We all need “more female” attributes to seize the opportunities of today’s rapidly changing business world.

Making sense of relentless change and complexity requires us to rise above the data points and short-term priorities, to see a bigger picture – to make sense of a new emerging world. That requires intuition more than logic (intuition is more forwards looking, whilst logic tends to look back).

To add value beyond machines and AI, we need to unlock our humanity, our creativity. That requires us to be more empathetic, to make new connections. Ideas, design, relationships are most valued in today’s business world.

And to solve the big problems of our world, we need to be more thoughtful – to find more responsible, caring and creative, intuitive and inspiring solutions.

You could say “the future is female”

It’s not just about getting to a level playing field in diversity and inclusion, which matters … but even more, its about taking those attributes, those qualities, which are typically “more female” and to embrace them … both for men and women.

We could go into a biological and neurological discussion at this point, but I think the point is clear. Women therefore can have an advantage, whilst for men it might require some unlearning.

The future is not like the future used to be. Being a leader of the future, is not achieved by following the traits of the past success. It’s time to look forwards, together, with a positive mindset, to embrace the opportunities of an incredible new world.

So here are 10 incredible female business leaders, stepping up to disrupt and reinvent our world and our lives:

Kathy Hannun, Cofounder and CEO of Dandelion

Kathy Hannun was at Google X when she became obsessed with geothermal energy for home heating and cooling. It drastically cuts the eco footprint compared with diesel or propane-powered furnaces — but a system typically cost $80,000 or more to install in a private house. Hannun cofounded Dandelion in 2017 to bring down the expense. Already, the company’s innovative equipment means that homeowners can either pay $18,500 up front and recoup the costs over about five years or put no money down and pay $135 a month, less than most diesel heating bills. So far Dandelion has raised $23.5 million and is growing 20 percent month over month; its waitlist is in the thousands. “My goal is to make this the mainstream option,” says Hannun. “And advance the way society heats and cools indoor spaces.”

Cristina Junqueira, Cofounder and VP of Nubank

Cristina Junqueira was working at a traditional bank in Brazil, and in 2013 she scored the largest bonus of her career. She quit immediately. Junqueira realized she wanted to change people’s lives, not just make money. Within months, she helped launch Nubank, a Brazilian fintech company that aims to make banking accessible to everyone via tools like low-interest credit cards, high-interest savings accounts, and an app-based credit system. In the early days, it was all hands on deck for Nubank’s tiny team. “You would call our customer service line and it would ring on my cellphone,” Junqueira says. But today, she’s having the impact she hoped for: Her company is valued at $10 billion, recently announced plans to move into Mexico and Argentina, and is exploring new products like personal loans, investment products, and accounts for small and medium-­size businesses.

Payal Kadakia, Founder and executive chairman of ClassPass

Back in 2010, Payal Kadakia gave herself two weeks to come up with a viable business idea — time enough, she thought, to know whether she was cut out to be an entrepreneur. It worked. That experiment evolved into ClassPass, the subscription-based service that now helps users in 2,500-plus cities in more than 20 countries discover and book exercise classes. This year, Kadakia expanded into corporate wellness with a service that gives employees access to classes with 22,000 studio partners; clients include Google, Facebook, and Morgan Stanley. But the company, which has raised $255 million, is approaching the milestone of 100 million class reservations, a figure that keeps the founder motivated. “Our ultimate success metric is when someone goes to class,” Kadakia says.

Andrea and Robin McBride, Founders of McBride Sisters Wine 

Sometimes a founding story is so good, you just want to bottle it. And these sisters did. Andrea McBride was 12 and living with her foster mom in New Zealand when the phone rang. “Hey, Andrea; it’s your dad,” a man said. He told her he had terminal stomach cancer and she had a big sister named Robin (left) on the opposite side of the world. Andrea set out to find her. It took a few years, but she did. Andrea was 16 and Robin was 25 when the two first met, in New York’s LaGuardia airport. “When I got off the plane,” says Robin, who’d been brought up by her mom in California, “she was standing at the end of the jetway. I thought I was seeing my own reflection.” In 2005, the sisters ended up in California concocting a plan to squeeze into the very male, very white, very old-school wine industry. First they became importers, then distributors, and in 2009 they produced their first vintage. Many followed, including a Black Girl Magic collection, from New Zealand and California. Today the McBride Sisters Wine Collection sells 80,000 cases a year, landing it in the top 3 percent of wineries by size. But the sisters want to see more women there. On March 8, International Women’s Day, they debuted She Can — a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and a California rosé in cans — along with a fund to advance the careers of women in the wine industry. “It’s better than when we started,” says Robin. Andrea finishes the sentence: “But there’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Mariam Naficy, Founder and CEO of Minted

Minted, which transformed over 11 years from selling stationery to being a massive marketplace for indie artists, inked a big deal this summer: Samsung and Method will now license work from Minted’s community, giving newfound exposure to independent designers. “We’re a source for companies that understand the value of one-of-a-kind design but may not have the scale or merchandising bandwidth to develop it internally,” says founder and CEO Mariam Naficy. And Minted doesn’t just have scale; it has crowd buy-in. Back when the company focused solely on greeting cards and wedding invitations, Naficy devised a crowdsourcing model for up-voting the art potential shoppers liked best. Fast-forward to today, and that means big brands can tap into a decade of data on design that inspires both fandom and sales—Naficy even says that by now, Minted can predict which designs will ultimately become best-sellers.

Neha Narkhede, Cofounder and chief product officer of Confluent

Next time you swipe a credit card or call a Lyft, thank Neha Narkhede, who is building what she calls a “central nervous system” for companies’ data. It started while she was working as an engineer at LinkedIn, where she helped create Apache Kafka, an open-source software system that processes the deluge of data flowing through the platform — clicks, messages, and news-feed updates — and makes it available to users in real time. “We said, ‘This is not just a LinkedIn problem; this is part of a broader trend that’s happening in the world where businesses are going to become more digital,’ ” Narkhede says. So she and two colleagues left to start Confluent, a software system that turbocharges Apache Kafka’s capabilities for startups, financial institutions, and Fortune 500 companies. Confluent enables its customers to process trillions of event streams every day, integrating data across apps and platforms and making all that information available centrally to analyze in real time. The service has quickly become an integral tool for businesses looking to leverage their digital footprint, and it shows in Confluent’s growth: The company recently raised $125 million in Series D funding, catapulting it to unicorn status with a $2.5 billion valuation. Next year, Confluent will focus on international business while increasing its 800-person workforce. “The market is as big as what the relational database market will be,” Narkhede says. “That’s on the order of tens of billions of dollars—that’s what we’re looking at in terms of total market potential.”

Melanie Perkins, Cofounder and CEO of Canva 

Canva, the Australia-based graphic design platform, was created in 2013 to help anyone, anywhere — with any level of design knowledge — create and publish beautiful, professional materials. Six years later, CEO Melanie Perkins and her cofounders have made strides. Canva has raised more than $140 million, is valued at $2.5 billion, and has 15 million active monthly users around the globe. “We’re now in 100 languages, and a goal for the year ahead is to bring access to every single market,” Perkins says. “We’ve done less than 1 percent of what we think is possible — we’ve got .56 percent of the world’s population on the platform, but we want to empower the entire world.”

Kendra Scott, Founder and CEO of Kendra Scott

As she designed her first jewelry collection out of her home in 2002, Kendra Scott never dreamed it would become a $1 billion brand. But today, her eponymous company has a unicorn valuation, 100 stores, and shows no signs of slowing down — though Scott’s main focus is about more than baubles. Of the Austin-based brand’s 2,000 employees, more than 90 percent are women, many of whom are mothers. Nursing rooms are commonplace at HQ and distribution centers, Kendra Scott Kids provides a children’s playroom, and once a year Camp Kendra invites in employees’ kids for a day of activities, in which office employees become camp counselors. “If we can support our staff, these women, at this very special time in their lives, we’ll have an employee who is incredibly loyal to our brand,” says Scott. “We believe in their future.” In September, that support expanded beyond the walls of Scott’s company, when she announced the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program in partnership with the University of Texas. The programming will feature speaker series and courses on everything from building a business to advocating for equal pay and will be available to University of Texas students. “We want women to be able to access this information,” Scott says.

Reshma Shetty, Cofounder of Ginkgo Bioworks

A biological engineer who can synthesize bacteria to smell like bananas, Reshma Shetty never intended to be an entrepreneur. But as a graduate student at MIT, she became passionate about designing biology-based products the way an architect designs a house. To make her vision a reality, in 2008 she cofounded Ginkgo Bioworks. Eleven years later, Shetty and her 250-person team are known for cutting-­edge biotech and valued at $1.4 billion. Ginkgo’s work has spanned various industries, from healthcare to agriculture, with products like synthetic probiotics that reduce gastrointestinal problems in soldiers and (in progress with Synlogic) medicines that program the body’s cells to treat complex diseases. Earlier this year, Ginkgo spun out a separate company called Motif Ingredients to engineer sustainable alternative proteins that taste like the real thing. “Although we’re going after these radically different markets,” says Shetty, “the common thread is biology.”

Alli Webb, Founder of  Drybar

Drybar founder Alli Webb has a new company, Squeeze, that aims to do for massages what she did for blowouts: Make the experience easy and affordable. The chain launched in March; customers book appointments via an app and can select from a menu of treatments and preferences, from pressure type to areas to avoid. But unlike Drybar (which has 130 locations and 4,000 employees), Squeeze will scale as a franchise, and Webb’s team is creating a two-year blueprint for its future partners, detailing how to greet customers and market locally. “We love the idea of enabling other people to become entrepreneurs themselves,” Webb says.

What are the successful traits?

Fortune Magazine recently asked a range of female leaders about the personality trait they credit for helping launching them into their leadership positions of today:

Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, and CEO, IBM  … “Be curious. A constant thirst to learn has served me well my entire career, especially in the tech industry. We’ve always hired for curiosity at IBM. We receive 7,000 job applications a day, and our managers and HR teams are geared to look for people who are curious and committed to constantly advancing what they know.”

Gail Boudreaux, President and CEO, Anthem … “My strong focus on leadership has been a large part of my success to date. I believe the ability to build and inspire teams is critical and that individuals and organizations can accomplish extraordinary results when they leverage the power of their collective strength working together.”

Julie Sweet, CEO, Accenture … “Openness: starting with my decision to learn Chinese and live in Taiwan and China in 1987 and 1988, before it was commonplace. I have often pursued paths that were not well-trodden. It has helped me become a continuous learner and to understand that it is often from unexpected sources and places that you learn the most.”

Judith McKenna, President and CEO, Walmart International  … “It must be somewhere between curiosity and always focusing on people. Both are really important, and I really believe that if we always keep our associates, our people, at the heart of everything we do, and build out strong teams, then we’ll continue to make our business successful.”

