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Social Movements Can Teach Us A Lot About What It Takes To Build A Business

2017 August 20
by Greg Satell

When Occupy Wall Street took over Zuccotti Park, in the heart of the financial district in Lower Manhattan, they inspired the nation and the world. Soon, similar protests soon began popping up in nearly 1000 cities in 82 countries. It was a massive outpouring, but within a few months the protesters had disappeared, achieving little if anything at all.

The Otpor Movement in Serbia began with much less fanfare. In the beginning, at least, it seemed to be made up of little more than teenage pranks. Yet within a few short years, they emerged victorious, ending the reign of dictator Slobodan Milošević. The contrast between Occupy and Otpor couldn’t be more stark.

As I explain in my TED talk, the difference in outcomes is no accident. The members of Otpor have since gone on to reproduce their results by training activists in other movements such as the Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring. Entrepreneurs who seek to create their own brand of transformational change can learn a lot from Otpor’s principles.

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Amazon’s Purchase Of Whole Foods Shows Why Every Industry Needs An Ecosystem

2017 August 16
by Greg Satell

In the 1970s, Route 128 outside Boston was considered to be the center of the tech world. Companies like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General and others disrupted the market for mainframes with new minicomputers that were smaller, cheaper and more agile. They seemed destined to dominate the information age.

Yet as AnnaLee Saxenian explained in her classic book, Regional Advantage, by the 1990s, the mantle had clearly passed to Silicon Valley. While the Boston firms were vertically integrated islands unto themselves, the Silicon Valley upstarts worked to integrate themselves into a ecosystem.

As Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods highlighted, today just about every industry is facing many of the same forces that the Boston tech giants did 40 years ago. Unfortunately, many are making the same mistakes by thinking strictly in terms of proprietary advantage rather than building an industrial ecosystem and they will undoubtedly meet the same fate.

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Happy 8th Birthday Digital Tonto!

2017 August 13
by Greg Satell

The 2009 financial crash was a truly global crisis, but it hit few places as hard as Ukraine. Already weakened by infighting among the opposition forces that came to power in 2004, the crash was more than its fragile economy could take. Within a year, Viktor Yanukovych, a brutish and incompetent autocrat, rose to power.

It was a disaster, but it also was the beginning of change in a nation that had seemed impervious to it. The 2014 Euromaidan protests resulted in Yanukovych’s impeachment and the rise of a new western oriented government. The country in shambles and in heavy debt, reform was forced on it. Now, Ukraine is expected to return to economic growth this year.

It was also amid the turmoil of 2009 that I started Digital Tonto in my Kyiv apartment in August, eight years ago. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from it, but soon found that many people thought I had something to say and, this past year, I successfully launched my book, Mapping Innovation. So Happy Birthday Digital Tonto! Here are some of my favorite posts.


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Is It Time To Rethink The Scientific Method?

2017 August 9
by Greg Satell

Designing an airplane has long been an exercise in tradeoffs. A larger airplane with more powerful engines can hold more people and go farther, but is costlier to run. A smaller one is more cost efficient, but lacks capacity. For decades, these have been nearly inviolable constraints that manufacturers just had to live with.

Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner is different. It didn’t just redesign the airplane, it redesigned the materials that go in it. Because of its use of composite materials that are lighter and stronger than traditional metals, the company was able to build an aircraft that is 20% more efficient, but sacrifices nothing in terms of capacity or performance.

Typically, this has been a game that only a multibillion dollar corporation can play. The cost of developing and testing new materials costs millions of dollars a year, with no guarantee of any return on investment. Yet now, that’s starting to change. Big data and machine learning are revolutionizing the science of making things and will make it available to the masses.

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4 Things Gandhi Can Teach Us About Transformational Change

2017 August 6
by Greg Satell

On December 31st, 1929 the Indian National Congress, the foremost nationalist group on the subcontinent, issued a Declaration of Purna Swaraj, or complete independence from British rule. It also announced a campaign of civil disobedience, but no one had any idea what form it should take. That task fell to Mohandas Gandhi.

The Mahatma returned to his ashram to contemplate next steps. He needed to come up with something that would unite the Indian people, but not get them so riled up that it would lead to violence. After weeks of meditation, he emerged with an answer that impressed no one. In fact, it seemed like a joke. He would march for salt.

