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Looking up, looking down #002
A regular collection of clues and hunches for innovation and strategy practitioners
Looking up, looking down is our regular drop of recommendations for reading, watching, listening and doing. Think of them as clues and hunches that we’ve bumped into - they’re not yet joined up into a fully-formed narrative but they hint at a bigger story and feel useful and interesting enough to share.
They range from 10,000ft views of emergent change and how it affects our world, to down-at-two-inches hacks and smart reframes to learn from, to reference and to use as a way to keep your thinking fresh, refilling your wells of insight and creativity.
Like any good innovation practitioner, we’ll aim for to make it mostly relevant - though never too relevant. All opinions welcome in the comments.
Hate scrolling? Here’s the list…
…and here’s why we chose them…
I find this use of digital twins really interesting as it feels like a real use of whatever the metaverse is, so a way of mirroring and then playing in a version of the physical world to make the physical world better, highly applicable to small world problems like machinery . This is in contrast to Meta’s pitch of us living our lives strapped to VR machines, doing stuff in Meta’s version of reality.
Secondly the idea that it contributes to broader social questions rather than creating private walled gardens where we need to make payments to go in, also feels both worthwhile and credible. The article talks about modelling around questions of decarbonisation of cities and the like.
The one question I ponder on this is the extent that it becomes a “design a city” (or anything) top down using some overriding version of what reality ought to be rather than shaping it in what it actually does bottom up. Cities are a great example of this in the thankfully successful battle for New York (and ultimately city design) of Jane Jacobs against Robert Moses (just picked up the biography on him which sounds amazing!) . Understanding cities as something lived in and bottom up rather than idealised and top down was Jane Jacobs’ lasting tribute to cities. I think the same thoughtful considerations of what really works will help shape the role of the metaverse, rather than some technocrat’s version of reality. - Toby
Two things I take from this piece: the easiest implementation of the metaverse is one that replicates our existing world - this makes sense, the value’s there to be understood and grasped, it doesn’t require a massive mental shift - this is a great innovation hack, using familiar mental models to bridge to the unfamiliar. But the thing that I really love about this piece is about open data - the investment in creating a digital twin of a city is immense, but can be an equally immense source of innovation and empowerment for citizens when that data is made available to anyone to use - I love the example about creating shade and identifying the most effective places for solar panels - Tom
A gripping story of dark innovation, mapping out of the conditions, ecosystem and growth of criminal enterprise. It’s often said that most innovations start in the military, the porn industry or criminal enterprise. Of course I’m not advocating for illegal activities, but it’s interesting to see how criminals identify weaknesses and opportunities in an ecosystem and occasionally they might point the way to disruptive new models. After all, would Spotify and Netflix exist had Napster not broken the rules first? - Tom
Interesting point on breaking the rules, what is interesting is how quickly what could be a consumer (car removal/ traffic flow) and customer (traffic police) good escalates to be out of control, though TBH this sounds like pure criminal behaviour, it is interesting to link this outcome to the later podcast on points/ metrics. It reminds me of how people might see Google, from “ do no evil”, to that been quietly dropped and now caught up in Surveillance Capitalism. - Toby
This is Apple building its own chip, the M1, a push against the generally accepted management wisdom of outsourcing components to concentrate on your core strengths. Yet the outcome has been an outstanding success, and highlights a trend of building inhouse that appears to be delivering much better results.
In Apple’s case the sheer performance they have enabled allows a faster and much more energy efficient chip. Octopus Energy strategically built their own software to run the customer experience rather than pluck one off the shelf, and now boast a much better business.
The benefits are also being felt by companies like Tesla, where because they build their own software (again vs most other car manufacturers who rely on externals or lack the business model), when COVID 19 led to the global shortage of chips Tesla was able to get its software engineers to redesign around the chips that were available.
These may be great examples of what I plucked from last month’s Looking up Looking down and the kwokchain article - endogenous compounding where companies internalise a specific skill or competence and then massively exploit it.
