Hello and welcome back to the Dr. Nilda business foresight show. I’m here with my co-host Rachel Calderon. Say hello Rachel.
Hello everyone, how are you?
Today I have with me a very special guest and his name is Sergio Marrero. Let me read you his bio. Sergio is a serial entrepreneur, facilitator, researcher. He graduated from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He has worked on strategy and innovation at firms such as PepsiCo, Deloitte Consulting, Doblin, and Teach for America. He leverages his background in business, technology, and design thinking to help companies aim in shaping the future of industries by identifying market opportunities and launching new ventures. He works with company founders globally with assisting them to create the future by accelerating innovation and launching disruptive ventures for a better world. Welcome Sergio.
Thank you very much for the warm introduction. I appreciate it.
We are very happy to have you here. We are going to be talking about a topic that we’ve been doing a lot of research on lately. And we have you here as the expert. So, I want to start with my very first question. What are the latest emerging technologies that are impacting businesses today?
Okay. So, starting at a higher level in terms of emerging technologies not only focusing on blockchain and Bitcoin are the ones today that are moving the industry forward. You talk about cloud computing. Some companies are on cloud computing and some are a little bit behind. But that is just more inexpensive and more companies are moving there more quickly so, it’s becoming mainstream. The use of artificial intelligence. People think of Terminator when they think of artificial intelligence. But it’s processing text processing images making it easier to search inside your business for information digital assistants. So, all of that is advancing really quickly. If you deal with physical products that’s robotics. So, those are currently impacting business and being integrated. The ones that are I would say on the horizon people are excited about is the blockchain bit coin. Or that bucket is sometimes just called decentralized ledger technologies. You say augmented reality virtual reality those are the others and 3D printing. What I would say a little bit further out is genomics. So, it’s like gene editing and quantum computing. So, you know I think blockchain and Bitcoin people are excited about today because of their potential. They’re a hot topic in the media right now. But, they’re, I would say, a little bit further away from being a little bit more mainstream and impacting our everyday lives in a real way.
What are some of these technologies that are going to impact our business?
The ones I would say that are impacting our business pretty heavily right now I would say is the artificial intelligence piece. The reason I say that is because it enables the processing of text. Think about like images and then also I talked about digital assistants and learning. A more specific example is think about today we expect everyone to have a website, right? We go on the website we type in and that’s how we interact. That’s sometimes our first engagement. The artificial intelligence or the digital assistant technology that’s coming up you’re able to use systems like Google Cloud and AWS to set up something where you can speak to it. And what it’s doing technically in the background is turning that tech that audio into text just like you would type. But now it enables a different type of engagement. You can have the Google home or the Alexa in your home and now you can talk to it. As we get used to doing that it’s a change in human behavior. But once those are in our homes and we can interact with that we’re going to expect every business just like we expect them to have a website to interact in that way. So that’s an example of how some of the advancements in computing technology and that’s just one specific example. That is just audio to text within artificial intelligence. It’s a much bigger field. That’s an example of how that’s going to change the way we interact because that computing technology is becoming more readily available.
I have to add to this too. Although, I personally do not own the Alexa or the Google home I have found that sometimes in the midst of our research we’re here talking and then we go on Google and we begin to type how does and then it’s asking a question that we were speaking of. I said whoa that’s a little bit freaky. I mean I understand that that’s where we’re going but that’s just a little bit freaky. Then of course you have those questions out there on Google that you’re like what I can’t believe someone is looking at that. But the point is that sometimes I wonder if that’s like within our own computers at the moment because it’s like almost like it’s there. It feels like they are engaging. our computer and what we’re saying. It almost feels like they’re hearing everything we’re saying.
