It’s not what you think

Welcome to this week’s LEAP:IN newsletter. Each week, we unpack leader’s powerful quotes and decipher the tech landscape. With exclusive content from some of the world’s leading experts in AI, robotics, space, edutech, climate tech and more, read on to discover this week’s insights and subscribe to receive weekly updates direct to your inbox.

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This week we’re quoting…

Adele Trombetta (Head of Customer Experience at Cisco EMEAR) 

What Trombetta said: 

“We need to keep transforming. And in doing that we need to bear in mind that it’s not only about technology, but about platform, people, and our planet.”

What happens when tech transforms for the sake of tech alone? 

Well, things go wrong. Like when…

  • Google launched their Facebook competitor, Google+. Heard of it, but still not quite sure what it is? We’re not surprised— it launched on June 28 2011, and then shut down on April 2 2019. Engadget described it as an ‘all-out assault’ on other social networking sites in 2011, but it just didn’t workrapid growth instead of growing into a platform that users would actually want to…use.
     
  • Amazon created its Fire Phone, inspired by the success of Kindle Fire tablets. The problem? Smartphone users were already perfectly happy with iPhone and Android models. They didn’t want a new smartphone option. Amazon slashed prices before finally abandoning the device in 2015, 15 months after launch.
     
  • Elizabeth Holmes invented (sort of) the world-changing blood diagnostic tool that has since gained HBO fame. The idea for at-home blood testing was brilliant, but the problem? The tech didn’t exist. Still doesn’t. Holmes’ startup, Theranos, might have been putting people first if it actually had a working product before it raised around $1.3 billion in investments, but no working product = scandalous tech scam. 

Here are 5 tech solutions that put people first 

  • When developers do put people first and create tech that really improves lives, it’s a little bit of magic. Some examples we love: 
  • WiFi. Yes, WiFi! Remember what life (and the internet) was like before? WiFi started rolling out to the public in 1999, replacing Ethernet cables that had to be plugged into a device/the wall to work. And by 2021, 59.5% of the global population had access to the internet, according to data from Statista.
  • Barabási Lab has been using machine learning and network science to identify drugs that could fight COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Tech enables the company to pinpoint existing drugs that might be repurposed to effectively treat COVID-19, with 81 possible medications identified in April 2020.
  • MobiStation is a solar-powered classroom in a suitcase. Developed by UNICEF Uganda, it’s a multimedia kit that includes a laptop, projector, speakers and a scanner, packed into a portable suitcase and powered by the sun. It enables teachers to give students access to high quality educational experiences, anywhere.
  • Fitness trackers. They’re not just a fad — they’ve given ordinary people the ability to understand, track, and improve their health with tools that were previously only available to elite athletes. According to Seth Martin, M.D., M.H.S. (Cardiologist at John Hopkins Medicine), fitness trackers can significantly boost heart health.
  • Video chat providers like Zoom, along with instant messaging apps and collaborative online experiences and games, have been lifesaving during lockdowns. Studies like this one, published in the journal Frontiers in Sociology, provided findings on the ways that communities around the world have utilised tech to reduce loneliness and disconnection. 

And 4 innovators doing good things for the environment* 

*doing good things for the environment is, by extension, also doing good things for people. 

  • A technology called ‘Interceptor’, initiated by The Ocean Cleanup Foundation in 2019, removes plastics — including microplastics — from rivers. And when positioned at the mouth of a river, it prevents new waste from entering the ocean. It’s a floating system that concentrates plastic waste and removes it via a conveyor belt. Using this system in collaboration with private companies and government leaders, the Foundation aims to remove almost 90% of plastic from the oceans by 2040.
  • Carbon capture and storage (CSS) has been on the cards as an emission-reducing tech for some time now. Basically, it involves collecting carbon dioxide gas and confining it underground, where it can’t make its way up into the atmosphere. Now, innovators like Climeworks are trying to make CSS financially viable for a number of industries by providing CSS services to businesses.
  • Innovators are doubling down on the potential of hydrogen energy as the next wave for electric vehicles. The Hydrogen Council launched in 2017, calling for investments in hydrogen energy use development, to total $280 billion by 2030.
  • At Michigan State University, engineers are working on a revolutionary approach to solar energy — developing solar glass. Transparent, strong, and suitable to replace the endless glass windows of a skyscraper (as well as the windows of any home with a sunny aspect), this could vastly expand the potential of solar energy capture. 

And…

Christian Klein (Chief Executive Officer at SAP) on how tech creates opportunities 

What Klein said:

“In a digital world, no one does business alone. You have to connect.”

Boom. Yes.

Networking is powerful, and it’s not just about making small talk at a stuffy event with your industry peers anymore. At SAP, Klein and colleagues are leveraging blockchain tech to build business networks that enhance operations and supply chains, and create greater resilience. 

Research says this is true

The innovation foundation Nesta supports it: collaboration drives innovation. Instead of relying on tech to drive change, we need to encourage — and embrace — ‘multi-actor collaboration’ to promote innovation. Nesta is focused on the public sector, but we think this applies in equal measure to private companies. 

So as well as increasing business resilience, collaboration can actually change the world for the better. Which is a good reason not to keep all our cards close to our chest. 

But why does collaboration drive change?

In a book called Collaboration Innovation in the Public Sector, Jacob Torfing (Professor at Roskilde University and Director of the Roskilde School of Governance) suggested five ways in which collaboration = big change: 

  1. Problems can be identified, defined, and more clearly understood when collaborators from different backgrounds and skill sets join forces.
  2. Melding together minds with different experiences and ideas creates space for completely new, highly creative ideas.
  3. The process of prototyping, testing and selecting new innovations is better when those innovations are assessed by people with different viewpoints and backgrounds — and although you might not like compromising on anything, the necessity of compromise when you’re working with other people makes it less likely that ideas will stagnate.
  4. When multiple actors collaborate on bringing an idea to life, the joint ownership and investment in that idea’s success increases momentum — and means that each player involved carries a smaller share of the overall risk.
  5. The social and professional networks of all collaborators can be leveraged to widen the reach of information and new innovative practices, and disseminate ideas faster. 

But don’t worry…

Collaboration doesn’t mean you have to get on brilliantly with your collaborators all the time, or agree on everything. Disagreements and well-managed conflict can be just as instrumental in pushing innovation forwards. And a bit of conflict shows that your team is diverse, because a totally homogenous team would be more likely to agree on most things most of the time. 

In a blog post for the Engineering Management Institute, Patrick Sweet P.Eng., MBA, PMP, CSEP (President of Tandem Consulting) wrote that innovation and disruption go hand-in-hand, and with any kind of disruption comes discomfort with new, untried ideas — which leads to conflict. The key is to keep conflict healthy. How? By focusing (and refocusing, again and again) on common goals, and on ideas over individuals. 

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