Autodesk CTO, Jeff Kowalski, provided the opening part of the #au2013 keynote presentation by declaring that "The answer is outside."
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
— Alvin Toffler
This quote by the great futurist, Alvin Toffler, is the perfect way to start our week here at Autodesk University. Now I know that most of you are here at AU to learn more about your toolsets, but today I'm going to talk about something even more fundamental than toolsets. It's an area in which we all need to learn, unlearn, and relearn. I'm talking about our mindsets — the ways in which we think about our work and how we go about doing it. Our mindsets are just as important as our toolsets. In fact, it usually takes a new mindset to unlock the full value of any new toolset. So this morning I'm going to talk about the single most valuable mindset that we can possibly adopt today.
But first, let's set the stage by looking at what's happening in out the world that is making a shift in mindset absolutely necessary. Today, the world is what military strategists call "VUCA." It's an acronym that stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
- Today's world is volatile. Tech visionary Ray Kurzweil estimates that in the 21st century we will experience not 100 years of change — but 20,000 years' worth of change.
- Today's world is uncertain. It's getting harder and harder even for the experts to predict the future — not to mention for us. These days, those of us who used to confidently create five-year plans are struggling to develop three-year plans — or, let's face it, even a one-year plan.
- Today's world is complex. Designers and engineers, in particular, are facing an explosion of complexity, in terms the things they create and the context in which those things will eventually exist.
- And today's world is ambiguous. Today we've got 7 billion people on the planet contributing to a global mashup of ideas, opinions, needs, and inventions of startups, trends, and social movements.
This dizzying planetary churn is making it harder and harder to really understand what's going on out there.
So that's our world — the one in which we're living and working today. So the next questions are:
- How should we respond to a world like this?
- What's the right mindset for this kind of environment?
At this point, you're probably saying, "Jeff, don't worry about it! We've already got everything we need to thrive in this VUCA world. In fact, there's an entire consulting and thought leadership industry specifically devoted to helping us do just that." I couldn't agree more. Traditionally, whenever we've wanted to improve ourselves and our companies, we've been told to:
- Embrace greater quality,
- Adopt six sigma,
- Improve customer service,
- Maximize efficiency,
- Build our brand,
- Leverage social media, and
- Create a culture of innovation.
And then there are all those business books which promise to help us to:
- Awaken The Giant Within,
- Use 7 Habits to Become Highly Effective,
- Go from Good to Great,
- Win Friends and Influence People,
- Think and Grow Rich,
- Create Lean Startups,
- Lean in, and
Some of this stuff is very good, but here's the problem. It's not going to help us. Why? Today these ideas are really just table stakes. Everyone knows about them, and almost everyone is using them. These ideas are not going to help us create the kind of breakthrough innovation we need to help us respond to that world outside. These ideas and books tell us that to be successful, we have to do what we've always done — look inside ourselves and our companies to find the answers. But that would be 100% wrong. Because today, inside is not where we need to be looking. Today, we need to look outside.
I'd like to tell you about four powerful ways that people and companies are looking outside. They're going:
- Outside the tools they've typically used;
- Outside the people they've usually collaborated with;
- Outside the work they've traditionally done; and
- Outside the sources of insight that they've depended upon.
So now let's look at these four powerful ways of looking, and going, outside.
Let's start with our tools.
A technology that underpins almost everything we do these days is infinite computing. We use this term to describe the immensity of computing power that exists outside your desktop computer, and outside your smart phone — and which we now all have access to today. So now that you have this hyper-flexible, fully elastic, basically infinite set of computing resources at your disposal. What are you going to do with it? One thing we can do is address projects whose scope was just too massive to fit in the computers we had. For example, until recently, if you were building something really large — let's say a highway — you could only work on the project's design in small increments. This limitation made it hard to design and build the entire road, but that was the only way to do it with the available computing power. Today, a company like CDM Smith can use our Infraworks product to design an entire corridor between interconnected cities using a single coordinated model.
