Category Archives: Futurology

Navigating the Unpredictable Terrain of Modern Business

Shifting Sands

Navigating the Unpredictable Terrain of Modern Business

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

If you ask me, ‘So what is your business model?’ Our business model’s always about shifting to higher value opportunities. Ginni Rometty

Navigating the Unpredictable Terrain of Modern Business

The adage “a rolling stone gathers no moss” takes on a new dimension in an ever-evolving world. In the corporate jungle, we can’t afford the luxury of simply rolling ahead aimlessly. We’re not just stones; captains steering ships through stormy seas, constantly adjusting our sails amidst changing winds and turbulent waters. Balancing short-term urgencies with long-term visions is an art and science in itself. How do I transition from an overwhelmed executive to a masterful strategist? Dive in with me, and let’s chart this exhilarating course together.

Welcome to the Quicksand!

Business landscapes today are as unpredictable as they are dynamic. With swift technological leaps, fluctuating consumer appetites, and relentless competition, it often feels like you’re playing chess on a board that’s constantly reshaping itself. Yet, that sinking sensation can transform into a firm foothold with the right strategies and mindset. Let’s unravel the secrets:

1. Turn into Business Chameleons

Agility is the still the new cool. Embrace it. An agile organization is like a well-oiled transformer, ready to change form and function with market trends. Bill Gates is known for being a long time agile leader. “Success today requires the agility and drive to rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.” In the face of regenerative AI and so many technological advances this quote has never been truer!  Transforming your organization into business chameleon leaders could have significant benefits. You’re rarely left behind and always ready to grab new opportunities.

How to:

  • Promote a culture of flexibility: Encourage the “Yes, we can!” spirit.
  • Make innovation your best friend: Regular brainstorming sessions, innovation labs, or ‘Shark Tank’ style pitches can be fantastic.
  • Flex your strategies: Don’t stick to one path like a GPS with a weak signal. Adapt, change, and grow.

2. Balancing Act with Objectives

Picture this: You’re walking a tightrope, balancing a feather in one hand (short-term goal) and a bowling ball (long-term goal) in the other. Sounds tough? This scenario may be! So let’s come down to steadier grounds. Balancing short and long-term goals is an art and a science.

Strategic Planning and Prioritization

o  Planning is at the core of balancing short and long-term goals. It involves setting clear, measurable goals and creating a roadmap.

o  Begin with your long-term goals (3-5 years), and then break them down into shorter-term goals (1 year, quarterly, monthly). This way, you create a clear path towards your long-term vision.

o  Prioritize your goals based on their impact on your long-term objectives. This ensures you’re always working towards your big picture goals, even while tackling immediate tasks.

Flexible Resource Allocation

o  A flexible resource allocation strategy is key to balancing short and long-term goals.

o  Allocate resources (time, money, staff) to both short-term projects and long-term initiatives.

o  However, remain flexible and ready to reallocate resources as needed. For instance, you may temporarily divert more resources if a short-term opportunity arises that could greatly benefit the business.

Regular Progress Reviews

o  Regularly reviewing progress towards your goals is crucial.

o  Set specific milestones for both short-term and long-term goals. This will allow you to track progress and make necessary adjustments.

o  If you find you’re consistently missing short-term goals due to focusing too much on the long-term (or vice versa), it’s a sign that you need to reassess your balance and possibly adjust your strategy.

Balancing short-term and long-term goals is an ongoing process. It requires strategic planning, flexible resource allocation, and regular progress reviews. By employing these strategies, you can ensure your business stays focused on the present while keeping an eye on the future.


  • Ensures survival today (short-term) and success tomorrow (long-term).
  • Enhances value for stakeholders.
  • Builds resilience in the organization.

Arm Yourself with Tools and Techniques

Like a Swiss army knife, these tools can get you out of any sticky situation:

  • Scenario Planning: Picture yourself as a fortune teller. Create different future scenarios based on market trends. Plan your strategies accordingly.
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): These are your compasses in the business wilderness. They help you stay on track with both short and long-term goals.
  • Regular Strategy Reviews: Like annual medical check-ups, regular strategy reviews ensure your business is in good health and shape.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: This is not just a buzzword. Engage employees, customers, shareholders, etc. They provide valuable insights and help align business objectives.

3. Embracing Technological Disruption

In the business world, technology is the game-changer, the grand maestro orchestrating a symphony of innovation. For executives, it’s not just about staying up-to-date with the latest tech; it’s about anticipating the next ‘big thing’ and leveraging it to get an edge.

How to:

  • Build an innovation-focused IT team: Encourage them to explore emerging tech trends that can revolutionize your business.
  • Invest in training: Ensure your team has the skills to handle new technology.


  • Improved operational efficiency.
  • Greater customer satisfaction through personalized experiences.
  • Competitive advantage in the market.

4. Expansion into New Markets

Growing businesses often look to expand into new markets – it’s like exploring uncharted territories. It’s challenging but can be incredibly rewarding.

How to:

  • Research extensively: Understand the new market’s dynamics, customer behaviors, and potential competitors.
  • Adapt your product/service: Modify your offerings to cater to the needs of the new market.


  • Diversification of revenue streams.
  • Increased brand recognition and business growth.

5. Building Strategic Partnerships

Think of it as having a dance partner to help you waltz through the shifting sands. Strategic partnerships can provide resources, technology, or market access you don’t currently have.

How to:

  • Identify potential partners: Look for companies that complement your business and share your values.
  • Clearly define roles and objectives: Make sure both parties understand what they’re bringing to the table and what they expect in return.


  • Access to new resources, technology, or markets.
  • Shared risks and costs.

6. Customer-centric Approach

In a world where the customer is king, ignoring their needs is like shooting yourself in the foot. With every market shift, customer preferences change. It’s important to listen, learn, and adapt accordingly.

How to:

  • Gather feedback: Use surveys, interviews, or focus groups to understand your customer’s needs.
  • Incorporate feedback: Modify your products or services based on the insights gathered.


  • Increased customer loyalty and satisfaction.
  • Greater market share and profitability.

7. Sustainable Business Practices

The world is waking up to the importance of sustainability. And businesses are no different. Incorporating sustainable practices can help businesses stand out and thrive amidst market shifts.

How to:

  • Go green: Implement eco-friendly practices in your business operations.
  • Promote sustainability: Ensure that your business partners, suppliers, and customers know about your commitment to sustainability.


  • Enhanced brand image and reputation.
  • Attracting conscious consumers and, thus, increasing market share.

8. Effective Change Management

Change is scary. It’s the boogeyman under the business bed. But as the market shifts, change is inevitable. The key is managing it effectively so your business can adapt and your team is on board.

How to:

  • Communicate: Let your team know about upcoming changes and how it impacts them.
  • Train and support: Provide the necessary training and support to help your team adapt to the changes.


  • Smooth transition during periods of change.
  • Maintaining high morale and productivity levels in your team.


Case Study: The Phoenix Rises

Remember Blockbuster? They were the big kid on the block in video rentals. Then, along came a little-known company called Netflix. Blockbuster didn’t adapt quickly, and we know how that story ends. Netflix, on the other hand, has continually adapted. They went from mailing DVDs to streaming, licensing content, and creating their own. It’s been quite the journey from the ‘little engine that could’ to the ‘big engine that did.’

