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Don’t Bet On Someone Else’s Success Story

2017 October 8
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by Greg Satell

Every bold new business idea starts with a success story. Either it is a single organization or an aggregate sample that implemented a particular strategy and achieved outstanding results. That solid track record helps to convince others to adopt it, yet somehow the new management fad fails to deliver as promised.

The problem is often one of survivorship bias. While it’s fairly easy to find an examples of those who were successful with a particular strategy, the ones who tried it and failed are often overlooked. Other times, a post hoc fallacy is at work. Just because someone implemented a particular strategy doesn’t mean that’s what led to success.

The truth is that a strategy can never be validated backward, only forward. The past is a very imperfect indicator for the future because circumstances are constantly in flux. Technology, competition and customer preferences change all the time, so whenever anybody tells us that they have come up with a sure-fire way to succeed, we need to be skeptical.
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What Will We Do After Moore’s Law Ends?

2017 October 4
by Greg Satell

In 1965, Intel cofounder Gordon Moore published a remarkably prescient paper which predicted that computing power would double about every two years. For a half century, this process of doubling has proved to be so remarkably consistent that today it is commonly known as Moore’s Law and has driven the digital revolution.

In fact, we’ve become so used to the idea that our technology gets  more powerful and cheaper that we scarcely stop and think about how unprecedented it is. Certainly, we did not expect horses or plows — or even steam engines, automobiles or airplanes — to double their efficiency at a continuous rate.

Nevertheless, modern organizations have come to rely on it to such an extent that people rarely think about what it means and, with Moore’s law about to end, that’s going to be a problem. In the decades to come, we’re going to have to learn to live without the certainty of Moore’s law and operate in a new era of innovation that will be profoundly different.

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Don’t Break Down Silos, Connect Them

2017 October 1
by Greg Satell

Nobody likes a silo. Or a stovepipe for that matter. These insular structures restrict the flow of information, which makes it hard to coordinate action and adapt to change. In some cases, it can even lead to disastrous consequences like the General Motors ignition switch scandal. So it should be no surprise that managers try to break down silos whenever they can.

The problem is that when you reorganize to break down one kind of silo, you inevitably create others. If, for example, your company is organized around functional groups, then you will get poor collaboration around products. But when you reorganize to focus on product groups, you get the same problem within functions.

The answer is to not try to eliminate silos, which are inevitable and often have important benefits, but to connect them effectively. Yet that’s easier said than done. As Chris Fussell explains in his new book, One Mission, it requires us to reimagine how organizations really function and learn to shift our thinking from hierarchies to networks.

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4 Innovation Mistakes That You Really Need To Avoid

2017 September 27
by Greg Satell

One of the things that startup guru Steve Blank likes to say is that no business plan survives first contact with a customer. What he means that every idea is wrong. Sometimes it’s off by a little and sometimes it’s off by a lot, but it’s always wrong and the sooner we find its flaws the sooner we can start making it work.

This holds true even when an idea is revolutionary, like electricity or the personal computer. There is always a gap between an idea and it’s impact. In fact, on average takes about 30 years to go from an initial discovery to a significant effect on our lives. That means that the “next big thing” is usually about 29 years old!

So there is no lack of fertile ideas, but still most organizations fail to innovate. The problem is not a lack of intelligence or ambition — any enterprise that is able to stay in business for any length of time obviously has both — but that innovating successfully is profoundly different than running operations, which leads managers to make four fatal innovation mistakes.

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Here’s What We Can Learn From The Bankruptcy At Toys “R” Us

2017 September 24
by Greg Satell

The recent bankruptcy filing at Toys “R” Us has roiled the toy industry. Yet, struggles at the company are not new. The firm was taken private in a $6.6 billion leveraged private equity buyout in 2005 with the aim of turning the chain around, but the resulting debt has proved to be unserviceable.

The news is part of a larger trend of closings that some are calling the retail apocalypse. The rise of e-commerce, combined with a shift in consumer preference towards dining out over shopping and years of overbuilding, has made for distinctly unattractive economics in traditional retail.

Take a closer look, however, and the prevailing narrative isn’t quite right. Amazon has made a big push into physical retail, capped off by its $13.7 billion  purchase of Whole Foods. Others, ranging from Apple to Warby Parker, also opened physical stores. So clearly the problem isn’t with retail itself, but the inability for legacy firms to adapt to a new model.

