Disruptive Innovation: Paradigm shifts and innovations


An innovation is a new answer to an old question.

A paradigm shift is a new question, resulting in a new answer.

When the first iPhone came out we were all absolutely blown away.

I had a friend named Johnny who was really into ‘all that stuff’ [most people were not back then] and he had watched the Steve Jobs’s keynote… so he informed me that we were all about to experience a miracle. He was right.

See… the first iPhone was a paradigm shift. It was asking a new question which was: What is a phone really?

Subsequent phones were ‘merely’ innovations [new answer to an old question]: How do we make the phone better?

That is why our hearts never skipped a bit again ever since the iPhone.

Another good example is Starbucks [tip of the hat to Purple Cow for reminding me of this…go read that book]

Growing up in South Africa, coffee was not the thing to be crazy about, I still don’t think we are that crazy about it.

But today, a lot of young folks, hang out at Starbucks sipping the various frappuccinos and discussing various high minded things.

Starbucks was a paradigm shift for asking the new question: What is a cup of coffee?

Now I get it. I love the new definition and utilise it every day of my life.

Paradigm shifts and innovation are both crucial.

The simple idea is this: be very clear with yourself and with your team about which one you are going after, and then plan and serve accordingly.

Innovation: Kodak

Paradigm shift: Instagram,

Innovation: Hilton

Paradigm shift: Airbnb

Innovation: Cab drivers

Paradigm shift: Uber

Innovation: Banks

Paradigm shift: Paypal

Innovation: Multichoice

Paradigm shift: Netflix

Paradigm shift: new question, new answer

Innovation: old question, new answer

A new answer to an old question is sustaining innovation.

A new answer to a new question is disruptive innovation.

Disruptive Innovation: How to think not what to think


What is Disruptive Innovation?

According to the father of The Theory of Disruptive Innovation Prof Clay Christensen, the theory goes that a smaller company with fewer resources can unseat an established, successful business by targeting segments of the market that have been neglected by the incumbent, typically because it is focusing on more profitable areas.

Prof Christensen is a firm believer in theories.

These theories are not long essays in the academic sense of theoretical concepts. These are simple statements of what causes things to happen and why.

They principles on how to approach, think and solve problems.

In his amazing book How Will You Measure Your Life? Clay shares a story of how Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, requested him to visit Intel head office and explain his famous theory of disruptive innovation.

When Clay arrived, Andy said he could only spare 10 minutes and asked Clay to explain what it means for Intel. Clay instead showed Andy a diagram of his theory and began walking him through it.

Ten minutes in, Andy interrupted impatiently: “Look, I have got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.

“Andy, I can’t.” Clay persisted and went on to share the story of the disruption of the steel mill industry.

When he finished the story, Andy said: “I got it.” and explained how it applied to Intel.

Clay knew that Andy knew more than he would ever know about his business.

Instead of telling him what to think, he taught him how to think.

A great lesson for us to apply as and when we are asked for advice by our clients, students, team members and friends, let’s focus on setting a frame.

As Clay puts it:

“When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I’ll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they’ll say, “OK, I get it.” And they’ll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.”  

The Naked Truth and the Lie


The Truth and the Lie meet  on the road one day.

The Lie says to the Truth: “It’s a marvellous day today”!

The Truth looks up to the skies and sighs, for the day was really beautiful.

They walk together for a while, until they reached a beautiful well.

The Lie tells the Truth: “The water in the well is very nice, let’s take a swim together!”

The Truth, once again suspicious, tests the water and discovers that it indeed, is very nice.

They undress and start the bathe.

Suddenly, the Lie jumps out of the well, puts on the clothes of the Truth and runs off towards a nearby village.

The furious Truth leaps out of the  well and runs to find the Lie and get her clothes back.

The Villagers, seeing the Naked Truth, are horrified and look away with contempt and rage.

The poor Truth returned to the well and disappeared, forever, hiding her shame.

And since that day, the Lie travels the world, clothed as The Truth.


The naked truth is always better than the best-dressed lie.

The moment just before…


The anxious, scary, stressful, butterflies in stomach moment just before you…

Walk on stage

Say the big important thing

Pitch your idea

Send the email

Make the call

Launch your first product

Write the new song

Publish a book

…that is a thrill, a scary thrill!

How many times have we all heard “I was nervous but once I got on stage I was fine”…and that is great, I have been there too and I’m really glad we can settle into whatever it is we are doing.

