Disrupt Disruption

Disruption has become one of the trendiest words in 2018 — it simultaneously instills fear and excitement and has become a staple talking point in every business presentation you hear or see nowadays. It is used to describe any company’s undoing, often with the aim to get said company to buy some service or product from the person who introduces the word in a meeting or on a stage.

In the process the word has become “tofu”—it doesn’t have a flavor of its own but takes on the flavor of whatever sauce you pour over it. That doesn’t mean the underlying concept is meaningless. Look beneath a well-used word, and you’ll find some truth accounting for its popularity.

In disruption’s case, I try to avoid one model or definition. The excellent model Clayton Christensen described eloquently 20 years ago in his seminal book, The Innovators Dilemma, describes one particular model of disruption and is often misused by applying it out of context. It’s also useful to go to first principles. For example, in my teams’ work interviewing hundreds of innovators, and borrowing from the fantastic analysis done by Ben Thompson, we’ve found a trifecta of forces which lead to companies becoming disrupted.

1. Innovation is never just one feature.

A disruptive invention like the smartphone is not a single thing—it is the ingenious combination of many features into a singular package. When the smartphone broke onto the market in the form of the Apple iPhone, it combined breakthroughs in microprocessor technology, an innovative multi-finger touchscreen, powerful batteries, and an intuitive operating system. It is often hard for incumbents to combine these individual features into a competitive package due to point two.

2. Your existing skills and processes are no longer relevant.

The biggest challenge for incumbent firms is the fact that their carefully honed skills and processes don’t fit the new reality anymore. Kodak famously had the best skills and processes to manufacture and develop beautiful film (a chemical process). These skills became obsolete in a world of digital photography. Nokia was excellent at making phones, but despite its name, the iPhone is not a phone, it is a tiny computer.

Worse, the existence of these obsolete skills typically provides a strong internal immune system to anything new and different. To compete, Kodak and Nokia would have needed swift, strong buy-in to overhaul entrenched processes and teams purpose-built for the film and phone businesses.

3. Disruption almost always reaches a tipping point at go-to-market.

Markets don’t flip from an incumbent solution to something new in the lab or boardroom or even due to the technical superiority of a particular solution. New solutions take the lead with an artful combination of the four Ps: product, price, place, and promotion. Selling the iPhone in Apple’s own, highly frequented stores, instead of the traditional sales channels (which tended to be little, dinky mobile phone shops in malls), signaled strongly that this was a new era, and the phone wasn’t a phone anymore. Stripe became a major player in the electronic payment space by making it incredibly easy for software developers to integrate Stripe into their applications—targeting an audience no other payment provider cared to cater to.

I strongly encourage you to look beyond the words and figure out what is real by applying first principles thinking yourself; going all the way to the root of the subject at hand and analyzing the primary factors. Get a handle on those primary factors, and you can get to work making your team more future flexible.

The good news is that almost none of this is complicated; it is just hard.


Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies – From Hype to Reality to Disruption

The Blockchain (and related: Cryptocurrencies as well as Initial Coin Offerings / ICOs) is currently one of the most talked about technologies around. You hear people hailing them as “the end of the financial system as we know it” with others comparing the potential impact of the technology to be as great or even greater than the Internet itself. Meanwhile, others observe that many ICOs are plain fraud, cryptocurrencies are nothing more than the next tulip mania and the blockchain is just a hyped decentralized database. And of course, the truth will likely be somewhere in the middle.

To understand the blockchain one must come to terms with its underlying technology. Short of going into a lengthy explanation, consider the blockchain as a way to store data – similar to a database with a few notable differences: The data itself is stored in a truly decentralized fashion; i.e., the information doesn’t reside on a single server or a series of tightly synchronized servers but rather a copy of the data is stored on many nodes in the network. Further, the data is stored in a way that it is effectively tamper-proof (through the use of some clever cryptography and linking each entry to each other into a chain).

The result of this is that the blockchain enables the storage of data in a way which doesn’t require any of the participating parties to trust each other – and this is truly novel. In every other infrastructure so far we have to trust at least one party; the blockchain makes trust obsolete.

