Thursday, February 02, 2012

Honing the past versus building the future

Image via Kingsway 1920
This decade looks increasingly as if it will be defined by the clash between those seeking to make the old world more efficient and those aiming to build a new one.

By which I mean as we hurtle towards the flowering of the full impact of digitally-driven faster, easier, cheaper, group-forming abilities, the defenders of the old will seek to use the technologies simply to lower the cost of doing the things they've always done.

This can loosely by characterised as channel management. Business as usual with a veneer of 'social' technologies at best. This is the world of the turn key solution.The rest of us, those building the new, must find ways to bring them with us.

The urgency becomes greater by the day. There is an oft-quoted peculiarity about the impact of new technologies on society: a consistent 20 year cycle between innovation and its widespread adoption - together with the impact wrought.

I spoke about this in New York in 2008 when I suggested the key technology in our case is user-friendly social networks - as these delivered simple and cheap group-forming into the hands of the mainstream.

I benchmark the beginning of this process as 2003 - the year MySpace launched.

Which means next year will see us half way through the 20-year cycle of disruption. My favourite example of this (via Vin Crosbie) is the impact of the car. In 1900 the streets of London were full of horses. 20 Years later? Full of cars, trucks and buses - and garages, and petrol stations, and new roads, and people and products travelling further, more regularly, more quickly.

In 1910 if you were a horse cart manufacturer you were likely feeling the pinch. But you still had a choice.
You could have chosen to stick to business as usual and used the new tech to make your business more efficient. You could have bought in cheaper supplies, wood, nuts, bolts, studs, leather. Delivery trucks could get you them cheaper and faster. You could deliver your carriages to customers farther afield - on the back of trucks.

You could make your old world more efficient with the tech of the new.

Or you could have joined in making the new world - turning your skills and resources to truck and car making. (If you want a starker example still - consider the cavalry charges and the emergence of the tank in World War I).

One scenario gave you a fighting chance of still being a business in 1920. And if you still want to be in business in 2023 you know the choice to make.
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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?