经济学人双语版-颠覆的熔炉 Crucible of creative disruption

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FlyTitle: Corporate innovation

The crisis is liberating firms to experiment with radical new ideas

疫情危机让企业能自由尝试激进的新想法【新冠报道】

经济学人双语版-颠覆的熔炉 Crucible of creative disruption

WHEN MOUNT TAMBORA erupted in April 1815 the dust and ash from the volcano in what is now Indonesia blotted out the sun and lowered global temperatures, hurting harvests everywhere. As food prices soared, tens of thousands of people died from famine and disease. So did thousands of horses, because their owners could no longer afford to feed them oats. It was against this dismal backdrop that Karl von Drais, a German inventor, dreamed up the Laufmaschine to replace equine locomotion. Today his “running machine” is known as the bicycle.

当如今位于印度尼西亚境内的坦博拉火山(Tambora)在1815年4月大爆发时,烟尘和灰烬遮蔽了太阳,全球气温降低,世界各地粮食减产。随着粮价飞涨,几万人死于饥荒和疾病。成千上万匹马也死了,因为马主人买不起喂它们的燕麦了。正是在这样凄惨的大背景下,德国发明家卡尔·冯德莱斯(Karl von Drais)构想出了“奔跑的机器”(Laufmaschine)来代替马的运动——今天我们把它叫做“自行车”。

The pandemic is, like Tambora, an unmitigated calamity. But in some quarters it, too, is spurring innovation, as firms come up with new ways to keep making existing products despite disrupted supply chains, or, as demand collapses amid self-isolation, create new ones. Some are changing the very way they innovate.

和坦博拉火山爆发一样,今天的新冠肺炎大流行是一场不折不扣的灾难。但在某些领域,它也在刺激着创新。企业在供应链中断的情况下想出了维持既有生产的新办法,或者,面对人们自我隔离而导致需求骤跌,它们创造出了新产品。有些企业正在改变它们创新的方式本身。

The first thing about corporate innovation that the pandemic has changed is its cost. Doing anything novel at large firms typically involves oodles of capital. Right now, while companies preserve cash to stay liquid as revenues dry up, fresh investments are the last thing on most bosses’ minds. Some are discovering ways to do things differently without huge outlays.

大流行病改变企业创新的第一点是创新的成本。在大公司尝试任何新鲜事物通常都涉及大量资金。而眼下,随着收入枯竭,企业要保存现金以保持流动性,大多数老板最不会考虑的就是新投资。一些企业正在发现无需大笔支出就能做事的新方法。

The chief executive of a big European food retailer explains how his firm managed to increase online fulfilment by more than 50%, with no new capital investments, thanks to all-night picking and packing at stores. Evergrande, a big Chinese property firm, encouraged its sales force to use social media and virtual-reality technology to promote homes during the country’s covid shutdown; its sales more than doubled in February to $6.4bn. One foreign buyer recently paid £6m ($7.4m) for a home in London after only a 3D virtual tour. Matterport, a Californian firm, says its 3D cameras are selling like loo rolls.

欧洲一家大型食品零售商的CEO说,他的公司在没有新资本投入的情况下,靠着整夜在商店拣选打包,把线上销量提高了50%以上。在中国因疫情停工期间,大型房地产公司恒大集团鼓励其销售人员利用社交媒体和虚拟现实技术推销房屋。该公司2月份的销售额增长了一倍以上,达到64亿美元。一名外国买家最近在三维虚拟看房后就支付了600万英镑(740万美元)买下了伦敦的一套房子。加州公司Matterport说自己的3D相机卖得和卷筒纸一样快。

Besides being expensive, corporate innovation has also historically been insular. This closed approach carries an opportunity cost, notes Henry Chesbrough of the Haas School at the University of California, Berkeley. Most large companies do not use or license most of their patents, save their “crown jewels”. Some of these vaults are being opened up, and their contents shared with others.

