Investing in disruptive technology and culture
Investing in disruptive technology and culture

A report into the process whereby SRI venture capital developed and Siri concludes:

  • Focus resources to understand long term technology and business trends that can profoundly change the industrial world. There are organizations that pride themselves on being technology followers. The guys who bring up the rear die sooner rather than later. The corporate world is full of corporate zombies who might survive but don’t grow or build value because their management teams were too risk-averse.
  • Nothing happens as fast as people think, but then reacting is too late—competitors will have taken the high ground. Creative minds should have the freedom to explore opportunities—false starts are part of the process and innovators should not be penalized for such events. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
  • Big ideas may only succeed when enabling technologies emerge. This means that organizations must strive to keep an open environment for learning and assimilating ideas and technologies from anywhere in the world. The idea of “not invented here” negativity is long gone – it is a path to failure.
  • The more important and far reaching a new product idea , the more important it is to make sure that the best minds are dedicated to its realization. Management must be actively involved—world changing ideas don’t see fruition without management being partners with the innovators. Sooner rather later, management will be faced with a financial decision regarding such concepts. Only the most engaged and educated management team can make wise decisions.

Source: Winarski N, Mark B, Kressel H “The development of Siri and the SRI Venture Creation Process – Siri Caltech Case HK

The comment on enabling technologies touches on a deep truth. Jacques Barzun makes exactly this point regarding the printing press in his From Dawn to Decadence 500 Years of Western Cultural life – a fascinating book. Technological development may have sped up as identified by Ray Kurzweil, but within this sped up process there are other constants which we can know from studying the past. But it is not just technology this applies to. The same applies to ideas. There are multiple instances of ideas being conceived of independently and at the same time, such as Newton and Leibniz’s development of calculus. The time was right.

Culture and ideas also change when enabling factors are in place. Nationalism and communism both spread rapidly because enabling factors were in place. As did politically correct perspectives and policies. Indeed, the whole mixed market western welfare state is but a set of ideas and concepts made concrete. For a time it appears to offer a viable structure for society, but contains within it the seeds of its own destruction:

The welfare state induced change in incentives change practice. The change in practice changes habits. The change in habits changes culture. The change in culture changes destiny.

A credit bubble and mass printing can delay the acknowledgement of the fact, just as more money flowing into a ponzi scheme can delay acknowledgement that some peoples wealth no longer exists. But it cannot change the underlying reality. Reality always wins – normally on the battle field.

In the West today,  some peoples wealth no longer exists. Other peoples ideological foundations are built on quick sand. They will sink along with the economies built on their big lie.

The widespread economic and political disruption which will be caused as reality reasserts itself across the western world will result in a new set of enabling factors. It is necessary now to lay down the basis for sound new normal – at least somewhere. Alternative systems will not be able to compete with a trustworthy system built on sound principles. Sound principles are not communist, socialist, fascist or Luddite. They will entail empowering individuals and enabling them to reach their full potential. It will create responsible adults grounded in reality. Such a society will prosper, unless stamped on by more powerful despotic regimes.  It could be a very mercenary time, so there will be no guarantees. There never have been, but this will become more obvious.

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