From a railway carriage – by Robert Louis Stevenson. A poem of its time, when the railways were amazing people with their speed (faster even than the supernatural) and at the same time democratising travel. We’re living in similar times today – my latest ‘card’ on CIAO is on geolocation / GPS which is one of those innovations that like train travel begins as a marvel and rapidly becomes the norm. I was visiting Seaton Delaval over the weekend and not only used my phone to direct me there but also realised that the National Trust app was showing me details of the nearest other properties and included Belsay Hall (English Heritage not National Trust).
All very well I hear you say but what’s the point. Well it occurred to me that so much of this data (like the application of Waze to satnavs) is happening without our really recognising what’s going on. We are just becoming very used to having contextual information provided as we move around – and increasingly expecting added value data to complement the central question we may have asked or is implicit. So we ask about local restaurants and burger bars and get not only the information but also which ones friends have liked or where we went to something similar recently. And all of this is changing our behaviour in some really subtle ways.
First, we no longer need to frame the right question – we can be much more lax about the key enquiry as our devices will supplement the answer with a raft of related information. Secondly, we don’t need to remember anything – our history (and our friends history) are increasingly available to us on our devices. Thirdly, all of this is in real time, so our need to organise in advance is also reduced. All of these might sound trivial but on a large scale they change how we think, how and what we remember and how we plan our days.
And, as I suggest on the ‘card’, all of this may be fine if we are all in the same boat but what about those without smart technology. As life evolves (especially with the advent of sensors and the internet of things) there will be an implicit assumption that everyone is sharing these behaviours, and all have access to smart devices. Over time of course this may be true (especially as technology becomes automated and less user triggered) but the interim is different. You only need to look at how many older cars are still on the road to see that not everyone can or will change at the same speed.
My latest addition to the trend illustrations on Change is an Opportunity is predictive in action and I used Bluenose (below) and Digit to illustrate my point that predictive analytics doesn’t depend on the widespread internet of things or BIG data or sensors necessarily – it’s here today, using very much traditional buckets of data available to many organisations and individuals.
And that set me thinking about innovation. A bit like the myth that it is all to do with the lone innovator or maverick genius, the notion that all disruption is massive and immediate is one of those illusions that many suffer from. It’s not that it is ever really stated, just that people believe that the telephone, electricity, the internet suddenly burst on us. You can see it with the debate over driverless cars – the issue is will we or won’t we, or by when. That completely disregards the fact that most people who have cars aren’t all able to change them overnight, or whether we all want or need driverless cars. And, more pertinently to this argument, many, at least those with newer cars, have a large number of the elements of driverless cars already – automated parking, emergency braking, cruise control, lane changing. So with hindsight it might look like a big shift that happened at once but in reality as we look forward it is more likely to be a steady evolution.
And that is just as well because we don’t on the whole adapt well in terms of behaviours to sudden massive disruption. We need to get used to things gradually in most cases. (Gradually here is a relative term when considered against human evolution!). Most of the big potential disruptors that haven’t happened (yet) – wearables being a case in point – are certainly not limited by technology but by behavioural acceptance. And whilst there is evidence of the use of technology changing how we think I am interested to know whether there is evidence that we are becoming more adaptable – essentially evolving faster in how we approach novel or innovative activities.
Kevin Kelly makes the point when he says that the utility of electricity exploded when we invented many more gadgets, but not the quality (as I am reminded every day when I am searching for a different charger or in a strange room looking for a power socket that isn’t miles from any usable surface). Which feels like a lack of progress somehow – a missed potential or opportunity. And in the great and age old debate as to whether radical or incremental innovation adds more value, suggests that the answer is almost inevitably both . .