Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

This is not the new normal or the next normal: that’s for everyone else

We talk about the ‘new normal’ or the ‘next normal’, but for world-renowned digital anthropologist and author Brian Solis, ‘normal’ was part of the problem. In this powerful talk, he explains how the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation for the better and paved the way for disruptive innovation with technologies like 5G. Now more than ever, we need new ideas, partnerships and mindsets that unlock creativity and imagination to deliver sophisticated new experiences for business customers and consumers.

I recently had the opportunity to keynote Nokia’s Real Talk 2020 conference. This was a unique, real talk experience. No slides. Just pure passion for the art of the possible.

I hope it helps you.


Hello, good afternoon, good morning, good evening everybody. I am so excited to be part of Nokia’s Real Talk and that’s just what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna kick off everything with some Real Talk here. Before we can move forward, we actually have to take a step back to appreciate where we are in the present, even though these are disruptive times before we move forward.

See, I can’t call these times ‘the new normal’ nor can I think about the future as ‘the next normal’. I think normal was part of the problem to begin with. And I think striving for mediocrity or settling for mediocrity is not okay in a time of both great disruption and also great opportunity for innovation.

Let’s talk about that word innovation. I think often when companies look at their innovative strategies or when they talk about becoming innovative or when they invest in technologies or new opportunities or new solutions that may seem innovative because it’s new to them, it’s not really innovative to the industry or more importantly to the customer or the customer’s customer.

Often, times when we look at, for example, 5G on the horizon we think about things much more iteratively, but confuse it with iteration, but there’s a real difference. It’s not that iteration is bad, it’s just different, right? Iteration is doing the same things investing in new technologies, to improve efficiencies, to scale, to do things better.

Innovation, however, is creating new value or unlocking new value. And see that the combination of both of those things will lead to disruption, which is – or could lead to disruption I should say, which is doing these new things that make the old things obsolete. So, for example there’s a famous quote about the light bulb was not invented from the continuous improvement or iteration of candles. At some point it just had to jump the curve as they say to the next thing.

And that’s what I wanna talk to you about because that is Real Talk. We’ve got 5G coming. We have all kinds of incredible technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality if we wanna call it that, we have… I’m talking about quantum so much and it’s so far yet so close but we have – I think there’s 30 different technologies all sort of looming around out there with AI and autonomous vehicles and robotics, essentially this Fourth Industrial Revolution – but I wanna get my arms around it with you here today.

“We are not in a new normal or the next normal. We are not striving for iteration. We’re striving for iteration and innovation.”

We are not in a new normal or the next normal. We are not striving for iteration. We’re striving for iteration and innovation. So I called these times the Novel Economy and I want us to be prepared for how we think about this future, how we rethink, re-imagine this Fourth Industrial Revolution as a new opportunity for us, for our partners, for our customers and their customers. I call these times the Novel Economy and the Novel Economy is essentially inspired by the Novel Coronavirus because like the Novel Coronavirus novel itself just simply means new and unusual. These times are without precedent, but more importantly they’re without a vaccine for businesses alike. They are without a playbook and they are without a checklist or case studies that we can just follow forward.

“I want us to be prepared for how we think about this future, how we rethink, re-imagine this Fourth Industrial Revolution as a new opportunity for us, for our partners, for our customers and their customers.”

The Novel Economy starts with surviving. Let’s figure out business continuity. Let’s help our partners figure out business continuity. The next phase is alive. Let’s figure out how not to just adjust for this new normal, but to think about the next economy so that we’re gaining the skill sets, we’re thinking about the new solutions, the disruptions, so that we can invest in technologies and solutions and operational innovation and digital business model innovation so that we raise the bar, so that we change the game for phase three, which is thrive. That’s a post-COVID world where we are innovating our way forward, unlocking new value, rethinking business models and operational models because that’s where we’re headed. Otherwise everybody else is just heading for this new normal and this next normal, but we’re better than that.

We’ve got so many exciting things happening right now. So, beyond connectivity revenue 5G is gonna need its killer apps for both consumers and also businesses right? So, there’s a coming wave of hype. What am I talking about? We’re already deluged in hype, but there’s also the potential for disillusionment. And that means that we don’t wanna lose any lustre in terms of possibilities. We want to reimagine how to generate that killer app or those killer apps for consumers and also businesses alike and also enterprise partners and technology vendors that we can partner with as well.

So, on the consumer side of things, we have to consider, well what are our partnerships to deliver innovative consumer services or consumer experiences? Customer experiences are more important than ever before. In fact, Salesforce just released its state of the connected customer report. And in it, it says both business customers and also consumers – 80% of them combined said that experiences are as or more important than the products or services you sell.

So, let me give you an example. Last year at this time, actually it was Thanksgiving Day, now that I think about it. I was invited to the Chainsmokers Concert in San Francisco where they were going to reveal a 5G activation that was special just for that audience. 5G was actually deployed within the Chase Arena and during a particular song I think it was called, ‘Can I call you mine?’ They unlocked or unleashed this 5G activation, augmented reality solution, as you were holding your phone up, you were actually able to see they have this digital mascot that sort of tours with them as they were playing. This mascot is singing along with them. And it sort of brought to life a whole new dimension.