Amy Hood, EVP and CFO, Microsoft … “I’m pretty gritty. I can work through most things and come out on the other side feeling like I’ve learned a good lesson and I’ll get better.”

Leanne Caret, President and CEO, Defense, Space & Security, and EVP, Boeing … “I love being authentic and letting people see the real me. That hopefully creates an environment where we are all in it together.”

Jennifer Taubert, EVP, Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson … “I think two qualities have been critical in my career: optimism and perseverance. Optimism because I believe in stretching and redefining the boundaries of what’s possible. Perseverance because, with determination, you can overcome any obstacle to do the right thing for patients. ”

Michele Buck, President and CEO, Hershey  … “Being a great listener has long been one of my hallmark leadership qualities. I find immense value in seeking diverse perspectives when I’m making an important business decision. I want to hear from people who are deep in the organization, closest to the work, as well as those outside the decision domain who may see things a bit differently. As a leader, it’s important to set direction and impart your knowledge to others; but, you have to balance that with listening to the expertise and point of views of those around you. Intentional listening, and the learning associated with that, has undoubtedly been key to my success. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to weigh the perspectives of those around me with my north star. Then, I listen to my gut, which to me isn’t just natural instinct, it’s been built through years of experience, successes, failures, and everything in between.”

Mary Dillon, CEO, Ulta Beauty … “Curiosity and empathy. I told my children as they were growing up to always ask other people about themselves, to be curious to learn about others and to respect their journey. At Ulta Beauty, this is the way we do business. We have a deep curiosity about our guests and their needs, and we treat associates with the respect they deserve. We believe these values are helping us win customer loyalty.”

Marillyn Hewson, Chairman, President, and CEO, Lockheed Martin … “A focus on effective communication—and it all starts with the ability to really listen. Listening to your customers leads to a customer-focused vision. And listening to those you lead creates a climate of understanding and trust. By focusing on consistent and effective communication, leaders can also more quickly identify those times when it is critical to step forward and reach out directly to customers, shareholders, or employees. Simply put, effective communication is the engine for effective leadership and effective decision making at every level.”

Download a summary of my keynote: The Future is Female

Peter Fisk’s new book Business Recoded is out in September 2020.

The future of food is about authenticity, wellness and relevance – traceability of supply chains, natural and organic ingredients, convenient and well designed packaging, and fantastic, inspiring taste

The UN estimates that by 2050 global food production will have to increase by close to 70% if we want to feed the world. This poses a real conundrum: How do we feed all those people healthy diets, in ways that don’t harm the planet?

In some cases, innovators in this space are doing what was once science fiction. The outcome of these new technologies has profound implications for the human diet, the changing climate, and the global economy.

Here are some most recent examples:

  • DNA Sushi … London-based conveyor belt sushi restaurant YO! Sushi collaborated with DNAfit to help diners choose dishes based on their DNA.
  • Smart food … Nestlé XiaoAI, an AI family nutrition assistant, is a smart speaker equipped with nutrition and health knowledge answering questions on custom recipes, music, and nutrition
  • Upcycled Beer … Kellogg’s teamed up with UK brewery Seven Brothers to convert its rejected Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Coco Pops breakfast cereals into beer.
  • Mood Tea … Marley Mellow Mood Peach Raspberry Relaxation Tea from the US features mood-enhancing botanicals, which are said to calm the soul and ease the mind.
  • Genetic Dining … Vita Mojo was the first foodservice chain to give customers nutritional guidance based on their genetics, providing a great conversation as well as healthy eating
  • Sea Farms … Floating Farm is a dairy farm in Rotterdam, Netherlands, that showcases how food production can become less vulnerable to climate change
  • Indoor Farms … Bowery Parsley is grown in indoor automated vertical farms in New York City, NY promoting itself as “grown locally (in the city!) with no pesticides”
  • Edible Fashion … Modern Meadow in New Jersey grows animal-free leather in their labs, indeed recent fashion shows have been full of aubergine and mushroom-based fabrics.
  • Better Bling … New York City- based Couple is the first company to exclusively sell lab-grown diamond rings as an ethical alternative to real diamonds, and a lot cheaper too!

Splash out on dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant, and you might find an iPod accompanies your seafood risotto. Sounds of the sea enhance the perceived freshness and flavours, and can also affect our sense of sweetness and saltiness.

Caterpillars, already popular in Africa, contain 28mg of protein per 100g, more than minced beef, and add 35mg of iron too. If you’re in search of a calcium boost, try grasshoppers.

Rising food prices, the growing population and environmental concerns make food one of the big debates for governments, and interest areas for investors. Meat production takes up huge amounts of land, consume water, diverts crops from humans, and adds to carbon emissions.

Insects, perhaps rebranding as micro-protein, could become a staple of our diets – low cost, requiring little space or water. With 1500 edible species, we could soon be tucking into nutrititous crickets and grasshoppers, ground into burgers. Wasps are a delicacy in Japan.

If you still want meat, your next steak could be sourced from a test-tube. Strips of muscle tissue using stem cells taken from cows, a little like calamari to look at, are grown in a lab, and then shaped to expectation, similar to existing meat substitutes such as Quorn. Of course you could just become vegetarian, and still get a balanced diet.

Another source of improved eating, is sensory-engineering. Scientists have shown that look and smell affect how we taste. Condiment Junkie, a sonic-branding company is exploring how certain frequencies can compensate for sugar in foods, thereby improving health, as well as enhancing the whole cooking and eating experience.

However the most significant source of future food is likely to come from algae. 145 species of green, red, and brown seaweed is already eaten in huge quantities across Asia, often as a delicacy. Ground into other foods, its strong flavour can dramatically reduce the amount of salt used, for example in bread or prepared meals. Algae farming, for food as well as energy, could become the world’s largest crop industry by 2030.

However it is not just the food content that could radically change. It is also about embracing technology to deliver more personalised service and added value experiences. A great example comes from Singularity Sushi, which uses DNA analysis to ultra-personalise food, and 3D printing to produce objects of incredible beauty.

Here are 20 case studies of companies who are shaking up the world of food and drink in profound and enlightened ways, riding the consumer trends, embracing digital technologies, with incredible new experiences and profitable new business models:

  • % Arabica – Asian minimalism, African coffee roastery, and Arabic meeting place
  • AeroFarms – Vertical farming in a crowded world
  • Basmaty – The Arabic cookery community
  • Boring Life – Embracing CBD to relieve the stress and anxieties of a busy life
  • Brewdog – Beer for punks, irreverent and brilliant
  • Deliveroo – Food delivered as fast as a kangaroo
  • Gïk Live! – Blue wine from Spain
  • Graze – Snacking reinvented … fast, healthy, delivered
  • Halo Top Creamery – The Healthy Ice Cream from California
  • HelloFresh – Say “Hello” to easy home cooking
  • Impossible Foods – Can a burger save the planet?
  • Juan Valdez Café – From commodity to premium branded experience
  • Kikkoman – Make haste slowly
  • Mayrig – Cooking up a passion for Armenian culture
  • Mikkeller – The world’s largest craft beer company
  • Nespresso – The business model with an extra shot
  • Ossian Vides y Vinos – Organic fusions of wines from Segovia
  • Red Bull – Space jumps, air races … energy drinks and media house
  • Supr Daily – Digitalised milk delivery in Mumbai
  • Vinomofo – Australian wine lovers community
  • Zespri – Redefining the Chinese gooseberry as the Kiwi fruit

In the past few years, food waste has been a particular sustainable action point for consumers and companies. Companies are finding new ways to reuse food waste. The Kellogg Company worked with UK- based Seven Bro7hers Brewery in 2019 to create beer made from non-standard cereal pieces. Meadow Mushrooms in New Zealand has created a container that is made from the organic waste from its mushroom stalks.

In France, Danone committed to solely using ingredients from regenerative agriculture by 2025. Unilever has a Sustainable Living Plan with three wide-reaching corporate social responsibility goals. Danone, Nestlė, Firmenich, International Flavors & Fragrances, and Sodexo are among more than 80 companies that are part of the We Mean Business climate change coalition. Ecommerce giant Amazon has founded its own Climate Pledge that commits to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2040.

In the next 10 years, consumers will be able to use easily accessible and affordable customised biological tests, data collection, and analysis to learn what makes their bodies one of a kind. The results will help consumers better understand how to address every aspect of their health, including brain and emotional health. While respecting consumer privacy, food, drink, and foodservice companies will have opportunities to develop personalised recipes, custom diet plans, and individualised products.

Consumers are learning more about the natural connections in their bodies as more research discovers how the systems in our bodies work together. In particular, improved understanding of the research into the microbiome has taught more consumers about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut/brain axis, or the connection that links the brain, digestive system, and emotions.

Download: Future of Food: 2025 to 2050 to 2169

10 years ago this week, Astro Teller was asked by Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin to run a great experiment. To build a “moonshot factory”. They called it “X”.

Astro (his real name is Eric but his friends thought his spiky hair reminded them of astroturf) was born in Cambridge, England then grew up just outside Chicago, Illinois. He had great pedigree, his grandparents include French economist and mathematician Gérard Debreu and Hungarian-born American theoretical physicist Edward Teller.

Astro followed a similar path, studying computer science at Stanford, and then gained a PhD in AI. He wrote a novel, Exegesis, when he was 27 about an AI program that develops consciousness and will and begins to correspond with its creator. His early career saw him co-found BodyMedia, a maker of wearable devices that measure sleep, perspiration and calories burned.

At X, he became known as Captain of Moonshots. This is Astro’s story of a decade of moonshots.

So, why build a Moonshot Factory?

In 2010 he was recruited by Google to create “something far beyond an innovation lab” ideas were initially fuzzy as what X was going to do, but they knew they wanted to create an organisation that could invent and launch breakthrough technologies that would make the world a radically better place.

They also recognised that X could play an important role in Google’s future development, reaching beyond its core search engine business and beating what many called the innovator’s dilemma, to create the future business whilst still focused on today’s.

Teller was motivated to create an organisation that could repeatedly generate breakthrough innovations filled with hyper-creative people and weird, out-there thinking. He says “humanity is choosing to keep much of its potential off the table, underemployed, and under-utilised. Many people go to work at jobs that aren’t designed to be fulfilling, and many more don’t get the chance to contribute at all.”

“Meanwhile, many powerful organisations are forced to focus on their own profitability and short term goals at the expense of everything else,  leaving the status quo intact, or at best only making the world incrementally better. Yet the massive problems facing us this century need the widest array of minds, the wildest imaginations, and enormous commitments of time, resources, and attention.”

X itself is a prototype solution to this need. In particular Teller hopes to prove that “good for the world” can be financially rewarding, so that more organisations are inspired to operate like this.

