It seems passé to say that the marketing world is changing rapidly, but it is. And faster than ever. A lot faster.
According to entomologists, it took nature 4.3 billion years to create the unprepossessing earwig. This is important only because some other scientists tell us today’s computing devices – the one in your pocket, under your arm, or at your desk – have about the same intelligence as an earwig.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The first semiconductor devices – “chips” with more than one circuit imprinted upon them – appeared 42 years ago. If we compare the evolution rate of the chip to that of the earwig, we get a ratio of 0.0000000097:1. That is, for every year it took to evolve the bug, it took a ninety seven hundred billionth of a year to evolve its electronic intelligence partner. If this rate continues, we’ll see chips as intelligent as we are within a decade, by 2023.
What would a world where devices are as smart as we are look like? It is impossible to envision any more than our great-grandparents could foresee the impact of plastics, automobiles, or airplanes. We are chained to the attitudes and realities of our past. Psychologists tell us that less than 1 person in 10,000 can foresee a future that’s very different than the present. Here are some examples:
- In the 1850s a renowned scientist predicted that human travel by rail would prove impossible because no one could survive speeds greater than that of a fast horse.
- In 1927 a prominent economist predicted that, if telephone connections continued to grow at then-current rates, by 1948 one in three Americans would be employed as a switchboard operator.
- In 1950, the president of IBM predicted that five computers would be sufficient to service all computing needs of North America.
Track record aside, we have to make the effort to foresee the future. Our grandparents had nearly a century to create their future. We may have less than 12 years – and parts of the future will come sooner than that. Think of how quickly the world has turned already. In the early 1990s we used acoustic modems to access AOL at a BAUD rate of 300 bps from computers that ran DOS and sported 10-megabyte hard drives. A few years later, the future of the Web as an advertising medium was still the subject of debate. Today, we have watched online disrupt newspapers, magazines, the Postal Service, book publishing and the record industry. Mobile devices promise to eliminate demand for cameras, end landline phone communication, and change the way people shop. What will next year (and the year after that) add to the list?
Here are suggestions to help your company anticipate the future:
- Determine the parts of your business model that make your organization successful.
- Evaluate each according to its vulnerability to change. Use scale where 1 indicates “least vulnerable” and 5 indicates “least vulnerable.” Don’t wear blinders. Don’t limit yourself to changes that have happened already. Imagine changes that have yet to occur but which seem logical based on your experience.
- Estimate how your organization would be affected if the business model elements you rated “1” were swept away by future change. That’s right. Base your future survival plan on changes to the elements you think have little or no vulnerability. After all, it’s not the anticipated changes that hurt.
- Engage the best minds to help you create a plan to react to and survive the change you’ve identified.
- Repeat this exercise. Re-evaluate your scores often. When you can’t think of anything new to add, ask others to help.
When you’re done, if you’ve done a good job, you will have developed a survival plan. Of course, you’ll never really be done. But you will have a good idea of what the future is likely to bring.