The Challenge of Balance: Can We Manage Technology's Relentless Pace?

Posted by Peter Cochrane on September 18, 2002

CoreNet Global Conference, By Richard Kadzis - 18th September 2002 in Lille, France

The convergence of technology with people and place has become an over-riding theme in most everyone's daily lives, and with the emergence of corporate infrastructure management, corporate real estate professionals are no exception to the megatrend.

That's why we need to grasp the far-reaching impact of tomorrow's digital world - one where the recognition of a complex set of dynamics and their effects becomes critical before they happen, according to Peter Cochrane, founder of the Silicon Valley - based Concept Labs. Cochrane, formerly the chief technologist at British Telecom, provided a living analogy for the maxim of anticipating technological change and impact today during the closing keynote address to the CoreNet Global Summit in Lille, France.

For Cochrane, who oversaw one of the world's most successful remote work strategies while at British Telecom, it's all about striking a balance between the relentless pace of technology and the human side of life. An Understanding of that balance will be critical to the success, even the survival, of companies in years to come, he stressed. It's an understanding based on prescience.

"Change is faster and event horizons are closer," he told the audience of 200-senior level corporate real estate professional in attendance. "Look what happens at a business conference when there's a coffee break. Everyone rushes to use their mobile phones, and the local cell collapses." Anticipating a solution to the problem is a key to preventing it from happening, he continued. "In a manner the same is true if you can predict the right product for Christmas. You'll be a millionaire."

Utilizing a fast-paced, information-rich presentation style, Cochrane imparted the very feeling of today's fast-paced world in driving home the theme of velocity that is increasing at exponential rates.

In an almost Orwellian fashion, he spoke of a "machine takeover" and how the ever-accelerating information economy has pervaded if not invaded our lifestyles. "Even young people are burning out in their 30's, "he noted.

The business and general worlds have evolved all too rapidly from mass production to mass automation, creating "more and more non-essential people." It is this very result that must learn to better manage against the impersonal backdrop of downsizing, reorganization and outsourcing. "Technology is pushing us; we must manage it."

Technology is breeding a two-class society, Cochrane observed; the 'Do It Yourself' society and the 'Do It for Me at Any Cost' society. The pace has become frightening.

Comparing technology's advancement to a tidal wave off the far horizon of a beach, he cautioned, "If you see (new) technology coming, it's too late. Like the tsunami, you'll be swallowed up."

The comparison illustrated Cochran's point about shortening technology cycles. The evolution from vacuum tubes to integrated circuits took about 40 years. Some where between the years 2015 - 2028, today: silicon-based technology will run its course based on the principle of Moore's Law, he said. Beyond the boundaries of geometric progression defined by Moore, science fiction will become reality.

"We will see computers that are a million times, then a billion times, better and faster," he predicted.

With the progression and compression of recent changes cycles involving personal computers, then the Internet, and now mobile communication, it becomes tantamount that "we engage technologies that involve positive change," Cochrane said.

Technology and its inherent appeal to youth are quickly redefining the classic business models of most industries - a factor Cochrane believes will lead to a significant economic role-reversal: the dawning of a consumer-to-business mass market. Using the music and movie industries as examples, Cochrane demonstrated the decentralizing influence that is already rubbing against the top-down, hierarchical models of the 20th century. "We are David, and the music industry is Goliath," he said.

Convergence of technologies has yet to happen so that personal communication is finding ways to get around established channels such as telephonic companies and network providers offer on a paid basis.

Recalling how the 'antenna communities' of the 1950's enabled better TV reception, and lead to the cable TV industry, Cochrane pointed to the proliferation of "parasitic networks" today that bypass the established telecom networks. Wireless LAN's based on so-called Y5 and 802.11 technologies may one day supplant conventional, slower networks in much the same way that kids bypass the music industry by converting product to digital formats and sharing them on a decentralized, non-paid basis.

"In a chaotic world, you can die fast," Cochrane warned. "Innovation will prevail over hierarchy," making it critical for tomorrow's enterprises to not only anticipate technological change, but make it more human.