Yet it turned out to be a stroke of genius that would invigorate the movement for Indian independence like nothing else could and break the British hold on power in the country. In doing so, Gandhi proved himself to be not only a potent spiritual leader, but also a master strategist. Today, there’s still a lot we can learn from Gandhi about making change happen.

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Stop Complaining About Meetings And Start Making Them More Effective

2017 August 2
by Greg Satell

Meetings used to be a fairly intimate affair. Key people would gather regularly to compare notes and make important decisions. Today, however, they seem to be taking over. We have so many meetings, conference calls, video conferences and impromptu get togethers that it scarcely seems that we have time for anything else.

This is no illusion. A recent article in Harvard Business Review, cited research suggesting that executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960. That’s more than half of a standard 40-hour work week and it doesn’t include unscheduled meetings or hallway run-ins.

Still, we need to stop whining about meetings and start making  them more productive. As Chris Fussell explains in his new book, One Mission, today we operate in a far more complex environment that requires a high degree of collaboration and interoperability. So meetings today need to function as enablers of networks, not extensions of hierarchies.   read more…

No Innovation Strategy Fits Every Problem, So You Need To Work With Full Toolbox

2017 July 30
by Greg Satell

One of the best innovation stories I’ve ever heard came to me from a senior executive at a leading tech firm. Apparently, his company won a million dollar contract to design a sensor that could detect pollutants at very small concentrations underwater. It was an unusually complex problem, so the firm set up a team of crack chip designers and they started putting their heads together.

About 45 minutes into their first working session, the marine biologist assigned to their team walked in with a bag of clams and set them on the table. Seeing the confused looks of the chip designers, he explained that clams can detect pollutants at just a few parts-per-million and when that happens, they open their shells.

As it turned out, they didn’t need a fancy chip to detect pollutants, just a simple one to alert the system to clams opening their shells. “They saved $999,000 and ate the clams for dinner,” the executive told me. That, in essence, is the value of open innovation and it can be very helpful, but it is only one tool among many. We need to learn to use the entire toolbox.

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3 Technologies You Need To Start Paying Attention To Right Now

2017 July 26

At any given time, a technology or two captures the zeitgeist. A few years ago it was social media and mobile that everybody was talking about. These days it’s machine learning and block chain. Everywhere you look, consulting firms are issuing reports, conferences are being held and new “experts” are being anointed.

In a sense, there’s nothing wrong with that. Social media and mobile computing really did change the world and, clearly, the impact of artificial intelligence and distributed database architectures will be substantial. Every enterprise needs to understand these technologies and how they will impact its business.

Still we need to remember that we always get disrupted by what we can’t see. The truth is that the next big thing always starts out looking like nothing at all. That’s why it’s so disruptive. If we saw it coming, it wouldn’t be. So here are three technologies you may not of heard about, but you should start paying attention to. The fate of your business may depend on it.

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Can America Win The New Century?

2017 July 23

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States was an industrial and technological backwater. Still mostly an agrarian nation, bright young students would often go to Europe to pursue advanced degrees in the sciences, because American universities were considered second rate.

By the end of the century though, the United States had become the center of the technological universe. Earning more Nobel Prizes in the sciences than any other country, we built unparalleled dominance in industries ranging from information technology to bioscience. US universities are now considered the finest in the world.

Yet the new century poses unprecedented challenges. Globalization and other trends are creating a multi-polar world. A rising Asia, led by China, threatens to usurp American primacy while, at the same time entrepreneurship is at or near historic lows. If we are to win in this new century, we need to return to the values that made us dominant in the first place.

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4 Myths About Innovation That “Gurus” Love To Tell

2017 July 19
by Greg Satell

Go to any innovation conference and you’re sure to be amazed. Someone will stand up on stage and show you how to unleash creativity in your organization, develop pathbreaking products and run circles around your competition. Step by step, you will be walked through the principles by which you will achieve success.

This won’t be idle talk either. You will be shown how people just like you used these principles to attain incredible success. It may come in the form of the “one thing” that made Steve Jobs a great innovator, the 5 habits of Elon Musk or in some other form, but the message will be clear: This path will be your salvation.

Yet without fail, they will neglect to ask crucial questions. How many organizations who pursued a Steve Jobs’ path failed? How many with Elon Musk’s toil in relative obscurity? All too often, correlation is confused with causality because so few take the effort to look for examples to the contrary. It gets in the way of a nice story. That’s how myths take hold.

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