Three key takeaways from Medialaan’s top innovation conference Fuel
The danger of underestimating the new interfaces
The way we interact with our devices is changing dramatically. Though there is a lot of talk about the new interfaces, most traditional companies think of innovation in terms of products and services, and overlook the major disruption of interacting with your voice, your physical gestures and even your vision. But the BIG ones aren’t. Facebook no longer just thinks about “how can we connect more and more people on our platform”. Facebook has a team of 60 engineers working on building a brain-computer interface that will let you type with just your mind without invasive implants. So, do not make the mistake of thinking that interfaces are the neglectable prolongation of our devices. Use them to spark innovations that will go well beyond marketing.
One of the fastest rising new interfaces are the conversational ones, like Amazon Echo. The beauty of Amazon’s product is obviously not just about delivering hyper-convenience for their customers – by removing all friction – so that they will be even more inclined to 'buy stuff'. Their secret sauce is data captivation, and lots of it. Just realize that these devices are 'on' and listening all the time, even if we are not speaking directly to them. According to Cliff Fluet of Eleven Advisory, bots will become the new gatekeepers: they will decide which content you will receive, and in which context. That will have some serious implications, especially for content curation and advertising. And then there’s the added psychological bonus of the conversational interfaces, as Filip Maertens of Faction XYZ explained: communicating with a bot like Alexa, feeds the impression that a brand is really listening and brings it closer to the consumer.
Futuring is like licking batteries
When it comes to innovation, trendspotting futurist Magnus Lindkvist taught us to value “the strange, the stupid and the dangerous”. (I would not go as far as licking a battery, as he once did with his son, but we got the idea). Futuring is an active verb, according to him, that begins with detecting bad ideas, and finding solutions to them. Lindkvist therefore urged the audience to put experiment before money. Paradoxically, obsessing with revenue when it comes to your innovation will kill your business in the long term. His claim to seek a (very) long-term vision for our organizations – like the 300-year vision of Softbank – and disconnect that from short term revenue, perfectly matches nexxworks Partner Peter Hinssen’s claim to invest 10% of your resources in the Day After Tomorrow of our organizations.
Now that technology is democratizing, companies no longer have excuses for skipping experimentation. If ‘civilians’ enabled a liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit in about 6 years’ time (SpaceX) or people with little space experience are able to build and launch nanosatellites (Kepler Communications), then us mortals should be able to launch small-scale trials with the new types of interfaces, the Internet of Things and other emerging tech. You’ll only learn to ask the right questions and understand what the new technologies can do for your company if you try them out (on a small scale) first, as Filip Maertens pointed out.
It became clear from exponential tech guru Azeem Azhar’s presentation that innovation is often ‘just’ about converging the right ideas and technology. This convergence could be an easy (well, you know…) answer to fuel our innovation experiments. For instance, augmented reality thrives at the convergence of smartphones plus AI plus video games. Or the new types of agriculture leverage existing tech like drones, AI and self-driving tractors, in order to innovate.
Could the blockchain kill platforms?
The insight that probably inspired me the most came from BlockchainHub Founder Shermin Voshmgir. She talked about how the blockchain – a revolutionary new kind of decentralized internet* – will allow us to reclaim the ownership of our data. Voshmgir explained that the blockchain will solve a lot of problems that the original internet of information was not able to manage, like for instance piracy of music, movies and pictures copyright.
But if you add this data-ownership insight with another one that kept echoing through the conference – about the value of data for really knowing your customers in order to give them what they want – what will that mean for category kings and platform giants like WeChat and Facebook who thrive on data? In these times when data is eating the world, how will the blockchain impact the data monetization model? It will transform the current world of data monarchy – with data stored and basically owned on a server – into one of data democracy, and peer-to-peer sharing. How’s that for a revolution?
When people talk about ‘cutting out the middle man’ in blockchain, they always think of classical institutions like banks, notaries and publishers. But the biggest middle men between us and our friends, between us and information and between us and our favorite products are the data-gobbling platform kings like Facebook, Google and Amazon. I’m very curious to see if the rise of blockchain will eventually mean the demise of hyper-centralized platforms. To be continued.
*Or if you prefer the complex version: the blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secured from tampering and revision as each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block).