This feature alone means that the blockchain, as a storage mechanism for data, has tremendous potential and will be quite disruptive. Everywhere where we typically don’t trust the other party (think about topics such as land rights in developing countries) or where we pay money to establish trust (a notary in Germany charges you quite a bit to establish trust between two parties), the blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the way we transact.

Moreover, the blockchain (at least some implementation of a blockchain – note that there is not a single blockchain but instead many blockchains) has another trick up its sleeve: Using technologies such as Etherium or Stratis you can add functionality to a transaction – turning data storage into a smart contract.

The simplest way to think about a smart contract is a magazine subscription: Every month you receive a copy of your favorite magazine and in turn once a year the publisher automatically deducts the cost of your subscription from your bank account. Smart contracts are clever little pieces of software which can settle payments based on verifiable conditions. For example, a merchant gets paid automatically once you signed for delivery of her products into your warehouse. This, in turn, reduces the level of trust one needs to have in a system and increases efficiency. The merchant doesn’t need to trust the customer that he will pay on delivery as agreed upon and the customer doesn’t need to have his accounting department keep track of the payment as it is issued automatically once the condition in the smart contract is met.

Taken together these two core features of the blockchain (a trust-less cryptographic store of data combined with the ability to execute software commands on it) is what makes the technology genuinely disruptive. Today we are mostly in the explorative phase of the technology. Organizations all around the world are wrapping their heads around the core principles and how to best use them in either existing or entirely new processes. As usual in these situations we see a lot of useless or plain wrong implementations – it takes time for a new concept to be fully digested and leveraged to its real potential. Having said that we will see many backend implementations of blockchain technology resulting in reduced cost, increased transaction times and reliability. Moreover, we will also see entirely new applications which just weren’t possible before.

From supply chains (Walmart is currently implementing a blockchain-based supply chain software, cutting down the time it takes to track an item on the shelf to the lot it was manufactured in from two weeks to less than ten seconds) to new peer-based banking and insurance products, the blockchain holds many promises which we will see play out over the next decade. Your first step in wrapping your head around the potential and possible pitfalls is to study the technology, as without a good understanding of the underlying principles one is stuck in either following or dismissing the hype without much thought for true potential.


Group M / NextM Copenhagen 2018 Keynote

Earlier this year I gave a keynote at the excellent NextM conference organized by GroupM in Copenhagen:


Open Office Workspaces (Seem to) Suck

A new study published in The Royal Society indicates that open office workspaces (you know – the ones we thought were so cool, hip and trendy and made us work so much better together) create the exact opposite effect to what they are intended to do:

“In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.”

Important read for anyone kitting out their new office space.

Full study here: The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration


How to Write Good Job Specs

Your first paragraph will be the boilerplate description of your organization.

Narrative description of role: 1-2 paragraphs of 5-8 sentences each that give an overview of the role. While you don’t want to be hyperbolic, you do want this to be attractive, so you will want to sell it.


Bulleted list of most important to least important responsibilities. In truth, candidates will self select based on just skimming the JD and won’t read the details unless/until they are granted an interview. This list should be not more than 8-10 bullets and won’t include each and every duty.


Bulleted list, starts with education and years of experience and is followed by most to least important skills or experiences you desire. E.g.:


macOS High Sierra Sound Problems

I recently had some pretty annoying problems with my 2016 MacBook Pro Touchbar where it refused to play any sound or recognize my headphones including the microphone. The “Sound” preferences didn’t even recognize any audio interface anymore.

After a good two hours on Google and trying a bunch of things out, it turned out that one has to reset the SMC (System Management Controller) on your Mac to fix this.

Hope this helps some poor souls running into the same issues.


Pascal on two Innovation Podcasts

Recently I had the great pleasure of not only being on one Podcast but two – each with a slightly different twist:

First I talked with Bill Murphy from the amazing Redzone Podcast about “How to use Exponential Technologies to Innovate at the Edge”:

And then I was on Donnie SC Lygonis’ Constant Innovation Podcast, talking about… Innovation:


DIE ZEIT FESTIVAL ‘Smashing Ideas‘ 2016

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of speaking at the DIE ZEIT FESTIVAL ‘Smashing Ideas 2016’ in Hamburg, Germany. My talk is a condensed version of what we are teaching here at Singularity University plus a short Q&A session with Manuel Hartung, Resortleiter Chancen at DIE ZEIT.

