What Sets Breakthrough Strategies Apart

Strategy advice has taken a rather negative tone of late. Consultants and scholars alike seem obsessed with eradicating bias and error in human judgment and decision-making. A virtual cottage industry has emerged to offer advice how to do that, often pushing managers to replace flawed human judgment with big data analytics and various computational tools. Given this abysmal view of human judgment, it’s no wonder that some authors have suggested that algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) should play a greater role in strategic decisions.

No doubt bias and error are important concerns in strategic decision-making. Yet it seems quite a stretch to suggest that the original strategies developed by people like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, or even Walmart’s Sam Walton had much to do with error-free calculations based on big data. Their strategies, like most breakthrough strategies, emerged in settings with remarkably little data to process and little basis for calculation — situations in which the paths to value creation were highly uncertain and evidence was sparse. We are highly skeptical that debiasing decision-making, eradicating errors, or ceding strategy to AI will improve strategizing, let alone lead to breakthrough strategies.

What Do You See?

Composing valuable strategies requires seeing the world in new and unique ways. It requires asking novel questions that prompt fresh insight. Even the most sophisticated, deep-learning-enhanced computers or algorithms simply cannot generate such an outlook.

But where does the uniqueness and novelty so essential to innovative strategic thinking come from? It comes from contrarian, perhaps even “distorted,” perceptions and beliefs about reality and the “facts” that surround us. We think that venture capitalist and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel gets it roughly right when he asks prospective entrepreneurs to tell him something they believe is true that nobody agrees with them about. If everyone believes the same thing — or if everyone uses the same variables, information, and computational tools — the logical result is computational consistency, shared conclusions, and me-too strategies. Thus, while renowned behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and his coauthors Andrew M. Rosenfield, Linnea Gandhi, and Tom Blaser argued in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article that it is problematic that professionals “often make decisions that deviate significantly from those of their peers,” it is this seeming pathology that provides the underlying raw material — the essential ingredient — for valuable strategies. In setting strategy, deviation in judgment is a feature, not a bug.

Examples abound. In the mid-1970s, computers were used for large-scale industrial and office applications. A mass-market personal computer was a reality few envisioned to be feasible, and any number of facts, surveys, expert opinions, and data could corroborate that conclusion. Yet despite the evidence and widespread agreement, Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, somehow believed otherwise. Similar narratives could be told about Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines or Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. All three entrepreneurs ignored current evidence to pursue a future reality that only they and perhaps a handful of others envisioned.

It is tempting to believe that the right evidence and the right analysis will yield the right strategy. But just as customer surveys seldom lead to breakthrough products that capture the imagination of customers and markets, substantive strategy-making requires that we see well beyond the available data. As Polaroid Corp. founder Edwin H. Land once noted, “every significant invention … must be startling, unexpected, and must come into a world that is not prepared for it.” The story is no different for managers seeking to advance valuable new functional strategies — supply chain solutions, product development ideas, or marketing strategies. Paths to substantive value creation emerge from those capable of envisioning a reality that others simply can’t imagine.

We view the strategist’s task as akin to an inkblot test, where participants are presented with highly ambiguous evidence and signals that afford many possible realities, but offer no single correct answer. With such tests, the very same evidence — an ambiguous picture or set of marks — can be interpreted correctly in many different ways. Indeed, Jobs and the rest of the nascent computer industry all had the same data. But in the words of an old Apple slogan, Jobs did indeed see and “think different.” Valuable strategizing demands this novel perception — an ability to see in ambiguous cues and data what others can’t see. Strategic thinking is fueled by the novelty of our observation, not its consistency. The object of strategic thinking is not to ensure that we all observe the same information and derive the same conclusion. It is precisely the opposite: If your desire is to be a value creator, you must aspire to see what others cannot.

Strategy as Theory

This is not to say that we believe strategic thinking sits outside the realm of logic, science, and experimentation. Quite the contrary: We argue that strategic thinkers engage in an exercise that parallels that of scientists. Like scientists, they start with a significant problem to solve, and then use this problem as a prompt to compose a theory — in this case a theory of value creation. This theory then becomes their unique perspective and point of view about the opportunity they see.

