What does it take to be a Founder of the next best tech company? Or the Director of a Fortune 500 Brand? A sensational appetite for learning is definitely one of them. Inside the Mind is a new series of interviews where we jump into the heads of leaders & entrepreneurs who are breaking grounds in the industry. For the first episode we speak with Ben Little, Co-Founder of Fearlessly Frank. Ben’s known for his innovative and disruptive companies across the smartphone, automotive, social, and app industries. By founding this innovation consultancy, he can target companies varying in size to create new products, services and market-ready strategies. Sitting down with Ben in their home at Perseverance Works we get straight into the nitty gritty.
Whether you’re running a small or large company, innovation is the name of the game: while small companies are often by their very nature nimble and often breaking new ground, larger rivals need to innovate to keep up. What are the most disruptive technologies currently being developed and by whom?
The Internet of Things is undoubtedly the next thing we have to get our heads around. But just like the arrival of the Internet, it is the myriad creativity of thousands of entrepreneurs and visionaries that will reveal new ways of interacting and create real benefits. These companies will be the next generation of household names, but behind them the technology facilitators will be facing their own battle, ARM, Intel, Qualcomm are already hard at work creating the hardware and platforms for innovation to thrive.
The second highly disruptive technology is AI (Artificial Intelligence). Not quite in the form of Skynet and its army of intelligent Terminators but much more in line with the movie ‘Her’ by Spike Jonze.
AI as an OS has arrived. Apple recently announced developers can now plug into Siri. This is going to have a significant impact on the app industry, taking us into a far more natural and passive way of using technology – ‘Hey Siri: find me a Tinder date, book me a table and get me an Uber there’.
Is David or Goliath winning the race, or is a collaborative approach the only way to make the most of the innovation revolution?
There is no right way. David, Goliath or any random bystander who happens to have the right idea and finds a route to market will succeed. By definition large companies are slower but have greater resource, whereas startups are nimble but often lack the discipline and the cash to create successes out of an ever changing and dynamic marketplace. But everyone must realise that innovation is hard and demands special working conditions and rules if it is to be effective. We create those conditions for our clients and partners – and they’re often very different from ‘business as usual’.
We are looking for entrepreneurs and business leaders to give us their take on innovation: what are their innovation predictions? Who will be the next Uber or airbnb?
We haven’t seen them yet – but there are still industries that have yet to really experience true disruption. Financial services (banking and insurance); automotive; supermarket retailing to name just three. But things are stirring.
The brands we are watching are:
- Mondo Bank (New disruptive banking interface)
- VIV (Artificial Intelligence Platform from the creator of Siri)
- x.ai (Artificially intelligent personal assistant)
- Hyperloop (new form of transportation)
- Amazon Fresh (Home delivery fresh food)
Fearlessly Frank: The Impossible Collection
So - How has the nature of innovation changed over the last decade or so?
It’s more urgent and imperative to be able to innovate. Big companies used to allow the market to create the innovations, then they’d buy them at a ‘trade’ price, integrate them onto their business that had a ‘retail’ share price, and immediately enhance their earnings. But now the innovation attracts such a premium that buying them dilutes earnings for established players (Microsoft and LinkedIn for instance). This is a different, strategic game that is harder to win, and effectively means betting the company every time an acquisition is made. There are more paths to innovation than ever before. Big companies have to incubate and experiment from within as well as look outside for new, acquired growth opportunities.
Have smaller 'challengers' upped the ante amongst large businesses too?
See above. We will begin to see a form of reverse osmosis where the little guys, begin to consume the bigger established companies. (Bowers and Wilkins acquisition by startup Eva Automation for instance.) But large businesses haven’t yet worked out just how much they do need to innovate. The money they need in five and ten years’ time will be earned by selling different things in very different ways. They need a plan for that.
What are the areas most ripe for innovation?
Everyone should be thinking about the consequences of technology today. Nothing will be left untouched by the wave of change of the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.
Who is doing the innovating? Is it the university spin-outs and small upstarts, or do the mighty R&D departments of the world's biggest companies still pack a punch?
R&D departments crank out amazing stuff. But big companies often struggle to realise the true customer benefits. Small upstarts have much bigger, more idealistic visions but can suffer from a lack of precision and planning. It isn’t about innovation for innovations sake, it’s about understanding how the people and the technology we have available to us today fit together and can be made to benefit us in a rich and meaningful way.
What are your innovation predictions for the rest of the decade, in terms of what innovations will be and who will be doing the innovating?
Everything is moving faster, and where in the past the small things have had a way of creeping up on us, the change we will see in the future will feel like they arrive overnight. Entire industries will transform, as we’ve seen with the gaming industry surpassing the film industry, or the impact Uber has had on taxis in London. The shake ups will be rapid and definite.
Over the next ten years at least half of the current FTSE 100 will have disappeared, not just left the top 100. They will be replaced by or subsumed into businesses we have yet to hear about or take seriously.
How much further can innovation go in the so-called 'Sharing economy'?
It has a long way to go. There’s a generation coming through that has a very different value set, and thus they make very different purchasing decisions and want to interact in very different ways. They will sustain the sharing economy for a long time and will begin to inform new ways of doing things.
The conscience of the sharing economy will see more willingness to collectivise the technology we use. For example, there are enough smartphones in the world to create hundreds of super computers that could aid research scientists with finding the cures for Aids or cancer.
Such opportunities are not just within our grasp but within our social consciousness to come together and make a difference. The sharing economy will have huge impact not only within but also outside the confines of commerce.
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Innovation seems to be intrinsically linked to digital these days. What are the other areas where the innovation revolution is taking place?
In order to support rich digital innovation, we also need to innovate the infrastructure and the tools we use. I’m fascinated by new inventions like Graphene (ultra light and immensely tough form of carbon that will change the way we conduct heat and energy - invented at the University of Manchester) or Freevolt (wireless charging technology taking power from 3G 4G and Wifi - created by Drayson Technologies also in the UK). These are the tools both start ups and established companies will be using to help shape our future.
We live in an amazing time…society is shifting totally and completely, the low hanging fruit of the Internet has all been chewed up and now our imaginations our being stretched to create new industries and experiences unlike things that came before. But we also need to stop, take a pause and consider the things we create. We have a duty to ensure we provide both progress and purpose.
Fearlessly Frank: The Impossible Collection