This year, I was invited to present at the annual LeWeb conference in Paris where entrepreneurs, geeks, investors, and brands assemble to discuss the state and future of tech. Having celebrated its 10th anniversary, I was asked to focus my presentation on “The Next 10 Years.” The ability to see the future is a gift. Rather than predict it, I decided to consider what it should be.
I believe that the next 10 years is a decade that must be willed instead of unveiled. I believe that the next 10 years will be fueled by innovation that disrupts thinking, behavior and markets.
As a digital analyst, my work focuses on studying disruptive technology and its impact on business. I also study disruptive technology’s affect on consumer behavior. I live in Silicon Valley but I spend most of my time visiting hubs of innovation around the world. And, I’m happy to see that innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurialism is wildly spreading. While in Paris for Le Web as an example, I spent time with Fleur Pellerin, Minister Delegate with responsibility for Small and Medium Enterprises, Innovation, and the Digital Economy. Her mission is to make France the epicenter for innovation in Europe. Indeed there are now many other champions for innovation globally and specifically in Europe that will give France a good race. But it is this race that is important.
This is a time for global innovation and disruptive ideas, but they need a supporting and nurturing ecosystem.
Every day, I am pitched by startups hoping to change the world and some actually do. Lately however, it seems that many entrepreneurs are confusing creativity with innovation. Now more than ever, I see apps, services, and companies that are uninspired or uninspiring. While this itself is not a problem, the fact that many of these ideas are funded creates a benchmark for mediocrity.
While clever or interesting, more than a fair share of ideas are not original, unusual, experimental or grand enough to will the next 10 years in a direction that fulfills its true potential. In the grand ecosystem of innovation, most ideas are infrequently innovative and as a result, waves of potential disruption are erratic or fleeting. Ideas are a commodity these days. The next 10 years will be defined by those who do more than innovate. The future lies in the hands of those who disrupt markets and industries. But, often innovation and disruption are not linked together.
Our world and the way we live in it is in desperate need of either an upgrade, reboot or complete refresh. This is a time to think bigger. This is a time to not just create but innovate.The future takes architecture and for that we need architects who see the world for what it has the potential to be.
This is a time when anything and everything can be re-imagined. The way things are doesn’t necessarily reflect the way things ought to be. We have an opportunity to change the world and it starts with the way we see it for what it is and what we can make of it.
The Dilemma’s Innovator
I think back to Clay Christensen’s landmark book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. In it, Christensen shared his framework for helping companies build a process around internal disruption to stay competitive and survive digital Darwinism. Lately, I’ve found myself aligning disruption with problem solving or opportunity creation. The journey to innovation here begins differently than it might if I started simply with a great idea.
I think back to Le Web 2008. It was cold and it snowed, not heavily but enough to disrupt the normal flow of traffic. The city practically shut down. As a result, getting a taxi from Les Docks where the event is hosted back into Paris proper was almost impossible. It was then that the idea for Uber was born as its CEO Travis Kalanick explains. Born out of necessity, Uber would solve a common problem. But it was more than the ability to order a car on demand. Uber’s true value proposition was that it created a platform where available drivers could easily connect with passengers via smart phones integrating payments, ratings, and commerce on one screen.
Uber was innovative indeed. But more so, Uber would go on to disrupt every market it entered. The cold winter day in Paris several years ago would eventually unfold into political battles in cities where governments or regulated unions were threatened by Uber’s digital competition. Could any of those industries have innovated in their own right? Absolutely. But they didn’t and therefore their world is being disrupted as a result. Now Uber’s model will serve as a foundation for additional “on demand” services. Disrupt or be disrupted!
But they’re not alone of course.
Airbnb is transforming the hospitality industry through an integrated platform that connects places and people. Like Uber, Airbnb faces political challenges from the hospitality industry.
Square is helping businesses everywhere receive and manage payments through smart devices bypassing traditional banks and financial services providers.
Instagram changed the way you take and share pictures.
Twitter became not a social network but an information network that reflects the pulse of society.