They are. And that’s the thing you think about so that’s a part of artificial intelligence. Think about ever since the creation of the search engine that is a type of artificial intelligence. It’s going through a massive amount of data and it is suggesting to us based on characteristics that we have. Based on our past search. Based on whether we’re male-female, our age, our location and people like us. Now that you speak and then your phone is picking up that audio and it’s recording that. It’s saying oh she talked about that. She talked about a flight. She talked about Arizona. She talked about diapers. She talked about professional coaching. Whatever that is and then it serves up things to you that are related to that trying to improve service to you. So, that is going to happen just more and more and more. And it brings up the conversation and issues of privacy. But that is where that’s going. That is just the search element or machine learning element of artificial intelligence which is larger. The other element that’s going to probably be this is a little bit further out but going to be more prevalent is where you have artificial intelligence which is machines operating without humans and then you have humans operating without machines. In the middle I would say is augmented intelligence. So, think about right now about how many times you looked up directions to a place that you’ve been to a hundred times. You’ve floated that cognitive ability to the device because you can. You’ve already augmented your intelligence. Glasses, right? That’s the simplest form of augmented intelligence. We can’t see as clearly, we have to put glasses on. We’re augmenting ourselves with technology. That’s going to get more and more prevalence. So, things like the gene-editing. Think about when our medicine becomes digital. It’ll be within our body. Think about when we’re losing our eyesight instead of having glasses we get organs replaced by digital components. That’s going to be happening more and more. Or, we integrate. This happens in the biohacking sphere where we actually put chips into our body and use that as access points. So, all of these things are going to move forward. I think the next immediate wave of this is as our screen goes from here it’s going to go to here. I think up front screens and the voice technologies will be some of the next integrations of that augmented intelligence.
So, artificial intelligence we already know that it’s here to stay. That’s not going to change. Then because it simplifies our lives we’re going to be using it more and more. One of the things that is all the buzz right now is people losing their jobs to artificial intelligence.
Yes. I would say as it specifically relates to that. Artificial intelligence and different artificial intelligence tools are more being integrated into businesses because they bring costs down. While people are worried about their jobs being replaced how this is manifesting itself is let’s say at a call center they were able to take a hundred calls in X period of time. Now if you automate the first set of steps and you send the right calls to the right person based on their expertise all of a sudden that person that did 50 calls can now do 250 calls. You’re going to need less people but you’re also going to need people that understand how to build and modify those systems. So, they’re creating different types of jobs. The challenge really is how do we enable people that are displaced by those let’s say call center jobs and just using that as an example? How are we going to enable them to train and retrain for other types of jobs? I think that’s the real challenge. I think definitely new jobs are going to be created and are being created by this. The challenge really is that training and retraining.
I know that we’re going to be using it alongside our business because it makes life easier as we all know it. But I know for a fact that it can’t take over everything because it cannot take over our emotional state. We’re human so sometimes like if a scenario comes up it can’t necessarily know that unless we actually put that into that computer or that software. It won’t know how to respond. I think that when it comes to things like customer service those are jobs that are still going to be needed because we still need that touch point.
As much as we quantify things we desire human connection. I think what will be really transformational and that’s more like the augmented in virtual reality but when we feel that we’re also in a physical location with another person without being in a physical location I think that will change games in ways we don’t understand. But to your point coming back to an example where a human is just doing the final mile. For years this has been taking place but has become more prominent in warehousing. Amazon purchased at the time Keva which now is more like their amazon warehousing services or amazon robotics where their warehouses are run by these robots. What they do is they will automatically move the shelves to the appropriate place in the facility. And when a person needs to pack a box with something on shelf 126 the person doesn’t look it up. It just brings it to them automatically and they pick it off the shelf. So, they’re doing the final mile. They’re doing the picking and it’s because right now in terms of you’re like okay what can the human do better? Well the human can look and search, reach in and reach around. They can do a set of, it might seem simple but, complex tasks to a computer that robotics can do but the question is right now it’s cheaper for a human to do. That’s an example of where the humans are doing the final mile. I think in areas like and I’m giving examples that most people interact with. Another one where humans it’s probably better for the final mile is in shopping. Yes, there’s automated shopping but there’s usually still a person there. Let’s say you go in and you scan something and the next person behind you one of their items falls over to yours or they left something behind the human knows like in context oh that’s not theirs. But the machine doesn’t understand anything outside of start and stop. It’s very solid logic. Let’s say a person comes in every day and you build a relationship with them. That piece is not delivered by robotics. I would actually in a scary way say that with virtual assistants as we talk to them and as they become a little bit more and deliver different responses that aren’t just cookie cutter we’re going to start to become attached them the same way we become attached to our phones. So, it’ll become increasingly human in terms of the characteristics and ways they interact with us.
That sounds awesome because that leads to my next question. There’s a lot of businesses that are very resistant to AI. They just don’t like computers. But this is the way of the future whether they’re ready for it or not. What do businesses do to keep up with this accelerated pace because what I’m finding is that there are businesses that are lagging so far behind? What can they do to keep up with this accelerated pace and to change in the space in their industries?
