Imagine it’s 2045: Technology is ordering you around, and you’re actually doing what it’s telling you.
That could very well become reality; look no further than futurist Ray Kurzweil’s vision in “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.” Published in 2005, yet more relevant today than ever, Kurzweil’s book states that within the next 30 years we’ll reach an event called “the singularity,” or point in time, when computers will become smarter than humans.
Kurzweil’s point is innovation is occurring at such a rapid pace and has set us on an unalterable course where computing advances will eventually solve previously inescapable dilemmas such as aging, disease, and even death. Technology is clearly the engine driving today’s most transformative innovations, and doing so across industries.
Paving The Way for Today’s Tech Leaders
If we look back, GE may very well have been the corporation that paved the way for a sort of “innovation by way of bifurcation.” After pioneering the electric lighting industry, the company grew tremendously and has long been considered a leader in aviation, capital, energy management, health care, oil and gas, power and water, and transportation. A significant portion of the company’s risk-taking and growth occurred under Jack Welch’s leadership, where he drove 600 acquisitions, as well as moves into many emerging markets, ultimately increasing the company’s market value from $12 billion to a massive $280 billion.
Financial markets were largely receptive to GEs forays, which begs the question: Why are tech leaders still often challenged when attempting similarly divergent moves?
This is finally changing, though, because technology has the power to scale innovation more than ever before.
Consider the development of autonomous cars and their potential impact. Tesla has said its 2015 models will be able to self-drive 90% of the time, with fully autonomous cars from several manufacturers expected by 2020. In a similar vein, Uber plans to eventually replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars. One of my favorite futurist bloggers laid out the staggering implications of autonomous cars incredibly well, concluding that personal car ownership will drop tremendously, thereby bankrupting many of the larger car manufacturers well before the mid-century mark. In addition, adjacent markets, such as auto insurance and finance, the parking industry, rental cars, and the automotive aftermarket, may also become obsolete, not to mention the reduction in jobs for professional drivers and delivery people.
Though the disruption of multiple industries makes for a lot of uncertainty, it isn’t just doom and gloom. The positive effects of autonomous cars will yield manifold benefits to the environment, a reduction in traffic and need for parking, the freeing of real estate as parking lots come down, and, of course, a decline in auto-related injuries and deaths.
This is a true example of “disruptive innovation,” as coined by Clayton Christensen in “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” It’s the idea that disruptive innovations create a new market and value network that will disrupt an existing market, replacing an existing product or earlier technology.
For disruptive innovation to truly occur, you have to break something and start over, challenging established ideas that haven’t been questioned in a long time. Let’s consider Uber again. When the service first launched, it was just an app that helped consumers more easily locate and call for black town cars, which people had already been riding in for years. Then the company introduced UberX, enabling anyone with extra time and a car to become a driver, thereby creating a new part-time workforce and revenue opportunities. But why stop there? With such a vast fleet of drivers the company could expand beyond transporting people to delivering Amazon packages. Come full circle to the company’s ambitions to someday replace its fleet with driverless cars, and the disruptive implications become even more apparent.
Disruption Is Often Iterative
Sometimes an idea can morph organically into a more impactful result than at its conception. We recently developed gesture-based interaction technology within our labs but hadn’t identified a repeatable use in the real world. The project proved it was possible to evolve dynamic, multitouch digital interactions driven by a centralized Web content management system beyond smartphones and tablets to larger screens, the kind you see today in hotel lobbies or big-box stores simply looping ads.
However, the idea wasn’t well-defined until we met a retail industry customer who, as it turned out through co-ideation, wanted to turn its use of in-store technology on its head. While the initial use case involved sharing and collaborating on product information internally via large screens, together we were able to visualize expanding it further into merchandising, which the retailer felt was ripe for disruption. And the possibilities don’t end there. Extending digital experiences to the physical world through any device or channel may someday be applied to health care, manufacturing, transportation, broadcasting, and more.
Going Beyond Just A To Z
The way we reach a final result no longer needs to follow a direct route as technology continues to break down traditional boundaries of innovation. Disruptive ideas can come about with new products, services, or shifts in business models. All can have global impacts that expand the size of the existing market, introducing much larger opportunities than previously existed.
As innovators, we need to think exponentially, not linearly. We should remain flexible enough to adapt and iterate throughout the innovation process and not be afraid to break things and challenge conventional wisdom.
So brush up on those algorithms, and you may just get into the right mind-set to create whatever will come once self-driving cars are passé. Holographic transportation, perhaps? “Scotty” would say it’s coming sooner than we think.