Look back to the year 2001 and it’s hard to imagine how different the world was. Global Internet penetration was just 5% then, compared to 50% today, and connection speeds were frustratingly slow. Mobile phones were fairly common, but were capable of little more than voice or text. Google was still just a startup.
Even if you could get online, there wasn’t much to do, besides email and some very basic information services. YouTube was still five years away and people weren’t sure if e-commerce was a viable business model. Many didn’t think Amazon would survive. Social media, of course, wasn’t even on anybody’s radar screen yet.
If the progress since then seems incredible, strap yourself in, because the change over the next 15 years will be far more fundamental and pervasive. Probably the biggest shift will be in how we use technology. While the advancements of the last 15 years have been mainly confined to the virtual world, by 2031 we are going to see the physical world transformed.
For the past 20 or 30 years, innovation, especially in the digital space, has been fairly straightforward. We could rely on technology to improve at a foreseeable pace and that allowed us to predict, with a high degree of certainty, what would be possible in the years to come.
That led most innovation efforts to be focused on applications, with a heavy emphasis on the end user. Startups that were able to design an experience, test it, adapt and iterate quickly could outperform big firms that had far more resources and technological sophistication. Agility was often the defining competitive attribute.
Yet in the years to come the pendulum is likely to swing from applications back to the fundamental technologies that make them possible. Rather than being able to rely on trusty old paradigms, we’ll largely be operating in the realm of the unknown. In many ways, we’ll be starting over again and innovation will look more like it did in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
By any measure, Children’s Health in Dallas is a world class institution. It boasts a top notch medical staff, is consistently ranked among the best children’s hospitals in the country and features a Level 1 Trauma Center. Yet by 2011, despite the accolades, its CEO, Chris Durovich, was beginning to have doubts about the center’s impact on the community.
The problem was that, although its patients were getting excellent care once they entered the facility, the health indicators in the community as a whole were getting worse, especially with regard to chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. Durovich was determined to fix the problem.
So he brought in Peter Roberts, a longtime healthcare executive, to diagnose the problems in the community and design solutions that would make a positive impact. Over the past four years he, along with the Business Innovation Factory, have been developing an innovative new model that reimagines how the healthcare system works with the communities it serves.
I never considered myself to be a writer and, as a publishing CEO, I tried my best to avoid any creative aspirations I might have had. When management sticks its nose into the creative side of the business it always creates problems. Nevertheless, in 2009, with Ukraine heading down a dark path, I found myself writing essays in LinkedIn groups to draw traffic to my profile.
Much to my surprise, I soon began receiving private messages from people who wanted to let me know how much they liked what I wrote. At first, I thought they were nuts! But the messages kept coming and so I kept writing. A few weeks later, Digital Tonto was born and it turns seven years old this week.
Over the years, the site has built a strong following and I’ve become a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Last month, I took the next step and signed my first publishing contract for a book that will come out next spring. It’s been a wild ride and a wonderful journey. To celebrate, here are some my favorite posts from the last seven years.
For a long time, marketing was driven by taglines—short, evocative slogans that captured the essence of a brand’s message. Nike encouraged us to “Just Do It,” while Apple inspired us to “Think Different.” Miller Lite simply had to say, “Tastes great, less filling” and product flew off the shelves.
Taglines worked because they cut through the clutter and stood out in a sea of brands vying for our attention. Marketers needed to project images that were compact, but meaningful or risk getting lost in the mix. Yet it is no longer enough to merely grab attention. Marketers now need to hold attention.
Today, when consumers take notice of a brand, they are less likely to run to a store and more likely to jump on the Internet, where their digital activity can be retargeted by competitors. We need to shift from crafting messages to creating experiences. Brands can no longer rely on slogans and jingles, but must learn to tell stories. Here are four rules you need to know:
In 1952, Remington Rand’s UNIVAC computer debuted on CBS to forecast the 1952 election as early results came in. By 8:30, the “electronic brain” was predicting a landslide, with Eisenhower taking 438 electoral votes to Stevenson’s 93. The CBS brass scoffed at the unlikely result, but by the end of the night UNIVAC proved to be uncannily accurate.
It was that night that the era of digital computing truly began and it was a big blow to IBM, the leader in punch card calculators at the time. It’s Research division, however, was already working on more advanced digital technology. In 1964, it launched its System 360 and dominated the industry for the next two decades.
Today, we’ve reached a similar inflection point. Moore’s law, the paradigm which has driven computing for half a century will reach its limits in about five years. And much like back in the 1950’s, IBM has been working on a new quantum computer that may dominate the industry for decades to come. If that sounds unlikely, wait till you hear the ideas behind it.
We think of art as the most human of endeavors, but in recent years we’ve learned that machines can understand creativity too. There are algorithms that evaluate songs and movies for record companies and movie studios. One music professor even created a program that wrote compositions which drew critical acclaim.
Paradoxically, developing algorithms that can create artistic works pushes the bounds of human capability. Unlike machines that, say, dig holes or build cars, algorithms that produce creative work need to understand things that even humans find difficult to articulate. That’s the idea behind Google’s Magenta project, which is developing machine learning tools for art and music
Magenta is built on top of TensorFlow, the library of machine learning tools that the firm recently released as an open source technology, allowing anyone who wants to download the source code. To get a sense of why Google would open up its most advanced work, which is at the heart of its most important products, I asked company executives about it.
I never planned to be a writer. In fact, it was something I actively avoided. As a publishing CEO, I felt it was important to steer clear of the creative process. When business side people start inserting themselves into creative work, it usually leads to trouble. So I focused on supporting other people’s creativity rather than pursuing my own.
But a strange confluence of events led to a blog, which found an audience and led to me becoming a contributor on Forbes and Harvard Business Review. That, in turn, led to an even bigger audience and, more recently, a book deal. So now, I guess I’m a full fledged writer.
I’m one of the last people you’d expect to become a writer. I wasn’t very interested in writing in school and, to be honest, wasn’t particularly good at it when I first started my blog. Yet the truth is that talent is overrated and anyone can learn to be creative over time. So here’s five things that I’ve learned along the way that can help you unlock your own creativity.
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.