Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Meetings with Remarkable People: My Conversation with Stef Wertheimer in Tel Aviv

While visiting Israel last week for the Journey Conference, I learned about some inspiring developments in the Middle East.  Israel is rocking!

It was an illuminating experience for me.  In the USA, the mainstream media diet includes a steady supply of sensational stories about the Middle East, featuring suicide bombings, terrorism, rocket attacks and reprisals.
So one might arrive in Tel Aviv expecting fear and chaos.  But the reality is Continue Reading

It’s official. I’ve joined the board of Visual DNA!

Today  the UK firm Visual DNA announced that Robert Tercek has joined their Board of Directors.   Here’s the link to the TechCrunch coverage.
For several years, Visual DNA has been developing sophisticated tools for online publishers and advertisers, operating as Imagini Europe.  Now the company is Continue Reading

Are Your Leaders Investing in the Future… or The Past?

While the US government struggles to control spending on 20th-century obligations like an overseas empire and bloated entitlement programs, it may be instructive to consider where other nations invest their money.  

The pragmatic Chinese leadership puts government money to work via investment in 21st-century infrastructure that will accelerate business in the years to come.  Take a look at how Chinese state-of-the-art airports contrast with woeful US airports.   

And don’t forget that, once you exit from the fancy new Chinese airport in Shanghai, you step aboard a futuristic maglev train that whisks visitors into the city at 300mph.    Compare that to the abysmal ground transport services at Washington Dulles Airport provided by monopoly service provider Washington Flyer

Posted via email from Think Twice

Wakeup Call: Are You Prepared for Post-Prohibition America?

Will California lead the nation in legalizing pot?   A few years ago, this question would have seemed absurd, even unthinkable.

As recently as 2007, federal agents in full body armor and automatic weapons raided Hollywood pot dispensaries.  This action took place within the context of chronic Orange Level Terror Alerts, so the population was already conditioned Continue Reading

Creative Self-Destruction at Humanity+ ?

Call it the Success Paradox.   When an organization reaches a new stage of growth, it may experience cataclysmic internal turmoil.
The Success Paradox happens to startup ventures that lack a cohesive management structure:  when the company makes a growth leap, say, from 25 to 50 employees, or from 100 to 200 employees, the shift always comes with a good deal of attendant trauma.   The camraderie and enthusiasm of the rapid growth phase wanes, replaced by politics, drama, turf wars, infighting, restructuring, disorientation, even disillusionment.   Some people depart for greener pastures, others jockey for position in the new organization, and the rest grumble and return to the engine room.
Sometimes, the organization is damaged by the chaos.  But sometimes, a new and better-structured organization emerges from the chaos.  In other words, the stresses of growth trigger a seismic shift that may cause the whole edifice to tumble down… or end up more stable.
During the past couple of weeks, Humanity + has experiencing something akin to the Success Paradox.   For years, this group has existed as a fanclub for those who support “transhumanism” (which is an inelegant word to describe the extension of human capabilities through technology).     Humanity+ wasn’t very big, it wasn’t particularly ambitious, and it did not have much influence on public policy, academic research, funding, public awareness or any other outside group.   It was not controversial, nor did it achieve any notoriety or acclaim in the outside world.
During the past year, however, the arrival of a new Executive Director, Alex Lightman, injected new energy and greater ambition into the organization. Alex organized two summit events, one in Los Angeles and the other in Cambridge, which gathered leading research scientists together with thinkers from other fields.   Although some of the core scientists were surprised by the introduction of newcomers from outside the domain of science, it was a smart move.  Alex raised the profile of the organization, and thereby brought it to the attention of policy makers, media executives, marketing whizkids, bloggers and others who, in turn, spread the word to their networks.
The timing was good.  Humanity + was bouyed by a rising tide of awareness about the Singularity and the now-daily advances in  the fields of robotics, nanotechnology, anti-aging, cognitive science.    Alex positioned the organization at the forefront of this trend, and as a result, Humanity + suddenly was on the brink of becoming relevant to a much broader group.    Following June’s H+ conference at Harvard University, the group set its sights higher, on matters of public policy, culture & morality, and the issue of managing growing public perception of the radical scientific breakthroughs.
Suddenly, H+ mattered.    Or at least it looked like it had a chance to matter.
And then, just like clockwork, the whole thing exploded.
A few weeks ago, three members of the board of directors abruptly resigned.   Then Alex Lightman resigned from his executive role in order to run for a board seat.   And then, last week,  the Chairman of Board at Humanity + issued a message to members instructing them not to vote for Alex but instead to direct their votes to a slate hand-picked by him.   The jockeying continued over this past weekend.  One board member has nominated her husband for a seat.  Others are calling upon friends from the past to fill the void and return to the familiar past.
Whatever consensus and goodwill existed in June has been dissipated within a few short weeks.   Dark allegations abound about ethical lapses, cronyism, mischief, board-packing.    The current Chairman of the board has suggested that he and other board members will resign en masse if they don’t get their way.
Wallace Stanley Sayre quipped that “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.”   The same can probably be said of politics inside a bubble where geeks posit hypothetical scenarios for human evolution.
The question remains whether this is merely self-inflicted destruction, or possibly creative destruction. Can Humanity+ recover from the conflict?   Or will the organization fall apart?
At the moment, it could go either way.
Half of the candidates are longtime members of the transhumanist movement, including one person who claims to have coined the term (not something I’d want to take credit for, since it is such an ugly phrase… but then again it is better than the alternative, “extropian” .    No surprise that this group had a small following in the early days when it bore that moniker).
Many of these candidates have the very vocal support of some current board members.   Which is no surprise, because they represent voices of the past.  Familiar names and faces who can reliably be counted upon to help the board restore the cosy club of the past.
On the other hand there are some intriguing newcomers who might be able to inject the organization with the DNA to evolve and grow to a new evolutionary niche.   These candidates include legendary publicist Howard Bloom.
What determines the fate of organizations who suffer from the “Success Paradox”?   In my own experience, the key determinant is whether or not the organization is open to change.   Big change.   Not just rearranging the deck chairs, but retooling the entire enterprise on a bigger scale.  Are people in the organization prepared for new roles, a new focus, a new set of priorities, possibly a completely different organization?
The first question to ask is:  is the current leadership even qualified to manage such a massive transformation?
Often what happens in a startup company is that founders exit to make room for professional managers.  Or they accept a subordinate role (in R&D, for instance), relinquishing the top role to a new CEO.   But this requires humility, self awareness and an ego that is under control.  As well as the confidence to turn the controls over to somebody new.
Plus, you will often see an exodus of the “all-purpose” executives who did a little bit of everything:  marketing, product, sales, distribution.    These “general purpose execs” move on to new ventures, making room for specialists.  This is often for the good of the entire organization.
What never seems to work, in my experience, is when a founder or board member attempts to seize control by resisting the new management who have been brought in precisely for the purpose of growing the venture.   The result is almost always destructive, and not in a creative way.     Once an organization commits to growth, you can’t revert back to the cosy past.   You can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube.   And you can’t re-bottle the change genie.
For Humanity+,  this election is a question of whether the organization seeks to embrace the future or cling to the past.  New directors with new perspectives could aid the organization by opening doors to new alliances, new partnerships, new constituents and potentially new sources of funding.  H+ is on the verge of becoming relevant to a broader group, and thereby the organization could exert influence far beyond its size, setting forth a rational logic for adopting the new technologies that will guide human evolution.   That’s a exciting mission, and a message that is sorely needed in today’s fractious, polarized political landscape.
For an organization that is so clearly committed to a vision of the future, this decision strikes me as a no-brainer.

