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Is Narrative the New Design? Silicon Valley's Innovation Cycle

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Silicon Valley in the broadest sense has wrought changes in industrial management, investment and innovation since the beginning of computerization, but the pace has accelerated markedly as mobile, cloud computing and data analytics have become cheaper and more widespread.

In the energy sector the pace of change has often been slower than for other industries, for a range of reasons that include unexpected access to cheap natural gas during a lengthy recession and regulatory roadblocks, but there are many signs -- including at maximum noise level the Google acquisition of Nest -- that the winds of IT change are sweeping into the energy sector with greater force now too.

One of the most remarkable changes in the world of technology over the past decade-plus has been the new centrality of design as not just a product differentiator or branding device, but as an inherent part of the product development and distribution cycle: the linkage of design to both bottom and top line business prioritization in clear ways. Apple is of course the great leader and most obvious example of design as leading factor, to the point that analysts forget that at one time product design content -- like business narrative content today -- was considered a distracting cost for Silicon Valley businesses rather than a fundamental component of its challenge set.

The lavish photo layout of Yves Behar in a recent issue of Vanity FairF underpins how far the change in industry opinion of design has come. From consumer goods to -- increasingly -- industrial inputs, the mix of design attractiveness, functionality and sustainability have become important components of Silicon Valley business analysis.

Industrial companies, including energy firms, once spent a great deal of time crafting and putting into place product and business narratives to drive the formation of communities of consensus around their products and services, but the adoption of heavy regulation and the spread of institutional capture as they sought to protect existing business footprints rather than expand into new markets drove narrative formation practices out of the core functions of industrial enterprises. The most notable characteristic of many of the gigantic industrial companies that still anchor the American economy is their invisibility beyond the narrow set of regulators and counter-parties that form their immediate operational ecosystem.

So will underlying changes in technology drive an increased interest in narrative as it did in design, first in consumer facing products as a differentiator, and then as an increasingly central part of the product and business development cycle? Who will be the Yves Behar of Silicon Valley, and by extension, what will be the first big narrative-driven transaction in the energy sector( now that we've seen our first major design-driven transaction)?

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