TOMS and Warby Parker helped you get stylish necessities such as shoes and eye glasses and turned customers into benefactors by donating a product to someone in need for each one sold.
Bitcoin is disrupting currencies. Per David Meyer it is to state-issued currencies – often referred to as fiat money – as P2P file-sharing is to traditional broadcast media. It’s all about decentralization.
Companies such as these are more than great ideas. They solve problems that fundamentally change behavior. They introduce a deviation in our current path to lead us in a new direction. Each were born by the dilemma’s innovator.
Changing the Design of Our Thinking to Change the Outcome of Ideation
Imagine what the next 10 years could look like if we didn’t just pursue ideas but instead relentlessly ventured to solve problems or create opportunities. The difference between innovation and disruption is the affect on behavior and the impact on existing markets.
Not only are companies finding new ways to have a positive impact on society, they’re creating ecosystems that bring together disparate functions into a holistic and enjoyable experience. Sometimes these ideas are inspired because of the pain that’s felt in the absence of a solution. Sometimes a vision of possibility is what drives someone to create something new. Imagine if the next 10 years was built upon a foundation of both. It’s part design thinking and part systems thinking.
Without deviating too much from the main subject, and whatever your stance is on it as a philosophy, the basis of design thinking simply describes an object or an end result. Design thinking is about improving the future and it represents the foundation for becoming the dilemma’s innovator. As Fast Company describes, design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a verb not a noun. It’s a methodology that solves problems or creates opportunities and consists of four key elements.
- Define the problem.
- Create and consider many options that attempt to solve that problem and/or create new opportunities in the process.
- Refine selected directions without worrying about the “idea killers” who dominate critical thinking by devaluing or disregarding early ideas. Great ideas and bad ideas sound equally ridiculous early on.
- Select your idea/s. Test and learn. Repeat.
Design thinking is often linked to extraordinary ideas that might not have otherwise arisen. At its core is something that I believe also serves as a pillar of innovation and that is both empathy and context. Empathy for a problem or opportunity is where innovation becomes personal. Context serves as the setting and allows for us to understand the emotion in order to assess and address it. It’s this type of thinking that can lead to innovation that fuels disruption.
Innovation starts with why.
Why do we do things this way?
Why can’t we do something?
Why doesn’t this exist yet?
Why isn’t this something we can do today?
When you set out to answer these questions you cannot help but feel the empathy in context that adds a sense of meaning and urgency to “why.” Design thinking can also be simplified to these four pillars…
1) Empathy (the why)
2) Context (the connected world in which you are building something)
3) Creativity (in your approach to problem-solving)
4) Rationality (logic in testing the reasons and feasibility behind what you have created)
Why Ask Why
Simon Sinek wrote the book on the importance of asking and answering why. He believes all great leaders share that they start with why in their approach to leadership. In an inspiring TEDTalk, Sinek shares an example of why Apple is different than every other technology company it competes against. To illustrate this example, he refers to his Golden Circle which demonstrates the relationships between Why, How and What.
In his presentation, Sinek states that every company on the planet knows WHAT they do. Some companies know HOW they do WHAT they do. Very few though can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do
With Apple, the “What” is that it “makes great computers.” The “how” is that they’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.
He then asks the audience, “Would you like to buy one?” The answer of course is no. His point is though that the what and how are generic or unbranded without the why. When you start with “why” however, you see the difference.
Sinek explains the why. “At Apple, in everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers.”
All he did was reverse the order of what and how Apple sells to start with why.
If you start with why, before how and what of your product or service, then you can build something bigger than what you may have originally set out to create or discover something altogether new to pursue.
To influence the next 10 years takes ideas and execution of course. But the next 10 years require a imaginative and productive approach to problem solving and creativity that rethink the very things we take for granted today or under estimate in our ability to affect.
There are only two ways to influence human behavior: manipulate it or inspire it. Innovation begins with an idea on how to improve something that may or may not be broken. It’s driven by a higher purpose. It starts with vision. And it’s empathy that will ultimately provoke the core of your vision as an innovator.
The next 10 years will either happen to us or because of us. I believe in the latter.