The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

How much does our view of the future define our creativity?

Cloud optimist.pngA few weeks ago I did a blog post on the technology in the world in 2045. I got a range of email from those who view the world in a positive light and those who are negative about the world of the future (and the human race in general). I found this very negative view for a technologist a bit odd, but that is probably just me.


One approach I have started to take when looking at technology adoption and the needs of others is to try and address both supply and demand. There is so much abundance around us that can create even greater abundance by enabling the use of what is in short supply effectively. It takes innovators to understand the conflict and capitalize upon it. There are those that can only see the shortages and feel like victims. My perspective is more positive about our options and see it as an opportunity for us to persevere using our native creativity.


It will not be the same as today. The technologies that we deal with every day have a significant role in making everything around us better. There are many possibilities, but it is up to us to look for those answers if we want the future we desire.


The best way to predict the future is to invent it. -- Alan Kay

The converging Venn diagram of industry future trends

industry venn.jpgBack in math class, I remember we used to use Venn diagrams to show similarities and differences between sets of objects. I was in a meeting today where we were talking about business and technology trends and the impact on technology adoption… and those models started dancing through my head.


We had a great deal of examples of what was happening to shift value in finance, government, manufacturing and most other topics. We started to talk about agriculture and relatively few examples presented themselves. Right before we moved on to the next industry, I said something like: “There really isn’t that much difference between the shifts taking place in agriculture and process manufacturing.”


This got into a whole philosophical discussion about how agriculture deals with living things so it can’t be automated or be influenced to the extent of manufacturing. I tried not to bring up wine and beer production, but couldn’t help myself.


So just to get people out of their comfort zone I said, “Well if that’s the case, then agriculture is really more like Health care.” Which started a whole other vector of discussion.


In the end, we all reached a perspective that in many ways the abundance of technology and the pressures of business are actually allowing many of these industry differences to dissolve. It may also allow a new dimension of differences to come to the surface that were hidden before.


The possibilities of this polymorphic view, pulling advances in one area and applying them to others is an important part of any innovation exercise. We might need to shake up our preconceptions though about where innovations can be reapplied.

Periodic assessment time

predictive.pngEvery once in a while it is time to take a step back and look at your life, what you are doing, the impact it has and even your own value system. I had one of those moments thrust upon my family when HP offered me an early retirement option.


For me, I asked questions like:

  1. How sure are you that you will be happy in the coming years?
  2. How can you be sure that your relationships with your spouse and family will become an enduring source of happiness?
  3. Are you having the influence on the company and industry that you should?


For technologists it can also offer an opportunity to think about how you are marketing your efforts to others. Fortunately for me, this was a career choice -- where decisions can be made.


Technologists should periodically take the opportunity for these kinds of personal assessments. I had a leader I worked for once who did this assessment  every Thanksgiving (for those outside the US, but this is a holiday focused on looking at the bounty available to us and actively being thankful for it). For whatever the reason, we should not passively accept the status quo, but actively ensure that we’re creating the future we desire.


I mentioned last week the changing role of the CIO. These factors are also a driver for all technologists to assess their future and can enter into the evaluation process.

Play changes for IT on the second half of the board

One slide that was used in HP Discover last week quite a bit was this one:

BB2883 - Bess MtCS Apps transformation.png


It shows how technology has shifted since the dawn of the Information Technology. These changes are not likely to slow down because it is all fueled by exponential technology growth.


The best illustration that I can give you of what ahead is a little story that Ray Kurzweil used in his book called the Singularity is Near.


It is about the unimaginable change that is possible when driven by exponential growth. The story starts with the man who invented chess. When he showed the king of India the game, the king was so entertained and excited by the game that he told the man he’d give him anything he asked for – within reason.


The man made what appeared to be a simple request. He asked that every year for the next 64 years (the number of squares on a chess board) a few grains of rice in the following manner: the king was to provide a single grain of rice on the first chess square and double it every following year.


The king quickly agreed.


The first year the inventor received 1 grain, the second 2, the third 4… It doesn’t get interesting until you cross over into the 2nd half of the board.


On the 23rd square we are talking about 8M grains. A still reasonable amount of rice,  that can be delivered by a small field of rice. At the next square, when crossing over to the 2nd half, the king finally took notice, because now it would start impacting his grain inventory. The king realized by the time they would reach the end of the board, it would have required enough rice to cover all of India one meter thick with rice. He’d been had and the inventor’s head was soon cut off and the rice deliveries were no longer a problem.


I bring this up because all these exponential trends that we’ve been taking advantage of in IT, like Moore’s law, Edholm’s law…, are now reaching into the 2nd half of the board. We’re the ones who need to understand and take advantage of the change since it is quite different than what we’ve seen to date.


How many of you have already felt the constraints of your own thinking getting in the way of technology adoption? I know I for one need to take a step back every once in a while and say “what does this really mean?”


And I ask myself “What can be done with this abundance of capability that has never done before?


We are entering into a different world where there is an abundance of data – with all the sensors and mobile devices… We don’t worry as much about if the data is available, but more about what we can do with it. For those people who believe that data is king, it can be a rude awakening when they realize that in a world of abundant data, having more of it is worthless.


We don’t worry as much about if we can transport the data to the processing location. The networking is typically there, although it may still cost more than we wish.


With cloud computing, we have the resources to crunch all that data into something useful.


Additionally, our access to software capabilities is more than we’ve ever seen before as instantiated in the phase – there’s an app for that. For businesses that may be SaaS, Open Source, COTS…


For most businesses though the systems were designed with a very constrained view of the world. They were based on scarcity of data, computing… and it is time to take a step back and really look at that portfolio of applications for what they are really good at and how they add value.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.