by Greg Simpson

A 10x future demands change

Jun 13, 2016
InnovationIT LeadershipStartups

10x innovation can disrupt your industry, including it's economic model. Breakthrough startups can mean broken heart incumbents unless they embrace change.

In last month’s blog I talked about keeping your team innovative. One of the key tenets of an innovative team is the concept of moonshots or “10x Thinking” or audacious goals. In a “moonshot economy,” while a breakthrough can mean the start of a new industry leader, it can also mean the death of an industry stalwart.

First, let’s take a look at some previous moonshots and how they’ve impacted various industries and the world.

The first is, of course, the great Space Race. JFK’s challenge in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade led to not only technological breakthroughs, but was designed to demonstrate international leadership during the Cold War. The success of this moonshot had ramifications way beyond Neil Armstrong’s footprints in the lunar dust. The Space Race launched a wave of technology innovation and boosted nascent industries such as semiconductors and commercial satellites.

Other more recent examples of 10x changes demonstrate some significant losses by the incumbent when the change is introduced. One of the most famous is Kodak’s bankruptcy brought about by digital photography that they themselves invented. The allure of the film business made them unable to see the power of digital and how to survive in what would become an entirely new industry. One might consider Instagram as the new “Kodak,” making money through “eyeballs” on digital photographs posted to cyberspace. A dramatic shift from Kodak’s beginnings.

One of my favorite examples of moonshot thinking is the work by The Carter Center in the elimination of Guinea worm disease. The Carters envisioned the complete eradiation of a terrible disease that is contracted by drinking stagnant water that has the Guinea worm larva. In 1986, 3.5MM people suffered from this terrible disease. In 2015, only 22 cases remained. When it is eradicated, it will be only the second disease completely eradicated, and the first that is eradicated without the use of vaccines. In this case the only loser is the Guinea worm. In industry, the loser is often a company or entire sector. My thanks to the Carters for this humanitarian moonshot.

Time and time again, we see companies go from positions of market prominence – if not dominance – only to be cut down by the new 10x thinker: Nokia & Apple, Blockbuster & Netflix, Borders & Amazon. In many cases, it was not only a technological breakthrough that caused the disruption, but also a complete business revenue model shift. This is often the hardest part of the 10x change. How do you give up your successful business model for one that is not clear, one that may appear elusive in generating profits? Jack Welch at one time asked for each of the GE businesses to “,” and imagine how you could be disrupted by the Internet. The key today is to not limit yourself to just the Internet. AI, voice recognition, image processing, 3D printing, the Internet of Things…these are but a few of the many new developments rapidly coming at us as the rate of technological change accelerates.

Many of today’s leading companies recognize this risk. Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai said, “We are moving from a mobile first to an AI first world.”  It would be easy for Google to focus on mobile as the new, new thing, when in a 10x world, it’s becoming the “present thing”, and the new, new thing is something altogether different. Google is smart to be worrying about AI. Intelligent assistants are popping up everywhere, from Siri to Alexa to Watson. Who needs to do a Google search when you can simply ask your question and the response is provided back via your whole house audio system? Note that this approach breaks the revenue model for search, because people aren’t expecting their assistant to respond back with a commercial break before answering the query. Nevertheless, Google must press on and create an entirely new model for search via AI.

Artificial intelligence computer brain circuits electronics grid Thinkstock

If you think about machines starting to be able to understand natural language, access huge stores of data, make intelligent correlations, and then act on them, you should recognize that it’s not just Google’s business model that is at risk. This type of 10x technology shift can threaten, or improve, every existing business industry.

The good news is that this is not a scary story. This is an exciting era of change. 

Those who embrace it can enjoy the exhilaration of an innovative startup. Those who don’t may be disrupted by one. It’s easy to be caught up in today’s deliverables and miss sight of tomorrow’s disruptions. Make sure you are thinking about the new digital economy as you build your business strategy. As a resource, you may consider reading the book Kill the Company by Lisa Bodell of futurethink. It’s a good bridge between driving a culture of innovation and next month’s blog where I will discuss some of the fundamental processes that can make your team more efficient.

If we are in a race to the future (that never ends), we need to do it in a way that is efficient, invigorating and rewarding to our teams.