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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time, and now that the BIG month (2 by now) are behind me, it’s time to sit back and reflect a little.

In late March, after 4 incredible years of riding shotgun at AORA Solar, the time has come to move onto new pastures. And so one late Thursday night, after ticking off all that was left on the To Do checklist, I handed off my desk and left the comfort of good friends and the great team we cherished so much to head for a new beginning.

One last smile from the ‘solar flower’

By April 1st I took up shop totally on the other side of the cleantech space, at a water tech startup, dealing with innovation in sewage treatment. And as the joke around the AORA office went: Having to put up with so much bulls… over the past few months, made me totally ready for my next role.

Diffusaire is 3-man operation [I’ve increased their headcount by 50% 🙂 ] bringing fresh and much-needed innovation into the energy savings of wastewater treatment.
The next time you take a crap, just remember that about 1.5% of your nation’s electricity goes into sewage treatment, and we plan on slashing that cost by 25% !!
Did I manage to get your attention now?
So in between a new job, a visit to the folks over in Toronto last Passover, moving houses and learning to speak Sewagish, it’s been quite the journey these past few weeks.
While everyday is a new learning experience, a few key points to note so far are:
  • Learn the business– if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you sure as hell don’t know where you’re going. Let alone in which direction to sail this ship.
  • Focus is power– As we used to say where I grew up, there is ‘work for Africa‘  but if you don’t prioritize, the important things will not get done.
  • Swim baby, swim! It is quite a challenge to be given the responsibility to lead a team of professional engineers when you don’t know shit about… shit (you will excuse me, but this is my new line of business). Yet  time is money and the organisation just cannot afford to wait for you to learn it all. So, while you’re not expected to know shit, you sure are expected to be able to swim in it- and fast. And remember, you never get a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression.

A final word on the space in which our company is sitting. We’re parked inside a tech incubator called Kinrot Ventures. It’s Israel’s only incubator totally devoted to water startups and from that point of view, it is Ground Zero for cleantech innovation. It’s a lean, modest space located on the main drag of our little ‘Silicon Valley’ of Herzelia [or should I say Sandhill Rd.] but walk down the hall and in every room you get to see some mad entrepreneurs cooking up another fascinating water technology. Maybe I will get some of them to showcase their stuff amongst these pages, but untill then, trust me- talent is pouring out around me, everywhere I look.
And that’s pretty cool.

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“See, I have to keep on top of things, ‘cos any days now, I’m about to close a lease with Walmart on 4 new sites.”

Now there’s a true Canadian dilemma for ya. To which one of these two national values should my friend uphold? Connect with nature in the middle of our 3-day canoe trip out in the bush, undoubtedly one of the most Canadian things you can do at the end of August, or connect with the cellular tower standing on the distant horizon to plug into his BlackBerry for yet another less famous Canadian pass time- checking email.

We were paddling our canoe across yet another beautiful piece of Canadian backcountry, and there you have it. The spread between our two cultures was quite evident. While I can barely imagine negotiating rent with my landlord in Tel Aviv upon my return, my buddy here in the front seat of the canoe is contemplating on his smartphone the Terms & Conditions of a 10 year lease agreement with Walmart.

It was a great summer. I love coming back to Toronto after my 3 year stint at MBA school a few years back. Time was well spent with family and friends, and a mix of taking in all that a summer in Toronto can offer you, along with escaping up north into cottage country, ending it with the highlight of the trip- a 3 day canoe trip into the wild. What else can a man ask for? 6 guys, 4 fishing rods, 2 canoes and 1 cook and you have yourself the perfect setting for a great outdoors experience. It’s amazing how simple it is. One portage away from the highway, and you are in backcountry, the same way the early pioneers had found it when they paddled across this land, centuries ago.

And it was during this paddle, on the final days of my stay, that I noticed two distinct characteristics that define Canadian business culture. These vast distances that connect so many remote communities, across some of the most challenging weather conditions, have evolved two telling characteristics of Canadian business. And I think that there is something there, in the insight, worth taking back home.

Go big, or go home: I know that writing these lines sounds pretty obvious to anyone living in a big country. But coming from Tel Aviv, we get by pretty well by making do with small scale solutions and are easy to setup and provide a reasonable outcome, most of the time. Our ‘quick & dirty‘ attitude can only take you so far, and our geography has evolved us into thinking local rather than global. For a Canadian to go into business (and I’m not talking about the local corner store) he goes in with the understanding that his product has to be supported across 4 time zones, and his inventory has to support a market of 25Million people spread out over 5,000 km. I was listening once to the COO of Tim Horton’s (Canada’s largest fast food chain) explaining the challenges of launching a new lunch ‘Soup & Sandwich’ special nationwide. With not one of their supplier being able to supply them product cross the whole country, they have to coordinate timing and quality with several different food vendors in order to ensure a uniform customer experience across their 3,500 restaurants spread from sea to shining sea [that’s Canadian speak]. With that in mind, Canadians have evolved an operating scale of business that you just don’t see back home. This reminds me about my Aussie business experience, noted in a previous blog posting. Canadians think big, and understand the implications of big operations across their whole supply chain. They have no choice- this is Canada.

