The right experiments

When you’re experimenting with new technologies and new ways of doing things, make sure that you get the order of sequence right.

Don’t fall into the trap of experimenting based on what is easiest from a technology point-of-view. While it may seem like a great idea and a good way to get started and move ahead with speed, the big risk is that you’ll be working with solutions looking for a problem rather than the other way around.

Instead look at the problem, you need to fix. And then start to consider what needs to be true from a technology point-of-view before you can start fixing the problem and bringing an actual solution to market for customers to give feedback on. That will dramatically increase your chances of getting out there with a real solution.

Will it take longer time? Yes. Will it me more cumbersome? Probably. But it’s the best way to go in order for you to ensure that you get real value and not just fun out of your experiments.

(Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash)

Tech power to the people

When we talk about the gig economy and using technology to enable great new services for customers, we mostly talk about them from the perspective of the platforms; innovative tech, great user experiences, new business models, regulations – and valuations.

Which is exactly why it is so interesting that the table is starting to get turned now.

Not only have politicians in several countries been debating new regulation and how to classify gig workers in terms of their ‘partnership’ with said platforms (London is the latest example). Gig workers are also starting to deploy tech themselves.

UberCheats is a great example of this.

It is basically an extension for the Chrome browser that allows a rider for UberEats to calculate the correct distance travelled with an order and compare it to UberEats own registrations, which – is claimed – are often based on direct point-to-point distances (straight lines) rather than the actual available route to get there.

The extension was released last summer but was removed by Uber following a complaint about trademark infringement. But now it’s back again after Google sided with the developer following an appeal.

Irrespective of the plugin in question, it is super interesting that gig workers are starting to turn the ‘weapons’ of the big platforms against themselves. Take the power back, so to say.

In that respect the case has some comparisons to the whole Gamestop/Reddit/hedge fund debacle recently. Here the masses got together and turned on Wall St for a couple of frantic weeks leading to huge losses on short positions of Gamestop stock at a couple of hedge funds (and with private investors who failed to get out and were left holding the bag).

It is a sign that access to technology has been democratized in such a way that nothing is keeping anyone from just accepting to be at the short end of the stick.

While that is super interesting in itself, it is also super interesting, because it has the potential to pick at the fundamental power structures of this interconnected age.

And who knows what might end up coming out of that?

Gamestop/Reddit and UberCheats may just be the very beginning of people using tech to take the power back from tech.

Interesting times.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Muscle is not enough

Ever since I spent a week at a business modelling bootcamp together with – among others – a couple of quite secretive NSA employees, I have been fascinated by lean innovation within the military.

Why? Because I can’t think of a much bigger – pardon me – clash of philosophies; one is nimble, lean and mean, the other is cumbersome, big, complex and – ok – mean too (albeit in a very different way).

For that reason it is also worth reading Lean Startup guru Steve Blanks reflections on lessons for the new administration on technology, innovation and modern war. It is a fascinating read of two ‘worlds’ colliding but still trying to find a common path forward.

The most jaw dropping nugget for me was the fact that US military has for decades relied on being at the front of tech innovation to an extend that as they developed new technologies, they could also work on countermeasures and thus play both sides at the same time; offence and defence.

That ability has been lost as more and more innovation has moved to the private sector. And it has profound consequences in more aspects than one.

Not only does it say a lot about the US potential to come out of a potential future conflict as the victor. It is no longer guaranteed, although I would still think the US has the upper hand.

It also says a lot about the interconnectivity between government, private enterprise and innovation. That one relies on the other and no chain is stronger than the weakest link. It seems like a lot of new uncertainties have arisen that we now all have to be aware of and deal with.

But the most important point I think is the notion that you can really do more with less. It is no longer the biggest budgets that determines who will prevail. Everybody has a – so to say – fighting – chance, and to some extend it’s more a matter of creativity, skill and ingenuity than brute force.

It can be frightening for sure. But outside the realm of defence it should also serve as a huge inspiration to all those with smaller budgets, less ressources and objectively less muscle:

There is a chance you might come out on top even if the odds and conventional wisdom are stacked against you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Understand the root cause

Sometimes you can be so blinded by a specific solution to a problem that you completely forget what the root cause of the problem was.

When people are facing challenges of some sort, they seldom jump straight to very specific solutions to the problem.