Case Study: The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of LEGO

LEGO, a beloved brand for many of us growing up, hit a wall in the early 2000s. Competition from video games and a lack of product focus almost led to their downfall. But they didn’t give up. LEGO turned things around by aligning their short-term and long-term goals, returning to their core product, and expanding into new ventures like movies and video games. It’s a testament to the fact that even when the sands shift beneath your feet, you can build a castle with the right strategies!

Case Study: The Digital Transformation of Domino’s Pizza

Once upon a time, Domino’s Pizza was just another pizza delivery company. But when online ordering began to gain traction, they seized the opportunity. They invested in their online ordering system and mobile app and embraced social media marketing. Today, Domino’s is seen as a tech-savvy pizza company. Their share price skyrocketed, and they’re now stiffly competing with Pizza Hut.

Case Study: Starbucks’ Embrace of Sustainability

Starbucks, one of the world’s largest coffee chains, took notice of the growing trend toward sustainability and decided to make a change. They’ve committed to reducing their environmental impact, from sustainable sourcing of their coffee to reducing waste. This commitment has helped Starbucks enhance its brand image and cater to environmentally conscious consumers.

Plazabridge Group Case Studies

The journey through the shifting sands of market change is daunting yet exciting. The real magic happens when we, as executives, adapt to these changes and ensure that our objectives align.

So, as you put on your boots to trudge through the sands, remember to keep your compass (goals) in hand, your team by your side, and your eyes on the horizon. And remember, the journey through the shifting sands is always easier when you’re not dragging your feet. So, let’s adapt, align, and conquer!


Let’s not forget, EMPLOYEES are not just cogs in the wheel. They’re the engine of your business. Engaging them in the efforts is like adding rocket fuel to your engine. They understand the ground realities, customer pain points, and operational hurdles. By involving them in decision-making, you benefit from their insights and build a more committed workforce. As the saying goes, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Staff engagement is like a secret weapon for businesses. It’s about creating an environment where employees feel valued, heard, and motivated to contribute their best. Here’s how you can tap into this powerful resource:

How to:

  • Encourage feedback: Let your team know their opinions matter. Whether through suggestion boxes, regular team meetings, or anonymous surveys, create channels for them to share their thoughts.
  • Involve them in decision-making: When making decisions that affect your team, include them. It could be through brainstorming sessions or by assigning them to task forces.
  • Recognize and reward: Appreciate the hard work and celebrate the wins. It could be a simple ‘thank you’ note or an employee of the month award. Recognition goes a long way in boosting morale and motivation.


  • Increased productivity: Employees who feel engaged and valued will likely be more productive.
  • Reduced turnover: Engaged employees are likelier to stick around, reducing the costs and disruptions associated with high staff turnover.
  • Better decision-making: By tapping into your team’s insights, you can make better-informed decisions.
  • Enhanced customer service: Happy employees often lead to happy customers. When your team is engaged, they’re more likely to deliver superior customer service.

So, there you have it, visionary leaders! An eight-step playbook to help you navigate the shifting sands of market changes. From being agile to aligning your goals, embracing technology to involving your team – it’s all about staying adaptable. As we journey through the shifting sands together, remember – it’s not just about surviving the change. It’s about thriving amidst it and becoming stronger on the other side. Now, let’s get out there and conquer those sands!

Navigating through the ever-shifting business sands can feel like being in constant flux. But as we’ve seen, by becoming agile, balancing objectives, embracing technological disruption, expanding into new markets, and building strategic partnerships, businesses don’t just survive but thrive. Yes, we all know, in the world of business, change is the only constant. With greater adaptability and alignment of goals, you can ride the waves of change to success. So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to dive into the dunes!

Image credit: Unsplash

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Four Major Shifts Driving the 21st Century

Four Major Shifts Driving the 21st Century

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In 1900, most people lived much like their ancestors had for millennia. They lived and worked on farms, using animal power and hand tools to augment their own abilities. They inhabited small communities and rarely, if ever, traveled far from home. They engaged in small scale violence and lived short, hard lives.

That would all change over the next century as we learned to harness the power of internal combustion, electricity and atoms. These advancements allowed us to automate physical labor on a large scale, engage in mass production, travel globally and wage violence that could level entire cities.

Today, at the beginning of a new century, we are seeing similar shifts that are far more powerful and are moving far more quickly. Disruption is no longer seen as merely an event, but a way of life and the fissures are there for all to see. Our future will depend on our determination to solve problems faster than our proclivity to continually create them.

1. Technology Shifts

At the turn of the 20th century, electricity and internal combustion were over a decade old, but hadn’t made much of an impact yet. That would change in the 1920s, as roads got built and new appliances that harnessed the power of electricity were invented. As ecosystems formed around new technologies, productivity growth soared and quality of life increased markedly.

There would be two more major technology shifts over the course of the century. The Green Revolution and the golden age of antibiotics in the 50s and 60s saved an untold number of lives. The digital revolution in the 90s created a new era of communication and media that still reverberates today.

These technological shifts worked for both good and ill in that they revealed the best and worst parts of human nature. Increased mobility helped to bring about violence on a massive scale during two world wars. The digital revolution made war seem almost antiseptic, enabling precision strikes to kill people half a world away at the press of a button.

Today, we are on the brink of a new set of technological shifts that will be more powerful and more pervasive than any we have seen before. The digital revolution is ending, yet new technologies, such as novel computing architectures, artificial intelligence, as well as rapid advancements in genomics and materials science promise to reshape the world as we know it.

2. Resource Shifts

As new technologies reshaped the 20th century, they also reshaped our use of resources. Some of these shifts were subtle, such as how the invention of synthetic indigo dye in Germany affected farmers in India. Yet the biggest resource shift, of course, was the increase in the demand for oil.

The most obvious impact from the rise of oil was how it affected the Middle East. Previously nomadic societies were suddenly awash in money. Within just a single generation, countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran became global centers of power. The Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s nearly brought western societies to their knees and prolonged the existence of the Soviet Union.

So I was more than surprised last year to find when I was at a conference in Bahrain that nearly every official talked openly about he need to “get off oil.” With the rise of renewable energy, depending on a single commodity is no longer a viable way to run a society. Today, solar power is soaring in the Middle East.

Still, resource availability remains a powerful force. As the demand for electric vehicles increases, the supply of lithium could become a serious issue. Already China is threatening to leverage its dominance in rare earth elements in the trade war with the United States. Climate change and population growth is also making water a scarce resource in many places.

3. Migrational Shifts

One of the most notable shifts in the 20th century was how the improvement in mobility enabled people to “vote with their feet.” Those who faced persecution or impoverishment could, if they dared, sail off to some other place where the prospects were better. These migrational shifts also helped shape the 20th century and will likely do the same in the 21st.

Perhaps the most notable migration in the 20th century was from Europe to the United States. Before World War I, immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe flooded American shores and the backlash led to the Immigration Act of 1924. Later, the rise of fascism led to another exodus from Europe that included many of its greatest scientists.

It was largely through the efforts of immigrant scientists that the United States was able to develop technologies like the atomic bomb and radar during World War II. Less obvious though is the contributions of second and third generation citizens, who make up a large proportion of the economic and political elite in the US.

