For the past 6 years Hack and Craft has been building products for startups and helping corporations to launch new ventures. During this time we have helped create new enterprises worth hundreds of millions of pounds, but we have also seen many teams flounder and fail. The range of teams and the problems they address is too wide to determine any recipe for success, but we have observed some basic ingredients which are common to all disruptive innovations. The main pattern in the successful teams is a very high level of interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing. It seems that an essential ingredient for viable innovation is always the synthesis of knowledge from different perspectives. With this in mind we hope H&C News will provide a forum for this knowledge sharing and help foster the innovation opportunities that arise from it.
We live and work in an economy where innovation is a constant. We’ve heard the mantra now for nearly a decade: change is the new normal; innovate or die. In the past it was all hyperbole. Now it’s actually true.
Hack and Craft News is a venue for independently-minded people to discuss all aspects of this new environment.
Today, companies have to assimilate more technology, more rapidly than ever before,
There’s the block chain, a distributed database that could replace many bank and database systems and maybe even existing currencies through Bitcoin. This technology could change the way we design systems and trade goods.
There’s the Internet of Things, which includes the connection of multiple devices to the Internet alongside our human connections. Estimates vary, but are converging on a figure of about 28 billion connected devices by 2020.
There’s artificial intelligence, which is entering a new era of competency. 3D printing, nanotechnology, drones and robotics are part of this growing landscape, all of it driven by software. Most of the software driving aggressive levels of change stems from open source communities, communities that are self-organising and self-rewarding.
Then there’s the platform economy, made up of mega platforms like Alibaba that control whole segments of economic activity. Although platforms have been around for more than a decade they’ve only recently emerged as a transformative force in the global economy.
These disruptive innovations are part of a wider trend to experiment with new business models and organisational forms. The issues these changes raise need to be discussed more explicitly.
The Adaptive Enterprise
We know that an economy marked by hyper-innovation and continuous flux needs a radical new approach, but there’s a danger that such grand statements leave us unfocused. What is actually needed is a new way of learning so that we can be constantly adaptive.
Adaptation is necessary throughout the economy, because a relentless stream of innovation and change affects all sectors of business.
As part of the innovation mandate, companies have to change how they deal with uncertainty and risk. It is one of many areas that calls for new thinking and new relationships.
Fast-changing markets cannot be mastered with great planning. Instead, companies need to generate options that they can play into the market when necessary. That means changing investment models to support projects that may or may not work.
This phenomenon has been described as fail fast, fail cheap. But that doesn’t really get to the heart of what is happening. Failing fast or cheap is still failing and failure can undermine the capacity to invest – not just the willingness to invest but the capacity to raise the resources.
Dealing with uncertainty isn’t really a matter of accepting failure. It’s about knowing that there are options in the portfolio and knowing when the market is ready. Giving projects time to flourish is as important as knowing when to kill them off.
To develop this options’ capability, companies need to get behind novelty and they can only do that with confidence if they have people who can marshall resources and support, inspire ingenuity and get things done.
Every one of these examples comes back to how deeply an organisation’s best people understand change and how quickly they can learn something new.
The Problems and Needs of the Modern Economy
In the old era, management could set a one-, two- or three-year plan and expect to execute against it. Now they must move faster. They have to rely on devolving responsibility to teams that can develop and execute new ideas at short notice and in short time frames.
Enterprise problems were previously framed as a struggle to balance strong execution with strong innovation. But this, too, is outdated. Any company that isn’t thinking of how it might change its way of operating in fundamental ways is going to have a short future.
The execution-innovation dilemma was a luxury of the recent past when companies focused primarily on product innovation and might occasionally stray into business model innovation. Today, though, the need for process model innovation—the need for fundamentally new ways to organise—is absolute.
Competition has also changed. In the past incumbents needed to worry about being undermined by new market entrants with cheaper products. Now they have to worry about the predatory capabilities of established companies with strong computing and scaling capabilities.
Increasingly, those companies are platforms that aggregate the business interests of many hundreds and even many thousands of independent businesses. Alibaba and Google are prime examples.
From its position as a platform, Alibaba has moved into driverless cars, insurance, logistics, ticketing, finance, payments, ride hailing, movies, cloud infrastructure, streaming video and many more activities. Google has businesses in search, advertising, fibre infrastructure, driverless cars, mapping, big data, cloud, health, artificial intelligence, hardware and more.
The breadth that these companies operate at means there really is a new game in town. To stay competitive, companies need to know how to spot disruptive innovation and how to counter it with a strong set of options. But very few organisations are set up to think this way.
Further issues stem from technology becoming more transparent to the non-technologist.
A decade ago IT departments and R&D in general were a black-box to many non-practitioners. Now, though, those in sales and marketing, strategy, and social business are all heavy users of third-party apps; they know what an API is and they have expectations of what technology can do, drawn from their own experience and what they see happening in the startup community.
There are exciting opportunities here—business disciplines and technologists are at the beginning of a new understanding and more productive relationship—but it can be challenging to move beyond what has often been a history of turf wars and suspicion. Companies need to generate dialogue and educate all sides from the old silo world about the possibilities that lie untapped in different parts of the organisation.
A New Approach and Learning Model
Successful companies must devolve the responsibility of change onto people who know how to learn quickly, know how to establish mechanisms for their peers to learn, and carry with them the values that ensure they are respectful of resources and will find a way to succeed.
Ironically, what’s also needed in the modern economy is akin to what you’d find in traditional crafts—the small team, the open-ended mandate to create something new, the capacity to inspire people to follow, and a setting that encourages people to develop a learning dialogue.
Companies need to become more innovative and platform-like; and when they succeed in doing so, you’ll likely see strong collaboration between IT and other business disciplines. You’ll also see the adoption of a more experimental business method—more small projects and more exposure to the possibility of failure, but within the context of a strong company with more options.
In this new environment, large companies need to think and act like startups; or they need to provide or cooperate with platforms for many dozens if not hundreds and thousands of partners.
Hack and Craft News wants to become part of your new learning model, one that enables you to shift your approach and grow in these directions.
Our aim is to bring together practitioners from economics, innovation, design and code; create the opportunity for dialogue and learning; and support the craft mentality of the 21st century change agent. Good startups have these values, and we want to encourage you to think with the same cross-functional necessity as startups. Can we create a precise road map? Probably not, but we can help you find your own way.
Hack and Craft News is a venue where the difficulties of the modern economy can be discussed and where evidence from successes and failures can support further change and skills development. We also strive to present new research and insights into how process model innovation is best planned and delivered.
Ultimately, we want to create a vision for how companies can function, set that vision in the context of a fast-changing economy, acknowledge the impediments to change, illustrate how to overcome them, and celebrate success. And more than anything else, we want to create the critical learning dialogue that will allow your learning model to evolve.
There are sites dedicated to technology, sites dedicated to business, and sites dedicated to economics, strategy and enterprise success. But what really matters is how all of these come together.
Hack and Craft News seeks to provide that integrated source.