What does it take to build a new [deep] technology market in the XXI century? The short answer is simple: a colossal bulk of multidisciplinary skills and approaches, none of which is considered today an established academic discipline.
So if you’re about to launch a new Mixed Reality market, a new market of artificial food, or a new market for space delivery, or a new market of microclimate zones, here is what you need to learn and practice in your team. Grouped by the growth stage:
Changing Team Mindset
The first block of skills targets your “operational system”: abilities to deal with complex environments and contexts, operate variabilities, and switch ontologies and settings.
Thinking Systems Juggling
Like with the multiverse of religions (and the corresponding religious studies discipline), there is a continuously growing number of “thinking schools” and approaches describing objects, systems, or processes from a specific perspective. The range spans from “creative thinking” to ontology. Even “systems thinking” is just one of the existing thinking systems. The goal is to be able to “switch” the thinking system in use by request and avoid being an adept of just one or two “schools .”
Inclusive Design & Spectral Thinking
Inclusive Design (ID) is an emerging discipline that took a big step forward in designing mass-market products thanks to Microsoft and Kate Holmes and her team. One of the fundamentals of ID is accepting and exploring human diversity and using it as both a constraint and inspiration source. Spectral Thinking (ST) takes one step further in exploring the overall spectrum of possible scenarios and infusing it with time awareness (let me know if you want to learn more about it).
New Human Rights & Ethics
Human Rights and Ethics are not a new theme per se, but the is a growing notion that the old set of rules doesn’t work well anymore. Neither is there a consensus in the global society on that topic. For example, we observe that technological giants learned in a dramatic way that they have to redefine their approach to engaging their customers and employees ethically and being over-sensitive to the changes they introduce when their products become part of the critical social infrastructure.
The fourth building block comes from the intersection of many global crises we live in right now: from COVID-19 to global trade wars to climate changes. The critical missing part of many discussions is long-term planning spanning decades and centuries and considering human civilization’s evolution rather than any particular nation-being. In that sense, the Bitcoin or SpaceX projects are vastly more of a civilization scale than whatever is happening these days in the UN or WTO.
Envisioning a new Market
The second block of skills targets your abilities to envision and describe “what is possible” and convince others with your ideas. The tricky part is to learn to balance fiction and reality, long-term and short-term.
Technology & Science Foresight
There are various approaches on how to run foresight for the target systems. Some are more analytical and data-driven; others are more expertise-based and focused on reaching group consensus. For example, in Russia, one of the popular methodologies is the “Rapid Foresight” based on the trends analysis and challenging the group status-quo, pushing them outside of their comfort zone. Whatever approach you choose, the goal is to be able to look 5–20 years ahead.
World Building & Settings Design
Defining a new market is like designing a new world with its own set of roles and rules. It is similar to creating a game universe with many tools and practices to be stolen: you have to define characters and their classes and roles, environment and physics, objects to interact with, internal currency, rules, etc. So, if you want to shift people from one paradigm to another (e.g., from servers to cloud), you will need to draw a clear path (learning curve) to each existing role, teach from scratch some new ones, and say sorry to the rest. And as newcomers dive in, you will gradually reveal the nuances of your world.
New Market Linguistics
Every new market introduces new terms and meanings. In the tech world, new words bubble up from the technical jargon used somewhere under the hood of the product design or thanks to the marketing genius. A fresh mine example of running into a new term is the “citizen developer” phrase used by Microsoft’s marketing team. We could define it as someone who is not a professional developer and operates a no- or low-code system to create a data-processing chain or an app. But “citizen” in such context is “military” jargon. (⊙_⊙;)
The challenge is on implementing a systematic approach to building and supporting a new mental model and a corresponding language.
Science Fiction & Storytelling
Lastly, the envisioned should be told. And as you imagined the future, whatever you say about it today is fiction, but the more scientifically realistic it is, the better. It is no surprise that some companies use science fiction writing or drawing practices to ensure a shared vision across the team and more broadly. You don’t have to write a whole cosmic opera saga. But you definitely should look into critical scenarios, relationships of human beings and society affected by the future tech, and the motivation of newly introduced roles.
Designing Disruptive Product
To design a disruptive product, you should break several barriers on top of achieving a technological or scientific breakthrough. You need not just master your “what-if” kung-fu but also learn to see life’s energy: streams of money and other resources.
