HV10 is any indication, the company is off to a very good start.

 

For the full review, see:

DAVID POGUE.  "A Head Start On the Future Of High-Def."  The New York Times  (Thurs., August 10, 2006):  C1 & C11.

 




August 11, 2006

U.S. Economy Can Prosper, Even if G.M. Does Not

The fragility of success for large corporations is documented in the early chapters of the Foster and Kaplan book that is mentioned below. 

(p. 1)  THE announcement last week that General Motors would cut 25,000 jobs and close several factories is yet another blow to the Goliath of automakers and its workers.  But only if you work for G.M. is the company's decline a worry.  For consumers, the decline can be seen as a symbol of healthy competition.

G.M.'s sales, market share and work force have all been falling for a generation, even as the quality of its vehicles has gone up.  Why?  Because its competitors' products have improved even more.  Today's auto buyers enjoy an unprecedented array of well-built, well-equipped, reasonably priced vehicles offered by many manufacturers.

. . .

(p. 3)  . . .  even if a new generation is drawn to G.M.'s products, recovery of its former position seems unlikely.  Other brands have improved, too:  J.D. Power estimates that for the auto industry overall, manufacturing defects declined 32 percent since 1998 alone.

There is also great pressure to hold prices down, which is bad for companies like G.M. with vast amounts of overhead.  According to the consumer price index, new cars and light trucks today cost less in real-dollar terms than in 1982, despite having air bags, antilock brakes, CD players, power windows and other features either unavailable or considered luxury options back then.

This means that during the very period that General Motors has declined, American car buyers have become better off.  Competition can have the effect of ''creative destruction,'' in the economist Joseph Schumpeter's famous term, harming workers in some places, while everyone else comes out ahead.

. . .

As it continues to shrink, G.M. may serve as an exemplar of what the world economy will do in many arenas -- knock off established leaders, while improving quality and cutting prices.  In their 2001 book ''Creative Destruction,'' Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan, analysts at McKinsey & Company, documented how even powerhouse companies that are ''built to last'' usually succumb to competition.

Competition can be a utilitarian force that brings the greatest good to the greatest number.  Someday when the remaining divisions of General Motors are bought by some start-up company that doesn't even exist yet, try to keep that in mind.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

GREGG EASTERBROOK.  "What's Bad for G.M. Is . . ."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sunday, June 12, 2005):  1 & 3.

(Note:  the ellipsis in the title is in the original title; the ellipses in the article, were added.)

 

The full reference to the Foster and Kaplan book, is:

Foster, Richard and Sarah Kaplan.  Creative Destruction:  Why Companies that Are Built to Last Underperform the Market---and How to Successfully Transform Them.  New York:  Currency Books, 2001.

 




July 30, 2006

Beware of a Snapshot of a Moment in Time

  Source of photo:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/world/middleeast/27mideast.html?pagewanted=2

 

The photo of Condi Rice touching her forehead ran on the top of the front page of the New York Times on Thurs., July 27, 2006.  It ran big:  filling over a third of the length of the paper, and over half of the width.  It ran right next to the main headline of the front page:  "CEASE-FIRE TALKS STALL AS FIGHTING RAGES ON 2 FRONTS."

It appears that Condi Rice is discouraged, or has a headache, or is overcome. 

But a great CNN report by Jeanne Moos run on Sat., July 29, shows a dynamic version of the minute during which this snapshot was taken.  It shows that this photo is a split-second moment of Condi Rice brushing hair off of her forehead.

Our usual view of competition is to look at how many competitors there are at a moment in time.  We look at a snapshot.  But to really judge competition we must take Schumpeter seriously and look dynamically at whether there is the possibility of leapfrog competition over time.

In an earlier blog entry, I noted that Ronald Reagan resisted sitting for still photos because he thought that still photos could easily be manipulated to mislead.  Ronald Reagan was right.

 

(Jeanne Moos's report was entitled "Hairy Talks or Hair in Eyes?" on the CNN web site.  I believe it first ran on 7/28/06, though I saw it replayed in the afternoon of 7/29/06.)

 




June 20, 2006

Container Ships Revolutionized Shipment of Goods

Source of book image:  http://www.pupress.princeton.edu/titles/8131.html

 

Virginia Postrel's periodic column in the New York Times over the past six years, was a beacon of optimism, clarity and fresh insights on how the economy works.  The excerpt below is from her last column.  Presumably she is moving on to other worthy challenges, but her column in the Times will be missed.

