Washington Post

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The first generation of Americans to grow up in a digitally connected world both rely on and distrust the connectedness they take for granted.

I engage with millennials in my work as a business school lecturer and investor. Digital natives are now the largest demographic in our society, slightly edging out baby boomers. Their views on the digital world — both the veracity of the information they receive and how they manage their own digital persona — are illuminating and somewhat disheartening.

In speaking with them, it strikes me how clearly they distinguish between the real world — a world of physical connection with close friends — and the digital world.

“I do not think that who we portray ourselves to be online is who we are in the real world,” offered Jennifer Rosen, a student at University of Maryland. “People dress, pose and post in a certain way so that they can try to establish an image of themselves.”

“I believe that who we are on the Internet is not a true showing of who we are actually are as a person,” added Greg Cistulli, a student at Christopher Newport University. The Internet does not provide us with insight into others, he says, because “people only put what they want others to see.”

I hear this type of commentary a lot. Millennials use the Internet as a promotional tool, as a way to stay connected on a superficial level with a broader group of people, and not as a way to create “real” relationships. In a way, they view social media more like a large, multiplayer video game than as reality.

Yet, it is a game they feel that they must play, because the digital world is engrossing. “I know that if I leave my phone away from me for even a few hours I feel like I missed quite a bit in life,” says Deepak Salem, a student at University of Maryland.

Evan Monroe, a student at Christopher Newport University put it best “More often I find myself communicating” through digital means such as texting and Snapchat “instead of face-to-face conversations or even phone calls.” Yet he doesn’t welcome this tendency. “I believe that this is the future we are moving towards and I do not believe it is for the better.”

Digital natives also stay informed through their connectedness. A study released last year by the Media Insight Project proved that digital natives get most of their information about the world around them from social media. In one sample, the study found that out of 24 sample news items, 20 were sourced to digital natives through social media. They may have friends in the real world, but that is not where they get their news.

This is troubling. Digital natives gather news from an information source that they may not even trust for veracity. As one digital native described it to me, “there are very few occasions when I think that something is completely true on the Internet.” So the doubt exists, but the time and patience needed to fact check or use critical thinking doesn’t.

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A sure-fire way to commercial success is giving people something new they truly and desperately want. Innovation — the connection of something novel with a need — has become a heady concoction that a growing number of organizations pursue.

The Pentagon continues accelerating its effort to source innovation from more places — for instance, it opened its latest innovation-focused office in Austin, Tex. last week as it has done in both Silicon Valley and Boston. CEOs of large businesses and heads of not-for-profit organizations often tell me about their need for innovation.

Many ask whether large organizations can learn to pivot, and embrace innovative change the way smaller companies and individuals seem to be able to.

Let’s look at what innovation means. Some describe it as the process of combining entrepreneurship and technology to create something new, but that definition shortchanges the fresh ideas that don’t

necessarily use technology. It would also imply that large organizations probably couldn’t be innovative, since entrepreneurs generally do not like working in large organizations.

Others tie innovation to commercial outcome, but this devalues the multitude of opportunities for innovation to positively change an organization without necessarily turning a profit. Innovating for social benefit is not profitable in a monetary way.

Instead, innovation is the conversion of a creation into something that satisfies a need. This is an important nuance. Creativity on its own doesn’t need to influence or sway others; it’s a human behavior. Innovation, however, makes users respond and act in a new way, see things differently, feel differently — and, to want to feel that way again.

So innovation can be large or small, broad or narrow in focus and application. Innovation is a naturally occurring phenomenon when people are given an opportunity to be creative and then share their new ideas.

The first trick is establishing conditions for people to dream, to wonder and ponder. This “fuzzy thinking” is the process of gathering information and considering alternatives in a somewhat wandering, less directed path.

The second challenge is…

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The connection between customer and company is ephemeral. When it’s strong, a product or service can achieve almost a cult-like status. When the connection is weak, a business can lose its way. I was reminded of this by Apple’s release of the iPhone 7 and a Bruce Springsteen concert I attended; these seemingly disconnected things have an important lesson for entrepreneurs.

When Apple released its iPhone 7 last week, the ghost of Apple founder Steve Jobs was surely looking on, but the more corporeal world provided little more than a collective yawn. In comparison to the launches of earlier versions of the iPhone, where the media and customers breathlessly recited the amazing innovations included in the latest release, the reaction to this most recent iteration was surprisingly muted.

