It takes a village to write a book.And to show a powerful, emerging pattern in the marketplace.
While most media and social networks focus on every little nuance of the iPhone, Facebook and other consumer-oriented technology, somewhat unheralded has been a trend at the other extreme, where enterprises are learning to amalgamate and package 3, 5, 10 strands of technology – infotech, cleantech, healthtech, nanotech, biotech – to create compound new products and to innovate internal processes – and to solve the “Grand Challenges” our world faces and more routine ones.
These are modern day Polymaths. That’s the Greek word for a Renaissance person like Leonardo Da Vinci or Ben Franklin who excels in many disciplines.
The book is anchored around 8 case studies of New Polymaths:
- Eat lunch at the cafeteria at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY and you hear conversations that range from combustion in future aircraft engines to scintillators in next-gen medical scanners. The company thrives on rising to Grand Challenges. So the big market opportunity for its water business is to go from “scarcity threatening” to “abundant and cleaner sources”, for its aviation and transportation business to go from “steady progress” to “breakthroughs in efficiency, emissions and noise”.
- Participate in the weekly conference call with the far-flung innovation team that is part of the BP CTO office and you hear about predictive analytics to help with maintenance on tankers and drones to monitor thousands of miles of pipeline in remote areas. Big, ugly process improvement challenges.
- Walk the halls of Kleiner Perkins, the storied venture capitalist in Palo Alto, CA and you see executives who influenced Oracle, Sun and countless information technology successes now fluently discussing methane and selenium. They evaluated 5,000+ investment opportunities and eventually invested in around 50 cleantech companies which are addressing various energy and environmental challenges the world faces.
- Listen to the team at salesforce.com and they will tell you how they have packaged services that enterprises used to buy separately from software vendors, systems integrators, hosting providers, offshore application management firms into a single contract and service level agreement. They are addressing the challenge of massive waste in most IT budgets.
- The other 4 Polymaths profiled – Cognizant, National Hurricane Center, Plantronics, and WRHambrecht+Co – bring a similar “AND not OR” mindset and amalgamations of multiple technologies to meet other challenges.
So, why should you care as a reader?
Well, you may be competing against a New Polymath in your sector and not even know it. Can you catch up to their 4, 5, 10 year advantage in the technology amalgamation game? Or your own innovation team may be good at tweaking, but needs big, breakthrough thinking. These New Polymaths will inspire you.
The New Polymaths are not just amalgamating. They are learning new disciplines all the time and leveraging the state of the art in the technology componentry. The book profiles over 100 innovators who are helping push the ball forward in many of these components. The book organizes them using a R-E-N-A-I-S-S-A-N-C-E framework – each alphabet is a chapter which discusses a building block for the New Polymath to leverage. I, for example, covers interfaces and profiles voice, haptic, surface, brain-machine, scanners and plenty of other non-keyboard/mouse interfaces. The second A covers Analytics – predictive, web, data visualization – way more than good old BI. C stands for Cloud Computing, and has 12 interviews – CIOs, vendor executives and investors who have been pioneering the development and implementation of cloud solutions for years now. The first N covers Networks as in innovations in telecom, the second N also covers Networks as in the human network – communities, crowds and collaboration. The S’s cover Sustainability for cleantech trends and Singularity for healthtech trends. The E covers Ethical issues – which are proliferating as compound innovations are brought to market.
The book drips of innovation. 400 pages of it. There are profiles of projects at innovative large companies like Best Buy and Starbucks. But we also have much smaller companies like Schumacher Group with its aggressive deployment of cloud computing and MAXroam which wants to make the whole world one area code with no mobile roaming charges. We also profile individuals like Karin Morton and technologies which are allowing them to be extremely productive and connected with the world for a pittance. Of course, there are plenty of examples from manufacturing and financial services industries. But we also profile education companies like DeVry and dairies run by farmers like Tony McCormack. We have several examples from the larger countries like Germany, Japan and China. But we also profile examples from Estonia, Rwanda and the UAE. We have examples from larger technology vendors like Microsoft, IBM and HP. But we have many more from startups and mid-caps. We cover customer, human resource, finance and other business processes, not just R&D. We cite CIOs and vendor executives, VCs and industry analysts; various journalists and several of my blogger friends.
Da Vinci’s and Ben Franklin’s – the Polymath’s – spirit of AND not OR pervades this book.
The book is going through the editing process at John Wiley for publication in June. In the meantime, I plan to extract and present on a regular basis on my blogs some of the innovators profiled in the book.
Look forward to your feedback.
(Cross-posted @ New Florence. New Renaissance.)