Today, the most noteworthy shift is the migration of largely Muslim people from war-torn countries into Europe. Much like America in the 1920s, the strains of taking in so many people so quickly has led to a backlash, with nationalist parties making significant gains in many countries.

4. Demographic Shifts

While the first three shifts played strong roles throughout the 20th century, demographic shifts, in many ways, shaped the second half of the century. The post war generation of Baby Boomers repeatedly challenged traditional values and led the charge in political movements such as the struggle for civil rights in the US, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia and the March 1968 protests in Poland.

The main drivers of the Baby Boomer’s influence have been its size and economic prosperity. In America alone, 76 million people were born in between 1946 and 1964, and they came of age in the prosperous years of the 1960s. These factors gave them unprecedented political and economic clout that continues to this day.

Yet now, Millennials, who are more diverse and focused on issues such as the environment and tolerance, are beginning to outnumber Baby Boomers. Much like in the 1960s, their increasing influence is driving trends in politics, the economy and the workplace and their values often put them in conflict with the baby boomers.

However, unlike the Baby Boomers, Millennials are coming of age in an era where prosperity seems to be waning. With Baby Boomers retiring and putting further strains on the economy, especially with regard to healthcare costs, tensions are on the rise.

Building On Progress

As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” While shifts in technology, resources, migration and demographics were spread throughout the 20th century, today we’re experiencing shifts in all four areas at once. Given that the 20th century was rife with massive wars and genocide, that is somewhat worrying.

Many of the disturbing trends around the world, such as the rise of authoritarian and populist movements, global terrorism and cyber warfare, can be attributed to the four shifts. Yet the 20th century was also a time of great progress. Wars became less frequent, life expectancy doubled and poverty fell while quality of life improved dramatically.

So today, while we face seemingly insurmountable challenges, we should also remember that many of the shifts that cause tensions, also give us the power to solve our problems. Advances in genomics and materials science can address climate change and rising healthcare costs. A rising, multicultural generation can unlock creativity and innovation. Migration can move workers to places where they are sorely needed.

The truth is that every disruptive era is not only fraught with danger, but also opportunity. Every generation faces unique challenges and must find the will to solve them. My hope is that we will do the same. The alternative is unthinkable.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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Why Not Now?

Why Not Now?

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If you are anxious, you’re worried about what might happen. You’re living in the future. If you are sad or angry, you’re reacting to what happened. You’re living in the past. Nothing can be accomplished when living in the past because the die is cast. And nothing can be accomplished when living in the future because it’s all in your head. The only time we have is now.

The only time to start is now. Even if your project is a short one, you’re in a day-for-day slip with your completion date for every day you don’t start. And this is doubly true for long projects. If you’re living in the past, you block yourself from starting because the last project was difficult, you didn’t have the resources or it didn’t come out as expected, and you want to protect yourself from a rerun. If you’re living in the past, you block yourself from starting because you don’t know how it will turn out, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t have sufficient resources, and you don’t know what you don’t know. Acknowledge the problems with the past and potential problems with the future, and start anyway.

Starting starts with starting.

The only time to say something is now. If you’re living in the past, you block yourself from saying something controversial or thought-provoking because you remember how it went the last time someone did that. If you’re living in the future, you prevent yourself from saying something radical because, well, you weren’t paying attention and missed your opportunity to change history. Acknowledge that there may be some blowback for your insightful comments, live in the now and say them anyway. And live in the now so you can pay attention and use your sharp wit to create the future.

If you don’t say something, nothing is ever said.

The only time to help is now. Living in the past, you block yourself from understanding the significance of the situation because you see it through old lenses. Living in the future, you block yourself from helping because you worry if the helping will help or worry the helping will get in the way of your future commitments. If someone needs help, help them now. They will understand that the outcome is uncertain, and they’re okay with that. In fact, they will be happy you recognized their troubling situation and made time to check in with them. When you live in the now, people appreciate it. The time to help is now.

When no one helps, no one is helped.

When you find yourself living in the past, close your eyes, recognize your anger or sadness, and focus on your breath for ten seconds. And if that doesn’t work, put your hand on your chest and do it again. And if that doesn’t work, tell yourself your sadness is temporary and do it again. This is a fail-safe way to bring yourself into the now. Then, sitting in the now, start that project, say what must be said, and help people.

And when you find yourself living in the future, close your eyes, recognize your anxiety, and focus on your breath for ten seconds. And if that doesn’t work, put your hand on your chest and do it again. And if that doesn’t work, tell yourself your anxiety is temporary and repeat. This will bring you into the now. Then, sitting in the now, start that project, say what must be said, and help people.

The only time to shape the future is now.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Navigating the AI Revolution

Leveraging the Three Horizons for Tomorrow’s Triumphs

Navigating the AI Revolution - Leveraging the Three Horizons for Tomorrow's Triumphs

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today. As we stand at the dawn of the AI revolution, we must not merely adapt to change; we must anticipate it, shape it, and turn it to our advantage. Embracing the three horizons of AI is not just about technology or strategy; it’s about purpose – our purpose as leaders to guide our organizations, our people, and our society into a prosperous, equitable, and truly human future.

Teresa Spangler

As we turn the page on a year of profound transformation, the horizon of 2024 and beyond takes shape. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is steadfastly marching forward, and as leaders, the pressing call to pilot our organizations through these new frontiers couldn’t be more poignant. We must explore how executive leadership can initiate actionable measures today to harness tomorrow’s opportunities.

As the silhouette of 2024 looms ahead, we realize that maneuvering through the turbulent waters of change requires not just a reactive approach, but a meticulously charted plan. A navigational tool that can prove invaluable in this journey is the Three Horizons framework for futures planning. This framework allows us to methodically comprehend, envision, and shape our path through the cascading waves of AI development. By exploring each horizon in detail, we can create a strategic roadmap that integrates immediate actions, mid-term plans, and long-term visions. Let’s delve deeper into this process, beginning with the groundwork of understanding today’s AI landscape.

The Groundwork: Understanding Today’s AI Landscape – Horizon 1

Diving into the fast-paced whirlwind of AI, a comprehensive grasp of today’s landscape is the cornerstone for future triumphs. Familiarity with various AI technologies, like machine learning, natural language processing, robotics, and computer vision, is now an indispensable part of the executive toolkit. However, a theory is merely the starting point.

Turning this knowledge into strategic assets necessitates that you:

  • Actively interact with AI tools like, ChatGPT, DALL-E, DeepArt and DeepDream, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney …etc. Developing even rudimentary AI models with platforms like TensorFlow or PyTorch can shed light on AI’s potential and limitations. For instance, IBM’s Project Debater showcases how AI can understand the context and form logical arguments, pushing the boundary of natural language processing.
  • Forecast AI’s immediate future is leveraging trends in AI research, market dynamics, societal needs, and regulatory shifts. Access the best industry reports and collaborate with external experts that offer invaluable insights. A recent McKinsey report, for instance, found that companies integrating AI were nearly twice as likely to be top-quartile performers in their industry.

