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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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Why You Need To Understand Noah Effects And Joseph Effects

2017 July 16
by Greg Satell

In 1958, a brilliant young mathematician named Benoit Mandelbrot went to work as a researcher for IBM. His first assignment seemed like a straightforward problem, but turned out to be devilishly complex. He was tasked with figuring out how noise in communication lines arises and identifying some way of minimizing it.

His solution was simple but ingenious. He realized that there was not one type of effect at play but two. The first, which he called “Joseph effects,” after the biblical story about seven good years and seven bad years, was continuous and predictable. The second, which he termed “Noah effects,” was chaotic and unpredictable.

He soon found that these two effects were present in more than communication lines, but in everything from the flooding of the Nile River to financial craches and they play havoc with our ability to see the future. Even more importantly, they can help us navigate an increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex business environment and survive for the long-term.

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How Idle Chatter And Gossip Can Make You More Productive

2017 July 12
by Greg Satell

A while back I was having lunch with a friend who is one of the most dynamic people I’ve ever met. A successful businesswoman, she regularly commutes between the five countries in which she run operations, while at the same time somehow manages to be a doting single mother to her young child.

Despite her comings and goings, we’re able to stay in touch through social media and, because she is something of a power user of Facebook and Skype, we’re able to keep up with what’s going on in each others lives. So I was quite surprised when she told me that she doesn’t allow her employees to use social media in the office.

When I asked her why, she said that she didn’t want her people gossiping at work because it would distract them. When I pointed out that her use of social media didn’t seem to hurt her productivity, she didn’t make the connection. Yet the truth is that gossip can be an incredibly effective use of time and is probably what made my friend so successful in the first place.

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We All Need To Prepare For A New Era Of Innovation

2017 July 9
by Greg Satell

I recently appeared as a guest on Wharton Professor David Robertson’s radio show, Innovation Navigation. David is an old pro and recently published an excellent new book on innovation, The Power of Little Ideas, so it was an interesting, wide ranging discussion that covered a lot of ground.

One of the subjects we touched on was the new era of innovation. For the past few decades, firms have innovated within well understood paradigms, Moore’s Law being the most famous, but by no means the only one. This made innovation relatively straightforward, because we were fairly sure of where technology was going.

Today, however, Moore’s Law is nearing its theoretical limits as are lithium-ion batteries. Other technologies, such as the internal combustion engine, will be replaced as well. So the next few decades are likely to look a whole lot more like the 50s and the 60s than the 90s or the aughts. Much of the value will shift from applications to fundamental technologies.

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