Searching for radical creativity with real impact has not been easy. He says “what I’ve come to realise is that our main cultural battle is against fear and the strong gravitational pull toward conventional ways of thinking and behaving. All of us have been conditioned for years not to fail, not to be vulnerable, and to minimise risk.”

Teller says that 7 big lessons have emerged:

#1 Stop thinking you can predict the future. Nobody is much better than random at knowing what businesses and products will succeed in the long run. Instead, try audacious things and figure out as quickly as you can when you’re wrong. Sometimes it takes dozens of iterations; one team at X is working on improving how people hear, and they explored 35 different ideas before they found the one we’re going to pour fuel on.

#2 Take a long term view — it changes everything. Work on hard problems whose answers are 5–10 years over the horizon. This gives space to explore and experiment and learn more deeply. Taking the long view also enables us to think through the implications not just the applications of what we’re building. Take, for example, the self-driving car concept, which could easily have been trivialised as a smart driving app, but instead become something more profound.

#3 Carve out space for creative and weird souls. Willy Wonka had to build a chocolate factory to house the Oompa Loompas, because they struggled to survive in the wild. And innovators and dreamers often can’t thrive in typical organizations. Their constant “what ifs” and “why does it have to be this ways” can be irritating for organizations trying to lock in an execution plan and meet quarterly targets.

#4 Dream like a child, test like a grownup. You can get way further than you think just by being optimistic enough to try. You’d be surprised how many people find motivation and joy in a ridiculously hard problem, especially if it has a magical-sounding solution. This is why we’ve often said that 10X can actually be easier than 10%. Before it seemed possible, teams at X believed in self-flying delivery drones, and now they are becoming real.

#5 Look for holy s**t moments — they can get you further than clear objectives. Most projects don’t have quantified goals because they want to be free to find the intriguing paths that lead to the biggest surprises. But it’s hard to resist the allure of a clear milestone because humans dislike uncertainty. To counteract this, teams are asked to try a bunch of experiments and come back when they’ve found something that makes everyone say “holy s**t.”

#6 Cultivate the ability to be passionately dispassionate. While nobody can predict the future, X is trying to invent it efficiently, to maximize the impact of our effort and resources. So it’s absolutely necessary to be intellectually honest and kill things that are pretty good (even  loved) in order move on to better  opportunities. One of the hardest was a beautiful idea to create carbon-neutral fuel from seawater. It worked, but not at a realistic cost.

#7 Create fearless teams of chaos pilots. The lone inventor having a eureka moment is largely a myth; innovation comes from great teams. This doesn’t mean innovation by committee or consensus. X deliberately assembles teams from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, and communities, so we can generate more creative ideas and ask hard questions. Former rocket scientists work alongside concert pianists and puppeteers, and marine biologists mingle with physicists and machine learning experts.

10 years into X, many companies and products have emerged that carry the X DNA, including successful “graduate” businesses including:

Waymo … transforming mobility with self-driving cars

Every year 1.25 million people around the world die from car accidents. Of these accidents, an estimated 94% are caused by human error. A common culprit? Human inattention, made worse in recent years by the rise of mobile devices.

This begs the question: what if cars could drive themselves safely from point A to point B? X was home to the Google Self-Driving Car project, which had the goal of developing technology that could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing road deaths caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations within reach for those unable to drive. In 2016, the project graduated from X to become Waymo.

In December 2016, with over two million miles of self-driving experience on the roads — the equivalent of 300 years of human driving — the Self-Driving Car project graduated from X. Today it’s Waymo, a self-driving technology company with a clear mission: to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around. Waymo’s first public trial is currently underway in Phoenix, AZ where the team continues to deliver on their quest to improve road safety and mobility for everyone.

Loon … expanding Internet connectivity with stratospheric balloons

The Internet has transformed the way the world communicates, does business, learns, governs, and exchanges ideas, but not everyone can harness the benefits and advantages it provides. Right now, billions of people across the globe still do not have Internet access. They are completely left out of a digital revolution that could improve their finances, education, and health.

Project Loon is a radical approach to expanding Internet connectivity. Instead of trying to extend the Internet from the ground, Loon takes to the sky via a network of balloons, traveling along the edge of space, to expand Internet connectivity to rural areas, fill coverage gaps, and improve network resilience in the event of a disaster.

Loon has delivered connectivity to communities where the communications infrastructure has been damaged or wiped out. Loon partnered with Telefonica over many months in 2017 to provide basic Internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people across Peru who were displaced due to extreme rains and flooding. The Loon team also worked closely with AT&T and T-Mobile to bring the Internet to more than 200,00 people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

Verily … inventing new technologies and services to help people live healthier lives

Starting in 2012, X invested in several projects that had the potential to transform the detection, prevention, and management of disease. They were inspired by a common insight: technological advances like machine learning, the miniaturization of sensors, and wearable devices were likely to lead to innovations that could someday help health professionals be more proactive in their treatment of disease. Originally known as Google Life Sciences, this collection of projects ultimately graduated from X in 2015 to become the Alphabet company Verily Life Sciences.

The team at Verily wants to help address some of the most daunting challenges in healthcare. They combine expertise in science, engineering, and medicine with a startup spirit, and they collaborate closely with partners across the healthcare and life sciences industries who are as eager as they are to challenge convention and relentlessly pursue fresh breakthroughs against common diseases and other global health problems.

Glass … helping people work faster and safer with smart glasses

Workers with hands-on jobs often have to look away from what they’re doing to access information. This shifting of focus is time consuming and can also create distractions that lead to mistakes. Manufacturing and field workers, for example, often have to step away from the work at hand to consult manuals or guides while fixing machinery, and doctors often have to divert their attention from patients to transcribe notes or look up records.

Glass Enterprise Edition is a hands-free, wearable computing device that intuitively fits into the user’s workflow to help them remain engaged and focused on their work. Glass can easily clip onto glasses or safety shields and puts a display in the upper right corner of a user’s field of view to allow them to focus on their work, while simultaneously connect to a deeper world of information.

From giving hands-on workers information where and when they need it to providing extra expertise with a “you-see-what-I-see” video feature, Glass is helping many businesses work better, safer, faster. After two years of development at the moonshot factory the Glass team moved from X back to Google to scale their efforts and make the newest version of their device available to hands on workers everywhere.

Malta … storing renewable energy in molten salt

Wind and solar power are abundant, clean, and increasingly inexpensive energy sources. However, they’re not always available when the demand for power is greatest.

If wind and solar farms are producing more energy than the electric grid needs, the energy goes to waste. In California, up to 30% of solar energy cannot be used when it’s produced. Worse, if electricity demand spikes during periods when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, utilities will often fire up “peaker plants” to bring extra power online quickly. These are usually powered by fossil fuels and emit large amounts of CO2 relative to ordinary power plants.

Malta is building a grid-scale energy storage technology that stores electricity from renewable energy sources as heat inside large tanks of high temperature molten salt and as cold in large tanks of chilled liquid. The system can discharge electricity back to the grid when energy demand is high – effectively “time shifting” energy from when it’s produced to when it’s most needed.

Malta, Inc is now an independent company. It plans to build and sell industrial-grade, grid-scale energy storage solutions that can be located anywhere in the world. These storage solutions will collect and store large quantities of energy to dispatch quickly as electricity on demand. The team will develop a megawatt-scale pilot plant to prove the technology at commercial scale, and are working with partners that have the expertise to help them build, operate and connect a pilot to the grid.

Dandelion … reducing heating costs and carbon emissions with geothermal energy

In the U.S., buildings account for 39% of all carbon emissions, with the majority of these emissions coming from the combustion of fossil fuels for heating and cooling. In the Northeast of the country, heating and cooling is particularly carbon-intensive due to the high use of fuel oil and propane gas during the cold months. Use of these conventional fuels also has an unfortunate side effect for homeowners — they feel the financial hit if fuel prices rise during a long cold winter.

Dandelion seeks to make it easier and more affordable to heat and cool homes with a clean, free, abundant, and renewable resource: geothermal energy. Dandelion uses high-performance equipment and a proprietary, low-cost installation process that allows homeowners to save money and help the environment by moving away from conventional heating and cooling methods.

After two years of utilizing X’s prototyping techniques and labs to help develop the drilling technology, Dandelion graduated to become an independent company. Dandelion offers high-performance equipment and a proprietary, low-cost installation process that allow homeowners to save money by switching away from conventional heating fuels. The team is currently signing up customers in New York state and is excited to advance geothermal energy as a clean and abundant choice that can help the planet.

Astro Teller wrote a great blog post “Inside Our Moonshot Factory” in 2016:

Ever since we started as Google[x] in 2010, X has had a single mission: to invent and launch “moonshot” technologies that we hope could someday make the world a radically better place. We developed a simple blueprint to help us find ideas that could deliver 10x impact, not just incremental improvement over the status quo: an X project must solve a problem that affects millions or billions of people; it has to have an audacious, sci-fi sounding technology; and there has to be at least a glimmer of hope that it’s actually achievable in the next 5–10 years.

Over the years, we’ve gotten better at finding and developing moonshots that satisfy these criteria, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. What makes this really difficult is that innovation is a delicate thing. You can’t over-process it; you have to respect weird creativity and serendipitous discovery. But if someday you’re going to harvest the fruits of that innovation in the form of revenue and profits, you need to find just the right amount of structure. That’s why we’re trying to build X into a “moonshot factory”.

At X, we’re trying to do much more than just research dazzling new tools and scientific approaches. We’re trying to create the processes and culture that will help us systematize innovation. (We’re not the first to try this, of course; we can trace our inspiration at least as far back as Thomas Edison.) We hope to find repeatable methods for delivering real impact to the world, by developing technology products that provide the foundations of large, sustainable new businesses.

What I’ll share today are some of the factory processes we’ve developed over the years to keep ourselves in the sweet spot between high-risk/idealistic (where most research lives), and safe-bet/pragmatic (where most big companies live).

Responsibly irresponsible

We embrace failure as a powerful tool for learning and, counter-intuitively, making progress; this is one of our most important values. Now, you might be a bit concerned about someone sitting in the CEO chair telling you they’re setting out to fail most of the time. But to make progress toward any audacious idea, you have to make mistakes — you have to seek out frequent, messy, instructive failure that shows you what to do (or not do) next. You can read more in my SXSW talk here and my TED talk here about how this philosophy shapes X’s technology development, and in this post I’ll explore it in the context of our organizational processes.

In short, we try to steer X to be “responsibly irresponsible” as we develop new products. We couple radical, 10x thinking that throws previous conventions to the wind with the discipline to identify risks early, learn cheaply and quickly what’s wrong with our ideas, and face brutal honesty about where we’re succeeding and where we’re not. We now have a system that fuels our optimism while grounding us — just enough — in reality.

