strategy+business — Winter 2013
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Editor’s Letter
Art Kleiner

The Map Is Truer than the Territory

One of the most striking new digital innovation tools is the customer immersion lab. As described in “The Global Innovation 1000: Navigating the Digital Future,” by Barry Jaruzelski, John Loehr, and Richard Holman (page 32), the lab is a virtual reality environment for identifying new product opportunities. Engineers, marketers, and customers use an all-encompassing video game–like interface to (for example) play with new products—operating the controls, opening the packaging, doing everything but tasting the food. Because the users’ movements and comments are tracked and analyzed, the tool becomes a model of customer response, yielding more insight than face-to-face observation of real customers.

When Alfred Korzybski coined the expression “the map is not the territory” in his book Science and Sanity back in 1933, he was writing about the tendency of people to draw the wrong conclusions from observations of the physical world. Conceptual models in those days were limited descriptions of reality, either so specialized that only scientists could understand them, or so vague as to be meaningless. These days, computer-augmented models such as immersion labs are so detailed, precise, and far-reaching (incorporating data from so many people and places) that they supersede reality. The map is truer than the territory—or at least truer than our perception of it.

These new digital tools are designed to improve the ratio of breakthroughs to breakdowns, and they probably will. But they are also likely to provide new ways for companies to overcommit and overextend themselves. Thus, it’s fitting that this issue should include some sober looks at technologies and methodologies. For example, Booz & Company researchers Curt Mueller, Andrew Schmahl, and Andrew Tipping scrutinize the same-day delivery of products (page 6) . Their take? That bricks-andmortar stores, if they rethink their distribution model, could gain an unassailable competitive advantage.

Other stories in this issue examine platform market businesses that link customers to one another (page 9), the limits of Twitter-based marketing (page 12), the slow advent of the digital grid for electric power (page 14), and (with justifiable enthusiasm) the bundling of healthcare services (page 26). Finally, in “A Skeptic’s Guide to 3D Printing,” Tim Laseter and Jeremy Hutchison-Krupat show how models of declining cost can predict the evolutionary trajectory of any leading- edge technology (page 20).

In a world of powerful models, we need quality management more than ever. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, makes this point in the issue’s Thought Leader interview on page 90. He notes that successful Silicon Valley startups are paying more attention to the “boring stuff” of building managerial capability, even as mature organizations are learning to flex new tools to manage innovation. If you’re interested in doing the same, there’s no better tool than our annual best business books section (page 56), edited by Theodore Kinni—a map of powerful management writing that is at least as compelling as the territory it covers.

Art Kleiner