But don’t disregard that tension right before you settle into the groove. That moment where your senses are heightened, fully alert and alive, your mind is racing, you have not risked yet but you know you are about to.

What a gift. That moment is your mind body and soul understanding that what you are about to do is important.

Keep going.

PS: If it has been a while since you have experienced this beautiful moment before the big thing, you might consider pushing harder, going bigger, risking more.

The Subtle Beauty of the Real Mona Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museumn

I know several people who have gone to see the Mona Lisa at the Lourve. Most of them comment on how small the painting is in real life.

They were expecting its size to match up to its level of fame.

They say it is not much bigger than an open newspaper, protected by bulletproof glass.

The Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s is, after all, the most famous painting in the world.

The painting has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.”

Most has been written about Leonardo da Vinci and we have seen his incredible paintings.

But who is this lady, Mona Lisa?

What do we know about her?

The woman depicted in the picture is believed to be a woman named Lisa del Giocondo [Born Lisa Gherardini] and she is not classically beautiful [as defined].

Hers is a subtler kind of beauty, that beauty that does not announce itself, it creeps up on you.

Lisa’s name was given to the Mona Lisa, her portrait was commissioned by her husband Francesco del Giocondo and painted by Leonardo da Vinci during the Italian Renaissance.

Little is known about Lisa’s life.

Born in Florence and married in her teens to a cloth and silk merchant who later became a local official, she was a mother to five children and led what is thought to have been a comfortable and ordinary middle-class life.

One of things I find most interesting about the Mona Lisa is that even though it was painted in the early 1500s, it did not become truly famous until the twentieth century.

It slipped in quietly and grew on us over time.

I know several friends at back at my high school who were like that. They said very little. They will be sitting alone along the edges of the classroom, nose in book.

At first glance such people are described a normal, plain or “homely.”

They don’t court attention, they are not the showstoppers, they are easily overlooked.

They are not the popular, well-known and celebrated folk, except for their academic achievements and awards.

When you first meet them, you don’t really notice them. But then they kinda grow on you, and then you realise their beauty, warmth, smarts.

Such people possess subtle beauty.

They are the quiet confident.

Over time their real, true colors, traits, beauty, and character, subtly comes out.

Like a moon that shines alone at night when everyone is not looking, subtle beauty shines away from the hustle and bustle of activity.

Let your true brand beauty shine subtly.

In business, the same principle applies.

Sometimes the best way to get to your customers, is not to shout to them to notice you but to subtly grow into them.

Great brands of the future will be built by those who have worked hard to gain the insight that enables them to whisper: “We see you, we are for you” to their customers:

Shouting “notice us, we are the best, buy from us” just does not cut it anymore.

Sawubona, we see you.

Post Script:

On 21 August 1911, the painting was stolen from the Louvre. The theft was first noticed the next day, by painter Louis Béroud. After some confusion as to whether the painting was being photographed somewhere, the Louvre was closed for a week for investigation.


Louvre employee had stolen the Mona Lisa by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet, and walking out with the painting hidden under his coat after the museum had closed. The employee was caught when he attempted to sell it to directors of another art gallery in Florence.

Book Review: AI Superpowers, China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee


This is a great book. It not only provides a history of AI both in the USA and China. Kai-Fu Lee also provides a history of AI’s both in the USA and China, and also includes an in-depth analysis between China and the US’s approach to AI’s. He also discusses pros and cons of their abilities, engineering and politics.

The book offers a fascinating look at the rise of the Chinese tech environment, why it is radically different from Silicon Valley, and why it may well ended up dominating the latter over the next couple of decades.

Lee Kai-Fu compared and contrasts tech entrepreneurs from the USA [Silicon Valley] and China. Lee Kai-Fu is an amazing venture capitalist and an amazing human being. He used to head Google China and is a lymphoma survivor.

This book has 2 parts:

Part 1: For AI to succeed, it needs persistent entrepreneurs, AI researchers, capital and lots of data. Lee posited that China’s apps involved the whole service chain, from the mobile phone, to the main goods/service provider to the delivery person.

Silicon Valley prefers to code the clean part, that is, the app part but leaves other companies to do the ground work. This provides a lot of data and AI thrives on data.

Chinese entrepreneurs are also ultra competitive, as whatever is new is quickly copied. Companies therefore need to constantly evolve to keep their clients.

