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Here’s How Technology Can Help Solve The Black Swan Problem

2017 May 24
by Greg Satell

In The One Percent Doctrine, veteran journalist Ron Suskind described how former Vice President Dick Cheney, when told that a unlikely but dire threat had merely a one percent chance of happening, argued that, in terms of response, it should be treated as a certainty.

The idea has a certain logic to it. Clearly, if the potential impact of an event is consequential enough, then it needs to be addressed whether it is likely to happen or not. After all, unlikely things happen all the time. However, nobody’s resources are unlimited. So you need to balance the need to prepare for low probability events with the need to address more likely ones.

That, in essence, is the dilemma every business finds itself in. We spend most of our time working on the regular stuff, even though, as Nassim Taleb explained in The Black Swan, even very low probability events can have an enormous impact. Fortunately, today technology is transforming our ability unlock opportunity even in the most unlikely places.

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4 Things We Can Still Learn From Albert Einstein

2017 May 21
by Greg Satell

When we think of Albert Einstein, we inevitably conjure up images of the icon rather than the man. We see Einstein with his wild hair and his tongue sticking out or Einstein as a playful old man, riding a bicycle. We remember his cheerful confidence and his easy comfort with his own genius. He wasn’t always that way.

The younger Einstein, the one who actually came up with the ideas that established his place in history rather than the world famous scientist he became, was far different. Reeling from chronic unemployment and a troubled marriage, he was working as an obscure clerk in a patent office when he changed the world.

Yet we can learn far more from that awkward young man that we can from the icon. While the older Einstein was, as Robert Oppenheimer put it, “a landmark, not a beacon,” the early Einstein was a creative force who transformed how we see our universe. So don’t be fooled by the witty myth in the tattered sweater. Here are 4 lessons the real genius can still teach us.

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Truly Great Innovators Do These 4 Things

2017 May 17
by Greg Satell

In the process of researching my book, Mapping Innovation, I talked to dozens of successful innovators, from world class scientists seeking to cure cancer and create new computing architectures, to senior executives at large corporations and entrepreneurs at startups. It was a pretty diverse group.

One of the underlying premises of the book is that there is no one “true” path to innovation, so I expected to see a variety of approaches and that’s indeed what I found. Some of the people I talked to were slow and deliberate, spending years or even decades on a difficult problem. Others were fast and agile, iterating and pivoting toward a viable solution.

However, I also noticed that some remarkably constant themes emerged. Over time, it became clear that while the people I talked to were vastly different in background, training, personality type and method, they tended to have four attributes in common. While none of these will make you a great innovator, you are unlikely to innovate without them.

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This Is How Your Business Will Be Disrupted

2017 May 14
by Greg Satell

The principles of running a business are fairly straightforward. You create clear objectives, achieve them efficiently and try to get better as you go. Business school professors have fancy names for this stuff, like “strategic DNA,” “core competencies” and “continuous improvement,” but in a nutshell all that stuff means is that you try to do things better, faster and cheaper.

The problem comes when you find yourself running a square-peg business in a round-hole world. When that happens, following traditional best practices will only result in getting better and better at doing things people want less and less. Round holes don’t care how good your square pegs are or how efficiently you can produce them.

Make no mistake. Eventually, every business finds itself in a round hole world. That’s why good companies fail. Not because they somehow become stupid and lazy all of a sudden, but because the world changes and they lose relevance. Then those same practices that led to success now lead to failure. We need to learn to prepare for a future we cannot yet see.

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4 Innovation Lessons From Charles Darwin

2017 May 10
by Greg Satell

Many people think that Charles Darwin came up with the idea of evolution. He didn’t. In fact, by the time he hit the world stage, many people already believed in evolution and there were already a number of theories, such as those of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, that sought to explain it. Darwin was merely the first to come up with a workable hypothesis.

Today, Darwin’s theory pops up in places you wouldn’t expect. Besides medicine, where it has great influence, algorithms based on Darwin’s work are used in everything from logistics to engineering. As Pedro Domingos explains in The Master Algorithm, it has also made major contributions to artificial intelligence.

Clearly, Darwin is one of the most influential scientists who ever lived. Today, more than 150 years after he first published On the Origin of Species, his theory remains one of the most essential and pervasive scientific tools we have. Yet it is not only product of his work that’s valuable, Darwin’s innovation process is something that we can all still learn from.

