Deep Tech and Sfumato in Innovation

Why is Mona Lisa so famous and so special? There are many reasons, but one in particular that you probably haven't heard of. It's called Sfumato.. To understand why it's so special we need to rewind the clock by a couple of centuries

Gothic art, which was a style in Medieval Art, developed sometime during the 12th century. While the majority of the artworks that came from this genre were architectural designs, some notable panel paintings and frescos were also produced. A few key artists stood out during Gothic period art as they created the most well-known paintings. Paintings of that era were very beautiful but still not quite “realistic.”

 Then came proto-Renaissance painters like Giotto in the early 1300s and Masaccio a century later. They introduced the illusion of depth - linear perspective - into art. It became more realistic. People in their paintings seemed to be standing in real spaces. They had weight. This developed throughout the early Renaissance. Painters got better with perspective and were also inspired by Classical statues to try and depict the human form as it looked in real life: muscles, sinews, poses and all. And they mastered all of this. Their paintings had real depth and their figures were incredibly lifelike. But there was something missing...Till Leonardo da Vinci - one of the most brilliant minds in human history

He took art to a scientific level, studying human anatomy to perfect the bone and muscle structures of his figures. Crucially, Leonardo also studied optics and human vision. He was fascinated by our eyes and how they perceive the world, how they understand light and dark. And he noticed that they don't see everything clearly at once. That, sometimes, things are blurred or out of focus.

When he came to paint the Mona Lisa, he put his studies into practice. Although other Renaissance art was realistic, its figures looked almost statuesque in their solidity of form and of colour. Things were too precise. Leonardo blurred parts of the Mona Lisa's face by melting the colours and contours together; there was no clear outline. This technique he called sfumato, and here is how he described it: "without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane."

The result is a much more lifelike portrait. That slight blurring is what gives the Mona Lisa such deeply expressive eyes. And that's how we see other people, Leonardo realised. That's the effect of light and shadow on our skin, and of the movement of all these things together. That's why her expression seems to change every time we look at the painting, and also where that old idea comes from about her eyes following you around the room. They don't, but their liveliness makes it feel that way.

I always like the analogies. And the story of Mona Lisa always reminds me the journey of our Technology -led transformation. Digital Transformation is not new. Technology functions existed for many years. But most of the IT functions were siloed, seen as a business support function rather than business enabler or driver. Technology was “beautiful” but not “realistic” to drive the business forward. IT played a defence position rather than an offence position in the business strategy game. Innovation era missed this critical connection.

Digital Transformation or Innovation functions brought the required “perspective” into the mix. We started to look deeper to understand what a business innovation is. We started to look beyond Technology feasibility to also incorporate the business viability and human desirability. We began to ask the question: Is it desirable to users to understand human element. Is it viable to the business to understand the business element. Is it feasible technologically to understand technology element. And we concluded that if the answer to any of these questions is “no”; then the idea cannot be considered a business innovation, regardless how novel the idea is. We started to bring Technology and Business together. We understand that the sole objective of Technology is to advance the business in a strategically significant way, as such, to achieve some larger set of strategic goals.  We don’t believe any more that the reverse can hold true. Technology functions cannot be separated from Business. Renewing and reinventing the business thru technology is the only way for Strategic relevancy and Business resiliency.

Is there something missing? Maybe. What would be the “sfumato” of Technology-led transformation?

The blurring lines of various advancements in technology, business functions like marketing and sales, biology, physics, and sociocultural changes... From technology perspective, it might be Combinatorial Innovation- the use of multiple technology functions, rather than a single technology stack, and creating new business capabilities by intelligently and creatively integrating them: The objective is simple: to gain business advantage using multiple emerging technologies and to integrate them to solve business problems in an agile way.

The current great wave encompasses artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, nanotechnologies, and quantum computing, among other advanced technologies. But even more significant are the convergences of technologies and of approaches that will accelerate and redefine innovation for decades to come. Deep Tech ventures- the way BCG calls them out-  develop brand-new technologies because no existing technology fully solves the problem at hand. They bring together multiple talents (including scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs) to solve a problem. They live at the convergence of Advanced science, Design and Engineering. Lines are blurring. Integration of technology and business was the first step, but the exponential and combinatorial changes across science, technology, business requires us to think differently.

Let me finish here: We decide the future every day, by action and by inaction. This is the key question, “What do we want our future to be. This is the question that I ask myself every day: What kind of future do I want my kids to have and my grandkids? What do we want? That is the only key question

We are at the fork in the road moment. The next 10 years will bring more change than the previous 100 years. We can fix things, we can build back better greener and all of that or we can fail and it will get much worse. And this is really up to us at this moment because there is new paradigms and new narratives emerging. It is a decade of dramatic change. We have to think unusual. And this is how we are going to find the key to the future.