Eric McNulty is the director of research for Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative. On O’Reilly he’s published a very accessible piece about VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) where he’s added S and T.
The two additions are system-scale change and ubiquitous transparency, and Eric explains them further:
If VUCA were not daunting enough, I will add two new elements that take us from VUCA to VUCAST. They are system-scale change and ubiquitous transparency.
System-scale change can be seen in four mega-trends that I have been following since 2008. These are what I call “Pillar Trends” because they are global, will affect virtually everyone, have a discernable long-term trend curve (even if final outcomes are not clear), and no single individual or organization can alter their basic trajectory (the pillars are climate change, aging, urbanisation and technology).
Ubiquitous transparency is a direct outgrowth of the last component of system-scale change. You have to assume that almost anyone can know almost anything in almost real time. While this will cause some organizations to try to lock things down more tightly than ever, expectations of transparency will also grow.
I’ve also noticed these two components on the rise – my term for transparency is “the perfectly informed consumer” (however this cannot be added to VUCA to make a better acronym).
Leading in a time of tumultuous change: Our VUCAST world – O’Reilly Media
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
This is a long but worthwhile post from a VC taking aim at the overuse of the word ‘disruption’ when it’s linked to strategy. About half way down the piece is a quote which is worth repeating. It’s from an HBR article written by the former president of PepsiCo:
…most of PepsiCo’s major strategic successes are ideas we borrowed from the marketplace–often from small regional or local competitors.
For large companies that find it hard to innovate internally, it’s worth keeping an eye on smaller ones that are more nimble.
Constantly scanning innovation both in your sector, and in adjacent sectors, is a valuable capability but one that very few organisations invest in. I recall that Texas Instruments used to employ a guy called Gene Frantz who described his role as looking for lunatics within TI with ideas that could spark new directions for the company.
Back to the article that sparked this post – it goes on to close with another great original quote:
Without a strategy you might predict the market and the technology exactly and still lose to someone who does have a strategy.
Source: Disruption is not a strategy | Reaction Wheel
Geoffrey West is a physicist by training, but has crossed over into theories of biology, and then to theories about cities. More recently he has started to look at companies, and some of his research is illuminating with respect to the need for innovation in organisations.
His observation about cities is that they need diversity in order to grow, and companies need similar:
“…in what way can you make a company more like a city?” West asks. “You allow at least part of it to be a little more organic, to grow in a natural way, and let it be much more open to having mavericks, naysayers, and people with odd ideas hanging around. Allow a little bit more room for bullshit. You need some mechanism to somehow break this straitjacket that big companies take on as they grow.”
You can get further context from the full article here: The Fortune 500 Teller
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
Over the last couple of years, and connected to the work on Sensing City, I’ve been advising Infratil on technology advances that could disrupt their business or provide opportunity. This was referenced in the annual meeting where the Chair, Mark Tume said
…the challenge was to stop their investments from energy to the retirement sector getting “Uber-ed” or being able to “Uber” some else, in a reference to the Uber taxi service. Infratil would not be able to recognise the next Uber, Tume said and it was “incredibly difficult” to pick winners in new technology.
But Infratil’s board and management had to be open to the risks and how to react. “So we don’t act like possums in the headlights” he said.
For example, Infratil had seen the rapid rise of solar power in Australia and the potential for new battery technology which would change the power sector landscape.
“The one I’m scared of is the one that blind-sides you”
Many organisations are increasingly susceptible to being blindsided, but only a few – like Infratil – have the foresight to seek to understand the risks and opportunities.
Full article here.
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
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
What exactly is a serendipity architect? I get asked this a lot, and my answer is two-fold depending on how the question is being asked.
First the title is a litmus test for who I’d like to work with. If people look at me sceptically when they ask, then it’s a fairly safe bet that working with that person is going to be difficult (like the time one executive introduced me to an audience as a “self described serendipity architect.”). On the other hand, the people that I like to work with smile when they mention the title, or are simply curious.
Secondly it describes a lot of what I do – keeping abreast of a lot of fast moving areas, discussing interesting developments with people that know these areas well, pulling insights from the mix and then working with leadership teams to understand how they can take advantage of the opportunity. One of the comments I hear during the last phase of this process goes along the lines of “wasn’t it lucky that we…” My response is that this isn’t luck. It’s designed serendipity.
If you want a longer read about how serendipity happens in an online world, Wired magazine published an extract from the book “Smarter Than You Think.” The last paragraph of the extract sums it up nicely:
The birth of Ushahidi is a perfect example of the power of public thinking and multiples. Okolloh could have simply wandered around wishing such a tool existed. Kobia could have wandered around wishing he could use his skills to help Kenya. But because Okolloh was thinking out loud, and because she had an audience of like-minded people, serendipity happened.
I encourage to people to mix in areas that are outside their knowledge domain, and to keep an open mind when they do so. The reason for this is because insights often happen not when you’re looking harder at a challenge, but when you take a step back and look around to see how others have approached analogous challenges. The January 2014 issue of Wired has an article about a doctor seeking different ways of treating cancer, and it makes for an interesting read on it’s own. However the part that got my attention was the following when he explained where he found new directions for his thinking:
The second moment occurred five years later, at the Aspen Ideas Festival. There Agus met the famed physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who had won the Nobel Prize in 1969 for his work on the theory of elemental particles. Talking to Gell-Mann crystallized the ideas that Leaf’s article had set in motion. “My ‘Aha!’ moment came when he talked about the complex systems he confronted in physics and how he would go about trying to build models,” Agus wrote in The End of Illness. Physicists were able to build theoretical models of things they still didn’t completely understand and make discoveries using those models. Why hadn’t doctors approached medicine like this? he wondered.
It’s a great example of looking outside to go deeper inside.