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How Open Data for Science Will Change How Businesses Compete

2017 April 12
by Greg Satell

Today, even an ordinary teenager with a smartphone has almost godlike power over information. With a few swipes and clicks, anybody can access the world’s information, use advanced tools to analyze its meaning and share it with anyone else. That’s really changed how we innovate.

So it’s strange that the practice of science has, for the most part, been stuck in the dark ages. The process of research, peer review and publication remains almost as slow and cumbersome as it was decades ago, which hinders our ability to turn new discoveries into useful applications.

That may be changing though. Taking a page from the open source movement, there are a number of efforts underway to aggregate the latest knowledge and make it available to anyone who wants to use it. From cancer research and materials science to psychological profiles, these new data sets will enable and empower innovation like never before.

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Inside The Race To Build A Battery That Can Power The 21st Century

2017 April 9
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by Greg Satell

The garage startup has become as much of an American icon in the twenty first century as the automobile and the drive-in were to earlier generations. The idea that anyone with an idea can change the world is as romantic as democracy itself, but it’s not altogether true. A garage startup only works if there is existing technology to build on top of.

The problem is that every technology eventually runs out of steam. When that happens, progress will grind to a halt without a significant breakthrough. As technology becomes more complex, that type of advancement becomes so hard to achieve that it becomes out of reach for any single organization, much less a few guys in a garage.

That is essentially where we are with energy storage. Lithium-ion, the 40 year-old technology that powers everything from smartphones to electric cars is nearing its theoretical limits just as the renewable energy revolution is demanding cheaper batteries that can store more energy at lower cost. Solving problems like these requires a massively collaborative approach.

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The 3 Things You Need to Build an All Star Team

2017 April 5
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by Greg Satell

Everybody loves a star performer, whether it’s Lebron James, Jack Welch or Yo-Yo Ma, individual achievement is always held in the highest regard. So it’s not surprising that managers seek to stock their organization with hard driving “A” players, who went to top schools and have impressive resumes.

Yet the truth is that today high value work is most often done in teams. It wasn’t always this way. The journal Nature noted that until the 1920’s most scientific papers only had a single author, but by the 1950s that  co-authorship became the norm and, today, the average paper has four times as many authors as it back then.

Clearly there’s been a big shift from individual performance to teamwork. To solve complex problems, you don’t need the best people, you need the best teams and that means we need to change the way we evaluate, recruit, manage and train employees. Put simply, working in a team takes different skills than working alone. Here are three things you should look for.

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How To Compete And Win In An Automated Age

2017 April 2
by Greg Satell

In 1900, 30 million people in the United States were farmers, but by 1990 that number had fallen to under 3 million even as the population more than tripled. So, in a matter of speaking, 90% of American agriculture workers lost their jobs, mostly due to automation. Yet somehow, the twentieth century was seen as an era of unprecedented prosperity.

In the decades to come, we are likely to see similar shifts. Today, just like then, many people’s jobs will soon taken over by machines and many of the jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet. That inspires fear in some, excitement in others, but everybody will need to plan for a future that we can barely comprehend today.

This creates a dilemma for leaders. Clearly, any enterprise that doesn’t embrace automation won’t be able to survive any better than a farmer with a horse drawn plow. At the same time, managers need to continue to motivate employees who fear their jobs being replaced by robots. Clearly, leaders are going to rethink strategy in the age of automation.

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Here’s How Technology Will Shape Marketing Over The Next Decade

2017 March 29
by Greg Satell

Ten years ago, social media was in its infancy. Nobody even heard of mobile marketing, content marketing or big data. The iPhone hadn’t even been launched yet. If you took a reasonably competent marketer from 2007 and transported her to today, much of what she knew about her job would be irrelevant.

We’re at a similar point now. Many of the most powerful technologies that will shape marketing over the next ten years are just emerging and many marketers will be left behind. Clearly, anybody who thinks that they can get by doing more of what they’re doing today is kidding themselves.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to perfectly predict the future, but we can look at today’s technology and make some basic judgments. Big data and artificial intelligence will become much more powerful and interact more completely with the physical world. That, in turn, will transform how we identify and serve customers to something very different from today.

