Day 5 was essentially about transformation, change, creativity, innovation, and collaboration! It is still quite surprising to see that here, when subjects such as creation or innovation come up, it is more about probability than epiphanies.

When I ask myself how I got the ideas for my different companies, I like to tell the story of how I saw an idea emerge, how I began to obsess over it, how I thought it over and developed it, and how it eventually occupied my mind for years. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley lives by the famous Linus Paulding quote: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” This wasn’t about finding the idea that would become the main driving force in your life, but rather finding the idea that will lead to success – and eventually make you rich.

“The best way to have a good idea is to
have a lot of ideas.”

If this approach illustrates the software industry’s love of “pivoting” (redirecting the initial use of a product to find a way for it to match the right audience), it also reflects the business-focused state of mind of the people working in this field. Nevertheless, there are a number of ideas and good practices come in useful when you want to create something. Here are some examples.

The power of community

Pascal Finette — who is passionate about collaborative innovation — explains how, for 35 years, NASA has been researching a way to predict solar flares. Without success. It then decided to hold a competition that was open to the public, to see if anyone could solve this mystery. Within a few weeks, the community had created a model which, while not fully predicting solar flares, enabled NASA to make faster progress than they had in the past 35 years.

In the software industry, open-source software is designed using this same collaborative idea. The source code for a computer application is made available to a community interested in working on it, and this community then develops new functions, continuously maintains and improves the code, etc. It’s a bit like if a company had hundreds, or even thousands, of developers to help them work on a product. It’s a dream come true! But, how do you make money from it?

When the code for an application is given to the community, nothing prevents a company from offering services related to this application. If Linux is an open-source operating system, it doesn’t stop software company Red Hat from profiting by offering a range of services that CTOs the world over would be happy to buy. All of this stems from the common sense that there will always be a greater number of intelligent people outside of the company than inside, whatever the size of the organization.

But the issue actually lies in its capacity to engage the community members, knowing that money is a very bad thing for engagement! The best currency for these groups is still unclear.

The solution to a problem often comes from a non-expert

Over 10 years ago PepsiCo, the company behind Doritos, decided to launch a new advert for the tortilla chip. Rather than reach out to an agency, they launched a crowdsourcing campaign called Crash the Superbowl, where 4,000 people took part. Some weeks later, the company took the best ideas and aired the winning fan-made commercial during the Superbowl (watch it, it’s really good). All thanks to a Doritos fan!

This goes against any assumptions that you have to be an advertising specialist to create a quality commercial. However, it is still common sense. An expert is someone who has developed such a level of knowledge and experience in their field that they don’t even have to think before acting in their work. They know all of the codes, the subtle nuances.

But how can you make something new if you’re persuaded that it is “possible” to do one thing but “impossible” to do another? In three and a half years, two unknowns in the cellphone sector (Google and Apple) cornered the market and knocked Nokia off its pedestal. Anyone who has played poker before also knows that it is very difficult to play against someone who has never played, because they don’t follow the rules—they don’t even know the rules—and they are therefore more unpredictable. And often dangerous.

Of course, it’s not in the interest of experts and authorities to tell you that you can disrupt a whole sector that you don’t know anything about, but that is indeed the case.

Why change is not a battle

John Hagel comes next to talk to us about transformation within large companies. Using “The Art of War” by Sun Tsu, he explains that a massive change within an organization requires three fundamental elements:

  1. Identifying “friends” of change
  2. Identifying “enemies” of change
  3. Weakening enemies rather than fighting against them

First of all, it’s funny that your “friends” of change are rarely those who are asked to make an effort for change. It is the company directors who are often asked to switch from authoritative management to participative management; from a culture of top-down, centralized decision-making to a bottom-up, evenly distributed culture; from comfortable offices to open-plan spaces, in order to bring them closer to their teams.

If you consider that change must start from the top, how do you get the “top” to renounce the privileges that they have taken their entire professional lives to acquire—and which are still considered by many  to be signs of power or success? The subtle challenge is to initiate this change without directly affronting the people concerned.

According to John Hagel, to win the battle, it must never happen in the first place! The fighters against change must demonstrate its virtues through local achievements and success stories, and weaken those who want to prevent it, without being too obvious.

Once more, at the heart of company transformation and collaborative innovation is our ability to evolve our mentalities. That is one of the major lessons that I’ve taken away from this trip. We are the main obstacles to change and to every form of innovation, because the limits now are not technological, but our own imagination and our ability to reinvent ourselves by gradually forgetting the codes of the world we are leaving behind.

We are truly in the midst of a crisis, where the old is dying and the new is not yet born. I’m sure we’ll get through it, but the shape of this new world that we are creating—whether consciously or not—still remains to be seen.

To read the 5 other episods of Pachulski’s experience at Singularity University:

  1. Is There a Future For Privacy?
  2. Get it Wrong and Laugh it Off!
  3. Don’t Fear the Future, Invent it
  4. If You Want to Innovate, Learn to Forget
  5. What if We Could Really Change the World?

[Ebook] Business Transformation: A Considerable Challenge for the CHRO & CIO