Despite the naming, it is not another reincarnation of the ufology, but rather the “what-if” practice on steroids. The biggest challenge we have as human beings is to stop looking at everything from our human perspective. The goal is to identify a critical element of a system and to consider what would happen if you substitute it with something dramatically different. The easiest mind-trick here is to imagine another developed civilization with some of its setting’s critical attributes different from ours. Think about octopuses; if they were an intelligent civilization, how would they count or store and transmit knowledge between species?
Circular Design & Economics
Back to the Earth. The Earth is on fire. The radical change that you as the creator should do is to incorporate the resource cycle approach of nature into your design and production practices. Here comes the idea of circular design and economics populated by IDEO. The most crucial element is to design and become responsible for the whole lifetime of a product. For example, if you sell mayonnaise in a plastic container, it is now your responsibility to build a pipeline to recycle such containers.
Ecosystem & Platforms Design
The third shift changes the perspective from designing a product to architecting a product platform to creating the architecture of behaviors to building an ecosystem. For example, you can’t develop a successful iPhone without the whole AppStore model and ecosystem of developers, resellers, accessories, and so on. If your “platform approach” is to design the API system, you only reached the first level out of five.
Building Deep Tech Products
Now when we have some modern constraints to take into account, we can move to the product itself. On top of whatever core competencies are critical to your domain, there are four more.
Deep Science Technology
The effectiveness of the tools used by modern scientists and researchers is rapidly increasing with the progress in three main areas. 1) Using deep learning and, more generally, AI-infused tools to speed up searching and analyzing activities, ranging from raw data analysis to insights extraction from the global paper base. 2) Using nets of real-time sensors, planet-scale imaginary, mega-installations for deep physics research, and other tools to look deeper into nature or see a bigger picture at once. 3) Collaborative environments connecting field and labs, global scientific and engineering forces, merging science and media (say hello to Cameron!) Each component is a key to staying on the frontline.
Managing R&D teams
In software and partially hardware development, the world shifted towards more agile and distributed teams while also implementing numerous feedback loops. Think about DevOps, WebOps, DesignOps, SecOps, and so on. But we are still missing the SciOps with robust processes merging research and development cycles into one operational engine. We gradually move how we manage R&D teams towards that “*-Ops” concept in the corporate world, but university labs are the true last bastion.
Tech Packages Design
The notion of the “Technology Package” usually comes after several failed attempts to introduce disruption to the existing market with an afterward conclusion that it was just ahead of its time. Disruption needs preparation. For example, numerous consultants engaged decision-makers with the theme of “digital-everything coming soon” for more than ten years before we are finally ready to embrace Digital Transformation. Technology Package “packages” the disruption technology or product with prerequired activities and tools, including education, concepts seeding and marketing, regulation correction, standards and protocols, partner and supplier networks, and so on.
Deep Tech Entrepreneurship
Each technological wave opens the door for a new generation of entrepreneurs and “startups.” Meanwhile, we still call them entrepreneurs because they take a risk; the way of doing business and specifics change with every wave. The operational unit (a startup), the investment model, the roles and rules, the business model, etc. — differ when comparing doing business in the PC/web era and doing business in the mobile era. And being a mobile entrepreneur is not the same as being a space entrepreneur or a biogen entrepreneur, or a quantum entrepreneur.
Growing Deep Tech Ecosystem
The fifth block of competencies is about growing a healthy ecosystem around your technologies and products. The challenge to surpass is to build the core layers and feedback loops of the ecosystem.
Usually, it begins with the idea of building a community. After all, every successful product has a “community,” which gives the tech company two benefits: 1) a close and friendly feedback loop with early adopters, and 2) the first generation of product advocates and supporters. But the path to building a healthy and sustainable social layer around your business is complex. At some point, you decide to invite a community manager, but (sic!) there is no academic school for community managers. And every community is unique despite using common social tools. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
You will have to build your own community the hard way and as your ecosystem grows to teach others to do the same across your market.
Tech Ecosystem Management
Your growing ecosystem requires management. You need data; you need feedback loops; you need communication channels across various parts of your world; you need rules and status systems; you need to support complex interconnected networks of partners, suppliers, users, etc. Your original ecosystem design becomes alive and faces the real-world test.
Eventually, you will discover that there is no ready-to-use end-to-end ecosystem management system; and you have to build your own. Good luck!
