Complexity and technology

This is an insightful piece from the NY Times about the rise of American tech giants, but it also touches on an issue which increases the VUCA score of the world (my emphasis in bold below):

“What’s happening right now is the nation-state is losing its grip,” said Jane K. Winn, also a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who studies international business transactions. “One of the hallmarks of modernity is that you have a nation-state that claims they are the exclusive source of a universal legal system that addresses all legal issues. But now people in one jurisdiction are subject to rules that come from outside the government — and often it’s companies that run these huge networks that are pushing their own rules.”

Ms. Winn pointed to Amazon as an example. The e-commerce giant sells both its own goods and those from other merchants through its marketplace. In this way, it imposes a universal set of rules on many merchants in countries in which it operates. The larger Amazon gets, the more its rules — rather than any particular nation’s — can come to be regarded as the most important regulations governing commerce.

Source: Why the World Is Drawing Battle Lines Against American Tech Giants

The implication for macro scale innovation cycles

This is a fascinating and long read about where the world is going to in regards to the next wave of innovation.  It’s also insightful when considering where innovation will focus in the coming years:

Intrapreneurship and skunkworks are replaced by internal innovation processes which, while ineffective at producing radical innovations, allow controllable and measurable sustaining innovation. Money that would have been spent financing external innovation is redirected back to corporate development and, perhaps, even corporate controlled research labs.

These sorts of controllable and measurable innovation processes are already taking hold, both inside and outside the corporate world. It’s no coincidence that the buzzwords in innovation the last few years have been ‘lean’ and ‘customer development.’ While these both claim to be new discoveries, they are actually old practices that fell out of favor during the installation period because they aren’t suited to radical, fast-moving innovation; they only work when innovation is slower and more predictable: Steve Jobs could not have used customer development to create the Apple computer; Henry Ford’s quip that if he asked his customers what they wanted they would have said “a faster horse” are both acknowledgements of this.

The hallmark of a new technological revolution is that the innovation trajectory is unknown: lean doesn’t work on early adopters because they will use anything novel (i.e. the Altair as an MVP was pretty well useless in predicting what mainstream customers would want in a personal computer); customer development doesn’t work when you’re developing a general purpose technology. In general, you can’t iterate your way to radical innovations, almost by definition.

Source: The Deployment Age | Reaction Wheel

Economist on the relevance of the blockchain

 

 

 

 

If you are not familiar with the BlockChain, the Economist has an excellent primer on it which goes beyond the simple first-mover of BitCoin.

The graphic below is a good explanation about how the chain is built, and how it’s kept unique.

Towards the end of the article is a section that nails why it’s important beyond currency:

One of the areas where such ideas could have radical effects is in the “internet of things”—a network of billions of previously mute everyday objects such as fridges, doorstops and lawn sprinklers. A recent report from IBM entitled “Device Democracy” argues that it would be impossible to keep track of and manage these billions of devices centrally, and unwise to to try; such attempts would make them vulnerable to hacking attacks and government surveillance. Distributed registers seem a good alternative.

The sort of programmability Ethereum offers does not just allow people’s property to be tracked and registered. It allows it to be used in new sorts of ways. Thus a car-key embedded in the Ethereum blockchain could be sold or rented out in all manner of rule-based ways, enabling new peer-to-peer schemes for renting or sharing cars. Further out, some talk of using the technology to make by-then-self-driving cars self-owning, to boot. Such vehicles could stash away some of the digital money they make from renting out their keys to pay for fuel, repairs and parking spaces, all according to preprogrammed rules.

 

Source: The great chain of being sure about things

strategy and business article: 20/20 Foresight

strategy and business have published a very readable article with specific tips for developing foresight capability, and it’s well worth the five minute read:

Many business leaders need to improve their perceptual acuity. Here’s how you can develop the ability to look around corners — and become a catalyst for change.

Source: 20/20 Foresight

McKinsey article: The four global forces breaking all the trends

There’s a concise piece on McKinsey that sums up four macro trends that are coming down the line:

  1. The age of urbanization

  2. Accelerating technological change

  3. Responding to the challenges of an aging world

  4. Greater global connections

Each of these topics has a wealth of information written about them, but this short piece is a useful primer if you are unfamiliar with where the world is heading.

