Ecosystem, Strategy, Tech

Public / Private Sector: Let’s Talk!

I had the true pleasure of speaking this week at the “Policy Matters” conference in Edmonton. Held every two years for leaders in the Government of Alberta, it brings together all of the policymakers under a central theme to think, learn, collaborate and network. This year’s theme was on Disruption and Policy Innovation. As the closing Keynote speaker, I used the opportunity to share some themes from my book Tip of the Spear. I connected the things that are important and of concern to me about the future with the initiatives and vision of public policy leadership.

But about three-quarters of the way through my prepared talk, I went off script. I decided to take a risk; “Play some Jazz” as I like to say.

Now, this is always fun when you are Miles Davis or Malcolm Gladwell, and it always sounds cool in theory. It is, however, always a risky move in front of 1,200 people! But I think I got it out ok and I wanted to push out the idea further in writing to be sure I hadn’t lost my mind.

Here’s what I said – in real time.

I said that I think it’s time that my colleagues and partners in the private sector/ innovation world stop beating up the folks in the bureaucracy of government.

I did.

Now wait! Before you jump on me and ‘troll’ the well-worn arguments of the big, bad, slow and inefficient government, I did this by coming up with the first two lines of what I think might be a new “shared” public/private sector Social Contract:

Public/Private Social Contract

  • The private sector needs to explicitly recognize that in the world of “Tip of the Spear” issues, our public sector is on the absolute front line of supporting, regulating and understanding issues.  Disruption is coming at them hard, wrapped in the virtually impossible calculus of technology speed, complexity and unknowns. These coming changes – as I argue in the book – are multiple existential crises that will blow us up or just as likely make the world a much, much better place. Public policy makers CANNOT do this alone. They need our help and they need for us to stop yelling at them.
  • In return, the public sector leadership at all levels HAS to commit to fixing the machine. They need to create “Innovation of Ways” that match the intensity, velocity, collaboration and ruthlessness of the private sector entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystem. They need to match our “Innovation of Things” machine that cranks out new technologies that help us do stuff faster, better and cheaper. This “Innovation of Ways” approach needs to learn how to incubates and accelerate policy in a world of “Lean”, MVP, risk and execution.

Now I get that nuclear reactor safety is not an “MVP/Lean” kinda’ thing. But so much of what is coming at us needs a policy response that is rapid, flexible, iterative and based on principles of design thinking – and most doesn’t look anything like nuclear safety. And I also understand that the public sector does reach out to experts in the private sector all the time. But too often it is in the form of “Thanks for the input, we’ll take it from here…”. That simply doesn’t work anymore. In the software engineering terms, that is a bad version of the waterfall method of development in a very Agile world. We need to be better.

Because of this, I called out to the assembled at the conference that we collectively need work smarter and better together. And quickly. The Rainforest Movement is teaching us that collective Trust is the precursor to innovation acceleration and velocity. Let’s start with a new social contract. Let’s start by stopping the yelling and starting to commit to fixing the policy machine.

What are your thoughts, my private and public sector friends? Can we build a new commitment – regardless of our political stripes – work together to “10x” the way we teach, regulate, inform and keep safe our businesses, families and communities?

Let’s create the PolicyX Challenge that encourages and rewards game-changing policy.

In the end, if we don’t, we will continue the blame game that has plagued public/private sector interaction for a generation. The Tip of the Spear calls out that exponential changes caused by new technology are “shots across the bow of our indifference”. Instead, let’s fix this.

Who’s in?

Strategy, Tech

Better Purpose

A Better Purpose is Disruption with Purpose

Purpose. It is a simple, bold and powerful word. It directs us, anchors us and provides a North Star when the world turns unfamiliar. For our clients, it says everything their customers and employees need to know what they stand for.

Purpose is driven by human characteristics such as empathy, values, logic, and emotions. It is long-term and far-reaching. We live, however, in a very disruptive and turbulent world, don’t we? Our centres of gravity are being hit by the reach, speed and diversity, and velocity of technological change.