 

''Low transport costs help make it economically sensible for a factory in China to produce Barbie dolls with Japanese hair, Taiwanese plastics and American colorants, and ship them off to eager girls all over the world,'' writes Marc Levinson in the new book ''The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger'' (Princeton University Press).

For consumers, this results in lower prices and more variety.  ''People now just take it for granted that they have access to an enormous selection of goods from all over the world,'' Mr. Levinson said in an interview.  That selection, he said, ''was made possible by this technological change.''

. . .  

The idea of containerization was simple:  to move trailer-size loads of goods seamlessly among trucks, trains and ships, without breaking bulk.  But turning that idea into real-life business practice required many additional innovations.

New equipment, from dockside cranes to the containers themselves, had to be developed.  Carriers and shippers had to settle on standard container sizes.  Ports had to strengthen their wharves, create connections to rail lines and highways, build places to store containers and strike new deals with their unions.

Along the way, even the most foresighted people made mistakes and lost millions.  Malcom McLean himself bought fast fuel-guzzling ships right before the 1973 oil crisis and slow, economical ships just as fuel prices turned down.  ''Almost everybody who was concerned with containerization in any way at some point got the story wrong,'' Mr. Levinson said.

It is a classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

Virginia Postrel.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; The Container That Changed the World."  The New York Times  (Thursday, March 23, 2006):  C3.

 

The full reference to Levinson's book is:

Levinson, Marc.  The Box:  How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.  Princeton University Press, 2006.

 




June 9, 2006

Leapfrog Competition in Video Game Machines

  Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0385479492/ref=cm_cr_dp_2_1/104-0758544-2447945?%5Fencoding=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155

 

Co-opetition is a readable book with some plausible discussion of interesting cases.  The central message is that business is not always a zero-sum game (in contrast, say, to competitive sports).  One implication is that the firm's complementary relationships with other firms, may deserve as much attention as its competitive relationships. 

One qualitfication:  I think the book too much emphasizes game theory as the sine qua non source of the book's insights.  About the only game theory you really need to understand 99% of the book's analysis is the concept of the "zero-sum game."

In a couple of places, the book discusses "leapfrog" competiton in the video game industry:

 

(p. 102)   By mid-1995 the price of the 3DO machine was down to $400 (with $150 worth of software thrown in).  Cumulative sales passed half a million.  Progress, surely, but as of early 1996, 3DO's future remains uncertain. It no longer has the 32-bit game to itself.  Sega is shipping its 32-bit Saturn machine at $400.  Sony has launched its 32-bit PlayStation at $300.  Looking to leapfrog them all is Nintendo, whose 64-bit Ultra machine is due out in April 1996 at a price under $250.  

(p. 114)  Could a challenger hope to breach Nintendo's virtuous circle?  Not once the circle had got rolling.  Forget about alternatives--TV,  books, sports.  From a kid's perspective, there were no good alternatives to a video game.  The only real threat came from alternative video game systems.  Here, software was key, as always.  With a huge library of Nintendo titles to choose from, why would anyone buy another machine?  Perhaps a challenger could take successful Nintendo games over to its platform and then offer its own library.  But the exclusivity clause killed that option.  No game could be taken to another platform for a two-year period, by which time the game was passe.  A challenger would have had to start from scratch.  While large profits and shortages normally invite entry, the virtuous circle made competing in Nintendo's game hopeless.  The only hope was to leapfrog Nintendo with a new technology; that's what Sega ultimately did, as we'll see in the Scope chapter.

 

Source: 

Brandenburger, Adam M., and Barry J. Nalebuff.  Co-Opetition;  a Revolution Mindset That Combines Competition and Cooperation; the Game Theory Strategy That's Changing the Game of Business,  1st ed.  Currency, 1996.

 

 




May 23, 2006

Will Google Leapfrog Microsoft?


 

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  Source of photo:  online version of NYT article quoted and cited below.


 

The Microsoft-Google rivalry is shaping up as a titanic corporate clash for the ages.

It may not turn out that way.  Markets and corporate fortunes routinely defy prediction.  But it sure looks as if the two companies are on a collision course, as the realms of desktop computing and Internet services and software overlap more and more.

Microsoft, of course, is the reigning powerhouse of computing and Google is the muscular Internet challenger.  On each side, the battalions are arrayed: executives, engineers, marketers, lawyers and lobbyists. The spending and competition are escalating daily.  For each, it seems, the other passes what Andrew S. Grove, a founder and former chairman of Intel, calls the "silver bullet test" of strategic competition.  "If you had one bullet, who would you shoot with it?"

