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The 2017 Digital Tonto Reading List

2017 December 17
by Greg Satell

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, it proved to be a landmark event in human history. No longer would people be confined to their immediate context, but could travel in their minds to share the experiences and expertise of people of virtually any time and place.

Today, with modern transportation and communications technology, we’re no longer as tied to a particular place as we once were, but it’s still easy to get trapped in our own context. Books, more than anything else, provide a window out. They allow us to travel in our minds and gain insights beyond our own experiences.

As in past years, I am providing a reading list of books that allowed me to gain many of the insights I’ve used in articles here at Digital Tonto. So If you saw an idea you found interesting on the site over the past year, chances are you can learn a whole lot more about it in the books below.  Links are provided that will allow you to purchase them from Amazon.  Enjoy!

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4 Skills That All Great Innovators Share

2017 December 13
by Greg Satell

I spent the majority of my adult life managing organizations and I always felt enormous pressure to innovate, but whenever I went looking for guidance, what I found was a confused jumble. Disruptive innovation, design thinking, open innovation, lean launchpads and on and on. Unlike marketing or finance, there wasn’t any one clear framework.

So I spent nearly a decade on the research that led to my book Mapping Innovation and what I found is that innovation is at once more simple and more complex than most people give it credit for. It’s more simple because ultimately, innovation is about solving problems and organizations that can identify new problems can usually innovate successfully.

Yet it is also more complex because there are so many problems and so few solutions. To solve a really tough problem, you have to look far and wide to find the right combination of ideas. That takes an enormous amount of dedication and skill. However, there’s no evidence that these talents are innate. You can learn the skills you need to up your innovation game.

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We Need To Focus More On Networks And Less On Nodes

2017 December 10
by Greg Satell

In the mid-1980s, a Robert Kelley of Carnegie Mellon University began to research why some engineers at Bell Labs performed so much better than others. Initially, what he found didn’t make much sense, By any conventional analysis, the outperforming engineers were nothing special. They seemed just like anyone else.

Yet when he looked at their networks, he began to understand the secret to their success. The best engineers weren’t necessarily any smarter than anyone else, but they were masters at “knowing who knows.” It was their ability to make connections that helped them identify the crucial insights that could crack a tough problem.

A number of later studies, ranging from Broadway plays to the design firm IDEO to currency traders found much the same thing. Great innovators are able to see things others can’t because they function as effective knowledge brokers. They are able to build networks that connect them to diverse knowledge and insights that help them to solve tough problems.

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When Corporations Fund Startups, Both Can Win

2017 December 6
by Greg Satell

Ever since the Netscape IPO in 1995, venture capital has taken on an almost mystical quality. The idea of investors in khakis backing a few kids in a garage to rival the world’s largest corporations has far more romantic appeal than fat-cat bankers chomping away at cigars in stuffy boardrooms.

Before long, corporate America wanted in on the action, with mixed results. Some early investors that set up venture capital arms, such as Intel, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, did well. But all too often, there was a culture clash between traditional executives and the venture capital world.

Today, however, corporate venture capital seems to be hitting its stride. From 2011 to 2016, the number of global active corporate investors has tripled to 965 and 75% of the Fortune 100 have an internal VC. To get a sense of what’s going on, I spoke to Scott Lenet, President of Touchdown Ventures, which manages funds for corporate stalwarts like Kellogg and TEGNA.

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Transformation Takes More Than Ideas, Behaviors Also Need To Change

2017 December 3
by Greg Satell

Stories of innovation usually follow a simple, but common narrative. Someone gets an idea, figures out how to make it work and changes the world. Yet that is rarely how it actually happens. Far more often, someone comes up with a great idea and it never gets off the ground because no one is willing to accept it.

Ignaz Semmelweis came up with the idea that washing hands could drastically reduce infections, but was considered a quack and died in a mental hospital. Chester Carlson shopped his idea for the Xerox machine to 20 different firms but had no takers. It took Jim Allison three years to get anyone to invest in cancer immunotherapy.

The truth is that innovation is never a single event, but a process of discovery, engineering and transformation and is often the transformation phase that is most difficult and takes the longest. Just because you have a breakthrough idea doesn’t mean anyone knows what to do with it, because every meaningful innovation requires us to change practices and behaviors.

