The Secret Innovation Budget

Research & Development and Marketing traditionally lived in different worlds. R&D for innovation purpose happened in secret, in the lab, while Marketing was mostly just advertising. The advertising itself? Well, that was generally about convincing people to buy what the company could already make. It was rarely about the future and what the brand might become. Smart companies however, have merged these two disciplines. It’s a ‘trick’ any firm big enough to have a marketing budget might want to embrace. Yes, the marketing budget should really be an innovation fund, and vice versa.

In times of great change we idolise the new. The wonder created by what was once the realm of science fiction, are todays most shareable artefacts online. Cool stuff we see for the first time like an Amazon drone delivery, a Google driverless car, or an Uber air taxi get viewed millions of times, voluntarily, without media expense. These companies are telling the market, we are inventing the future. If you’re a large corporation today, and you’re not inventing the future, during such a revolutionary time, then you just might be inventing your own demise.

But here’s a few questions worth asking:

  • When was the last time you had something delivered via drone?
  • When was the last time you took a ride in a driverless vehicle?
  • When did you last hover above traffic in your air taxi?

If you’re like most people, you haven’t, yet. That’s not to say that these things aren’t on the way – they certainly are, but in truth these companies have purposely talked up the technology many years before any of them were actually functional, let alone a commercial reality. This is where the trick part comes in. The time lag between the concept phase and the reality of these innovations being in market is a great brand building exercise for the firms smart enough to do it. Cleverly, their R&D has become their advertising. They’ve earned free global media attention and further ensconced themselves as innovators.

The perception this creates in the market isn’t just nice to have. It can also have a massive economic impact on the firms financially. Just compare the unit sales, price earnings ratios and valuations of firms serving the same set of customers:


  • Tesla makes 245k cars per year, and has a PE ratio of infinity (no dividends yet), and a market cap of $48 billion.
  • Ford makes a 7.9m cars per year (one per 4 seconds) and has a PE ratio of 9.3x, and a market cap of $34 billion.

The market has clearly voted on how it values innovation.

So could an old world industrial company use innovation as a brand communication tool? Could they be seen as on the cutting edge of technology and reap the valuation benefits? Of course.

But it requires some shifts in attitude.

It requires the firm to set lofty goals in their innovation efforts, it can’t be incremental. They also need the courage to share these innovation dreams with the market and own them publicly. It also requires the vision to shift investment from traditional marketing and advertising budgets into innovation arenas and moonshot product developments. All of which can not only become an exponential product improvement, but be an effective form of advertising in the interim. But mostly, it will send a strong message and provide a new confidence to the firms customers, employees and investors that they have a chance at inventing the future too.

Top 10 tech trends for 2019

Last week was what piqued my interest in 2018 – and here’s 10 things I will be looking out for in 2019. Of course predictions are a tough business, especially when they’re about the future!

