Future of Work : Conquering Obsolescence

Daniel Burrus is a leading technology forecaster and business strategist, and is the author of six books, including the highly acclaimed Technotrends, which has been translated into over a dozen languages. The New York Times has referred to him as one of America's top three business "gurus" in the highest demand as a speaker.He produces a number of audio and video learning systems and is the publisher of the Technotrends® Newsletter.

Contact Daniel at Office@burrus.com or visit Burrus Research Associates website.

When it comes to technology, the conventional wisdom used to be "If it isn't broken, why fix it ?" But the new unconventional wisdom of the 21st century and the Communication Age is "If it works, it's obsolete."

Now, that probably doesn't come as good news if you have just invested in expensive hardware or the latest in software programs. However, look at the situation in a new strategic way: Obsolescence of technology is a non-issue. Of course the product you just bought or are thinking about buying is already obsolete. The company that sold it to you isn't sitting back and dreaming up the next generation, either -- the product that will render your current purchase obsolete isn't just a pipe dream, it is already in the pipeline headed your way.

The time between the next generation of new products is becoming shorter and shorter because of intense global competition and rapid technological innovation. Computer speed, power and economy have cut R&D time to a fraction of what it was a decade ago. Those who have been competing on the basis of price by cost cutting, downsizing, productivity improvements and discounting are finding that their competition is doing the same thing.

What's left ? Often it's adding on the newest technology, even one of secondary value, and adding a "new and improved" label to the product or service. Meanwhile, major technological developments are being brought on line, which adds to the woes of corporate managers who know that if they wait too long they can wait themselves right out of business. These managers are caught between the old and the new, the past and the future. Compounding the dilemma is a set of accounting standards that encourage companies to stick with technology that no longer provides a decisive advantage. Instead of moving on, arcane rules governing write-offs, deductions and depreciation create false criteria for determining when the time is right to invest in the future. Don't let tax laws justify a "wait and see" strategy.

It doesn't pay to wait and see. Waiting is a perfect example of 20th century thinking: "I'll wait until I see others in my field using it ... let them get the kinks ironed out." The only problem is the 21 st century is already here, and many of us haven't noticed. The ones who now have a headstart, kinks and all, are learning how to thrive both personally and professionally in the 21st century.

A 20th century professional takes a look at new technology and figures that the new stuff represents more work and in the end won't be all that much different than the old. "A few bells and whistles that I can live without." He or she also assumes that what's emerging today will stay in essentially the same form for several years. "After it proves itself I'll buy into it." Once that point is reached, however, the ability to leverage a competitive advantage has significantly diminished.

The 21st century professional knows that new technology has the power to change their reality. You're not out of your mind if you take a pass on the latest technology -- you're just running the risk of being out of it.

The decision to buy technology should have little to do with whether a particular piece of software or hardware is obsolete or whether it soon will be. The assumption has to be if you can see it, touch it, buy it, sell it -- IT -- is obsolete.

Concentrate your efforts on something you can affect. Like what ? Like what you're doing -- right now -- with the new and the old technology. It is important to understand that modern technology will do things for you that you never before dreamed possible.

It only stands to reason that if you pay cutting-edge prices for cutting-edge technology and all you do is what you did before -- obsolescence will be a pressing issue. But if you have paid cutting-edge prices for cutting-edge technology and developed cutting-edge applications that allow you to be beyond what your competition is doing with that same technology -- then, obsolescence does truly become a non-issue.

Only a small fraction of the capabilities of a new, breakthrough technology end up being utilized because of this inability to think beyond the obvious applications. No wonder obsolescence is a concern ! The investment will never be recovered. It's like buying a new cellular phone for your car to impress your neighbors. Why don't you just buy the antenna if that's your goal and save money ?

Cutting-Edge Applications First -- Cutting-Edge Technology Second

The key question to ask about technology is what do I ideally want to do that I'm not already doing ? Billions of dollars worth of new technology are being gobbled up by industry today and much of it is used for purposes that were performed just as adequately by the old technology. Maybe it's a little faster, a little more cost effective. But doing what you've always done, only quicker and cheaper, represents a false sense of progress, especially if the competition is doing the same thing.

If speed is the only justification for buying new technology -- keep thinking. The new Communication Age tools are incredibly powerful. To increase speed and efficiency is a given. Extra speed will happen the instant you plug it in ( but the advantage won't last long ).

What's needed is the ability to look beyond the "obvious now" to the "obvious next." It's not necessary to be a visionary, only to have vision.

Everyday necessity has driven much of what we regard as "progress." A caveman could only dream about communicating over long distances to send a warning to the rest of the tribe that the enemy was approaching. But the smoke from a cooking fire could be spotted miles away. How about using a wet buffalo hide to control the flow of smoke ? We could devise a code. Three puffs mean danger. And four ... well, you know the rest.

The process is the same now as it was then: identify what needs to be done, even if it's impossible, and look for a means to accomplish that end using technology. The key is the willingness to accept that what was impossible yesterday may well be entirely possible today.

This won't happen, though, if new technology is used merely as a means to increase efficiency.

©1995-2003, Burrus Research Associates, Inc.


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