As I note in my forthcoming book, Tip of the Spear:

“The use of the technologies we have invented are now poised on a blade’s edge. Either we learn to level the global playing field in areas such as Governance, Finance, and Education, or we use these extraordinary technologies to create further concentrations of wealth and increased inequality. Either we use our newly connected planet to have real conversations or we let it devolve into a rabble at the gate”.

This is why purpose is so important. The keel of ‘purpose’ is now being driven by sails fed by winds of disruption.

Our discussions with clients and partners around the world have helped us recognise that there is growing tension between the need for authenticity and purpose-centred brand direction, and the complex needs of an always-on digital clientele and customer channels. There was a growing understanding in the firm that we had the opportunity to shape a much more complete message that was the sum of these two very different worlds.

As we stepped back from these conversations, our collective team developed a digital manifesto that looked at the epicenter of this amazing intersection of heart and head; art and engineering; human and machines. It clearly articulates what we know to be certain and what we know will help shape our clients’ purpose in the face of digital disruption.

As we expand this vision into our everyday work with our clients, we provide three important messages to think about;

Firstly, fully understand the scope and speed of change that is coming; but remember to deepen the keel through a fuller understanding and articulation of your purpose;

Secondly, don’t be complacent and think that the technology ‘genies’ are going back in the bottle; they never have in history and the scope and speed will surely not allow it to happen now; don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “things have always changed, haven’t they?”

Finally, especially for our corporate clients, see the coming changes as incredible new opportunities – likely an imperative – to think exponentially, act differently and become leaders of new social movements that are demanded in this complex time.

Digital disruption “on purpose” means combing the best of what makes us human with the power and reach of a new era of technology and global connections.

And that is exciting



Personal, Tech

Tip of the Spear: Part 4 – A Shot Across the Bow

This final blog post before the book Tip of the Spear is finished, stems from my worries about some of the global scenarios that are starting to play out right before our eyes.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my glass is usually three-quarters full.  So to go dark for me is hard and not the norm.

In this section of the book, however, I felt it was extremely important to remind my readers just how dangerous the upcoming period of time could be – and I am not talking about the next decade or five years.  I am talking about 2016 to 2017.  Right now. This minute.

So, given the US elections and the Brexit realities, I thought I might take a drive through worst case scenario hell and remind ourselves that the world is – as many of our media pundits remind us – a very dangerous place.

Warning:  The following gets depressing really fast.

There are three stages to this dangerous journey.  The first is a phenomenon that is all too real and immediate to most of us who spend any time online:  The Death of Discourse.

Stage 1:  The Death of Discourse

It really has snuck up on us hasn’t it?  While unruly behavior is not dependent on whether the conversation is online or offline (after all humankind is a tribal and warring species), the conversation tone has changed dramatically in recent years.  The causes are  multiple and inter-connected.

Individuals in our human collective are suffering from a full decade or more of digital-media inspired A.D.D. Many of us have forgotten how to listen and are slowly forgetting how to critically think. We fight each other for face time, space time and air time. Worse, we allow the tools to amplify the bullies who use our gloriously connected digital medium to lower discourse to unprecedented depths of biliousness and broadcast the basest traits of our species.

In a typical encounter it doesn’t start out that way, does it?  Watching the reaction to the devastating fires in Fort McMurray here in the province of Alberta in 2015 (as well as other traumatic and very public events) what occurs to anyone with a modicum of humanity is that what ALWAYS rises to the top – at least initially – is the extraordinary compassion for our fellow man/woman/child.  “How can I help NOW in the basics of human needs – food, shelter, warmth?”

What then happens – inevitably and most unfortunately – is that the discourse gets hijacked. When the conversation moves online – as it always does – commentary and passive aggressive trolling pushes the discussion off the rails. Base-level human behaviours inevitably show up and things devolve astonishingly quickly. What begins as a collective response to human need – spreading exponentially and positively – became a vitriol of the trolls.