One role of a theory is to shape sight and perception, to enable seeing — often from simple observations — what was previously unnoticed. As Albert Einstein observed, “whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use.” Through a novel business theory, you see value in choices, in combinations, and in purchases that others cannot. And most importantly, like theories in science, your theory of value should lead to hypotheses and experiments that help realize opportunities unseen by others.

Of course, whether you are an entrepreneur, a corporate strategist, or a mid-level manager, generating the value you envision typically demands convincing others of the merits of your theory. Convincing others to believe in your envisioned reality over theirs is no small task. In 2009, the founders of Airbnb Inc. pitched their now-famous idea to the venture capitalist Fred Wilson and his firm Union Square Ventures, known for its prescient investments in entrepreneurial growth companies such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Kickstarter. Airbnb needed an infusion of cash, but Wilson and his partners were tremendously skeptical — and with good reason. After all, why would anyone want to stay with strangers while traveling? Why would individuals agree to rent their homes to complete strangers? And how on earth would a small startup — without any experience in the industry — take on large established players and brands in the sophisticated hotel market? Given these concerns, Wilson’s company passed on the investment opportunity. The rest, of course, is history. In 2017, Airbnb claimed more than three million listings in 65,000 cities in 191 countries.

Only with hindsight is it easy to see the value in Airbnb. After all, Wilson’s company’s decision was entirely consistent with the facts at the time. But selling a theory like Airbnb’s takes more than selling facts. It is instead about selling assumptions and logic — convincing those whose resources you need that your assumptions and logic are reasonable and compelling. It is about selling a series of if-then statements. For the Airbnb founders, those entailed convincing investors that if they could solve a number of key problems — including secure payment, efficient matching of those seeking accommodations with those renting homes, and development of a mechanism to generate reputation and trust between the two parties — then the business would thrive. Of course, Airbnb could point to eBay Inc. and Amazon as examples of partial solutions to the trust problem. But fundamentally, the path to gaining others’ support and resources depended on selling their theory through a compelling logical narrative.

Keep in mind that the most valuable theories often face the greatest resistance. In both the world of science and the world of entrepreneurship, stories abound of persistent scientists or entrepreneurs facing consistent rejection — until one day they don’t. Novel theories are consistently resisted. And you too will likely face similar resistance in selling your novel theories. But clarity of assumptions, persuasive logic, and persistence are key to breaking through this resistance.

Testing Theories

Of course, the ultimate test of any theory of value rests on whether the strategic experiments you undertake generate the value anticipated; but fortunately, successful theories do tend to share some common features.

First, valuable theories are novel. As discussed above, they are built around novel beliefs and often try to solve previously unrecognized problems. Think of Uber, Apple, Airbnb, eBay, Amazon, or Walmart. At their origin is some form of contrarian or divergent thinking.

Second, valuable theories are simple and clear. They indicate clearly what problems to solve and experiments to run. They also make it easier to spot solutions others have overlooked. Consider the famous 1979 visit of Steve Jobs to the Xerox PARC research center, where he observed many of the central technologies that today shape personal computers: the graphical user interface, bitmapped graphics, and networking technology. Jobs’ theory of value in personal computers focused on generating seamless and intuitive interactions between a user and a computer. Thus, when he walked into Xerox PARC and found technologies that were languishing there, he instantly recognized that they could solve problems framed by his theory. He later recalled one of the technologies he saw that day as the “best thing I’d ever seen in my life.”

Third, particularly valuable theories have broad and general application. They solve not one but a host of problems, and then continue to identify problems to solve. This happened with Apple. Jobs’ theory of seamless interaction between a user and a device has continued to direct Apple’s value-creating efforts, leading to a remarkable succession of devices that have included computers, music players, phones, tablets, and watches. Something similar also happened with The Walt Disney Co. In the 1920s and 1930s, Walt Disney began creating fantasy worlds and fantasy characters through animated film; then, once opportunities for licensing those characters started to emerge, Disney developed a broader theory of value, recognizing that these characters could be replicated and resold in other entertainment businesses, including books, music, character licensing, and later theme parks, hotels, and television. This theory has continued to fuel Disney’s strategic experiments for decades, prompting moves into retail stores, cruise ships, and Broadway shows. More recently, it prompted Disney to purchase Marvel Entertainment LLC and Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC and expand its content into superheroes and science fiction characters.