Infinite computing can also help us explore many different design options at the same time by offloading the task of generating the options to the computer. This leaves us free to serve as the project's creative arbiter — evaluating and evolving our design options until we reach, not just one that will work, but literally the best one we can imagine. For example, Airbus recently used a combination of silicon-based and bio-based computing to generate and evaluate thousands of design options resulting in a stunning concept plane.
Search First, Make Second
Another way to look outside our tools is to adopt an approach that we could call "Search first, make second." We often start our projects by thinking about "what we need to make," but in our hyper-connected world, we should start by thinking: "What's already out there that I can use?" Once we've exhausted all the existing resources at our disposal, then we can think about designing new things — things that we know don't already exist. I'm talking about an entirely new default starting place for our projects — one that looks outside first. In other words, you've designed your last bracket! From now on, you should be looking outside for things like brackets — and spending your precious time creating things that only you can create.
When we consciously choose to look outside and make the most of the world's existing resources, this allows us to be both creators and curators. There's also the added benefit that many of the things that already exist out there will actually be better than what we could create ourselves. A great example of this is GrabCAD, an open-engineering platform in the cloud where people can share their projects publicly, and collaborate on them privately. As of right now, almost a million engineers from around the world have used the GrabCAD site, uploading more than 300,000 CAD files which have now been downloaded 20 million times. Clearly some of you are already looking outside to get started on your projects.
Another existing resource we should always consider using at the start of our projects is the real world. We used to create CAD models for 90% of our work and then scan the real world as the other 10% but today that ratio is inverting. Now we're scanning more and more of the existing world, and we're only modeling the new things, the parts that don't already exist. We call this: Reality Computing. Today ironically it's easier and cheaper to simply scan the relevant reality into the computer than it is to do something manual and time-consuming like reverse-engineering a floor plan. The added benefit is that doing it this way usually leads to a richer model than the old manual approach.
Ownership versus Access
We also need to look outside the idea of having to own all of our tools — and this means shifting our mindset to one focused on access. This shift has already taken place in dozens of industries: whether it's cars, with Lyft; rooms, with AirBnB; or all kinds of stuff, with Yerdle. Today you don't need to necessarily own these things; you just need quick and easy access to them. Now the same is true for Autodesk software. Traditionally, customers like you have owned all of your Autodesk tools — but that model didn't always give you the flexibility you needed, did it? Here's what I mean.
- Let's say your company is thinking about whether or not to take on an exciting new project and it's a big one.
- To get it done, you'd have to hire a lot of new contractors and give them the same tools as your regular employees.
- Now in the past, when you owned your software, getting all these new people set up might have made it impractical, or even impossible, to take on such a project.
- But today, with an access model, you can quickly scale up, and down — giving all those new people the tools they need, for as just long as the project lasts.
- Now that you can rent Autodesk software, the ownership model has finally caught up with the agility of the software itself.
Another example of not having to own the tools you work with is our recent expansion of the Autodesk Remote service. Through our work with Amazon, Otoy, and Nvidia, we can now bring you some of our best tools in entirely new ways — on your mobile device, or any device with a standard web browser. So, looking beyond our current tools is a great way to go outside.
Now let's consider the power of looking outside the people we've traditionally worked with. When you look at the mathematical realities of talent in our hyper-connected world, you quickly realize this.
"No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else."
Tech visionary Bill Joy came up with this quote decades ago, and today, in our hyper-connected world, it's even more accurate and more essential to our success than ever before. Traditionally, we used to work with a pretty well-defined set of people; one that didn't change much over time — but that's not our current reality, or an adaptable strategy in today's connected world. Now there's a better way to work that takes full advantage of all of those brilliant minds that exist outside the four walls of your company, and there are lots of names for this new way of working. It's been called:
- Open innovation,
- Co-creation, and even
- Social product development.
But whatever we call it, it's a true revolution that's changing the way we all imagine, design, and create.
A company called Quirky uses a fully crowdsourced model to conceptualize, design, and deliver the products it brings to market.
Procter & Gamble
Even big companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G) are using open innovation as a core part of their strategy. P&G's Connect & Develop program is a global virtual exchange that the company uses to post projects and challenges. Once a project is posted, they then invite people from both inside and outside the company to contribute their ideas. The results? Today 50% of P&G's product initiatives involve collaboration with the outside.
