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Life Comes At You Fast

January 30, 2012

Mark Mills and Julio Ottino have an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing three breakthroughs that could transform the world.  They do so by starting off in the past century.

In hindsight it seems obvious that emerging technologies circa 1912—electrification, telephony, the dawn of the automobile age, the invention of stainless steel and the radio amplifier—would foster such growth. Yet even knowledgeable contemporary observers failed to grasp their transformational power.

In January 2012, we sit again on the cusp of three grand technological transformations with the potential to rival that of the past century. All find their epicenters in America: big data, smart manufacturing and the wireless revolution.

The three of those are laudible as transformational changes.  And I’m certainly just one other voice in the wilderness on most of this stuff (as are these two, in my opinion…).  That said, I can definitively tell you of the coming technology transformations that will be viewed as changing the entire century.

None of them.

I could probably argue that the transistor was a transformative technology that will echo through history.  But today companies like the one I work for put a billion of them together to transform the world in other ways.  And that only took fifty years or so (okay, seventy).  In the meantime, the world has gone six different ways around computers to completely tranform things… wireless, high BW persistent internet, the internet itself… you get the point.

Technology changes too fast.  Even as a guy who guessed well for many years on consumer PC directions, I never saw all the things that would happen even in the last decade.

So what’s my point?  We can’t see what’s coming until it’s already here.  Sure, we can guess on some exciting stuff that will change the world, but I’m not going to go out on a limb and figure out what’s going to make the whole world completely different.  I’m not Faith Popcorn, I’m a guy that’s just trying to make stuff happen.

This is why I get a weird itch between my shoulder blades when I get called a “futurist.”  I’m not a futurist… those are people who don’t do anything.  I’m in strategy.  I know what I want to happen, and I decide what I can do today to effect that change.  Tomorrow doesn’t matter yet, since it’s not here yet.

So when you see these cool ideas, take them with a grain of salt.  At least until you see what you can do with them today.

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