  1. Algorithms as ingredients: Seventy years ago we didn’t know what was inside our packaged foods. Likewise, few of us understand what algorithms are, and more importantly what’s inside them. So let me be very clear here – They are more dangerous than food with bad ingredients because we don’t have natural reflexes like taste buds and sense of smell to warn us about the bad ones. They infiltrate the mind by stealth. I predict this year we’ll see the first regulation where algorithms must be communicated with end users of digital products – like we have an ingredients list and nutrition panels on boxes of cereal. The black box is about to be opened up. I’m certain many will be horrified by how it’s decided what we see and consume on line.
  2. Big Tech Anti-Trust Action: I expect the first Anti-Monopoly case this year against a big technology firm. The most likely candidate is Facebook. Even though Amazon and Google are just as predatory in their behaviour, Facebook has made the most errors in handling their power. In the end, it’s humans that decide who to fight and perception matters more than reality. This is why Zuckerberg better get ready for another tough year in 2019. His services will might be blocked in a country or two, but I expect some US law makers to propose a split of What’s App, Instagram and Facebook. It’s overdue.
  3. Social Back Channels Emerge: Robin Dunbar proved many years ago we physically can’t manage close relationships with more than around 50 people, and wider relationships with more than around 150 people. This is why social media doesn’t really work for us. It’s not social, it’s just broadcasting for the masses. I only use it to share my work for those who are interested in it. Real relationships are something I do in the back channels: Texts, Private Messages, Small groups, DM’s. I’d imagine you’re already doing this and it will only increase to the chagrin of social media forums which harvest attention for revenue. In 2019 I expect traffic declines in public social media and actual social conversations to be in back channels and in person. So let’s just be honest here and admit that everything else we see on social media is really just ‘advertising‘.
  4. Buttons go missing: As voice AI’s like Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google get exponentially better – then we can expect these API’s to be opened up and embedded into white goods and all manner of electrical devices in our homes. At the CES next week – smart white goods, ones we command via voice, will make a bigger than usual play. We already saw the start of this with the Amazon Basics Microwave which has Alexa built in. Buttons will go the way of dials and disappear as devices listen to our instructions. (Which will help big tech invade us further – see 1 & 2).
  5. Electric Mobility: Scooters, skateboards and other small electric transport devices will pop up in cities around the world very quickly and provide an entree into electric mobility. An infrastructure will pop up around it to support the shift, essentially teaching consumers about the upside of electric mobility versus combustion engines. A trip in Shanghai, China is a great example of the shift to electric – 90% of motorbikes on the road are already electric there.
  6. The last 10 Steps: Will becomes the e-commerce go to phrase of the year. I wrote about it here a few weeks ago.
  7. Blockchain evaporates: Funding around Blockchain and Crypto projects will decline markedly. This will allow the true believers (me included) to get back to work on product in a non-speculative environment. We may even witness a Blockchain based service which is useful, and consumer friendly. In all probability food supply will be documented on a blockchain as the first commercial use. Walmart have stated it will be mandatory for suppliers in 2019.
  8. 5G Flow on: The impact of 5G isn’t faster downloads to watch youtube videos on the train – it’s all about new possibilities. With speeds up to 100 times faster than what we are used it will facilitate low latency, quasi-real time augmented interactions in our world. The big winner here will be automotive. We’ll see new models of cars come with more augmented features – interactive real world head up display advice, and move us closer to autonomy which requires faster connectivity. It will also facilitate changes in education and possibly ‘geographically displaced’ surgery.
  9. Personal Robotics gets real: Now that voice AI is very good indeed, I’d expect to see the first consumer facing ‘domestic robot’ hit the market at affordable prices this year. Some type of mobile humanoid robot which offers mechanical capabilities around the home. Think lifting, carrying, sweeping.
  10. AI Job stealing fears moderate: Expect a flip where articles start talking up how AI will create more jobs than it removes. The naysayers will realise humans have a never ending list of things which need done. Even with machine learning robots need to be taught, and are better at efficiency – what we really want from each other is nuance and humanity – which requires humans.

Make a splash in 2019, Steve.

My Top 10 for 2018

I was thinking about some of the cool things I saw, read, noticed and digested around the world of tech for 2018. A bonus blog post for your holiday perusal.

You’ll notice underlying the top 10 is what I regard to be the biggest shift in tech at the moment is the realisation that we have a technology wildfire raging. We need to learn to control it and ensure that what we are building serves the many, and not just the few. We can do it – but first we must understand it.

So here it is, the Sammatron’s Tech Top 10 for 2018…. enjoy:

  1. Blog Post of the year: Survival of the Richest by Douglas Rushkoff, who contends that the one percent are plotting to leave us behind. It’s a compelling read that unearths the dangers of the schism between us and the one percent.
  2. Podcast Series of the year: The Dream by Stitcher is a brilliant review of the history of Multi-Level Marketing (MLMs), pyramid selling and their total dodginess. Think Amway. The thing I found most compelling is how hackable the human mind can be when an organisation is selling ‘hope’ instead of an actual product. The ironic thing about these MLMs is that the philosophy they sell is all true (in relation to business success), but the business model they attach to it is a total fraud. And that is their trick. A mind blowing story that is very well researched.
  3. Podcast Episode of the year: Joe Rogan’s interview of Dr Ben Goertzel. Dr Ben Goertzel is a mathematician and leading Artificial Intelligence researcher. They go deep on everything that matters on tech and our future. Ben might just be the most informed, intellectual, articulate, compassionate and humane individual I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. It’s two hours of wonder. The world is lucky to have people like Dr Goertzel in it.
  4. Book of the Year: Winner Takes All by Anand Giridharadas. The elite charade of changing the world. This book couldn’t come at a more important time in our history. It’s the one book I’m recommending at the moment. In this book Anand explains from the inside how the emergent global elite pretend to try to ‘change the world for the better’, but in doing so really just obfuscate their desire to preserve the status quo and their role in causing the problems they pretend to try and solve. Jaw-dropping stuff.
  5. Documentary of the Year: The Cleaners by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewick is a timely film which investigates the shadowy and disturbing world of content removal from popular social media sites. An ugly underbelly of outsourced, low-paid workers deciding on whether a beheading constitutes news, free speech or inappropriate content. Another reminder that these are not technology companies but media organisations that are long overdue some serious regulation.
  6. Software of the year: Well, it’s more a shift than a singular piece of software – the Low Code / No code app movement. This is the arrival of software platforms that allow anyone with basic computer literacy to develop software or apps without any coding expertise. Put simply, if you can read, you’re about to become a software developer too. An important evolution for the masses where software is eating everything
  7. Tech Fail of the year: Crypto currency price crash – Ok ok, this is actually good – it means we can now focus on the important technology which underpins it – Blockchain. I actually believe that this is a bit like the Dot Com crash in 1999-2000 and is almost a pre-condition for crypto and blockchain to be everything it can be. Yes, it will come back even stronger.
  8. TV Show of the Year: Black Mirror. In fact, it’s not even close – it’s Black Mirror and daylight. By far the most insightful and important TV series in decades. The most recent episode Bandersnatch just snuck into 2018 a few days ago. If you haven’t seen it, then do yourself a favour.
  9. Smartphone App of the year: Surprise….None, zero, zip. I can’t think of one, and I checked my phone too. None have been good enough in the past 2 years to even make it onto my device! Actually I lie, a new parking app in my city Melbourne called PayStay is quite useful, but it’s more a reflection of our city being 5 years behind the times than an innovation. It’s another reminder that the halcyon days of app development are over, and that the real game in the coming few years is beyond the app economy. It’s probably worth looking at your own phone – I’m certain you’ll also be underwhelmed about how little it’s changed in the past few years.
  10. Technology Shift of the Year: The move to Voice as a primary interface. It’s early days – but I believe it is under-hyped and will replace the screen as our primary interaction in years to come. Don’t forget, language is Humanity’s killer app. Best you get onto it now.