These also feel like examples of businesses looking up and down to work out where the points of value are created across the whole stack and then building that skill so it becomes your differentiation and your moat. I like how this shows businesses doing some proper joined up thinking versus following standard models supplied by consultancies or plucked from academia. One tool that does feel very pertinent in this space is the Wardley Value Chain mapping approach. - Toby
To me, this is all about customer-centricity. Building your own chip is an epic investment decision, not for the fainthearted (nor the small-pocketed!). The reason to do it is not ‘because they could’ but rather because it gives Apple tighter control over the value proposition to customers - in this case longer battery life, with no trade-off in performance. Inhousing gives you control and differentiation in value-proposition - and a strong likelihood of a competitive moat - Tom
A really interesting study on how we work. One of the key messages is that we spend just over one third of our time actually doing what what we are hired to do. The obvious answer that businesses will apply is squeeze the crap out of people (see the massive increase in activity monitoring software embedded in your laptop), which would be totally the wrong outcome. A few thoughts spring to mind in reading the findings
The highly siloed nature of businesses, and the accompanying deep expertise means no one is holding the narrative, this checking and tracking links to this, as it is trying to orchestrate the parts, wouldn’t it be better to design for the whole? Yet at the same time ..
There is this decline of strategic thinking when it matters more than ever, it’s the narrative. My hunch is the decline of strategy is the decline of strategy planning, which became the go to version of strategy thinking
The failure of digital to solve for this - weren’t all these dashboards and data streams meant to give us hands on easy reads? Again it feels like we have become slave to data without really finding any meaning in it. Toby
I’m a little more skeptical on this one - the survey measures ‘work about work’ as though it has little value, calling it ‘non-essential tasks’, but work about work is also the essential activity of co-ordination, knowledge sharing, relationship-building, serendipity and generally creating a culture. It seems to me that aiming for a workplace that maximises ‘skilled work’ (whatever that might be!) would probably result in a pretty desiccated place - count me out!- Tom
An interesting piece of research around risk and time and how they might connected to apparently unrelated phenomena: from the stock market to Brexit. Did you know every British election has been held on a Thursday (our most risk averse day)? Implications for behavioural design, implications for tactical planning, and a really nice, creative research idea to use data from old chess matches... - Tom
It sounds like an interesting mix of social (the 5 day week) and astute understanding of framing for risk (which side of the decision you are on to create the moment of choice), though as an article continues to tread down that path of confusing risk and uncertainty. Chess is a game with risk, life is about uncertainty. The proof of the hypothesis would be examining what goes on in e.g Saudi Arabia where they have a different weekday cycle to the UK, though not sure election data would be so helpful. - Toby
A Philosophy of Games That Is Really a Philosophy of Life
Pair the above with this super-insightful conversation with C. Thi Nguyen, a philosopher of games. I've realised that my love of games growing up (board games, card games, computer games, I wasn’t fussy) was formative in the path that I’ve taken in life - curiosity; playfulness; exploration of scenarios; experimentation and roleplay in a low-risk environment - many of the skills and joy of games are super useful in innovation and strategy, both in strategic thinking and in human collaboration and creativity. Where Thi Nguyen is really insightful is how he shines a light on the game mechanics at play in everyday life - and how many of today's most successful businesses are using them for positive and negative effect. For more, his paper on how Twitter has gamified conversation has never been more pertinent, given Elon Musk's current machinations. - Tom
This is less about gaming than about the notion of points/metrics and how they are used. Yes they are a key feature of most games, but Thi Nguyen expands into organisations and makes the insightful comment that organisations create point systems (what they probably call KPIs) because they are able to process them at scale and aggregate, and this becomes their focus (the game outcome if you will). This focus then eliminates any nuance and richness that they can’t aggregate and so these elements of singularity and humanity get lost. I find this a really interesting critique that I have a lot of sympathy for. And innovation and strategy suffer from this, as the point system is typically at odds to the creative process of learning, exploration, trial out at the edges. The irony of games giving you space to explore is that games are largely bound by rules, whereas innovation is about working out what everyone else thinks the rules are, and then stepping outside them. Toby.
That’s it for this edition, thanks for reading, if you know someone who you think would enjoy it, please do us a favour and forward it.
Toby and Tom
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