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Happy 9th Birthday Digital Tonto!

2018 August 5
by Greg Satell

This time last year I had just published my first book, Mapping Innovation. Having never published one before, I really didn’t know how it was going to go, so  I was excited, but also a little bit nervous. Would people like it, or would I be exposed as a fraud and a hack? I hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst.

What a difference a year makes! Mapping Innovation has been a runaway success. Sales are great and it was even nominated for the prestigious Business Book of the Year Award. Even better, this past week I signed a new contract with McGraw-Hill to publish my next book, Cascades, about how to create transformational change.

I had no idea that all this was ahead when I started Digital Tonto in my apartment in Kyiv, nine years ago this week. It’s been a wild ride! I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated your support, especially those of you who have stuck with me since those early years. So Happy Birthday Digital Tonto! Here are some of my favorite posts from the last year.

2018: The Shift To A New Era Of Innovation

I start off every year with a post I about a trend I expect to see become prevalent based on the conversations I’m having with experts in a variety of fields. Usually I’m early. For example, I wrote about interfaces in 2012 and noted the impact voice interfaces would have, but didn’t really happen until a few years later.

In 2018 I wrote about a new era of innovation, which is a shift to a post-digital world and once again I’m early. We shouldn’t expect serious impacts to happen until after 2020. Still, I’m amazed how fast things are moving and how much has changed in just the last eight months, so I recently wrote a follow-up.

I’ll continue to follow and write about the new era of innovation, but this article lays out the basic issues quite nicely.

Read it now


The Silicon Valley Myth

One of the most persistent themes of the digital age is the Silicon Valley model of doing business. It got its start with engineers who came to the Bay Area, made a lot of money and started investing in other entrepreneurs like themselves. This model has been, of course, extraordinarily successful and many have tried to emulate it.

However, the Silicon Valley model was designed for a specific time and a specific type of technology and it isn’t easily transferable to every industry. As the new era of innovation gains steam, we will have to identify new models and build a new funding ecosystem. The good news is that the process is already well underway!

Read it now


This Is How Your Business Will Be Disrupted

Whenever we see a big, successful company suddenly fail it’s easy and comforting to assume that management just got stupid and lazy. Yet that is rarely true. It takes a considerable amount of intelligence, ambition and drive to run a successful operation. People don’t just get stupid and lazy overnight.

The truth is that most companies get disrupted not by taking their eye off the ball, but by focusing on what made them successful in the first place. When things change, they find themselves getting better and better at things their customers care less and less about. Essentially, they become a square-peg business in a round-hole world.

Make no mistake. We all get disrupted eventually. This article helps explain what you can do about it.

Read it now


If You Don’t Explore, You Won’t Invent And You Will Be Disrupted

General Electric has long been considered one of the world’s best managed companies. Yet lately, it has fallen on hard times. The CEO has been pushed out and its cash-cow Power business has imploded, creating tons of red ink and massive layoffs. The formerly blue-chip firm has even been kicked off the Dow after more than 100 years.

There are many theories of how everything went so wrong — a missed market trend, a bad acquisition, etc. — but the simplest explanation is that it hasn’t really invented anything new since the 1970s. It was inevitable that something would go wrong sometime, whether in Power or some other business. The real problem was there was nothing to replace it with.

Make no mistake. If you don’t explore, you won’t invent and if you don’t invent you will be disrupted. It’s just a matter of time.

Read it now


Innovation “Gurus” Love To Talk About These 4 Myths — None Of Them Are True

As a professional speaker, I go to a lot of conferences, especially ones focused on innovation, and one thing that always amazes me is how similar so many innovation speakers sound. Most talk about the same themes, often even using the same catch phrases, with little variation. For innovation gurus, they are a pretty conformist bunch.

Even more disturbingly, a lot of what they talk about is wrong. Not doubtful or controversial or even a bit on the edge, just plain wrong and not even tangentially related to known facts. This article gives a short list of the most popular myths among pundits and why they’re not really true.

Read it now


How Blockbuster, Kodak And Xerox Really Failed (It’s Not What You Think)

Another thing I hear a lot about at conferences is how some once-great corporation, dominant in its industry, failed to adapt to change and faltered. The message is always the same: “Silly people get disrupted. So listen to my 4 points (or buy my book or whatever) and I can help you be a little less silly and maybe you’ll survive.”

The problem with these stories is that they are almost always incomplete and misleading.  When anybody tells us that they could have saved a multi-billion dollar enterprise with a simple, easy fix, we should immediately be skeptical. Read this post to get the real story.

Read it now

We Need To Invite More Disruption and Messiness Into Our Lives — Here’s Why

Managers tend to like things tidy and predictable. Desks should be clean, without a lot of clutter. People should keep to regular schedules, stay on a plan and rarely, if ever, deviate from established norms. Yet while those things make an organization easier to manage, they are likely to hurt performance.

The evidence against tidiness is overwhelming. Disruption, as long as it doesn’t lead to absolute chaos, tends to improve productivity because it is often the random occurrences — a new idea, a chance meeting, a serendipitous observation — that takes us in new directions.

Read it now


A 270 Year Old Mathematical Formula Can Teach Us A Lot About Innovation

In 1748 Leonhard Euler published an equation so astounding that Richard Feynman called it “the most remarkable formula in mathematics.” Purely theoretical in its time, incorporating wild concepts such as “imaginary numbers,” it nonetheless played an important role in fields like electrical engineering and signal processing centuries later.

What we can learn from Euler’s formula is what seems purely theoretical in one era or context can become indispensable in another. Einstein’s relativity, Turing’s universal computer and just about every other idea of consequence seemed impractical, or even fantastical, when first concieved. That’s why it often takes courage to make a true impact.

Read it now


4 Rules For Building An Innovative Culture

One of the things I’m constantly asked by senior executives is, “How can I find more innovative people?” I know what they mean. They’re looking for those mercurial Steve Jobs types, who are constantly spouting off ideas and breaking all the china. Yet the truth is that’s exactly what you don’t want.

Decades of research have clearly shown that an innovative culture is a collaborative culture. So you want people who are good listeners, not just good talkers. You also want people who are interested in the types of problems you need solved and who can bring new perspectives to the table.

So before you hire your next hotshot, read this article and use it as a checklist to identify people who can help create a culture that will propel your organization forward.

Read it now


Everybody Should Be Pursuing A Grand Challenge — Here’s Why:

Over the past few decades, agility and iteration have come to be considered key to innovation, but clearly that’s not always true. To create something fundamentally new takes time, patience and persistence. That’s why taking on grand challenges is so important to every innovation effort.

Make no mistake, a grand challenge isn’t a “bet the company” initiative, it’s what you do to avoid having to bet the company later on. It is a long sustainable effort that represents an asymmetric opportunity that won’t risk your existence if it fails, but will take you to a new level if it succeeds.

Read it now


Why The Future Will Always Surprise Us

We tend to think we know what the future holds, because it’s fairly easy to extrapolate from current trends. Yet the future is rarely merely the continuation of the past, because unexpected events change its course. This is especially true with technology, because the next big thing always starts out looking like nothing at all.

Things that truly change the world always arrive out of context, for the simple reason that the world hasn’t changed yet. The key is to be open to a future that seems unfamiliar or even implausible, without actually committing to it. If an idea truly has potential, it will reveal itself through a problem that needs solving.

Read it now


Thanks again for all your support over the years. I’m looking forward to many more!

– Greg

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