Challenges with innovation, the Facebook generation

By Ian Lamont, The Industry Standard |  Business, Alcatel-Lucent

Imagine you're the CEO of an old-line technology corporation with 120 years of telecommunications experience, and 80,000 employees scattered across the world. Furthering innovation is a given, but you also have to identify technologies that will resonate with consumers -- not to mention building sustainable business models around them. This is the world that Alcatel-Lucent CEO Ben Verwaayen inhabits. In a presentation this morning at MIT's EmTech conference, he described many of the challenges that he sees amidst a sea change in the competitive landscape and the ways in which people use technology. Some of the highlights:

Innovation: "Innovation is not just technology," said Verwaayen. He said that smart people and smart ideas are part of the "first phase" of innovation, but suggested that these two elements can also bog down the process: "It doesn't bring speed to market. It also doesn't bring focus," he said. Rather, the real challenges are to get "technology from a gadget into part of a lifestyle" and building revenue and markets around innovative products: "Where we have dropped the ball completely is on business models and go-to-market," he said.

The impact of social networking: Verwaayen had some interesting things to say about the impact of social networking on communications networks. The words-based systems of the past -- ones that delivered voice and text -- are being replaced by networks that handle images, graphics and video. He pointed to younger people and their use of Facebook. "The next generation is using images to communicate," Verwaayen said. "They don't use words at all. If you find five words written on one line, that must be novel. Videos tell the story. Pictures tell the story."

But is that an accurate depiction of the generation gap? Photographs aren't new -- they have been an important communication tool for more than 150 years. It's also a stretch to say young people are abandoning text. Like everyone else, they're using it less with SMS, IM, and social networking updates. When it comes to blogs, MySpace bios, and other formats and messages which require longer descriptions or the discussion of abstract concepts, they'll use more text.

Sources and Research: Presentation by Alcatel-Lucent CEO Ben Verwaayen.

E-mail Ian at ian@thestandard.com. Follow Ian on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ilamont. Standard updates and asides are available at twitter.com/the_standard and in our newsletters, and you can join our LinkedIn group.

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