It’s widely acknowledged that AI will significantly alter the dynamics of how our world operates. While the intricacies of this transformation can seem complex, it’s certainly not an insurmountable challenge! The Three Horizons methodology is one of many effective strategies your organization can adopt to manage this transition. By strategically navigating through these horizons with a cohesive team and a well-articulated plan, your organization will be well-positioned to embrace the AI revolution. Here are a few other methodologies you might consider:

  1. Scenario Planning: This approach involves envisioning different future states and developing strategies to succeed in each potential scenario.
  2. Backcasting: Starting with a desirable future end-state, this method works backward to identify the strategic steps required to reach that goal.
  3. Roadmapping: This technique charts out the evolution of technologies and products, helping you understand how technological progress might affect your business over time.

Choosing the right methodology will depend on your specific circumstances and objectives. Regardless of the approach, remember that the key to success lies in aligning your team and developing a clear, comprehensive plan of action.

On to Horizon 2 & 3

Navigating the Waves: Crafting the Mid-Term AI Future – Horizon 2

As part of the C-suite, your role extends beyond mere reactions to change – you’re a herald of future trends. Structuring the mid-term AI future necessitates:

  • Assimilating the implications of AI for your industry. Evaluate how job roles might evolve, identify the ethical and privacy concerns, and understand the geopolitical interplays of AI on your global strategies. For instance, AI-driven automation could reshape employment, as seen with Amazon’s warehouse robots.
  • Tailoring a 3-5 year forecast using foresight platforms like FuturePlatform to incorporate technological breakthroughs, policy changes, societal trends, and economic factors. Staying informed about AI regulations through think tanks like the AI Now Institute can help you navigate this complex terrain.

Setting the Sails: Envisioning a Decade Ahead – Horizon 3

Leadership in the AI epoch means having the courage to gaze beyond the immediate future. For the long-term horizon, consider the following:

  • Contemplating the possibilities. Quantum computing, advanced neural networks, and sophisticated AI-human interfaces might be the norm a decade from now. Consider how Microsoft’s recent advancements in quantum computing could revolutionize data processing and analysis in your industry.
  • Employing scenario planning to prepare for a multitude of futures. Use strategic planning software like Lucid chart to visualize different assumptions about technological progress, regulatory changes, and societal evolution.
  • Formulating strategic plans based on these scenarios. The essence of leadership is making today’s decisions with an eye on tomorrow’s probabilities.
  • Maximize the power of external expertise. Benefit from programs like Plazabridge Group’s Innovation Pro™, Innofusion™ Transformation, Innofusion™ Sprint, and Innofusion™ Sustainability Assessment to aid your journey. These programs offer valuable outside perspectives that can enrich your understanding and application of AI. They provide fresh insights, hands-on experience, and expert guidance in navigating the complex AI landscape. Find out more [Learn more] to embark on your AI journey.

External experts act as crucial navigators in this AI expedition. They help decode ethical challenges, demystify technological complexities, and forecast future trends, equipping executives to make well-informed, strategic decisions in the face of AI’s rapid evolution.

As we draw closer to 2024, remember that we’re not merely spectators of the emerging AI revolution – we’re the trailblazers. As leaders, we have the power to do more than respond to change; we can architect it. The ripples of our leadership will extend beyond our organizations, shaping the very fabric of our society. The future isn’t something that simply happens to us – we’re active participants in its creation. Now is the time to embrace this momentous journey, and lead with boldness and determination.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Transformative Strategies Propel You From Good to Great

Catalysts of Creativity

Transformative Strategies Propel You From Good to Great

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.” 

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Creating Brilliance: Unlocking Greatness Through the Power of Fresh Perspectives

So, you’ve got a good team—dedicated, hardworking, and innovative. But you’re aiming for greatness. You want that creative spark to turn into a full-blown inferno. You’re seeking the secret ingredient to take you from good to extraordinary. The Wall Street Journal article, To Spur Team Creativity, Replace a Regular With an Outsider that secret may be as simple as inviting an unexpected guest sparking a creative fiesta.

Unearthing Diamonds: The Unconventional Maverick

Let’s imagine your team is a finely tuned orchestra, each instrument playing its part to create a harmonious melody. Now, suppose you bring in a jazz saxophonist to your classical symphony. It’s out there. But the unique rhythm and raw improvisation that the saxophonist introduces can completely transform your orchestra’s sound, creating a rich, vibrant symphony that’s truly unforgettable. That’s the exciting, transformative potential an outsider brings to your team.

This isn’t a novel concept. It dates back to the time of the Medicis in Renaissance Italy. This influential family knew that when diverse minds—scientists, artists, philosophers, all under one roof—collide, they create a kaleidoscope of groundbreaking ideas. Your team can tap into That magic of the Medici effect.

From Good to Great: Ingenious Strategies for a Fresh Perspective

How do you go from good things are peachy to GREAT we’re rockin and rollin like the best jazz bands in a world? Here are some ingenious ideas to help you:

  1. Cross-Pollination with Different Industries: Imagine what could happen when your team brainstorms with folks from a different sector. It’s like creating a fusion cuisine that surprises and delights. Remember the delicious blend of tech and fitness when Apple and Nike collaborated? We got the brilliant Nike+ product line!
  2. The AI Ace: AI tools, like OpenAI’s GPT-4, can be your secret weapon to unleash a storm of innovative ideas, helping you push the boundaries of what’s possible.
  3. Global Immersion: Send your team members on an adventure to explore different cultures, similar to Adobe’s international sabbaticals. The diverse insights they return with can be the secret to your team’s creativity.
  4. Innovation Showdowns: Throw open a challenge to outsiders to develop innovative ideas. GE’s Ecomagination Challenge did just this, resulting in a treasure trove of ideas on renewable energy.
  5. Crowdsourcing Creativity: Leverage the crowd’s power to generate many ideas. Online platforms like our PBG Innovation Labs, IdeaScale pr Innocentive platforms can help you source a universe of ideas from a world of thinkers.

Creative Sparks: Exercises to Ignite Brilliance

While bringing in fresh perspectives, it’s equally important to stoke the internal creative fires. Here are a few fun exercises that can help:

  1. Rapid Ideation: Set a timer and get your team to write down as many ideas as possible on a topic. The aim is to think quickly and wildly, making way for some unexpected gems of ideas.
  2. Storyboarding: This technique borrowed from filmmakers can help your team visualize a process or product development, opening up new avenues for innovation.
  3. Yes, And…: Borrowed from improv comedy, this exercise involves building on a teammate’s idea with an attitude of acceptance and expansion, creating an environment that encourages creative risk-taking.
  4. The 30 Circles Test: Give your team a sheet of paper with 30 identical circles and challenge them to transform as many circles as possible into different objects within a set time. This exercise is an excellent exercise for enhancing flexibility and diversity in thinking.
  5. The Six Thinking Hats: A strategy developed by Edward de Bono, this exercise requires team members to ‘wear’ different ‘hats’ representing various thinking styles – factual, emotional, and creative. Six Thinking Hats promotes diversity of thought and holistic problem-solving.

Igniting Greatness: Creative Exercises and Wisdom from ‘Thinkertoys’

One of my favorite go to creative resources is the book, Thinkertoys, as I reference in the article The Phoenix Checklist, there are many great exercises in the book. I note a few below.