In the case of Fort McMurray, online newspaper and Facebook discussion threads saw the deniers of climate change met head-on by the shouts of “karma” by the radical environmentalists.  The poor souls who happen to be in Fort McMurray in the spring of 2016 simply needed shelter, food and water.

In the face of this, the best of our humanness disappears, “I am out of here…” the best respond.   Worse, it puts another shadow on our belief and faith in the collective human experience. We start to back away from the very tools that give us access to the best and the brightest.

The reasons for this are complex but the cause and effect chain is fairly obvious: When large groups of humans remain far down the classic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a long time – especially when observing – often in real time – a small but entitled group who are not –  they get grumpy. It takes time, but like all things exponential, it’s very, very slow at first and then boom!

And here’s the killer:  Combining this societal bitterness with the cold, passive aggressiveness of faceless and consequence-free technology! You don’t get punched in the face for calling someone a ______ in an online comment section – (fill-in the blank with a word or phrase never spoken out loud in public except by a drunk 19-year-old college boy). And that is the online bully, troll and thug.

And they are everywhere.

Here’s a scarier thought:  What will happen when the next 2 billion come online?  Will they witness the utter mess of discourse and run away or will they simple ignore and revel in their new found freedom of expression? I wonder and worry about this.

While the death of discourse is really nasty and depressing and it makes us want to stop reading crap online because we’d rather talk to our neighbours civilly over a pint (or punch them in the nose when you find out their online pseudonyms), it may frighten away the next generation of net users. But this is not the real problem.

Not by a long shot.

Welcome to Stage 2:  The Geopolitical Slide

History shows us that the human species requires a good kick in the pants every once in a while.  Or more accurately gives itself one. The past century saw three major wars. We solved the second one by dropping two atomic bombs that changed our view of technology, and war forever.  Further back as a species it appears we needed to beat the crap out of each other – religiously, militarily, ideologically every so often. We evolve our technology and advance our species but our true nature hasn’t changed very much.

We say, “Never again” – both to the bombs and to the gas chambers that created the conditions of one terrible war. What caused it?  Historians will disagree on all of the exact reasons but one of the most often cited explanation is the territorial and ideological expansions of nations lead by tyrannical leaders – and I am including the US in that category as it sought to exterminate the scourge of communism through the use of power and military in Vietnam and South East Asia.

Those of us born after 1970 have not had a world war to contend with in the traditional sense.  Except 9/11 changed everything, even the very nature of warfare, combat and the use of technology to deliver weapons of war – munitions as well as mass ideological influence on those most susceptible.  The very same conditions that spawned ISIS/Al-Qaeda have in turn spawned an ignorant, inward looking, nationalism in the West – closed thinking and lack of education make fertile ground for ideologues and propagandists.

This cycle repeats.

And if one starts to really look closely at 2016, we can see the potential for a daunting sequence of events that could lead to unthinkable aggression around the world or -worse – an escalation of the insidious terror from faceless and stateless terrorists.

But it starts innocently.  It always does.

Over the next 24 months:

