Maslow And The Key To Being A Futurist

Thinking Like A Futurist

I’ve always thought like a futurist. Which leads me to make some pretty bold assertions about technology, and its impending impact in our lives. Much of this stems from a career in technology, across 4 continents and 3 decades. Foreseeing the impact of the Internet when you led inititatives like automatic, remote, backup services before the web in the ’90’s, or the impact of Cloud, after building one of the world’s first Application Services Provider in 2000, becomes automatic.

But there are plenty of technology initiatives, many of which have failed to take precedence, like 3D TV’s and WAP. Others that succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination, like SMS texting.

How Did Texting Go Viral?

Remember when you had to learn a new language because you only had 160 characters and a numberpad to send a text. When you could only text people on the same phone network, in the same country. And then when you had to pay more to send across networks.

How is it that financially strapped young people could suddenly afford inordinate amounts to buy a mobile phone, and deal with this cumbersome technology?


Here’s one of the keys I use to evaluate nascent technology. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Particularly the need for self-expression, connection.

I first learned the power of this when I was in the Air Force. We would be back from an exercise, exhausted and starving, in the meal queue, when mail arrived. To a man, anyone would leave sacrifice their place in line to get a letter from home.

Information and Communication Technology

This primal need drove language, writing, the printing press, the telegraph, and broadcast media like the radio and TV. It is the key to the rise of Mobile Phones (despite unwieldy SMS), to the Internet, to Smartphones, to YouTube, to Social Media. This is what drives Wearable Tech, IoT, Augmented and Virtual Reality.

3D  adds no connection over and above television, whereas SMS enables people to connect in a way unprecedented in history.

If you want to determine whether a technology will take off, pay heed to Maslow.

The New Role Of The Library

If the arbiter of knowledge is no longer the printed document, in other words “If the Internet, why the library?” Indeed, why set aside space to shelve dusty documents of static information?

Once anyone can access the latest, contextual information, knowledge, even wisdom on any connected electronic device, surely libraries must fall into disuse, disrepair and eventually disappear.

Scooter Rider Access Smartphone In India
Internet Anywhere in Bangalore

Even I believe this will take some time. Firstly not anyone can access the Internet (yet). Although you might be surprised to know that more people in developing nations have access to the Net than to libraries. I was in India this week, and this nation of 1.3b leads the world with 960m mobile phones. It would be impossible to scale libraries to reach that many.


The role of the library has always been rennaisance. A place centralising access to knowledge initially for the wealthy, since the printing press increasingly the public. Somewhere any literate person could come to read, research, and renew their mind.

That need hasn't changed. Just the technology we use to codify our knowledge. If the role is rennaisance, then we need to shift these spaces to allow people to do just that. To be fair most libraries provide access to other media, DVD's, even Internet connected PC's. But this is simply the start.

What about spaces dedicated to VR. Here students could immerse themselves to research any topic from the psychodynamics of MLK's “I have a dream speech” to the inner space of faulty heart.

Could we give access to AR glasses whilst these are still the plaything of the corporate, so learners can collaborate with others from around the globe to work on anything in real space?

Rooms dedicated to making perhaps? Filled with 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines?

Are maker spaces the new library?


Busting the “Corporate’s Cannot Innovate Myth”

Corporate Innovation
Driving the Corporate Innovation Agenda (Image courtesy of

Corporate Enterprises Cannot Innovate

The other day, at a meeting with industry representatives driving innovation, and STEM education, one of the members said: “Let's face it, the big end of town cannot innovate. All innovation today comes from start-ups and small agile businesses.”

What do you think about that? Are large companies doomed to a life of BAU at best, and bankruptcy at worst?

It seems the zeitgeist around innovation, especially in Australia, is very skewed towards start-ups. To be innovative you need to use 'Agile Methodologies,' be a student of 'The Lean Startup,' and whatever you do have a 'hackathon.'

Whilst it is true that current technologies, from SMAC to IoT and others are removing barriers to competition. There is a race condition between large organisations' ability to restructure themselves around agility, and start-ups achieving the scale they need to disrupt marketplaces. It is not true that start-ups, far less small business, hold the brains trust on innovative creativity.

Try a quick thought experiment: Time yourself, and in 2 minutes write down the names of the top 9 innovative companies you know…

Chances are names such as Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, perhaps Intel, maybe even CBA will be on the page. Yep, you may have just listed the largest companies rather than the smallest. And yes, I know that some of them we still consider as startups. Of course they were all startups at one stage. However, for most of them their most recent innovations were as large corporates.

So what's going on here?

Why do we consider large companies as the most innovative, yet hold to the belief that large companies cannot innovate?