Take Pringles Prints, for example. A number of years ago, P&G had a pretty wild idea: they wanted to find a way to print on Pringles potato chips — things like trivia questions and fun facts — but they didn't have a way to do it, internally. They were stuck — so they went outside. Through their Connect & Develop program, P&G eventually located a small bakery in Italy that had already created a technology for printing on potato chips! Wisely, P&G chose to look outside, first, to transform their new idea into a reality — and in doing so, they found exactly what they needed. So think about it this way: if P&G can find the perfect Pringles Printer in a little bakery in Bologna, imagine what you could find by looking outside?
Today there are even companies that provide open innovation as a service, like InnoCentive. This company helps some of the world's largest companies crowdsource their toughest challenges. Here's how it works: You give InnoCentive a challenge, a problem, something you might be stuck on. Then they present that challenge to their global network of 300,000 people in 200 countries. One inspiring InnoCentive success story features a non-profit company, named SunNightSolar, that was looking for the perfect design for a solar light they were creating for remote villages without access to electricity. They posted this challenge to InnoCentive's global network and eventually connected with Russell McMahon, an electrical engineer living in New Zealand. Russell solved the challenge, creating a solar-powered, dual-purpose light that would serve as a lamp indoors and a flashlight outdoors — and that was designed to last for 20 years without breaking. This kind of open innovation success story is actually becoming quite common. As of today, 85% of the challenges posted to the InnoCentive network have been solved.
Now I'm not saying that adopting an open innovation approach is easy. But the rate-limiting step isn't the toolset. Basically, the tools are out there to connect people to projects, and to each other. At Autodesk, our version of this toolset is Autodesk 360 — that's our collaboration platform, our environment for connecting people in this way. The problem is with our traditional mindset which is based on the fact that we humans are wired to avoid risk. This risk-avoidance wiring kicks in, big time, when we even think about sharing our ideas and working on them with a much wider circle of people than we're used to. But today we have to consciously overcome this "keep all the good stuff inside" mindset — because the benefits of exposing our fledgling ideas to the outside in this way can be incredibly powerful.
A hackathon is where people bring their youngest, wildest, and best ideas; talk about them; and work on them with both people they know, and with total strangers. Now you might be asking yourself why in the world these people would risk exposing their ideas to "the crowd" at the precise moment when those ideas are as vulnerable and stealable as they will ever be? They do it because they know that going outside in this way can not only connect them with a huge reservoir of capital, expertise, and relationships, but also radically increase their agility, which is a critical advantage in a world as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous as ours is today.
To me it's pretty clear that organizations that tap into all of the smart people outside their own walls are getting different and better results than those who are not. So looking beyond the people we usually collaborate with is the second way to look outside that can have a huge impact on your business.
We also need to look outside the work we've traditionally done, both as individual professionals and in terms of our companies. This isn't about "professional growth," and it's not about "growing your market share." That's inside stuff — but I'm talking about outside stuff.
Let's start with you as an individual professional. AU gives you lots of opportunities to improve your current skillset — but this year, I'd like you to think about ways to look outside your current skillset. For example, this week you're going to take the classes you know you need, and that's fine. But what about the classes you don't know you need? And the unexpected conversations that could take you in a whole different direction? What's I'm saying here is, if you're a mechanical engineer, why not go to a class on movie visual effects? If you're an architect, talk to that plastics engineer at the next table about injection molding. And if you're a product designer, find those guys that build hospitals and airports and take them out to lunch. My point is, do something — because AU is the perfect place to look outside the work you do.
Companies can also benefit from looking outside for new services they could offer to meet the evolving needs of their customers. And this is exactly what some of the big firms in the building industry have done. First, they started out by providing design services; but when they looked at what their customers really needed, they offered engineering services, as well. Then they added things like construction, and then management, and then maintenance and operations. Today, companies like Fluor, Bechtel, and Skanska — responding to the fact that a client's biggest problem is often getting the project funded in the first place — will not only help customers design, build, and manage their projects, but also finance them, as well.