As a result, some opine that Apple lost its way when Jobs died. Certainly, he ran Apple more like a consumer design company than a technology company. The beauty of products, the connection the user feels when “unboxing,” giving the customer something unexpected — all made Apple unique. Apple understood that how a customer feels about a product is as important as what it does.

An emblematic story of this approach was shared by Walter Isaacson in his biography of Steve Jobs. The visionary had his engineers autograph the system board for the fledgling Apple Macintosh. When engineers pointed out that no one would ever see their signatures buried in the device, Jobs reminded them that although the user might not ever spot it, the engineers themselves would know it was there.

Connection between customers and company. Engineers thinking about consumers they will never meet. Asking whether a device felt good in the hand, or if a smiling icon would be more welcoming than the “c-prompt” that used to greet users when they logged in to their home computer. (If you are old enough to remember c:\, then you know first-hand how Macs didn’t just “think different” but were different.) That was the Apple that Steve Jobs ran.

Enter Bruce Springsteen. I recently joined 50,000 fellow fans for a concert at Nationals Park. I will admit to being at best a casual follower of his music, yet I have never seen such a connection between an artist and a crowd. You know that feeling when you come into a room and you can feel that everyone knows each other and likes one another? It was like that. Close, intimate and connected.

Struck by this experience, I did a bit of digging, and found that stories of personal connection between the 66-year-old and his fans are many. A fan dressed as Elvis coming up on stage and joining the band with Springsteen singing backup. Someone seated in the upper decks suddenly finding himself in the first row through two free tickets from The Boss. Fans with signs asking for Springsteen to play their favorite song and him using their request as a playlist.
I see similarities in Apple’s history and Springsteen’s concert.

It’s all about empathy. Apple and Springsteen put themselves…

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“The world is going to go to self-driving and autonomous,” says Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalancik, noting that if Uber didn’t lead that trend “the future passes us by basically, in a very expeditious and efficient way.” As if glancing into the rear view mirror to make sure no one was gaining on it, Uber promptly introduced the first autonomous cars into its Pittsburgh fleet and purchased a self-driving truck start-up.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. announced its intention to produce autonomous cars without pedals and steering wheels by 2021.

Collectively, these statements and actions led me to ask – why is there an implicit assumption that the technological change of autonomy is inevitable? And, if its adoption is inevitable, shouldn’t we also be addressing the inevitable challenges that will result from its widespread adoption?

Technology blinds us into having a belief in its inevitability — we get so caught up in the coolness of it all. Or, perhaps the progress is a reflection of a freely moving, creative society.

In our excitement about technological advances, we often leave ourselves short on thinking through its implications.

The most obvious question raised by widespread adoption of autonomous technologies is the effect on employment. At the very same time it’s running compelling national TV ads to attract human drivers, Uber is planning those drivers’ technological replacement. A trucking company that uses the autonomous technology just acquired by Uber may become more efficient, but it will also displace truck drivers, one of the largest remaining high-paying jobs available without a technical education.

What role will humans play in autonomous transportation businesses? Will they become minimum wage-earning night watchmen, sitting in a truck cab while the truck itself drives 20 hours a day? Will there still be a need for a “driver” in an autonomous taxi to make sure that they are kept clean and undamaged?

Another question relates to how we will live in harmony with autonomous transportation technologies. Consider the underlying assumption that autonomous cars will be safer and cut down on traffic. Yes, autonomous cars will likely be able to travel more closely together, thereby cutting down on the stop-and-start driving that creates a traffic jams. And the safety expectation is based on the simple reality that humans are often really bad drivers. Those assumptions make technical sense.

However, how will autonomous cars and human drivers co-exist on our highways? Will we outlaw cars driven by humans? Set up special lanes for autonomous cars? Or, just accept the inevitable free-for-all that will undoubtedly occur? The next time someone cuts you off on the Capital Beltway while texting and drinking coffee, consider how computer software might address this moment.

Finally, consider the issue of legal liability for…

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More and more people agree: cybersecurity is in our region’s DNA and can continue to be a boom for greater Washington.

But venture capital is pivotal in providing the accelerant for rapid growth of technology companies, and it I fear that the lack of sufficient risk capital is strangling some promising startups.