The Chinese government also is heavily involved in opening up technology towns with tax incentives to lure the entrepreneurs and capitalists to go. He thinks that China is going to become the AI superpower.

Part 2: The second part of the book is a different book altogether, almost as if written by another author. The style and subject matter was totally different. In his part, Dr Lee gets personal.

In this part Dr Lee shared how his life view has changed after he survived his lymphoma. He realised that he had been neglecting his family and vowed to spend a lot more time with them.

He also understand how humans can be better than AI machines: our humanity itself. He is convinced that very soon AI will replace a lot of human jobs. Massive unemployment would soon create a new underclass who would feel useless.

He suggested that we should have universal basic income but require people who receive them to be volunteers to counsel, teach and guide others.

It was when I was reading part 2 of the book that I realized: wait a minute, this is the guy who gave one of my favourite TED talks titled: Can AI save our humanity?



This is an amazing book, I recommend it to all entrepreneurs, it’s a must read for tech entrepreneurs.

A super-important read if you want to get a quick overview into the AI race as it stands. “Eye-opening” is an understatement.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the moment it is the best book I have read on what’s happening in the realm of AI.

It is a strong contender for my book of the year for 2019.

Favourite quotes

  • “By the end of 2017, 65 percent of China’s over 753 million smartphone users had enabled mobile payments.”
  • “Based on the current trends in technology advancement and adoption, I predict that within fifteen years, artificial intelligence will technically be able to replace around 40 to 50 percent of jobs in the United States.”
  • “AI will do the analytical thinking, while humans will wrap that analysis in warmth and compassion.”
  • “The AI-equipped floors of your elderly parents will alert you immediately if they’ve tripped and fallen.”
  • “Behind these efforts lies a core difference in American and Chinese political culture: while America’s combative political system aggressively punishes missteps or waste in funding technological upgrades, China’s techno-utilitarian approach rewards proactive investment and adoption.”
  • “If AI ever allows us to truly understand ourselves, it will not be because these algorithms captured the mechanical essence of the human mind. It will be because they liberated us to forget about optimizations and to instead focus on what truly makes us human.”
  • “Of the hundreds of companies pouring resources into AI research, let’s return to the seven that have emerged as the new giants of corporate AI research—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent.”
  • “Instead of being mission-driven, Chinese companies are first and foremost market-driven. Their ultimate goal is to make money, and they’re willing to create any product, adopt any model, or go into any business that will accomplish that objective.”
  • “China lagged years, if not decades, behind the United States in artificial intelligence. But over the past three years China has caught AI fever, experiencing a surge of excitement about the field that dwarfs even what we see in the rest of the world. Enthusiasm about AI has spilled over from the technology and business communities into government policymaking, and it has trickled all the way down to kindergarten classrooms in Beijing.”
  • “How should an autonomous vehicle’s algorithm weigh the life of its owner? Should your self-driving car sacrifice your own life to save the lives of three other people?”
  • “China has already vaulted far ahead of the United States as the world’s largest producer of digital data,”


The Meaningful Economy: Make it count


I was reminded of the life of Viktor Frankl a few days ago.

Viktor Frankl was a psychologist who while writing a book on his findings the Nazis came to town.

Foreseeing the capture, his wife sewed his writings on to his clothes hoping to save years of his work.

As soon as he was captured however, all his clothes were burnt down.

What followed was years of torture at various concentration camps along with the loss of every person in his family in the process. The details are harrowing.

Yet, Frankl kept his spirit, survived the experience and went on to write his seminal work ‘Man’s search for meaning.’

I found myself thinking about my life for a few moments..

While his experiences were probably as severe as they can possibly ever get, every one of us have had our share of ups and downs.

We face challenges every single day. They never stop. The more we choose to do, the more we choose to take on, the more challenges we face.

There is no running away from that.

Along the way, we taste bad luck, stumble, fall and then move on. That’s part of life.

There are many things in life that we do not have control of. That’s also part of life. In fact, over time, we realise we are not in control of most things.

It is a chaotic journey. And we are all working hard to play our part in the act.

What we do have complete control over is the meaning we attach to it. It does not matter if it is just an additional project, if it is just a note to say thank you, if it is just a small task at work or if it is just a catch up with a friend, we can make it meaningful. We can make it count.

We can choose to quit talking about the weather and talk about things that matter to us.

