TIME Innovation

This Is the Antidote to the Dark Side of Technology

John Hagel argues "we have to collaborate to survive’


This is the first of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

John Hagel speaks with satisfying precision. He has kind eyes and stern glasses, which together dominate the screen during a Sunday-afternoon Skype conversation.

As co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, Hagel hunts for unexploited capability on the “edges” of business and makes the case to include them on the CEO’s agenda. “The edges are most fertile areas for innovation,” he says. They are an important place to watch, because what happens at the edges transforms the core.

Hagel’s research encompasses geographic edges (overseas economies), demographic edges (younger generations entering the workforce, their unmet needs), and the edges of technological discovery. If there’s anything his work has taught him, it’s that the manual is less of an asset than the “ability to respond to unexpected events.”

Hagel believes that we are approaching fundamental revaluation of the role corporations play in our lives.

Corporations in the first half of the 20th century were built around what Hagel calls the “push” business model. The greatest asset of these vertically integrated, gargantuan structures was their knowledge stock — aggressively protected trade facts and formulas that allowed them to forecast with reasonable accuracy which direction to “push” operations.

However, this push model is failing in the face of expanding digital technology infrastructures, Hagel claims. Reinforced by long-term policy shifts toward economic liberalization, barriers to market entry have been significantly reduced on a global scale. The pace of our transactions has increased, the lifespan of knowledge stocks has decreased and competitive intensity in the US economy has doubled in the last 40 years. Hagel calls this “the dark side of technology” — a counter-narrative to the Silicon Valley script of dazzling possibility.

But Hagel sees an antidote to this volatility: openness. “People are realizing that they need to collaborate to survive,” he says, “You have to give up your secrets, your competitive advantage. It’s the only sustainable edge.” Hagel calls this new order the world of “pull,” and he describes it in his book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion.

“Pull,” a splendidly iconoclastic antidote to traditional American corporate culture, means moving away from hub-and-spoke networks where knowledge was selfishly guarded to mesh networks that favor collaboration. Pull rejects claims to have all the right answers and instead favors asking smart questions.

“When people come at you with a façade as if everything’s under control, it does not generate trust,” Hagel says. “Admitting you don’t know something is a prerequisite to making progress.”

Rather than showing strength, influence in an uncertain economy paradoxically comes from expressing vulnerability. Yet Hagel says he had to learn the value of vulnerability. As a boy, he was often subject to his mother’s hostile temper.

“The key lesson that I took from my childhood was that my needs did not matter,” he explains. Upon his entry into management consulting, Hagel readily embraced the maxim that the client’s needs had to come first. “For the first part of my career, I was a servant of others,” he says. “The idea that others could help me was completely foreign to me.”

Hagel attributes the shift in his thinking to a talk he gave at the Collaborative Innovation Summit hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

“Saul Kaplan invited me to be a storyteller at BIF6, and I’ve talked a lot and in various conferences and settings, and that seemed perfectly fine,” Hagel says. “But then he said, ‘We want you to talk about a personal experience and what you’ve learned from it,’ — and that was very scary.”

“Stories are not my thing. I am a person of reason and analysis,” began Hagel’s BIF6 story. But sure enough, he shared two tales of formative childhood experiences in a passionate expression of his business philosophy that later became the story of that year’s Summit. “It was the first time I ever got on stage and talked about myself,” he reflected in hindsight.

The experience was an incredible catalyst. “It really unleashed a tremendous sense of potential and possibility, that by sharing my personal experiences, by talking about things I didn’t know, and I connected with people in a way that I would never have had I just given my standard speech. I can’t wait to be a storyteller at BIF10 in September.”

“The key lesson I got from the BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit,” Hagel says, “is that innovation is ultimately not about ideas, it is about personal connection.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.


TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 11

1. Hashtag Activism Aftermath: Three months on, to bring back the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, outside groups must work past news fatigue and push Nigeria to make a deal

By Naunihal Singh in the New Yorker

2. The US shouldn’t let nuclear security cooperation with Russia become a casualty of the conflict over Ukraine.

By Nickolas Roth and Robert Gard in the National Interest

3. Proponents and users of big data have a big responsibility.

By Om Malik at om.co

4. To save the NSA, we need to bring American spying in from the cold.

By Carla Ann Robbins in Bloomberg Businessweek

5. From battling wildfires to delivering humanitarian aid, the good done by drones can temper — but not erase — the ugly reality of remote-controlled warfare.

