The hottest new breakthrough technologies do not necessarily replace older ones. Instead they often coexist with them, side by side. Why? Because the old technology has its own unique profile of functional strengths, which the new technology never fully replaces. In the case of paper, it’s inexpensive, portable, foldable, you can erase on it. Best of all, it doesn’t disappear if the computer goes down. Digital obviously has its powerful strengths, as well. Both are here to stay.
We tend to greet innovation with an either/or assumption, but this is not an either/or world but a both/and world; a world of paper and paperless, online and in-person, digital and analog, old media and new media.
Either/or thinking assumes a zero-sum game, in which the pie is of fixed size and emerging technologies, and/or emerging markets, must necessarily threaten the existence of the old. But that’s not the reality.
This is not to say that volume and market share for the older technology will always remain unchanged. Obviously there will be additional slices taken out of the pie, some smaller, some larger. But the both/and integration of new-tech and old-tech combinations has an amazing way of enlarging the pie itself. Grasping the secret of both/and integration can unleash dramatic new levels of resources, capacities, wealth, and capabilities.
Returning to our discussion of Web 4.0 and the world of ultra-intelligent e-agents, the both/and principle tells us that no matter how sophisticated and useful e-agents become, they will never replace live interaction with another person. Those businesses that most skillfully integrate electronic agents with real-time live help will be the ones that ultimately thrive and dominate their markets.
Actually, you have probably already seen this play out on a simpler platform: the infamous touch-tone “help” menu: “To review your account, press 1; to change or update your account, press 2 …” We have all at some point had the infuriating experience of trying to get something fairly simple done over the phone, only to find ourselves in a seemingly endless loop of menu choices, none of which quite get us where we want to go.
The companies who learned to adapt this new technology and integrate it seamlessly with exceptionally good live-operator customer service, and make that choice easily and transparently available at any time during the experience, are the ones who excel, survive, and thrive.
The future is not automated help; it is automated help and live help. The future is not digital, fiber optic, automated, self-serve, and youth-focused. It’s digital and analog, fiber optic and copper, automated and manual, self-serve and full-serve, youth and elders.
The faster things change, the more we will live in a both/and world, and one flash foresight key to surviving, succeeding, and thriving in that world is to continually seek ways to integrate the freshly old with the emerging new.
The new Golden Rule of business
The old Golden Rule in business was to find out what your customers wanted, and give it to them. “Do unto others as they want to be done to.” Today, if you ask your customers what they want and you give it to them, you’re missing a huge opportunity, because their answers will never give you more than a fraction of your potential.
Our capabilities are changing far too rapidly for this old rule to be useful. Customers today don’t know what they want, because the things they most want are things they don’t yet know are possible. Customers did not know they wanted an iPod, iPhone or iPad until Apple gave it to them.
Therefore, the new Golden Rule in business is this: Give your customers the ability to do what they can’t currently do but would want to if they only knew it was possible.
To survive and thrive, look into your customers’ visible future, look at their hard trends, at what you’re certain about regarding their future. See what problems they are going to have and solve them before they happen, so that by the time they’re just starting to experience the problem, you already have the solution.
And if you don’t?
Then it’s over, because this technology-driven transformation will not wait, pause, or stand aside while you think about it. There are two critical truths about business in this new era that you cannot afford to ignore; we might call them corollaries to the Golden Rule:
If it can be done, it will be done. If you don’t do it, someone else will.
This is going to happen in every field. Blockbuster didn’t move fast enough to make the home video rental business virtual so Netflix did. In the 2008 presidential election, the Hillary Clinton and John McCain campaigns didn’t grasp the potential of online fund-raising and Web-based voter interaction: Barack Obama’s people did. In 1999, Yahoo was the king of search, but if you worked for Yahoo in their search division back then, you were in the basement because the company itself didn’t see the value in search. Google did.
No matter what your business or occupation, transformation is coming. And the only way to survive it is to expect it … and transform.
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients better understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight: How To See the Invisible and Do the Impossible as well as the highly acclaimed Technotrends.