I think there are different levels. Every business wants to either increase revenue or decrease costs like it’s in the nature of what they do. So, it’s looking at the processes that you do currently and thinking about how can you automate some of those processes. So, an example of something I just saw is now that we can process massive amounts of text with some of these machine learning and natural language processing tools which fit under artificial intelligence there’s a large consulting firm that bought a start-up. All the startup did was take all these legal files which went through this process and it would output, through the legal files, what they believe needs to change in the business. And you can read through that and make decisions. You usually pay a team of lawyers to digest all that. And now that is an automated process. So, really looking at things you do repeatedly that are like time and resource intensive that a human has to go through. I think that there’s always opportunities there to streamline that experience. So, that’s one part of it. It’s just really taking a step back and seeing if you can streamline those experiences. The other is really taking time and resources and letting your employees one explore even simple tools that are inexpensive like Coursera or LinkedIn learning. They have a ton of classes and you talk about for 50 dollars you can get learning that costs like thousands of dollars by renowned professors. Another is bringing in training even simple training. I’ve done training through rebel method where we come in and we’ll do rapid prototyping to get people into that mindset. If you really want to integrate deep and embed it in the culture you need to create roles around it. You need to think about organizational structure. Should we set up an accelerator, an incubator, a department? Should we start partnering? Should we create a venture arm where we are looking and partnering with startups? More companies are doing that because it brings the outside in. I think that is the key to staying ahead of the curve. One bringing the outside in and then two is thinking about the employees you already have and how to keep them up to pace because things are evolving so quickly.
One of the things that I teach when I’m doing coaching is that I come into a company and I show them the importance of allowing their employees to be creative. Allowing them to create things to simplify their jobs. I went into this one company. I was there for a one-day training and I charged each of them with being the CEO. And how would they make more money in their specific discipline. It was very challenging. I went to another company and I had a two-day training and I did the same but I made them actually create. What would they do? How could they simplify? What are the things that they’re doing? And how can they change that? When you make it a team effort for everybody to be creative and innovative then you can take them to the next step. Which is what I do. Which is futuring. But until they’re able to become more creative it is virtually impossible to get them to to start looking at the future.
Absolutely. I always talk about that the best type of thinking is doing. I would say that’s a quote from Tom Chi. He’s one of the original creators of the Google glass and he talked about the impetus and the push to put things into action. And that’s something you need to get into organizations. You need to create these spaces for people to experiment. That is the way you learn rather than thinking too much about it. It’s like reading a book on playing guitar versus playing guitar. You just need to do that or riding a bike. It’s the same sort of element. So, definitely agree.
And creating that space for creativity and innovation and making it safe. What I always say is even if it’s not a perfect idea having somebody else come and build on that idea now with the team effort. To me that’s the best way to operate a business. Allowing creativity. Having them come up with ideas. Having a vision board or someplace where they can write or put these ideas. Then having other staff members or other team members come in and build on that. Let’s say they’re building something for their own discipline and the people before them or the people after them say okay when that’s done then that goes to me. And it would be best if you would do this. So, now you have a team effort of creators of creativity. and that is phenomenal. I mean you can’t beat that. I always do my very best to always try to teach that. Again, to take them into the future without having that creative mind they could see things that are right in front of them and because they’re not creative it won’t happen. The reality is that we have been trained to be creatures of habit.
And being creative is a muscle as well. It’s getting used to putting it out there feeling it’s safe being confident in it and repeating that process.
But, I believe that companies need to develop that safe space much like Google does. They created that safe space where people could come and they could toss around ideas. Is every idea a great idea? No. but there are ideas that are good enough to be built upon and there are ideas that can poopoo. Like okay well this one is not as good. That was even better and let’s keep building on that. Again, it’s completion. it doesn’t necessarily need to be a complete idea. Would you agree?
Absolutely. You need areas where you are able to write on a whiteboard or write on a sticky note. Part of the reason you use those mediums is you don’t feel they’re sacred. You don’t expect them to be of high quality or high fidelity. You’re just putting things into the world so that you can build the muscle of putting a lot of things. So, we talk about more of statistical relevance but the reason you put a lot of ideas out there and you try to put a hundred ideas out there is because one or two ends up being what you take forward. I tell people at some point when someone was creating what was the first iPhone somebody said what if a phone had no buttons. And that was considered crazy. Then now they’re like wait a minute how might we do that? What if it was a touchscreen? And it just kept going. You need to be able to feel like you can put the no buttons comment out there so that you can build on that and move forward.
Sergio let me ask you this what do you find are the upcoming trends in business innovation?
