The Pace of Innovation

pace-of-change-smallSeveral years ago I was speaking to a large group and dropped what I thought was an obvious tongue-in-cheek reference during a discussion about the rapid pace of technological change. During my presentation and in a subsequent blog post, I commented that I was thankful to Al Gore for inventing the internet, and then went on to describe comparisons of the not-too-distant past to the foreseeable future and imagining the years beyond. My audience was mixed, but the vast majority were college students, who clearly have seen the rapid changes that technology continues to bring year after year.

The following day I received a thoughtful and respectful response from a student, thanking me for my presentation, but then politely taking issue with my assertion regarding then Vice President Gore. The email then went on in great detail to provide the facts about the birth of the internet. I chuckled – even laughed out loud, but then I stopped to consider whom the joke was really on. It was me. I had made a reference that had absolutely no context for much of my audience. In fact, when I looked up that student’s online profile, I was able to factually determine that, at the time Al Gore made that famous gaffe and claim on national television, that student was just 4 years old! Oops! My bad!

The pace of innovation has never been faster. The equivalent of Moore’s law is seen in fields from nano-technology to sequencing the human genome to any number of emerging technologies that could not even be envisioned when any of us were born. It is at the same time amazing, fabulous, inspiring, frightening, and so many other applicable adjectives. Incredible opportunities lie ahead. As entrepreneurs, our responsibility is to maintain an awareness of those technologies that directly impact our worlds – our specific fields. We don’t need to be experts, but rather be simply well informed and always vigilante for emerging trends. Doing so will allow us to quickly capitalize on those opportunities that make sense for our ventures, and watch for disruptive innovation that may fundamentally change our future business model.

That doesn’t mean staying on the bleeding edge of technology by chasing every shiny object that crosses our path. It means constant investigation and awareness, being careful to do the follow up research and investigation required to determine the true value of any innovation that could be of potential benefit to our business. Failing to do so could see that same opportunity seized by our competition. We simply can’t take that risk.

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