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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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IBM Is Using The Crowd To Help Advance Its Quantum Computer

2017 July 5
by Greg Satell

In 1946, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert completed the development of the ENIAC, the world’s first publicly announced digital computer. Yet it was still essentially a prototype. It wouldn’t be till 1952, when the pair debuted the UNIVAC during the Presidential election, that computers became commercially available.

That was a triumph for Remington Rand, which backed the machine, but a disaster for IBM, which dominated the earlier tabulating machine technology. It took the company nearly a decade to regain leadership with its System/360 line of computers that cost $5 billion to develop (or about $40 billion in today’s dollars).

We’re now entering a similar transition period. With Moore’s Law soon coming to an end, the race is on to see who dominates the next phase of computing. IBM is determined not to be caught off guard again. This time, rather than developing its technology in relative secrecy, it’s accelerating progress opening up early access to its prototype quantum computer.

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Summer Reading List: 12 Books To Read On Your Way To A Revolution

2017 July 2
by Greg Satell

Most of the year is pretty hectic. There are meetings, projects and meeting about projects and then maybe a conference call to discuss the next project. With all the running around, it’s hard to find any time to actually think. Summer is a welcome respite from all of the frenzy and hubbub.

While you’re finding some time to relax at the beach or somewhere else, you may get to thinking about things you don’t like in your organization, your industry or in society as a whole and how much you want things to change. After stewing for awhile, you might even get the urge to do something about it.

Of course, as I explain in my TED Talk change isn’t easy. You have to win people to your cause, motivate them to actively participate and overcome entrenched interests. That takes more than just passion, but also strategy, organization and discipline. So for this summer’s list, I’ve got a list of 12 books that will show you how to do all that and truly change the world.

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Entrepreneurship Can Get Even Better The Second Time Around

2017 June 28
by Greg Satell

As a teenager, Alex Yakubovich moved with his family to Cleveland, Ohio. Still in high school, it could have been an uncomfortable transition, but he soon met Stan Garber, a fellow émigré from the former Soviet Union who shared his interest in trading stocks at lunchtime. It was to be a fortuitous partnership.

The pair would go on to start Onosys, a successful software company, with Stan’s neighbor and best friend Oleg Fridman, while they were still in high school. The team would run the company for 11 years before selling it to LivingSocial. Along the way they learned many hard lessons about the realities of growing and running a business.

One of the most frustrating obstacles they encountered was the corporate procurement process, which is rife with inefficiency. As entrepreneurs, they found it maddening, illogical and often cruel. Yet in time they eventually began to see it as something much more — an opportunity to build an even better business the second time around.

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Generosity Can Be A Competitive Advantage

2017 June 25
by Greg Satell

Every age has its icons. The 60s and 70s had rock stars and beat poets. In the 80s and 90s, Wall Street traders, with Gordon Gekko as their patron saint, adopted “greed is good” as their mantra. More recently, Steve Jobs captured the zeitgeist with his relentless focus on creating products that were “insanely great.”

A common thread running through all of these is the underlying principle that it takes a certain ruthlessness, or at least some kind of creative insanity, to achieve an extraordinary level of achievement. That’s why I was surprised, when researching my book Mapping Innovation, to find exactly the opposite.

Those that I talked to, whose successes include not only building great companies, but also developing new cures for cancer, new computing architectures and even new technologies to store energy, were almost universally warm and low key. I was so struck that I did some further research and found that the stark contrast between myth and reality is no accident.

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Is Big Data Doing More Harm Than Good?

2017 June 21
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by Greg Satell

In 1931, a 25 year-old Austrian named Kurt Gödel defied logic, literally, with his incompleteness theorems which proved that every formal system eventually fails. What made this discovery even more devastating was that Gödel himself was a logician and his theorems took the form of a logical proof. Essentially, he used logic to kill logic.

