Podcast with Brian Lenahan, Founder and Chair of the Quantum Strategy Institute
My guest today, Brian Lenahan — Founder and Chair of the Quantum Strategy Institute, spoke with me about “Quantum Excellence”, his new book, common traits of successful quantum implementations, and much more.
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THE FULL TRANSCRIPT IS BELOW
Yuval: Hello, Brian, and thanks for joining me today.
Brian: Thank you for having me, Yuval.
Yuval: So Brian, you are a second-time guest on this podcast, but for those that don’t remember, who are you and what do you do?
Brian: Thank you again, and I’m thrilled to be back. My name is Brian Lenahan, I’m the founder and chair of the Quantum Strategy Institute, and I’m also a five-time author of books about artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Yuval: And you’ve got a new book coming out. Tell me about that, please?
Brian: Yeah, book number six is called Quantum Excellence, and it’s meant to be timed for the industry to talk about how leading companies are actually deploying the technology. Quite often, we hear in the industry that question of hype versus caution, and what I’m trying to do here in this book is talk about instances where companies are actually deploying it, incrementally, iteratively, achieving some early results, but we’re not talking about the fault-tolerant quantum computer in 2022, we’re talking about where companies are actually starting to see some returns, whether that’s in the automotive industry, or in finance, or in transportation. What’s challenging for the industry, of course, is that they don’t get to see all of these examples, and so they quite often focus on the areas where it doesn’t work. While not trying to hype the industry, my intention here is to show some examples for other industries to take a look at, or other competitors to take a look at, and say, “That’s interesting, we should put quantum on our roadmap in some way, shape or form.”
Yuval: Now the book is called Quantum Excellence, and this reminds me of a very famous business book from many years ago, it’s called In Search of Excellence, and it looked at best practices from, I think seven different companies, and tried to draw common threads across them. So what are the common threads that you’re seeing in Quantum Excellence? How generically should one go about deploying quantum successfully in the organization?
Brian: I have that book sitting on my desk, probably since the time it was published, because I really enjoy the graphic examples and the depth of understanding within those cases, not to suggest that they were the only ones, but those were great graphical representations of companies that were doing good things. And the same thing applies for Quantum Excellence, because there are companies that are out there saying, “We recognize that we can leverage quantum as, for example, a hybrid environment, where we’ve made massive investments in our classical computing capabilities, and we’re starting to do comparisons with the quantum capabilities to see where we may achieve benefit.” As a former banker we spent a great deal of time on any given classic conventional computing project, quite often that the industry paradigm was, “This’ll take two years” for any given project.
As a result, we want to make sure that people are starting to think about quantum today; get it on your roadmap, number one. Number two, the most successful companies are the ones that are actually identifying champions within their organization, whether that’s at the C-suite, or other levels, where they’re actually embracing quantum technologies, and understanding where the business cases, or the use cases and applications are coming in. And then, understanding the priorities of the business, where is the most important, maybe most challenging issues? Is it in portfolio optimization? Is it in cargo optimization? Is it in some other area? We saw the example from the LA ports just recently, where they were able to change the direction of cargo moving machines, and improve the overall time of the cargo transmission. Excellent examples there.
Those are three of the principles that we’re seeing, but also a fourth — setting expectations. If the organization believes it’s going to get massive improvement overnight from quantum technologies, they’ve already fallen behind, they really do need to understand that this is an incremental or iterative approach. Christopher Savoie from Zapata, says that all the time, that this is an incremental, iterative transition for the technology.
Yuval: We did a couple of case studies, interviewing, I think it was Marcin from AXA, a big insurance company in Europe, Matt Versaggi, who you know well, of course from Optum, and one of the things that I heard is that they are taking great pains in building internal support, and broadening the range of people that understand quantum. A lot of internal training, even if you’re not going to use quantum right now, understand the opportunity, understand the pitfalls, understand the reality of quantum computers today. Do you see that in the companies that you covered as well?
Brian: I absolutely see it. It’s not just a matter of having PhDs on your team, you need a much broader skillset. Certainly, Matt would speak to this, where you have individuals in the organization who understand enough about quantum capabilities to be able to look for those examples, or use cases within their organization.
I recently did a series on LinkedIn about quantum storytelling, and this, believe it or not, is a very rare art, where people can actually wrap their heads around the business prospects, or the business issues, whether that be marketing, or HR, or customer interventions, as well as the technology. And people like Connor Johnson, and Connor Teague on the recruiting side of quantum would tell you very much that it’s not simply PhDs that are in demand, it’s other people who can actually tell the story of quantum internally; to make meaning of it.
Yuval: One of the unfortunate things about In Search of Excellence, if we just go back to the previous book, is that the companies that were profiled there as the sort of the epitome of success are no longer successful today, I think most of them, or all of them have since sort of gone down a couple of notches, are you worried that early adopters of quantum will be too early?
Brian: If you take a look at the top 100 stocks over the last five decades, every single decade those companies have changed. Whether it was Xerox, or General Electric or Exxon, now it’s the big tech companies; evolution always occurs. The question for an individual company is “what advantage can they get from quantum technologies”? Whether their goal is being in the FTSE 100, or something top ranking, we will always see an evolution of those companies. Here we are talking about quantum technology — what’s the possibility that we’re going to have some next level of technology that someone else will supersede quantum? We already heard about P-bits, probabilistic bits, which is a whole new type of computing. So right now, here in 2022, there’s a long runway ahead for quantum.
Yuval: As you mentioned, this is your second book about quantum, I guess the first one was what is quantum computing, and now this talks about how to deploy it, as you think about the industry at the time you wrote the first book, and the time that you wrote the second book, what has changed? What has surprised you the most in that time?