Finding people who fall in love with problems

At X, we love new technologies. But technology is the tool, not the end game. If we catch ourselves spending a lot of time refining a new technology and saying, “This could be great for lots of things…someday” without an idea of how to make it so, that’s usually a bad sign. Instead, we want to fall in love with a problem, and aim to understand it so deeply that it becomes easier to find fresh new approaches.

We seek people who are “T-shaped”: they have enormous intellectual flexibility with deep expertise in a particular field, and they can also collaborate easily across diverse domains. (Here’s more about our T-shaped team.) These are the kinds of people who love problems and joyfully apply techniques from one arena to another, like bringing the science of Doritos bags, condoms, and sausage casing to preventing Loon balloons from leaking.

While each moonshot has a core team, we try to keep that team as small as possible, and supplement them with people from a permanent roster of in-house experts, many of whom specialize in helping moonshots make contact with the real world so they can learn as quickly as possible what physics and public opinion have to teach them. This includes things like mechanical engineering, user experience research and design, and public policy. We have a Design Kitchen and several hardware labs that teams can tap for design sprints, rapid prototyping, and failure analysis. These centralized resources make it easy for us to shift people around and quickly help teams of five act like teams of fifty. This also helps us pass along hard-won wisdom and factory lore, while giving us maximum flexibility for when projects fail or go into a reset-and-rebuild mode.

Thinking about X as a portfolio

Being a “corporate lab” is a difficult balancing act: place big bets on the future, but don’t spook the people giving you the money. As an Other Bet (one of the Alphabet divisions that’s not Google), we want to be good stewards of the resources invested here and deliver a good return so that we’re trusted to keep the factory open for years to come.

We look for opportunities to balance X’s overall portfolio sensibly, and aim for diversity: a mix of hardware and software, a mix of industries and problems, a mix of ideas that will take more (closer to 10 years) or less (closer to 5 years) time to have an impact. We have clear budgets and limitations; we can aspire to creating significant growth for Alphabet without significantly growing ourselves.

People often ask us how many projects live at X, and the answer is that it moves around and depends on how you count. We have hundreds of ideas that last for a few hours, dozens for a few weeks, handfuls for months. That’s the nature of moonshot-taking: we weed out ideas as we learn more about the size of their potential or their risk. So the number of explorations under our roof will vary at any given time.

Moving through the factory

We now have a clear process for how ideas move through the factory. They start with our Rapid Evaluation (aka “Rapid Eval”) team, where we investigate the seedlings of technology and science breakthroughs that might offer the core ingredients and inspiration for a moonshot.

There are two stages of Rapid Eval investigations. In the first stage, investigators get a few weeks and a few thousand dollars to try to understand a nascent moonshot’s biggest risks; this kills many dozens of ideas quickly. The second stage is “Extended Investigations.” A couple of team members are given a few months and a bit more money to build prototypes, running at the hardest and riskiest parts of the technology to deeply understand the problem they’re trying to solve. As they build their technology prototypes, they must also build a solid techno-economic analysis that proves this idea could survive in the real world as a large business with a real market and real applications. By design, only a handful of ideas survive this process.

Then — and this is a new stage developed in the summer of 2015 and led by Obi Felten — we have the X Foundry. We developed Foundry because an idea that’s only a few months old may still carry a lot of risk, including risks that we don’t fully understand yet. So we wanted to create a special environment that lasts about a year or so where we could keep teams small and nimble (usually with less than 10 people, and often fewer than five) and focused on the riskiest elements. In this stage we want to learn that an idea can eventually be turned into a product and business, or that it can’t. We look to develop confidence that it can exist comfortably in the real world — not in a rosy vision of how the world should be, but in a reality-tested plan that can make money in a reasonable amount of time.

We expect Foundry to have a handful of projects at any one time. We generally expect that half of the projects will be killed, and half will survive. We might send some back to the Rapid Eval team for re-imagining. And if we decide a product has the potential to become a large business soon, we hire a general manager and set it up as an fully-fledged X project like Project Wing and Project Loon are today.

Actively killing our ideas

One of our most valuable cultural habits is our willingness to kill our ideas. We’ve always conditioned Xers to run at their hardest problems and biggest risks first, and as I wrote earlier this year, we’ve developed a number of techniques for making people feel psychologically safe even as they declare that something’s not working and they want to walk away. This ensures we don’t end up with a roster of wasteful projects, and we quickly can move on to new ideas that are more likely to turn into successful moonshot businesses.

Our teams start each day assuming failure is the norm, and we manage moonshots-in-progress on that basis. For example, we don’t just hand out more resources when teams show us that they’re doing well. It’s very easy to work on simple stuff and show some progress, but that doesn’t teach you the hard things that you need to understand deeply to solve the problem in the long run. So we ask teams at X to identify their biggest risks, and we make those into the team’s milestones; knocking down a major risk will unlock more budget or permission to grow the team a little. For example, an early milestone for the Loon team, which is developing balloon-powered Internet, was to have balloons that could last for three months. They’ve achieved that, so now one of their milestones is to lower the total cost of the balloons.

Our teams start each day assuming failure is the norm, and we manage moonshots-in-progress on that basis.

Kill signals are another one of our important tools. These are metrics that a team agrees on when the project starts, which, if you reach them (or in many cases, fail to reach them in a certain timeframe), indicate that, “We should walk away from this project now.” This makes it easy for teams to remain intellectually honest and make tough decisions when they’re faced with difficult results. A recent investigation we called Foghorn proved the value of having kill signals.

Foghorn had the potential to dramatically cut greenhouse gases from transportation and slow the warming of the planet: we produced carbon-neutral fuel out of plain old seawater. Amazing! But awesome tech has to be possible at a reasonable cost. We stared at the techno-economic analysis we’d developed: we couldn’t see how this technique could produce fuel in the next 5–10 years at a cost that’s competitive with gasoline at the pump. Our optimistic selves started to make excuses: “A breakthrough could be just around the corner!” “Isn’t persistence the key to any great innovation?” But the team’s pragmatism kicked in: they couldn’t deny that they’d hit their kill signals, so they made the decision to shelve their work.

Graduating moonshots from the factory

X is designed to be a protected space for long-term thinking, prototyping, and de-risking. Our strength is building the bridge from idea to proven concept. We’ve gotten good at pushing forward things people think are crazy to the point of feasible product prototype. For example, self-driving cars have hit the tipping point of “not if but when,” we licensed our smart contact lens to Novartis, and we moved Google Brain from academic idea to ready for commercial use, and it now powers many Google products.

Once a team is ready to polish products or scale operations, they’re ready to graduate from X. All of our life sciences projects became Alphabet company Verily in 2015. The Genie team, which developed smart software for designing green buildings, blazed a graduation path to the outside world: they’re now the independent venture-funded startup Flux.io. We also graduate early-stage teams as we see that they can bring a lot of value to another part of Alphabet. That’s why Tango, Insight, GCam, Watch, Glass, and Google Brain, among others, graduated to Google. We celebrate these graduations with mortarboards and diplomas, and then put X’s resources back to work on other moonshot ideas. On the whole, our X graduates have had a high survival rate, which means we’re doing a good job of de-risking (and killing) ideas while they’re here.

The world needs more moonshots

We’re by no means done with our factory, but we think it’s working pretty well so far. At six years in, I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to make progress against previously intractable problems by being committed over the long term, and committed to finding answers that are 10x better, not 10% better. I believe it’s possible to manage long-term bets responsibly by creating a culture where people cheerfully run at the hardest things first, kill their work, and head back to the drawing board to find the next great idea. I hope we can continue to get enough right at X that we inspire other people to try for radical new approaches to the problems they care about most. From climate change to transportation, from protecting our oceans and forests to improving access to food and water, there’s no shortage of problems in the world: what we need is more moonshots.

Download: Business Model Innovation by Peter Fisk  

Today’s business world is no longer stable and predictable. It cannot simply evolve from the past and extrapolate into the future. Yet too managers hope that their old models will continue to work. They seek to replicate the success formula of the past, to continuously enhance and improve the status quo, and trust that their luck will continue into the future. We call this a fixed mindset. Instead they need to break free, with a growth mindset.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it” said Abraham Lincoln.

Markets are more crowded than ever before. Competition is intense, from across geographies and sectors, whilst customer aspirations are constantly fueled by new innovations and possibilities. Innovation is continuous and essential. Yet too much innovation is just improvement, keeping pace, not getting ahead. It is quickly imitated or redundant, the advantage is lost, and investment is squandered.

“This is the age of disruption … which is not simply about disruptive technologies, but dramatically changing how people think and behave” says Sebastian Thrun of Udacity.

New business models

New business models are the most effective way to transform organisations, to innovate the whole way in which the business works. Inspired by a new generation of businesses – Airbnb to Uber, Dollar Shave Club to Netflix – we see dramatically new business models in every market, through collaborative platforms, data analytics and personal recommendations, or subscription-based payments.

Airbnb makes money by helping you to make money out of your spare room, connecting host and guest, then taking a small fee from each. Nespresso makes great coffee, selling discounted machines, and then getting you to sign up to an everlasting and incredibly profitable direct revenue steam of coffee pods.

What if your business started leasing rather than selling, became part of the sharing economy? What if you simply facilitated an exchange between buyers and sellers and took a cut? How about moving to a subscription model, or a freemium model, or a referral model, or an advertising model?

We used to just think a business simply made things, and sold them. Now its much more complicated. Or rather, there are many more innovative ways to achieve success …

The term “Business Model” is over used and under defined. Business models explain how organisations work – how do they create value for customers, and in doing so how they create value for all other stakeholders. They can map the current business, or explore options for the future.

The approach originates from mapping “value networks” in the 1990s, understanding the systems across business and its partners through which value (both financial and non-financial) is created and exchanged – by who, how and for whom. I remember working with Pugh Roberts to create a multi-million dollar dynamic model for Mastercard which showed varying any one driver – such as interest rates, or branding – affected everything else. And thereby being able to test new ideas and optimise the model.

Business models represent the dynamic system through which a business creates and captures value, and how this can changed or optimised. They are a configuration of the building blocks of business, and their creative reconfiguration can be a significant innovation.

Business models became fundamental to business strategy, driven by them but often driving them. Hambrick and Fredrickson’s Strategy Diamond is all about aligning the organisation, achieving an economic logic between strategic choices. They help to align the business, matching the right strategies for outside and inside, using the proposition as the fulcrum, and profitability as the measure of success.

Business models can often appear very mechanical, lacking emotion and easy to imitate. In 2001 Patrick Staehler, in particular seeking to explain the new breed of digital businesses, created a business model “map” driven by the value proposition, enabled by the value architecture, creating economic value and sustained by cultural values. The last point here is most interesting, in that it captured the distinctive personality of a business, its leadership styles and ways of doing business. This is much harder to copy, and also sustains the other aspects.