Of course, the systems we rely on every day are not formal logical systems. They’re far more vulnerable. From flaws in the design of their hardware and software, to errors in how data is collected, analyzed and used to make decisions, real-world technologies are riddled with weaknesses.

Nevertheless, in the era of big data, we’ve given these systems enormous power over us and how we run our enterprises. Today, algorithms can help determine what college we attend, if we get hired for a job and even who goes to prison and for how long. We have, seemingly unwittingly, outsourced judgment to machines and, unlike humans, we rarely question them.

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Here’s Why Your Innovation Strategy Will Fail

2017 June 18

A decade ago, Apple looked unbeatable. It’s launch of the iPhone completely revolutionized mobile phones and made good on Steve Jobs’ vision of creating a hub of devices that connected people to technology. What’s more, he did it with just a fraction of the research budget of other tech giants.

Yet now Apple seems stagnant. It’s still very profitable, but it’s been ten years since it launched a truly hit product, despite the fact that it has steadily increased its R&D budget. Today, it invests over $10 billion on new technologies, mostly focused on things few people notice, like chips and sensors.

The problem is that while Apple had the perfect strategy and culture to integrate mature technologies into “insanely great” products that dominated the market, it’s ill equipped to tackle other challenges. The truth is that there is no one “true” path to innovation. Every strategy has its time and place. What’s great for one type of problem may fail at others.

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Innovation Programs In Schools Can Help Kids Learn More Than Just Facts

2017 June 14
by Greg Satell

Traditionally, we went to school to attain knowledge. The smart kids knew that Columbus discovered America in 1492 and that the square root of 64 is eight. They studied diligently at home so that when the teacher asked a question they could shoot their hand up and be praised for their good work.

Today, however, teenagers carry far more information and computing power in their pockets than would ever fit in their heads. So the ability to retain knowledge and manipulate numbers with facility have become, to a large extent, outdated skills. Kids today need to learn how to understand systems and solve problems.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of programs designed to do just that. At the college level, programs like Stanford’s d.school teach design thinking and entrepreneurship classes have become standard in business school curriculums. More recently, a wide variety of secondary school level programs have begun to take hold and are giving students a leg up.

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What I Learned From Breaking Out Of My Comfort Zone

2017 June 11
by Greg Satell

When I took a job in Warsaw, Poland in 1997, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I had never been overseas for an extended period of time before, didn’t speak any foreign languages, except for some rudimentary Spanish and, truth be told, I didn’t have any idea how to cope in a strange country.

The first six months were incredibly difficult. Left largely to my own devices, I struggled to adapt to my new environment. At night, I sometimes got so lonely that I would call my bank in the US to check my balance — which was probably about eight bucks at the time — just to have someone to talk to.

Gradually, more out of necessity than anything else, I began to adapt and learned how to overcome my discomfort. I ended up spending 15 years in Eastern Europe, including stints in Kyiv, Moscow and Istanbul and did business in a number of other countries. What I found was that breaking out of my comfort zone gave me essential skills that last a lifetime.

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Retail Isn’t Dead, But It Does Need To Adapt

2017 June 7
by Greg Satell

It seems like there has never been a worse time for retail. Sears looks doomed. Many other large retailers, including J.C. Penney and Macy’s are closing stores and even fashionable boutiques like BCBG Max Azria are filing for bankruptcy. CNN reports that store closings this year are already outpacing 2008, the worst year on record.

Yet take a broader view and things don’t look so bad. Apple’s stores have been a hit and a number of digital companies, like Amazon, Warby Parker and Bonobos have been opening brick and mortar locations. Sure, e-commerce is growing, but the Census Bureau estimates that it still accounts for less than 10% of total retail.

As Darrell Rigby explained in an article in Harvard Business Review, every 50 years retail goes through a major disruption. The rise of urban centers led to department stores. Automobiles created suburbs and shopping malls. Then category killers and discount stores challenged that status quo. Today, retail is in the process of being reinvented once again.

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