Date Sheet–How They Stoke Innovation at Levi Strauss, Ford, and Facebook

Aaron Pressman
Date Sheet–How They Stoke Innovation at Levi Strauss, Ford, and Facebook

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A Monday medley of quick thoughts to start your day in tech and other topics:

* Fortune publishes a gorgeously photographed and informatively described spread today on the “skunkworks” of three Fortune 500 companies: Levi Strauss, Ford, and Facebook. The three couldn’t be more different, yet they are united by their thirst for innovation. Levi seeks simpler pigments, Ford aims to figure out self-driving cars, and Facebook wants to understand robots. The photo essay is a nod to Fortune’s illustrious history of bringing business to life with pictures as well as words.

* We also unveil a masterful look back at the long, slow decline of Sears. Two takeaways to ponder: 1) It is exceedingly difficult to kill dominant consumer brands altogether; 2) Sears, despite mastering the mail-order distribution catalog decades before Amazon existed, never embraced inventory-management technology the way Walmart did. The rest was history.

* One line jumped out at me in this otherwise lukewarm review in The Wall Street Journal of a new history of IBM: “Especially in IBM’s golden age, which ran from the postwar period to the 1980s, its sales force had a talent for relaying the needs of clients back to headquarters, where engineers could absorb the requests and eventually turn out new products, which would then be sold to clients by the same talented and aggressive sales force.” It made me wonder if there are still great companies whose sales people are adept at communicating back to the people who make the products.

* The global consulting firm McKinsey is in a pickle again, this time in Mongolia, according to a new piece by ProPublica. I interviewed McKinsey’s top partner, Kevin Sneader, in March about the number of black eyes McKinsey has taken lately. It doesn’t feel like this will be the last one.

* Conference time: Fortune is hosting a new event, Brainstorm Finance, which will bring together the titans of Wall Street and the brainiest entrepreneurs of fintech. It’s in Montauk, N.Y., aka The Hamptons, June 19-20. Write me if you’d like to attend.

Adam Lashinsky @adamlashinsky