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The Quantum Age Is Almost Upon Us We And Need To Start Taking It Seriously

2017 September 20
by Greg Satell

Every new technology has the capacity to inspire wonder and fear. One Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, warned in the 1500’s that the data overload from the printing press would be “confusing and harmful” to the mind. Similar concerns have been voiced about every conceivable advancement, from the train and car to computers and social media.

The truth is that technology transforms human experience and that always comes with tradeoffs. Information technology reduces our ability to retain information and do arithmetic  in our head. Automobiles cause pollution and thousands of deaths every year. Still, I don’t see many people willing to give them up.

We’ll soon be entering the quantum era and the sensationalism has already begun. A recent Forbes article, for example, warns of the ability of quantum computers to crack even the most secure encryption. That sounds like a scary problem, and it is, but it’s also a very solvable problem. What the quantum era needs now is not fear-mongering, but understanding.

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Building A Network To Solve Education

2017 September 17
by Greg Satell

Talia Milgrom-Elcott went to Harvard Law School with the idea of making the world a better place. An early role model was Charles Nesson, a professor at Harvard who devoted his career to defending the downtrodden. One of his cases, involving a famous lawsuit, even became the subject of a hit feature film, A Civil Action.

Yet after she graduated, she decided that she could make a bigger impact outside practicing law. Today, Milgrom-Elcott is the Executive Director for 100Kin10, which is spearheading the effort to train 100,000 STEM teachers in 10 years. So far, it has raised more than $100 million and is on track to meet its goal.

What makes 100Kin10 so effective is its unique approach. Rather than coming to the table with yet another program and yet another strategy to improve education, Milgrom-Elcott saw that far more could be achieved by helping existing programs to connect and learn from each other. It’s a model that has the potential to solve other complex social problems as well.

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How To Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The Retail Apocalypse

2017 September 13
by Greg Satell

The hit 80s movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High recently turned 35 years old. For anybody who grew up during that period, it evokes memories that are both nostalgic and quaint. Back then, social life revolved around, of all things, a shopping mall, where kids would go to shop, gossip and work.

Today, of course, you won’t find many kids hanging out at at mall. Why would they? They can shop, gossip and work online. Go to a shopping mall today and you’re more likely to find liquidation sales and empty stores. The ones that remain open tend to be understaffed and poorly trafficked.

Welcome to the retail apocalypse. The rise of e-commerce, combined with a shift in consumer preference towards dining out over shopping and years of overbuilding, has resulted in unprecedented retail closings. That’s clearly bad news for the affected retailers, but it might prove to be a boon to everyone else. Here’s how you can win from the downfall of retail.

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Don’t Worry About People Stealing Your Ideas

2017 September 10
by Greg Satell

Chester Carlson worked on his idea for years. It was tough, messy work and when his wife tired of the putrid smells, sulfur fires and occasional explosions emanating from the kitchen, his experiments were exiled to a second floor apartment in a house his mother-in-law owned. It took years, but he came finally up with a working prototype.

He tried to sell his machine to the great corporations of the day, including GE, RCA and IBM, but to no avail. Eventually, he teamed up with the Haloid Corporation, which eventually changed its name to Xerox and in 1959, more than 20 years after Carlson began his quest, it launched the 914 copier and became one of America’s leading corporations.

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas,” said the computing pioneer Howard Aiken. “If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” The truth is that innovation needs combination and few ideas can make much of an impact alone. So if you want your ideas to amount to anything, you’re usually better off sharing them.

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Build For The Few And Not The Many

2017 September 6
by Greg Satell

When Google first announced its Glass prototype, complete with a snazzy video, it generated a lot of excitement. Through augmented reality projected onto the lenses, users could seamlessly navigate an urban landscape, send and receive messages and take photos and videos. It was a completely new way to interact with technology.

Yet criticism quickly erupted. Many were horrified that hordes of wandering techno-hipsters could be surreptitiously recording us. Others had safety concerns about everything from people being distracted while driving to the devices being hacked. Soon there was a brewing revolt against “Google Glassholes.”

Now, however, Wired reports that Google Glass is taking on a new life and gaining traction as an industrial tool. From factory floors to operating rooms, augmented reality is proving effective at improving productivity, safety and documenting procedures. There’s a lesson in all of this. When your idea is truly new and different, target the few, not the many.

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