Special Report – Technology Fueled Transformation is Just Getting Underway

For many people, change is difficult and transformation even more so. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “change” means “to make something different,” while “transform” means “to make a thorough or dramatic change.” It is a difference of degree, I admit, but that degree is so extreme that it becomes a qualitative difference.

Changing means continuing to do essentially the same thing, only introducing some variation in degree. Build it a little bigger, smaller, faster, higher, longer. Increase the marketing budget. Add a few staff to the department. Come up with a new slogan. But today’s business problems cannot be fixed by changing, nor can organizations or industries survive simply by changing. Embracing change is no longer enough: We need to transform.

Transformation means doing something utterly and radically different. It means nanofusion; it means using algae as a fuel source; and reimagining GM on the Dell model. In the early 1990s, Barnes & Noble superstores changed how we shop for books. By the mid-1990s, Amazon was transforming how we shopped for books, which then transformed how we shop for everything.

If you’re a Baby Boomer, you likely remember listening to music on long-playing vinyl disks. When eight-track tapes and then cassette tapes came out, that was a great change: now you could hear the music in the car. When the industry moved from LPs and cassettes to CDs, that was an even better change: now you could hear your favorite music without the hisses and scratches.

But with an iPod, now you can carry your entire music library around in your shirt pocket. And with the introduction of the iPod Nano, there were no longer any moving parts — nothing to spin. Nothing moves but electrons, and they can be transferred at the speed of light to anywhere. The eight-track, audiocassette, Sony Walkman, and CDs all changed how we listen to music; the MP3 file format and the iPod transformed it.

In the ’90s, we were always telling ourselves to “think outside the box.” It’s a neat image, evoking creativity and unconventional thinking as a way to arrive at ingenious new paths and solutions. But it’s a slogan whose time has come and gone. Here’s the problem with “thinking outside the box:” we all know that no matter how creative we get during the weekend seminar, come Monday morning we’re going to have to crawl back into the box again and deal with our current reality.

The problem isn’t that we need new ways to simply step outside the box — we need to completely transform the box itself.

In fact, whatever your box is — your job, company, career, situation — it is going to transform whether you like it or not. There is no field or profession, no business or organization, that is not going to transform dramatically and fundamentally over the years ahead.

In fact, we’re standing on the foothills of an enormous mountain of change — only most people can’t see it. From most people’s vantage point, it’s easy to assume that the biggest changes have already happened: the Internet has already turned the world upside-down and changed everything. But that’s hindsight, not foresight. The proliferation of the Internet throughout the last decade is nothing but prologue, not the unfolding story itself. It was not the transformation it was only the foundation that laid the groundwork for the transformations to follow; the overwhelming majority of which are still ahead of us.

We are at the dawn of an era of technology-driven transformation that will make the changes we have experienced over the past 25 years seem tame, mild, and slow. We have crossed the threshold into a time of transformation. And that is the context of this flash foresight trigger: expect radical transformation.

In the past, it was important to change. Now it’s no longer enough to change. In fact, as I tell my clients, to change is to fail. We need to transform.

Our intelligent future

Product intelligence is perhaps the most vivid example of seeing how dramatically technology is going to transform everything in the years to come. The cost of intelligence is falling fast; even faster than the cost of energy is rising. What’s more, it will continue falling for years to come. Can we really say this with certainty? Yes, because it’s a hard trend. It is a direct result of the increase in processing power, storage, and bandwidth, three digital accelerators that are now pushing us forward faster. (Toread more on hard trends go to Dan’s article defining the subject, Special Report – Seeing the Invisible and Doing the Impossible.)

At the same time, while the cost of intelligence continues to fall, the intelligence of intelligence (that is, the increasing sophistication and capabilities of embedded product intelligence) continues to rise in a classic hockey-stick arc that is approaching vertical. What we think of today as “smart concrete” will be at the dumb end of the scale ten years from now and the smart end of the scale will be staggering compared to what’s possible today.

In the future, we’ll bring intelligence to everything that uses any kind of energy. Smart houses that know your habits and schedules as well as the changing cost of electricity in real time, minute by minute. Your house will know exactly how to adjust your climate, lighting, and other power-consuming features in the most economical and optimal-performance ways. Smart cars that know when to use which fuel, according to the terrain, locale, and type of driving you’re doing. Intelligence will drive our multi-fuel future, so that our tools know when to use different fuels and how to use them for optimum efficiency and productivity.

These are just brief examples of how product intelligence will transform our world. From energy to agriculture to healthcare, our world will be transformed as the curve of digital technology’s advancement goes vertical. We could choose any one of a thousand other areas, since this metamorphic wave will leave nothing untouched. But no discussion of the coming transformation would be complete without a tour of the environment in which we have come to spend more and more of our time: The Internet.

Welcome to Web 3.0

To date, the world wide web has gone through two basic iterations: The first generation, lasting through the end of the nineties, presented the Web as a flat, one-dimensional way of displaying information that could be accessed by keyword searches. Basically, it was humans interacting with computers. This would soon change.

The Web’s second iteration, Web 2.0, has been characterized by the user-to-user dimension of content sharing. Peer-to-peer (P2P) networking was the application used by Napster to offer music file sharing to the masses. Since then we have seen enthusiastic amateurs from around the world work together to classify and post massive amounts of new content on the collective encyclopedia project Wikipedia.

Idea-sharing tools (blogs and Twitter), personality-sharing sites (MySpace and FaceBook), photo-sharing sites (Flickr), and video-sharing sites (YouTube) are all examples of the content-sharing nature of Web 2.0, which has given rise to the concept of social networking.

Thanks to the underlying technology of XML, which allows machines to talk to other machines over the Web, applications as well as individuals can also share data with each other. For example, the connecting of corporate or personal location-based data to Google Maps.

Web 2.0 created an entirely new experience from Web 1.0 but that’s all behind us now. Web 2.0 is already old news.

The future is Web 3.0.

The hallmark of Web 3.0 is that it is an immersive environment. In this new Internet construct, you won’t use the Web, you will enter the Web. Where the essence of the early Internet experience was information search and retrieval, and Web 2.0 was all about interaction and communication, the prime thrust of Web 3.0 will be immersion and multidimensional experience.

Today, we talk about going onto the Web to look for information. In the future that language will change. Instead, we will speak about going into the Web to learn and interact.