Why The Future Is In The Hands Of Individuals, Not Corporations

The power to innovate is falling into the hands of hyper-talented individuals.

Traditionally, the largest and most successful corporations were also the largest employers. Manufacturing and retail businesses required factories, warehouses, logistics and plenty of manpower, all working in harmony to deliver their product or service. Building this capability took years, requiring significant capital investments. Thus, competitors were few and far between, and disruption was painfully slow to make a dent on existing hierarchies.

 

But with the rise of technology, the model of success has gradually evolved, with businesses requiring fewer and fewer resources and employees to make an impact. Whatsapp is the perfect example; already worth $19bn with only 55 employees. And as we enter the next wave of tech innovation, we’ll increasingly see power transfer away from traditional ‘corporations’ and fall into the hands of smaller groups of highly skilled and hyper-talented individuals.

More, but increasingly complex opportunities

There has never been a more exciting time to be an entrepreneur, with emerging technologies bringing an unprecedented number of opportunities for innovation across platforms and software, with minimal physical resources and infrastructure required. We’re only now beginning to understand the potential of tools such as AI, machine learning, AR, VR, and the Internet of Things, and how they can be combined to create breakthroughs across a whole range of industries and problems.

Yet, identifying and then maximizing these complex and increasingly technical opportunities requires equally specialist knowledge and skills, along with the ability to respond rapidly to new innovations and competition. Understanding and manipulating the most cutting-edge tools requires the best brains, not to mention the drive, resilience and vision to identify the ideas with the most potential. The barriers to entry are rising, placing the power in the hands of those highly capable individuals, who are no longer reliant on building large organizations or physical assets to realize their ambitions.

Size doesn’t equal power

Corporations have always struggled to innovate, lacking the natural agility and flexibility of smaller organizations. However, as we enter this new age of innovation, it is becoming even tougher for the incumbents to keep up with the pace of change and increasing complexity, even with all their manpower and their abundance of cash lying dormant on the balance sheet.

What these big businesses are lacking is the ability to harness the power of the most talented individuals, by providing an environment where they can thrive. Radical change needs mavericks and risk takers who in turn need the freedom and ability to innovate; not be put in a straight-jacket and told to behave and operate according to corporate rules. The most extreme innovators don’t fit into old-fashioned, archaic organizational structures, which means it’s very difficult for big businesses to attract, integrate and retain these individuals.

Investing in these most cutting-edge technologies is also extremely risky, and corporations are too afraid of making mistakes and too busy covering their backs to take a serious punt on ideas that might not build any value. Innovation requires agility and radical thinking, which is impossible in an environment that is paralyzed by politics, an aversion to change and worries of cannibalising its existing revenue streams and product lines. Their only real hopes are spin-offs, joint ventures and acquisitions of the most talented individuals – not in-house innovation.  

Supporting the individual

Those who succeed in the next wave of innovation will be those individuals and small teams with the technical skills and a ‘knack’ for understanding the end vision, along with the freedom and agility to explore the unknown. But to have this freedom, these individuals must be adequately supported with resources, networks and capital to take the necessary risks and follow their instincts.

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Kjartan Rist

Contributor

I write about the rapidly evolving VC and start-up sector in Europe

Believe it or not, one of the more common problems I see with both technology projects and data projects is an ill defined goal or outcome

According to reports, 25 percent of technology projects fail outright; 20 to 25 percent don’t show any return on investment; and as much as 50 percent need massive reworking by the time they’re finished.

But the question is why: Why do so many technology projects fail — and fail so miserably? From my experience, it’s usually not tech problems that derail tech projects.  In fact, 54 percent of IT project failures can be attributed to poor management — while only 3 percent are due to technological problems.

  • Poorly defined (or no defined) outcome.
    Believe it or not, one of the more common problems I see with both technology projects and data projects is an ill defined goal or outcome. A company will say they want to improve customer service, for example — but no one ever bothers to say what that looks like. Shorter call times? Fewer calls? Higher customer satisfaction? How will you know when you’ve succeeded? If you don’t know, you’re doomed to failure.
  • Lack of leadership.
    Too often, technology projects are deemed “IT” projects and relegated to the IT department, regardless of what the project actually is. But for any project to work, it needs strong leadership from the top down. If a project doesn’t have buy in and support from C-level executives as well as specific department leaders, it’s hard to get employees on board and hard to know who is in charge when leadership questions arise.
  • Lack of accountability.
    When projects are dubbed “IT projects” and left to the IT department, there’s also a lack of accountability that can develop. Executives may wrongly believe that they can’t understand what’s happening, and leave it to the tech guys to figure out. This is a mistake. If your tech team can’t adequately explain what’s happening on the project or why it’s needed, that’s a huge red flag. And if the executives aren’t driving the project and holding the team accountable, it can easily spiral out of control.
  • Insufficient communication.
    As I mentioned above, someone on the tech team needs to be able to explain the project details regularly to the “non-tech” executives and other involved parties. It’s vital for someone on the team to have strong visualization and storytelling skills in order to communicate clearly and regularly what’s happening with the project.
  • No plan or timeline.
    Without a clear timeline and plan with progress markers, any project (but technology projects in particular) can wander off the original path and meander through many detours and cul du sacs. A clear plan and someone to keep track of it is vital for keeping these projects moving forward.
  • Lack of user testing, or failure to address feedback.
    The thing about technology projects is that ultimately, they’re made for people, not machines. A lack of real-world user testing before launch is a common problem. The data scientists, programmers and engineers think they know what users want, but users may have an entirely different set of needs and problems. Once user testing is conducted, the project has to prioritize addressing the feedback, or the end user won’t be happy — and ultimately won’t use the technology created for them.
  • Solving the wrong problem.
    I’ve seen this time and time again with big data projects: companies think they’re creating something to address the problem, but it turns out they’re addressing the wrong problem. In our customer service example, if the company decides that shorter call times is the metric for improved customer service, employees become incentivized to get off the phone as quickly as possible, which may or may not actually improve customer service. Yes, call time decreases, but customers may be even less satisfied than before.

With any project — technology or otherwise — you must answer a few key questions first:

Before embarking on any IT project (including big data projects), ask and answer these five essential questions:

  1. What business problem do I need to solve?

    Start with the strategy and big business challenges or questions first, and then decide:

  2. What data or tools will I need to solve the problem? Try to keep this as simple as possible to avoid scope creep. What’s the simplest possible answer to your problem?Read More