Skip to content

Top Posts of 2018

2018 December 19
by Greg Satell

2018 was a busy year. Due the the success of my first book, Mapping Innovation, I was inundated with speaking requests that took me not only across the country, but across the world, including Bahrain, Turkey and India. It was great to hear from so many who enjoyed the book and found it to be helpful.

I spent most of the year working on my new book, Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change, which will be published in April. It is the product of 15 years of research and it was an enormous task putting everything together, but I think all the effort was worth it. I’m extremely happy with how it all turned out!

And, of course, I’ve continued to post twice a week on Digital Tonto, no matter where I am and what else I have going on. As we move on from the digital revolution to new technologies, such as genomics, materials and robotics, I’m more excited about the future than ever. Here are the articles you most liked to read and share over the past year. I hope you enjoy them!


The Future Of Software Is No Code

To be honest, I was very surprised at how popular this article was because no-code and low-code software is still a very much under-the radar trend, but it seems to be causing some excitement. One of the companies I profiled in this article, Mendix, was recently acquired by Siemens for $700 million.

I was a bit disappointed that some readers thought I was arguing that the rise of no-code platforms would mean the end of software coding itself. It doesn’t and I explicitly said so in the article. What it does mean is that end users can have much more control over the technology they use than ever before.

In the end, technology is only as good as the impact it achieves and putting more power in the hands of more non-technical people can only be a good thing. What’s more, it frees up valuable engineering time to focus on more complex tasks.

Read it now


How GE Got Disrupted

Probably the most shocking business development in 2018 was the virtual collapse of General Electric. It seems like yesterday that it was the world’s most valuable company and held up as a model for others to emulate. Now it is a cautionary tale of how even the most successful enterprise can fall from grace.

It is tempting to believe that that GE somehow abandoned its principles and lost its way, yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, it appears to continue to be a strong operational company that is strategically and technically sophisticated. Rather, the seeds of its downfall began long ago.

The truth is that GE stopped exploring. It hasn’t really invented a new category of business since CT scanners back in the 70s. Make no mistake: if you don’t explore, you won’t invent and if you don’t invent, you will be disrupted eventually. That’s what happened to GE.

Read it now


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

Of course, GE isn’t the first corporate giant to stumble. Go to just about any business conference and you will see a pundit on stage, usually somebody who has never run a significant enterprise themselves tell you how the silly executives at Blockbuster, Kodak or Xerox ran their companies into the ground because they failed to pay attention.

Managing a major corporation takes no small amount of intelligence, drive and ambition, so whenever I hear stories like these I’m always skeptical and, in fact, in each of these cases significant facts are usually omitted by snarky hot shots who don’t want to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

It’s easy to believe that companies fail because they are run by stupid, lazy people. The reality that even smart, sensible people can make reasonable decisions and still fail is far less comforting, but it can teach us important lessons: companies rarely, if ever fail because of a single decision or trend and there are no easy answers to tough questions.

Read it now


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

The human mind likes things to be orderly. It offends us somehow to walk into an office that seems chaotic. That’s why so many managers insist that things be tidy, without much clutter to muck things up. It gives the impression that things are being run efficiently.

The reality is often just the opposite. While tidiness and order can be helpful in some settings where efficiency is the primary goal, it can seriously harm productivity when creativity and problem solving are required. We often do our best work amidst some sort of disruption.

If you’re the type that keeps a messy desk, you will probably find this article heartening. On the other hand, if you like things tidy, this may encourage you to invite a little more messiness into your life.

Read it now


How Amazon Innovates

It’s no secret that Amazon is one of the most innovative companies on the planet. Starting out as an online retailer, it has become a powerful force in things cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Over the years, it’s developed a unique culture and unique methods that help drive its success.

Over the years many have talked about its methods, such as how it eschews PowerPoint in meetings in favor of six-page memos and how it limits the number of people in meetings with its “two-pizza rule.” Yet in my conversations with top executives at the company, it became clear that the key to its success is not any one method or process, but how it integrates them deep into its culture.