I observe 5 areas of overlap with these organisations

1. Strategic Innovation

All of the most innovative companies, almost by definition, have a strategic intent to innovate. For the most innovative, this is pervasive.

There are three waves of innovation:

Three Waves of Innovation
Three Waves of Innovation

Wave One – New products and services in the next 12 – 18 months.

This is the area most start-ups work in. Many companies struggle to bring new products to market within this timeframe because of Corporate Antibodies. Even Microsoft used to operate on a 3 year upgrade cycle. Not anymore.

Wave Two – Innovations for the next 18 months to 5 years.

This takes more investment and far more risk, especially with the increased rate of technology change. The increased risk also increases the rate of failure. Nevertheless innovative leaders have a roadmap that drives innovation through this time horizon.

Wave Three – Innovations for the next 5 to 20+ years.

Only the richest organisations can fund 'Blue sky' research projects of this nature. Many innovative companies: Pharmaceuticals, Oil & Gas Exploration, Travel & Transport, operate almost solely in this area. Start-ups that capitalise here often emerge from long-term government funded research.

All of the innovative enterprises have a strategy that invests in all three waves. Actually all the leading national economies employ strateges that facilitate innovation through all three waves.

2. Moore's Law

These companies are all architected around digital technology.

IT is no longer considered a support layer driving cost efficiencies like productivity, but the company exists almost entirely because of IT. Put another way, IT increasingly, or solely, drives revenue generation and development of new products and services.

This is risky because as mentioned above, digital is a great leveller. The diseconomies of scale can easily outweigh the economies. This means these organisations continually need to transform cost structures and operations to benefit.

3. Metcalfe's Law

These companies all benefit from the exponential power of network effects.

Whether B2C, B2B, or B2E, they harnessed the power of the Internet, and more recently Social Media to accelerate their reach. This is probably why most of the companies that come to mind are consumer brands. Partly this is because of the network effect brand awareness has, but when you consider companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung, they recognised that “the exponential power of the (networked) consumer is far greater than the enterprise.”

Many of these organisations are already considering the IoT as we move from Systems of Engagement to Systems of Insight.

4. Platform

All of the companies above now provide platforms for others. They have transformed from a vendor of products and services to a platform for others to build their businesses upon.

Apple doesn't just sell iPhones, but provides the most lucrative platform for software developers, musicians, authors and together with IBM, soon businesses.

Microsoft has been doing this, in enterprise, for years.

5. Business Model Innovation

Not only have the leaders in innovation developed world changing products and services, but they have innovated entirely new business models. Both internally, and for their customers.

Amazon has entirely changed the way that businesses can sell, warehouse, and distribute products. With AWS they've entirely changed procurement and budget cycles.

The Upside Down Bell Curve

It turns out that both competing viewpoints, viz. the most innovative companies are also large enterprises, and large companies struggle to innovate like start-ups, are not mutually exclusive. Rather there is an inverted bell curve. The most innovative companies are at both ends of the scale spectrum, with a large number of organisations in the middle.

Upside Down Bell Curve of Innovation
Driving Innovation

The question then becomes, what is your organisations strategic approach to innovation, and how can you improve this to succeed in the digital economy?


The 21 (to 25) Pivotal Movies That Shaped My Career

The 21 (to 25) Pivotal Movies That Shaped My Career

Time for a somewhat light-hearted post after Easter 🙂

I find myself firmly ensconced in an IT career, although it wasn't always planned this way. Recently I shared the top 39 books that have shaped my career, but everything is connected, and movies are as important in filling the maelstrom that is our intuition, emotion, and even cognition.

As with the booklist, I have sorted these in alphabetical order so as not to imply any sort of stack-rank. I've also avoided movies where I rated the book, unless the movie was uniquely determinant. As you'd expect there's a lot (majority) of SciFi here, but not all. Here goes:

1. Back To The Future I, II, and III

There's so much richness in these comedies. If you learn nothing else, learn these two simple truths:

  1. Life constantly changes, so we must evolve. I.e. Life (& we) will be as different from now in the next 10 years, as from the last decade. This is an astounding truth that few people learn.
  2. Moore's Law means the next 10 will be exponentially greater than the last 10. Although we don't have flying cars, we do have 3D printing, IoT, AR, Drones, etc. etc. The movie got more right than wrong.

2. Blade Runner

Another movie that created an impression very early on. When does artificial intelligence become sentience? How can you determine AI from human? Especially when the 'intellect' of the AI may be greater than that of the human. Throw in a dystopian future, flying vehicles, and cinematography that bleeds into your dreams. Another imperative piece.