How the Microsoft-Google confrontation plays out could shape the future of competition in computing and how people use information technology.

Do the pitched corporate battles of the past shed any light on how this one might turn out?

Business historians and management experts say the experience in two of the defining industries of the 20th century, mass-market retailing and automobiles, may well be instructive.  The winners certainly scored higher in the generic virtues of business management:  innovation, execution and leadership.

But perhaps even more significant, those who came out on top, judging from history, had two more specific attributes.  They were the companies, according to business historians, that proved able to adapt to change instead of being prisoners of past success.  And in their glory days, these corporate champions were magnets for the best and brightest people.

 

For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR.  "And in This Corner . . . Microsoft and Google Grapple for Supremacy as Stakes Escalate."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 10, 2006):  C1 & C14.



  Source of graphic:  online version of NYT article quoted and cited above.





May 20, 2006

Charles Koch Participates in Schumpeter's Process of Creative Destruction

 

KochClharles.gif Charles Koch.  Source of image:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

I heard Charles Koch speak at the April 2005 Orlando meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education.  Part of his speech involved how he has tried to apply in his own business, Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.  For a long time Koch has been a stalwart defender of the free market in word and deed.

Ideas seem to exhilarate him.  This no doubt explains in part why this professorial CEO delivers "dozens and dozens" of lectures around the country to his employees on these very topics.  But what does any of this have to do with explaining his company's prodigious profitability?  Well, everything -- he believes.  Mr. Koch contends that the key insight of his business career was melding these philosophical insights about the way the wealth-creation process works into a business operating system called "Market Based Management."  This system, which he has trademarked, enables every division of his business empire to operate as a separate, autonomous, profit-maximizing unit.  It is intended to reward employees who think like entrepreneurs.

"Long-term success entails constantly discovering new ways to create value for customers and building new capabilities to capture new opportunities," he instructs.  "In this sense, maintaining a business is, in reality, liquidating a business."  Mr. Koch likens the cycle to Schumpeter's "creative destruction" -- where the old and inefficient are ruthlessly swept away by the new.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 6, 2006): A8.

 




May 15, 2006

Benjamin Rogge in 1973 Discussed Leapfrog Competition


Ben Rogge and the members of Wabash College's John Van Sickle Club in 1973.  Source of image: The Wabash 1973 Yearbook, p. 173.

 

In explaining Schumpeter's concept of competition within the process of creative destruction, I have long thought the phrase "leapfrog competition" was apt.  I have no memory of Schumpter himself using the phrase, but did think I remembered Rogge using the phrase.

Today (4/21/06) I used the Amazon.com "Search within the Book" feature to search for the "leapfrog", "leap-frog", and "frog" in Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.  No use of any of the three was found.  This provides some support to my belief that Schumpeter himself did not use the phrase.

I also today examined my lecture notes from Benjamin Rogge's Comparative Economic Systems course at Wabash College.  In the midst of a discussion of creative destruction on 1/25/73, I note "leap-frogging analogy" which supports my memory that Rogge made use of the phrase "leapfrog competition" in class.

In terms of in-print uses of the analogy, I have performed the same three searches using Liberty Fund's HTML version of Rogge's Can Capitalism Survive?  I found one "hit" which appears on p. 22 of the print versions of the book.  

The technical description of the market structure, in the language of the textbook model, would be that of “oligopoly”—the rule of the few.

All of this Schumpeter would label as nonsense. Why? Because the investigator would be examining “each year—taken separately” rather than the never-ending game of leapfrog that the data reveal and that represents the true nature of the competitive process.

I will be in the debt of anyone who can show me an earlier use of the word "leapfrog" in the context of a discussion of competiton in Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.





May 10, 2006

Google Evolves

Gary Hamel has recently penned some thoughtful observations about what practices of Google have led to its success.  An excerpt from that analysis appears below.  (Hamel earlier wrote a popular book in which he makes extensive use of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.)

Only time will tell whether Google has succeeded in building an evolutionary advantage.  But consider:  Since it's founding, it has repeatedly morphed its business model.  Google 1.0 was a search engine that crawled the Web but generated little revenue; which led to Google 2.0, a company that sold its search capacity to AOL/Netscape, Yahoo and other major portals; which gave way to Google 3.0, an Internet contrarian that rejected banner ads and instead sold simple text ads linked to search results; which spawned Google 4.0, an increasingly global entity that found a way to insert relevant ads into any and all Web content, dramatically enlarging the online ad business; which mutated into Google 5.0, an innovation factory that produces a torrent of new Web-based services, including Gmail, Google Desktop, and Google Base.  More than likely, 6.0 is around the corner.