一直以来,企业创新除了花费巨大外,还都彼此隔绝。加州大学伯克利分校哈斯商学院的亨利·切斯布鲁夫(Henry Chesbrough)指出,这种封闭的方式有其机会成本。大部分大公司并不使用或授权自己的大部分专利,而是守着自己“皇冠上的宝石”。现在,一些保险库正在打开,与他人共享里头的珍藏。

Usually prickly pharmaceutical rivals are working arm in arm in the race to develop drugs and vaccines against the coronavirus. IBM is leading a consortium that will pool supercomputing resources to help in the search for therapies. On April 21st Microsoft, once a staunch advocate of the “walled garden” approach to software, declared its support for the open-data movement.

通常都彼此防范的药品竞争对手如今正在研发新冠药物和疫苗的竞赛中携手合作。IBM正在领导一个联盟来汇集超级计算资源,帮助寻找疗法。4月21日,曾经坚定主张软件业应是“带围墙的花园”的微软宣布支持开放数据运动。

Big companies have largely favoured the advice of insiders and elite consultancies over the wisdom of the crowds, notes Karim Lakhani of Harvard Business School. This, too, is changing. Ericsson, a Swedish telecoms-equipment firm, is now investing more in open-source software and engaging customers in open-innovation efforts to speed up the adoption of its 5G kit.

哈佛商学院的卡里姆·拉哈尼(Karim Lakhani)指出,大企业原本在很大程度上更看重业内人士和精英顾问的建议,而非大众的智慧。而这一点也在改变。瑞典电信设备公司爱立信正对开源软件加大投资,并让客户参与开放创新的工作以加速其5G套件的推广。

Firms’ embrace of outsiders is boosting businesses like Tongal, a marketplace for creative video work used by multinationals including Lululemon, a Canadian athletic-wear firm, and Lego, a Danish toy company. Its new creator registrations were five times higher in March than in February, and monthly activity rose by 150%. Topcoder, which provides on-demand tech talent, has also seen a surge.

这种对外部力量的接纳正在推动像Tongal这样的业务。Tongal是一个以众包方式为跨国公司创作视频的交易市场,这些公司包括加拿大运动服装公司露露乐蒙(Lululemon)和丹麦玩具公司乐高。3月新增注册创作者较2月增长了五倍,月交易量增加了150%。按需供应技术人才的Topcoder业务量也飞速增长。

But the defining feature of the latest innovation revolution is breakneck speed. Companies are being forced to raise their corporate metabolism and overcome “analysis paralysis”, an affliction caused by top managers having pored over the same irrelevant case studies at business school. In a recent briefing consultants at Bain urged companies to throw out old data, test quickly and often, and assume you will be in testing mode for some time to come.

但这场最新创新革命的标志性特征是惊人的速度。企业被迫加快自身新陈代谢,克服“分析瘫痪”——这个通病的存在是因为企业高层都曾在商学院钻研过同一堆无甚紧要的案例。在最近一次简报中,贝恩公司(Bain)的顾问敦促企业把旧数据丢一边,快速而频繁地测试,并假设自己在接下来的一段时间内都会处于测试模式。

Confronted with the sudden closures of its primary distribution channel to restaurants and institutions, Sysco, a big American food-distribution firm, built an entirely new supply chain and billing system to serve grocery stores in less than a week. Long-delayed initiatives have suddenly been rolled out at scale overnight. A global standards body converted one of its main customer offerings from in-person to online in two weeks, says a person close to it.

美国大型食品分销商Sysco面向餐馆和机构的主要分销渠道突然关停后,在不到一周的时间内建成了全新的供应链和结账系统,改为向食品杂货店供货。众多拖延已久的计划突然在一夜间大规模推出。知情人士称,一家全球标准制定机构在两周内将其主打产品之一从面对面互动转换成线上系统。

The crisis has emboldened managers to move faster and to try out risky new ideas on larger groups of customers. As the boss of a Fortune 500 firm recently put it, “We are learning more by testing than [from] months spent [with] analysts and endless meetings.” Despite a worldwide retail apocalypse, Nike saw global internet sales of its sporting goods rise by over a third in the three months to February, thanks to a deft digital pivot inspired by its early covid-19 experience in China. Revenues from its Chinese online offering grew by triple digits in January and February, year on year, as consumers shared workouts through WeChat and other social media. Its sweat-inducing masterclass is being streamed more than 800,000 times a week on YouTube.

