21st century priorities

21st century priorities

It’s the beginning of the year, which means your reading list is filled with predictions and “top trends” intended to inspire executives in the months ahead. And yet we are living in a time of uncertainty, and navigating the unknown is the hardest task for businesses today. Instead of prescriptive, one-size-fits-all answers, we’re starting 2018 with a set of questions to clearly understand the business problems — and opportunities. In our experience, that’s always the best starting place for creating transformative ideas and solutions.

1. Ethics and the role of business in society

We introduced this big idea last year, asking if we are finally ready to forgo short-term gain in the interest of doing what is right. Since this time, the CEO of Blackrock has asked companies to rethink their role in society.

Is 2018 the year that ethics will return to business, or have we completely written ethics out of the leadership equation in the name of maximizing short-term shareholder value?

  • Who is responsible for evaluating the unintended consequences of new technologies and ways of working, such as AI and the gig economy? Or quantifying the damage of old ways of working, such as systemic discrimination and depressed wages?
  • Which organizations are fundamentally reshaping themselves with an ethics lens? What are the incentives for middle management to raise flags?
  • How are investors and boards of directors reacting to the losses — both ethics and value — faced by companies such as Uber, United, and Wells Fargo? Are they able to make the connection between ethics and long-term economic viability for the company?

2. Emerging technology: re-organizing for the future

In 2017, it felt as if we hit peak Digital Transformation. Chief Digital Officers were hired, major partnerships with big tech went public, and everyone was building a machine learning team.

How are companies re-organizing and building the infrastructure to meaningfully test, learn, and incorporate new technologies such as AI, voice assistants, XR (exponential realities), and blockchain?

  • Is failure really acceptable? How do organizational decisions accommodate both near-term business needs and long-term planning?
  • Is there a consistent investment thesis across the organization, including their skunkworks, business units, and investment funds? Or is each still operating independently?
  • How is the pendulum swinging? Are we all building Centers of Excellence again? Or embedding innovation into business units?

3. The future of work, education, and the economy

Most conversations about the “future of work” focus on how new technologies and ways of working will dramatically reshape modern industries. But technology doesn’t create jobs. Needs create jobs.

Can we close the gap between industry and education?

  • Who should be responsible for upskilling and reskilling the current workforce? Corporations? The government? The individual?
  • How will industry and academic institutions come to agreement on on a model for next-generation credentialing?
  • Is the future of work about engineering humans out? Or lifting humans up?

4. 10 years of digital health

With a decade of learnings under our belts, the world is starting to connect the dots. Digital health is no longer the domain of pharma and payors — big tech and consumer goods are making a play at the market. And yet America is still sick.

Do we have an enterprise approach yet? Or is digital health still a menagerie of pilots?

  • Have health care organizations aligned internally on what would constitute a “big win”?
  • How are life sciences companies creating the infrastructure to derive insight from real world, consumer-generated data?
  • Who is being left behind in the digital health conversation? How can we make sure that these innovations are as inclusive as possible, and not just for those of us who are fortunate enough to worry about “optimizing” our health?

5. Open innovation

Organizations increasingly recognize the benefits of opening up. Engaging with solvers at the edges of a system — where the most unique perspectives and freshest ideas often reside — can lead to truly novel innovations in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost.

How can open innovation move from a “one and done” mindset to a strategic intake valve?

  • Which organizations have developed an open innovation competency that can withstand shifts in leadership?
  • Where does open innovation sit inside of organizations? How does it liaise between research and commercial functions?
  • How are sponsoring organizations and solvers evaluating the impact of open innovation on their respective trajectories?

6. Smart cities and infrastructure

An urban tech optimist sees opportunities to harness new streams of information to transform cities and improve human life. Others see a bleak brotopia landscape designed by big brother.

Are smart cities being built to benefit big tech, or the people?

  • Which public-private partnerships can be considered best-in-class?
  • How are cities and big tech addressing the potential for unintended consequences?
  • Which voices are missing from the smart city revolution?

You may have noticed a common thread pulling these themes together — we’re interested in the connection between humans, technology, and business. The companies that ask the right questions and strike the right balance are the ones to watch in 2018.

This year we’re asking big questions and exploring smart solutions: subscribe to the Lab Report to receive insights in your inbox.


Sara Holoubek
Founding Partner and CEO


Head of Content & Community