In a video called « The End of the Beginning », Benedict EVANS talks on the shifting point we are living as a global connected society and how to understand the future of your market.
I try to avoid talking mathematics when I address innovation strategy. As soon as I do it I’m victim of a very personal impostor syndrome (I’m not a mathematician) while realizing I’m going down deep, deep rabbit holes. As a matter of fact, when writing about Monthy Hall’s problems — which are key to understand uncertainty and innovation — I know I’m getting probably too technical.
Now I’m no mathematician, but I’m still a formally trained scientist. And one of the early mental model you integrate as such is to be deeply cautious about the difference in correlation and causation.
For all these reasons, I always find refreshing when others try to painstakingly try to reinject mathematical common sense for business executives. And, recently I read a delightful discussion on the McRib Effect:
If you’re trying to understand how retail tries to adapt to an always-on, always connected customer base, US department stores are fantastic case studies. Macy’s, the largest of them, went probably through all the cycles of digital trends you can imagine. Specially when advertising was concerned.
In a dramatic recent turn of events, Macy’s started to strategically disengage from influencers campaigns, where high-profile Youtubers or Instagrammers would be paid to feature Macy’s products to their audience.
When we arrived in the Netherlands two years ago, we adjusted our mode of life immediately. The key thing was to get rid of our cars. Who needs one if you live in Amsterdam? But this mobility paradise didn’t happen just because « Dutch love bikes ». There were actually many factors that were involved in the seventies to turn the country away from a car-centric future.
These lessons should be learned. As I am in an event on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula today, to discuss new mobility business models, it seems appropriate to remind us of a few things:
I’ve seen and read lately a lot of non-sense on how China is building a global surveillance network of its citizens through social scoring. Truth be told, it is not a simple issue and I was glad to get myself a better perspective on what it means through Rogier CREEMERS summarizing his social research on the subject at SMC050 conference in July 2018. If you’re a global company with retail business there or an investment firm, these are 36 minutes worth your time.
We idealize startups as fast young (start-) fast-growing companies (-up) that innovate with new technology.
In real life, most of the startup you meet don’t grow fast. Fast could mean for any professional investor (not your garden variety of business angels) reaching for a first million euro in sales within two to three years. Such speed would require a team with startup experience entering the market in different cities in Europe, with a plan.
Mature teams. A plan. Aggressive soft landing strategies. Well, I’ve already wiped off the broad 90% of the startups you meet in incubators, acceleration programs, corporate incubators, technology transfer platforms, etc.
Two weeks ago I had to rent a car from Hertz. It was one of the blandest experience I’ve had with a customer desk in a very long time. This is not a rant on Hertz or this particular team. I could guess that my customer experience by all their standards had been amazing. The process was smooth and I’m sure it checked all the quality control boxes, or customer satisfaction KPIs they had. I just tend to have an obsessive frame of mind in regard to building added value as a brand… or not.
But there was one thing that was absolutely baffling to me. Let me explain…
Most of innovation programs that I encounter are still organized as R&D programs. We often call that the innovation pipeline fallacy. It’s mostly due to the fact that most organizations don’t get that innovation is not R&D, and that consecutively innovation doesn’t fit in a pipeline.
Imagine your company has one of the most advanced big data platform you can think of in your market. Imagine you have access to an unparalleled level of insights and forecasts about who your customers are, what they want, and how they think.
Here comes the question I’d like you to ponder for five minutes and really think about: What would you do with this analytical power?
Don’t settle for general non-opposable answers such as « Improving the value we deliver in key segments » or any other BS. Give me something real. A real breakthrough you would be able to implement because you’d have enough data to convince your board and unlock the biggest investment your company will make next fiscal year.
What. Would. That. Be?
Most senior managers I ask this question to are not able to give a convincing answer on how they would use « big data ».
That makes sense. Most of the time this dream of technology is a magical pony you think you should chase for fear on missing out on the next revolution. It is also a way to convince yourself and your team that you’re not responsible for where you are right now. That there is a something to blame that is beyond your reach.
Alas, for good or bad technology is a neutral agent. It has no purpose by itself. Even if you become the best at « big data » it doesn’t mean you’ll be the next Amazon or Google. These companies had plans before tech.
What’s your plan?
Just assessing every day how the narrative on startups has been reversed in Europe from « This is how we’re going to save the economy! » to « What is this mess? ». The message we’re not changing entrepreneurship a Startup Weekend at a time seems to be getting through. This also correlates with the growing number of tech clusters and incubators in Europe that get in touch with us.
As always the swing of the pendulum will probably go too far back on startups. But as an optimist contrarian, I trust it’s time to get back in there even more actively.
As I wrote just days ago, there is really nothing new to learn about startups launch, growth and scaling up. But seriously, how we organize the support (as private or public entities) is to be redesigned all over Europe.
One key step would be to stop trying to nurture projects at a local scale. This leads to cities miles away from one another to compete together to nest more startups than the other. That they would want to do that is understandable (local jobs, etc) but that states and the EU promote it, is madness.