  • Britain, fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric and a population fed up with being ignored, votes to leave the EU.
  • The US, fueled by similar divides and a unique political system, elects Donald Trump, thereby solidifying in the world’s two oldest democracies a minimum of a decade of nationalistic, ‘post-fact’, angry democracies.
  • EU begins a natural slide into irrelevancy following Germany’s decision to exit in 2018; then Italy and the rest shortly thereafter.
  • The emboldened Alternative-right forces find their foothold in the rest of European democracies.
  • China, sensing the void and lack of coherent checks and balances in the West, begins to assert the vacuum left by a nationalistic US, pushes harder into Southeast Asia dramatically raising tensions with a trigger happy US leader.
  • Pakistan and India struggling always to get along, begin to bicker – diplomatically and commercially first, then militarily in the Kashmir region. India, sensing its increased stature and importance in the region (i.e. about to become the world’s largest country by population) – decides to test it.
  • North Korea fires another short range missile into disputed territory while satellites confirm the testing of a long-range missiles capable of reaching the US; Trump orders a naïve and jingoistic military attack on the region.
  • Russia begins running out of cash reserves as oil & natural gas prices continue to stay stubbornly low. Putin – still in power – presses aggressively into neighboring regions including China.
  • Meanwhile, the protectionist trade policies of the US set off the inevitable decline in global trade leading to job losses.
  • Meanwhile, the nascent middle class boom in the emerging economies incomes begins to spiral down, causing significant unrest– especially in Africa – as fragile democracies and more open government falls to the opportunistic dictators and strongmen fueled by the acceptance and tolerance of Trump and others.
  • The Alt-Right – emboldened by their new voice online begins to open up the cesspool of the Dark Net – creating the way for the emergence and production of new weapons of mass destruction with simple to use instructions and suppliers.
  • ISIS moves fully online now – a generation of dislocated, nation-less and disaffected Net users generates a mass cyber-attack on the global financial systems of the world causing chaos and crippling online commerce.
  • The Open Internet becomes a wasteland as brands, organizations and ultimately individuals retreat to private communication channels and the inevitable technology innovation decline begins.


Not all of these will happen nor necessarily in the order presented but far too many can and will.  The best case is that we have a pissed off majority and a geopolitical tinder box fueled by a transparent and increasingly negative online world.  At worst, we have the beginning of our latest and likely last World War.

Just when we need the best of a collective, kind human response, the best have left the building and only squatters remaining.

But it gets worse:

Let’s add all of three of Gibson’s Laws of Disruption together and imagine the human species all woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day?  Remember what they were:

  1. The slope of the technology disruption curve is dramatically increasing.
  2. The technology “genie” never goes back in the bottle.
  3. Our linear systems of human organization are unprepared.

Stage 3:  Technology Fuels a Bitter Fire

Our venture fueled, exponential growth focused cabals have been spending several decades building technology for its own sake. Some technology is fueled by Open Source visions of greater good for all.

So Rule # 1 really begins to pick up speed – especially in non-information science such as biology and sensors and new devices.  We start using the combinations imagined by Diamandis and others and create unimaginable technologies and use our smart machines to create even smarter machines.  All of the Innovation of Things that we discussed earlier create all of the toys and more.

Now comes rule # 2 combined with rule # 3.  Because the technology genies are out and we never can put them back and because our traditional sources of checks and balances are completely incapable of managing, leading, legislating or frankly influencing, things get out of control.

Our broken capitalist system simply calls it ”progress” and blindly turns its eyes because frankly it’s not the nation state’s problem – that is, the “market” will look after it – remember we’ve just elected global ”less-is-more governments”!

We now put have poured jet fuel on a raging fire.  Because of the shrinking cost curve, we have technology-enabled a world that is now dominated by very pissed-off people with the same democratized access to the all of this technology. Individuals now try to understand and react to a world gone a little crazy – friends and colleagues start turning inwards and away from others – at the dinner table, the community hall, in our cities and around the world.

A pissed off majority, incapable of having sane, human conversation online or offline, meets a geopolitical tsunami and is fueled by technology that we are unable to control.

And guess what? We’re inviting two billion more people to this party ­–  many of whom have just risen to the earliest ranks of subsistence, more educated than before but still with a long way to go!  The slide back down their precarious and slippery slope is quick when things get ugly.

I told you this was going to be depressing – but it is precisely why I am writing the book.

So how the hell do we turn this around?  Stay tuned.  After I finish my scotch and the rest of the work, you’ll see. 

It {should} end well.



Strategy, Tech

The Innovation of Things and The Innovations of Ways

I recently watched an excellent TED talk by Dan Pollata called “The Dreams We Haven’t Dared to Dream”. In his talk, Dan eloquently notes that while human ingenuity has exponentially increased the transistors on a chip for the past 40 years, we have not applied the same exponential thinking to our dreams nor human compassion. As he says, “we continue to make a perverse trade-off between our future dreams and our present state of evolution”.

