The shape of the future

Reviewing visuals from the first ever television programme is interesting. You’ll notice that they were basically radio shows, which happened to be filmed. A couple of people. In a room. With a camera. A few years earlier, they would have been in the exact same setting, doing audio recordings. Early TV was essentially still an audio programme with pictures. It took them (the television producers) many years to realise that things didn’t have to be the same shape.

Even when they started to create on-screen interactions, such as the Late Night talk show format, it was essentially live theatre for the TV – props and segments being interacted with on a small stage. It seems that we so often have an incremental mindset of how new technology can substitute whatever came before it. It’s not isolated to TV either. Our cars are still horse carriages with a motor. Our houses are caves with electricity. Laptops are typewriters with screens where the paper used to be.

It seems that only once we realise the new technology can be a different shape that really innovative things can happen. The smart phone changed so much because it removed buttons and built in a screen on a very flat device. Videos, app stores, mapping…. sure, the technological had to catch up, but the new shape had a massive impact.

Right now there’s lots of opportunities to change the shape of things:

  • How could supermarkets look now that we have self-checkout, and will soon have no checkout? How should the selves and aisles be arranged?
  • What will department stores look like when we try on clothing virtually and fit out our homes with furniture we buy from home using augmented reality?
  • How should car parks look given that many won’t even have drivers? Will they need pick up & drop off bays for goods and people, as well as charging stations in every bay?
  • Will commercial car parks be empty during the day and full during the night? How can we utilise that space? What about car-stopping spaces in cities?
  • Do cars need to have front facing seats or can they look more like rolling lounge rooms or rolling offices now we can take our eyes off the road?
  • Will houses need drone delivery pads for ecommerce and drone landing pads for our personal flying machines?
  • What will kitchens look like when automated vertical gardens in offices and houses are common?

This is a micro-sample of some of the changes we know are coming. They’ll be more we can’t even imagine yet. It just might be that the biggest opportunity of the future isn’t inventing the technology itself, but reshaping our physical spaces to accommodate it.

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.

 

 

 

 

Why we need to start before we finish

There’s something interesting entrepreneurs and technologists can take from rock bands. When playing live of stage and someone in the band makes a mistake, they don’t stop, they just keep on playing. When rehearsing, it’s important to play the song right through to the end, regardless of mistakes. The only way to practice, is to do it as if you’re on stage. The only way to get good on stage, is to have the courage to get on it before you are ready. The only way to get good on stage is to improve on stage, not in the backyard, rehearsal room or garage. Successful bands take gigs where no one might show up and they all start with exactly zero fans. In other words, we need to start before we are finished. We finish the work live, in market. In fact, the work never finishes, but it only really starts when once we have shipped a product.

The band Guns n Roses has a great story about their most famous song Sweet Child o’ Mine. They had the riff and the first part of the song down, it was sounding good and then they got to a part of the song for which there was no other music written, and no lyrics either. The it happened – Axle started singing:

‘Where do we go – Where do we go…. Oh, Where do we go now?’

He was literally talking to the band, saying geez, what’s next for this song. And through the process of doing, and making and asking, the solution was inside the question itself. That moment became the bridge, the missing part of the song. It worked with the other lyrics without him realizing it at first and lead its way nicely into what I think is the best guitar solo of all time. But of course, unless they started playing it before it was complete, it might never have been finished.

The startups we found, the technology we invent, and our own futures are a lot like that. Searching for perfection instead of progress is what stops us most. Some times all we really need to do is start, and believe that we’ll find the path of ‘where we go next’ once we start moving.

If you’re wondering where to go next, come join me in Melbourne on June 20th for my book launch of  ‘The Lessons School Forgot’. l’ll be doing a talk on the future, and answer all the questions you might have. It’s going to be a great night.

Click here to reserve your Free seat. 

See you then, Steve. 

The Language of Innovation

In my adult life, I’ve learned to speak two foreign languages. During my studies I came to the conclusion that it is very difficult to truly understand a culture, until you can speak its language(s). There are nuances and belief systems locked inside the words of a culture. The way a culture’s words are put together, how these words translate into actions, what its people believe and even the way they move are locked inside language. This is one of the reasons you can’t just translate phrases, or even some words directly. They need a cultural context to allow true meaning and required action to be drawn from them. It’s a process which has lots of layers, which when understood properly uncovers why different cultures believe different things, have different values, behave in unique ways and mostly go about things in a way which is, well foreign. Language and culture mirror each other.

Learning how to change, innovate and survive under a new technological regime is a lot like learning a new language.

For more than 10 years I’ve been out in the market learning and speaking our new business language, that of the accelerating technology economy.  Espousing that the era of stability is over and that there is a bunch of new tools and methods which not only circumvent industrial strategies, but are part of a permanent cultural shift in business. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

There are 3 clear stages that are recognisable parts to a successful transition.

Noticing the new language – We hear a bunch of words which are different. What seem like mere sounds and accents just washing over us gradually become more familiar. We see a smaller cohort speaking this new language in more and more places until we notice that it isn’t just different, but something different is happening around and to the people who speak this language. It is generating attention from outsiders and the language seems to have some advantages. Advantages that only those who speak it seem to understand and have access to. The initial recognition of this difference is first part of any change process. We must not only admit that we don’t understand it and that it’s not going to go away. But we must also be curious enough not to ignore it, but to dig deeper into it.