Alex Osterwalder’s subsequent Business Model Canvas emerged as the most common template on which to map a business model. He popularised the approach so much so that his supersized canvas now features in workshops throughout the world, always with an array of multi coloured sticky notes as teams debate the best combination of solutions for each box. Whilst the canvas lacks the sophistication of value driver analysis and dynamic modelling, it is about testing hypothesise in each aspect, and how they could work together, and that respect works as a thinking model.

Business models have become a practical tool for rethinking the whole business, seeing the connections and then innovating the business. In fact they offer a great platform to facilitate new strategy and innovation thinking. That’s why we’ve created the Business Innovation Program, which combines design thinking, new business models and strategic implementation – a great way to engage your team, to think about new ways to grow, and to create the future, practically.

We explore at least 50 different business model templates which could transform your business. We start with the customer, to explore emergent needs and behaviours, shaping better propositions and solutions, then exploring how to deliver them commercially, and as engaging customer experiences.


0900 – 1030: CHANGING WORLD

  • Making sense of today’s world, the challenge and opportunity of relentless change
  • The future isn’t like it used to be, so we can’t keep doing what we used to do
  • 100 companies changing the world right now. What can you learn from them?
  • Start with a future mindset, jump ahead, look forwards not backwards
  • Going beyond limits, how will you be the change, how will you achieve more?
  • Growth strategies – innovation beyond products, technology, and creativity


  • Starting from the future back – create the future you want, then work backwards
  • Working from the outside in – rethinking solutions through customer eyes
  • 10 types of innovation – products and services to business models and experiences
  • Ecosystems, from make or buy, to partner and connect, platforms and communities
  • Innovation multipliers – accelerate ideas further and faster to accelerate growth
  • Creating a growth factory – portfolios, self-tuning and the invincible company


  • Business models – emergence of business models, 50 models to adapt and apply
  • Linking business models to strategy, business plans and organisation design
  • Rethinking your business model – what is it, and not – and different ways to define it
  • Mapping existing business model – simplifying how your business actually works
  • Innovating new business models – rethinking how your business could work better
  • Developing a business model portfolio – creating the invincible business


  • Innovation in your sector – how are others innovating, what are the new models?
  • Rethinking products and services – what would deliver the proposition better?
  • Rethinking channels and brands – how to build more inspiring connections?
  • Rethinking revenues and pricing – exploring alternative ways to make money?
  • Rethinking assets and resources – how to use what you have better?
  • Rethinking activities and partners – what do to do yourself, and by others?


  • Your products and services – what would deliver your proposition better?
  • Your channels and brands – how to build more inspiring connections?
  • Your revenues and pricing – exploring alternative ways to make money?
  • Your assets and resources – how could you use what you have better?
  • Your activities and partners – what do you need to do yourself?
  • How would you change Endesa’s business model? Where will you start?

How will you drive future strategy, innovation and change?  How will you reinvent your business models, brands and experiences to embrace rapidly changing needs, behaviours and aspirations of consumers?

As digital experiences drive a hunger for humanity, as sustainability becomes purposeful and mainstream, and as relevance and meaning are in demand everywhere, what are the real drivers of consumers, and their evolving value equations in 2020?

Here are some of the most interesting 2020 trend reports just published:

Back in 2008 Tesla launched its Roadster, a $100k electric supercar. In 2016 Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans to produce a limited-edition line of sneakers made from recycled ocean plastic; only 50 pairs are made. Also in 2016, NYC’s Momofuku Nishi became the first restaurant in the world to offer the Impossible Burger.

Fast-forward to 2019, and Tesla’s Model 3 is a mainstream favourite, the third best-selling car in the UK. Adidas made 11 million pairs of ocean plastic sneakers in 2019. And Impossible Burger is available at over 7,000 Burger King outlets across the USA, demonstrating that plant-based alternatives can taste even better than the ‘real’ thing.

With a little help from some of my trend watching friends,  below is a compilation of some of the most interesting innovations of the last 12 months, collectively demonstrating the fusion and application of the many diverse consumer trends:


The automotive industry is facing its most profound change in 100 years. Autonomous vehicles, new models of ownership, connected ecosystems and more:

  • Volvo: Remember when faster was better? When driving was freedom? Volvo’s driver-facing sensors will soon detect and even prevent intoxicated or distracted driving. A divisive but bold statement of brand intent. More
  • Tencent: Apple and Amazon aren’t the only tech auto shows in town. Thanks to a partnership with 19 automakers, WeChat (with its 1 billion users!) is now accessible to Chinese drivers. Digital superpowers, freed from the screen. More
  • Toyota: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will see the Japanese manufacturer showcase its new vehicles. 90% are electric and athletes will be ferried around by an autonomous shuttle. More
  • Busbot: Getting around an Australian retirement village is much easier. Limited rollouts avoid many of the challenges of full open-road autonomy, while also bringing affordable mobility to groups who are currently under-served. More


Consumers want it all. Personalization. Intimate connection with trusted influencers. Activism. Empowerment. Scientific breakthroughs. All-natural, eco-friendly products. New technologies.

  • L’Oreal: This act of self-disruption from an industry giant ticks so many trend boxes, mixing D2C, personalization, live chat and the gig economy: More
  • Sephora: The French brand looked to escape influencer fraud and fatigue by creating its #SephoraSquad, a year-long partnership with 24 diverse micro-influencers. More
  • Shiseido: The company’s new office in Hangzhou (next to Alibaba’s HQ) will enable the beauty brand to access data and accelerate development of products better suited to local tastes. More
  • Rohto: The Japanese brand’s sunscreen’s selfie-friendly reverse print packaging taps into a very modern customer pain point. Maybe not the most profound innovation, but lots of empathy: More


As personal technology reaches a plateau in terms of raw power and basic form, consumers will seek devices with very different benefits: environmental, inclusive, and empowering.

  • Arçelik: A washing machine with a filter to stop microplastic pollution? And they gave away the technology as an open source solution. More
  • Zappos:  Inspired by an employee, the US shoe brand partnered with Not Impossible Labs to create a portable ‘sonic localizer’ system to help a visually impaired skateboarder. More
  • Sony: This crowdfunded wearable air conditioning device might seem slightly crazy, but if it gets warm (!) reviews from spectators at the Tokyo Olympics it might just be the next big thing to hit warming streets around the globe. More
  • Vice: Q is an artificially-synthesised, ‘genderless’ virtual assistant designed to challenge existing stereotypes perpetuated by existing offerings such as Alexa. More
  • Conalep: Mexico’s National Institute of Technical Education is now offering courses in drone piloting, in order to help create future-proofed job opportunities. More


2019 felt like a watershed moment when fashionistas woke up to the need to drastically reduce their environmental impact. New materials, business models, data, technologies and most importantly new consumer expectations:

  • Vollebak: This t-shirt is made from sustainably-certified wood pulp, printed with ink made from algae, and will decompose in 12 weeks if composted. More
  • thredUP: The fashion resale website launched its Resale-as-a-Service platform to other retailers. Will this platform play be the trigger that propels the recommerce trend firmly into the mainstream? More
  • Nike: The Nike Fit app enables customers to measure their feet using augmented reality. It’s been a hell of a wait, but finally we’re seeing AR being used in ways that are actually…useful?! More
  • Google x Stella McCartney: The British eco-pioneer is deploying Google Cloud’s data analytics to give its designers a more detailed view into the impact of materials in its supply chain. Big data, meet sustainable fashion. More
  • Unspun: The Hong-Kong based startup makes custom-made jeans for people based on a 20-second Fit3D body scan. Perfect fit combined with zero inventory (and so zero waste!). More


Fintech disruption is still big, but where previously long-serving incumbents struggled to compete, 2019 saw their decade-long drive to embrace both digital and cultural transformation start bearing fruit. Customers are increasingly able to enjoy convenient, practical, and empathetic customer experiences:

  • Alice:  This app connects to users’ bank accounts and simplifies deducting allowable taxable expenses. Elite employee benefits to lower-paid and poorly-served hourly wage earners.  More
  • Barclays: The UK bank enables customers to block certain spending categories, such as gambling, alcohol. Fintech-style self-disruption and true customer-centricity from an incumbent. More
  • RHB: This Malaysian bank addressed both a younger generation and inter-generational family dynamics through its Chinese New Year campaign championing a professional esports gamer. More
  • Free Trial Surfing: This clever app enables people to sign up to free trials with ‘burner’ card details so they don’t need to remember to cancel them to avoid charges. More
  • Mastercard: Customers will soon be able to display their chosen names on their payment cards, regardless of their birth gender. A ‘small’ but very relevant step on the road to inclusion and acceptance. More

Food and drink

This is one of the most dynamic sectors, with relatively low costs of innovation and high expectations of consumers. New ingredients, new channels, sustainable sourcing and the circular economy, and more.

  • Nestlé: The confectionery giant’s new 70% dark chocolate product contains no refined sugar. Instead it is sweetened with previously-discarded cacao pulp. More
  • Lettuce: This Austin-based startup installs low maintenance grow beds in members’ homes, matching owners with willing local gardeners and collecting surplus produce for its zero-waste, hyperlocal subscription meal kits. More
  • Solar Foods: The Finnish startup will soon launch Solein, a high protein wheat flour-like powder made from CO2 extracted from the air and combined with water, nutrients, and vitamins. More
  • Returnr: The Australian  startup makes it easier to avoid single-use food packaging by enabling customers to ‘rent’ reusable stainless steel bowls and outsource cleaning to the restaurant. More
  • Perennial: This vitamin-enriched plant-based milk supports the brain health and bone strength of its 50 year old and over audience. More


The consumerisation of healthcare — behaviorally, technologically, culturally — remains the biggest industry trend. People  still want world-class ‘traditional’ reactive medical care in an emergency. But innovations that empower people to engage with their health in new ways will bring huge benefits to both individuals and over-stretched healthcare systems.