Instead they dwell at the problem for a while – short or longer depending on problem, person and context – and then they start looking for A solution.

Now, the ‘A’ here is important. Because it implies that most times there are more than one potential solution to any given problem, someone might have. And every possible solution is an opportunity for you to be relevant.

It may very well be that you don’t have the most fancy solution. That your technology is not the most unique. That your solution is not the cheapest.

But does it ultimately matter if you’re the one of the options who have understood the root problem best? Are best at showing empathy? Best at using that empathy to lead people in the direction of your particular solution, when the search for a solution kicks off?

Maybe? Maybe not?

The point here is not to be too fixated and even fall in love with a particular solution. Chances are that before you’re able to get that fabled solution out in the market something will happen that makes it less relevant, non-happening or it just gets overtaken by someone else.

Someone who just understood the root problem better.

The above is not to say that you shouldn’t be focused and bold on bringing new solutions to market that can change how big problems get solved for real people. Of course you should.

But it is to say that you should never forget to make sure you understand the root cause of the problem, and by doing that keep your options for viable solutions open and pursue them as you see fit.

Doing that will greatly increase your odds of succeeding and – most importantly – drastically reduce the risk of running into a dead end.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Arghh, it’s good enough

“They will love it, when they see it. And they will realize that this is just what they have been waiting for.”

Trying to build something for a market that’s nascent is super hard on so many levels. Yet, it is also one of those areas where time and time again, I meet founders who seem determined that their novel idea is going to take the world with storm, once they unleash it.

It is almost as if the future customers have just been waiting for this new breakthrough. Without knowing it of course.

Reality is it seldom happens that way.

Breaking into a new market let alone creating a new market and a demand in it is super, super hard. And founders who think it’s just a matter of making the technology work are doing themselves and their chances for success a big disservice.

Because what you’re up against is the most dreaded practical barrier of them all:

Good enough.

While they may not be using the optimal solution today, maybe what they have just works for their needs.

Maybe they have become so accustomed to nothing happening in this particular space, that they have stopped looking or even hoping for something better.

Maybe their habits are just so engrained in them that the very thought of doing something in a novel way is somewhat frightening.

The point is that there could be a lot of reasons but that the end result is the same – for the time being:

What I have is good enough.

Overcoming that dreaded barrier is not only a question about making technology work. It is also – and perhaps to some extend more – about packaging it right, getting the message right and getting it out there in front of future customers using the right channels at the right time.

And so much more.

The real important lesson here is that although the opportunity can seem huge, and there seems to be a big void in the market for something new, getting something new going in that void is going to take skill, experience, muscle (aka money) – and some degree of luck.

Don’t ever underestimate that job.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Design for the flipside

The events of recent years have shown that with great technology comes great benefit and great risk. Even the best services and tools can be used in ways that have opposite consequences of what was intended. And the risk of the latter happening gets compounded when the genie is out of the bottle; it gets super hard to stop again. In most instances it is not even possible.

For that reason we need to design products, services and tools in a different way. Where we have long made security a key component of how we think about designing systems, we should also have what I would call the flipside as a key consideration: How could this be exploited to evil ends, and what do we build into the product or service that will help prevent that.

I think that it is both a needed thing to do and a potential gamechanger for many. Trust has eroded in a lot of the platforms and companies that have struggle with ‘doing no evil’, and tomorrows winners will be those that serve an entirely good purpose and – by design – prohibits evil exploitation.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Understand the machine

Launching an entirely new research area into machine behaviour as suggested by MIT Media Lab seems like an obvious good idea. Because the more we leave to machines, the better we need to understand the decisions those machines make, the rationale behind them and the impact they will have on our outcomes.

Forcing ourselves to understand machine behavior may also be the best backstop we have towards making sure that machines don’t completely take over in a ‘Terminator’-like scenario. Because even if we agree we should never get to that point, I am not overconfident that that isn’t exactly what could be happening a few decades from now (without necessarily resulting in the dystopian scenarios, Hollywood likes to present on the big screen, though).

It would also inject some much needed ‘softer’ fields of study into the world of engineering and computing, which I think we need. Not so much to keep things in check as to make sure that we really utilize technology to help us solving really big problems with a massive impact. While we, humans, remain firmly in control.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)