Admittedly the list would be more complete if it included something about bioengineering, but that’s probably able to be captured in point three…

Source: The four global forces breaking all the trends

Biohackers develop night vision eye drops to see in the dark

Expect to see a lot more of this in the future, as the cost of biohacking falls significantly, and interest picks up from students, tinkerers and makers:

A biohacking group in California has managed to develop eye drops that temporarily give a human being powerful night vision. The chemicals used are still very much at the experimental stage – this isn’t something you’d want to try at home just yet – but the first trial has been very successful.

Source: Biohackers develop night vision eye drops to see in the dark

Strategy article on megatrends and opportunity

 

This is a five minute read which is well worth the time.  It outlines some collisions between megatrends that are already in plain sight and makes the point that:

If you are a leader in government or a company, you still have time to build the necessary strategies and capabilities for a robust and effective response.

The challenge with this is always how to focus a board or executive team on the long term, and in my experience this is challenging at the best of times.  For further context about this, I recommend reading about the three-box model in an HBR article from 2011.

Essentially this points out that most leaders focus on operational efficiency today, when they should actually be thinking about creating more value by inventing the future.  From left to right, Box One is operational, Box Two is Change and Box Three is the future.  Most value comes from Box Three, but nearly all leaders focus on Box One.  In a world of accelerating change, this is not the value to endure organisational longevity.

For the megatrend piece, go here: How to Seize the Opportunities When Megatrends Collide.

Long term study into forecasting skills (article from the FT)

The FT has published a long article looking at the history of prediction.  What makes it worth reading is that it references the work of Philip Tetlock, who’s research into forecasting categorised people as either foxes or hedgehogs (this is explained in the article).

It’s worth a read:

So what is the secret of looking into the future? Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.

But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness – although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t.

via How to see into the future – FT.com.

Key insights from Singapore Foresight Week 2013

In 2011 the Prime Ministers office in Singapore sponsored a week of foresight conversations.  This year saw the next iteration and I was invited back to the conversation.  Once again there were about twenty of us from around the world that were invited, and the diversity of the conversation was only trumped by the quality.  My notes are in mind-map form, and therefore I’m going to post some images from the event along with some insights and summation.

Firstly – the pictures:

Future of Growth

Graphical recording from the fourth day of the week on the future of growth.

Future of Governance

Graphical recording from the fourth day of the week on the future of governance.

Dave Snowden presenting his framework for foresight and complexity.

Dave Snowden presenting his framework for foresight and complexity.

Insights (in no order)

  • It’s strategically important to have a good imagination and an adaptable mind.
  • Most decision makers want simple answers, and ask the wrong questions.  They want an answer, but in complex environments there may not be a simple answer.
  • there is book called “Future Babble” that looked at previous predictions of the future, and found that the most inaccurate predictions were the ones that were most convinced of their accuracy.
  • the real lack of skills in the world is the lack of generalists
  • The waiting time to purchase a new industrial robot is 4-6 months.
  • People are hard wired to take more notice of failure than success – from an evolutionary point of view it’s more important
  • More insights are on my Twitter feed

Summary

To try to summarise the week is to fall into the trap of thinking conversation is a linear process.  The discussions were so varied it’s almost impossible to bring it together, however the most important points for me related to foresight, policy and governance:

The world is becoming increasingly complex, and as a result leaders need to be adept at understanding that decision making can not always be causal.  In order to make good decisions you need firstly to understand the environment you’re working in and Dave Snowden provides guidance here with his framework:

Dave Snowdens Cynefin (kin-are-fin) Framework

If you find yourself on the left hand side of the framework then you need to understand complexity theory, and acknowledge that there may be no right answer.  That’s not easy for decision makers raised to believe that they need to make fast decisions based on minimal information.

I’ll close with a wonderful analogy that was provided in a conversation about the work of Karl Popper: you can begin to understand complexity through the lens of clouds vs clocks.  You can take apart a clock to understand it, but to understand clouds you need to look at many different variables. Clouds cannot be taken apart.