False Faces: Based on a technique from Michael Michalko’s ‘Thinkertoys,’ this exercise encourages reversing your perspective to spark innovation. For example, if you think a particular solution won’t work, switch your mindset to consider how it could work. The shift in perspective often uncovers unexpected paths.

  1. Hall of Fame: Inspired by another Thinkertoy, this exercise has you pondering what a famous individual would do if faced with your problem. Posing Albert Einstein or Amelia Earhart can lead to innovative solutions that you might not have thought of in your shoes.
  2. Circle of Opportunity: This ‘Thinkertoy’ involves identifying trends relevant to your project or problem. Then, pick two randomly and try to create opportunities at their intersection. This exercise can often result in novel ideas or approaches.
  3. The Three B’s: Another recommendation from ‘Thinkertoys,’ the Three B’s stand for Bath, Bed, and Bus. Our best ideas often come to us during quiet times or when our mind is relaxed. Incorporate downtime into your brainstorming process to allow ideas to flow naturally.

Now, let’s sprinkle in some wisdom from ‘Thinkertoys’:

  • “Everyone can create if given the opportunity and the right methods” – Let this be your team’s mantra. Creativity isn’t the domain of a select few—it’s a muscle everyone has and can be trained with the right exercises.
  • “All the good ideas have not been thought of yet” – Just when you think you’re out of ideas, remember this. Innovation is boundless space, and there’s always room for another groundbreaking idea.
  • “Separate fact from fiction, and you will discover your unique way of thinking” – Encourage your team to challenge assumptions and look at the facts constantly. This will help them forge their unique problem-solving approach.

Embracing this wisdom from ‘Thinkertoys,’ along with the exercises and strategies mentioned above, can empower your team to move from good to great. Remember, diversity of thought and ideas is the wind beneath your creative wings—let it carry you to unexplored heights of innovation. Keep striving, innovate, and let the fireworks of creativity illuminate your path to greatness.

Reaping the Rich Harvest of Outsider Influence

Welcoming an outsider to your team is akin to introducing a new species into an ecosystem. It stirs things up, leads to some unexpected interactions, and eventually, often creates a more dynamic, resilient system.

Explaining the team’s ways to an outsider forces everyone to take a step back, reevaluate, and articulate their perspectives more clearly. And in that process, you’re likely to uncover some unexplored trails, some exciting possibilities that were right there, waiting to be discovered.

Also, the outsider’s fresh approach to solving problems is contagious. Before you know it, your team members are trying on different hats, looking at challenges from new angles, and coming up with solutions that are as out-of-the-box as they are effective.

Going from Good to Great: The Creative Way

So, the Wall Street wisdom stands true—adding an outsider to your team can be the secret ingredient to take you from good to great. By inviting fresh perspectives and stimulating internal creativity through clever strategies and exercises, you’re not just kindling the creative spark but fueling a brilliant blaze of innovation.

Remember, diversity of thought and ideas isn’t just a good-to-have—it’s the golden key that unlocks greatness. By embracing diversity, we ensure that our team doesn’t settle for the ordinary but constantly reaches for the extraordinary. So let’s keep striving for the stars and make the journey from good to great creatively fulfilling. Get ready to embrace brilliance, and let the creative fireworks begin!


Learn how we leverage the best strategies for your organization to spark new ways of thinking and prepare you for a strong growth filled future. Schedule a complimentary facilitated 2-hour creative program today and kickstart renewed energy and creative culture.

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Generation AI Replacing Generation Z

Generation AI Replacing Generation Z

by Braden Kelley

The boundary lines between different named generations are a bit fuzzy but the goal should always be to draw the boundary at an event significant enough to create substantial behavior changes in the new generation worthy of consideration in strategy formation.

I believe we have arrived at such a point and that it is time for GenZ to cede the top of strategy mountain to a new generation I call Generation AI (GenAI).

The dividing line for Generation AI falls around 2014 and the people of GenAI are characterized by being the first group of people to grow up not knowing a world without easy access to generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools that begin to transform their interactions with our institutions and each other.

We have already seen professors and teachers having to police AI-generated school essays, while the rest of us are trying to cope with frighteningly realistic deep fake audio and video. But what other impacts on people’s behavior will we see as a result of the coming ubiquity of artificial intelligence?

It is important to remember that generative artificial intelligence is not really artificial intelligence but collective intelligence informed by what we the people have contributed to the training/reference set. As such these large language models are predicting the next word or combining existing content based on whatever training set they are exposed to. They are not creating original thought.

Generative AI is being built into nearly all of our existing software and cloud tools, and GenAI will grow up only knowing a reality where every application and web site they interact with will have an AI component to it. Generation AI will not know a time where they cannot ask an AI, in the same way that GenZ relies on social search, and Gen X and Millenials assume search engines hold their answers.

Our brains are changing to focus more on processing and less on storage. These changes make us more capable, but more vulnerable too.

This new AI technology represents a double-edge sword and its effects could fall on either edge of the sword in different areas:

Option 1 – Best Case

  • Generative AI will amplify creativity by encouraging recombination of existing images, text, audio and video in new inspiring ways using the outputs of AI as inputs into human creativity

Option 2 – Worst Case

  • Generative AI will reduce creativity because people will become reliant on using artificial intelligence to create, creating an echo chamber of new content only created from existing content, leading to AI outputs becoming the only outputs and a world where people spend more time interacting with AI’s than with other people

Which of these two options on the impact of AI reliance do you see as the most likely in the areas where you focus?

How do you see Generation AI impacting the direction of societies around the world?

Are you planning to add Generation AI to your marketing strategies and strategic planning for 2024 or beyond?


For reference, here is timeline of previous American generations according to an article from NPR:

Though there is a consensus on the general time period for generations, there is not an agreement on the exact year that each generation begins and ends.

Generation Z – Born 2001-2013 (Age 10-22)

These kids were the first born with the Internet and are suspected to be the most individualistic and technology-dependent generation. Sometimes referred to as the iGeneration.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This description is erroneous, the differentiating factor of GenZ is that they experienced the rise of social media.

Millennials – Born 1980-2000 (Age 23-43)

They experienced the rise of the Internet, Sept. 11 and the wars that followed. Sometimes called Generation Y. Because of their dependence on technology, they are said to be entitled and narcissistic.

Generation X – Born 1965-1979 (Age 44-58)

They were originally called the baby busters because fertility rates fell after the boomers. As teenagers, they experienced the AIDs epidemic and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes called the MTV Generation, the “X” in their name refers to this generation’s desire not to be defined.

EDITOR’S NOTE: GenX also experienced the rise of the personal computer and this has influenced their parenting of a large portion of Millenials and GenZ

Baby Boomers – Born 1943-1964 (Age 59-80)

The boomers were born during an economic and baby boom following World War II. These hippie kids protested against the Vietnam War and participated in the civil rights movement, all with rock ‘n’ roll music blaring in the background.

Silent Generation – Born 1925-1942 (Age 81-98)

They were too young to see action in World War II and too old to participate in the fun of the Summer of Love. This label describes their conformist tendencies and belief that following the rules was a sure ticket to success.

GI Generation – Born 1901-1924 (Age 99+)

They were teenagers during the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Sometimes called the greatest generation (following a book by journalist Tom Brokaw) or the swing generation because of their jazz music.