Overall, the greater Washington region is the eighth-largest venture capital market in the country. For 2015, approximately $1.4 billion of venture capital was invested here.

This capital was provided by 351 investment firms and of those, 252 were from outside of our region — with the remaining 45 indigenous to our market, according to Pitchbook, a well-respected source of market data.

Turning more narrowly to software, approximately $700 million in venture capital was invested in 2015. The most active software investors were

a blend of angel groups (NextGen Angels, Blu Ventures and Baltimore Angels), government funders (Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology and Maryland Technology Development Corp), and institutional venture investors (Grotech and New Enterprise Associates). Not surprisingly, deal frequency tended to highlight angel groups, due to their role as often providing seed capital to new businesses.

The two most active early-stage investors in software are very different in their funding and approach. Virginia’s CIT is a state-funded activity that makes seed investments, operates an accelerator program — Mach37 — and has a technology commercialization fund to jump start new companies. Blu Ventures is a group of highly experienced entrepreneurs using their own money to invest and play a hands-on role with companies where their operational expertise will be meaningful.

Narrowing the focus to cybersecurity start-up funding reveals some interesting data.

In our region approximately $430 million in cybersecurity software venture capital deals took place in 2015 — roughly a third of all venture capital funding.

Although the absolute number of cybersecurity venture investing appears to be a large percentage of overall software investing, one deal (Tenable Network Security) was $250 million of that amount. The remaining $170 million was spread through 24 deals. Pin those deals on a map of our region, and the clusters become obvious: substantially all of the transactions were among companies located in Northern Virginia, Baltimore and Howard County.

Apparently, venture capital firms are making…

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As children imagining our life as adults, we assume we’ll have a better understanding of life’s big questions. Our evolution from childhood to adulthood — dependence to autonomy — is defined by our belief that we will learn to better navigate the world around us.

We expected we would be in control of our destinies, yet each day, we are reminded that this expectation was (and is) wildly unrealistic.

Which brings me to today’s big questions and how they defy easy understanding.

Much has been written in this election cycle about ignorance and displeasure. There are many reasons offered for why people are angry, why they shout: “Our country is becoming unhinged.”

Let’s all take a deep breath.

It seems to me that our national mood is actually being framed by our childhood expectations. We want the world to make sense to us — we expect it to.

Nothing is more disappointing than not receiving what we believe we were entitled. For children, that disappointment spawns temper tantrums. When kids react with an emotional outburst, we send them to the corner for “time outs.” What should we do for ourselves?

Unquestionably, life in our country has become more complicated. Technology and change are a double-edged sword. They are drivers for wealth creation and opportunity, reaching into all aspects of our society, yet at the same time, they bring about tremendous complex challenges.

A big issue in the current election is globalization. Some say it is better for our citizens than the alternative of economic isolation. Statistics show worldwide wealth has increased over the last 50 years. But, has it been…

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Since the launch of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has based his qualifications on his experience as a businessperson — that his financial acumen would make him a good president. I see this as an incredible opportunity for voters to finally get a clear picture of a candidate’s true colors — if they are willing to look for the truth.

My father was an entrepreneur. He often reminded me “we all leave footprints” in business; how we act and what we do is captured in personal memories of those with whom we worked.

Building a business is a multiple-step endeavor: Find a market, hire people, build a product, sell that product and hopefully have a lifelong relationship with a customer. Each step of the way, actual human beings are on the other side of the transaction, with their own needs. How you get a customer to agree with you, and find a common ground, is a core skill of successful business people.

My father’s point was a simple one. Unlike politics, where a candidate can often spin the past, or reinvent him or herself through great public relations, those varied steps in growing an enterprise are harder to whitewash — there are just too many of them.

To truly understand the character of a business person, let’s take advantage of the proof out there for all to see. Not simply in the achievement of the success, but in how they climbed to that point.

Business people come in all shapes and sizes, with a multitude of personal ways to negotiate and gather resources. Some look at the world as a zero sum game where every transaction has a winner and a loser while others believe that both sides in a negotiation can benefit equally. Some operate as if a negotiation is never over, and deals can be reopened after they have closed. Another tactic is to lie during negotiations. Then again, I have seen smart people knowingly lose out on opportunities because they told the truth.

For years, I have worked with psychologists who specialize in leadership development and have coached hard-working people on how to grow successful businesses. One recurring lesson I have seen imparted is that under stress, people return to their core behavior, their own very personal winning strategy if you will — personality traits they rely on to get what they want.