Have a great 2019, Steve.





What to teach your kids (& yourself) – My TED talk

The most common question I’m asked in my work is this: “What do you teach your kids?  How do you prepare them for an unknown future?” It really is the question. It’s also the topic of a TED talk I did this year in Melbourne.

In the talk I tell the story of how society shapes children, and systematically removes their entrepreneurial spirit – something all humans are born with.

In a world where our future is super unknown – there are some things we do know: We’ll need to be economically independent, manage our own careers, constantly upgrade our skills and embrace inevitable technologies like robotics. You will need to Outgrow Your Job – the title of the talk.

Rather than writing about it – please invest the time to watch it here. It’s a 14 minute video which will change how you see the world. And it might give some cool ideas on how to make your kids future proof.

Oh, and remember to share it with someone whose future you care about!

thanks, Steve. 

What your garage & spare room can teach you about the future

There’s a pretty good chance your spare room and garage is full of yesterday. The equipment, events, life stages, projects and stuff, but mostly ideas of what mattered then. Unless you clean it out (and I know you’ve been planing too for some time) it will be pretty hard to fit anything else in there. In fact, you might have been planning to clean it out to make space for that new project…. some clean floor space to get that idea underway…. some space to let the new come into.

Garage full of junk

Our brains are like that too. They need a spring clean. I’ll go even further and say we need to unlearn some of our outdated ideas from our past. Make room for the new truths of the world we are about to enter. The future will arrive regardless, best we make room for it mentally.

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Entrepreneurs, it's ok to copy


There’s a tension in our connected world about being the originator. Apparently those who invented it first always win. It is said that the best entrepreneurs are those who change things. It turns out though, those that win reinterpret that which is already here.

Here are a few examples of things that weren’t invented by who you think:

Some break dancing way before it ever appeared in the Bronx.

A graphical user interface & mouse way before Apple.

The first automobile from China in 1672, way before Carl and Henry.

So the next time you get accused of copying someone, just tell them they copied their DNA from their parents. They copied their language from their community and they should also start copying their ideas from the giants who came before them. We first must copy before we can create. Go forth and copy.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

It's already been done, or has it?

As soon as we think of an amazing startup idea the first thing we often do is trawl the internet to see if someone has already built the app, the service ,the hardware device. We want to know if it has already been done. Oft times, we are deflated to find out it has been. But if we have to search, has it really been done? If no one knows about a concept in market it raises a lot of interesting questions:

Did they execute well against the idea?

Is their product good, but the distribution poor?

If the distribution is poor, does that mean the product is actually bad?

If the distribution is poor, does that mean it’s not solving a real problem?

If the distribution and product are both good, are the switching costs too high?

Did the team have the right funding?

If they had the funding is the timing too soon – is the market ready?

The truth is we’ll never be able to answer these and other questions. And so it brings us back to the very first moment of inspiration. We thought it was a great concept and maybe that is enough. We know most things change their shape in the development process anyway. Maybe we should build it regardless of what is out there. Build our version of how things could be. Remembering of course that most fortunes are made with old ideas done better. Property is the oldest business in the world and still to this day creates the most millionaires. Even Youtube, a new kinda business, arrived when there were already over 400 video sharing websites (that we know of).

It’s another reminder our world is big on ideas and small on execution.