Was it the killer app? No, but it was definitely a glimpse of possibility. And I think that’s where I wanna focus us today is this possibility – the art of the possible. See, we don’t know the future solutions today. This is why there’s so much hype around 5G. Well, what are the killer apps? Well, let’s start to figure those out. I actually believe that in these times we need to think more like Disney. We need to think more like Secret Cinema out of the UK. That kinda converges this Broadway like, in movie like cinema experience where you’re part of the storyline. Or The Void, which was born out of Utah which is essentially an immersive video game experiment where you were walking around wearing gear, haptic gear, virtual reality goggles where you and your team are in a game or in a movie and you experience it and you feel it. We need to think like game designers to move forward because essentially you can unlock retail. You can unlock real world experiences, not just with 5G, but with exciting new partnerships that can create worlds that we didn’t imagine or couldn’t imagine, or couldn’t even activate until today.

See, every time we hold up, one of these devices or whatever the next device is, we are looking into windows or through windows, into new worlds. And those worlds, those platforms and services they need, as Disney would call it, Imagineering. We need to imagine what tomorrow looks like, but build for it today. So for example, we need to create experience stores or experience centers where consumers and business customers can come in to experience what tomorrow is like today, because that’s the thing we don’t know what we don’t know. Magic has to come to life. Like we might see at Disney World or Disneyland. And that is all about Imagineering, is to sort of invent the impossible to make it possible.

That’s what I love about these times so much. So, for example, if you think about an innovation center. I don’t mean just to kind of showcase all of the shiny objects but actually to demonstrate the possibilities as an artist or as a creative or as an innovator. Because if you think about it Sir Ken Robinson talks about creativity being as important or actually more important than literacy. I don’t know that it’s more important, but it’s definitely important. And his whole argument was that we sort of taught creativity out of children to prepare them for the real world, to put them in these linear processes and these hierarchical structures.

But essentially though, creativity is more important now than ever. We need to imagine things that don’t exist today and we weren’t trained to be creative or innovative in the roles that we’re in today yet that’s exactly how we have to think as a technologist, as a designer, as a programmer, as a strategist, as an executive.

So, let’s break this down. We talked about consumer. Now let’s talk about enterprise. Enterprise too needs to see an experience center, right? If they can’t imagine the future well, someone’s got to help them imagine that, somebody got to help them imaginer that way forward. That’s I think why we’re here together. That’s our Real Talk because the pandemic accelerated digital transformation. In some estimates… roadmaps that we’re 10 years out, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Mixed Reality, automation in terms of RPA. I mean, these are things that are fast forwarding to today, right?

This is phase one of the Novel Economy. This is stuff that we’re doing right now, that was 10 years out because we had to do it. We had to make incredible shifts. And now that we saw that we can do the impossible, now the whole world is our oyster. What can we possibly do next? Well, we know that we have IOT. We have IIOT, we have sensors, we have edge, we have 5G. So what can we give? What machines, what processes can we give a voice to, to send that voice in terms of data back to interpret, to analyze, to find patterns to maybe eventually make decisions where machines are doing that on our behalf and we’re freed to think about new creative solutions of what else we can do with technology like the conductors of an orchestra?

These are new possibilities that have to be imagined and they have to be built into sophisticated, integrated and even, gosh, I mean customer service solutions and products. I guess that’s the best way to put it is that people on the buy side, whether that’s your business customer or that’s your enterprise customer or that’s your consumer, they just need a little help in seeing what they need, but don’t know they need. And once they have it, they can’t live without it. That’s what Walt Disney was so good at. That’s what Steve Jobs was so good at. That’s what Elon Musk – love him or hate him, is so good at – the change in the world. And that’s what we’re about to do because the world is already changing.

Think about this as an architect or an artist bringing to life, these new worlds, these new possibilities these new integrated solutions, these services, these partnerships that could help us get there where imagination and curiosity and a little invention, or a lot of invention goes a long way. So, I want you to think about it this way. Customer experience and business customer experience are incredible differentiators and competitive advantages. So, with IIOT and IOT and sensors and Edge and mixed reality, we can bring these new worlds to life. We can give machines and processes a voice, but all that takes is you.

Of course, there’s the iterative parts of all of this, in the Novel Economy, we still need to iterate forward. We have to improve the things that need improving but there are also things that need inventing. And so we have to think forward I call it Infinite Digital Transformation. It’s this concept of digital transformation being ongoing, never ending – it’s ceaseless, but also splitting it into human-centered operational innovation and also iteration combined with business model innovation and business model iteration using all of these new technologies and these new capacities.

Look, it’s not just about enabling new products and services. It’s not just about partnerships. These are things we have to do. They have to be split into iteration and innovation but it’s also about how you wanna improve how you work, how you think, how you create so that you are demonstrating or exuding operational excellence at a time where people are still trying to figure out how to survive in the new normal. So, they could be ready for the next normal. You’re already over that. You’re shooting for the moon, it’s a moonshot.

So leaving this Real Talk, you play a role in how all of this will come to life through imagination, through Imagineering, you will… you’ll set the stage actually, for phase two in the Novel Economy for thriving in phase three, where business customers and consumers will experience these new immersive worlds, these new incredible business services and products that help everyone thrive together forward. This is your time.

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