Acceleration³

The catalyst for transforming our businesses and futures is generated by only three technological forces.

Your parents probably warned you to look both ways before crossing a street, one of life’s universal lessons after Henry Ford started tinkering with the internal combustion engine. Many of us forgot that good advice, or assumed it didn’t apply, when crossing from the 1970s into the 80s. It happened a second time moving into the 1990s, and again as we entered the first decade of the 21st century. The prevailing assumption was that the future would be relatively similar to the past, and that major changes only took place over long stretches of time, which provided plenty of leeway to adjust.

We stepped off the curb, looking straight ahead – and wham! Individuals and organizations were blindsided by massive changes. It happened to IBM, Motorola, Kodak, Sears and countless others. Based on this painful experience, the prevailing assumption was dramatically adjusted: Change is speeding up – get used to it.

Change is speeding up – get used to it.

Crossing the street of change is an exercise in advanced risk analysis. Dodging the oncoming traffic is now the name of the game. The “game” has already moved on. Technology-driven change spotting provides only part of the solution. Literally thousands of important high-tech breakthroughs are zooming at us from left and right. Not only do we need to carefully look both ways, it is essential to actually see and understand the ramifications of what’s coming. Hopping out of the way in panic or jumping onboard the next new thing isn’t the answer; nor is taking a wait-and-see approach. By reinventing the way we look at technology-driven change, it is possible to reinvent the way we think about change. Once that happens, the reinvention of how we act in response to change takes place. Look. Think. Act. These distinct steps are the key to both finding and profiting from the many new opportunities that are headed our way.

Change Is Changing
Technology-driven change has been a ferocious problem for all of us because it comes from so many sources and directions at once. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded nearly 335,000 patents in 2003 and 2004. That’s both an impressive number and a depressing number, especially for those expecting a letup in the pace of technology-driven change. Since the volume of patent awards has been running at about the same clip for the last ten years, there are a million and a half new things out there waiting to happen. Is it humanly possible to keep up? You don’t need to. In this article, I will slash the number by 1,499,997. If you’re doing the math, you’ll see I have reduced the tech-driven change onslaught down to three. This is admittedly fuzzy math because it is impossible to precisely calculate how many significant high-tech developments are emerging. The key point, however, remains: The catalyst for transforming our businesses and futures is generated primarily by only three technological forces.

Three Digital Trend Accelerators
Three of the most powerful digital trend accelerators–computer processing power, storage capacity and bandwidth–have reached an intense new phase and are already turning business models upside down as they spawn fresh generations of procedures, tools, products and services. By focusing on the three accelerators instead of the dozens of new technologies covered by the press each month, we can get a more accurate sense of where technology-driven change is coming from and where it is likely to lead. The terms processing power, storage and bandwidth are not new. We see these words in print all the time, but it is imperative to realize that their newfound power will have a major impact on the future.

Trend 1 – Processing Power
“Moore’s Law” states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months. It has been that way since the mid-1970s (when the rate slowed somewhat) and, thanks to constant innovation, it shows no convincing evidence of abating again for at least another decade. Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, first made this observation in 1965, and his name has been attached to it ever since. What’s driving PC growth? Moore’s Law. What’s driving the computer-like functions of cell phones? Moore’s Law. The ever-increasing ability of a car to diagnose its own impending repair problems? Photo-realistic computer gaming? Moore’s Law.

Transformation is about to replace change as the business headache du jour.

Trend 2 – Storage
The second digital trend accelerator is storage. The capacity to store digital data is doubling every 12 months, even faster than computer processing power. Think about the iPod. It’s basically a smart music storage device, and it has the major benefit of increasing Apple computer sales.

Trend 3 – Bandwidth
A full page of English text is about 16,000 bits. A dial-up modem can send 56 kilobytes in one second. In contrast, many offices, as well as homes, have a broadband connection clocked at 1.54 megabytes per second. Screamingly fast bandwidth, which is doubling every nine months, is primarily being generated by advances in fiber-optic technology and implementation of new wireless broadband technology.

Sweeping Change
The relentless doubling of processing power, storage and bandwidth form the epicenter of sweeping large-scale innovations that will transform how we live, work and play for the next two decades. Does this mean that the recent buzz about nanotechnology, biotech, robotics and the like has been a lot of hype? Not at all! Those are destined to be extremely potent change agents, and their development will be accelerated by decades, thanks to the combined force of processing power, storage and bandwidth.

Transformation
A statistical model showing the doubling of the number one every year would display data points on a curve that rises gradually for the first five years, turns sharply steeper at ten years, then quickly blasts off toward a 90-degree ascent and goes straight up and off the chart. In the case of processing power alone, this exponential growth rate has been occurring for 40 years. For example, to go from a 5-megahertz chip to a 500-megahertz chip took 20 years; however, the jump from 500 megahertz to 1 gigahertz (1000 million hertz) took place in only eight months, and that was several years ago. The pace is astounding. The other two technologies have been at it for a couple of decades and are racking up even hotter numbers. For example, companies such as Motorola and Cisco recently have created methods for increasing broadband speed between 400 percent and 1,600 percent. What the resulting vertical lines on the chart tell us is that transformation is about to replace change as the business headache du jour. Disruptive change is only disruptive if you don’t know about it ahead of time. Now that you know the forces that will drive the change curve higher, it is imperative that you take advantage of the opportunities for creating new products and services that are coming our way.

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Daniel Burrus Meet the Author
Daniel Burrus is founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm headquartered in Harland, Wisconsin, and on the Web at www.burrus.com that monitors global advancements in technology-driven trends. Burrus is the author of Technotrends. This article originally appeared in the Technotrends Newsletter. Used with permission.