Some describe this ethical stasis as “the tyranny of the OR”

In a similar vein, Stephen Hawking wrote in his book, On Equality, “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, put it more succinctly as he talked about the exponential growth of new technologies, “Power is dispersed, but wealth is concentrated”.

From my perspective and research for the book, Tip of the Spear, I have called it the challenge of the Innovation of Things versus the Innovation of Ways.

I will be discussing this in more detail in the book but I wanted to put this idea out there for feedback.

Innovation of Things is – as it name suggests – the creation of new tools, toys and devices that serve to make human live better, easier or interesting. It is the cars that move us, the computers that connect us and so much more. It is the “What”.

Innovation of Ways is the use of these tools to change the way we do something – from the way we build our cities, to how we share rides or rooms to how we run our finances or build our organizations. It is the “How”.

In the history of the world of innovation, How most often follows What.

But there is a growing conflict. The tension between the power of technology to create new and magical things (The What) and the ability of the human species to understand and absorb it all (the How) is central to my thesis of the book. It is growing more more acute every day.

Much of the Innovation I speak about in the Tip of the Spear – that is, the white hot edge of technology disruption –  centers on the Innovation of Things:  Robotics, AI, VR/AR and the long list of exponential technologies.

In my opinion, we are suffering because the Innovation of Ways is lagging – in many cases significantly.

But let’s add a second dimension to this to see if we can understand this a bit better. In my research it has helped me to think about how innovation is also broken down into Innovation for Wants and Innovation for Needs.

There is very, very different dynamic of capital flow, timeline horizons and even the type of individuals who are involved in these different areas.

It kind of looks like this – using my “Tip of the Spear” analogy.


Intuitively this makes sense. In a market and capital driven system, the return of capital in the top left quadrant is likely (I have no data – yet – on this) shortest, most obvious and highest. Anecdotally, it has often been said that the earliest use of the newest technologies is often the adult porn industry. New “toys” being applied to the most obvious and basest of “wants”.  Just check out want’s happening in Virtual Reality and think back to the introduction of VHS, the internet and many others through out history.  Gaming is a close second.

But – of course – this is far too simplistic in this extraordinary time of innovation and technological advances.  We are seeing new devices that are the result of combinations of exponential technologies in all areas of our lives. Many innovations start in the upper quadrant, then move down into the bottom left.

But what about the Innovation of Ways?  Coming back to Dan Pollata, I feel somehow – and my research is strongly hinting at this – that we are lacking the same heat and light in the areas of changing the way Government works, the Education systems and heath care for example.  These are clearly the “ways” of life – how we govern, organize, teach and heal.

My optimist side says that the new technology winners in the Innovation of Things will begin to turn their attention to the Innovation of Ways.  That is why I am so interested in what Mark Zuckerberg is doing with his initiative to connect the planet to the Internet.  The cynic would say that it is to add more users to Facebook. But on very close read and observation – short of speaking directly with Mark – that is clearly not the case.

The pessimists will say that we are stalling in our global thinking that will transfer the best the Innovation of Things to the Ways of the world due to walls being built – literally and figuratively – across the world and the deep and concerning concentration of wealth and power with the new titans of technology.

The debate is the essence of the Tip of the Spear.

Would love your thoughts.


New Work, Personal, Tech


Welcome to my new company, website and forthcoming book, The Tip of the Spear.  It has been a very exciting journey.  Thank you to my pal Stephen King for his great work in making all of the pieces come alive, the irascible and amazing Geoff Moore for the ongoing writing expertise and editorial and to Cynthia van Sundert for the clear eye and ESL language skills.  It is all very much appreciated.

To read the full Tip of the Spear release, visit PRWEB:

I have been slowly releasing my thinking and research over the past year in my personal blog As some of you will have read in these posts (culminating in my three-part series, The Tip of the Spear), I am very passionate about the subject of technology and digital disruption.

Discussion is everywhere on the implications and potentials – both good and bad – for a world that will be soon inundated with exponential technology changes.

I have been a part of this world for 30 years and I can assure you of two things: 1) no one knows where we are going to end up in 5 years let alone 10 or 30 years, and 2) we have to start having real conversations soon.