If you’d like to sign up to learn more about my new FutureHacking™ methodology and set of tools, go here.

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When Innovation Becomes Magic

When Innovation Becomes Magic

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

Arthur C Clarke’s 3rd Law famously stated:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

In other words, if the technology of an advanced civilization is so far beyond comprehension, it appears magical to a less advanced one. This could take the form of a human encounter with a highly advanced extraterrestrial civilization, how current technology might be viewed by historical figures, or encounters between human cultures with different levels of scientific and technological knowledge.

Clarke’s law implicitly assumed that knowledge within a society is sufficiently democratized that we never view technology within a civilization as ‘magic’.  But a combination of specialization, rapid advancements in technology, and a highly stratified society means this is changing.  Generative AI, Blockchain and various forms of automation are all ‘everyday magic’ that we increasingly use, but mostly with little more than an illusion of understanding around how they work.  More technological leaps are on the horizon, and as innovation accelerates exponentially, we are all going to have to navigate a world that looks and feels increasingly magical.   Knowing how to do this effectively is going to become an increasingly important skill for us all.  

The Magic Behind the Curtain:  So what’s the problem? Why do we need to understand the ‘magic’ behind the curtain, as long as we can operate the interface, and reap the benefits?  After all, most of us use phones, computers, cars, or take medicines without really understanding how they work.  We rely on experts to guide us, and use interfaces that help us navigate complex technology without a need for deep understanding of what goes on behind the curtain.

It’s a nuanced question.  Take a car as an analogy.  We certainly don’t need to know how to build one in order to use one.  But we do need to know how to operate it and understand what it’s performance limitations are.  It also helps to have at least some basic knowledge of how it works; enough to change a tire on a remote road, or to have some concept of basic mechanics to minimize the potential of being ripped off by a rogue mechanic.  In a nutshell, the more we understand it, the more efficiently, safely and economically we leverage it.  It’s a similar situation with medicine.  It is certainly possible to defer all of our healthcare decisions to a physician.  But people who partner with their doctors, and become advocates for their own health generally have superior outcomes, are less likely to die from unintended contraindications, and typically pay less for healthcare.  And this is not trivial.  The third leading cause of death in Europe behind cancer and heart disease are issues associated with prescription medications.  We don’t need to know everything to use a tool, but in most cases, the more we know the better

The Speed/Knowledge Trade-Off:  With new, increasingly complex technologies coming at us in waves, it’s becoming increasing challenging to make sense of what’s ‘behind the curtain’. This has the potential for costly mistakes.  But delaying embracing technology until we fully understand it can come with serious opportunity costs.  Adopt too early, and we risk getting it wrong, too late and we ‘miss the bus’.  How many people who invested in crypto currency or NFT’s really understood what they were doing?  And how many of those have lost on those deals, often to the benefit of those with deeper knowledge?  That isn’t to in anyway suggest that those who are knowledgeable in those fields deliberately exploit those who aren’t, but markets tend to reward those who know, and punish those who don’t.    

The AI Oracle:  The recent rise of Generative AI has many people treating it essentially as an oracle.  We ask it a question, and it ‘magically’ spits out an answer in a very convincing and sharable format.  Few of us understand the basics of how it does this, let alone the details or limitations. We may not call it magic, but we often treat it as such.  We really have little choice; as we lack sufficient understanding to apply quality critical thinking to what we are told, so have to take answers on trust.  That would be brilliant if AI was foolproof.  But while it is certainly right a lot of the time, it does make mistakes, often quite embarrassing ones. . For example, Google’s BARD incorrectly claimed the James Webb Space Telescope had taken the first photo of a planet outside our solar system, which led to panic selling of parent company Alphabet’s stock.  Generative AI is a superb innovation, but its current iterations are far from perfect.  They are limited by the data bases they are fed on, are extremely poor at spotting their own mistakes, can be manipulated by the choice of data sets they are trained on, and they lack the underlying framework of understanding that is essential for critical thinking or for making analogical connections.  I’m sure that we’ll eventually solve these issues, either with iterations of current tech, or via integration of new technology platforms.  But until we do, we have a brilliant, but still flawed tool.  It’s mostly right, is perfect for quickly answering a lot of questions, but its biggest vulnerability is that most users have pretty limited capability to understand when it’s wrong.

Technology Blind Spots: That of course is the Achilles Heel, or blind spot and a dilemma. If an answer is wrong, and we act on it without realizing, it’s potentially trouble. But if we know the answer, we didn’t really need to ask the AI. Of course, it’s more nuanced than that.  Just getting the right answer is not always enough, as the causal understanding that we pick up by solving a problem ourselves can also be important.  It helps us to spot obvious errors, but also helps to generate memory, experience, problem solving skills, buy-in, and belief in an idea.  Procedural and associative memory is encoded differently to answers, and mechanistic understanding helps us to reapply insights and make analogies. 

Need for Causal Understanding.  Belief and buy-in can be particularly important. Different people respond to a lack of ‘internal’ understanding in different ways.  Some shy away from the unknown and avoid or oppose what they don’t understand. Others embrace it, and trust the experts.  There’s really no right or wrong in this.  Science is a mixture of both approaches it stands on the shoulders of giants, but advances based on challenging existing theories.  Good scientists are both data driven and skeptical.  But in some cases skepticism based on lack of causal understanding can be a huge barrier to adoption. It has contributed to many of the debates we see today around technology adoption, including genetically engineered foods, efficacy of certain pharmaceuticals, environmental contaminants, nutrition, vaccinations, and during Covid, RNA vaccines and even masks.  Even extremely smart people can make poor decisions because of a lack of causal understanding.  In 2003, Steve Jobs was advised by his physicians to undergo immediately surgery for a rare form of pancreatic cancer.  Instead he delayed the procedure for nine months and attempted to treat himself with alternative medicine, a decision that very likely cut his life tragically short.

What Should We Do?  We need to embrace new tools and opportunities, but we need to do so with our eyes open.   Loss aversion, and the fear of losing out is a very powerful motivator of human behavior, and so an important driver in the adoption of new technology.  But it can be costly. A lot of people lost out with crypto and NFT’s because they had a fairly concrete idea of what they could miss out on if they didn’t engage, but a much less defined idea of the risk, because they didn’t deeply understand the system. Ironically, in this case, our loss aversion bias caused a significant number of people to lose out!

Similarly with AI, a lot of people are embracing it enthusiastically, in part because they are afraid of being left behind.  That is probably right, but it’s important to balance this enthusiasm with an understanding of its potential limitations.  We may not need to know how to build a car, but it really helps to know how to steer and when to apply the brakes .   Knowing how to ask an AI questions, and when to double check answers are both going to be critical skills.  For big decisions, ‘second opinions’ are going to become extremely important.   And the human ability to interpret answers through a filter of nuance, critical thinking, different perspectives, analogy and appropriate skepticism is going to be a critical element in fully leveraging AI technology, at least for now. 

