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Power Sheet: What CEO’s Can Learn From a Squishy Robot

Fortune 500 CEOs tell us that their No. 1 concern is the rapid pace of technological innovation, and today’s news illustrates why. Most CEOs and other leaders are accustomed to meeting challenges that demand a lot of intellect or influence; that’s what they’re trained to do. But today’s incredible advances in tech require leaders to stretch their imaginations, and for many of them that’s much harder.

The new issue of Nature reports the latest mind-bending breakthrough: a squishy, octopus-shaped robot that is “the first self-contained robot made exclusively of soft, flexible parts.” It contains no chips or electronics of any kind, instead using an ingenious system of hydrogen peroxide fuel moving through channels in its eight silicone rubber arms. One of its developers, Harvard’s Robert Wood, explains that “instead of passing electrons around, we’re passing liquids and gases.” A video shows how it was made and what it does.

This is a big deal. Researchers not associated with the octobot project say “it heralds a generation of soft robots that might surpass conventional machines.” Now try to get your mind around this. What might be possible with a robot that, like a real octopus, can make itself flat or round, longer or shorter, squeezing through narrow openings, gripping and manipulating unknown objects, moving across varying, unpredictable terrain? The non-affiliated researchers imagine applications in “servicing and inspecting machinery, search-and-rescue operations, and exploration. Soft robots might also open up new approaches to improving wellness and quality of life.” But while potentially significant, these ideas are what any of us might think of in a minute or two. One of the great lessons of new technology is that the world will find uses for it that the creators never conceived of. What might those be in your industry or field?

Now go a step further. The octobot’s developers creatively combined disparate technologies – 3D printing, evaporating inks – to produce their new device. What seemingly unrelated tech advances could be combined in new ways to create breakthroughs in your world?

You say you have no idea – that tech is not what you were trained in. You’re in good company. Few leaders can even begin to face such questions. That’s why so many of them are trying to build “a culture of innovation.” It’s a worthy objective that’s really hard to reach; technological achievement turns out to depend heavily on human relationships and unwritten organizational rules and norms. No wonder galloping technology is the CEOs’ No. 1 concern. It seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

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What We’re Reading Today

Mylan CEO cuts the EpiPen’s price
The recent price hike for the device that treats potentially fatal allergic reactions was only the latest — the price rose 500% over the past nine years — but it sparked outrage. Lawmakers called for investigations, and Hillary Clinton criticized the increase; in response, healthcare stocks fell yesterday and pushed the whole market lower. This morning, CEO Heather Bresch‘s company announced it would cut the price via a savings card that covers up to $300 on an EpiPen 2-pack. Fortune

Clinton Foundation rethinks some changes
As Hillary Clinton calls Donald Trump‘s attacks on the Clinton Foundation “ridiculous,” the organization is reassessing recently announced changes to take effect if she becomes president. Chelsea Clinton will likely remain on the board and the Clinton Health Access Initiative may continue to accept donations from foreign governments and corporations. Newly released Clinton emails have raised questions about the relationship between the foundation and the State Department when she was secretary. WSJ

Activist investor launches proxy fight at Williams Cos.
In the wake of the company’s failed bid to merge with Energy Transfer, investors have grown impatient with Williams’s effort to revamp the firm. In response, Corvex Management founder Keith Meister will nominate 10 Corvex employees to the board. If investors elect them, the employees would be replaced with permanent directors to be identified before the election; Meister named Corvex employees as placeholders in order to meet today’s filing deadline. The move puts more pressure on CEO Alan Armstrong. Meister and others recently resigned from the board after a failed attempt to oust him. CNBC

Southwest pilots picket
As the airline and its pilots negotiate a new labor agreement, the pilots have begun picketing outside Love Field, Southwest’s Dallas base. In mediated talks that have continued for two years, the pilots are seeking a 32% wage increase through 2019. They’ve called for CEO Gary Kelly to resign. CNNMoney

Building a Better Leader

Uber teams up with Betterment to offer drivers…
…free robo-adviser retirement services for a year. Investment News

If you want to encourage employees to innovate…
…show that you trust them. Adobe provides any employee interested in a product incubator with $1,000. Fortune

When taking over a troubled organization or project…
…ask stakeholders to help identify shortcomings, strengths, and what needs improvement. Then determine the key issues and improve communication.  MedPage Today

Planning for the Future

Heir apparent at General Mills becomes clear
Last month’s promotion of Jeff Harmening to president and COO grooms him to succeed CEO Ken Powell. Harmening, known for his push into natural foods, could rise to CEO as early as next year. WSJ

Self-driving taxis roll out in Singapore
And Travis Kalanick‘s Uber wasn’t first to the gate. Karl Iagnemma‘s Nutonomy, a small company that originated at MIT, has begun to pick up passengers in a Singapore business area; the number of self-driving taxis will rise to a dozen over the next few months. Uber expects to have a self-driving taxi on the road in Pittsburgh within a week. The Guardian

Spotify tries to solve a big problem
As the music streaming service moves toward an IPO, it’s discussing long-term streaming deals with record companies. Daniel Ek‘s company is reportedly operating month-to-month with one major label. Ek wants to cut down on the fees Spotify pays as it prepares to open its books to investors. Fortune

Fortune Reads and Videos

Daily fantasy industry hasn’t imploded
Despite reports of their demise, DraftKings and FanDuel are alive and well; their revenues have jumped significantly since last year. Fortune

Another Republican calls for Trump’s tax returns
Utah representative Jason Chaffetz says both candidates also need to provide their medical and health records.  Fortune

AAA says not all automatic braking systems are meant to avoid crashes
Some are simply meant to reduce the impact of an accident, but drivers are unaware of the difference. Fortune

KFC’s secret recipe may have been leaked…
…by Colonel Sanders‘s nephew. Joe Ledington shared a scrapbook kept by Sanders’s second wife, which included a note with “11 spices.” KFC says that isn’t the recipe. Fortune

Quote of the Day

If you’re going to run and try to become the president of the United States, you’re going to have to open up your kimono and show everything, your tax returns, your medical records…You’re just going to have to do that. It’s too important.” — House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz discussing Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s health and tax records.  Fortune

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau