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🛰 VUCA Observatory - Restart

September 9 · Issue #22 · View online
The VUCA Observatory
It’s been a while. Hello. How are you doing?
Things have changed a little on this end. It’s been over a year since the last Internet of People observatory went out, and that alone is indication enough that IoP itself is on a bit of a hiatus.
The observatory, however, is only just restarting. So onto this week’s edition.

Forecasting is hard
Gartner announced its latest Hype Cycle. Predictably, the internet lit up with commentary or self-congratulations. And yet, the discontent with Gartner’s model seems to be rising. First, the methodology seems inconsistent – always a bad sign for a model that’s forward looking.
Nine emerging technologies identified last year by Gartner in the corresponding Hype Cycle report have vanished. 
Some of these are quite significant. Last July, Machine Learning was two years away from the safety of the Plateau. But that’s disappeared. […] Edge Computing could be found toiling up the Western slope of the Peak of Disillusionment – but that has fallen out of sight, too. 
But it might also be a case that folks are increasingly looking into the drivers behind emerging technologies, rather than just the tech itself.
Responding is harder
Because even if you forecast the right trend and technology, appropriately responding is another skill entirely, one that market research cannot necessarily help you with.
“They knew what the future looked like. They didn’t know later than everybody else, they knew ahead of everybody else.”
They knew. But they could not act. Because what is an oil company to do in a world of abundant, cheap solar energy? Offshore wind farms play to some oil-company strengths; they know a lot about large metal structures in the North Sea. But solar energy is an architectural innovation. The pieces just don’t fit together like an oil rig or a refinery. As a mass-market, manufactured product it is closer to the skill set of Ikea than Exxon.
It’s still amazing to me how the technological shifts get reduced to technologies, rather than business models, processes and structures. Horace Dediu would speak of People, Processes, and Priorities in this context, and he’d be right.
Where to compete?
Turns out we’re getting a bit structure-heavy this week. Alas, this post by Ben Evans is too good to pass on, given that he uses Tesla as an anchor to look into some of the mechanics of industry usurpation.
The idea of ‘disruption’ is that a new concept changes the basis of competition in an industry. At the beginning, either the new thing itself or the companies bringing it (or both) tend to be bad at the things the incumbents value, and get laughed at, but they learn those things. Conversely, the incumbents either dismiss the new thing as pointless or presume they’ll easily be able to add it (or both), but they’re wrong. Apple brought software and learnt phones, whereas Nokia had great phones but could not learn software. 
However, not every new technology or idea is disruptive. Some things do not change the basis of competition enough, and for some things the incumbents are able to learn and absorb the new concept instead
As it turns out, where something’s happening, and how you frame it, may be just as crucial (if not even more so) than just what’s happening.
Bits and Pieces
That’s it for the first edition of the VUCA Observatory. The format will very likely change over the next couple of editions, so stay tuned, and please do tell me what you think at
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