Of course Google may ultimately fall victim to hubris and imperial overstretch as it takes on Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, the occasional telecom giant and pretty much everyone else in cyberspace.  Or like Microsoft, it may simply become like every other big company as it grows.  But that's not the way I'd bet.  Google seems to have grasped the new century's most important business lesson:  The capacity to evolve is the most important advantage of all.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Hamel, Gary.  "Management à la Google."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A16.

 

 

 

And here is the information on Hamel's most recent book:

 

Hamel, Gary. Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life. Revised & Updated ed.  Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

 

 Source of image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EPFVBE/sr=8-1/qid=1146333251/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8




May 9, 2006

Europe's Antitrust Policies Based on "Pathological Revulsion" to Creative Destruction

One of the EU's findings is that Microsoft uses its desktop dominance to capture the market for Web server software, and now the EU further charges Microsoft with failing to honor its ruling.  So Microsoft's takeover of serverware proceeds apace?  Er, Brussels we have a problem.

At last count,  Apache-Linux had 62% of the market, Windows 25%,  with various others capturing smaller slices.  True, Microsoft saw a nearly five-point increase in market share last quarter thanks to GoDaddy.com shifting its 3.5 million hosted sites from Linux to Windows.  Maybe the EU should subpoena GoDaddy on grounds that for Microsoft to compete successfully for a customer is illegal.

The other pillar of Europe's case is Microsoft's alleged ability to foreclose the market to rival media-playing software.  This week, EU lawyers are trying to swat down the inconvenient fact that, since their ruling, Apple's iTunes and Macromedia's Flash Player have carved out big niches for themselves.  The Apple example is worth inspecting up close.  It demonstrates that people don't buy computers to run software, but to consume information and entertainment "content."  Apple gave them the music they wanted, and its software easily found a home on their computers.

Yet the EU simply rejects the example as irrelevant because it doesn't fit its mental category about what constitutes a "media player."  More than stupid -- this suggests a pathological revulsion against the kind of disorder in which an Apple can come along and upend all the procrustean assumptions of the EU's drearily youthful staff of economists and lawyers.  We're not kidding when we say there's a connection between the Microsoft case and the European 20-somethings who riot in the streets because they'd rather have no job than take a job from which they might fail and be fired.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.  "BUSINESS WORLD; The Land (and Antitrust Case) That Time Forgot."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A17.




April 17, 2006

Becker on Goals of Economics: Understand the World, and Improve It

 

Becker.jpg   Gary Becker at April 7, 2006 tribute dinner.  Source of image:  online press release cited below.

 

Gary Becker has made enormous contributions to economic theory, most notably in convincing the profession of the importance of human capital and the family.  A new center has been established at the University of Chicago in Gary Becker's honor.

 

Becker's brief remarks concluded the evening.  Economics will change over time, but one constant—whatever the tools or techniques—is the goal of economics, he said.   “It is judged ultimately by how well it helps us understand the world, and how well we can help improve it.”

 

For the full story, see:

Goddu, Jenn Q.  "Gift Names the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory, Founded by Richard O. Ryan."  University of Chicago News Office, 2006.

 




February 8, 2006

The Open Road

A strong argument could be made that the automobile is one of the two most liberating inventions of the past century, ranking only behind the microchip. The car allowed even the common working man total freedom of mobility -- the means to go anywhere, anytime, for any reason. In many ways, the automobile is the most egalitarian invention in history, dramatically bridging the quality-of-life gap between rich and poor. The car stands for individualism; mass transit for collectivism. Philosopher Waldemar Hanasz, who grew up in communist Poland, noted in his 1999 essay "Engines of Liberty" that Soviet leaders in the 1940s showed the movie "The Grapes of Wrath" all over the country as propaganda against the evils of U.S. capitalism and the oppression of farmers. The scheme backfired because "far from being appalled, the Soviet viewers were envious; in America, it seemed, even the poorest had cars and trucks."

. . .

The simplistic notion taught to our second-graders, that the car is an environmental doomsday machine, reveals an ignorance of history. When Henry Ford first started rolling his Black Model Ts off the assembly line at the start of the 20th century, the auto was hailed as one of the greatest environmental inventions of all time. That's because the horse, which it replaced, was a prodigious polluter, dropping 40 pounds of waste a day. Imagine what a city like St. Louis smelled like on a steamy summer afternoon when the streets were congested with horses and piled with manure.