  • Seed: The D2C probiotics company launched an Instagram Stories-based ‘certification’ to train influencers in the science behind its products and FTC regulations. More
  • University of Washington: Researchers launched an app that can detect fluid behind the eardrum using a paper funnel attached to a standard smartphone. More
  • AXA Insurance: Hong Kong-based patients with social anxiety can access a six-week therapy program. The twist? The sessions are delivered in virtual reality. More
  • Life Kitchen: Medical treatment is just a small slice of healthcare. This cooking school for cancer patients offers those going through chemotherapy an experience filled with empathy and humanity. More
  • United State of Women: The Womanikin is a breast attachment for CPR mannequins, designed so that first aid givers can get familiar with giving chest compressions to female bodies. More


Who wants a domestic life that is safer, more sustainable, healthier and more socially connected?. Here are five innovations that give a glimpse of what domestic bliss:

  • IKEA: Growing awareness is making air pollution the next frontier for wellness. IKEA’s pollution-fighting curtains will push the issue even further into the mainstream. More
  • Kartell: The furniture brand partnered with software firm Autodesk and designer Philippe Starck to create the world’s first AI-designed chair. More
  • Wutopia Lab: This Chinese design studio created Blue Heart a ‘shared living room’ for residents in ultra-dense housing. New ‘third place’ opportunities. More
  • Student.com & Sheffcare: This initiative pairs up students with residents of an elderly care home, because loneliness — like most trends — doesn’t discriminate by demographic. More
  • Sonny: Will this crowdfunded portable bidet — with its sleek, Apple-esque design — bring bidets to the US market? Perhaps not, but it does signal that every item in the home is ripe for an eco-upgrade. More


What starts out in the luxury sector quickly ripples out into the mass-market. High-end aspirations become mainstream expectations. Here are five early warning signals to have on your radar:

  • Omega: All-natural as the ultimate luxury? The world’s first synthetic ‘spider silk’ watch strap turns that assumption on its head. More
  • Dapper Labs: Luxury is about scarcity. Which excludes all things digital. Or it did, until the auction of the world’s first piece of blockchain-based ‘digital haute couture’ gave us a glimpse of a new era of digital luxuries. More
  • Prada: Prada’s launch of its Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council is a step in the right direction for an industry that’s taken far too many wrong ones. More
  • Shangri-La: The luxury hotel chain opened a restaurant in Singapore’s Changi airport, showcasing a key part of its offering to a new audience. Which adjacent lanes could you move into? More
  • BMW: Second hand doesn’t mean second-class. BMW embraced this trend by recycling clips from old ads to promote its pre-owned vehicle offering. More


People now spend near-insane amounts of their daily lives immersed in media. Frivolous yet meaningful; mindless yet self-improving:

  • Mattel: The maker of Barbie released a line of gender inclusive dolls. Each doll comes with both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ hair and outfits which children are able to combine in various ways. More
  • BASE Hologram: An Evening With Whitney will see the late singer ‘perform’ a holographic tour in 2020. Another signal that, increasingly, there’s no such thing as impossible. More
  • ckbk: This Spotify-like subscription service disaggregates cookbooks into their component recipes. Which new business models could you import from adjacent sectors? More
  • Warner Music: The entertainment giant signed a distribution deal for algorithmically-generated music. Another day, another (creative) job being done by a machine. More
  • Blizzard: To celebrate the re-release (after 15 years!) of World of Warcraft Classic, the studio helped players find members of their original in-game ‘guilds’.  More


The line between businesses and nonprofits is increasingly blurred, thanks to the purpose ‘trend’. And working together can create challenges for nonprofits, but it also drives big ambitions, big budgets and big opportunities on offer, too:

  • Amber Alerts: Selected Dutch ATMs will show pictures of missing children and encourage citizens to sign up to mobile alerts. Omnichannel relevance meets brand purpose. More
  • Donate Life: Californian police issued motorists pulled over for minor traffic violations with a ‘Second Chance’ warning ticket. But only if they were registered organ donors. More
  • McDonald’s: The fast food chain turned to aging nonprofit AARP to help recruit 250,000 new workers in the US, shattering many long-held demographic assumptions in the process. More
  • Lesswalk: This Singapore-based nonprofit is giving 10,000 bicycles — bought and recycled from failed bike-sharing startups ofo and oBike — to children living in rural Myanmar. More
  • Lego: Its new Braille Bricks help visually impaired children (and their families and friends) learn braille while playing. Inclusive design at its best. More


Retailers get obsessed about digital and physical, omni-channel concepts. Consumers just want best-in-class choice, convenience and meaningful experiences.

  • Hanwha Galleria: The exterior walls of this South Korean mall literally change colour in response to the air pollution: green when low, red when high, showing the power of data and sustainability. More
  • Starbucks: The coffee chain continues to raise the bar when it comes to employee benefits, which now include various elements covering mental health. Culture drives your brand. More
  • 7-Eleven: Not at home but still want — no, need! — some food or drinks delivered? 7Now Pins are delivery locations in public places, such as parks and malls. On-demand expectations. More
  • Taobao: The farmers’ market gets a digital makeover. 1,000 rural farmers are now livestreaming to Chinese urbanites hungry for compelling provenance stories about the food they buy. More
  • Walmart: Smart retailers will find creative ways to celebrate the customer-facing benefits of new technology, as Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab did. More


If ‘mobile’ in the last decade has been primarily about smartphones, in the 2020s it will be about new ways to move physical atoms (i.e. people and goods) around more efficiently, cheaply and cleanly.

  • Optimus Ride: Moving (crawling?!) at 15 mph, a one-mile distance limit, two human safety supervisors…the Optimus Ride shuttles are no joyride. 16,000+ monthly riders now love autonomous vehicles. More
  • SBS Transit: Grass roofs are moving from the hippest of eco-dwellings…to buses! Ten buses in Singapore were equipped with living roofs in an eco-conscious, air conditioning cost-cutting move. More
  • Cyclo: This packable bike helmet makes it convenient for consumers to put safety first. And it’s made from recycled ocean plastic. No wonder it exceeded its Indiegogo funding goal in five days. More
  • Clear Channel: Stockholm’s Emotional Art Gallery’s algorithm scanned social media and local data to estimate commuters’ emotions, while digital subway billboards displayed real-time art More
  • Bird: The scooter company is raising the eco-bar by extending its carbon offset beyond the impact of an individual ride, and including delivery and charging. More


The travel industry is about dreams and identity, but also faces an epic tension between rhetoric and reality, especially when it comes to purpose and authenticity.

  • KLM: Reminiscent of Patagonia’s ‘Don’t Buy this Jacket Campaign’, the Dutch airline asked its passengers to consider if they really needed to fly, or whether they could take a train or meet via video conference.  More 
  • Marriott: Brands touting ‘positive impact’ will look especially hollow if their own establishments play host to human suffering. Marriott trained half a million employees to spot trafficking at its hotels. More
  • Faroe Islands: The island nation closed to tourists for a weekend, while selected ‘voluntourists’ worked to conserve and restore popular locations. More
  • Sidekick: Choice saturation. Fake reviews. This South Korean platform lets travelers text a local for real-time recommendations. More
  • The Moxy: The New York hotel tapped into the popular YouTube phenomenon to give guests a ‘drug-free mental massage’ via free, in-room, celebrity-performed ASMR videos. More

Maersk, the Danish shipping business, was another traditional company trying to compete in an increasingly digital and disrupted world. It struggled to understand how to respond to a new generation of shipping innovators, alternative transport providers, and digital disruptors.

And then it thought again.

Last year I interviewed Jim Hagemann Snabe, chairman of Maersk, on stage at the Thinkers50 European Business Forum in Odense. Snabe had recently joined the board after a career largely in technology, with SAP and Siemens, and also as digital advisor to the World Economic Forum.

How would he turn an old shipping line into a digital business, I asked him?

Soon afterwards Maersk started exploring blockchain, and how it could revolutionise the traditional processes of shipping goods around the world – everything from the intensive paperwork required through every port, to tracking just in time goods that need to find their way rapidly around the world to market.

Today AP Moller-Maersk, as it is more formally known, describes itself as an integrated container logistics company, connecting and simplifying trade to help our customers grow and thrive, with a dedicated team of over 76,000, operating in 130 countries, the largest shipping company in the world.

However change is never easy, particularly in a traditional business where most workers have done the same jobs in the same ways for many years. The speed and glamour of Silicon Valley or Shenzhen might seem far removed.

This is it’s way of engaging people, inside and outside Maersk, in its future:

“We are not doing this halfway. 

We are going all the way. Challenging ourselves to stay ahead of the curve for our customers. Pushing boundaries to connect and simplify their supply chains.”

This is your brain

It is your reptilian brain that holds you back. When new opportunities arise and you want to go all the way. It has been like this for millions of years.

That’s why change is hard.

It’s a neurological fact

Watch professor of psychology, Henrik Høgh-Olesen, explain why the reptilian brain fights change and how to work around it to evolve.

We are going all the way – pushing the boundaries to discover new and valuable connections between people, processes and data to find new paths to growth for our customers.”

Here are three examples of projects within the transformation:

Example 1: Maersk Spot

Imagine if a restaurant was like shipping

You wouldn’t accept complex booking, overbooking nor price uncertainty. So why do it in shipping? Introducing Maersk Spot with loading guarantee, easy online booking and a fixed price at booking.

We believe it’s shipping the way it’s meant to be, and we hope you think the same. Take a closer look and see how to get your cargo moving the simplest way.

Example 2: Cleaning up the oceans

The only way the plastic issue can be alleviated is by working all together, contributing with the best of our capabilities and engaging ourselves into groundbreaking solutions. This is the main reason for Maersk to keep supporting The Ocean Cleanup in the relaunch of its upgraded drifting system to the Pacific.

We sail the oceans every day and see the plastic problem growing. At current levels, by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. With an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic waste littering all major ocean basins. This crucial problem is a high priority on our agenda. That´s the reason why Maersk Supply Services keeps providing offshore project management and vessel operations support to a re-developed offshore cleaning system.

They spent three months at the Pacific Ocean testing and collecting relevant data. Due to a structural malfunctioning of the cleanup system, The Ocean Cleanup took the decision to return to port earlier than planned to -based on findings and data- upgrade the system.

Following six months of onshore work, The Ocean Cleanup is now ready to re-send its upgraded passive drifting system to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located roughly midway between California and Hawaii.

In Maersk we believe that, setbacks like this are inevitable when pioneering new technology and we know that, being in port has provided The Ocean Cleanup with the opportunity to make upgrades to a system that it is expected to be back at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by the end of June 2019.

Example 3: TradeLens

TradeLens is an open and neutral industry platform underpinned by Blockchain technology, supported by major industry players. It is a Maersk and IBM solution formerly known as Global Trade Digitization (GTD), is a trade platform for containerized shipping, connecting the entire supply chain ecosystem. Some of the benefits include:

  • An open, neutral, and distributed platform underpinned by Blockchain technology
  • Seamless, permissioned document and data sharing with a common access control structure
  • Ecosystem participants access the platform through open APIs

The TradeLens platform integrates trade data from industry partners onto a common, secure business network, and will provide real-time, secure access to end-to-end supply chain information to all actors involved in a global shipping transaction. Using the platform, you can publish events related to a consignment (shipment) or transport equipment (container), and set up subscriptions to be notified when events occur that match your subscriptions.

TradeLens allows you to manage the documents involved with a consignment. Submitted documents generate events for your documents. This adds to the complete view of activities involved with your consignment or transport equipment. The TradeLens document functions could be used as part of the process of submitting filings for the import and export of goods by enabling end users to securely submit, stamp, and approve documents.