Brian: It’s interesting you asked that question, because I hearken back to five years ago when I started in the world of artificial intelligence, and at the earliest stages, I had to explain to people what artificial intelligence was, let alone what benefits it could possibly bring. And that, over maybe a two-year span, transitioned quickly into that second question, “Okay, Brian, I understand that you’re talking about artificial intelligence, but what can it do for our company?”
Two years ago, the same questions were being asked about what is quantum, and I would suggest to you, for the majority of companies today, they are still asking that question. But for those who already have that lead, that competitive thought leadership around quantum, they’re well past the, “What is quantum?” stage. They’re now looking at those use cases, building teams, internal and external vendor relationships, like those with Classiq for example, where they’re benefiting from that next level. When I wrote Quantum Boost back in 2021, early 2021, people were still asking the question, “What is quantum? What do you mean by modalities? How would we even think about starting to adopt to this kind technology?” Whereas now, fast forward a year, we’re starting to see much more practical focus on quantum.
Yuval: We love to talk about successes, but for every success, there’s probably a company that failed. Have you seen a company that have failed in adopting quantum? And if so, what were the root causes of this failure? I mean, I guess failure might be, “It doesn’t work for us, we’ll try again in five years.” Or something. But what have you seen is the root cause of failures?
Brian: You may see that on the smaller end. What I’m seeing in the mid-size and larger entities in the quantum ecosystem is they’re starting to partner. They’re starting to realize that they have skillsets or product offerings — or they don’t have those things — so they’re looking to other organizations, whether it’s from an investment perspective or they’re looking for partners to round out their capabilities. We saw Honeywell and Cambridge come together in Quantinuum to broaden their stack. We’re seeing a bunch of other, whether you call it acquisitions, or mergers as well. I think it’s too early to see a great deal of what we might call failures; Rather I think we’re seeing that other trend today, where companies come together to meet market requirements.
Yuval: Let’s talk about people, you mentioned, obviously companies do need the PhDs, but they also need those business translators to be able to tell the story, to communicate from the business people, to the technical folks and so on, and I think there’s a consensus that there is a talent problem, it’s not whether there is one, but there is one. It’s almost like 15 years ago, maybe people were unsure if there is a climate problem, and now there seems to be a consensus that there is one. So let’s assume that there is a talent problem, what do you think companies should do to address it?
Brian: Number one, I’m going to address the question about, “is there a talent problem”? At every conference I’ve been at I hear this issue. I heard a speaker comment on this very recently, saying that he was the fourth speaker in the lineup, and every single speaker before him had talked about quantum talent gaps. Those people in the quantum environment are experiencing those challenges, so I 100% believe there is a talent gap.
In terms of addressing the gap, take a look at something like Qureca, the organization that Araceli Venegas-Gomez leads. She does large scale reviews of available educational programs, whether it’s at the master’s level, or a PhD level, and geographically. If you are a company thinking “where can I find the best kind of education available?”, that’s one great source to go to, because it’s holistic, and it’s provided on a regional basis.
In a more generic way, I would say that, I talk to large corporations, I do speeches for them, where we talk at about quantum at different levels. Each person who is listening in on those sessions is interested in quantum from a unique perspective. Some people are very interested in a strategic level, other people like system architects or data scientists are much more interested at a deeper algorithmic level. What we really have to do inside the organizations is address or customize education about quantum at the level that’s appropriate for those employees.
Yuval: Brian, you are from the Quantum Strategy Institute, could you tell us a little bit about the institute? What do you do? How do people get involved? What are your goals?
Brian: Absolutely. When I started going to quantum conferences about three years ago, most of the presenters were academics, or vendors, or researchers talking about their wares. There was very little participation on the part of consuming organizations, and I thought, “There’s an opportunity here to help consumer organizations understand the technology, but also understand how to successfully adopt it.” There was a lot of white space, Yuval, in terms of people addressing those needs.
And when I started to speak to my network, many agreed a gap existed, and vendors couldn’t necessarily close it by themselves quickly enough, in terms of addressing the broader consumer environment. I brought together a number of experts from various different areas, security, financial services, existing quantum vendors, and others to help business leaders think about quantum in a way that was digestible for them. Approachable, common language.
Today, Quantum Strategy Institute is almost a year old. It is a not-for-profit organization that includes about 20 people who form a global think tank, people from India, from Brazil, from the UK, from North America, all over the world, who bring together their knowledge. Yuval, our purpose here really is to accelerate the adoption of quantum technologies around the world, whether that’s communication, sensing, or computing.
Yuval: I can’t wait for the sequel, the Quantum Implementation Institute, after you figure out the strategy, not to mention the sequel, or the movie version of your book. So, Brian, how can people get in touch with you to inquire about the sequel, or to learn more about what you’re doing?
Brian: Well, as you know, Yuval, I’m an active person on LinkedIn, usually I’m posting every day, or every other day, so they’re welcome to connect with me via LinkedIn, they can search for my books on Amazon, and certainly, they can go to quantumstrategyinstitute.com to learn more about the institute.
Yuval: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining me today.
Brian: Thank you.
About “The Qubit Guy’s Podcast”
Hosted by The Qubit Guy (Yuval Boger, our Chief Marketing Officer), the podcast hosts thought leaders in quantum computing to discuss business and technical questions that impact the quantum computing ecosystem. Our guests provide interesting insights about quantum computer software and algorithm, quantum computer hardware, key applications for quantum computing, market studies of the quantum industry and more.
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