radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Hyperloop Makes Contact With Reality And What Tech Calls Thinking.

Feb 28, 2022

Dear Friend,

A little plug — and a great opportunity: I recently joined the fantastic Falling Walls Foundation to chair their Science and Innovation Management work. Science and Innovation Management is one of 10 categories in the annual Global Call for Nominations of the Falling Walls Foundation. Every year, we are looking for novel and game-changing approaches (concepts, tools, structures, and projects) that enable groundbreaking innovations within and beyond the field of science. Winners of this competition receive publicity, access to a large network of international innovators, and are invited to Berlin to present their work at the yearly Falling Walls Science Summit. If you, or someone you know, might be a good candidate — apply! 👍


If you heard us talk about “technological maturity” as a major factor in sussing out the chance (and respective timing) of a weak signal turning into a transformative strong signal, you undoubtedly heard us mention Elon Musk’s fabled “transportation revolution”, the Hyperloop. Our argument is beautifully summarized by Rodney Brookes in IEEE Spectrum: “I’m only suggesting that we properly gauge the difficulty of whatever we are told could be the next big thing. If the idea builds on practical experience, then guarded optimism is in order. If not, then not. Hope is a scarce thing; we shouldn’t squander it.” Hyperloop, in our eyes, is far from crossing this threshold — as the unsolved problems are numerous; from the simple (and rather crucial) question of how to accelerate and decelerate a Hyperloop vehicle without killing its passengers (or at least causing major discomfort) to the thorny problem of what to do if one of the vehicles gets stuck in the middle of one of the transportation tubes. Now it looks like reality has caught up with Hyperloop with The Verge reporting that “Virgin Hyperloop switches focus from passengers to cargo as it lays off half its staff”. Now — we doubt that the unit economics for freight make any sense for the Hyperloop… As Brookes points out: “Hope is a scarce thing; we shouldn’t squander it.” (via Pascal)

Disrupt Disruption

I just finished Adrian Daub’s “What Tech Calls Thinking”, a recommendation by be radical’s Learning Partner Richard Hammond. It is a critical exploration into the “Silicon Valley mindset” — at times, in my eyes, overly critical bordering on scathing, but a welcome juxtaposition to the usual Silicon Valley-is-awesome-fanfare. Daub, in a central chapter, dissects tech’s obsession with disruption, and its mindless overuse of the term — which, of course, dovetails into our view of disruption having turned into a “tofu word”: A word so bland in its meaning these days, that it takes on the flavor of whatever sauce you pour over it — just like the soy-based curd. In Daub’s words: “Disruption is high drama. The notion that “things work the way they work because there’s a certain logic to them” is not.” (via Pascal)

What We Are Reading

🧑‍⚕️ Agile Doesn’t Work Without Psychological Safety According to research, half of organizations that undertake agile transformations fail in their attempts. The primary factor is disregard for the first value of the Agile Manifesto: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Learn 5 ways to create psychological safety to foster a collaborative, and successful agile team. JaneRead

😳 Other People Don’t Think You’re a Mess Our worries about the negative evaluations of others may not be entirely reflected in the way people actually see us in difficult moments. MafeRead

🤖 Amazon’s Astro Home Robot Remains Elusive Six Months After Debut Six months after its debut, the reality of Amazon’s home robot it that it’s probably much less useful to early customers than it will be for Amazon to learn about the future home robot market. JeffreyRead

🚘 The Feds Plan to Reduce Roadway Deaths—With Smarter Road Design Addressing fundamental systemic issues is always fascinating. Fully understanding the complexity of a problem opens the doors to so many possibilities. And as often, you can learn from others — the Swedes in this case. JulianRead

🪐 A Lonely Universe Are we alone in the universe? Intelligent life might be rarer than we think… PascalRead

Internet Finds

As so many, I grew up on Lego and have fond memories of playing with the little, colorful bricks (and of course the pain they inflict when you step onto them barefoot). Apparently, the world of Lego has changed a lot since I was little… 🧱

In Case You Missed It

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: Obvious is Better

⚠️ Disrupt Disruption: If you haven’t done so, listen in on a fascinating conversation with EY’s Global Learning Leader Riaz Shah on what it takes to disrupt executive education in the latest episode of Disrupt Disruption. Listen on our website or in your podcast app of choice.

Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)