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Top Posts Of 2020

2020 December 20
by Greg Satell

2020 was a year to be endured more than to be lived. The Covid-19 pandemic arrived as a curiosity, then a panic, extended into tragedy of genuine loss and, hopefully, is emerging as a set of concrete problems to be solved. Clearly, we are not through the worst yet, but at least we can begin to see the other side.

At first, like most people, I was unaware of anything afoot, besides the emergence of longstanding trends I was already tracking. Slowly, however, I began to realize that 2020 was going to be something very different, an inflection point. Yet one thing I’ve learned about crises is that, eventually, they end and, even in the darkest moments, we need to learn and prepare for what comes after.

As I was going through Google Analytics to determine which were my most popular posts for 2020, I noticed a chronological story emerging. So this year, I’m listing my top posts not in order of popularity, but roughly chronologically. My hope is that by laying bare how I tried to make sense of the events of 2020, you are able to glean some small glimmer of insight.

2020: A Decade To Rediscover Our Humanity

I began the past year by comparing 2020 with 1920, the point at which the disruptive technologies of electricity and internal combustion finally hit their stride. As should be clear by now, 2020 was also similar to 1920 with respect to the emergence of a deadly global pandemic as well as the rise of national populist movements globally and nativist sympathies in the US.

Perhaps most importantly, I pointed out that we will be defined by our choices. If the Covid crisis has taught us anything is that technology has given us the tools to solve problems in ways that were almost unimaginable a generation ago, but that technology alone will not save us. Only we can save ourselves.

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What Amazon’s Entrance Tells Us About The New Era Of Quantum Computing

A year ago, Amazon announced it was launching Braket, a new quantum computing service. Probably nothing underlines the strangeness of the new decade than of one of the most powerful companies in the world offering a technology it doesn’t own, and which doesn’t really work, to customers who can’t use it for any practical purpose.

The lesson here is that it’s no longer enough to adapt. The technologies of the next decade will be far too powerful—and far too complex—to simply wait for things to develop and then “move fast and break things.” We are entering a new era of innovation and we will have to learn how to prepare, in some cases years ahead of time, for truly revolutionary technology to take hold.

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Why Software Won’t Eat The World

It seems quaint now, but before the pandemic one of the things that people still loved to talk about was how the world of bits was taking over the world of atoms. It began to seem as if, for many in the business world, the physical realm had become irrelevant. If nothing else, Covid sure changed that real fast!

Yet it’s still worth revisiting those same old assumptions to understand why they took hold. As we come out of the crisis the pandemic has caused, digital transformation will surely accelerate. However, it’s important to remember that a business is far more than an IT system. Real value is created in the physical world, in what people live in, ride in, eat, wear, keeping them healthy and connected to each other.

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How To Lead Through Crisis

Like many others, the pandemic made me think back to the financial crisis. At that time, I was running a media company in Ukraine, where the economic impact was far greater than it was here. In just a few months, the ad market imploded and was doen 85%, while the economy as a whole would be off 14% for the year.

It was a dark time, but I learned a lot about how to manage a crisis. More specifically, I learned the value of candor, of implementing a plan quickly, no matter how imperfect, identifying new market opportunities even in the midst of the crisis and “building back better” to be able to better withstand the next crisis.

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Why We Need Experts

Almost as soon as the Coronovirus emerged, many began to question the experts, with good reason. Those with specialized knowledge seemed confused themselves at the outset regarding even basic things such as whether to wear a mask and what basic treatment protocols should be. To many, the experts seemed as lost as the rest of us.

Yet that is a basic misunderstanding of what expertise is and the value it brings. Experts aren’t supposed to have all the answers and, in fact, often fiercely disagree among themselves. The true function of expertise is to help us ask better questions, to be more skeptical of received wisdom and, eventually, come to better solutions.

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How To Overcome Resistance To Change

One of the things that 2020 should have made clear is that, even during a crisis, you will encounter fierce resistance to change, no matter how abundantly clear it is that it is needed. The truth is that if a change has real potential for impact, there will be people who will resist it and they will do it in ways that are dishonest, underhanded and deceptive.

That doesn’t mean we have to settle for less though. In this article I lay out some clear principles to get you started on the right foot based not only on the research that led to my book, Cascades, but my subsequent work helping organizations transform themselves. If you are seeking change in the new year, this is one you should definitely read!

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The Psychology Behind Coronavirus Denial

Almost as soon as the Coronavirus appeared, strange rumors began to appear ranging from an intricate “Plandemic” that was dreamed up by some global cabal in order to make money, to the notion that it was just another in a long line of supposed Jewish conspiracies. Despite mostly being ridiculous on their face, millions believed these wacky theories to be true.

It’s easy to just laugh and brush it all off, but those who spread disinformation prey on deep vulnerabilities in how our brains work that lead us to believe things that aren’t true. Rather than look the other way, we need to understand the psychology of denial so that we can avoid falling into the same traps ourselves.

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Strategy In A Post-Digital World

After the pandemic is over, we will still have to contend with a world that is going through some major shifts, not least important is the transition to a post-digital world. For the past several decades, technology and innovation have been dominated by Moore’s Law. Those days are coming to a close and we will have to learn how to operate differently.

Over the next decade, we will have to learn how to prepare, rather than racing to adapt to the next “big thing,” we will have to learn how to treat collaboration as a competitive advantage, to drive skill-based transformations and shift from disrupting markets to pursuing grand challenges. One thing is for sure, the strategies of the past will not work for the future.

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Why Consensus Kills Innovation

Managers pride themselves on building a strong culture. Unfortunately, that usually means they like it when the people around them agree all the time. Things work much more smoothly when a team is able to analyze a particular problem, come to a quick consensus on a solution and then go out and execute a plan.

Unfortunately, while this type of consensus makes things easier, it is also much more likely to come up with bad solutions and much less likely to come up with something new, valuable and different. That’s why we need to work to seek out and uncover dissent before the market does it for us.

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10 Principles for Transformational Change

I was asked by a podcast host to summarize Cascades in a concise set of bullet points. As I set down to work, I realized that it was an enormously helpful exercise and, once I began sharing the 10 principles, others seemed to find them valuable as well.

Perhaps the most important principle is the last one, that transformation is a journey, not a destination. In our goal oriented, “you manage what you measure” corporate climate, we often forget that meaningful change is not a specific achievement that you at some point attain, but a lifelong project that you continue to strive for.

My hope is that 2020 puts you one step further along in your own personal journey.

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Bonus: These 4 Major Shifts Will Drive The 21st Century

I actually wrote this in 2019, but I find that it becomes more and more salient over time. It outlines four major shifts—technology, resources, migration and demographics—that will unfold over the next decade. Any one of these would be enough to cause major disruptions, but all four together are shaping up to make for a seismic decade.

I wish I could be more optimistic, but we can only expect much of the recent strife to worsen and intensify. Over the next ten years, our societies are likely to completely transform, from digital to post-digital, from fossil fuels to renewables, from monocultural to multicultural (in Europe especially) and from Baby Boomers to Millennials.

Hold on to your seat! Its going to be a wild ride!

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So those are my top posts for 2020. Thanks again for all your support. I’m taking the next few weeks off, but will be back on Sunday, January 3rd with my future trend for 2021: What We Can Expect After Covid.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

– Greg

Image: Unsplash




2 Responses leave one →
  1. December 21, 2020

    Hi Greg – just want to say thanks for the thoughts and insights you’ve written about this year. I’ve been a follower for about that long and have been consistently impressed. Hopefully you benefit from it as much as your followers do.



  2. December 21, 2020

    Thanks so much Josh! Wishing you all the best for the new year!

    – Greg

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