You can use TradeLens directly through REST APIs, or through the Shipment Manager UI. The Shipment Manager (SM) component provides a web user interface to interact with the platform. You can view the events related to a consignment, and perform operations on documents.

Blockchain addresses the underlying challenges inherent in collaborating across a distributed, fragmented supply chain ecosystem:

  • Shared Ledger – Append-only distributed system of record shared across business network
    A network of industry participants maintains a distributed, permissioned ledger with copies of document filings, relevant supply chain events, authority approval status, and full audit history; every change results in a new, immutable block
  • Smart Contract – Shared business logic governing what transactions may be written to the ledger
    Cross-organizational business processes, such as import and export clearance, are pre-programmed and built into Blockchain and distributed to and executed on the network, preventing any member from changing the business logic
  • Privacy – Ensuring appropriate visibility; transactions are secure, authenticated and verifiable
    Cryptography enables permissioned access so only the parties participating in a specific consignment can submit, edit or approve related data
  • Trust – Transactions are endorsed by relevant participants
    Information such as documentation filings and authority approvals can only be changed if endorsed by the parties taking part in the consignment; full audit history maintained on the Blockchain

40 years ago, my father in law, who had grown up in the countryside north of Hong Kong, just over the border into mainland China, went back to the village of his birth. I remember him telling stories of a simple life, playing in the rice fields, and faded photographs of him riding water buffalo as a young boy.

Having moved to Europe he wanted to retain some presence in the small place. He bought some land, and built a small block of apartments which he hoped might grow in value and some day be a good pension for him and his family.

Over the past 30 years, the fishing village of Shenzhen has been reborn as a futuristic metropolis bursting with factories. It is the heartland of China’s tech revolution, dubbed the Silicon Valley of hardware. Now it is a boom town, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

In 1979, the Chinese government turned it into an experiment to grow capitalism in a test tube, designating it as the country’s first Special Economic Zone. The city is driven by an influx of workers from the countryside who make everything from real iPhones to fake Chanel bags. Shenzhen — and the surrounding Pearl River Delta — has become known as the world’s factory floor.

If you own a smartphone or computer, odds are parts of it came from here. It is now a megacity of over 12 million people. It has also become an incubator for cutting-edge design, a bastion of next-gen urbanism, and a leading cultural capital. Welcome to Shenzhen, the manifestation of China’s economic miracle.

To see why Shenzhen is called a rule-breaking tech hub, wander the endless wholesale kiosks of Huaqiangbei’s malls, where tech entrepreneurs, hackers, and makers gather. You will find every electronic component and gadget imaginable, laid out like so many spices in a bazaar.

This is ground zero for the production of shanzhai — “pirated” goods that are often less knockoffs than remixes, like an Apple Watch that runs on Android, has a removable battery, and is a quarter of the price. Naturally, the West frowns on shanzhai, but experts like David Li, a Taiwanese technologist and cofounder of Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, argue that these bootlegs drive innovation. Hoverboards, he points out, evolved in the wilds of shanzhai production to become a global hit.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government is using Shenzhen as a showcase for its move from “Made in China” to “Designed in China” — a program to rebrand the country as a place that can invent, not just copy and mass-produce.

Another draw is Shenzhen’s distance from the capital. As the old Chinese saying goes: “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” Though the government engineered Shenzhen, its location in the Pearl River Delta, more than 1,300 miles from Beijing, gives it a more relaxed atmosphere. “Freedom is a really big word, but there is a sense of Shenzhen being more open in every way,” says Jason Hilgefort, an American architect and educator who leads the local urbanism academy Future+.

Schenzen is also home to some of China’s leading companies including the world’s leading electric car business BYD, and world’s leading drone maker DJI. And then add Huawei and Tencent.

Chinese tech infrastructure giant Huawei was founded in Schenzen in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer in the People’s Liberation Army. At the time of its establishment, Huawei focused on manufacturing phone switches, but has since expanded its business tremendously. It is the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world and the second largest smartphone manufacturer after Samsung.

Tencent is another leading business from Schenzen. QQ is a social media platform owned by Tencent with 850 million monthly users. WeChat even has 963 million monthly users. Tencent does not stop at these platforms. Their services include music, web portals, e-commerce, mobile games, internet services, payment systems, smartphones, and multiplayer online games All these services are among the world’s biggest and most successful in their respective categories.

More by Peter Fisk:

We lease cars. We rent designer dresses. When the lease is up, we return it and get another.

Could a similar leasing model work for furniture? IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, is launching a subscription model where people can lease everything from office chairs to kitchen cabinets. Imagine you’re ready to redecorate your office or update your kitchen. Instead of going through the rigmarole (and expense) of buying all new and getting rid of the old, you just return everything and pick out something else. It’s the same as leasing a car or a piece of designer clothing. Once returned, it gets cleaned up, refurbished, and goes back into rotation for someone else to rent.

IKEA will pilot the program in Switzerland starting as soon as this month. There’s no word yet how much subscriptions will cost or exactly which Ikea products will be eligible. If the subscription model goes well, Ikea may launch the program globally. The company will start by leasing office furniture like desks and chairs to businesses. Kitchen cabinets are also a possibility. Because of the way Ikea’s cabinets are designed, all you’d have to do is swap out the doors for a completely different look.

“Instead of throwing those away, we refurbish them a little and we could sell them, prolonging the lifecycle of the products,” Torbjorn Loof, chief executive of Inter IKEA, told The Financial Times.

Time to innovate your business model

“The failure of any business reflects at root the failure to innovate, failure to recognise change, and the inability to respond to change adequately or appropriately” says Langdon Morris in his great new book Business Model Warfare.

“Business model innovation is perhaps the most important form of innovation, because it’s available to any company of any size, anywhere in the world. All it takes is insight, and the willingness to listen well and try something new.”

Here’s a short extract:

Today, as we see that yet another massive wave of new technology is about to crash across the global marketplace — what with artificial intelligence, blockchains, machine learning, self-driving cars, robots, quantum computing, etc., etc., all arriving immanently, — we must therefore anticipate that every existing business model of every existing business is thoroughly and utterly subject to disruption. This is a stark warning about the need to innovate.

Wouldn’t it be so incredibly helpful if there were a formula to explain all this, to simplify it and make it useful in practice? And indeed there is, a simple, three element framework:

  1. Outside: The company provides experiences to customers through the delivery of products and services. The current quality of those experiences is today’s reality; making them transformatively better is the vision.
  2. Inside: The factors inside the organization make this delivery possible. These can be many and varied, including the product or service itself, the supply chain, the operations, and technology. These are the means.
  3. The Bridge: And then the way that a company communicates this value proposition to customers through marketing and branding, which are the messages and means through which the company communicates. This is the story.

This formula for business model innovation immediately gives us three essential questions to ask about our own business model, and how to improve it:

  1. What’s the best possible experience that our customer can have? (Vision)
  2. How can we organize ourselves to deliver that? (Means)
  3. What’s the best brand identity to represent it? (Story)

We also observe that the most successful business model innovators tend to focus obsessively on one particular aspect of their business means, and develop it innovatively and far beyond what’s been done before. That is, they push it to the edge, the absolute limit of possibility, and in so doing create an entirely new capability that they then leverage to define or enable an exceptionally better value proposition for their customers. (See the illustration at right.)

Let’s look again at some of the companies we’ve already been discussing to see how this applies: where did they push it?

Amazon: The company’s determination to leverage its core technology into every aspect of the customer relationship.

Apple: Obsession with the user interface design created an ease of use that is the basis for nearly everything else that Apple has accomplished.

Google: Obsession with creating user traffic on its platforms has driven two decades of growth.

Southwest Airlines: Obsession with reducing operating costs enabled an entirely new business model and created three decades of exceptional growth and success.

Walmart: Obsession with supply chain optimization is the foundation of its global retailing empire.

The word “obsession” shows up in each one for good reason, and in fact in each of these examples it’s a dual obsession. On the inside, it’s the obsession to optimize some aspect of operations; on the outside, it’s the obsession to optimize the customer’s experience.

Getting there may not be easy, though. Southwest Airlines had to endure a near-death experience during its startup stage before a core element of its eventually-successful business model became clear; it took Google years to figure out how to make money; Amazon and Uber are still losing money; and Apple was moribund as late as 1997, and it was only in about 2005 that its many decades of persistence began to pay off.

How does this work in practice? Business model innovators often begin with these questions simultaneously at the forefront of their thoughts:

The first is simply, What would make the customer’s experience better? Answering this question well requires a detailed understanding of the tacit dimensions of the user experience.

The second is, How can we achieve that? This is the means.

The third question then focuses the compelling story, the critical importance of branding.

Yes, the table is of course a simplification (and possibly an over-simplification), but isn’t it interesting anyway? Do you agree with all the labels I’ve chosen? Perhaps not. But it does convey some important ideas that you need to think about with respect to your own business model:

  • Can you articulate what your business model is about clearly and concisely?
  • Does it tell a story that matters to your customers?
  • Can you deliver on the promise?

Notice that nowhere on the chart is the story or the experience actually the technology itself. Thus, it becomes clear that the importance of new technologies is that they’re the means through which new and better experiences are delivered, but they should rarely be the focus.

Mediocre marketers sell technology. But people buy the hole, not the drill, so skilled marketers sell the hole.

That is, the best business model innovators figure out how to deploy new technologies in order to create better experiences for their customers, while the non-innovators push technology without considering what it means for their business model, or how their business model should be designed to create optimal experiences.

If you look at the up-and-down history of retailers like Best Buy, this is one of the key lessons. They originally designed their stores as temples for people to come and worship technology, which immediately got them commoditized, and soon squeezed by Amazon and Walmart. To turn the business around they had to make it experiential and thus interesting, which they did by turning the stores into brand bazaars, collections of interesting shops in one big box. To complete the turnaround they’re now developing the new brand identity, an essential element of all business models.

Fashion retailers are under pressure. Many physical retailers, such as H&M and Zara have seen their sales decimated by the growth of online competitors like Asos and Zalando, who themselves are struggling to reach the expectations of investors. The fast fashion retail models pioneered by the likes of Inditex, has now created a new normal in terms of consumer expectations and behaviours that are difficult to meet.

Innovation has largely not kept pace with consumer behaviour, in a world of mobile-centric millennial consumers, where their aspirations are global, their choice is diverse, their influence is communal, and their patience is zero. Amazon has launched many private labels, H&M tried celebrity-designed ranges, Uniqlo invested in vending machines, Nike went for vast indoor experiences, Supreme became the ultra-hyped drop brand, and Depop is the new normal for reselling and vintage hunting.

Of all the trends influencing retail, personalisation – in the forms of customised products, personalised service, local engagement, personal shoppers and predicted curation – is perhaps the biggest trend for fashion retailers right now. In order to achieve that some retailers are using technologies such as AI and 3d printing, some are using expert staff and local kiosking, some are using data to build more sophisticated interplay between different channels.