Tech Blocks Politics
Ok, you managed to build your community, and your ecosystem is more or less under control. That is where your success meets geopolitics, local regulations, local cultures, and local ways of doing business. Until now, you were under the radar, but today a German media blogger invited her friends to try out whatever you are building. Huge success! A few weeks later, your success spans to ▮▮▮▮▮▮ where the government propaganda trumpet claims that your product spreads ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮, ▮▮▮▮▮▮, ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮, and ▮▮▮▮▮, undermines the foundations of national security and sovereignty. It is not because your product is terrible; you are simply a part of a hostile technology block. Move out when big guys come to play in their sandbox battles.
Changing Market Perception
Previously we discussed that you have to design your technology package. Now is the right time to make it play its role. And don’t believe a consultant that says that memes are not for serious business. Better ask Elon.
Deep Tech Marketing
When you build a new market based on some new deep tech, the first step is to disrupt an existing one, using it as a springboard. Maybe after a few years, that old one will recover, but that is another story. Your focus should be to shift the attention from the technology’s complexity to the new value it gives while keeping that new tech’s charm. Think about the Boring project of Elon Musk. It is an excellent technically advanced complex underground machine that drills tunnels. Still, the company shifted attention to the traffic problem (clear value proposition) while keeping that charm of “hacking” existing rules, digging into the underground world, and building a city-scale pipeline capsule transport system.
Myth & Meme Management
Now you have to spread the word, the image, the idea, make people talk and speculate about your tech, plans, ambitions, and finally, products. The problem is that they will do it with or without you. The more successful you are, the more antagonists you will get. And as information spreads faster through social media than via traditional media, the muscle you should build is to manage what is going on in that media hell. There are two essential tools to put it under control: memes that channel discussion in the desired direction or angle, cut challenging topics through humor, and myths surrounding the product with a fog of its legendarium, language, and rules.
New Tech Ethics and Politics
Finally, we are back to ethics and politics but now focusing on particular technology packages. The first trick is to lead the movement to raise the most critical ethical questions and challenge existing norms, regulations, and habits. The second trick is to direct that movement towards technical solutions that secure your success. How cynical am I! Third, you have to stay with your core values to the end and across your activities. For example, Apple continuously pushes restrictions on collecting private data through its platform, cutting the data flow for Facebook, Google, and other companies. But Google is now ok to reduce cockies usage and data collection and is driving the “privacy-first web” concept because it has an alternative ads-targeting technology. But who would believe in good Google intentions after the “Timnit Gerbu case”?
The last block is all about survival and dominance. And once again, there is no official school that will teach you how to fight and win (!) corporate wars or blur between state borders and global politics.
The first muscle to build is learning how to stay ahead of the frontline and be aware of competitors’ moves. In the traditional industrial world, you would call it espionage, and it is somewhat illegal nowadays. But in the post-industrial world, there are better data-based alternatives that don’t require you to break the contour. Consider the following sources at least: patent portfolio and related acquisitions, academic research papers, open jobs vacancies, hiring dynamics, open-source repositories in-use, specific requests in professional communities and standardization committees, and so on. And the most important: know your weak points.
The Art of Corporate War
These will be hybrid shadow trench warfares with rare occasions in the court. Mostly you will fight through your community advocates and marketing, through securing standards and patents, through ensuring favoring government support on foreign and home countries. You will need the best-in-class product, but you will have to choose where to compete and cooperate thoroughly. You will need to loudly claim your values and your client’s values and continuously fight for them, shifting the accent from the product to the value system. And instead of directly targeting your competitor, you will target its value system by showing that you are not alike.
There is state politics, and there is politics where there is no state. The big question is what is happening between the borders and outside the walls. It seems evident that if you are an American company, you should follow American regulations worldwide, but what makes you sure that it is 100% true for every American company? The world outside of your HQ and R&D centers is a gray zone. For example, it is the case for only the last few years when big IT giants like Apple and Microsoft began demanding their contractors worldwide follow the same values and employment conditions. Your non-state politics craft the way how you build your international network.
The last skill is to reborn your business every 10+ years. There is a simple cadence for tech markets: it takes about ten years to grow a tech market to an emerging state, and it works as a cash cow for another ten years and stagnates in the third decade. This second decade is your window to reinvent yourself to stay in the game. The challenge is that this window span shrinks from ten to seven-five years. For example, Microsoft missed the mobile window and came second to the cloud business, and is hoping to be first in the mixed reality industry. For many companies, that self-reinvention cycle ends in the alley of past great companies.