Call it the Success Paradox.   When an organization reaches a new stage of growth, it may experience cataclysmic internal turmoil.

The Success Paradox happens to startup ventures that lack a cohesive management structure:  when the company makes a growth leap, say, from 25 to 50 employees, or from 100 to 200 employees, the shift always comes with a good deal of attendant trauma.   The camraderie and enthusiasm of the rapid growth phase wanes, replaced by Continue Reading

Why do innovation teams fail?

At a time when margins are tight and disruption occurs on a daily basis, business leaders are under pressure to discover the “next big thing”, such as a breakthrough product that will redefine a category or create an entirely new niche to dominate.  A new process that will save time and money.  A radical efficiency that will restore fat margins.

But companies tend to suffer from a common defect.   Continue Reading

Top Tens, 2010 Predictions and Other Provocative Lists

alice through looking glass CUThis week everybody seems to have a Top Ten list to herald the dawn of a new decade. Never one to miss a chance to jump on a rolling bandwagon, I decided to chime in with my own list of the lists that caught my attention.

Did I miss one? Got a suggestion? I’d love to hear it. Post it in the comments, please!

1. NYT: Bono’s Ten for the Next Ten

Ten items for the next decade that captivate the Irish rocker’s imagination. Characteristically capricious and wide ranging. Bono zooms from the micro to the macro in this assortment of predictions.. See yesterday’s NYT.


Continue Reading

Four trends to watch in 2010

“Never make forecasts, especially about the future.” Wise advice from Samuel Goldwyn.   Which I am now about to ignore at my peril.   Here’s my take on what to expect in 2010.


1. The Dawn of Ambient Awareness & Networked Consciousness

What happens when real-time status updates and news feeds are combined with GPS location data and context-aware computing?  You may experience a new kind of awareness that leverages the perceptions and commentary of other people.  You might call it collective intelligence.  And it will make you smarter. Continue Reading

Why I plan to address the Nokia Game Summit

Next week I will travel to Rome to give a keynote speech to the Nokia Developer Summit.   Some friends have asked me why.   Given the recent release of the Gooogle Android phone and the Apple iPhone 3G, there has been a surge of commentary about the smartphones in the tech blogs.  The general thrust of such blog posts is that the newcomers will transform the mobile industry.

I disagree.    The newcomers may have an impact, perhaps an outsized impact, but in reality the primary driver of change in mobile is one of the old giants: Nokia.    No major mobile technology company comes close to Nokia in its support of open standards, open software and open APIs.   And no company comes close to challenging Nokia’s 30%+ market share. Continue Reading

Innovation in television? Look to the Web.

Check out this useful comment by Mike Hale in today’s NYT heralding the arrival of original video series on the Web.  For too long, broadcasters have regarded the Web as a dumping ground for uninspired promotional content and lame marketing gimmicks for the regular broadcast schedule.  Recently, however, some TV networks are starting to take the Web seriously as a vehicle for rapid, low cost innovation.

The NY TImes piece highlights the distinction between genuinely new programming concepts and old-school marketing masquerading as original content.   Hale also skewers the dubious quality and relentless product placement as obvious defects in some new programs.  But video is expensive to produce, and after all, somebody has to pay the bills.

Such mainstream TV efforts face stiff competition from web pure plays, who are not beholden to corporate policies and are thereby able to innovate more freely.  I’m still betting on the shock value of sites like to capture viewers with a fresh voice unencumbered with an old school broadcaster’s agenda.

This is a useful meme and one that will certainly be explored in more detail at the 5D conference in Long Beach in early October.