By Medea Benjamin in TIME

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Elon Musk Pledges $1M to Tesla Museum

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk Visits Beijing
CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk attends the television show "Dialogue" taping at Zhongshan Park in Beijing on April 21, 2014. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

The billionaire CEO of Tesla Motors received a tweet asking for a donation. He responded, big time.

The man who tweeted Elon Musk to request a donation for the Tesla Museum got his answer Thursday. The Tesla Science Center, which cartoonist Matthew Inman of the Oatmeal.com has led a multimillion-dollar fundraising drive for, revealed that the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors had called Inman personally to pledge $1 million to the museum and build a Tesla “supercharger” station in the parking lot.

Back in 2012, Inman had raised nearly $1.4 million on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to repurpose the building in Shoreham, New York, which was the site of inventor Nikola Tesla’s last laboratory. But the Center still needed $8 million to refurbish the building, where in 1901 Tesla had begun a project to send messages and electric power around the world by wireless transmission — a project that he never completed.

So Inman tweeted a direct appeal to Musk, who replied encouragingly:

The appeal worked. What’s more, Musk’s donation comes just in time for the inventor’s birthday, who would have turned 158 years old today.

TIME Innovation

White House Backs Off Patent Nominee After Tech Industry Backlash

The US Patent and Trademark Office is sh
The US Patent and Trademark Office is shown 14 March 2006 in Alexandria, Virgina. PAUL J.RICHARDS—AFP/Getty Images

Critics argued the nominee had a long record of opposition to patent reform

The White House has reportedly backed away from nominating a pharmaceutical executive to run the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office after critics alleged he was unlikely to take a firm enough stance against frivolous patent suits.

Tech website Gigaom reports that the White House has backed away from naming Johnson & Johnson’s chief patent attorney, Philip Johnson, as Director of the USPTO. The prospective appointment raised eyebrows in tech circles as critics pointed to his near decade-long record of opposition to patent reform, which many in the tech sector say is badly needed.

Johnson has represented Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, an industry group which successfully lobbied against several legislative overhauls to the patent system. The group has frequently locked horns with technology companies, which have pressed lawmakers to crack down on frivolous patent infringement lawsuits.

Sen. Charles Schumer opposed Johnson’s nomination in an emailed statement to the Wall Street Journal, saying that Johnson was “unsympathetic” to the proliferation of patent lawsuits by so-called “patent trolls,” particularly within the tech industry.

The top position at the USPTO has remained vacant since its previous director, David Kappos, stepped down last year.


TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 10

1. Political corruption is a scourge and should be punished. Why not make these crooked politicians serve the public interest and help track down other lawbreakers?

By Walter Isaacson in TIME

2. With urban farming, Cleveland Crops energizes people with disabilities.

By Hannah Wallace in Civil Eats

3. Fertilizing the oceans: How feeding iron to plankton could help move the needle on global warming.

By David Biello in Aeon

4. The gas tax can’t solve America’s transportation funding problem. Oregon’s pay-per-mile program just might.

By Eric Jaffe in Citylab

5. Today’s 20-somethings have the lowest median income since 1970. To jumpstart that generation, we need to talk about wages.

By Derek Thompson in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

IBM Risks $3 Billion to Stay Relevant in Chip Biz

The IBM logo is seen outside the company's offices in Petah Tikva
NIR ELIAS / Reuters

IBM says the money is designed to drive emerging research in carbon nano-electronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies and quantum as well as cognitive computing.

IBM says it’ll drop $3 billion into a five-year bucket designed to help it shore up its research and early stage development programs. The idea, says IBM, is to generate new chip-related technologies that can power evolving cloud computing and “Big Data” systems.

The move comes as confidence in Moore’s Law — the more rule-of-thumb-than-law that says the number of transistors you can stick on a computer chip will double every two years, resulting in periodic increases in computing power — has been dwindling.

The money IBM’s spending will focus on several confidence-bolstering programs, the first of which targets “7 nanometer and beyond” silicon tech and the basic physics-related challenges governing size and production: the smaller silicon-based chips get, the harder they are to manufacture, and we’re currently approaching a physics-related size wall.