Hope you enjoy it.


Podcast – Inspiring Social Entrepreneurs

The other day Fergal Byrne interviewed me for his Podcast “Inspiring Social Entrepreneurs”. We touched upon topics such as:

You can listen to the Podcast in many different formats and mediums on the Inspiring Social Entrepreneurs Website.


Reference Check á la Google

The other day I was contacted by a Google recruiter to serve as a reference for a former colleague of mine. In the process Google asked me to fill out an online form with a set of questions. I found the questions very thought- and insightful so I figured I share them here for your own recruiting efforts:

  1. What is your current title, as well as the title you held when the candidate worked with you?
  2. Was there a reporting relationship, and if so how long did the candidate report to you?
  3. How long have you known the candidate? Were you the one responsible for hiring the candidate into your company? How did you happen to find the candidate?
  4. At what company did you work together? How large is/was your organization? How many people reported to you at the time you managed the candidate?
  5. Out of the direct reports mentioned above, how would you have ranked the candidate? (i.e. on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent)
  6. (if applicable) What kept the candidate from being the #1 performer on your team? (i.e. what areas could s/he work to improve upon or develop?)
  7. Can you tell us a bit about the candidate’s strengths, both technical and interpersonal?
  8. Did you ever have the opportunity to give the candidate a formal performance review? If so, what scale did you use and what was the candidate’s rating?
  9. Is there any other information that you would like to share that would be helpful in our consideration of this candidate?
  10. Assuming you had the role, budget, etc., would you want to hire this candidate again? Why or why not?

Guy Kawasaki’s Talk on “The Art of the Start”

I recently brought Guy Kawasaki to Singularity University where he delivered a fantastic keynote on “The Art of the Start”.

Here’s the video:


An Open Letter to Fast Company: Drop the Sexism

Dear Chris Gayomali, Dear Fast Company-Team,

I am extremely disappointed seeing you, a publication which self-proclaims to “inspire a new breed of innovative and creative thought leaders who are actively inventing the future of business”, perpetuating a view of the world and fellow entrepreneurs which is sexist and one-dimensional.

Your recent article on Birch Box, the phenomenally successful ecommerce startup founded by Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna starts out with the following sentence:

“Birchbox’s co–CEO, wearing a dark monochrome dress that provides an understated canvas for her impeccable jewelry game […]”

Reducing Katia to her “impeccable jewelry game” is offensive and sexist. I am sure you would never start out an article about a male founder with a statement about his “impeccable tie game”.

Writing this as a white male - it offends me that you (and many of your colleagues) reduce my women entrepreneur colleagues to their choice of fashion instead of their incredible achievements.

Please live up to your motto and see people for what they do - not their gender, ethnicity or any other superficial distinction.


Entrepreneurship for Executives

Earlier this week I had the great pleasure and honor to present a modified/expanded version of my “10 Lessons for Entrepreneurs” talk at Singularity University’s Executive Program.

10 Lessons for Entrepreneurs



Here's What's Wrong With Tech

The other day I stumbled across the following headline on The Verge: “Stratos is not just another all-in-one smart card”.

The product described in the article is a “smart” credit card which allows you to combine any three cards (e.g. your personal and business credit card plus your Starbucks loyalty card) in one Stratos card which is hooked up to your phone and allows you to select, with the push of a button, the card you want to use.

Useless products all around



What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Pitching

The following post is a summary of a series of earlier Heretic posts on the subject compiled into one comprehensive list - compiled by the wonderful folks at Unreasonable.is

Your pitch deck MUST start with a description of what it is that you’re doing. Your second slide (after the cover slide) is titled “What is NAME-OF-YOUR-COMPANY” (e.g. “What is eBay”). Explain in simple English what you’re doing. This is not the place to be clever, show off your extraordinary grasp of the English language or think that your pitch deck is a novel where you build tension and excitement in the first half and surprise the reader in the end.

If I (or any investor for that matter) don’t understand what you are doing in the first 10-15 seconds you already lost me. I know investors who don’t go past slide two if they don’t grasp what the company does.