The Risk and Opportunity of Technology Innovation

Technology is risky business, whether you are a provider or user. What makes it more challenging is that it can be as risky to adopt as to not.

At least in certain circles, technology is all the rage.

And, indeed, it is justified, as technology has turned things upside down many times! Witness some of the companies that came out of nowhere over the past few decades: Apple, Microsoft, Facebook...

In addition many companies have made businesses around innovators, such as those above. For example:

  1. The growth of Apple has been accompanied by the growth and development of industries that support Apple, such as partners who support Apple products; developers of apps; publishers of Apple magazines and related industry publications around Apple; a whole cadre of capabilities in the graphics space, which has been a long-term mainstay for Apple.
  2. The growth of Microsoft over time has been responsible for the growth of the many business partners supporting Microsoft products and infrastructure; developing downstream products and applications using Microsoft technologies; supporting enterprise computing; enabling the growth of the PC industry.
  3. Facebook has been very influential in making social networking mainstream; changing the way businesses market; altering the way businesses are able to do research and test marketing; tying together disparate identities into one - tied to evolving profiles and preferences.

The whole point is that the economy and competitive environment is a whole ecosystem, the ecosystem is effected by the rise and fall of technologies, and the fortunes of companies, organizations, and people often are tied to decisions they make about where they fit into that ecosystem.

The above behemoth companies, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook, are industry leaders. They have carved out a space in the ecosystem that is strong and formidable, but still have vulnerabilities.

The key is for anyone - companies, non-commercial organizations, or individuals - to assess their position within the technology ecosystem.

In order to do that, you need to have a bit of technology savvy, as well as an understanding of your respective capabilities.

That means there are two sides to the equation: technology and capability. The role you choose to play should align with the evolution of technology and with your capabilities.

Technology

There is such a thing as a "technology life cycle". there are numerous models for it, but in short it works like this:

  1. New technologies are developed.
  2. Expectations increase for the possibilities - often beyond what will ever be accomplished.
  3. Coming back down to reality often overshoots downward, and once the bottom has hit a steady more realistic adoption and growth pattern, along with accompanying benefits and displacement, follows.
  4. The technology plateaus and eventually declines over a period, sometimes very short and other times more extended.

This is a natural, predictable cycle in technology, much like the laws of science!

Capabilities

Technologies are capability enablers...but you need to know your strengths and understand how to leverage it.

Some organizations are very technology savvy...and their businesses are very sensitive to changes in certain technologies. for example:

  1. UPS has benefited tremendously from advances in computer and software technologies by enhancing it's existing position in the field of logistics.
  2. Automobile manufacturers have completely flipped the value proposition of cars by incorporating GPS, music, and other technologies into cars.
  3. Marketing-intensive companies have enhanced their capabilities by learning to leverage big data.

Just as some organizations have leveraged technology to increase their capabilities, those who have not have decreased their capabilities.

Bottom Line with Technology and Capabilities

At the end of the day, there are winners and losers. And it is all based on how well they acted on a clear understanding of their capabilities, combined with an understanding of how technology and the technology ecosystem works. Companies, organizations, and individuals need to understand their core capabilities, and understand how technology might impact them. They must be willing to take action in concert with this understanding, and maintain constant vigilance to protect, enhance, and grow their capabilities in light of evolving technology.

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