Getting Strategy Right

The human capacity for calculation is admittedly flawed and error-prone. Strategic decision-makers should do their best to avoid succumbing to any number of biases, including overconfidence, confirmation, and anchoring biases. But the cumulative negative effects of these biases pale in comparison to the capacity for enhanced strategic decision-making that can be provided by a well-crafted theory. Humans in general are endowed with a remarkable capacity to compose theories that facilitate novel perception, experimentation, and value creation. We believe strategic leaders should focus their efforts on positing theories, testing their underlying logic and assumptions, and crafting strategic actions and experiments. It is those activities — rather than computation or the avoidance of biases and errors — that lead to true breakthroughs.

MIT Sloan Management Review

Researchers make backscatter breakthrough for IoT sensors

Researchers make backscatter breakthrough for IoT sensors

University of Washington researchers have developed a way to use backscatter techniques to send IoT sensor data over distances using almost zero power. 

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed IoT devices that run on almost zero power and can transmit data across distances of up to 2.8 kilometres. The breakthrough could enable large arrays of interconnected devices, the say.

The scientists presented their findings at Ubicomp 2017 last week and demonstrated how sensors could be equipped with a built-in modulation technique called a long-range backscatter system, which uses reflected radio signals to transmit data at extremely low power and low cost.

Read more: Researchers create energy-efficient power converter for IoT

A range of deployments

In tests, the team achieved coverage throughout a 4,800-square-foot house, an office area covering 41 rooms and a one-acre vegetable farm. This new technique is called chirp spread spectrum. It spread reflected signals across multiple frequencies to enable sensitivities and decode backscattered signals across greater distances, even in ‘noisy’ conditions.

“Until now, devices that can communicate over long distances have consumed a lot of power. The trade-off in a low-power device that consumes microwatts of power is that its communication range is short,” explained Shyam Gollakota, lead faculty and associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at University of Washington.

“Now we’ve shown that we can offer both, which will be pretty game-changing for a lot of different industries and applications.”

Read more: Cranfield University teams up with Spirent on connected car tech

Cost and coverage

The sensors use 1,000 times less power than existing technologies capable of transmitting data over similar distances, which could pave the way for putting connectivity into many objects. They are also very cheap, costing up to 20 cents each. This could allow a farmer to cover an entire field to establish how to economically plant seeds or water. The sensors could also be used to monitor pollution or traffic in smart cities.

“People have been talking about embedding connectivity into everyday objects such as laundry detergent, paper towels and coffee cups for years, but the problem is the cost and power consumption to achieve this,” said Vamsi Talla, CTO of Jeeva Wireless, a spin-off company founded by the UW team of computer scientists and electrical engineers to commercialize the research.

The research team expects to begin selling the technology within the next six months.

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Internet of Business

Intel to Reveal Breakthrough in Smart and Connected Technology at IoT Solutions World Congress

Two women wear 3-D glasses.

Next week at IoT Solutions World Congress (October 25-27) in Barcelona, the leading global event for industrial IoT, Intel will be unveiling IoT solutions designed to support the next wave of innovation, helping connected entities become more responsive, efficient, and aware. Intel’s latest development will enable high scale machines and systems to greatly expand capabilities in the most challenging of environments.


Intel – IoT Solutions World Congress Hackathon

Intel co-sponsored a hackathon at IoT Solutions World Congress 2016 in Barcelona.
To kick off the excitement of our presence at IoTSWC, Intel is co-sponsoring a hackathon two days before the event on October 23 to inspire contestants to develop creative and innovative industrial solutions for healthcare, the environment, education and transportation.

With support from the Intel tech teams, participants will have access to the latest technologies at the edge and the gateway using the Intel IoT Platform. This hackathon is part of Intel’s continued mission to support and drive next generation of technology in transportation, industrial, retail and medical systems that will require a significant amount of processing power to bring data to the edge of computing, as well as new data, scalability and insights that translate to meaningful change.


Advancing Solutions for Next Generation IoT Today

5G cockpit

On October 25, I will also be presenting a keynote entitled, “IoT: From Hype to Reality.” During the presentation, I will discuss data on progress the industry has made over the past year as well as current use cases that have made IoT a reality in many sectors of the economy.

