Is technology outpacing us?


It was professor John P. Kotter in 1995 who observed that the rate at which our world is changing is increasing but our ability to keep up with it is not.

Walter Isaacson in his book "The Innovators" cited that the internet and personal computer were both born in the 1970s and they grew up apart from one another. They didn't intertwine until the late 1980s, when it became possible for ordinary people at home or in the office to dial up and go online. This would launch a new phase of the Digital Revolution, one that would fulfill the vision of Bush, Licklider, and Engelbart that computers would augment human intelligence by being tools both for personal creativity and for collaborating.

The industrial revolution gave birth to technological advancement. This is best explained in the diagram below, adopted from the world economic forum. The first industrial revolution has significantly evolved since the 17th century transforming different industries, for example manufacturing, agriculture etc.

In the process this led to the third industrial revolution which introduced digitization in many industries. Now a fourth industrial revolution is underway. According to professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman at World Economic Forum, we are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, what he consider to be the fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We have yet to grasp fully the speed and breadth of this new revolution. Consider the unlimited possibilities of having billions of people connected by mobile devices, giving rise to unprecedented processing power, storage capabilities and knowledge access. Or think about the staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few. Many of these innovations are in their infancy, but they are already reaching an inflection point in their development as they build on and amplify each other in a fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds.

We are witnessing profound shifts across all industries, marked by the emergence of new business models, the disruption of incumbents and the reshaping of production, consumption, transportation and delivery systems. On the societal front, a paradigm shift is underway in how we work and communicate, as well as how we express, inform and entertain ourselves. Equally, governments and institutions are being reshaped, as are systems of education, healthcare and transportation, among many others.

According to a Gartner research, organizations will continue to be faced with rapidly accelerating technology innovation that will profoundly impact the way they deal with their workforce, customers and partners. Digital business innovation is the "new normal", not a one-and-done project or passing trend. To explain this better, they introduce a Hype Cycle which provides a high-level view of important emerging trends that organizations must track, as well as the specific technologies that must be monitored. The two diagram below shows how emerging technology trends move along the Hype Cycle, number 3 for example being the platform revolution "Peak of Inflated Expectations".

Three technologies in particular are poised to be the highest priority: ecosystem-expanding technologies such as Blockchain and digital platforms, intelligent systems such as Smart Robots and Virtual Personal Assistants, along with a rapidly expanding API-driven economy. Among others, these are portrayed on the diagram below - Hype Clycle for Emerging Technologies, 2016.

To sum up, rapid technological advancement continue to surpass our ability to quickly adapt to change. In fact for an organization to adapt to this technological evolution, they need to re-invent their business model. The diagram below from Knowledge at Wharton depict four types of business model.

Image: Knowledge at Wharton

The Network Orchestrator model is introducing rapid technological transformation (evolution), It deliver value through relationships (network capital). These companies create a platform that participants use to interact or transact with the many other members of the network. They may sell products, build relationships, share advice, give reviews, collaborate and more.

Innovation and entrepreneurial drive is a key ingredient to future success, especially across the African region, including South Africa where we are faced with tough economic environment and high political uncertainty.

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