3. The Creator

This tackles science vs religion, nature vs nurture, and predestination vs free will. From a career perspective even considering the possibility to clone someone was science fiction but could we make it happen?

4. Cry Freedom

Another non-SciFi. For someone who had just spent a couple of years in the military during the troubles in the townships, this was an important film. It is often chronologically incorrect, focusses too much on the Woods family escape, and has inconsistencies in the production. For all that, this was the continuation of a very important journey for me. I saw it much later than the theatrical release.

5. Enemy of the State

Turns out the surveillance nation pictured in this movie was pretty accurate after all. Watch for a great performance by a young Jack Black.

6. Existenz

A Jude Law movie. We descend into virtual reality game world, yet is reality real, or just the next level?

7. Gattacca

Another Jude Law movie. This should be required watching. CRISPR-CAS9 is the real, current world technology that will allow us to modify the genome of our children. Yet the true world changing genii would never have been allowed to be born in a world with that much control. Perhaps I resonate so closely to the protagonist because I too was a 'love child,' (and want to go to Space). Consider ethics when you consider complex systems – led me to do IT & Ethics in my Masters Degree.

8. The Island

This is a modern take that riff's off of “A Brave New World” and “The Running Man.” I just love the technology (& Scarlett Johansen) from the Microsoft Surface inspired (yet Apple aesthetic) table computer, to the Augmented Reality XBox Game (Kinect, and Hololens anyone?), to the Video phones, biometric security, automated home and I want that flying motorbike.

9. The Matrix

Hoo boy, this is the brilliant recreation of the question posed by Socrates as described in Plato's “The Republic” as “The Allegory of the Cave.” Are we real, and if not, would we experience real as real, or rather be back in the delusionary virtual world. You're welcome to ignore the sequels.

10. Minority Report

This movie is no longer SciFi. We have most of the technologies described, if not mainstream, about to be: Driverless cars, long range iris scanning and facial recognition, robots, augmented reality, gesture based computing, and not pre-cogs, but Big Data allowing police to pre-empt crime.

11. The Net

This movie imagined the power of the mobile Internet. They had no idea.

12. No Way Out

Is this the best Kevin Costner movie I've seen? Or maybe the only good one? Great plot, great twist, and the constraints of technology of the day – like 24 hours to render the negative on a polaroid – like a polariod – all contribute to this movie. It would be a tough one to remake.

13. I, Robot

Are robots appliances? What happens when they become more? When they dream of electric sheep? Plenty of real world technologies here from robots & androids, AI, and osteo-integration (spoilers). In-ear phones. Driverless, and hovering, cars. We need to design these systems.

14. Runaway

Another take on tech aided police. Individual targetting bullets? Absolutely.

15. Runaway Jury

Ok. This one isn't SciFi. This one is about influence. It is a study on influence. Anyone who is in influence, like a consultant, manager, sales person, teacher, or instructor needs to watch this movie. I've been all of those roles.

16. Serenity (& the Firefly TV Series)

The control of the Alliance vs the freedom of anarchy. Learning Mandarin is probably a good idea, considering the privacy of the individual when designing the big data and IoT systems. There's plenty to like about this movie, especially the “neither utopian, nor dystopian” aesthetic that brings a deeper sense of realism.

17. Sneakers

Hacking into banks, governments, and controlling the world. This opened my eyes to social engineering, different modalities for orientation (e.g. the blind guy figuring out where he was by sound – genius), and the genius of teams trumping the individual.

18. Star Trek

The series, all the movies, DS9, they all contributed to thinking about the way technology can really enable and empower.

19. Star Wars – IV – VI

Another, less utopian take on a world where robots do the menial labour like controlling the farm equipment (IoT anyone?). Where we have AR, holograms, 3D chess, and light sabres. Watch for the upcoming Disney VR game.

20. Top Gun

So this one had an indirect effect. Once upon a life I wanted to fly. Jets. In the military. This of course was the 80's recruitment movie for the US Navy, to the Air Force's Iron Eagle. I'd already been selected for the South African Air Force, then taken off the course for an unspecified medical reason. At the time I'd been devastated, but strangely this movie liberated me what had been a lifelong dream. This combined with Cry Freedom.

21. Wargames

Where do I begin? Hacking, surveillance, IoT like control, and of course, Artificial Intelligence. This movie was pivotal at an impressionable age in considering IT as a profession. It is definitely worth a rerun. In fact this movie was one of the reasons I went into IT. No question.

There they are.

Definitely not a complete list. Not by a long shot. And not all great movies either. But each of them had some part to play in me ending up where I've ended up.

What movies have I missed?