The genie is out of the bottle and it’s called: A.I., Robotics, Synthetic Biology, and several other disruptive technologies.

The Tip of the Spear is about three things:
people, change and how linear organizations have to become exponential

Our use of the technologies we have invented are now poised on a blade’s edge. Either the Tip of the Spear levels the playing field in areas such as Governance, Finance, and Education, or we use these extraordinary technologies to create further concentrations of wealth and increased inequality.  Either we use our newly connected planet to have real conversations or we let it devolve into a rabble at the gate.

The rabble is increasingly making our citizens, companies and governments nervous.  We see it in the Brexit vote, the rise of the American disenfranchised via Donald Trump, and the persistent unlevelled playing field across the world of finance, education and opportunity. I also see it in my city as it struggles with a new economic order and model. Finally, I see it the eyes of the newly unemployed.

It seems a cruel joke to me that just as we finish wiring up the planet to be able to connect the best of us – our ideas, hopes and innovation – the gaps start to show.  Slowly at first, but inevitably in an exponential shift. Our linear minds and linear institutions cannot keep up.

The Tip of the Spear is about three things.  Firstly, helping colleagues, companies, individuals and institutions really understand the scope and speed of change that is coming.  Secondly, about preparing them for a change that recognizes that the technology genies are not going back in the bottle. Finally, how our linear organizations have an incredible new opportunity – likely an imperative – to think exponentially and act differently.

My work is to take one individual, one company, one institution, one linear model at a time and help make the change happen.

Thank you for coming along on this journey.

New Work, Strategy

The Rhythm of Innovation

When thinking about Innovation, I have been wondering if there is a new way to think about the “process” as companies and individuals embrace the idea that innovation is much more about execution than simply ideation.

In today’s world, human beings individually and collectively create, learn and grow in essentially two ways:

Face to Face interaction (Same time) – or what I call synchronous engagement – bringing the best of what makes us human to the table:  Spontaneity, emotional interaction, human interplay and ‘riffing’.  Facilitation excellence, magic can happen when smart, engaged people are paired.

Online interaction – (Different Time) – or what I call asynchronous engagement – excels at longer running interaction where ‘threads’ play out over time; where ideas and points of view – again if properly and effectively moderated – create an audit trail of the emerging themes and allow for more thoughtful participation. 

Crowdsourcing approaches can create moments of exciting and thoughtful, open interaction and can be combined with private collaboration that can allow smaller subsets of the crowd to work more intensely to drill into the details.  The online research & insight activity essential for innovation can be very flexible:  as new trends emerge from the digital discourse, new themes of deeper exploration can be injected in real time – both qualitatively and quantitatively.

When they are paired and integrated it forms what I call the Rhythm of Innovation.  It works something like this: Online “crowdsourcing” is used to build a trusted place for “digital discourse”.  Themes are explored and emerge.  These themes create focus and agenda for future discussions and provide insight for next steps.  Ideally the crowd shapes future agenda for more intensive synchronous discussions.

“Same time” meetings (doesn’t have to be “same place”) are then driven from a set of well-travelled discussion items.  Participants – sometimes sub-sets or segments of the larger crowd – are able to get out from behind the keyboard and be able to start with the canvas partially filled in.  The best of human interaction takes place:  increased intensity, focus, social, engagement, group activities. Etc.

The best part comes as the asynchronous online world “picks up the ball” after a real-time event.  Action items are explored and reviewed.  Ideation and co-creation of ideas are informed by deeper human understanding and the benefit of focus.  The “emotional quotient” of the participants vis-à-vis others is significant higher; the ‘crowd’ is no longer anonymous, social cues are much clearer and online “authenticity” begins.

And the cycle repeats. 

This rhythm is working well in some my largest clients as the line between offline and online discourse blurs and each begin to inform the other.   

When thinking of innovation, think of this new “rhythm”; with the crowd and the human face-to-face worlds combining to form a powerful continuum.