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3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Bet Your Business On A Platform

2017 November 29
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by Greg Satell

Hertz is a nearly 100 year-old business valued at about $2 billion. Uber is an 8 year-old business valued at $50 billion. Marriott is a 90 year-old business, with hotels all over the world, and is valued at $39 billion, while AirBnB achieved a similar value in just 11 years and doesn’t own any rooms at all.

As Barry Libert, Megan Beck, and Jerry Wind point out in an article in Harvard Business Review, many businesses today are finding that they can achieve massive valuations by leveraging platforms based on “digital, intellectual, and relationship assets” rather than physical assets to “harness the power of networks.”

They’re not the only ones. A number of recent books, including The Network Imperative, by the aforementioned authors, Matchmakers and The Platform Revolution, tout the benefits on low-asset platform businesses over traditional “pipeline” businesses. Yet platforms are not a panacea and businesses based on them have a number of flaws that aren’t always obvious.

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The Next Great Transformation Will Be From Bits To Atoms

2017 November 26
by Greg Satell

When engineers from Xerox PARC showed off their revolutionary new personal computer, the Alto, at the company’s global conference in 1977, senior executives weren’t particularly impressed. It just didn’t seem to be relevant to their jobs or their business. Their wives, however, were transfixed.

The reason for the disparity was that the executives saw a tool to automate secretarial work, which they considered to be a low value activity. The wives — many of whom had been secretaries — saw an entirely new world of possibility and, when Steve Jobs built the Macintosh based on the Alto, everyone else saw it too.

It’s easy to shake our heads and laugh at those shortsighted executives of the past, but we’d do ourselves a much greater service by realizing that we are not that different. The truth is that the next big thing always starts out looking like nothing at all, so it’s hard to grasp its implications early on. That’s essentially where we are today with the shift from bits to atoms.

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Data Bias Is Becoming A Massive Problem

2017 November 22
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by Greg Satell

Nobody sets out to be biased, but it’s harder to avoid than you would think. Wikipedia lists over 100 documented biases from authority bias and confirmation bias to the Semmelweis effect, we have an enormous tendency to let things other than the facts to affect our judgments. We all, as much as we hate to admit it, are vulnerable.

Machines, even virtual ones, have biases too. They are designed, necessarily, to favor some kinds of data over others. Unfortunately, we rarely question the judgments of mathematical models and, in many cases, their biases can pervade and distort operational reality, creating unintended consequences that are hard to undo.

What makes data bias so damaging is that we are mostly unaware of it. We assume that data and analytics are objective, but that’s almost never the case. Our machines are, for better or worse, extensions of ourselves and inherit our subjective judgments. As data and analytics become a core component of our decision making, we need to be far more careful.

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You Can Never Build The Future By Looking To The Past

2017 November 19
by Greg Satell

“The biggest change you are going to see over the next year is that we want to bring our toy stores to life,” newly minted Toys R Us CEO Dave Brandon told a reporter a little over a year ago. “I want kids to be dragging their parents to our stores because they want to see what’s going on at Toys R Us this weekend.”

The sentiment seems eerily similar to former Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes’ “Rock the Block” strategy and his assertion that “As long as we change the product assortment to meet the changing needs of the customer, our stores will remain relevant.” Much like Blockbuster, Toys R Us recently filed for bankruptcy.

When a business gets into trouble, the first impulse is often to improve operations. That can be a good idea, because improving business fundamentals can improve performance. Yet it also fails to take into account that there is a essential trade-off between optimization and innovation. To beat disruption, you need to explore and experiment to find something new.

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Every Business Today Needs To Prepare For An AI-Driven World. Here’s How:

2017 November 15
by Greg Satell

In the late 1960s and early 70s, the first computer-aided design (CAD) software packages began to appear. Initially, they were mostly used for high-end engineering tasks, but as they got cheaper and simpler to use, they became a basic tool to automate the work of engineers and architects.

According to a certain logic, with so much of the heavy work being shifted to machines, a lot of engineers and architects must have been put out of work, but in fact just the opposite happened. There are far more of them today than 20 years ago and employment in the sector is supposed to grow another 7% by 2024.

Still, while the dystopian visions of robots taking our jobs are almost certainly overblown, Josh Sutton, Global Head, Data & Artificial Intelligence at Publicis.Sapient, sees significant disruption ahead. Unlike the fairly narrow effect of CAD software, AI will transform every industry and not every organization will be able to make the shift. The time to prepare is now.

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