An ancient Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times.” We seem to be leading in emerging times. Is that a curse too? In the book The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly (2016) says that the 1980s marked a convergence of computers and communication, a union that is profoundly influencing our present and our future. Taking computer classes at SUNY in the 1980s, I was thrilled to use a 1200 baud modem to connect my PC to the school computer. That way I could write my programs at home instead of working in the computer lab until 3:00 a.m. when it closed. Little did I know this connection would bring technological advances that would drive the future and transform the world. Nor did I know this connection would bring a constant flow of change, and an overload of information that would challenge my role as a leader. But, with plentiful resources to navigate new technologies and ample strategies to benefit organizations, there has never been a better time to be a leader!
Keeping up with Emerging Technologies
Haven’t ordered your 3D printer yet? No problem. With advances in 4D Printing there might be a sale. 4D Printing is a technique that encodes materials with a dynamic capacity, enabling objects to transform depending on the situation. 4D Printing is new to Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies in 2016. The Hype Cycle, which is updated annually, is a useful tool for leaders who want to keep pace with new technologies. As a university leader, I like to review Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Education. The 2016 Cycle includes trends I had anticipated, like Virtual and Augmented reality and affective computing, as well as a few surprises, such as blockchain for academic credentials and a Tin Can API that connects learning activities from multiple systems.
Another resource for leaders who want to keep up with technology is Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report. The report offers a wealth of information for businesses who want to leverage the Internet for competitive advantage. Retailers might find it helpful to know that Internet retail spending continues to grow, garnering 10% of the total retail market in 2015, as compared to 2% in 2000. Organizations trying to reach Gen Z will find it interesting that the number of video views is rapidly increasing, especially with apps like Snapchat and Facebook Live. Global businesses will want to learn that China is now a major player, with AliBaba and six other companies listed in the top twenty Internet companies.
In addition to informative reports like those from Gartner and Meeker, McKinsey provides timely research on tech topics, often highlighting socioeconomic trends. For example, a recent report notes that advances in automation technologies are changing the way we produce and consume resources (Woetzel, et al., 2017). The report covers new technologies like self-driving cars, drones that maintain utility lines, and underwater robots that repair pipelines.
Leaders can stay current by augmenting industry reports with a variety of tools. I review Alexa—helpful for tracking websites with the heaviest traffic, and the Tiobe Index, which shows programming language trends. Wikipedia has a list of emerging technologies, and tech news sources like ZDNet offer daily news feeds that make it easy to keep up with technology news. TED Talks are another resource, with a variety of tech-related Talks posted each month. Conferences like Educause and the Gartner Symposium present even more opportunities for leaders to learn about emerging technologies.
A Strategic View
While it is essential to keep up with emerging technologies, it is even more important for leaders to understand the fundamental characteristics that are driving all of this change. A critical factor is the amount of information being produced. According to the IBM report “10 Key Marketing Trends for 2017,” 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years. The amount of information added to the Internet each year is measured in petabytes. One petabyte is enough to contain all the data from all the academic research libraries in the US. And with objects now connecting via embedded sensors, the Internet of Things is expected to generate a lot more petabytes of data in a short time.
Gartner and ZDNet provide useful filters for all this information. Still, the pace of change may be disorienting, even if (or maybe especially if) a leader keeps up with all these resources. It seems that leaders must ascend to the top of the DIKW pyramid and look for some wisdom. Changes shouldn’t distract leaders, as long as they have a sense of the underlying currents that they should be addressing. One source of wisdom comes from Weinberger’s (2011) five strategies for dealing with networked knowledge.
- Open up Access
Weinberger (2011) says that the open nature of the net necessitates an open system of freely available information. This view is shared by Alexandra Elbakyan, a graduate student who uploaded over 50 million research papers to Sci-Hub. Before the Internet, journals allowed for the flow of information from one university to another via the library system. Will this change in a digital age? Should access to content be freely available, like access to roads? My university is becoming more transparent in sharing operational data, resulting in increased collaboration, engagement, and questioning.
- Provide the Hooks for Intelligence
All of the knowledge flowing on the Internet is useless if people cannot find what they need when they need it. Weinberger (2011) says that metadata is needed to work effectively with networked knowledge. When filters are applied, metadata can help locate information. It is typically a leader’s job to make sure that workers can get the information that they need. In a networked environment, leaders can help ensure that metadata is added to business systems along with the data. A project in my department is to link academic program information to employment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, metadata that will help students connect academics to job information.
- Link Everything
Connecting pieces of information is not a new strategy. Footnotes, indexes, bibliographies, concordances, and glossaries have long been used to provide links, explanations, and extra information. The Internet, however, has freed us from constraints of time, size, and the need for a linear presentation. Since taking this class I have started incorporating links in my communications. This allows me to focus on the key points of the message while offering additional information for those who want it.
