Lessons from the dinosaurs: Innovate or die

Written by Rob Hubbard on 25 January 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

L&D needs to innovate or risk getting left behind with the dinosaurs, says Rob Hubbard.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Looking up as she breakfasted on treetop leaves, the slow gaze of the diplodocus fell upon what looked like a second, larger sun in the clear blue sky. She watched it growing larger and a slow, puzzled thought began to form in her mind. She saw the meteor strike several miles away and shockwaves blossom outwards. 

She had only moments to appreciate the ironic beauty of it before being vaporised in the heat wave.

65m years ago an asteroid the size of a small mountain struck the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and everything changed. Interestingly, it wasn’t the impact that killed off the majority of the dinosaurs but the rapid change in global environment that followed. These huge beasts who ruled the earth for 180m years, unsurprisingly could not adapt fast enough. 

Our world has changed too, but our meteor strike has been technology. The unprecedented rate of change we now see leaves many breathless; and this is just the beginning. Quantum computers will soon be an everyday reality and many previously intractable problems will be rapidly solved by the sheer might of quantum computing power.

Expect great breakthroughs in many areas of human endeavour over the next few decades.

The unprecedented rate of change we now see leaves many breathless; and this is just the beginning.

Because of this, there is a lot of turbulence in the world of today, and this can be confusing and disempowering when you’re immersed in it. However, a change of perspective can shed light on this turbulence and reveal likely causes and outcomes.

If you look vertically down over the back of a cruise ship or ferry and focus in on the wash behind it, it looks random. White water churns seemingly randomly. If you were unlucky enough to be in that turbulent water you would be turned around and pushed this way and that at random by forces you can’t perceive.

However if you pull back and broaden your perspective to view the turbulence from further away, you begin to see a pattern - pulse of the propellers, a direction of travel and a wider context; the sea. 

Technology and capitalism are two of the propellers driving the everyday turbulence we perceive. The direction of travel are the impacts of these forces, the ‘megatrends’; an increasing rate of innovation, longer human lifespans, automation, global warming and these in turn drive other trends like the loss of some types of job, increased migration and the rise of populism.

Viewing the turbulence we experience in this wider context is helpful – our minds seek patterns, few are comfortable with chaos. So how do we surf the turbulence, not drown in it and what can we learn from the dinosaurs? In short, we need to innovate to survive.

Be aware of your changing environment

It is easy to be so focused on the day-to-day that we miss how the environment we operate in is changing. Work for many is now like fighting a series of fires. This isn’t because they’re poor at their jobs; it’s a direct result of turbulence driven by a number of megatrends.

Ignore your environment at your peril – instead look for patterns in the turbulence around you, these could reveal opportunities that you can exploit.

 

Look into related fields / industries / analogous situations 

What can you learn from industries, fields or situations similar in some way to yours? How do they operate, what innovations are evident, what can you learn from them? Many ‘new’ ideas are just old ideas from other places applied somewhere new, and that’s OK.

What ideas can you borrow from elsewhere and apply to your problem or opportunity? 

Look out for predators 

The thing about technology is that it scales. It’s why tech companies are mind-bogglingly wealthy and one of the reasons why so much of the world’s wealth gets funnelled into the hands of the few.

This also means however that the tech that could take down or severely disrupt your multi-national may not come from your main competitors, but from some sweaty start-up in Hoxton. Seek to engage with these companies and collaborate with them. Buy the ones you like. It could be a shortcut to innovation. Hipster beards: optional.



Don’t believe the hype 

When seeking to innovate it is easy to be seduced by shiny tech and the marketing hyperbole around it. Some vendors will tell you their tech is the answer to all of your woes, solving every conceivable problem whilst simultaneously making you more attractive to the opposite (or same) sex.

Assume half of what you hear is false and work from there. Roll up your sleeves and play with the tech, make a judgement for yourself.

Whilst perceived by some as ‘cool’ and ‘sexy’, innovation isn’t easy. You’ll fail more than you succeed and you’ll burn through money, resources and time. Take some comfort that it’s necessary for survival and the Board get that they need more of it.

It’s time to adapt, to reinvent, to survive.

 

About the author

Rob is the founder and creative lead at LAS.

 

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