. . .

There's a perfectly good reason that the roads are crammed with tens of millions of cars and that Americans drive eight billion miles a year while spurning buses, trains, bicycles and subways. Americans are rugged individualists who don't want to cram aboard buses and subways. We want more open roads and highways, and we want energy policies that will make gas cheaper, not more expensive. We want to travel down the road from serfdom and the car is what will take us there.


For the full commentary, see:

Moore, Stephen. "Supply Side; The War Against the Car." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., November 11, 2005): A10.




January 4, 2006

Economic Growth Achieved by Entrepreneurs Taking Prudent Risks

(p. 489) Nor should anyone feel guilty about taking prudent risks.This is a fundamental truth that I learned from Joseph Schumpeter, who believed that without entrepreneurs willing to bring new products and ideas to the market and investors ready to finance them, it would be impossible to achieve real economic growth.The alternative, as we have learned to our sorrow in the twentieth century, is government control of the factors of production with results that can be seen in the devastated landscapes and abandoned factories of Russia and Eastern Europe, and the scarred lives of billions of human beings throughout Asia. South America, and Africa.

Rockefeller, David. Memoirs. New York: Random House, 2002.




December 22, 2005

Disruptive Innovation Threatens Boeing and Lockheed?

SpaceXHeavyLifters.gif Source of table: online version of WSJ article cited below.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk, who says he is prepared to spend nearly $200 million of his personal fortune creating a family of low-cost, reusable rockets, recently landed an unexpected customer: the U.S. intelligence community.

Mr. Musk and his fledgling company, closely held Space Exploration Technologies Corp., for years worked on advanced technologies and less-expensive manufacturing concepts to build small rockets capable of launching commercial or government satellites weighing around 1,000 pounds.

But the new contract for a single, classified launch -- shrouded in such secrecy that neither the spy agency nor specific type of satellite was identified -- envisions construction of a massive rocket by Mr. Musk's company, known as SpaceX. The launch vehicle is slated to be comparable to the largest, most powerful models built by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., but costing a fraction of the prices charged by the rocket-industry leaders

. . .

Mr. Musk doesn't minimize the challenge of trying to win more government business while criticizing government procurement practices. "I think it's extremely risky," he says of his overall strategy, "but we've got to fight for our right to win customers." If development of simpler, less-costly rocket alternatives is left to major defense contractors, he argues, "I can assure you it will never, never happen."

. . .

In spite of skepticism and criticism of SpaceX, industry leaders are keeping a wary eye on Mr. Musk, with some vowing stepped-up competition against the industry newcomer.

Tom Marsh, a senior Lockheed Martin space official, told a space conference last month that his company "absolutely intends to pursue, and to pursue vigorously" the market for smaller rockets initially targeted by SpaceX.

ANDY PASZTOR. "For Rocket Start-Up, Sky's the Limit; Surprise Contract Boosts SpaceX as It Competes With Boeing, Lockheed." THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Thurs., September 15, 2005): B6.




December 12, 2005

"Fierce" Competition Even When One Firm has Half the Market

 

   Graph source: page C6 of article cited below.

 

