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Top Posts of 2017

2017 December 20
by Greg Satell

2017 was a strange year, for many reasons. Politically, of course, it revealed things below the surface of our society that few of us realized were there. In terms of technology it has been seemingly quiet, with no real blockbuster launches of new companies or products, but under the radar big things are brewing.

IBM announced a 50 qubit quantum computer, up from just 5 a few years ago, promising quantum supremacy in 2018, at least in the lab. The steady success of Amazon Alexa and Google Home point to a serious shift to voice interfaces. JCESR came up with four prototypes for next generation batteries.

These seem to lack the excitement of things like Twitter and Instagram, but their long-term implications are enormous. In a sense, 2017 has been a microcosm of what I try to do on this site, point to things that are going unnoticed by most, but have profound implications for the future. So here are the top posts of 2017, many of which have done just that.

Don’t Look For A Great Idea, Look For A Good Problem

Probably the most persistent — and damaging — myth about innovation is that it’s about ideas. It’s not. Tremendous amounts of time and energy are wasted thinking up radically new ideas that never end up going anywhere. Middle managers never seem to tire of complaining that their ideas are ignored by the powers above.

The truth is that nobody cares about your ideas. They care about what problems you can solve for them. So if you want to innovate effectively, don’t go looking for a great idea so that you can dazzle others with your brilliance, look for a meaningful problem and get to work on solving it.

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Quantum Encryption Is Coming Sooner Than You Think. The Time To Prepare Is Now

As I noted in the introduction, the quantum age is almost upon us and it will radically transform the boundary of possibility. In a matter of years —not decades — we will be working with computing spaces that are larger than the number of atoms in the known universe. We may find that the shift may be even more profound than the one from mechanical to digital computing.

One dark cloud emerging from this silver lining is the effect these massively powerful systems will have on encryption. Today, we depend on our encryption protocols to be too complex for conventional computers to handle. That’s what allows us to transact business online with security and privacy. What will we do when quantum computers can break encryption at will?

In some quarters, these fears have been over-hyped. The best estimates I have seen predict a 1 in 7 chance that the problem will occur by 2022 and 1 in 2 chance that it will hit by 2030. That’s still a big problem, but it’s also a very manageable one and quantum encryption presents a viable solution.

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The Platform Fallacy

In 2017 it seemed like everybody went wild about platform businesses and their supposed superiority over so-called “pipeline business.” The spectacular rise of firms like Uber, AirBnB and others led many to conclude that actually owning assets is a suckers game when you can earn billions just making matches.

Don’t believe the hype. With low barriers to entry, platform businesses face rabid competition, low margins and most fail. Even the few who emerge usually end up taking a very small slice of the overall pie. So platforms are no panacea, but you can still leverage them to improve your business and this article explains how.

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These 3 Technological Forces That Are Changing The Nature Of Work

It seems like every few years, we’re inundated with a new trend that promises to reshape how we live and work. In the past, things like e-commerce, search engines and social media fit that bill. Over the past few years it’s been artificial intelligence and machine learning that have made waves. These are vastly important in and of themselves.

However, we also need to understand the forces underlying the impacts that these technologies have made: Acceleration, democratization and convergence are three constants of every technological upheaval. So if you want to know where things will go from here, you first need to understand these.

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Is It Time To Rethink The Scientific Method?

For centuries, the scientific method has been the gold standard for investigation. The basic idea is that you develop a hypothesis, come up with a way to test it and verify the results. It’s been incredibly effective, but also tedious and costly. However, with advances in information technology, there may be another way.

Today, databases of things like genomic and materials data are being put online and made fully searchable. Machine learning algorithms can analyze those databases to detect patterns and point us in new directions. It’s still early days, but so far the results point to a powerful new alternative to the way in which science has traditional be done.

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How To Compete And Win In An Automated Age

You don’t have to go far these days to find some pundit explaining how the robots are coming for our jobs. To hear them tell it, we are virtually helpless against the onslaught of automation except to wait until our skills lose relevance and descend into a life of muck and misery.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be happening. In fact, we seem to be very close to full employment and in some sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, the real problem seems to be a massive labor shortage. This article explains what’s really going on.

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This Is How Your Business Will Be Disrupted

The basic principles of running a business are fairly straightforward. You figure out where you want to go, develop a strategy for getting there and relentlessly execute. Along the way you continually hone the capabilities of your organization, increasing efficiency to deliver more at a lower cost. If you can do that better and faster than competitors, you can dominate your industry.

The problem comes things when the basis of competition changes and you find yourself becoming a square-peg business in a round-hole world. When that happens, improving operations will only ensure that you get better and better at things people care less and less about. That’s how you get disrupted.

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The 30 Years Rule – Innovation Takes A Lot Longer Than You Think

We tend to see innovation through a caricatured lens. Someone — think Steve Jobs or Elon Musk — comes up with a big idea and changes the world. Yet it never really happens that way. Stories of eureka moments and lone geniuses may be inspiring, but are rarely amount to anything more than a tall tale.

The fact is that it usually takes about 30 years to transform an initial discovery into a significant market impact. So the “Next Big Thing” is usually about 29 years old! That’s why it’s so important to explore and constantly connect to new things and people. As William Gibson put it, “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

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

Business leaders often look the the insights of legendary managers like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Jack Welch for guidance and that can be tremendously valuable. However, if you want to create transformational change, you would do better to study people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk.

The truth is that managers can learn a lot from social movements and this article outlines the basic tools and strategies that successful revolutionaries have used to make overcome enormous odds and make change a reality.

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Here’s Why Your Innovation Strategy Will Fail

Every so often, an innovation strategy gets hot. These days, lean startups are in vogue. Before that it was, alternatively, open innovation, design thinking, disruptive innovation and others. Eventually, they tend to sputter out because many of those who employ them find that they are ineffective and go looking for another silver bullet.

The truth is many organizations get stuck because they end up locking themselves into a single strategy. They find something that works and say, “this is how we innovate” and end up trying to apply essentially the same solution no matter what the problem is. Eventually, that ends badly. You have to use the entire toolbox

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So those are my top posts for 2017. Thanks again for all your support this year. I’m taking the next ten days off, but will be back January 7th, when I’ll post my article about why in 2018, will be the year to shift to a new era of innovation.

– Greg



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