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We Need To Stop Trying To Predict The Future And Start Exploring It

2017 March 26
by Greg Satell

In a celebrated 1995 article in Newsweek, astronomer Clifford Stoll blasted Internet visionaries. “Do our computer pundits lack all common sense?” he asked. “The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

Clearly, he was mistaken, but Stoll was no Luddite. In fact, he was an early adopter of the Internet who had spent years online. His article merely reflected what he saw: a complex technology meant for highly technical people like him, not a easy-to-use service for ordinary consumers.

Stoll’s mistake was to confuse his knowledge of the current state of technology with the power to know where it was going. As an astronomer, he was in a very poor position to predict about how the Internet would be applied to other fields. The truth is that even really smart people get the future wrong, which is why it’s more important to explore than to predict.

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How Every Industry Can Learn From The Open Source Movement

2017 March 22
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by Greg Satell

The idea of a communal society has always been suspect. From the nihilism of the nineteenth century Fourierists to the wide-eyed optimism of the hippie communes of the 1960s, they are seen as somewhat well meaning, but also destructive and naive in their assessment of human nature.

Still, go on the Internet today and you can’t click or swipe on anything without hitting an open source community. Starting with basic technologies like Linux and Apache all they way up to highly specialized ones like Spark and Cloud Foundry, it’s hard to find any core technology that anybody truly owns anymore.

Yet the technology industry continues to prosper and grow. The trick that it pulled off was to see that incredible value can be unlocked through communal effort and that value can be used for proprietary purposes. In the years to come, that’s something that every industry will have to learn. Here are three key aspects what makes open source communities valuable.

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The Future Of Robots Is All Too Human

2017 March 19
by Greg Satell

Since 2000, the US has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs. Some say that the loss is due to foreign competition, primarily from China. Others say that it is due to higher productivity from automation and factories simply don’t need as many workers. Historically, those two trends, globalization and automation, have reinforced each other.

Yet a study by Boston Consulting Group suggests that they are starting to diverge. As automation lowers production costs, the logic of offshoring isn’t as compelling as it once was because transportation and other factors cancel out many of the benefits of moving to a low-cost country.

So we’re going to need to rethink automation. We can no longer see it merely as a way to replace workers with machines that can work all day without a coffee break, but as a way to increase productivity and create value by extending the work of humans. That means that if we are going to reap the full benefits of automation, we need to think more about people.

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The Lean Startup Is Now Helping To Transform Government Funded Science Into Real Businesses

2017 March 15

When Subra Suresh was chosen to lead the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 2010, he saw that many of the pathbreaking discoveries developed through the agency’s grants weren’t finding their way to the marketplace, so he sought to foster better links between government and industry.

This, of course, was not an entirely new idea. Over the years, there have been numerous efforts, ranging from the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 to numerous initiatives to revamp technology transfer offices within government agencies, but nothing really seemed able to speed new discoveries out of the labs and into the marketplace.

This time, Suresh and his team decided that instead of reorganizing things inside the NSF, they would help scientists become entrepreneurs themselves, using a model that had already worked wonders in Silicon Valley. The result, a program called I-Corps,  has proven to be so effective that  Congress recently ordered its expansion. Here’s the story behind it.

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How To Create Transformational Change, According To The World’s Most Successful Social Movements

2017 March 12
by Greg Satell

Throughout history, social movements — small groups, loosely connected, but united by a shared purpose — have created transformational change. Women’s suffrage, Indian independence and civil rights, just to name a few, were all achieved by the powerless banding together against the powerful.

Today, digital technology has intensified these forces, making it far easier for groups of likeminded people to connect and coordinate action. In recent years, the Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Arab Spring, the LGBT movement and others have driven world events. There is greater opportunity to create change now than ever before.

Yet the lessons of these movements transcend the political arena. As Moisés Naím pointed out in The End of Power, similar forces are transforming business, military affairs and even religion. So for managers who seek to create change, both within their organizations and in the marketplace, it is essential to learn the lessons of successful social movements.

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