2017, a tipping point and a new mindset

A massive correction is coming to the tech sector, resulting in the end of the second digital gold rush and a return to the fundamentals. Tech companies are increasingly disconnected from what people really need, hardly any meaningful innovation is coming out of those mega structures who, from startups, now look more and more like the monopolies they promised to displace.

The tech industry’s center of gravity is slowly moving towards Asia and Europe. When it comes to Asia, the culture barrier saves us from having to face the fact that Chinese and Korean services are more advanced than ours. When it comes to Europe, the world is starting to take notice after the Euro zone economy outperformed the US in Q1 2017.

The efforts to take humans out of the loop will fail: we will not run out of jobs. Technology destroys occupations, not jobs! And we are pretty good at finding new ways to keep ourselves busy. What I see is a re-emergence of non-technological innovation, long term thinking, in person interactions, and more sustainable values.

What now?

It is time to reframe how we think, so I tried to put words on this new mindset. I believe we need to:

  • Understand that life goes beyond data, that many things are invisible, intangible and unmeasurable: knowledge, intuition, reputation, motivation, identity, leadership, etc . These might very well be the most important things of all, because they are what can’t be put into code.
  • Understand that some innovations are better not used. The only intelligent way to deal with atomic bombs is to learn not to use them. Perhaps some digital technologies deserve the same treatment.
  • Understand that technology is here to serve and augment humans, not replace them.
  • Understand that it’s not about wiping up the past, but taking what’s good from both the past and the future to build a desirable present.
  • Understand that innovation is collective and not individual, that every new idea is built on top of centuries of wisdom and achievements like roads, processors, communication networks, laws, books.
  • Understand that the only way to succeed is to bring both the digital and the “real” world together.
  • Understand that there are no shortcuts, that innovation is hard, slow, and always triggers resistance. That the key is to find the questions first, the answers second.
  • Realize that success is multidimensional and personal. Multidimensional because about more than exits and magazine covers: health, legacy, quality of life, contribution to the advancement of society. Personal because each and every one of us has to define what’s important for her or him, without being overwhelmed by the pre-cooked models of success we are served by the hype.

I believe mixing the values of our “old continent” with the zeitgeist can bring a much needed perspective that will help us move past the notion of innovation, back to the more noble idea of progress.

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How Innovators Think

Most of my time is currently dedicated to writing a book titled How Innovators Think. I was blessed with meeting hundreds of incredible innovators, and decided to research and document the patterns I could find in the way they think. If you are interested in innovation, consider joining the discussion on Facebook and Medium.

A brief look at Google Glass hype

In my talk about the innovator’s mindset, I always preach that hype is one of the worst possible compass. It can be hard to look back on hype (because it takes so many forms), so I found this enumeration of some of the crazy things that happened when google glass came out interesting. All this for a product that has now been sent back to the drawing board. Hype ≠ success!

Time Magazine named [google glass] one of the “Best Inventions of the Year.” It got its own 12-page spread in Vogue magazine. “The Simpsons” devoted a show to Google Glass, though Homer called them “Oogle Goggles.” Glass did the rounds on the morning and evening shows, and it was the subject of numerous comedy skits including on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Colbert Report” and countless YouTube videos. Presidents from around the globe tested them. Prince Charles wore a pair. As did Oprah, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence and Bill Murray.

There was also the moment at New York Fashion Week in 2012, when Diane von Furstenberg sported a red pair, and sent her models down the runway with different-colored ones. Later, in a slickly produced video, Ms. von Furstenberg (wearing a new pair produced by DVF | Made for Glass) told Isabelle Olsson, a Google designer, “We revealed Google Glass to the world.”

And in another sign of its cultural import, The New Yorker ran a 5,000-word feature on what it was like to wear the novel device, written by a so-called Google Glass Explorer invited by Google to test the product. Here, Gary Shteyngart comically recounts an impromptu product demonstration he gave on the 6 train. “Are those them?” one businessman asked him. “That is so dope,” a college student says. “You’re lucky.”

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How Apple became Apple (and why they will struggle to maintain their position)

Great read on how Apple overtook Microsoft because Microsoft was a dominant, sleeping giant. And now guess who is in that position…

Protecting your business model without innovating is a dangerous proposition.

I think even Microsoft would agree that they’ve been too concerned with protecting Windows over the years, to their detriment.” […]

Always cannibalize yourself.

“Steve ingrained in the DNA of Apple not to be afraid to cannibalize itself,” Mr. Isaacson said. “When the iPod was printing money, he said that someday the people making phones will figure out they can put music on phones. We have to do that first. Now, what you’re seeing is that the bigger iPhone may be hurting sales of iPads, but it was the right thing to do.” […]

Trendsetters are rewarded for taking risks, followers, well, follow.

Microsoft has repeatedly tried to diversify, and continues to do so under Mr. Nadella. But “it’s been more of a follower whereas Apple has been more of a trendsetter, trying to reinvent an industry,” […]

Now Apple is the prisoner of its own success. Only way seems to be down, the question is when.

Some investors worry that Apple could become the prisoner of its own success. As Mr. Sacconaghi noted, 69 percent of the company’s revenue and 100 percent of its revenue growth for the quarter came from the iPhone, which makes Apple highly dependent on one product line. “There’s always the risk of another paradigm shift,” he said. “Who knows what that might be, but Apple is living and dying by the iPhone. It’s a great franchise until it isn’t.” […]

Can Apple continue to live by Mr. Jobs’s disruptive creed now that the company is as successful as Microsoft once was? Mr. Cihra noted that it was one thing for Apple to cannibalize its iPod or Mac businesses, but quite another to risk its iPhone juggernaut. […]

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Is the 2004 Swiss Smartwatch the reason why there won’t be a 2015 version?

I met last Friday with a team of entrepreneurs who told me that ten years ago they were working on a Swiss smartwatch: the Microsoft/Tissot SPOT. And indeed, in 2004, both companies teamed up to produced what was hyped back then as a supercomputer on your wrist. The project never took off, and is probably one of the reasons why Swiss watchmakers are now so reluctant to invest in this field.

Reminds me an terrifying conversation I had with a couple of three-years-from-retirement professors at my Alma mater. I was asking “so what are your plans around online courses?” Their answer: “we tried CD-Rom interactive e-learning in the 90s, and it didn’t work, so don’t tell me that the MOOC thing is relevant, it just doesn’t work!”

Seems to me the Swiss watchmakers are stuck in a similar reasoning: they tried smartwatches way before the market and technologies were ready, and because of their early failure they are now writing off the whole thing. Big mistake! Jobs didn’t stop doing tablets because the Newton failed. He used this as a learning experience, one that convinced him a good interface didn’t need a stylus. He waited for screens to be better, for chips to be smaller, then came back with a product someone who hadn’t failed before probably could never come up with.

Being early on a market is really hard, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to stop innovating, especially when technology moves as fast as it does.

How Gallic druids tried to prevent writing from spreading to the wider world

One of the stories I heard a long time ago and could never verify was that, when writing was invented, Gallic druids tried to prevent it from spreading as it would in their eyes mean a loss of power. It would have been terrible had knowledge been accessible to all! I finally found a bit of information on that from an old french book from 1834. The fight against new technologies is nothing new…

“Caesar explains the policy of the Druids in the prohibition of writing: they did not want to profane their science and mysteries by making them accessible to the people. They found another benefit in making their lessons more difficult to remember: it allowed them to keep their disciples, the son of the Gallic leaders, addicted to them, and so to speak, under their domination.”

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