“The question is not if we will introduce 7 nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost?” IBM Research Senior VP John Kelly said in a press release, calling scaling to 7 nanometers or smaller “a terrific challenge.”

And that’s where IBM’s second research pole comes in, says the company, aimed at coming up with alternative ways to think about how chips are made in a post-silicon world. Think about Intel’s 22-nanometer 3-D tri-gate processors — still silicon-based, but employing a relatively radical design shift that allowed it to improve switching states dramatically and consume half the power of older 32-nanometer chips.

But as IBM notes, dropping to below 7 nanometers would require “a new kind of material to power the systems of the future.” Those alternatives? IBM lists carbon nanotubes (specialized cylindrical nano-structures), graphene (a pure form of carbon potentially superior to silicon), and III-V technologies (metal-oxide as opposed to silicon semiconductors), as well as neuromorphic computing, neurosynaptic computing and cognitive computing (systems that mimic the human brain or nervous system), silicon photonics (moving data with light), machine learning techniques (artificial intelligence) and of course, quantum computing.

IBM says its research teams will combine scientists and engineers from Albany and Yorktown, New York; Almaden, California and others in Europe. And to be clear, it says these aren’t brand new research areas — this is IBM channeling cash to existing programs that are already underway. In other words, it’s a confidence-bolstering move involving the B-word as much as anything.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day

1. Is the rise of Isis in Iraq and Syria a short term policy defeat for the U.S. or the end of our ability to influence world events?

By Owen Bennett-Jones in the London Review of Books

2. To provide indigenous communities with a surprising injection of health and social life, build a pool.

By Phillipa Nicole Barr and Melanie Garrick at the Guardian

3. “Testing in” to a bachelor’s degree could make new leaders out of qualified but uncredentialed workers.

By Matt Krupnick in the Hechinger Report

4. Unbanked or credit-invisible African Americans are locked out of employment opportunities, home ownership and more.

By Edward Wyckoff Williams in The Root

5. A tech industry rush to recruit interns as young as high school age begs the question: Is there a labor shortage, or isn’t there?

By Sarah Frier in Bloomberg News

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

WATCH: This Ring-Shaped Device Reads Text to the Blind

Hot off the presses of a 3-D printer, a prototype that could open the world of letters to the blind


Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a ring-shaped device that slips around a user’s pointer finger, scans any text above the fingertip, and reads it aloud in a robotic voice that could help open the world of letters to the visually impaired.

The FingerReader is still just a prototype, hot off the presses of a 3D-printer. It comes with an embedded camera that pinpoints words, a clipped robotic voice that reads them aloud as the finger moves across the page, and motion sensors that can detect when the finger strays off of the text or hits the end of the line.

Researchers hope the proof of concept will attract investors and smooth the pathway to commercialization, which they say could help roughly 2.8% of the population that currently lives with visual impairment.

TIME Startups

Now There Are Instant Coffee Pods for Beer

Getty Images

Coffee machines, move over. A different kind of buzz is coming to town

It sounds like a beer lover’s fantasy: all around the country, everyone could have beer dispensers on their kitchen counters next to their coffee machines, spouting cold bitter brews into eager glasses throughout the day.

But this is for real. SYNEK—a St. Louis startup that just launched its Kickstarter campaign last month—is creating a draft system that serves beer fresh from the tap even if you’re miles from the nearest bar.

The startup is signing on local breweries who put their beer in SYNEK bags, which have a long shelf life and can be transported relatively easily. The bags are then put into a dispenser that looks a little like a toaster-oven-sized coffee machine and plugs into the wall. Consumers can then serve beer wherever there is a dispenser.

Steve Young, SYNEK’s 28-year-old founder, says that his company will make it cheaper to ship beer to consumers without worrying about the headaches of bottling, and increase profit margins for craft breweries.

The machine pressurizes using carbon dioxide, and allows users to adjust SYNEK’s temperature. Beers by brewers including Harpoon Brewery, Schmaltz Beer Company and dozens of others are available through SYNEK already.

Young seeking $250,000 through Kickstarter by the end of July. Backers who pledge $299 get the dispenser along with 5 to 10 bags.

TIME Innovation

How Well Do You Know The iPhone?

On the 7th birthday of the smartphone that changed phones forever, see how knowledgeable you are about Apple's revolutionary device

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