Scott Kirsner serves as CEO and co-founder of Innovation Leader, a network and online resource helping change-makers within large organizations make a real impact. Kirsner spent nearly two decades as a business journalist and contributing editor at The Boston Globe, Wired Magazine, Fast Company, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and other mainstream media outlets. His focus on how innovations that matter gets introduced to the world has taken him to the White House, the Sundance Film Festival, the United Nations, and the innovation labs of Google, Walt Disney, General Motors, and many other companies. Kirsner is the author of several books on innovation and technology, including his newly released book, “Innovation Economy“. In this exclusive interview with TechBullion, Kirsner will be discussing his work at Innovation Leader and the innovation trends to look out for.
Please tell us more about yourself and your journey at Innovation Leader?
I’ve spent the past couple of decades as a journalist, covering startups like Amazon, Google, and Netflix from their earliest days. More recently, I started to notice that people didn’t pay as much attention to new technologies and products being created inside more established companies, for example, Barclays or Tesco or Starbucks. My two co-founders and I started bootstrapping the company in 2013 to focus exclusively on that topic: how new things get created inside Global 1000 companies. It’s very different from how new things are created in the startup realm.
Your platform Innovation Leader is popular for helping large organizations make real impact, what unique services do you provide to these change-makers?
We’ve interviewed more people in Global 1000 companies about innovation, and gathered more data about how innovation works inside these large companies than anyone else. So the unique service is, access to all that content, continually updated — as well as chances to network and meet peers from other large companies.
What is the current global market size of the tech innovation market and which tech trends are making more impact today?
Amazingly, almost $2.5 trillion is invested every year in research and development globally, led by the US, China, and Japan. That’s the world we tend to focus on, as opposed to spending on software or hardware — the tech innovation you mentioned. We’re very interested in how all sorts of new things get created, whether it’s Toyota working on safer, more autonomous vehicles or Nike working on self-lacing sneakers.
In terms of emerging technologies, we surveyed our audience last summer, in collaboration with KPMG LLP, about the emerging technologies that they were investing in or pilot testing. The top five were advanced analytics; AI and machine learning; new collaboration tools; cloud infrastructure and services; and connected devices or IoT. (The trend they were least active in, or interested in? Quantum computing.)
AI and digital capabilities are now a necessity for companies to thrive, how can companies make the best of these?
I think oftentimes, companies get excited about the latest new technology or buzzword, and they may look for an opportunity to test it out somewhere. Maybe they want to put out a press release that says, “We’re testing customer service robots in our shops.” The results are usually underwhelming.
The smarter approach is looking for unsolved problems, and then finding technologies that can address those. We were talking recently to the Chief Digital Officer of Moderna — here’s the full interview — and he said that when they were seeking to apply automation and artificial intelligence in their business, they didn’t work on “blue sky” types of projects. He said, “We took very pragmatic, specific problems we needed to solve, and looked for places where humans weren’t as good as machines.”
The remote-work revolution is using tech to recreate the in-office experience, could you enlighten us more on this event?
We are seeing a lot of companies look for digital “environments” where people can meet and even socialize or play games together, as opposed to making everything feel like a Zoom, Teams, or Skype “meeting.” Some examples would be companies like Virbela, which has a virtual world where you can rent an office or hold a conference, Gather.town, and Sophya.ai. Yes, it can feel a little bit like a videogame, but it’s also a more natural way to have fluid conversations that don’t hew to a structured agenda. I especially like the ability in Virbela to interact with others just using your voice — you don’t need to have your camera on and be staring into it.
The financial and technology innovations from blockchain technology have taken the world by storm, how sustainable is this industry?
From an energy-use standpoint, not very sustainable. But I do believe these new assets are going to be with us for the long-term, providing an alternative to (and competition with) government-issued currency.
Which other industries do you think need more tech innovation and why do you think so?
There are a surprising number of industries where it isn’t easy to specify what you need, get a price, and purchase it. Try booking a hotel ballroom for a wedding, or hiring a moving company, or navigating the world of business consultants. I think there are still lots of industries where the friction to buying is really high, so people either don’t buy — or they look for simpler alternatives.
For small businesses and investors, what other tech innovation opportunities should we look out for in the near future?
It’s worth paying attention to the low-code/no-code movement, which is a set of new tools that make it much easier to create web apps and mobile apps for your business. I think this is going to be huge, since most small businesses, NGOs, and even small teams within big companies will take this approach to get software built, rather than hiring pricey outside firms to write it for them.
Do you have more information for our readers today?
We have a podcast called “Innovation Answered,” which just featured a series of C-level executives talking about innovation. And anyone can sign up for a limited-access free account on our website, InnovationLeader.com. In June, we have an online conference called Charting the Future of Innovation that will feature leaders from Ford, Swiss Re, General Mills, Ralph Lauren, Procter & Gamble, and other companies.