Monday Mornings with Madison

Business in the Coming Age of Collaboration

Word Count: 1,341
Estimated Read Time: 5 1/2 min.

Business leaders have embraced agility, creativity and fierce competitiveness as essential components for success in business. The strategy has been to generate ideas, jealously guard those ideas during incubation, move fast to market, make mistakes, discard duds, correct missteps, crush the competition, and repeat.  That approach yielded big results and returns for businesses like Microsoft, Apple, Alibaba, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Disney, Walmart, BP, Toyota, Berkshire Hathaway, IBM, Samsung, and many more.   It drove these companies to be among the biggest and most successful in the world today.

However, as society moves from an Information Age and a Knowledge Economy into a much more technologically-complex world, organizations will need to make changes as to how they do business and their approach to innovation.  The old “crash and clash” mentality of making mistakes without regard to consequences, breaking things and fixing them later, and crushing competitors will need to be replaced with an increasingly slower, more deliberate, collaborative and cooperative approach to commerce and advancement.   Sounds fictional.  It’s not.  It’s a necessity.  Why?

An Increasingly Complex World

We are living in an increasingly complex world.  This is a surprise to no one.  Complexity is everywhere.  We deal with it in our laptops and cell phones; items we all use but few of us really know how they work.  But, there is also complexity in things we use that we give very little thought to such as our household appliances and the tens of millions of lines of code in our cars.  Technology is quietly infused in most everything we touch.  And we are puzzled when they don’t work correctly.

Tesla self-driving cars have accidents even though their computer system combines features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, and auto lane-change which are intended to assist drivers and prevent accidents.  Certain Toyota vehicles accelerate uncontrollably against the will of their drivers.  The programming inside the Boeing Max 8 airplane overrides pilot commands and pushes planes downward, resulting in two recent devastating plane crashes.   Samsung phone batteries in some models randomly, suddenly and spontaneously ignite.  On July 8, 2015, the New York Stock Exchange suddenly suspended trading without warning.  Why did these things happen?  We don’t know.  Let’s face it.  We don’t understand all of the nuances of the software running self-driving cars, smart phones, airplanes on auto-pilot, or stock trading systems.  They work – or don’t – but we don’t know how.  The scary secret, though, is that neither do the tech geniuses at Tesla, Apple, Toyota, Boeing or the NYSE — at least not completely.  Despite extensive research and analysis by leading technology experts, the answer to why these glitches happened are still unclear, even now.  That is because we have moved into an age where the technology we are building is actually more complex than we – even the smartest people creating the technology – fully understand.  No one — not programmers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, accountants, business leaders or policy makers — fully grasp all the rules governing the complex systems that deal with our tax returns, retirement accounts, stock exchanges, or machinery.  And, this lack of understanding is snowballing as we increasingly rely on AI to make our world “better”. 

Complexity that Exceeds Understanding

Moreover, with the rise of computing architectures such as quantum and neuromorphic technologies, the complexity of all things will surely increase exponentially.   How so?  Well, consider how those technologies work.  Quantum computing uses quantum properties such as entanglement and superposition to design algorithms that are more efficient than classical ones, while neuromorphic computing draws its inspiration from the brain using a complex ensemble of artificial neurons and synapses to mimic living intelligence.   Both approaches share similarities.  They both exploit similar technologies such as optics, electronics, spintronics and superconducting circuits.  They also both rely on extreme parallelism.  However, there are striking differences in the algorithms they use and the way they deal with errors.  Feel lost already?  Well, even the world’s top geniuses in quantum and neuromorphic computing don’t understand one another’s technologies much.  In fact, last month, a conference was held in France to discuss how to morph those two technologies as a way to solve each technology’s problems.  The goal of the workshop — titled Quantum and Neuromorphic Technologies Meet — was intended to give the scientists and deep thinkers in those two independent fields an opportunity to meet and explore how the challenges of neuromorphic computing might be solved by using quantum neurons and how killer applications for existing quantum devices might be found in neuromorphic computing.

Thus, the ideas, inventions and advances that are meant to “simplify and improve our lives” are also making the systems governing our lives incomprehensible, unpredictable, and highly complicated.  In his book, Overcomplicated:  Technology at the Limits of Comprehension, Samuel Arbesman looked  at the challenging issue of how to live with complex technologies that defy human comprehension.  He made the case that, as technology grows more complex, the behavior of these technologies aren’t conforming to mathematical models, and won’t.  Instead, they are mimicking the whims, quirks and impulses of the real world and the people who created those algorithms.   So it is up to business leaders – who infuse codes into the things we do and make – to find ways to safeguard people from the products and systems we create and infuse.

A Highly Complex World Requires Increased Consideration, Exploration and Collaboration

So how are business owners supposed to deal with technological complexity that exceeds not only their own comprehension, but that of most people?  To manage this kind of complexity, we must slow down, increasingly observe the freak accidents and flukes generated by new technologies, gain valuable insights as to how the algorithms actually work before deploying them, make corrections, and increasingly collaborate to share insights.  There needs to be increased collaboration between academic researchers, consultants, lab scientists, and business leaders to identify how to take increasingly complex ideas and move them to market.  This will be true in everything from currency creation to innovative materials to energy storage to genomic developments.  Across all industries, greater collaboration will be needed between public, private and non-profit entities.  It will be that kind of methodical, cooperative work that will help avoid fiascos such as the Boeing Max 8 jet crashes.

Indeed, the most successful businesses will be those that embrace deeper research, more profound thinking, scientific testing, redundant systems, and innovations resulting from cooperation and collaboration.   In a highly complex society, the clash and crash approach of mowing down competitors and pushing glitchy products to market will have to end.   In that way, the Information Age and a Competitive Knowledge Economy will have to make way for the Collaboration Age and a Sharing-Cooperative Economy.

How do Business Leaders Transition to Increased Collaboration?

It could be challenging for business leaders to make that leap from scrappy cut-throat competition to methodical, intentional collaboration with competitors.  As they say, old habits are hard to break.  Here are some tips to get started.  First, focus on hiring the right people.  Millennials, Zellennials (those who are a bit between Gen Y and Gen Z) and iGens (Gen Z) will have an easier time making that type of leap.  They are Sharing Natives, used to a highly digitally inter-connected and communicative world.  Recruiting staff who are generationally apt to embrace collaboration will help.  This can begin by forming partnerships with universities, colleges and institutes doing research and connecting with academics in those settings early on, and then recruiting from that pool of talent.

Businesses can also create Mentorships, Internships, Shadowing, and other programs that help bring students (future employees) from the education environment into the business environment.  And, then hire managers who are able to work with people from all groups collaboratively.  They can then create projects that allow government, academia and businesses to work collaboratively.  Last but not least, it is critically important for businesses to find connection points with competitors who would be interested in creating partnerships for research and collaboration.  If this sounds complicated and counterintuitive to the simplistic approach businesses have preferred to date, it is.  That’s the point.

Quote of the Week

“As technology increasingly takes over knowledge-based work, the cognitive skills that are central to today’s education systems will remain important; but behavioral and non-cognitive skills necessary for collaboration, innovation, and problem solving will become essential as well.” Klaus Schwab

 

© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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