Image: Pixabay

In 2014, when Silicon Valley was still largely seen as purely a force for good, George Packer wrote in The New Yorker how tech entrepreneurs tended to see politics through the lens of an engineering mindset. Their first instinct was to treat every problem as if it could be reduced down to discrete variables and solved like an equation.

Despite its romantic illusions, the digital zeitgeist merely echoed more than a century of failed attempts to generalize engineering approaches, such as scientific management, financial engineering, six sigma and shareholder value. …

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In 1891, Dr. William Coley had an unusual idea. Inspired by an obscure case, in which a man who had contracted a severe infection was cured of cancer, the young doctor purposely infected a tumor on his patient’s neck with a heavy dose of bacteria. Miraculously, the tumor vanished and the patient remained cancer free even five years later.

You would think that such an accomplishment would be hailed as a breakthrough, but much like Ignaz Semmelweis a half century before, Coley’s work was met with skepticism. …

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Some years ago, I wrote an article in Harvard Business Review about stock buybacks, which were being pilloried at the time. Many people thought that companies were spending too much money to gin up their stock price when they could be investing those funds into innovation, making better products and creating new markets.

Yet I pointed out that things weren’t as they seemed. …

Image: Pikist

Change isn’t what it used to be. Where earlier generations had leaders like Gandhi, King and Mandela, today’s change efforts seem rudderless. Movements like #Occupy, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo hold marches replete with strident calls for change, but they never seem to get anywhere. Lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Many believe that if only these movements had more charismatic leaders or more inspiring oratory they would be able to gain more traction. Others say that society has become too corrupt and our politics too coarse to make change happen. …

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One of the most often repeated stories about innovation is that of Alexander Fleming who, returning from his summer holiday in 1928, found that his bacterial cultures were contaminated by a strange mold. Yet instead of throwing away his work, he decided to study the mold instead and discovered penicillin.

What’s often left out is that it wasn’t Fleming who developed penicillin into a miracle drug. …

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It’s been clear to me for some time that 2020 would be a pivotal year. Globalization and digitalization, the two major forces of the last generation, have disappointed. The corporate mantra of shareholder value has proven to be bankrupt. The end of the Cold War has led not to a democratic utopia, but a rise in populist authoritarianism.

Much of what we believed turned out to not be true. At the same time, there is great cause for optimism. We are undergoing profound shifts in technology, resources, migration and demographics that will give us the opportunity to drive enormous transformation…

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For the past 50 years, innovation has largely been driven by our ability to cram more transistors onto a silicon wafer. That’s what’s allowed us to double the power of our technology every two years or so and led to the continuous flow of new products and services streaming out of innovative organizations.

Perhaps not surprisingly, over the past few decades agility has become a defining competitive attribute. Because the fundamentals of digital technology have been so well understood, much of the value has shifted to applications and things like design and user experience. …

Image: pxfuel

Every era has its own ideology that creates assumptions and drives actions. At the turn of the century, titans like J.P. Morgan believed that monopolized industries provided stability against the disruptive influence of competition. More recently, the end of the Cold War was supposed to usher in a new era of capitalism and democracy.

It didn’t work out that way. Instead we got oligarchy, authoritarian populism and we lost trust in the institutions that used to govern our society. In America, even competitive capitalism has been greatly weakened. …

Image: Flickr — Flickr- JD Lasica

Techno-optimism may have reached its zenith in 2011, when Marc Andreessen declared that software was eating the world. Back then, it seemed that anything rooted in the physical world was doomed to decline while geeky engineers banging out endless lines of code would own the future and everything in it.

Yet as Derek Thompson pointed out in The Atlantic, the euphoria of Andreessen and his Silicon Valley brethren seems to have been misplaced. A rash of former unicorns have seen their value plummet, while WeWork saw its IPO self-destruct. …

Image: Unsplash — John Gibbons

Humans tend to think in a linear fashion. If something is growing, we expect it to keep growing. If it is decreasing, we expect it to continue to decrease. We are natural trend watchers and instinctively look for patterns. Yet it is often the discontinuities, rather than the continuities, that have the biggest impact.

The mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot referred to this cycle of continuity punctuated by discontinuity as “Noah effects and Joseph effects.” Joseph effects, as in the biblical story, support long periods of continuity. …

Greg Satell

Bestselling Author of Cascades and Mapping Innovation, @HBR Contributor, - Learn more at — note: I use Amazon Affiliate links for books.

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