Has digital really bombed?

Considering all the progress electricity, the combustion engine and other major breakthroughs generated inside 50 years of inception, digital still has very little impactful progress to show for it. At least that’s the argument, Greg Satell makes.

To some extend he is absolutely right. Even though some real breakthroughs have happened and made a lot of things easier – shopping, booking travel etc. – if you think about the money spent, the money wasted, real challenges uncovered and real challenges created by digital, you could argue that he has a point.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is still possible to put real challenges – global challenges – at the centre of digital innovation and have those as our guiding posts. It is just a matter of our will. Human will. Not digital as such. Digital is just an enabler. And a potent one at that.

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Treasure the soft skills

When you’re looking to solve a problem and improve something for someone, empathy matters. You need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the customer, feel their pain and use the insight generated to fuel your product development efforts.

When we fail to employ empathy and other soft skills like it, we may get to fabulous solutions but we run short of understanding the problem. Solving a problem. And when we do that, the odds for success are very much stacked against us.

So treasure your soft skills. And if you don’t feel you have too many of them yourself, treasure the ones in your team who do. Because you need them in order to be successful in a truly outstanding way.

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No idea is that dumb*

Some ideas intuitively makes sense. Other ideas seem just about the most stupid thing, you have ever heard of. Yet, while the former can go on and become a viable idea, the dumb idea more often than not end up making a killing.

Andrew Chen calls it “The Dumb Idea Paradox”. I would just suffice to say it is a pointed reminder of one of the core guiding principles I have; you just can’t sit at your desk and expect to figure out the next big thing. You need to go out there, be curious and – as part of that process – challenge your own assumptions.

For some people betting on dumb ideas is the thing that they do. Maybe they just do it once, but it will be all that matters, once the idea takes off. For the rest of us, we need to tell ourselves that “no idea is that dumb” again and again while giving it enough benefit of the doubt to at least experiment and play with. Because, more often than not, no idea really is that dumb.

*: Of course there are really dumb ideas out there, and most of us intuitively know what they are. So there are exceptions to the rule, but expect the rule to be the rule.

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Fixing from the outside

When you start looking at problems in the world, one of the interesting indicators of a problem is to look at the number of people trying to solve problems within a sector outside of the established system.

Personally, I find it mindblowing to read that a survey done across a number of countries from 2010-2015 documented that more than a million people where involved in seeking solutions to their own medical needs. Essentially patients doing the work of doctors or the healthcare industry.

I am sure the healthcare sector is not the only one where this is the case, so the big idea here is: Instead of insisting on having all the answers yourself, look at how many people – preferably customers – are looking towards fixing the issues, they have. The more they are trying, the bigger the pain. The bigger the pain, the bigger the opportunity.

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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.

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Always look under the hood

The more you think you know about something, the more you should push yourself to look under the hood.

There is always something there that annoys your view of the problem. Something that doesn’t fit. But that something adds valuable perspective to what you’re working on, and more often than not it can be the true differentiator for your success.

I have always found that even though I have worked within a particular sector a number of times before and think I am pretty well covered, there is always valuable insight under the hood as soon as I curiously and unbiased start looking. My bet is that you will experience the same.

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