What does it mean to have a mind? What is the nature of intelligence? Such questions have motivated Brian Christian, a computer scientist who holds a philosophy degree. He has been studying the gaps and overlaps between humans and machines, and investigated dehumanized communication as a result of increasing machine interactions in his bestseller The Most Human Human. In his second book, Algorithms to Live By, co-authored with cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths, he says that computer science actually gives us a way of thinking in new terms about what it means to be rational.
The sharing economy exploded in China this year, with companies for all kinds of shareable objects taking part in this new business model. While there are businesses familiar to Westerners—shared offices, cars and rides—there are also ideas that seem a little kooky, such as shared basketballs and umbrellas. Although some call it innovative, many realize these companies are just “rental 2.0” companies, assisted by digital technology. As the concept reaches fever pitch, however, it is also facing a reality check, especially as many firms, ballooned by venture capital funds, start to show signs of failing.
Executives have long understood the business value of a ripping yarn. Different consultancy companies will have their own take on what makes a good story. Yet whatever the scale of your literary ambitions, there are some fundamental rules seem to apply. First you start with good material and you need to identify what is and isn’t a story. A story is something that begins with a time-marker and is also always visual. Don’t use the “S” word. Don’t say “I just want to share a story with you.” Well, in business, that’s like death. Instead, say: I’ve had a really interesting experience. And remember to be sincere.
Traffic in major cities around the world is deteriorating. Jerry Sanders, CEO of SkyTran, believes that the solution lies above the road, not on it. SkyTran, a NASA-backed company, has been developing a personal rapid transportation system with small, computer-controlled Maglev capsules running on elevated rails. The capsule-shaped car looks futuristic, but the company has already built a demonstration system in Tel Aviv and is currently building a commercial system in Abu Dhabi. Is elevated transit a practical solution for traffic jams? How will it fit into our cities and existing infrastructure? Will it replace traditional means of transportation?
When was the last time you listened to music on an actual CD? Or read the day’s headlines in a physical newspaper? Chances are it has been years. Digital technology has replaced a lot of things in our lives. According to media futurist Robert Tercek, going forward we’ll see more of ‘vaporization’, a term he has coined to refer to the process of replacing physical things with software that can be downloaded to any device. In this interview, Tercek, the former President of Digital Media at The Oprah Winfrey Network and author of the book Vaporized, talks about how software is disrupting society.
Unlike technology, design seldom follows a neat curve. When it comes to questions of style, it’s hard to chart steady improvements. At the moment, however, design does seem likely to become an even more powerful business driver—provided it isn’t undone by its own popularity. In a number of sectors, executives are becoming more and more aware that smart design can be a shortcut to competitive advantage. The growth of Starbucks and the rise of Apple are two stories about the power of good design, but a number of industries have been similarly transformed by an idea that was less technically novel than packaged in a more appealing way.
Economists and business strategists have long noticed that industries tend to converge on just a few places. Milan for fashion, London for finance, Silicon Valley for technology—for any given sector, there are usually one or two points on which the whole world revolves. Over the past few decades, this insight has led many policymakers to try to nurture not just individual companies but a whole ecosystem—a cluster—around a single industry. When does a cluster strategy work to spur innovation and when does it backfire? Should creative clusters be engineered by governments or should they be allowed to evolve and flourish on their own?
A number of businesses have made remarkable gains by integrating design thinking into their development process—not the least of which was Hovey-Kelley, which morphed in the early ’90s into IDEO, the international design giant. Some universities are even beginning to include a mandatory course in design thinking in the general curriculum. Some corporate strategy experts argue that design thinking is nearing the kind of inflection point that the Quality movement reached in the late 1980s, when the total quality methodology became an inescapable part of doing business. Yet some critics are saying design thinking is dead. But the truth is its value lies in the worldview it propagates.
Developments in technology have always led to changes in management practices. Papyrus and writing made the first empires possible, and the telegraph and telephone later gave the modern corporation its central nervous system. As digitalization changes the nature of our work, it’s not so wild to imagine management will change too. One answer may be Holacracy, a trademarked management system designed by former programmer Brian J. Robertson. Using what he describes as “a new social technology”, Robertson hopes to remove what he sees as a key defect in the modern enterprise: the inability to incorporate the insights of individuals into the actions of the group.
Uber China is going all out to woo customers with quirky promotions. Here’s how.