We can choose cut the small talk and talk about what matters.

We can choose to switch off the television set and actually get out and do something with our lives.

We can choose to make every minute in our day count.

We can choose to be interested, engaged and passionate.

We can choose to be present.

We can choose to be the best we can be. Just for a day for starters..

Maybe we will do it for a whole day today.

And maybe we will like it and do it again day after.

But careful now, as Seth Godin would say, it may become a habit.

One of my favorite quotes from Viktor’s book:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run, in the long-run, I say! success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”

The Meaningful Economy: The way


It is a lot easier of course to say that you are an author, photographer or investment banker.

It is much simpler to describe your company as being in user experience, the technology business or the transportation industry, the ‘this is what we do’ part.

But what you make probably is not enough to create an advantage for you in today’s marketplace.

Products and services without meaning are just replaceable commodities.

When you think of beloved brands like the most popular cafe in your area, what one word immediately springs to mind?

Perhaps it is consistency or community? It is probably not coffee.

Apple is immediately design.

Samsung….er, let me get back to you on that.

PayPal is convenience. Your bank is….probably something that you don’t want me to repeat here.

Brene Brown is vulnerability, Chris Anderson is TED, Simon Sinek, Start With Why.

This word association seems even more powerful when you flip it the other way.

Which market leader comes to mind when you think of tribes, the reusable rockets, online bookstore?

If you asked the same question of your customers would they be able to shoot a word back at you without hesitation? What word would that be?

If the answer is ‘no’ and it is not the word you were hoping for then go change something.

You get to choose what your work stands for and the meaning it creates.

‘The way’ matters far more than we realise.

The Meaningful Economy: Maybe we should redefine ambition


In our culture ambition is both celebrated and frowned upon, not always in equal measure.

Ambition is encouraged and rewarded, but only to a point.

Perhaps it is not ambition itself that is the problem, but rather, our narrow definition of it?

I think our definition of ambition and success needs to be redefined.

We aspire mostly to the ambition of accumulation of things.

We want to be more and have more.

More accomplished or influential, more wealthy or successful, more popular and celebrated. More up-to-date with the latest trends and fashion. More of the latest gadgets.

But if we are asked to define success, we are not always sure what it means to us.

Often success is defined as having more.

If we are going to find our calling, do meaningful work, work that matters and live happy, fulfilled lives we need a more ambitious definition of success.

Be ambitious about the power and potential of your ideas.

Be ambitious about the lives we touch and uplift.

Be ambitious about doing meaningful work, work that touches people for the better.

Be ambitious about the depth of the change you want to create.

Be ambitious for the people you love and those you serve.

Be ambitious for the people in your community who you have never met.

Be ambitious for the children in your country who have yet to be born.

Be an ambitious advocate for those who have lost hope.

Reflect on what you want. Then go after it with your head held high. And encourage and help others to do the same.

Perhaps our definition of ambition and success should include being meaningful and doing work that matters.

The Meaningful Economy: Be meaningful first


You don’t need the marketing budget of Revlon like you did in the old days.

Today the best brands tell stories that people want to believe and make meaning before making money.

The greatest equaliser of today is that creating meaning does not depend on a big budget.

All it takes is to care, to do work that matters.

Some of the biggest successes of our time, Gift of the Givers, The Pavement Bookworm, Silulo Ulutho Technologies, Quali Health and TED made meaning first and money later.

Tiny charitable foundations have found their voice in a crowded marketplace through their ability to tell and share a story that people wanted to believe.

Show that you care first, make your product give meaning to your customers.

Book Review: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr


Do you get bored after reading just a couple of paragraphs from a text?

Do you step into your room just to forget why you are there?

And do you constantly have this craving to jump off from a mentally-demanding task to open up your Facebook or Instagram?

If your answer to one the above is yes, you are probably suffering from a shattered focus.

Point. Click. Scroll. Scan. Point. Click. Scroll. Scan. Repeat until you walk away or shut off the computer, smart phone, or tablet.

The persuasive and comprehensive case for this current state of affairs is made by Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

According to Nicholas the modern mind is like the fictional computer.

“I can feel it too,” he writes. “Over the last few years, I have had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.

“When I began writing The Shallows, toward the end of 2007, I struggled in vain to keep my mind fixed on the task. The Net provided, as always, a bounty of useful information and research tools, but its constant interruptions scattered my thoughts and words. I tended to write in disconnected sprits, the same way I wrote when blogging.”

