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Successful Innovation: Is it an Art or Science?

March 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Shock, horror; learning STEM is not the answer! Well at least not according to Dr. Andy Harter in his thought provoking 2018 BCS/IET Turing Lecture. Thankfully, he also described the key qualities critical for success in the fourth industrial revolution. Read on to find out if you’ve got what it takes.

Harter kicked off the lecture with a poignant question about whether successful tech and innovation was down to an art or a science, giving much pause for thought, but more on that later. The following are the key qualities I took away from the lecture:

  • Creativity – This is inherent quality in every individual is not always teachable. However, it is important to nurture and inspire ‘sparky’ individuals. Creativity often works best when one is able to focus on human element and harness seemingly random ideas, thoughts and visions to solve problems.
  • Motivation is key – Necessity is mother of invention, therefore tapping into an area of need with real emotional connections to the individual can often lead to inspired breakthroughs
  • Story Telling – This can capture the imagination and turn mere functionality push into consumer pull. Great storytellers have lasting impact e.g. Nicola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steven Spielberg
  • Timing – Being too early or too late is as good as being wrong. For example, the ‘way-ahead-of-it’s-time’ Apple Newton PDA was responsible for the ARM chip (aka Acorn RISC Machine) which is used to power so many mobile devices today. Timing is everything.
  • Observation – Learn to observe carefully everything e.g. detail, structure, patterns. This is one quality which can be taught and which only gets better with practice.
  • Time / space to think – The hare vs. tortoise approach to problem solving describes how frenetic pace can get in the way of deep-thought and meaningful insights. Prominent thinkers have used and recommend micro-naps as a boost for productivity.
  • Simplicity – make simplicity a key principle. Know what to leave out and try not to solve problems that don’t exist. Jazz great, Charlie Mingus once said: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”
  • Adaptation – this is key to survival in nature, business and tech innovation. There are far too many examples of failures to adapt to a changing landscape. Today’s enterprise must embrace the phoenix like business model approach
  • Generosity – Abundance is a state of mind most relevant to the digital age / fourth industrial revolution. Free software, apps and information powered economy is driven by digital abundance on an unprecedented scale.

Aside from the above, I found it interesting that Harter prefaced the above points by showcasing the works of that most forward-looking polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci, whose ground breaking works combine and span the arts and sciences, and so much more besides. In a world chock full of incredible opportunities, with amazing breakthroughs in: A.I., Autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things and Cloud computing, it is plain to see that the most profound impacts will come from combinations thereof.

In conclusion, it’s become more obvious that the polymath mantra to: “study the art of science and the science of art” in full knowledge that “everything connects to everything else”, stands true more-so now than ever, especially for those seeking to succeed in the 4th industrial revolution. In my opinion, any education or training that features and applies both the arts and sciences will beat the rest going forward. Just sayin’.

 

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The World Beyond Blockchain – Part 3/3: After the Storm

March 18, 2018 Leave a comment

My 2 previous posts on this topic described: the perfect storm that has brought things to this point (part 1/3), and explored current and emerging trends (part 2/3). This final post reflects on what will most likely play out after all the dust has settled.

After the storm – What’s next for the Blockchain
Given the current frothy state of most Blockchain based cybercurrencies, many people foresee a disastrous crash, or massive correction at least, and one may be forgiven for taking a skeptical view of the future of Bitcoin and it’s ilk. However, in light of the previously discussed factors, it is certain that the Blockchain is only starting its ascendence into every facet of human interaction with machines and with each other. When the dust finally settles, it is almost certain that the Blockchain will assume its rightful place as a key enabler of the fourth industrial revolution. A couple of indicators that clearly point the way towards this eventuality are:

1 – Moving from fission to fusion:
We are currently witnessing what can only be described as a period of explosive innovation based on / fueled by several disruptive and/or emerging technologies, including: AI, IoT, nanotech, biotech, robotics, 3-D printing, autonomous systems and vehicles, materials & energy tech, quantum computing and the Blockchain. This rapid outward acceleration of disruptive innovation is somewhat akin to nuclear fission, where each disruptive tech development sparks a chain reaction with other disruptive technologies and applications. However, even that pales in comparison with the potential disruptive power of emerging tech mashups which may be more likened to nuclear fusion. For example, a Blockchain powered Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) system running an IoT platform reeks of potential disruption overdrive. The recent 60 second $36M ICO of Singularity.Net’s Blockchain powered AI platform clearly shows that it’s just a matter of when, not if such an eventuality will manifest.

2 – Demographic expansion
Time and again it has been observed that teams with a higher diversity of people tend to produce more and better innovation, and this is something which can be seen with Blockchain and its myriad applications. For example, at an event I attended about Blockchain in developing countries, it was refreshing to see 50% of the panel were women in CxO roles, leading their organisations in navigating and deploying innovative Blockchain applications and disruptive use cases. Outside of a seemingly diversity challenged Silicon Valley, the Blockchain appears to be a magnet for diversity, with pools of entrepreneurs, users and disruptive use cases that cuts across traditional stereotypes and geo-political, socio-economic, demographic or even academic boundaries. It appears to be agnostic of age, gender, race or religious backgrounds, which is perhaps unsurprising given the multi-disciplinary influences and inputs required to create useful, successful Blockchain applications. Disciplines involved include: mathematics, psychology, philosophy, cryptography, computing, politics, economics and sociology. However, a lot still needs to be done in other areas because increased inequality represents one of the greatest concerns associated with the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Weathering the Storm: How to avoid the deluge and ride the wave
Below are my top tips for surviving and thriving through the period of disruptive cultural evolution that is bound to accompany the advent of this fourth industrial revolution and one of its key enablers:

1. Education – Get up to speed with Blockchain, and other emerging technologies, read simple introduction guides and watch videos from reputable sources, but please beware the excessive noise and froth of F.U.D out there, as not everyone is an expert.

2. Analyse your own situation – What does Blockchain mean for you as an individual, and for your organization or communities? Try to define your own use cases according to your area of expertise, and perhaps help your organization or community define or contribute to their Blockchain strategy.

3. People come first – Always put humanity first. A good dash of human compassion and grace will go a long way in future, because all emerging technology will ultimately become part of the plumbing enabling humanity, but even super humans need the right values too.

Finally, I’m no investment expert and the following does not in any way constitute investment advice, but for specific instruments, such as cryptocurrency and ICOs, it may be prudent to adopt a risk averse strategy and avoid any speculation, due to their relative immaturity. Otherwise some common sense approach will be required to even consider dabbling. For example, never gamble what you cannot afford to lose, or invest in something you do not understand, and always keep an eye on the regulatory landscape!

In conclusion, I believe the Blockchain will continue to be a fascinating topic for a while yet, but as more and more use cases become reality, it will ultimately go the way of other great enabling technologies (e.g. the Internet and Worldwide Web) and become part of the background infrastructure upon which yet more life changing innovation will emerge. You can bet on that!