The last way to look outside relates to the sources of insight we usually rely upon. These are the ways in which we learn new things, challenge ourselves, and find the inspiration to do things differently and better.
One great reason to go outside for insight is that it helps us to discover our blindspots. Blindspots, by definition, always exist outside the range of what we're able to see at any given time, and that's why at Autodesk we're constantly looking for ways to go outside our existing points of view (e.g., robotics, Burning Man). We want to see what we're missing and what we should be paying attention to that we're not. The good news is that when you consciously step outside your current perspectives, blindspots are actually pretty easy to locate, and sometimes, you can even use them as an inspiration to innovate.
Another way to look outside for insights is through reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring is the exact opposite of traditional mentoring. It's about younger people helping their more experienced peers by offering them their perspectives on things like technology, social media, and emerging consumer trends. An interesting take on reverse mentoring comes to us from Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future. He says.
"For those of us 25 years old or younger, the definition of a generation is now about 6 years. The difference between a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old is significant."
Okay, so let's do the math on this one. If you're 45 years old, this means that you have at least 3-4 different "generations" coming up behind you, even in your own organization. That's a lot of useful knowledge to tap into — and reverse mentoring is a great way to do that.
If we really want to go outside, we can go so far as reverse innovation. This is when we design something for the developing world — facing constraints like extremely low prices, limited resources, and necessary simplicity — and then discover that what we've created has found a lucrative market back in the developed world. A great example of this comes to us from GE. A few years ago they discovered that their state-of-the-art electrocardiograph machine was too expensive, not portable enough, hard to power, and basically too complicated to sell in the Indian marketplace. What they did next is actually kind of amazing. They took this 15-pound machine, which cost more than $5 million and had taken three and a half years to develop, and they completely reimagined it for the Indian market, constraints and all. The result was a new machine, which offered the same technology in a portable device that weighed less than 3 pounds and was 40% cheaper than the original machine. The new machine ended up selling very well in India — but guess what? The real surprise was how well it sold back in the United States. Looking outside and adopting greater constraints, resulting in a better solution than when those contrasts were more relaxed? That's reverse innovation.
Here's another example of people going outside for insight. It's about going outside the traditional boundaries of what we think is possible. Here are three companies that have gone far beyond the limits of what is commonly thought to be possible.
The first company, Lightning Motors, has created the SuperBike. It's an electric-powered motorcycle that holds the land-speed record for production motorcycles, at 218 miles per hour. These guys are achieving things that you wouldn't normally think were possible for a team of that size.
Another small company, Cambrian Genomics, has created a revolutionary new way to make DNA — they print it. As a result, they can now create more DNA in a single run than the rest of the world can make in a year.
The third company, Moon Express, is another tiny team that is ignoring the conventional definitions of what is possible. This small band of relatively young engineers is designing and creating infrastructure and robots designed to connect us to the Moon. Of course, NASA was the first to put a man on the moon in 1969 — it took them 8 years, working with thousands of people, a massive budget, and the support of an entire country behind them. But today, NASA looks to Moon Express — this tiny organization with about two dozen people — as their source of innovation to help them go back to the moon. Something like that really should be impossible, but Moon Express is doing it anyway.
I'd like to make one final point here about consciously looking outside what the rest of the world thinks is possible. It's the idea that, in the end, it doesn't really matter if you actually achieve the impossible goal you originally set out to reach. What really matters is the way in which the attempt to reach the impossible naturally expands your perspectives and yields derivative insights.
Earlier this morning I quoted Alvin Toffler, who said that we all need to get better at learning, unlearning, and re-learning. Today I really believe that we all need to try to unlearn our traditional look inside mindset and learn about the power of going outside. When we focus on looking and going outside of our traditional tools, people, work, and insights, we can all increase our capacity to take things that were impossible, and to make them finally possible. Thanks, and have a great AU.
Thanks to Jeff and the Corporate Strategy & Engagement team, particularly Bill O’Connor, that developed the script that I am quoting above.
Looking outside is alive at AU.