How Deep Tech Can Help CEOs Save the Planet

Deep technologies are now creating a revolution in the way organisations do business, creating new opportunities to thrive in the most technologically important era since the industrial revolution. In the last few years, investment in deep tech startups has reached billions of dollars, with the potential rewards in the order of trillions.

The two biggest digital developments that will impact humanity are going to be in artificial intelligence and biotechnologies. Advances in quantum computing, cloud computing and computer chip processing capacity, for example, now mean that AI solutions have the ability to model and find solutions to real-world complex problems.

In parallel, the world’s largest businesses are those which have grown by creating new forms of value for customers and clients through platform-based business models. US and Chinese organisations are now leading the field due to their entrepreneurial and political understanding of the underlying logic and platform architectures of the digital economy.

However, all the advances we have achieved in digital innovation have come at a dangerous ecological cost, due to invasive extraction methods, energy requirements for the production of products, greenhouse emissions and the way in which we dispose of electronic waste. The question now facing CEOs is how they see the evolution of advanced technology in relation to evolving to more equitable societies and restoring our planets depleted natural ecosystems.

Recognising the urgent need to find solutions to our most pressing social and ecological global challenges, a new breed of technology-first deep tech startup has begun to emerge with a focus on using cutting edge discoveries in science and engineering. While many purpose-driven CEOs are now starting to recognise that deep tech can help them contribute to regenerating Earth’s ecosystems, it is important to understand the shift in paradigm needed for an organisation to achieve success in this area. Our most advanced technologies alone will not be humanity’s salvation. What is now required is for CEOs to take a more profound approach to deep tech, and this means developing a systemic conception of the very nature of deep tech.

In 2015 we developed the New 4Ps framework of platforms, purpose, people and planet to help leaders understand the major trends shaping business ecosystems and the need for a systemic approach to creating a high impact strategy. The New 4Ps provide a new set of economic principles for organisations wishing to transform themselves digitally and culturally, and can be utilised prior to any design, strategy and marketing initiatives. The adoption of this framework naturally allows leaders to initiate new organisation-wide dialogues to engage employees and stakeholders in the transformational process, locating deep tech opportunities at the heart of their strategies.

Just as Steve Jobs famously said in 1997 that businesses need to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology, the same is true in deep tech, although what has changed is that leaders need to start with purpose, articulating the actual change and impact they are hoping to achieve.

The New 4Ps are a synthesis that forms the basis of decision-making in an organisation, providing the direction of the development of more innovative business models and value propositions. Once we are clear about our purpose, we are better able to then evaluate our approach to platform design. The reason is that we have reached a stage in the evolution of our technology that has now given us a chance to rectify the shortfalls in our previous economic systems, ones which generated poverty, inequality and the degradation of our natural ecosystems. Locating this vision of platform design inside of the New 4Ps framework provides leaders with an opportunity to consider new forms of organisation and to demonstrate real-world impact in their environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.

The next step is to carry this systemic approach forward into the ideation, design and implementation of deep tech solutions. The major contribution of CEOs at this stage is to expand their organisations’ conception of deep tech so that it is not simply understood neither as our most advanced technologies nor a category of startup.

We define deep tech through the four key pillars of deep impact, deep thinking, deep talent and deep collaboration. The reason is that technological solutions can only be as profound as the level of consciousness contributing to them. The role of CEOs, therefore, to facilitate the systemic interplay of these four pillars in the deep tech design process in order to achieve genuine breakthrough results.

Just as Steve Jobs famously said in 1997 that businesses need to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology, the same is true in deep tech, although what has changed is that leaders need to start with purpose, articulating the actual change and impact they are hoping to achieve.

With this understanding in place, leaders can then initiate their searches for solutions through forming transdisciplinary teams who are able to integrate scientific discoveries, artistic consciousness and philosophical creativity. This level of deep thinking, therefore, calls for deep talent – the inclusion of deeply talented individuals who may not have the academic, educational or social backgrounds that organisations traditionally seek.

The internet is about to transform rapidly as we enter a new era of deep collaboration between people and machines.

In the era of deep tech, CEOs now need to become leaders of collective mastery. This means understanding the personal challenges that deeply talented people from diverse backgrounds may have when integrating into innovation and design teams. Leaders need to be able to manage collaborations across innovation ecosystems, networked supply chains and the communities in which they operate and impact upon. And they also need to understand how to optimise remote collaboration using the next generation of digital collaboration tools and virtual spaces such as ‘metaverses’.

The internet is about to transform rapidly as we enter a new era of deep collaboration between people and machines. The most advanced AI solutions such as Cerebras Systems’ CS-2 accelerator and China’s Jiuzhang 2 are now approaching brain-scale levels of performance, enabling them to solve real-world problems in the areas of medicine, molecular dynamics and materials science for example. Humanity will advance alongside those developments in technology when we are able to optimise purposeful and authentic collaboration between artificial intelligence and human expertise, cognition and decision-making.

The most powerful instances of this today can be seen in platforms such as, a US web-based resource that provides patients, health care professionals and researchers with access to information on clinical studies on a wide range of diseases and conditions. Using open networked intelligence is a way to scale domain-specific expertise rapidly across collaborative research communities, resulting in collective problem solving and solutions that no single organisation would be able to arrive at individually.

Technologies such as blockchain can now allow data, information and knowledge to be shared in a transparent manner in which people trust, leading to higher quality collaborations between scientists, governments, environmentalists and local communities. CEOs can use both deep technologies and networked intelligence to engender higher public trust and confidence in their ESG initiatives, generating in turn higher levels of socially responsible and impact investment.

Integrating the four pillars of deep tech into design practices enables CEOs to elevate their value propositions, create solutions that scale across networked systems and amplify the impact of the purpose of their organisations. It is this expanded approach to deep tech which can inspire CEOs to make their organisations more prosperous and at the same time develop more profound and creative solutions to our global environmental challenges.

Simon Robinson is the co-author of Deep Tech and the Amplified Organisation and CEO of business consultancy Holonomics.

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