From the promise of always-on 5G connectivity and deep machine learning to strengthening security and protecting privacy, Intel is investing heavily to enable industries to unlock the potential of IoT. We believe that next generation solutions for smart and connected technologies will empower a broad range of optimized and interoperable multivendor solutions.

To highlight how Intel and its collaborators are fully prepared to provide next level smart and connected devices across an array of sectors, we will demonstrate a variety of IoT solutions that drive advancements for the industrial internet, smart cities, and machine vision.


Building Smarter Cities, Unlocking Economic Value

A city skyline at night

Smart and connected cities can deliver an unprecedented value across both public and private services. Through a video demo of various use cases, Wind River’s portfolio of products such as VxWorks, Helix Device Cloud and Titanium Server, will show how Wind River software helps to control, manage and protect the city infrastructure and systems that we rely on every day.

Commercial and residential apartment buildings can also reap the benefits of IoT solutions when property managers are equipped with tools to better control building assets with actionable insight that can help improve maintenance and overall tenant experience. By leveraging Amazon’s end-to-end smart building management solutions, Intel will demonstrate a live setup of an energy clamp, motion sensor, and smart switch that will process and pass data through to the AWS Cloud Service while the Helix Device Cloud manages the devices. Insight from the device management and data provisioning processes will display on a screen with a live sensor data dashboard that will be fed from the cloud. This demonstration will leverage both Intel products (Intel IoT Platform, Wind River Helix Device Cloud, Intel IoT Gateway Technology) and Amazon products (AWS IoT, AWS S3 and Amazon Echo).


Building High Scale IoT for Industrial Solutions

A robot and a human working collaboratively in a smart factory.

Intel’s smart and connected solutions drive innovation in manufacturing and other industrial sectors, optimizing production and improving operations through real-time insight and seamless management solutions. With Siemens’ smart manufacturing solution, Intel will demonstrate how to optimize existing manufacturing facilities using retrofitted sensors and an intelligent IoT Gateway to gain more transparency of existing bottlenecks, without disrupting the running production.

Other industrial technologies that leverage Intel’s new IoT solution, such as ADLINK’s SEMA Cloud E2E industrial IoT platform, will showcase the ability to remotely update software and process basic input and output on manufacturing devices through the SEMA Cloud platform.

The agriculture and farming industry can also benefit from IoT solutions when collecting real-time data on weather, crop maturity, and soil and air quality. For example, in drought-stricken regions, predictive analytics solutions such as IBM Precision, can be used to make smarter decisions about a crop’s watering needs to help improve operations while reducing consumption and costs.

By using IBM Watson IoT Analytics, IBM Weather Company weather data and Intel IoT technology, Intel will demonstrate how coupling real-time soil moisture readings with historical weather patterns for a particular farm can increase crop yield and manage irrigation needs more efficiently. The demo will include three different pots of soil with moisture sensors in each pot at the Intel booth as well as a soil moisture sensor located remotely at a farm. Demo viewers will gain insight on how sensors collect data in real time to reveal the “health scores” of the water content in the soil and measure watering needs for a given area of the farm.


Connected, Real-Time Communication Optimizes Transportation and Logistics

An drone image of traffic crossing a bridge.

IoT is helping to create smarter and more efficient connected rail ecosystems from actual train cars to operations centers. With real-time analytics, locomotive managers can reduce fuel consumption, decrease emissions, boost velocity and improve operations.

With Accenture Connected Transport, a complete connected vehicle solution that leverages the Intel Atom x3 Processor Series 3G-R, operations managers have the ability to capture and analyze data locally, enabling real-time driver feedback and connectivity to the cloud through 3G capability for rich backend cloud analytics.

GE Transportation, another Intel IoT solution collaborators, is also making an impact in the connected rail space by leveraging a next generation, Intel-based locomotive data center for its GoLINC platform to enhance communication and improve productivity throughout operation. Its mobile data center provides robust processing, wireless communication, networking, video, and data storage. GoLINC interfaces with both locomotive and third party systems to make data available, and features onboard wireless capability for easier data transfer.


Enabling Interoperability Across IoT Devices and Applications

A woman examines rows of light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

As more smart and connected machines come on-line with cross-connectivity and varying sensor needs, interoperability will be crucial in ensuring that devices and applications are in-sync with each other and running smoothly. At IoT World Solutions Congress, Intel will demo a practical implementation of service-level semantic interoperability across different IoT standards and specifications. This setup will consist of three gateways emitting sensor data in IPSO, OCF and Haystack formats. It will then convert to a uniform data format at service-access API level for “big data” IoT aggregations and services.

