People are finally OK with bots
In March, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella declared that “bots are the new apps.” The Economist went further, calling 2016 “The Year of the Bot.” Facebook launched its Bot Engine, full of chatbots willing to help users shop, book tickets, and much more. The beauty of bots in 2016 is that, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphone screens, consumers aren’t fazed by chatting with a robot when picking out their Christmas shopping or asking about a product return the way they would have been even a few years ago. It’s a timely lesson in the crucial importance of timing: no new technology—not even the coolest development—will go big if users aren’t out of the “this kind of creeps me out” zone.
Self-driving vehicles get clout with cargo
Pundits love to talk about driverless cars as the future of commuting, but the first autonomous vehicles to go mainstream may carry less sentient cargo. In October, a self-driving delivery truck built by Uber subsidiary Otto made a beer delivery in Colorado, travelling 200 kilometres and snaking through Denver to its destination. (A human was on board as a fallback.) Unsettling? Maybe. But as the median age of truck drivers climbs, a replacement that subsists on data instead of jerky looks mighty appealing.
Shortcuts literally blow up on you
Gadget-makers are under tremendous pressure to release upgraded models at breakneck speeds, lest they be defeated by the competition. But it’s not without risk—something Samsung learned the hard way this year after rushing to market the faulty Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, which combusted enough times to warrant a mass recall (and some serious brand damage). Let this be a mantra: no land grab is worth releasing a product so flawed it actually catches fire.
Geniuses make crazy ideas seem normal
Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars within 40 years, and that’s not the zaniest idea he’s had this year. At a coding conference in June, he suggested that we’re “probably” all simulated players in some future or far-off society’s video game. It’s a concept the Tesla and SpaceX CEO thinks about so much, in fact, that he’s had to impose rules around when he can talk about it (never in hot tubs, curiously). While it’s impossible to know whether we are in fact, living in a simulation, the source makes it hard to dismiss entirely. After all, there was a time when we thought Musk’s idea to operate cars without gas, then without drivers, was too out there.
Sometimes you just take the cash
Calgary’s one-time digital darling Smart Technologies has had a rough time since going public in 2010. The maker of electronic smart boards was squeezed by shrinking school-board budgets and a failed foray into the business market. The resignation of founders David Martin and Nancy Knowlton four years ago was only a temporary reprieve. In May the company accepted an offer from Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group—yes, that Foxconn, the iPhone-maker infamous for its suicidal employees. It’s not the fairy-tale ending many wanted, but it gave shareholders $4.50 a share in cash (up from a low of $2.19 in January) and demonstrated the value of knowing when to abandon a dream, take the money, and move on.
iStock; H&M; Aether Films
MORE OF WHAT WE LEARNED IN 2016:
- Lessons from Top Canadian Entrepreneurs »
- 5 of the Best Leadership Lessons »
- The Lesson From Blackberry’s Big Pivot »
- Lessons from Top Canadian Business Visionaries »
- 3 of the Most Important Lessons About the Economy »
- 7 of the Best Marketing Lessons »
- The Lesson of Pokémon Go’s Rise and Fall »
- The Lesson of Kirstine Stewart’s Big Career Shift »
- Lessons from Top Executives »
- Why—and How—Frank Giustra Spent the Year Helping Syrian Refugees »
- The Lesson of Valeant’s Very Bad Year »
- How Martin Shkreli Proved That Greed Isn’t All That Good »