这场危机让管理人员敢于加快行动,在更大的客户群中尝试冒险的创意。正如一家财富500强企业的老板最近所言:“相比和分析师商量好几个月,无休止地开会,我们正通过测试学到更多东西。”面对全球零售业大灾难,耐克的全球线上销量却在截至2月的三个月里增长了超过三分之一。这是因为它从早期中国疫情期间获得经验,敏捷地把重点转向了数字方式。随着消费者通过微信等社交媒体分享健身动态,其中国区在线销售收入在1月和2月同比增长了三位数。它让人大汗淋漓的运动大师课每周在YouTube上的播放量超过80万次。

The desire for speed is reflected in the performance of firms that make 3D-printing equipment, which slashes the time from prototype to final product and, by replacing faraway suppliers with nearby 3D contractors, speeds up distribution. HP is accelerating the roll-out of “3D as a service”, which allows customers to pay just for what they print rather than purchasing the pricey kit and supplies. Early customers include Wallbox, which makes electric-vehicle chargers, and HIPP Medical, which makes tools for orthopaedists and dentists.

对速度的渴望也体现在那些制造3D打印设备的公司上。它们大幅减少了从原型到终成品的时间,并用附近的3D承包商替代遥远的供应商以加快配送速度。惠普正在加速推出“3D即服务”,让客户可以只为打印的内容付费,而不必购买昂贵的工具和耗材。早期客户包括制造电动汽车充电器的Wallbox和为骨科医师和牙医制造工具的HIPP Medical。

Companies are also experimenting with new distribution channels. With workers scarce and customers happier to get a delivery from a machine rather than a human these days, automated deliveries have been embraced by Chinese e-commerce giants such as Alibaba, JD.com and Meituan. Edward Tse of Gao Feng, a consultancy, believes that autonomous delivery will be widespread within 12-18 months, much faster than he previously thought possible. Zipline, a Californian startup that is already delivering blood and medical samples by drone in Africa, now wants to do the same with coronavirus samples in America. Google has expanded the use of its Wing drones to deliver medicines and other necessities in rural Virginia.

企业也在尝试新的分销渠道。如今工人稀缺,而客户更愿意从机器而不是人那里收货,诸如阿里巴巴、京东和美团等中国电商巨头已经纷纷采用自动送货。高风咨询公司的谢祖墀认为,自动送货将在12至18个月内普及,这比他以前预期的可能性要快得多。加州创业公司Zipline已经在非洲用无人机运送血液和医疗样本,现在也想在美国这样递送新冠病毒样本。谷歌已经扩大了其Wing无人机的使用范围,在弗吉尼亚的乡村运送药品和其他必需品。

Weighed down by legacy assets and protected by oligopolistic profits, many big firms are not natural innovators. Most corporations that have them relegate geeky innovationistas to skunk works that besuited types steer from the C-suite.

许多大企业受到传统资产的重压和寡头垄断利润的保护,并不是天生的创新者。拥有这些特点的企业大多把自家的怪才发明家团队贬为了受西装革履的高层指挥的臭鼬工厂。

In quiet, predictable times this command-and-control approach to innovation works fine, says Darrell Rigby of Bain. And, adds Gary Hamel of the London Business School, “In a small crisis power moves to the centre.” But, he reflects, in a big one “it moves to the periphery”. It may stay there for a while after the pandemic passes.■

​贝恩的达雷尔·里格比(Darrell Rigby)说,在一切太平、可预测的时期,这种“命令-控制”的创新模式效果尚可。伦敦商学院的加里·哈默尔(Gary Hamel)补充道:“在小型危机中,权力转移到中心。”但他寻思道,在一个大的危机中,“权力会转移到外围”。大流行病过后,它可能还会在那里待上一阵。

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