Stay tuned to this space for additional details about our upcoming announcements and presence at IoT Solutions World Congress.

To view Intel-featured demos and learn more about our solutions, please visit us at booth 301.

To learn more about Intel IoT developments, subscribe to our RSS feed for email notifications of blog updates, or visit intel.com/IoTLinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.

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Actility Announces Breakthrough IoT Geolocation and Tracking Solution Platform for Logistics

Actility Announces Breakthrough IoT Geolocation and Tracking Solution Platform for Logistics

Actility, the industry leader in Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN), today announces the availability of a comprehensive geolocation and tracking solution platform offering breakthrough network-based location capability enabled by LoRaWAN network gateways and infrastructure.

The ThingPark Location Service will be available to all IoT solution providers and enterprise developers through a single API in ThingPark X, the company’s data mediation and enrichment platform.

Actility CEO Mike Mulica, explains:

“We believe that accurate location capabilities combined with LPWA networks are a game-changer in the logistics sector, delivering increased efficiency in resource and supply chain management, at revolutionary TCO levels much lower than conventional cellular/GPS tracking solutions.”

Geolocation and tracking could possibly be the biggest use case in the whole of the Internet of Things, based on the amount of interest we’re seeing in our location service portfolio. We are making asset tracking accessible to the global supply chain at very compelling cost and very long battery life for tracked devices, and of course with fine location granularity, all combined into a market-ready package with easy integration into existing enterprise management platforms and network solutions.”

Visitors to Actility’s booth at Mobile World Congress could see the network based location solution in action, tracking vehicles and containers in the nearby Port of Barcelona. The system does not rely on dedicated tracking sensors. The signal from any LoRaWAN enabled device in the Port is received by several of the Cisco Interface Modules for LoRaWAN mounted throughout the facility. By precisely measuring the time it takes for that signal to reach each of the modules, the network is able to compute the distance to the device from each gateway and then “triangulate” its position. Since this solution does not require the connected device to be fitted with GPS, and the location calculation is done in the cloud, network-based geolocation carries no power penalty, and the lifetime of the device in the field is unaffected. Trackers capable of up to ten years in the field without maintenance are possible.

Many applications need to alternate between high-frequency tracking (geofencing) where power efficiency is key, and on-demand location where accuracy is key. Actility’s Geolocation platform provides revolutionary performance in any use case. For theft prevention, for example, it is important to be sure that an asset is within a specific depot or site area withan accuracy of 50 to 100m, and Actility TDoA geolocation capabilities provide this service without significantly affecting the device battery life. When on-demand location is required, Actility geolocation platform leverages WiFi SSID based, GPS based or Bluetooth based geolocation. LoRaWAN bidirectional nature allows the platform to use the optimal tracker mode at all times, optimizing the battery life. When GPS is used, Actility also integrates a new patented Assisted GPS (AGPS) technology optimized for LoRaWAN networks, which offers much longer battery life than other GPS trackers using mobile cellular modems.

“KPN believes localization is an important feature for a wide variety of LPWA use cases. Actility’s ThingPark Location Platform is as a very promising solution enabling geolocation, tracking and geofencing of assets in many industries,” comments Jacob Groote, EVP of Service Platforms at Actility customer KPN.

asset trackingThe complete Location Service will be available through a single ThingPark X API, which, coupled with the bidirectional capability of the LoRaWAN link, will allow developers to manage geolocation according to the needs of their application. For example, in an asset tracking and theft prevention scenario, the application may use low-power consumption network-based location to geo-fence a vehicle, raising an alert only when it strays outside a defined area, and then providing a 50 to 100m estimate of its position. Finally, when the police need to find the exact location of the vehicle, the platform will leverage WiFi SSID and Bluetooth based location (indoor and in cities) and /or AGPS based location..

“We’re delighted to be pioneering this next evolution of IoT technology,” says Actility CEO Mike Mulica. “We believe that this capability is a game changer for many industries, including logistics, supply chain management, precision agriculture, utilities and mining. It’s the “killer app” for industrial IoT.”

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