FOUNDRIES.IO INSIGHTS

Sex and the art of IoT

By Ian Drew | September 26, 2019

These are two subjects that tend not to go together in a standard blog, but bear with me please, there is a connection.

My holiday read recently was a book on genetics and evolution and it struck me that some of the same ideas apply in IoT. It’s not something that had occurred to me before, but it does seem that the same principles apply in this new world.

There are three effective ways that genes replicate: conservative, semiconservative and dispersive. Without getting too complicated, conservative is where one parent’s DNA is replicated, semiconservative is where one strand of the double helix comes from each parent, and dispersive is where there is a complete new double helix, formed from individual DNA segments from each parent.

So what has this got to do with IoT and business? I think that most businesses are created either from a group of like-minded people getting together to create a tweak to a new business model or product. Or two groups joining and force fitting a new product or solution. I liken these two scenarios to the first two types of DNA replication. It’s really evolution rather than revolution.

Conservative replication is like a bunch of engineering folk getting together and saying, “let’s build a product to win in the medical space”. They may hire a medical person to do some investigations into the medical community, but effectively it’s a technology driven idea being pushed into the market. We have all seen these concepts, which almost always start with “look what we can do”.

The second type of replication, semiconservative, is probably the most common and almost certainly the worst. This is where two different groups get together and agree on a new “revolutionary product”, but they don’t have a mutual understanding of the language and culture across the two groups; their moral values don’t align even if they share the same ambitions. This is the joint venture that looks like it should work but fails because everyone was doing “the right thing” and no one said, “look at the big picture, what’s right for us may be wrong for them”.

The third type, dispersive, takes the best ideas from both partners and puts it together in a new and revolutionary form. This is where everyone listens to appreciate differences and to comprehend, so that they understand language and culture. I was in a series of meetings recently with some music people (very creative and very protective of their art), a manufacturing company (very structured and defensive of their business model) and some IoT engineers (wanting to design hardware and software to fix a problem but that may not represent a solution). It took a while to bring down barriers and more importantly to explain and encourage mutual understanding of culture and language. The end result wasn’t what anyone had expected.

Of course there are risks with many things and we need to evaluate how we deal with them and then what rewards may come about. Conservative replication is inherently low risk: you know what you’re getting and it will probably not change the world. Semiconservative is, as one leader once told me, “the definition of a camel is a horse designed by committee “. There is more risk but I suspect little more upside than on the first type of replication. Unfortunately, this is the route that many big businesses take when they look at IoT and think they will create a revolutionary product.

The dispersive model is clearly higher risk, you may end up with a real dud, but the upside is huge. This is where I think some great companies will be built and more importantly, this is where the revolution in IoT will happen. Disruptive business models which join multiple new ideas together is where everything from medical to automotive will need to go. There is a need to break down current misconceptions and barriers by borrowing ideas from far and wide and melding them into new business. This is how hummingbirds and seahorses were formed.

Is this art? Yes and no. It’s a creative process that good teams go through, to meld ideas and thoughts that make one plus one greater than two. The process is not fixed, some consultants will try to help, but it’s up to the people in the room to make the difference. Culture in companies is about emotions and feelings as much as process. Therefore, it’s a creative process and so should be called art rather than science.

So where does Foundries.io come in? We are creating this base platform so that all new IoT ideas can be built easily, without walls of cloud or architecture to think about. Instead, it will encourage real ideas from anyone who is inspired and who knows others that can build upon those ideas. I think new unicorns will be built from taking from the old, mixing with the different and accepting that risk is involved. Don’t back down from the challenge, create something new that will revolutionise the world.

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