American industry has a rich heritage of top-notch corporate labs. Bell Labs created not only the transistor, but also other fundamental breakthroughs, such as the laser and information theory. PARC, developed much of the technology we associate with modern computers, such as the mouse and the graphical user interface.
Both labs have attained mythical status and rightly so. Yet IBM Research has been no less important, developing early breakthroughs such as the first computer language and the relational database, garnering 5 Nobel Prizes along the way. And unlike Bell Labs and PARC, it’s still going strong.
By the mid-1980’s, the American semiconductor industry seemed like it was doomed. Although US firms had pioneered and dominated the technology for decades, they were now getting pummeled by cheaper Japanese imports. Much like cars and electronics, microchips seemed destined to become another symbol of American decline.
The dire outlook had serious ramifications for both US competitiveness and national security. So in 1986, the American government created SEMATECH, a consortium of government agencies, research institutions and private industry. By the mid 1990’s, the US was once again dominating semiconductors.
Today, SEMATECH is a wholly private enterprise, funded by its members, but its original model is being widely deployed to solve new problems, such as creating next generation batteries, curing cancer and reviving American manufacturing. The truth is that some of the problems we face today are simply too big and complex to be solved by any one organization.
I recently wrote an article about Tribune Publishing’s reincarnation as Tronc and the poorly thought out video that the company put out describing its efforts. It seemed to be well received and many people, even those who work at Tronc, seemed to think I had gotten it right.
My basic point was that the notion that you can transform a failing media company — or any company in any industry for that matter — by infusing it with data and algorithms is terribly misguided. I stand by that analysis, but I also realize that rather than tell publishers what they should do, I merely spelled out what won’t work.
I also think my article gave Tronc’s management short shrift. The fact is that they are trying to revive a storied icon of American journalism and should be given some credit. As a former publishing CEO who managed a number of digital and print brands, I know how difficult that can be. So here are four things that publishers need to know to compete in the digital age.
We tend to think of innovation as a moment of epiphany followed by an onward march toward disruption. Sure, there are always some twists and turns along the way, but fearless entrepreneurs seem to have no problem adapting, iterating and pivoting their way to incredible success.
That makes for inspiring stories, but the truth is that innovation more often follows a long and twisted path. Chief among the difficulties is the wide chasm—often known as the Valley of Death—that separates the discovery of important new insights and the development of a viable product. Many promising ideas never make it through.
That’s one of the things that makes James Allison’s development of Cancer Immunotherapy so inspiring. Not only is it achieving miraculous results, curing people with terminal cancer who once would have had no hope, but has led others to pursue similar research. The story also shows how hard it is to bring a major discovery to market, even if it’s a miracle cure.
A few weeks ago, my friend and former colleague Vitaly Sych reached out and asked me to write an essay about “change in America” for the Ukrainian newsmagazine, “Novoe Vremya.” It is to be published in a supplement to the magazine published in cooperation with the American Embassy in Kyiv this week.
Ukrainians are, for a variety of reasons, intensely curious about the US. They, like most nations, are interested in knowing more about the most powerful country in the world. Our influence in their affairs has grown since the Euromaidan protests and the conflict with Russia that followed. Much of their fate rests in our hands.
So while we are currently viewed very favorably by the former Soviet Republic — by a margin of 69-22 according to Pew — and they welcome our support for their independence, there remains an element of confusion surrounding us, our values and our motives. I wrote this essay for a Ukrainian audience, but I’d also like to share it here on July 4th.
After nearly seven years writing this blog, I’ve decided to start work on a book about innovation. While there is certainly no shortage of great innovation books on the market, I feel strongly that the time has come for a different approach and I think there is much I can add to the discussion.
The problem, as I see it, is that most of the literature tends to be narrowly focused on a particular approach, leaning heavily on either a single organization’s experience or a limited set of case studies. These can be very helpful if they happen to describe a problem you’re trying to solve, but absolutely useless when they don’t
That’s why I’m writing this book, to give managers a more complete account of how to match problems with solutions. To do so, I’ve cast a wide net, talking to a diverse array of executives and researchers about their work. There have also been many books that I’ve found helpful. So for this summer’s list, I’d like to highlight 17 books that I think innovators should read.
Tribune Publishing, a storied icon of American journalism, recently renamed itself Tronc and released a video to show off a new “content optimization platform,” that its Chief Technology Officer, Malcolm CasSelle, claims will be “the key to making our content really valuable to the broadest possible audience” through the use of machine learning.
As a marketing ploy the move clearly failed. Instead of debuting a new tech-savvy firm that would, in the words of Chief Digital Officer Anne Vasquez, be like “having a tech startup culture meet a legacy corporate culture,” it came off as buzzword-laden and naive. The Internet positively erupted with derision.
Yet what I find even more disturbing than the style is the substance. The notion that you can transform a failing media company—or any company in any industry for that matter— by infusing it with data and algorithms is terribly misguided. While technology can certainly improve performance, the idea that it can replace a sound strategy is a dangerous delusion.
“Managing without soul has become an epidemic in society. Many managers these days seem to specialize in killing cultures, at the expense of human engagement.” That’s what management guru Henry Mintzberg recently wrote about the current state of corporate culture on his blog.
Too make matters even worse, he points out that many executives are actually trained to operate that way at MBA programs. While business schools teach technocratic skills, such as finance, optimization and resource management, they do very little in the way of strengthening souls.
Sadly, corporate culture discussions usually devolve into buzzwords, like “authenticity.” And while Mintzberg says that after a half century of studying organizations he can get a sense of an one’s soul “in an instant,” he offers little guidance how to develop one. The truth is that you don’t find your soul inside yourself, but by finding your place in the world.
A data scientist, it’s been said, is a statistician who works in Silicon Valley, which is another way of saying that the term has attained true buzzword status. The potential to be unlocked is undeniably, but so far, there has been no shortage of disappointment and frustration. Truth be told, the steak hasn’t always lived up to the sizzle.
The problem hasn’t been with big data itself, but with the practicalities of technology. Simply put, we design systems to perform particular tasks and only later realize that we want them to do more than we originally realized. That’s when it becomes clear that our systems are hopelessly incompatible.
In a nutshell, that’s the problem IBM is now trying to fix. By creating a universal platform, which it calls the Data Science Experience, it hopes to integrate data trapped in separate protocols and incompatible systems. This will not only enable more advanced analytics, it will help us to reimagine how we manage our organizations and compete in the marketplace.
In 1882, just three years after he had almost literally shocked the world with his revolutionary lighting system, Thomas Edison opened his Pearl Street Station, the first commercial electrical distribution plant in the United States. By 1884 it was already servicing over 500 homes.
Up till that point, electric light was mostly a curiosity. While a few of the mighty elite could afford to install generators in their homes—J.P.Morgan was one of the very first—it was out of the reach of most people. Electrical transmission changed all that and in the ensuing years much of the country wired up.
Still, as Paul David explained in his paper, The Dynamo and the Computer, electricity didn’t have a measurable impact on the economy until the early 1920’s—40 years later, when we finally knew enough about the new technology and learned how to unleash its potential. The story of how that happened shows why it takes more than a single idea to change the world.