Look at any great company and you will notice it does things differently. There will be countless pundits ready to tell you that emulating those practices will make you better. The truth is that it is how culture and practice are intertwined that makes an enterprise successful and that is not so easily copied.

Read it now


The Hair On Fire Use Case

In a conventional business, the best practice is to look for the largest addressable market to sell your product. Large markets offer not only more potential revenues, but a built-in ecosystem of talent, technology and information. You don’t need to explain why anybody needs the product, just the advantages of your version of it.

Yet when you’re developing a something that’s truly new and different, what you want is not a large market, because those customers are already fairly well served. Instead, you need to find a “hair on fire” use case where the customer needs the product so badly that they are willing to overlook minor glitches.

These customers will be willing to work with you to sooth out the rough edges and bring in some early revenue. So you need to build for the few, not the many. Once you establish a foothold, you can scale the business up from there.

Read it now


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

There are certain things that get repeated so often that nobody ever thinks to question them. Platitudes about how “incremental innovation isn’t enough” and how we need to disrupt are thrown around with such metronomic regularity that people just reflexively nod their heads in agreement. The notion that innovation is about ideas and that you need to be agile to pursue it are taken as basic facts, not opinions.

Yet none of these things are really true. In fact, they obscure the truth to such a degree that they can be extremely damaging. They are merely conventional thinking masquerading as a viable path to originality. This article explains why.

Read it now


Why The Future Isn’t Digital

For the past 30 years, we’ve been in the midst of a digital revolution that’s been so all encompassing it’s hard to imagine it could be otherwise. We’ve gotten so used to advancement in digital technology, that it’s become almost synonymous with innovation itself.

Yet look a little closer and it becomes clear that this era is ending. Moore’s law, the consistent doubling of processing power every 18 months or so, is effectively over. In the coming years it will grind to a halt. Every technology eventually hits theoretical limits and that’s where we are with digital technology today.

The future, however is profoundly more exciting. Over the next decade, we will see the rise of vastly more powerful computing architectures. Other technologies, based on atoms instead of bits, such as genomics and materials science, will have far more impact than digital technology ever did.

Read it now


How To Prepare Your Kids For a Post-Digital Age

With digital technology so all-encompassing, teaching kids how to code software has become an increasing focus in schools. However, by the time today’s elementary school students hit the workforce, that may be a somewhat outdated skill. Much of the high-value work of today will be largely automated in the future.

So rather than rushing to put your kids in coding classes, encourage them to build the skills that will be relevant in future decades. Things like understanding systems, empathy and design, the ability to communicate complex ideas and working in a team will still be relevant when they are adults.

Read it now


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

We’ve gotten so caught up with agility lately that we’ve largely forgotten how to pursue truly important goals. All too often, we pursue apps and tweaks and forget about moonshots. You can be successful doing that for awhile, but eventually you will be disrupted (see GE above). That’s why everybody needs to pursue a grand challenge.

Make no mistake, these are not “bet-the-company efforts, but long-term, sustainable efforts to solve a fundamental problem. They represent asymmetric opportunities because, while they are not expensive, they can lead to monumental impacts. The goal is not to help you play the game better, but to change it entirely.

Read it now


Why The Future Will Always Surprise Us

When we see a new technology, we always extrapolate from the present to predict its impact. It never turns out that way. Nobody looked at Ford’s Model T and saw suburbs and shopping malls, just like nobody looked at an IBM mainframe and said, “one day that thing will put a lot of newspapers out of business” (except for maybe Vannevar Bush).

The truth is that 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. They need to build up ecosystems around them and identify meaningful problems to solve. Those things are never obvious in the beginning.

We need to put forth an effort to remain open to an unlikely future. That takes more than intelligence. Rather, it requires us to retain a sense of childlike wonder.

Read it now


So those are my top posts for 2018. Thanks again for all your support this year. I’m taking the next few weeks, but will be back January 6th, when I’ll post my article about why in 2018, we’ll see the return of big business.

– Greg


Image: Canva

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS