In The High-Velocity Economy, IT Is The Engine

That's truer now than it ever has been, says Jim Carroll, noted futurist and big thinker. And if your upper management doesn't get it, maybe you should look for another job.

John Soat, Contributor

October 8, 2007

4 Min Read

That's truer now than it ever has been, says Jim Carroll, noted futurist and big thinker. And if your upper management doesn't get it, maybe you should look for another job.That's what he told the assembled group of technology managers at the opening keynote of SIMposium 2007, this year's big get together for the Society for Information Management, one of the oldest and most established professional organizations for technology managers. The conference is being held this week in Memphis, at the Peabody Hotel, a landmark of the Mississippi delta only a few blocks from Beale Street, the legendary musical melting pot of gospel and blues that spawned rock 'n' roll.

Sunday evening's festivities began with Marc Cohn's 1991 hit song, >"Walking In Memphis:" I was walking in Memphis Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis But do I really feel the way I feel?

Carroll, the author of "What I Learned from Frogs in Texas: Saving Your Skin with Forward Thinking Innovation," seemed to embrace the atmosphere of secular spiritualism. He prowled the stage like a preacher, exhorting the assembled crowd to take the message of hyper cultural and economic change fueled by information technology back to their companies and use it to force a closer examination of the role of their own technology efforts in new business models, management structure, and collaboration.

"We've got to focus on what's really going on with IT," he said. "There's a crying need for intelligent dialogue."

For one thing, the speed at which business is being conducted is moving faster than most companies acknowledge. And those that don't start revving up will be left behind. "Business cycles are absolutely collapsing," he said. "How do we tap in? How do we develop products faster than ever before?"

Carroll used the example of a video game distributor with which he worked. According to Carroll, from 45% to 60% of the total revenue generated by a video game is made in the first five days after its release. That video game distributor figured out that it had to help its retail customers be as efficient as possible in those first five days. So it did all it could to communicate with them, help with stock outs and tracking sales. The guiding principle, and one that hyper-velocity companies must embrace: what can we do to help run our customer's business better?

Success will come from putting in place an infrastructure that allows us to share knowledge faster, he said. For instance, today there are 19 million known chemical substances, but that number is doubling every 13 years and by 2100 there will 5 billion known chemical substances. What has that got to do with IT? It speaks to the need for massive collaboration and knowledge sharing. The discovery of a single new chemical substance led to Apple being able to shrink the hard drive, and therefore to its development of the iPod -- a multi-billion-dollar product for Apple.

Carroll also pointed to other indicators of disruptive change. For instance, outsourcing used to be primarily an exercise in cost savings. Now, "outsourcing is about accessing skills," which, in the hyper-velocity economy, are its most valuable commodities. That demand for skills will lead to an overhaul in the established workday structure, led by the newest generation entering the workforce, one with few preconceived ideas about work structure. It also will lead to baby boomers working longer in their lives, and that will lead to "the most age-diverse work population" in history.

Carroll summarized his big ideas like this: OBSERVE, THINK, CHANGE (focus on change), BANISH (old ways of thinking: "That's not how we do things," "The boss won't like it"), TRY (even if you fail, you'll build up "experimental capital"), QUESTION, GROW, DO ("Go away from a conference like this and try things you haven't done before!")

Carroll's new book, "Ready, Set, Done: How To Innovate When Faster Is The New Fast," is due later this month. Marc Cohn's new disk, "Join The Parade," is available this week.

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