Nicholas left his place of Boston to the mountains of Colorado, which lacked cell phone service and high-speed Internet access. He canceled his Twitter account, suspended his access to Facebook, “shut down” his automatic news reader, and cut out Skypeing and instant messaging.

This enabled him to rewire his brain and once again engage in the deep thought of traditional reading, writing, and communication.

Besides the glories of technology and what it has done for us as a human specie, the thesis of this book is that computers are destroying our powers of concentration.

Numerous surveys suggest that the Internet has diminished our interest in reading books.

Nicholas quotes Wallace Stevens’s poem “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm,” in which stillness allows the reader to “become a book.”

The incessant noise of the Internet, Nicholas concludes, has turned the difficult text into an obsolete relic.

Personally, I know that technology is here to stay, there is no going back. What we need to be careful of is that we don’t lose our strengths and what works better for us in the process of immersing ourselves in technologies. Technological advancement don’t reverse.

We need to use the technology to our advantage not let it use us to our disadvantage.

There is a wonderful quote from English author Douglas Adams that covers this terrain better than anything I can add:

“1. Anything that is in the world when you are born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that is invented between when you are fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you are thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”



This book is definitely worth reading.

Nicholas does a sterling job to drive home how addictive the internet is. As he says, you don’t want to admit to yourself how much you crave internet stimulation, and how frequently you check mail, SMSes, inboxes, tweeter messages.

I have taken off Twitter, Facebook, off my phone for the past few days. I don’t have Instagram and LinkedIn.

The idea was to see what would happen, the results are that I’m more productive than usual. I got to read and finish more books, write more and my concentration levels have improved significantly.

Favourite Quotes

  • “When our brain is overtaxed, we find “distractions more distracting.”
  • “Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.”
  • “We want to be interrupted, because each interruption brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch, or even socially isolated.”
  • “We program our computers and thereafter they program us.”
  • “In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”
  • “The brighter the software, the dimmer the user.”
  • “When a printed book, whether a recently published scholarly history or a two-hundred-year-old Victorian novel, is transferred to an electronic device connected to the Internet, it turns into something very like a Web site. Its words become wrapped in all the distractions of the networked computer. Its links and other digital enhancements propel the reader hither and yon. It loses what the late John Updike called its “edges” and dissolves into the vast, rolling waters of the Net. The linearity of the printed book is shattered, along with the calm attentiveness it encourages in the reader.”
  • “The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness.”
  • “Sitting down and going through a book from cover to cover doesn’t make sense,” he says. “It’s not a good use of my time, as I can get all the information I need faster through the Web.” As soon as you learn to be “a skilled hunter” online, he argues, books become superfluous.”
  • “We don’t constrain our mental powers when we store new long-term memories. We strengthen them. With each expansion of our memory comes an enlargement of our intelligence. The Web provides a convenient and compelling supplement to personal memory – but when we start using the Web as a substitute for personal memory, by bypassing the inner processes of consolidation, we risk emptying our minds of their riches.”
  • “You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can sit on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery die.”
  • “Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.”
  • “Quite a few people still listen to vinyl records, use film cameras to take photographs, and look up phone numbers in the printed Yellow Pages. But the old technologies lose their economic and cultural force. They become progress’s dead ends. It’s the new technologies that govern production and consumption, that guide people’s behavior and shape their perceptions. That’s why the future of knowledge and culture no longer lies in books or newspapers or TV shows or radio programs or records or CDs. It lies in digital files shot through our universal medium at the speed of light.”


The Meaningful Economy: And the thankless work


We have all done thankless, lonely work.

The lonely work that no one else notices or cares about, but also often results in the biggest strides forward.

We have done it, but we don’t like it.

We have done it, but wish someone would notice.

We have done it, but wish we did not have to.

We have done it, and knew in our hearts it was meaningful work.

We have done it, and knew that it was important regardless of no recognition.

We have done it, and knew it mattered.

So why is the hope to not have to do the thankless work?  The hope that one day this kind of work will finally go away, once and for all.

Or the hope that we could do the thankless, meaningful work and, by some multi dimensional cosmic shift, be thanked for thankless work…. by lots of people.

Why do we wish we won’t have to do THAT kind of work again?

What if we looked for the thankless, meaningful work?

What if we sought it out?