Execution is everything: With the previous comment well engrained in their mindset, the second point in Canadian business culture follows in almost naturally. And that is that if you’re going execute your business across such vast distances, and run your operations through snow blizzards and frozen roads, you better ensure you get the job done right- the first time! Take my cousin Adrian for example. Let’s face it, how many Jewish plumbers (not bankers) can you find in Toronto? He started off working out of the back of someone else’s pickup truck and 10 years later he runs a leading contracting company comprised of a fleet of service vehicles and bids on large industrial jobs in the plumbing & heating sector. Aside for working like a dog for a better part of a decade, he attributes his success to a single factor: “I only bid on jobs that I am confident that my crew and I can execute perfectly- first time round.” See in his line of business, if he has to send a crew up the highway some 400kms to do rework on a dodgy installation at some remote site, there goes all the profit margin on a 3 month contract. This one shot approach is seen evident everywhere you look.

And it is that kind of thinking that builds a culture of excellence in anything you do. From hiring the right people with the right mindset, to planning ahead and executing out your plan. I know that back home in Startup Nation it’s more common to adopt a f’ly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to doing things, but don’t  tell me that we Hebrews could learn a thing or two planning forward.

As a favourite Canadian mentor of mine once noted: “Israelis are the world’s best in improvising  and solving  their way out of complex situations, into which they shouldn’t have gotten themselves in the first place…”

So those are the two biggest things I brought back with me from Canada- along with 4 bottles of  maple syrup.

Without words.                                      photo: Lee Koren

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For quite some time I’ve been meaning to write this post. Finally, a young visitor that came by our back yard this week,  and got me to sit down and own up to my vision.

The reading of Jim Collin’s monumental book ‘Good to Great‘ back in 2005, has had a profound impact on the way I view my career goals and my entrepreneurial aspirations. For the past half a decade (hey, I”m turning 40 this month, so I can start counting in half-decades) I’ve been wanting to take all that I’ve learnt in the book and apply it to something of my own.

For those of you who have not read the book, here’s a brief Book Report: The book analyses some 1400 good US companies  and selects a short list of  11 great companies which it then goes onto analyse even further. The result yields an astounding list of cross-company revelations on what does it take to transition from good- to great. This amazing insight can be applied be it if you’re a CEO, a team leader, or a self aspiring entrepreneur. The neat thing about the book is that it is not another business book full of the author’s own theories and ideas. The findings in the books are based upon hard facts extracted from countless hours of interviews with company staff, executive team, suppliers, customers and competitors. Faced with all this data, it is difficult to argue these clear and enlightening findings the resonate from across the board- of what constitutes great performance.

Such facts are labeled in book’s chapters such as “Level 5 Leadership”, “First who…then what” and most notably ‘The Hedgehog concept” which I mentioned in my opening post for this blog.

The bottom line that connects all these revelations is that- it’s all about people. Put  the right people in the right places and construct around them the right environment in which to perform- and perform the will, to their greatest ability.

So you might ask yourself: “OK, so what else is new?”

Well then, here’s a mental exercise to consider: Imagine taking all these great ideas and incorporating it into your own workplace. Imagine you came one day to the office and told everyone that you’ve seen the light and that from now you want to do things different. How successful do you think you’ll be in creating that change in your current work place?  Zero would be a close estimate!!

So, with that in mind, I decided to turn this idea on its head.

What if I could round up a group of talented individuals, get them to read the book (you can borrow my English copy) and then recruit them on board to start up a new company based upon adhering to these founding principles listed in the book. In the words of Jim Collins himself- first who… then what.

First we select who’s on the bus, and only then we decide together- what to do.

The book will form both an entrance exam, as well as a roadmap, to which all members will reference as we steer this ship into the open waters- and hopefully onto greatness.

If you are still with me so far and have yet to read the book, you might think that I”m a bit off, but if you have read the book and understand where I’m going with this, I’m sure you agree that there is some merit to this. And please feel free to add your comments below.

So far, in my search for great people, I’ve signed on 5 friends that have read the book and agree with the concept.

So to conclude, this post is calling all entrepreneurs (preferably local ones) who have read the book (or want to read it) to step forward, come borrow my copy, and join the discussion.

It’s all happening, in my back yard.

Hedgehog in the holyland

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