- Leave No Institutional Knowledge Behind
Kelly (2106) notes that science is inefficient, as most experiments fail. It may take us a long time to figure out how to get those nanowires (one of Wikipedia’s emerging technologies) working, and a lot of failed experiments. When we do figure how to make nanowires cheaply and abundantly, batteries will last for the lifetime of the device, electric cars will become common, and flashlights will work when the power goes out. But failure is institutional data, and does not always make the journals. Organizations may be reluctant to share their failures, and even their successes, but all data is potentially valuable.
- Teach Everyone
Learning to use the Internet is easy. More challenging is learning how to evaluate knowledge in a world where anyone can post anything. Building skills like problem solving, decision making, and judging can be useful in evaluating networked knowledge. And, the most important thing to learn is that we must accept differences.
Humble Beginnings… Amazing Future
Since I first used a Hayes modem to connect to an IBM 4381 at the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering, I have watched in awe as technology has advanced, changing what we do, and how we do it. I am inspired by the vision of the future that Kevin Kelly describes in the video “12 Inevitable Tech Forces That Will Shape Our Future.” We are lucky to live in what Kelly (2016) calls the Beginning—a time filled with opportunities to shape the future in amazing ways. Leaders who keep learning, connecting, sharing, and inspiring will find it a blessing to lead in emerging times.
Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable. New York, NY: Viking.
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Woetzel, J., Sellschop, R., Chui, M., Ramaswamy, S., Nyquist, S., Robinson, H., Roelofsen, O., Rogers, M., & Ross, R. (2017, February). Beyond the supercycle: How technology is reshaping resources. McKinsey Global Institute. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/how-technology-is-reshaping-supply-and-demand-for-natural-resources
16 thoughts on “May You Lead in Emerging Times.”
Excellent post! You had me at “Hayes modem…” 🙂
We do live in amazing times. I had lunch recently with a colleague who directs a Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, and he made an interesting comment – we no longer should be focusing on technology or even learning, but rather we should focus on thinking. In some ways, he was alluding to those underlying currents you mentioned.
I loved that Hayes modem, and my PC Junior with its 64K of internal memory and 16-color display! Sometimes the connection was so slow I would type and then wait for the characters to show up on the screen. Really insightful comment from your colleague to focus on thinking. “Think” was IBM’s motto when I interned there in grad school. They had little note pads with “THINK” on the cover.
Love, love, love this post! The little light bulb flickered on in my head when I read your section on the strategic view. If we as leaders simply try and keep up with all of the change – the new technology, the new apps – we are missing the point and will likely be fighting a losing battle anyway. Instead, we must focus on, as you said, the fundamental characteristics driving the change. I find the fifth of Weinberger’s (2011) strategies for dealing with networked knowledge the most critical to our collective understanding of the fundamental characteristics of change. We cannot know it all. We cannot keep up with every change, every new innovation, and we certainly cannot individually consider every problem and decision. We must teach and work with others to evaluate information and help us make decisions.
I was interested, as well, in your comments about how leaders stay current. You mentioned a number of great resources that leaders can refer to on a regular basis to help keep up to date with the world around them. I was wondering if you could share how you utilize the information you obtain from other people (colleagues, supervisors, industry professionals, etc.). What steps do you personally go through to filter that information into that which is most useful or helpful to your strategic thinking and planning?
All the best,
The Ayes Have it
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Thank you for your comments! Your ideas add such clarity to the discussion, and extend the leadership aspects. In reflecting on your thoughts about how we cannot go it alone, it seems like workers will need to depend on each other more than ever. Jarche’s wirearchy, grounded in interconnected knowledge, trust, and credibility, shows that building strong relationships will be key.
You ask a great question about filtering information. This is definitely a work in progress for me. When it comes to trends, Gartner is my go to. University libraries can arrange access to Gartner articles that would otherwise need to be purchased by individuals. I use Mendeley for storing articles that are in pdf format; I have been using it to aggregate articles I use in the ILD program. You just gave me an idea – I can set up Mendeley folders for articles from colleagues. Right now I am reading reviews of news feed aggregators and plan to set one up this week so I can better filter news. I am also trying to get my organization to embrace the Office 365 office products, as these can help with collaboration. If you have filtering tips let me know, I can use all the help I can get!
I am a big believer in aggregators to pull the news to me rather than my searching it out. I checked out your link on reviews…personally, I have been using Feedly for about 4 years and have been very happy with the choice. I do pay for the premium service…and actually use it both for following news feeds and for following all the blogs in this class. It is just easier to both see the order in which class blogs appear and whether I have read them or not.
Appreciate the tip, Dr. Watwood! Feedly is at the top of my list, and I am also checking into Inoreader.
