Sep 20, 2008

Influential Technology

30 years ago we didn’t have: the WWW; Personal Computers; Mobile Phones; Email; Ebay; iPods; Laptops; Online Social Networks; nor 24/7 service companies, says David Smith, CEO of Global Futures and Foresight, ( 2008). In a sense, everything has changed: the way we gather information (the ‘Google’ effect); the way we listen to music (the ‘iTunes’ effect); the way we shop (the ‘Amazon’ effect); the way we make friends (the ‘Facebook’ effect); the way we entertain ourselves (the ‘You Tube/ iPlayer’ effect). And, increasingly we are not just seeing the shift to ‘Online’, but the global online ‘knowledge ecosystem’ is being sorted and ranked. Generation Y is growing up with access to information like no-one else before them. With their extensive social networks they have armies of critical analysts examining everything put up for review. Tripadvisor, Expedia and Amazon all employ ranking systems that allow consumers to rate products. This is the power of influence that the web is having in many spheres of life. Web 1.0 allowed one way communication – making promises (or offers of products for sale) on corporate websites. Web 2.0 and beyond is facilitating challenges, opinion and conversation. Logically therefore, a firm’s reputation for anything (product or service, internal or external) can be driven like a virtual share price, by the opinion of those that shout the loudest, online.
And, it’s not just about opinions. Now we have been living with virtual worlds for well over a decade, there has been third shift. Technology started out taking physical things into the virtual (e.g. ‘snail-mail’ to email), but now the reverse is starting to happen: Virtual ideas are becoming real world and ‘physical’ (e.g. prototyping in Second life). Online experiences are encouraging a new method of distribution and source of products. Leadership using these technologies to achieve objectives encourage faster analysis and decision taking in situations with imperfect information. Paul C. Edwards Professor of Communication at Stanford University, Byron Reeves, commented in an IBM case study, that nearly 50% of ‘managers with experience in multiplayer online games said that being a game leader had improved their real-world leadership capabilities’. So, do we see all of this as a Fear or a Benefit? With careful leadership, clear expectations and self management can we use all of this to further the way in which companies continue to evolve? Could organisations harness the characteristic energy of Generation Y to open new distribution channels and validate new product opportunities?

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