Understand the meaning – Next we must try and learn the new language. We have to study it, observe and listen, then try to speak it. We must learn the meaning inside the words – the foreign ‘culture’ it represents. This part isn’t just a translation process, it’s more about experimenting with the words until it becomes a physical response. A key part of this process is watching the body language and verbal language interact. Once we really understand the language, we understand its context and what makes it work. Understanding a language just little can bring about many positive changes and new actions. But it is a game of frequency and practice. To know it, we can’t just study it. We have to use it in non-classroom environments, in real life where mistakes can happen. We must converse with others who only speak that language. If we only practice with others who speak our mother tongue as well, we won’t really learn – we’ll always revert to what is more comfortable. Actions don’t just speak louder than words – they are the purpose of them.

Living the language – This is where most struggle.  At this point, we understand it well enough. We know enough to communicate and get inside the culture. But here we face a choice on whether we want to adopt it. To use it. To become at one with the language. Unless we decide to live the language, it will never be an automatic reaction and allow us to interact in its world without thinking. This is the chasm most never cross, because here’s where it goes beyond learning and becomes more about changing.

If you go back and read through the 3 steps again and think about disruptive technology or business innovation, you’ll see they are the same thing. The reasons most large companies, and people with established stable career skills struggle to adapt to innovations is because they are not prepared to live it. Mostly they want to learn a few words, be able to order a sandwich and introduce themselves, but mostly they’d prefer to just speak and act the way they always have. It’s usually window dressing. They don’t truly believe in it and they want to maintain their current culture. We’ll never truly innovate speaking an outdated language, or more precisely, living in an outmoded culture. We must immerse fully and leave the past behind.

For a company, and even a country, we’ll only ever be future-proof once we are so immersed in the language of innovation that we develop our own slang, dialect and accent with it. This is not easy. It’s a radical and permanent shift. Ask anyone who moved to a new land and had to learn to speak all over again.

Just remember this, if you don’t like change – you’re really going to hate irrelevance.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve. 

Why the ecosystem is more important than market share

tomato

The caterpillar hidden in a tomato from my garden is great news for me as the gardener. While it’s one less tomato to eat, the presence of this little creature is enhancing the ecosystem I’m trying to build. I’ll put that tomato back into the ground. There’ll be more bugs, and butterflies which will make my soil more fertile. In turn they’ll help pollenate the flowers for next season, and they’ll be more tomatoes and resulting nutrition than their was last season.

While it is true that the bugs and competitors reduce my yield now, they increase it later by helping me create more of what I’m trying to grow. The systems approach takes longer, but usually creates more for all participants. This is why market share is never as important as growth. Market share is a me versus you, reductionist measure – it’s very yesteryear. The thing I’m trying to grow is the system. In a world of increasing abundance I want to participate in creating something which means more for everyone. I have little desire to dominate what is already here.

Sammartron snap

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Innovating too early is the same as being wrong

The EV2 Electric car

I’ve had a few startups where I was a bit early. I’d put my former startup rentoid in this category – not to mention the amazing potential pivots I missed. When someone is early to an emerging market we often say these simple words.

“He had the right idea, he was just a bit early.”

Here’s the truth. Early is the same as wrong. I know it sounds mean, but we have to be honest with ourselves. If the idea is not at the right time, then put simply it is the wrong idea. But I will admit there are complexities with being early, and it leads me to these thoughts.

  1. I’d rather be wrong by being early, than wrong with a dumb idea.
  2. There’s always a good chance of being early with something new.

Number 2 points to the importance of keeping costs low. A low cost operation has more time to learn and iterate. They have a better chance of getting closer to todays needs, and or the market catching up to their initial vision.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

Ignore what the teacher told you, and just make things up

old school

Watch a 5 year old kid play for half a day and you’ll see levels of creativity that’ll blow your mind. You’ll wonder in awe where their natural ability to ‘make things up’ comes from. You’ll be inspired by how they see the world and what it makes them think and do.

We used to see the world that way too.  But what happened was for the first 18 years of our lives we got told how to see the world. In fact, the concept of making things up brings back some very strong and personal memories for me. I can remember when I reached High School (Grade 7-12 in Australia) and that it was no longer Ok to make things up. We had to reference where we got our ideas from. All of a sudden my opinion didn’t matter. What started to matter was researching someone else’s opinion, someone who had been ordained by industrialised society and had been published. It felt so weird. Why couldn’t I just write what I think? Why did it have to be a quotation from someone else? Why did what they think matter more than what I think? We all got taught  got taught stop thinking and start rehearsing. Rehearsing for what you may ask?

Rehearsing the lines for some kind of monetary industrial pantomime.

We were getting taught how to play inside the the modern economy.  An elongated economic play in which we would become ‘extras’ in someone else’s dreamscape. Someone else had the starring role, but they needed all sorts of support so they could be the stars of the show. And we went along with it. But now the exact opposite of what we got told, is where all the value is being created.

The trick they pulled on us to not have any original ideas, to not create anything new, to keep our opinion to ourselves is rapidly becoming redundant. And this gets me excited. We all still have the ability to just ‘make things up’. Now that we have access to the tools to create anything, now that the economy is being totally redesigned, we just need to forget what we got told, and start to write some of our own lines.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.