We learn our personal winning strategies when we are very young. Whether it’s to be a bully, to collaborate, to be analytical or to cajole, we began applying those skills in our nursery school sandbox.

So because business is often a highly stressful place where we end up showing our true nature and are most authentic when engaged in commerce, we are fortunate as the voting public to have a candidate this time around whose record we can examine in ways beyond the rudimentary count of how many buildings or widgets carry the company name. We can ask tough questions to those who transacted with Trump, and perhaps saw his true, instinctive nature. His candidacy provides us with a transparency…

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This summer marks the 47th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. Last week in Boston, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced significant improvements and expansion of the Pentagon’s capability to work with agile innovators. These two events are related in very important ways.

The Apollo program’s moon landings remain among the most significant accomplishments of “big science,” the term used to describe a program of developing and achieving innovations using large centralized teams. Generally, big science addresses challenges that are believed to not be suitable for solution by small autonomous groups.

During World War II, big science became a tactic for creating advanced technologies, the most emblematic being the Manhattan Project — the research and development effort behind the first nuclear weapons. After the war, big science continued to be the primary model for discovering new innovations. A vast network of university and federal labs was created to continue to advance technology, and the model was adopted by private companies such as AT&T in its Bell Labs.

Much of the development and application of big science was promoted and funded by the Department of Defense. As Secretary Carter stated last week, the Defense Department had a long history of working to develop important new technologies such as the jet engine, satellite communications, Internet, and GPS. He noted that this “cooperation among industry, the academy and government helped make our military what it is today: the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”

Over the last 20 years, the big science model has been challenged by the emergence of innovation from small and agile teams. It has been facilitated by the commoditization of software — lowering the costs of creating software  to effectively zero — as well as the…

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Some might say that it is the Pet Rock of this generation: Pokémon Go. With yet another excuse to bury themselves in their smart phones, young adults have been absent-mindedly stepping into the road, or other inappropriate places, with greater frequency than usual — as they become literal followers of the game’s characters.

I believe that Pokémon Go is indicative of a broader trend.

Recently, Elon Musk remarked that he believed that we are living in a computer simulation. “There’s a one in billions chance that this is base reality,” he said. He sees the evolution of computing power and the overwhelming attraction to virtual reality. As a Silicon Valley thought leader, he calculates it as an obvious outcome of technology’s indefatigable march forward: we live in a simulation operated by our distant descendants. Pretty heavy stuff. We are living in the film “The Matrix,” where billions of humans are neurally connected, and are unaware that the world is actually virtual reality.

While I am not sure whether Elon Musk is right about whether we are living in a simulation, I do believe that as a result of the success of Pokémon Go a reality that is shaped only by what we see around us will be encroached upon more often by experiences that were previously only digital in nature.

As virtual reality hardware and software are coming on line, there has been a discussion in the technology community as to whether there yet exists a “killer app” for virtual reality. Technologists use the term killer app to describe a software product that drives consumer adoption of new technology hardware. For example, spreadsheets were the killer app that drove the adoption of PCs into the business world, and iTunes was the killer app that drove adoption of the IPod.

Is Pokémon Go the killer app for virtual reality?

Based upon its explosive growth over the last month, many think that Pokémon Go may be a candiddate. The financial markets appear to think so – the stock price of Nintendo has doubled since Pokémon Go was released.

What has caused Pokémon Go to grow its user base so explosively? I spoke recently with Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School about the Pokémon Go phenomenon.

Listen to my interview with Jonah Berger.

He believes its popularity relies upon its visibility in the physical world – people can see their friends playing and congregating. Even in our hyper connected online world, what those…

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Buried under a difficult week of news about race and violence in this country was a big economic story. The U.S. stock market traded at historical highs, and yet as recently as two weeks ago, many market observers were warning of a recession. Here’s why this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Look around the world and the reality is that there simply isn’t a better place for investors right now. Thanks to former British prime minister David Cameron, the European Community will now suffer through a two-year Hamlet-like grappling by the English of how to handle Brexit. The United Kingdom’s economy is in neutral. Meanwhile, the Euro continues to operate as a fiscal hammer lock on the economies of Greece, Italy, Portugal and the other EU countries not named Germany.

China’s economy is propped up by a …

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