I would say the latest things that are happening are everyone’s trying to one think like a start-up. Then two interact more deeply with startups. In the think like a startup category I would say the integrating incubators, accelerators and internal training. Or they’re trying to start their own. Sometimes that doesn’t always work because as we studied a number of startup studios or innovation factories from across different organizations while I was at the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government we found that some of the larger organizations that are creating these innovation labs end up not doing well several years later. For many reasons. But one of the big ones is they don’t have the leadership and it actually conflicts with the processes and culture of the organization. Which is okay but you need to recognize that. And there are right ways to set that up and not set that up. The other is when you’re talking about integrating with startups that already exist the ways people normally do that are one venture arms. So, they have investors that are going out there. They’re scouting startups, bringing them in, actually investing dollars and that’s another way to do it. Sometimes it ends up sitting in mergers and acquisitions or akin to that group. Then another that they’re starting to do so they’re partnering with incubators or accelerators if they’re not setting up ones themselves. So that they are mentoring startups and almost infusing that culture organically into the organization. So, I think those are two of the big ways you can do it. There are plenty stories of companies that haven’t gotten it right. If you ask around and dig under the surface. But that’s part of the reason you need to be comfortable bringing in I would say professionals in the innovation field. Which aren’t going to be a cookie cutter management consultant. It’s going to be someone that’s done things you don’t understand and doesn’t work 15 years in XYZ. They’re going to have this lateral thought because they’ve been in so many different places. They’re going to come in and go okay I’m going to constantly put on different lenses so you can see your business differently. And that’s a superpower in itself.
Right, because having the incubators internally is good because their ideas don’t get out. I think that’s probably why they want them internal. But, the reality is that everyone thinks same because everyone in that they breed them to think the same. So, having that outside source is fantastic. In startup I think that’s excellent. What would be your suggestion to a business who comes to you and tells you I would like to do an incubator or an accelerator? What would be your suggestion to them?
Normally one of the things I ask them is what do you really want? What is your ambition? What do you really want to do? Meaning do I want to be a leader in the industry? Do I want to disrupt the industry I’m in? That’s a very different set of activities than I want to secure my business. I want to be among the best. I want to keep updating products. Those are two different things in terms of I want to just keep my products up to date and be number one where I am versus I want to be leading and creating whole new industries. So, sometimes we break that into core products core updates. So, let’s say you are Gillette and you have a razor. And you come out with a razor with another blade or a razor with another type of solution so it’s softer on your face. Those are core innovations. Adjacent innovations which is the second category or sometimes referred to as horizon 2. Its existing products and new customers and you’re taking them and saying okay how can I apply these.
Almost like repackage it to attract un tapped market?
An example of that is let’s say arming Hammer baking soda. Baking soda was originally just used for baking. They took that product and then they said how can we use this? We can put it in refrigerators. We can put it in toothpaste. they took it and they repositioned it for other purposes. So, that’s like horizon 2. Horizon 3 is these are new customers and new products that we haven’t built yet. Then you can even push further out and say they’re new products and new customers that no one’s built yet. That’s I would say number four. You’re transforming an industry. and depending on where you want to be I would give you a different set of responses.
I love it. Lastly, what would you want the audience to take away to stay ahead of the curve and to prevent displacement?
That you can start today. You don’t have to wait that. You can do a number of simple things. Even if it’s giving your employees inexpensive training and just thinking to yourself how can I more closely interact with startups? If you want to be a leader in the field setting up an incubator and accelerator doing hackathons is fairly simple and it does infuse that into the culture. The third area is you can think about or bring in professionals to change some of the processes and procedures and create that community so that you can transform industries. It’s possible.
Well I want to thank you and I want to thank my co-host Rachel for being here with me today. I definitely want to have you back Sergio because you’re a wealth of information.
Why thank you. I appreciate it.
I think we need to kind of explore other areas in your expertise. Again, you have two degrees. You have an MBA. You also have one from Harvard and you also have the governmental background. I think there’s a lot to explore here. We would love to have you back.
Absolutely. Happy to chat.
All right thank you so much guys I will see you next week with another futurist and another innovator. So, we look forward to next week until then bye.
All right thank you very much for having me take care.
All right bye.
Sergio Marrero is a serial entrepreneur, facilitator, researcher. He graduated from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
He has worked on strategy and innovation at firms such as PepsiCo, Deloitte Consulting, Doblin, and Teach for America.
He leverages his background in business, technology, and design thinking to help companies aim in shaping the future of industries by identifying market opportunities and launching new ventures.
He works with company founders globally with assisting them to create the future by accelerating innovation and launching disruptive ventures for a better world.
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