How do we create the future?

In a recent TED interview, Larry Page says that his most important state of mind is that he's always on the lookout for things that define the future.

He's not the only successful tech CEO who thinks this way. Jeff Bezos is well known for taking the long view, looking at how things are going to turn out during the next 10 years as opposed to the next 10 months: "We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term."

Mark Zuckerberg also displayed this quality no later than yesterday by deciding to buy Oculus VR:

But this is just the start. After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home.

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

How are you planning to create the future?

UPDATE: just read Fred Wilson's take on this, who puts pretty much the same feeling in words:
And now Zuck and his team are looking up and saying “what’s next?”. It’s not that different from what Larry Page and his team are doing at Google. The Charlie Rose interview with Larry that I made Video Of The Week last weekend was a bit of a review of all the things Google is doing to figure out what’s next (balloons, driverless cars, Nest, DeepMind, etc).

On the importance of focusing your company on the right set of objectives

From an interview I came across recently:

INGRES was a major learning experience for me, because I was a product manager and totally focused on creating the absolute best product in the world. You know what we found? It didn't matter. Oracle kicked our asses because they focused on positioning, marketing and selling as opposed to building the best product.

There's some interesting information further down in the piece:

Oracle had its problems scaling, like any company does. But what they did really well was define a set of clear measurable corporate objectives, and push those all the way down on a quarterly basis…measuring quarterly, and making sure that everyone understood their role in participating towards whatever that year's and quarter's target was. That's what really enables an organization to run at 100 miles an hour without having any kind of low-level task management.

Clear sales objectives. Focus. Getting people to internalize company objectives:

David Marquet [...] says you can’t empower people by decree. While you might be able to ask someone to make a decision for themselves, that’s not true empowerment (or true leadership). Why? Because you’re still making the decision to ask them to make the decision. That means they can’t move, or think, or act without you. The way to empower people is by creating an environment where they naturally start making decisions for themselves. [...] Leaving space, creating trust, and having the full faith that someone else will rise to the challenge themselves.

Companies Need to Truly Believe in IT

Software is eating the world, and this is causing tensions in very real ways. Many companies are getting disrupted by companies that base their competitive advantage on software, replacing the "old school" way of delivering services with newer, faster, more efficient solutions. As today's events in Paris make abundantly clear, this shift is bound to generate tensions and cause turmoil for many industries in the foreseeable future.

I would like to argue that most companies in France are still too slow in fully embracing IT. They are adding IT solutions the same way they would apply make-up: without trying to fundamentally rethink the way they conduct business and operations. Taxis G7 are trying  to counter Uber with an app they hastily put together under increasing pressure, while at the same time pushing the French state to legislate personal driver companies out of existence. "Slow innovation", they call it.

On the other end of the spectrum, some companies have decided to truly accept the consequences of a connected world. Under Angela Ahrendts' leadership, Burberry makes sure that in-store models wear the exact same clothes than those displayed on its website. The Singapore Government is deploying a secure cloud infrastructure to be shared by all its online services. The UK is experimenting with the idea of a one-stop-shop government website that would provide its citizens with all the services they need. Talk about being worlds' apart.

In a recent article, Clay Shirky outlines the way management usually sees technical personnel through an enlightening story:

Back in the mid-1990s, I did a lot of web work for traditional media. That often meant figuring out what the client was already doing on the web, and how it was going, so I’d find the techies in the company, and ask them what they were doing, and how it was going. Then I’d tell management what I’d learned. This always struck me as a waste of my time and their money; I was like an overpaid bike messenger, moving information from one part of the firm to another. I didn’t understand the job I was doing until one meeting at a magazine company.

The thing that made this meeting unusual was that one of their programmers had been invited to attend, so management could outline their web strategy to him. After the executives thanked me for explaining what I’d learned from log files given me by their own employees just days before, the programmer leaned forward and said “You know, we have all that information downstairs, but nobody’s ever asked us for it.”

I remember thinking “Oh, finally!” I figured the executives would be relieved this information was in-house, delighted that their own people were on it, maybe even mad at me for charging an exorbitant markup on local knowledge. Then I saw the look on their faces as they considered the programmer’s offer. The look wasn’t delight, or even relief, but contempt. The situation suddenly came clear: I was getting paid to save management from the distasteful act of listening to their own employees.

I see this type of reactions all the time when I suggest people I know to go work in IT. The first fundamental shift that is needed has to take place at the perception level. Working in IT needs to be seen as cool and transformative. Understanding the ins and outs of tech choices should be a badge of honor, not a mark of shame for "business" people. I am sure there are plenty of counter-examples to my observations, both in France and abroad. However, the trend is clear.

Established companies need to truly believe in IT if they are to reap the benefits of the technological revolution the world is going through.

That, or they'll be left throwing eggs at newcomers speeding past them.

Article: Christmas Gifts and the Meaning of Design

Nice analogy by Ben Thompson:

Approaching a problem with a design thinking mindset, however, certainly takes into account what a customer says, but simply as one input among many. In this approach, observation of the way people really live, development of a deep understanding of the real problems they have, and an appreciation of the “hacks” they devise to overcome them can deliver an understanding of prospective customer’s needs more accurate than what any of those prospective customers could ever articulate on their own.

And then, from that understanding, an entirely new, highly differentiated product can be delivered that surprises and delights. From a business perspective, the emotion and attachment said product inspires breaks down price sensitivity and builds brand attachment, and inspires the sort of viral marketing that can’t be bought.

The very best gifts are those you did not expect, yet can't live without once you've been offered them.