The inevitable collision between the scientific and public world

14 03 2010

Cover of the latest UNEP report

The scientific community prides itself in its ability to distinguish good from junk science thanks to a thorough and objective peer-review process. While this process has proved successful to foster scientific progress, it has been recently put to test when scientific issues became entangled with public policy debates. From the toxicity of chemicals like aspartame or tobacco in the 1980’s to the recent Climate Gate, more and more scientists get dragged into the public arena where brilliant or simply demagogic rhetoric trumps long and complex discussions about statistical significance. Scientists are ill-equipped to provide opinions when they are in reality accustomed to discuss about facts. As a result, you end in situations like Climate Change where both scientists and public leaders get frustrated at each other, leaving the door open for private and other interests to shape the debate in their favor.

A couple of months ago, MIT organized a conference with Richard Lindzen and other professors from the institution. Richard Lindzen is the A. P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT and one of the most famous voices against the climate change consensus. He is widely quoted in the conservative reports denying the existence of climate change. However, when one carefully listens to him, it becomes obvious that he does not deny the existence of man-induced climate change. He just argues that the data proving a anthropogenic climate change is not conclusive for lack of statistical significance. In a nutshell, he does not deny nor confirm climate change; he is indecise. During the same conference, Ronald Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, strongly argued against Pr. Lindzen but finally acknowledged that the only difference between them relied on their different appreciation of the risk. Prinn summarized it well when he said: “My judgement of statistical significance for anthropogenic warming is very much dependent on my belief/fear that we don’t have another planet to go to.” Both were looking at the same data but saw different thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Geeks have done their share; it is now up to you, business leaders, to innovate!

5 03 2010

Cleantech Gap, Source: Clean Horizon Consulting

In their recently published book “Wired for Innovation,” MIT Professor Erik Brynjolfsson and Wharton lecturer Saunders contend that: “even if all technological progress were to stop tomorrow, business could create decades’worth of IT-enabled organizational innovation using only today’s technologies.” As a society, we all expect technology innovations to bring more progress to everybody, and at a faster pace. However, we rarely reflect on whether our business leaders innovate enough to match the high expectations we have for the technology community. How many times have you heard of a revolutionary technology vs. a revolutionary business plan?

Humor me on this one: should a technology be discarded because its benefits under the current business model does not overweight its costs? or should it be discarded because we could not think of any business model in which its benefits overweight its costs? Let’s take the electric vehicle as an example. In a previous post, I have shown some reserves regarding electric vehicles adoption because the technology still does not make economic sense in the current business models. However, I also affirmed that it could become a reality, today, with a company like Better Place which offers a revolutionary business model. Electric vehicles only make economic sense if you look at the total cost of ownership i.e. car’s price tag + fuel cost + maintenance cost. Therefore, Better Place knew they needed to find a business model that would leverage this challenge as a strength instead of a weakness. Instead of selling you a car, Better Place will sell you kilometers to drive, which translates into charged batteries. Like with a cell phone, you will buy the hardware (the car) and you will choose a plan that best fits your driving needs. Better Place owns the batteries and will provide you with a network of charging stations to recharge them – monitoring your consumption while doing so. cye88sebwgzu CYE88SEBWGZU Read the rest of this entry »

A new model for technology innovation: “Search and Development”

7 02 2010


Cleantech is on its way to potentially become the next transformative wave of innovation. As often, anticipating what the future will hold is about understanding how the past unraveled. Indeed, there is much to learn both in terms of investors’ mental models and potential analogies from past waves like the Internet and Biotech.

The emergence of Information technologies marked the triumph of the VC-backed model. The business and mainstream media helped build the myth of the geeky tech entrepreneur and the all-powerful venture capitalist. The lesson we all learned was that an idea could quickly move from concept to a reality – potentially unleashing millions of dollars while doing so. Of course in the process, numerous shaky business plans were funded; people saw value where there was just wind. Yet, tech entrepreneur/VC tandem survived the bubble and still embodies in our subconscious the perfect combination to generate technology innovation.

As a consequence, people still believe that this is the model to go for the next technology innovation. That is why, you see cleantech entrepreneurs and VC striving to walk the cleantech “revolution” along the same path i.e. funding, IPO, etc. However, savvy investors and business pundits raise some valid concerns as to the validity of the analogy. The beauty of the IT revolution was, and still is, that the development costs to reach scale are very limited. On the contrary, most of the cleantech requires longer development lead time and thus funding up to 10 times what was necessary for the proof of concept in the IT world. How many firms can realistically raise 100 million of dollars through the VC world to develop a conclusive prototype? The analogy falls short and begs for another point of reference. Read the rest of this entry »

Why “Vitamins for your futures” plural?

6 01 2010

Long term thinking is a very humbling experience. You have to accept to be wrong to hopefully be right. In a sense, there is something “organic” in such an approach. Nature has always favored redundancies and failures to celebrate the triumph of the fittest. The evolution process thrives on countless variations of genetic codes that could have been the most optimal answer in a different environment.

Likewise, forward thinking is all about studying all those futures that could exist provided forthcoming events follow a certain path. Of globalization and technological innovations like the Internet emerged a growing human network that has exponentially accelerated the pace of changes. Describing the world in the next ten years becomes increasingly challenging. Just look back to all the things that happened in the last ten years, could you imagine commenting to this post on your Iphone while traveling through your daily commute?

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