Today AI is still a tool, not an oracle. It augments our intelligence, but for complex, important or nuanced decisions or information retrieval, I’d be wary of sitting back and letting it replace us.  Its ability to process data in quantity is certainly superior to any human, but we still need humans to interpret, challenge and integrate information.  The winners of this iteration of AI technology will be those who become highly skilled at walking that line, and who are good at managing the trade off between speed and accuracy using AI as a tool.  The good news is that we are naturally good at this, it’s a critical function of the human brain, embodied in the way it balances Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 thinking. Future iterations may not need us, but for now AI is a powerful partner and tool, but not a replacement

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Latest Interview with the What’s Next? Podcast

Latest Interview with the What's Next? Podcast

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Shannon Phillips and Tristan Ham of the What’s Next? Podcast, about altering your mindset to become future-focused and the impact this can have on your business.

We had the opportunity to discuss the links between curiosity, imagination and creativity. And how to bring urgency to imagination leveraging among other things – The Nine Innovation Roles.

From there we explore how imagination can atrophy in an organization, how our educational and corporate institutions fail us and how we can bring back imagination and innovation through world building.

Some of the elements of the conversation came from things I have incorporated into a set of tools designed to help anyone be a futurist called FutureHacking™, which is designed to take some of the mystery out of futures research and foresight, and help you get to the future first!

But most importantly, we spoke about how a futurist is not the same as a fortune teller.

I think you’ll enjoy the conversation!

Here is the Spotify version of my visit with the What’s Next? podcast:

If you’d like to sign up to learn more about my new FutureHacking™ methodology and set of tools, go here.

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8 Strategies to Future-Proofing Your Business & Gaining Competitive Advantage

The Power of Harnessing Strategic Foresight

8 Strategies to Future-Proofing Your Business & Gaining Competitive Advantage

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

“Patience and foresight are the two most important qualities in business.” — Henry Ford

In the dynamic business landscape of the 21st century, strategic foresight stands as the beacon that lights the path toward future-proofing businesses and gaining a competitive advantage. More than a mere tool for predicting trends, it is a sophisticated compass that allows businesses to navigate the turbulence of change, seize emerging opportunities, and ensure long-term sustainability.

Below are eight key strategies that form the backbone of strategic foresight. These strategies will enable you to effectively navigate the future, transforming uncertainties into opportunities, and driving your business towards lasting success:

1. Leveraging the “Got You There Shuffle”

Adapting to the future begins with understanding the past. Grounded in the wisdom of renowned leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith’s philosophy, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” businesses are urged to reflect on their past successes. Unpack what led to your success and how it can be reshaped to meet future demands. The key here is not merely sticking to what has worked before but reshuffling and reimagining these elements to adapt to new realities.

2. Embrace the Power of Imagination

Building a resilient business requires thinking beyond the constraints of the present. Push the boundaries of your team’s creative thinking, considering the possibilities and the seemingly impossible. Encourage a culture where imagination is not restricted but nurtured. Remember, today’s unimaginable can become tomorrow’s reality. Your next breakthrough idea might just be hidden in the peripheries of your imagination.

3. Mastering the Anticipation Game

The future, by its nature, is laden with ‘what-ifs.’ Anticipate all possible scenarios – from the most optimistic to the most challenging. Proactively playing the anticipation game enables you to create effective plans to navigate potential pitfalls and seize emerging opportunities. With a well-thought-out contingency plan in place, you ensure the resilience of your business no matter the scenario.

4. Celebrating Success and Embracing failure

Understanding each scenario’s potential outcomes- success and failure – provides crucial insights for your business strategy. Create detailed visualizations of success and failure: identify potential pitfalls, anticipate customer challenges, and plan for various market dynamics. This allows you to monitor progress and adjust your course as necessary, ensuring you remain on the path to success.

 As the world evolves, competitive advantage will increasingly belong to those who can anticipate change, adapt swiftly, and reinvent themselves. Through strategic foresight, you can build a future-proof business that doesn’t merely survive change but leverages it for continued success. Remember, resilience isn’t just about bouncing back; it’s about bouncing forward.

5. Encouraging Cross-Pollination of Ideas

In an interconnected business world, fostering a culture of cross-pollination of ideas can help companies anticipate future trends and devise innovative solutions. Encourage your team members to collaborate, blend insights from different industries, and develop fresh perspectives. Not only does this approach boost creativity, but it also leads to more robust strategies capable of weathering future uncertainties.

6. Regular Horizon Scanning

Horizon scanning is a strategic foresight tool that systematically explores and interprets the business landscape to identify emerging trends, opportunities, and threats. Regular horizon scanning enables businesses to keep their finger on the pulse of change and stay ahead of the curve.

7. Building Learning Organizations

An organization that learns from its past, observes the present, and uses that knowledge to inform the future has a significant competitive advantage. Promote a culture of continuous learning within your organization, where failures are seen as opportunities for improvement and successes as steppingstones towards greater innovation.

8. Implementing Backcasting Techniques

Backcasting is a strategic planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backward to identify the steps necessary to achieve that future. It enables businesses to establish a clear vision and map a path aligning with their long-term strategic objectives.

 Shaping the Future through Strategic Foresight

Navigating the future may seem daunting, given its inherent unpredictability. However, with strategic foresight, businesses can convert uncertainty into an opportunity-filled landscape. Implementing these strategies equips your organization with the agility and resilience needed to respond to change and shape the future.

The crux of strategic foresight lies in understanding that the future isn’t something that happens to us – it’s something we can influence. As business leaders, we can turn our visions for the future into reality. By embracing strategic foresight, we gain the ability to foresee, adapt, innovate, and ultimately lead in an evolving business landscape. It’s not about predicting the future but about making informed decisions today that will shape the future of our organizations.

Additional Insights from Teresa Spangler:

Podcast links:

FutureForward on Linkedin | Plazabridge Group |  Spotify

Apple Podcast | iHeart Radio  |  Podcast |Youtube |Amazon  |Google  |  Podcast Addict

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Unintended Consequences.  The Hidden Risk of Fast-Paced Innovation

Unintended Consequences.  The Hidden Risk of Fast-Paced Innovation

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

Most innovations go through a similar cycle, often represented as an s-curve.

We start with something potentially game changing. It’s inevitably a rough-cut diamond; un-optimized and not fully understood.  But we then optimize it. This usually starts with a fairly steep leaning curve as we address ‘low hanging fruit’ but then evolves into a fine-tuning stage.  Eventually we squeeze efficiency from it to the point where the incremental cost of improving it becomes inefficient.  We then either commoditize it, or jump to another s-curve.

This is certainly not a new model, and there are multiple variations on the theme.  But as the pace of innovation accelerates, something fundamentally new is happening with this s-curve pattern.  S-curves are getting closer together. Increasingly we are jumping to new s-curves before we’ve fully optimized the previous one.  This means that we are innovating quickly, but also that we are often taking more ‘leaps into the dark’ than ever before.

This has some unintended consequences of its own:

1. Cumulative Unanticipated Consequences. No matter how much we try to anticipate how a new technology will fare in the real world, there are always surprises.  Many surprises emerge soon after we hit the market, and create fires than have to be put out quite quickly (and literally in the cases of some battery technologies).  But other unanticipated effects can be slower burn (pun intended).  The most pertinent example of this is of course greenhouse gasses from Industrialization, and their impact on our climate. This of course took us years to recognize. But there are many more examples, including the rise of antibiotic resistance, plastic pollution, hidden carcinogens, the rising cost of healthcare and the mental health issues associated with social media. Just as the killer application for a new innovation is often missed at its inception, it’s killer flaws can be too.  And if the causal relationship between these issues and the innovation are indirect, they can accumulate across multiple s-curves before we notice them.  By the time we do, technology is often so entrenched it can be a huge challenge to extract ourselves from it.

