In a glass-walled boardroom overlooking the Hudson River wrapping around downtown Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty in the distance, our guest lecturer flicked on one of the strangest slides I’ve seen. Juxtaposed against a sleek, modern room were two medieval paintings. One of a fortress. The other of a ship.
This month, Harvard Business Review featured a compelling piece – “The Age of the Continuous Connection: When You Can Interact with Your Customers 24/7 You Need a New Business Model” – by Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch, co-directors of Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management. The piece inspires some exciting new strategies to stay ahead of the competition. But we think it only scratches the surface of what is possible.
MIT’s recent billion-dollar commitment to its new AI-focused school, the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, represents an essential advance, not for its magnitude but for its plans to infect the rest of the university with AI.
The folks at Fast Company and Forbes this month released their annual “most innovative companies” lists. Like many of us, I look forward to these lists every year. By championing those companies bold enough to challenge the status quo, they inspire all of us to do something different. By sifting from masses of companies the few that we should admire and emulate, they bring clarity to our innovation efforts.
After a flight home long enough to empty my inbox and complete three important pieces of work, I found myself in a quiet house, family sleeping upstairs, with time on my hands. So, I stretched out on my couch and indulged in a movie.
Everything starts with fiction. As one of the world’s top brand designers, Brian Collins, reveals, “Design is hope made visible.” Any leader ever praised or derided as visionary understands this. Leaders like Oprah Winfrey or Elon Musk define futures and marshal resources to attain them. They inspire others to belief and action.
I was recently at a conference with Curt Carlson, a brilliant leader of innovation who for many years ran SRI, the research organization responsible for the invention of Apple’s Siri and many other multi-billion dollar products. The SRI story is one of an astonishing turnaround—when he took over as CEO in 1998, the organization had been losing money for years and was on the brink of having to close its doors. Worse yet, the culture he inherited was described by many as toxic.
The future matters. Just ask anyone, or any organization, who thinks they don’t have one. All of your greatness today – your people, products, partnerships, brands, operations, capabilities, culture, customers – will not matter for long unless they are working together, as part of a strategy, to create your future.
We cannot predict the future, but we can prepare in advance. So how do you develop early warning signs that things are about to change in an industry? One technique for identifying leading indicators is envisioning time zero events—concrete events that represent things that could have a big impact on a business.
Among the many myths that corporate types have about startups (whether standalone or of the corporate variety) is that there is some kind of alchemy involved. Sort of “Steve Jobs arrives on a clamshell and the world is changed forever!” They think growing new businesses requires some instinctive DNA that founders are born with and that other mere mortals will never possess.