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The New Era Of Mass Collaboration

2017 May 7

In 1991, Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel on the Internet and invited anyone who wanted to download, use and modify it. In an amazingly short amount of time, a community built up around Torvalds’ initial code and their contributions transformed it into an operating system that rivaled those of even corporate giants like Microsoft.

Even now, it seems somewhat of an unlikely story that such a fledgling effort could make such a transformational impact. Yet today, open communities have become so pervasive that the term “proprietary,” to a large extent, just means the stuff we build on top of open source software. And we’re just beginning to scratch the surface.

Today, we’re entering a new era, where open platforms are going beyond just software and starting to take hold in everything from scientific research to manufacturing. In fact, as our ability to connect to ecosystems of talent, technology and information continues to increase exponentially, the solution to many tough problems is becoming more social than technical.

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The Internet Of Things Is Transforming Industries You Would Never Think Of

2017 May 3
by Greg Satell

I was eleven years old when my family got its first computer in 1981. It didn’t do much. Mostly, I used it for writing reports for school and playing video games. My dad also ran some spreadsheets to help him run his business, but for the most part, the family computer was something us kids spent time with.

Things hadn’t changed much by the early 1990’s when I started working either. Computers were mainly tools for automating secretarial tasks, not for professional work. Economist Robert Solow observed around that time, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

But in the late 1990’s computers became truly transformative. Combined with the Internet and email, they became conduits to a continuous flow of information that could be processed, analyzed and turned into action. As digital connectivity begins to transform physical machines, it’s likely that we’re now in the early days of a similar productivity boom.

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How To Be A World Class Performer In Anything You Set Your Mind To

2017 April 30
by Greg Satell

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the world to the 10,000-hour rule. As he described it, world class talents like Bill Gates, The Beatles and chess grandmasters attained their great prowess only after 10,000 hours of practice. The message was that if you are willing to put in the time, you can achieve greatness as well.

Well, not exactly. The 10,000-hour concept is based on the work of Anders Ericsson, who studied not just any kind of practice, but deliberate practice. To achieve a high level of excellence, you must do more than merely show up. In fact, research shows that you can actually get worse with experience.

Yet as Ericsson explains in his new book, Peak, the core principle remains valid. The only way to become a top performer is through practice. It is not unusual for high school athletes today to perform at what would have been considered Olympic level ability a century ago. So clearly, natural talent only goes so far. Here’s what will take you the rest of the way.

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We Need To Educate Kids For The Future, Not The Past. Here’s How:

2017 April 26
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by Greg Satell

Our education system was designed for the 20th century. It is mostly focused on teaching kids how to retain information and manipulate numbers. It regularly tests these abilities and, if you do well, you are promised to get into a good college, have a successful career and live a happy, prosperous life.

Unfortunately, those promises have become empty. Today, when we all carry around supercomputers in our pocket, tasks like remembering facts and doing long division have largely been automated. The truth is, there is little that we learned in school that can’t now be handled with a quick Google search and an Excel spreadsheet.

Clearly, we need to rethink education. Our kids will face a much different world than we live in now. In fact, a study at Oxford concluded that nearly half of the jobs that exist today will be automated in the next 20 years. To prepare for the future, we need to replace our regimented education system with one that fosters skills like teamwork, communication and exploration.

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Don’t Look For A Great Idea, Look For A Good Problem

2017 April 23
by Greg Satell

At the center of every significant innovation is always an idea. Clarence Birdseye’s idea about freezing fish revolutionized the food industry and American diets. Charles Schwab’s idea about flat commissions changed investing forever. Steve Jobs idea about creating a device that could hold 1000 songs in your pocket turned around Apple’s fortunes.

Yet we shouldn’t confuse a great idea with where it came from. Truly useful ideas don’t arise from out of the ether or through fancy techniques like brainstorming or divergent thinking. The best ideas come in response to an important problem and thrive under constraints.

In researching my book, Mapping Innovation, I found that the most innovative firms often aren’t any more creative or even that they are better at solving problems. Rather, it was how they aggressively seek out new problems to solve that made all the difference. The truth is that if you want to create a truly innovative culture you shouldn’t glorify ideas, but problems.

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