Ninja Future: A book review by Bob Morris

Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation
Gary Shapiro
William Morrow/An imprint of HarperCollins (December 2018)

How to navigate unfamiliar and perilous new territory as tech silos shift to tech landscapes

To what extent is this a deeper development of Gary Shapiro’s insights shared in his previously published books? “This time I took a ‘horizontal’ approach. All the systems and structures I’ll discuss cross multiple industries and categories. You’ll see AI crop up in multiple chapters; you’ll see blockchain discussed in wildly different contexts; you’ll see self-driving vehicles invoked throughout. The twelve chapters are meant to be a primer on the technologies and innovation that people, businesses, and governments should consider, prepare for, adapt to — otherwise they will be left in the dust of today’s technological revolution.”

This is precisely what Alvin Toffler has in mind in Future Shock (1984) when observing, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

For those unfamiliar with Shapiro’s use of the term “ninja,” he explains: “I coined the phrase ninja innovation to describe the people and organizations that have demonstrated the attributes of ancient ninjas — Japanese warriors who survived battles against extraordinary odds. Using stealth and surprise, they triumphed over adversaries, despite often being outgunned and outmanned by fierce competition or hostile conditions.”

Shapiro highly-regards 21st century ninja entrepreneurs who are innovative thinkers with highly developed self-discipline and self-confidence as well as strength, cunning, intensity, and adaptability. In Don Quixote’s words, they “dream the impossible dream” and then, like Tennyson’s Achilles, are determined “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” until that dream becomes a reality.

Some of the most interesting material is provided in Chapter 4, “Ninja Innovations Today,” as Shapiro  examines several examples of what “a few basic technological ingredients” have made possible. “The most advanced level of big data analytics involves not only predicting the probability of future outcomes, but also automatically taking action based upon those predictions. Predictive analytics requires a feedback loop in order to continuously refine its predictive prowess.”

These are among the passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Shapiro’s coverage:

o Surprise Hits (Pages 11-14)
o Spend Less, Know More (15-21)
o An Aging Population (23-33)
o Retail Apocalypse (38-42)
o The Experience Economy (48-50)

o Changing Business Models, and, Human-Machine Partnerships (52-55 and 55-59)
o On Algorithms (67-68)
o Cloud Computing, Big Data, and Analytics (68-70)
o Quantum Computing (81-83)
o Artificial Intelligence (86-92)

o Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality (94-98)
o Personalized Health Care (106-110)
o The Importance of Privacy (123-128)
o Some Like It Hot (143-146)
o Sharing Is Caring (156-158)

o Keys to a Smooth Transition (161-165)
o Israel (178-181)
o China (183-187)
o Detroit (201-202)
o Every Company Is a Tech Company (206-210)

o Know Your Customer (214-217)
o Leverage Your Strengths (222-226)
o Variety Is the Spice of Life (241-244)
o A Competitive Advantage (252-254)
o Resilience (257-261)

I wholly agree with Gary Shapiro’s concluding observations: “If we embrace innovation boldly and with our eyes wide open, we can cure incurable diseases, solve impossible environmental challenges, and create unimaginable opportunity and prosperity. Today these are tantalizing possibilities. I have every confidence that innovators will turn them into realities in the ninja future.”

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Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies and which owns and produces CES® – The Global Stage for Innovation.

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