Here are some of the most recent examples of fashion retail innovations:

Alibaba’s FashionAI with Guess

Alibaba’s New Retail concept seeks to rethink the entire retail experience, physical and digital, enabled by next generation technologies. This week the Chinese tech giant launched its first “FashionAI” concept store enabled by artificial intelligence. The Hong Kong store showcases Guess apparel through innovations such as smart mirrors, which display product information on a nearby screen when shoppers are touching or picking up a garment. The smart mirror also makes mix-and-match recommendations and points to where the suggested items can be found in the store. It also uses machine learning to computer vision to “learn” from consumers, designers and fashion aficionados within the e-commerce giant’s ecosystem. These insights include images of more than 500,000 outfits put together by stylists on  its Taobao platform.

Adidas Berlin travel pass

Berlin transit authority BVG’s unusual collaboration with Adidas Originals – limited edition sneakers with a built-in BVG season travel pass. As such the wearer (as long as they are wearing the pair of sneakers at the time) will get free travel around the entire city on trams, buses, ferries and subways for the year. Although the shoes were quite highly priced at €180, the value of the annual travel pass is €728 which means they offer the owner a significant saving. Limited to 500 pairs, the shoes continue the BVG link in their design by mimicking the seat upholstery design used on the company’s train seats.

Amazon Echo Look gets stylish

Amazon Echo Look’s screen and camera functionality is being put to good use by fashion publications Vogue and GQ. Customers can use the device’s AI stylist to get style suggestions from the magazines by uploading photos from their smartphone. The magazines will also host weekly content on the Echo Look app’s home screen with the ability for customers to click through and buy items. Although Amazon says Vogue and GQ don’t get a cut from any purchases made, it’s the sort of collaboration that you could add such an element to.

Columbia Sportswear’s Azure cloud

Columbia Sportswear has collaborated with Microsoft to offer a better customer experience. The company uses Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 and Azure cloud services to get insights into how customers respond to products – regardless of the channel used. This then helps Columbia Sportswear to personalise the experience. The technology is also used to improve merchandise management by offering better reporting and analysis.

H&M’s Afound discount marketplace

H&M is extending to discount fashion with its new marketplace Afound. Significantly, H&M will allow other fashion labels to be sold on Afound. And of course H&M will use it sell its own unsold inventory. The marketplace will be accessible online and through a physical store in Sweden. The aim is to present a mix of brands at different price points. Similarly, Inditex’s remainder products are sold through a separate brand Lefties in which own brand labels are changed from Zara or Mango to Lefties.

LVMH 24sevres multi-brand store

LVMH’s first ecommerce project is 24servres.com, which is a digital realisation of the Le Bon Marche store in Paris. The idea is to extend the physical experience to customers all around the world, including recreating the store’s famous window displays. LVMH also believes that its curated experience is what sets it apart with the brand taking an editorial approach to merchandising the site’s inventory.

Miquela, the digital influencer

Miquela Sousa is a 19 year old LA-based model and influencer. So far, so normal. But Sousa is actually a computer-generated figure – and no-one knows who is actually behind her. Still, she has more than 899,000 Instagram followers and fills her feed with images of outfits from brands such as Chanel, Supreme and Vans.

Net a Porter’s intelligent shopper

Luxury online retailer Net a Porter has invested £442 million in technology and personalisation. A robot selects clothes for customers based on their future plans, for example a planned vacation. The system uses AI to offer the personalised service. Net a Porter has also developed another tool that uses AI to put together outfits based on other items a customer has selected.

Nike’s superfast customisation

The Nike By You studio in New York lets customers customise a pair of trainers in less than 90 minutes. Known as the Nike Makers’ Experience, the process involves a series of graphic options and patterns, plus colour and size options, to create a design that’s unique to the customer. The experience uses a special model of trainer, the Nike Presto X, which was specifically created for it. Currently the Nike Makers’ Experience is invitation only.

Nordstrom’s local advisory stores

US department store Nordstrom’s new retail model is very different to its existing store proposition. The new concept deconstructs the department store into smaller, targeted spaces. The first of these is Nordstrom Local, which is a clothing store that stocks no clothes. Instead the small space has a stylish suite and dressing room with personal stylists ordering in products for customers to try. If they want to buy anything it will be shipped to their home. The space also offers alterations and tailoring.

Orchard Mile’s personalised ‘shopping street’

It’s been a slow process but more and more luxury brands are online, whether via their own initiatives or platforms like Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. One company changing how customers shop for these brands is Orchard Mile which lets customers create their own ‘shopping street’. The customer pick their favourite brands to populate the street, They can then click on them and go to a customised website featuring the designer’s entire collection. The goal is to make the experience akin to walking into the brand’s shop.

Start Today’s ZOZOsuit

The US subsidiary of Japanese fashion brand Start Today is aiming to change the way we buy online with its new at-home measurement device. The ZOZOsuit is an enhanced suit that uses sensor technology to capture 15,000 measurements from all over the wearer’s body. The data is then sent by bluetooth to the accompanying ZOZO app. Customers can then shop Start Today’s products and get recommendations on what will fit based on their exact measurements.

Stitch Fix intelligent box

Stitch Fix is using artificial intelligence to take the effort out of finding new clothes. Rather than the customer going from store-to-store browsing, the company uses a mix of human personal styling and AI to find and send products directly to customers. It uses customer data to find the products it thinks the individual will like. The AI is constantly learning based on what the customer returns and keeps, which means its recommendation get better and more personalised over time.

Tie Bar’s data-gathering stores

Menswear brand The Tie Bar started as an online store, but has since moved into physical retail. Notably the company started with pop–up stores, but found they were turning a profit so converted them into permanent stores. However they don’t operate in isolation. The Tie Bar uses the stores to improve its online offering by testing out new products and uses learnings from customers’ in-store stylist sessions to improve its online equivalent. The Tie Bar also uses online data about where its customers live and what they buy to decide where to open new stores.

Untuckit’s RFID merchandise

Casual men’s apparel retailer Untuckit is piloting the use of RFID in its Fifth Avenue store. The company will use the tech to track inventory and see which items are selling best. They can then use this to optimise inventory in real-time. Just as importantly the RFID will show which sizes and styles have low demand enabling Untuckit to remove or improve them. The store can also track staff and shoppers around the store to better understand journeys.

Viktor & Rolf and Zalando’s recycled collection

Zalando has linked up with fashion designers Viktor & Rolf to create a collection focused around using recycled materials to make handcrafted garments. Called RE:CYCLE, the new collection consists of 17 pieces of womenswear. The materials come from Zalando’s overstock fabrics, while Viktor & Rolf manage the design. The collection is deliberately priced to be accessible with the idea being that it’s a viable alternative to a customer’s usual purchases.

Wardrobe’s direct-to-consumer luxury 

Wardrobe.nyc is a luxury direct-to-consumer fashion label from designers Josh Goot and Christine Centenera. The brand sells clothes as ‘wardrobes’ with customers having the choice or four or eight seasonal essentials costing £1,104 and £2,208 respectively. Catering for both men and women it’s an interesting look at where luxury fashion could go in the future by offering high quality products, curated into capsule wardrobes at a lower price.

Zara self-service kiosks

With click-and-collect a well-established part of the retail mix some brands are looking at ways to improve the process. Zara is one of these. It’s testing self-service ‘pickup towers’ in-store which can hold up to 4,000 packages. Customers can use them to retrieve their online orders by scanning a barcode on their phone. The machine then locates and retrieves the package in just a few seconds. Given that most retailers’ click-and-collect services requires customers to queue up at a desk or till to get their items, this technology is a win-win. It makes the process faster for customers and frees up staff to do more important tasks.

More on fashion

More on retail




We are in the midst of a new revolution. The internet, social media, and mobile technologies have transformed how customers interact with brands and how companies market their products and services. It has transformed products themselves, customer experiences, business models, and organisation structures. It has transformed markets, customer aspirations and how value is created.

Most significantly it is a mental shift. From marketing organisations built around brand managers, campaign schedules, paid-for advertising and distribution channels – to a world where the only limit is imagination and time – tweets are unlimited, Facebook pages are free, social influence is done by customers. Whilst the technologies are fascinating – VR helmets and data analytics – it is the mindset that makes the difference.

Consider the journey of marketing from a world before digital (the old paradigm of product-push, advertising enabled, mass-marketing) to a world where digital came to the for (today’s world of websites and mobile apps, social and interactive, more connected, more customer-centric). Now consider what the next phase looks like, going above and beyond digital (to embrace intelligence, fuelled and inspired by the new generation of technologies, but only limited by our imagination).

Digital has transformed every market, as well as the very essence of marketing. Marketing beyond digital takes your brand further and faster:

  • Bigger ideas … Marketing is about big ideas, that connect with people in more relevant and realtime ways. Ideas about their lives, enabling them to achieve more. These ideas come from deep insight, building brands with more meaning, and then solving real problems for mutual benefit. Ideas spread through word of mouth, or tweets and likes, accelerated by social influencers and shared passions.
  • Smarter innovation … Marketing is been shaken up in a digital world, no longer centred around products and campaigns, advertising and selling … it is about engaging people in new ways, with new channels, and new incentives, creating business models that generate revenues in new ways. All marketing is digital, it is how it harnesses the power of data and technology to succeed more creatively.
  • Personal identity … Marketing gives people a richer identity, about who they are, what they believe and aspire to be. Brands are a reflection of customers not companies, communities and causes. Markets are increasingly fragmented, tribal and turbulent. Millennials add a new wave expectation and desire.  Customer-centric marketing is all about you – on your terms, what and how, when and where you want it.
  • Radical imagination … Marketing brings new solutions to life through new technologies, co-created or customised with customers, brought to life through virtual and augmented reality, delivered in anticipation of needs by using big data to surprise and inspire people. Marketing can sometimes be accused of selling you what you don’t need, but it is also the platform for exploring possibilities, and a better life.
  • Business impact … Marketing is the driving force of profitable growth, turning ideas into innovation, solutions into sales, futures into financial success. In a world where customers trust each other more than companies, it is networks that drive success – networks of partners, networks of customers, networks of participants. Time to market is accelerated, old decision processes are disrupted, impact can be instant.
  • Unleashing technology … Marketing is digital in everything it does. Digital is more than an app, a website, a fan page or a headset. Digital is about harnessing the power of data and networks to transform markets, and the relationship with and between customers. Whilst routine activities are automated and accelerated, technology gives marketers the opportunity to dream, to dare and to of further than ever before.

Digital is transforming every market, as well as the very essence of marketing. But marketing is now more than digital, it moves to the next generation of technologies, but also to realise its humanity, and potential to transform business and beyond.