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Impressive! Well written post that actually seems to accelerate as one reads it. Kudos to you staying so informed. I really need to do a better job of assembling and curating the best new technologies. I am at least partway there however, as I have long focused on thinking and metacognition mentioned by both you and Dr. Watwood in your comments. I’m always asking how can I use my brain more effectively and how can I help others do it better as well? (The catalyst for my studies and research in creative thinking). So building on that foundation I see I need to factor in more along the technology trail. I hadn’t thought about those or 16 color displays in years – fun times – but 64 blew that away!! Sure seemed amazing at the time. Another great post! ~Tricia
I appreciate your comments! Your remark that you are always asking how you can use your brain more effectively, and asking how you can help others do it better, is inspiring. One thing that comes to mind is eliminating what seems ineffective. For example, electronic invites have increased the number of meetings on our calendars, but I am not sure the value to the organization has increased proportionately. We need time to think! I would love to hear more about your studies and research in creative thinking, and I appreciate the aspects you bring into our discussions. The McKinsey report “A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity” says that creativity will be needed to help workers adjust to an environment where they work with machines. Creative thinking will be tough to replicate in machine intelligence, and something we will need more than ever!
Thanks as always for the interesting reference. Appreciated the timeline showing how certain changes have been exponential. And my two cents – no meetings are not any more productive now that we have more of them. And yes – we DO need more time to think. “Treadmill” decisions are not generally the best.
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I enjoyed reading your post this week. As I read your post, I learned a few things one example being the 4D printers. I knew about the 3D printers, but not the 4D printers. My first thought was, “where have I been?” and “how did I not know about this?” I try to monitor technological advances, but clearly I missed the ball on this.
I agree that leaders must be willing to “learn, connect, share, and inspire.” I agree wholeheartedly that learning and sharing will help a leader succeed within the technological changes now and well within the future. My question is with leaders embodying the capabilities to “learn, connect, share and inspire” are we automating what leadership should look like for the future? Perhaps automating is the wrong word. Are we streamlining leadership processes? As Kevin Kelly shared in his video, there are some things, like relationships, that cannot be automated. However, with all the books in existence on leadership, is it possible that with technologies, we are able to reduce leadership to specific abilities/qualities? I do not have an answer at this moment as I want to think about this a bit longer. I am interested in your thoughts.
Thank you for your comments! We are in this together — 4D printers were not on my radar until this week when I checked out the Forbes article on the 2016 Gartner analysis. In case you are interested, Skylar Tibbits introduces 4D printing in a Ted Talk, and MIT is doing some research in the area. Years ago, one of my mentors at SUNY told our class that figuring out the self-assembly aspects of biomolecular protein folding would really be something, so I am fascinated by the MIT projects. The best thing about new technologies is exploring the range of uses made possible by their conceptualization.
I love your question about leadership in a connected world, and this is something I have been thinking a lot about too. The McKinsey report I mentioned in my reply to Tricia (“A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity”) points out that management tasks like data collection and analysis can be automated, but managing and developing people has the lowest potential for automation. I think this speaks to Dr. Watwood’s comment that leadership is becoming more important than ever. Leaders will need to ensure that people develop the skills they need to adapt to new work environments, and develop these skills themselves. Every course in our ILD program has offered a different framework from which to think about leadership, but your question illustrates so insightfully that every leader needs to find the “true north” aspects of leadership that see them through any situation, and every model.
“…is it possible that with technologies, we are able to reduce leadership to specific abilities/qualities?” My quick answer is no. We can perhaps see trends in new ways…but if anything, I truly believe that leadership is becoming even more important. Perhaps technology might reduce the number of “managers”…but not leaders.
Love the title of your post. I appreciate the great list of resources you provided in order to try and stay current with the number of emerging technologies. One thing I kept thinking about while reading is how important it is now more than ever to expand your field of view and look for solutions that might exist outside of your field. A prefect example of this is your link describing using the blockchain for academic certifications; who would have thought that an algorithm for a digital currency would translate into the educational realm in such a way. The difficulty of keeping up with just a single field can be daunting which is why I believe Weinberger’s strategies are going to be even more important in the near term.
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Thank you for your comments! Great point about how important it is for leaders to expand their view and look for solutions outside of their field. Bubble wrap was originally designed as wall paper, but that was a failure. A few years later the inventors used it for shipping, and now the last Monday in January is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day!
Cat on a Keyboard-
One of the things in your post I completely agree with is the notion that leaders need to understand what is driving the change. In my post I quoted Brené Brown’s argument that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” Understanding the drivers of change is one of the area’s leaders need to vulnerable because sometimes change is required because of inadequacy or even failure. I have been apart of an organization that had to embrace new technology because they were failing. It was painful to watch the leaders and employees come to terms with their resistance to change and the resulting failure.
Brown, B. (2012, March). Brené Brown. Listening to Shame. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame
I love the Brené Brown video you shared! Your comments are very insightful. It can be difficult to face inadequacy and failure, even if they are necessary for success. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to watch your colleagues confront their resistance to change and to witness the failure. I am hopeful that the lessons learned were able to take the organization to a better situation, and help the people move forward. Thank you for highlighting the importance of vulnerability and its role in innovation, creativity and change. I agree, this is especially important for leaders to consider.