This weekend I was cleaning out my briefcase (its really a bookbag) and discovered two yellowing, dog-eared research papers, covered with my chicken scratch and pink highlights from my favorite Sharpee. At some point I clearly thought these reports were important enough to print out and write on, but my mind works like the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie, “read it and forget it”. So these papers have spent the last few months shuffling between my cubicle at Turner and the “house farm” where I sleep.
Old Cycles of New Innovation
The first is a really interesting report by Robert A. Burgelman and Liisa Valikangas entitled “Internal Corporate Venturing Cycles: A Nagging Strategic Leadership Challenge“. If this report was written by a tabloid journalist, instead of an academic, it might have been entitled, “When to get your resume in order if you work in an ‘innovation’ group in corporate America”. While this wouldnt have improved upon the dynamic prose contained within the paper, it would make it more approachable. This paper is particularly relevant for media companies, which are currently facing the very conditions that set off Internal Corporate Venturing (ICV) cycles.
The authors argue that there are two basic factors that drive companies to start “innovation” or ICV groups, the first is the companies prospects for future growth and the second is the amount of “uncommitted capital” (ie sawbucks in the till) the company has. If the growth prospects of the business are good and there is plenty of cash in the till then ICV is unlikely to get started at the company and the few entrepreneurial efforts that have survived the management naysayers, will get lips service support from execs but will continue to languish on the periphery of corporate focus. Forever “ICV Orphans” .
According to the paper, when growth in the core business looks good but cash is low, ICV is seen as irrelevant and ICV groups aren’t even on the table for discussion. If on the other hand there is plenty of cash but the growth prospects for the business look dim then there will tend to be an all-out push for ICv and innovation. This is where whole departments get started up around innovation, and all the “ICV orphans” from around the company get consolidated into this group. This is where many cable networks find themselves right now.
The music industry on the other hand finds themselves in the unenviable position of having very bleak prospects for the core business and little to no “uncommitted capital”. Companies in this position tend to be “desperately seeking ICV”. The authors write, “A lack of uncommitted financial resources combined with permanently insufficient prospects of the mainstream business… is likely to lead top management to desperately latch on to the first reasonably-looking ICV projects that companies their way.” The authors add that when companies are in this position, “the likely hood of picking a looser seems high.”
While many of the people hired by “new” product, “new” business, “new” venture, or “new” growth initiatives at one of the big box conglom’s really believe that there is something new about what they are doing, this paper goes over 35 years of that highlight it just ain’t so. Drawing on examples, from GE and Shell to Lucent and Intel, Burgelman and Vailkangas show how ICV groups come and go within companies with frightening regularity. Use it as a compass to chart where your company is at in terms of its ICV process and when the party is likely to come to an end.
Worlds Most Connected Rapper
Generally speaking MBA’s add no value, particularly Harvard MBA’s (this is why they become consultants). The “education” mostly involves learning how to drop the appropriate buzzword in a conversation to make it unintelligible and producing massively complex spreadsheets to conceal flimsy assumptions and extreme risk aversion. But every once in a while even an MBA can get lucky and actually produce something useful. This happened for future banker and Chinese blogger Reginald D. Smith of MIT’s Sloan School of Management when he mapped the relationships between top selling rap artist in an effort to answer the age old question, “Who I gotta talk to to get a record deal?”
The paper is unfortunately entitled “The Network of Collaboration Among Rappers and its Community Structure” and this probably limits its appeal but not its value. Despite the boring academic title and the plethora of engineering terms, its really is an interesting read and whatever it lacks in dynamic prose it makes up for in brevity.
Given that few other musical genres have the ethic of collaboration that rap does (seriously…), creating a meaningful and verifiable statement about the most connected rapper is possible. Smith took a look at over 6,000 rappers, across 30,000 songs and ran them through a series of complex models to produce a bunch of arcane formulas that could rank the rappers along two different parameters. These were the “betweenness” which is a measure of how connected a rapper is in the network and the “degree” which measures the total number of connections or collaborations a rapper has had. On both measures one name bubbled to the top.
So what the result of all this mind-numbing erudition? What tale does the data tell? Which rapper reigns supreme as the most connected rapper of all time? None other than Cali’s finest, Snoop Dizzle! Rapper, entrepreneur, philanthropist and renaissance man, Snoop D. O. double G. emerged as the most connected rapper on both of Reginald’s lists. Given his history, past sales, work with artist on both the East and Left coasts as well as his continued popularity, this was not wholly surprising.
Reading over the notes I wrote in the margins and the highlighted text its clear that I was a bit obsessed with trying to figure out how both these papers impacted my efforts here at Turner. Could I use Reginalds information to get access to the Rap community through a very well connected but relatively unknown and therefore inexpensive and accessible rapper? Would my efforts be stymied by the waning interest of the corporate bosses or bolstered by them in a desperate effort to stave off the companies slow decline into irrelevance. Of course I came up with no good answers but the information itself allows me to ask smarter questions and I guess ultimately thats why I’ve kept them for so long.