2.  Poorly understood complex network effects.  The impact of new innovation is very hard to predict when it is introduced into a complex, multivariable system.  A butterfly flapping its wings can cascade and amplify through a system, and when the butterfly is transformative technology, the effect can be profound.  We usually have line of sight of first generation causal effects:  For example, we know that electric cars use an existing electric grid, as do solar energy farms.  But in today’s complex, interconnected world, it’s difficult to predict second, third or fourth generation network effects, and likely not cost effective or efficient for an innovator to try and do so. For example, the supply-demand interdependency of solar and electric cars is a second-generation network effect that we are aware of, but that is already challenging to fully predict.  More causally distant effects can be even more challenging. For example, funding for the road network without gas tax, the interdependency of gas and electric cost and supply as we transition, the impact that will have on broader on global energy costs and socio political stability.  Then add in complexities supply of new raw materials needed to support the new battery technologies.  These are pretty challenging to model, and of course, are the challenges we are at least aware of. The unanticipated consequences of such a major change are, by definition, unanticipated!

3. Fragile Foundations.  In many cases, one s-curve forms the foundation of the next.  So if we have not optimized the previous s-curve sufficiently, flaws potentially carry over into the next, often in the form of ‘givens’.  For example, an electric car is a classic s-curve jump from internal combustion engines.  But for reasons that include design efficiency, compatibility with existing infrastructure, and perhaps most importantly, consumer cognitive comfort, much of the supporting design and technology carries over from previous designs. We have redesigned the engine, but have only evolved wheels, breaks, etc., and have kept legacies such as 4+ seats.  But automotives are in many, one of our more stable foundations. We have had a lot of time to stabilize past s-curves before jumping to new ones.  But newer technologies such as AI, social media and quantum computing have enjoyed far less time to stabilize foundational s-curves before we dance across to embrace closely spaced new ones.  That will likely increase the chances of unintended consequences. And we are already seeing the canary in the coal mine with some, with unexpected mental health and social instability increasingly associated with social media

What’s the Answer?  We cannot, or should not stop innovating.  We face too many fundamental issues with climate, food security and socio political stability that need solutions, and need them quite quickly.

But the conundrum we face is that many, if not all of these issue are rooted in past, well intentioned innovation, and the unintended consequences that derive from it. So a lot of our innovation efforts are focused on solving issues created by previous rounds of innovation.  Nobody expected or intended the industrial revolution to impact our climate, but now much of our current innovation capability is rightly focused on managing the fall out it has created (again, pun intended).  Our challenge is that we need to continue to innovate, but also to break the cycle of todays innovation being increasingly focused on fixing yesterdays!

Today new waves of innovation associated with ‘sustainable’ technology, genetic manipulation, AI and quantum computing are already crashing onto our shores. These interdependent innovations will likely dwarf the industrial revolution in scale and complexity, and have the potential for massive impact, both good and bad. And they are occurring at a pace that gives us little time to deal with anticipated consequences, let alone unanticipated ones.

We’ll Find a Way?  One answer is to just let it happen, and fix things as we go. Innovation has always been a bumpy road, and humanity has a long history of muddling through. The agricultural revolution ultimately allowed humans to exponentially expand our population, but only after concentrating people into larger social groups that caused disease to ravage many societies. We largely solved that by dying in large numbers and creating herd immunity. It was a solution, but not an optimum one.  When London was in danger of being buried in horse poop, the internal combustion engine saved us, but that in turn ultimately resulted in climate change. According to projections from the Club of Rome in the 70’s, economic growth should have ground to a halt long ago, mired in starvation and population contraction.  Instead advances in farming technology have allowed us to keep growing.  But that increase in population contributes substantially to our issues with climate today.  ‘We’ll find a way’ is an approach that works until it doesn’t.  and even when it works, it is usually not painless, and often simply defers rather than solves issues.

Anticipation?    Another option is that we have to get better at both anticipating issues, and at triaging the unexpected. Maybe AI will give us the processing power to do this, provided of course that it doesn’t become our biggest issue in of itself.

Slow Down and Be More Selective?  In a previous article I asked if ‘just because we can do it, does it mean we should?’.  That was through a primarily moral lens.  But I think unintended consequences make this an even bigger question for broader innovation strategy.  The more we innovate, the more consequences we likely create.  And the faster we innovate, the more vulnerable we are to fragility. Slowing down creates resilience, speed reduces it.  So one option is to be more choiceful about innovations, and look more critically at benefit risk balance. For example, how badly do we need some of the new medications and vaccines being rushed to market?  Is all of our gene manipulation research needed? Do we really need a new phone every two years?   For sure, in some cases the benefits are clear, but in other cases, is profit driving us more than it should?

In a similar vein, but to be provocative, are we also moving too quickly with renewable energy?  It certainly something we need.  But are we, for example, pinning too much on a single, almost first generation form of large scale solar technology?  We are still at that steep part of the learning curve, so are quite likely missing unintended consequences.  Would a more staged transition over a decade or so add more resilience, allow us to optimize the technology based on real world experience, and help us ferret out unanticipated issues? Should we be creating a more balanced portfolio, and leaning more on more established technology such as nuclear? Sometimes moving a bit more slowly ultimately gets you there faster, and a long-term issue like climate is a prime candidate for balancing speed, optimization and resilience to ultimately create a more efficient, robust and better understood network.

The speed of AI development is another obvious question, but I suspect more difficult to evaluate.  In this case, Pandora’s box is open, and calls to slow AI research would likely mean responsible players would stop, but research would continue elsewhere, either underground or in less responsible nations.  A North Korean AI that is superior to anyone else’s is an example where the risk of not moving likely outweighs the risk of unintended consequences

Regulation?  Regulation is a good way of forcing more thoughtful evaluation of benefit versus risk. But it only works if regulators (government) understand technology, or at least its benefits versus risks, better than its developers.  This can work reasonably well in pharma, where we have a long track record. But it is much more challenging in newer areas of technology. AI is a prime example where this is almost certainly not the case.  And as the complexity of all innovation increases, regulation will become less effective, and increasingly likely to create unintended consequences of its own.

I realize that this may all sound a bit alarmist, and certainly any call to slow down renewable energy conversion or pharma development is going to be unpopular.  But history has shown that slowing down creates resilience, while speeding up creates instability and waves of growth and collapse.  And an arms race where much of our current innovative capability is focused on fixing issues created by previous innovations is one we always risk losing.  So as unanticipated consequences are by definition, really difficult to anticipate, is this a point in time where we in the innovation community need to have a discussion on slowing down and being more selective?  Where should we innovate and where not?  When should we move fast, and when we might be better served by some productive procrastination.  Do we need better risk assessment processes? It’s always easier to do this kind of analysis in hindsight, but do we really have that luxury?

Image credit: Pixabay

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