(C1) YOKKAICHI, Japan - Nestled in a valley in central Japan, surrounded by forested hills and terraced rice paddies, is one of the world's most sophisticated - and secretive - semiconductor plants. Inside the windowless plant, built by the Japanese electronics maker Toshiba, tiny cranelike robots shuffle along automated production lines, moving stacks of silicon wafers the size of dinner plates. Masked technicians watch as rows of tall machines grind the wafers, etch circuits on their surfaces and cut them into tiny rectangular computer chips. Inside, visitors are allowed to peek through windows at only a small part of the factory floor. Toshiba is anxious to guard the secrets beyond because it needs them to wage one of the most ferocious battles in today's electronics industry, for control of the fast-growing market for the advanced memory chips at the heart of portable music devices like the Apple iPod Nano. The fight pits Toshiba and its partner, SanDisk of Sunnyvale, Calif., a maker of memory cards, against Samsung Electronics of South Korea. Both camps are spending billions to build new factory lines, hire engineers and develop more powerful chips in a bid to gain supremacy. The chips, called NAND flash memory chips, differ from earlier computer memory chips in that data on them can be easily erased and replaced and they can store data even after the power is turned off. That makes them like miniature hard-disk drives, only much more durable because they lack moving parts. The newest flash memory chips are the size of a fingernail and can store two gigabytes, the equivalent of every word and image printed in nine years of a newspaper. While Toshiba invented the chips more than a decade ago, Samsung has seized the lead with bigger production volumes and lower prices. In the three months that ended in September, Samsung had a market share of 50.2 percent of the $2.97 billion in total global NAND sales, ac- (C6) cording to iSuppli, a market research firm based in El Segundo, Calif. Toshiba's share was 22.8 percent. SanDisk is not included in iSuppli's figures because it does not sell its chips, but instead uses them all in its own memory products. . . . At Toshiba's Yokkaichi plant, there is a palpable determination to catch up with the larger Korean rival. Engineers work in shifts around the clock to speed up development and production of new chips. Noriyoshi Tozawa, the plant's manager, said he kept workers on their toes with little reminders of darker times. One is an elevator that has been kept out of use since 2001; a sign on the doors says that it was turned off after a crash in computer chip prices almost forced the closure of the plant, which used to produce DRAM, another type of memory chip. "You have to always be at the leading edge to stay alive in this industry," Mr. Tozawa. "We know what it's like to lose."

To read full article, see: MARTIN FACKLER. "Among Makers of Memory Chips for Gadgets, Fierce Scrum Takes Shape." The New York Times (Mon., December 12, 2005): C1 & C6.

scrum: "a rugby play in which the forwards of each side come together in a tight formation and struggle to gain possession of the ball when it is tossed in among them" Definition source: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=scrum&x=6&y=21

 




December 3, 2005

Drucker Predicted "Universities Won't Survive"

Mr. Drucker also told us to expect enormous changes that will come in higher education, thanks to the rise of satellites and the Internet. "Thirty years from now big universities will be relics. Universities won't survive. It is as large a change as when we first got the printed book." He believed "High school graduates should work for at least five years before going on to college." It will be news to most college presidents and a lot of alumni that "higher education is in deep crisis. Colleges won't survive as residential institutions. Today's buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded." All this from a life-long academic.

. . .

How higher education is managed did not impress Mr. Drucker; but what did is our continuing education system, whether in community colleges or by computers. Also: "Our most important education system is in the employees' own organization." That is where most Americans learn the most.

STEVE FORBES. "A Tribute to Peter Drucker." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 15, 2005): A22.




September 27, 2005

Comparing Monopoly and Competition


(Source: p. 368, see below)


Comparisons between monopoly and competition, . . ., must be made gingerly. One is liable to fall into nonsense of the sort "If my grandmother had wheels she would be a tram." (p. 366)

McCloskey, Donald N. The Applied Theory of Price. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985.

The usual assumption in price theory texts is that the cost structure would be the same for an industry whether it was competitive or monopolized. The graph above, from McCloskey, is the only one I am aware of that tries to represent the realistic possibility that costs may be significantly lower in monopoly. Usually we think of new goods resulting from creative destruction, but Schumpeter also emphasized new processes, and the new processes presumably would often reduce costs.




August 27, 2005

Infinite Jobs to Be Done

Marc Andreesen was the cofounder of Netscape.

"If you believe human wants and needs are infinite," said Andreeseen (sic), "then there are infinite industries to be created, infinite businesses to be started, and infinite jobs to be done, and the only limiting factor is human imagination. The world is flattening and rising at the same time. And I think the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: If you look over the sweep of history, every time we had more trade, more communications, we had a big upswing in economic activity and standard of living." (p. 231)

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.




July 22, 2005

Leapfrog Technology

Third world countries can leapfrog. They skip telephone lines and go right to cellular.
George Morton in Michael Crichton, State of Fear, p. 565.



July 21, 2005

Cable about to "get leapfrogged"

We're playing offense, not defense when competing against the Bells," says Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast, the country's largest cable operator with over 21 million subscribers.

The technological arms race is further evidence that television is entering a new content- and feature-rich era. Early signs of this transition were the introduction of TiVo and other digital video recorders and video-on-demand services that enable viewers to watch shows whenever they want.

But many more new products and services are in the works by businesses using Internet technology to combine the functions of TVs, computers, the Internet and telephones. Cable has to make sure it doesn't get leapfrogged. "This is about totally changing this industry," says Lea Ann Champion, senior vice president of phone giant SBC Communications Inc.


Continue reading "Cable about to "get leapfrogged"" »




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