Here’s what we mean when we say the pace of change and innovation is accelerating.
This is what I read yesterday, from James Fallows, in his post on The Atlantic, A Better Battery — Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and former secretary of energy, and Yi Cui, a celebrated battery researcher who works with Chu at Stanford, describe how an overhaul of the unglamorous battery will jump-start a shift to renewable energy:
There is a slow march toward improving today’s systems, by 5 or 10 percent a year. Meanwhile, many innovative companies, scientists, and engineers are exploring novel approaches. Many of them may not work. But there is a reasonable chance that a couple may work—and really work, to double or triple energy density and lower cost. If you are a battery company and your cost per unit of storage doesn’t drop by a factor of two in the next five years, you are going to be out of business.
(Steven Chu, as told to James Fallows).
In other words, if you are in the battery business, no matter how good your battery is today, it is not good enough for tomorrow, and certainly not for the day after tomorrow. Someone will come out with a battery that is dropping in cost in a hurry, and if you are in the battery business, and it is not your company that does that, then your company will be… out of business.
So, I remembered the opening chapter of the Thomas Friedman book, The World is Flat. That chapter, “While I was Sleeping,” was where Mr. Friedman described how while we were all “distracted” by the attacks of 9/11, and the goings on in Baghdad, the world kept right on changing. From the book:
I realized something really important had happened while I was fixated on the olive groves of Kabul and Baghdad. Globalization had gone to a whole new level.
In other words, no matter how much we focus on terrorism, or Crimea and Ukraine, in the world of business and change and innovation, the pace of change is ongoing, even accelerating.
I remember when the iPhone 5 came out. iPhone users were so unhappy. Apple had changed the size of the charging cable port. It was smaller. “Why did Apple do that?,” we all screamed, as we had to buy a new car charger to go along with the cost of the new iPhone. The answer – it has to be smaller, because the old, “clunky, too-big” charger” was taking up too much room inside the phone. Apple is in the “let’s keep making products that are bigger, more powerful, faster – and smaller!” business. The less room the charging port takes up, the more room for other, help-things-be-stronger, faster technology to fit inside… And every time that their next new phone hits the market, there are already teams hard at work to make the next round of innovative, for-the-better versions. Always.
This is happening everywhere, all the time.
In The Second Machine Age, we read that progress seems almost non-existent until, all at once, the change is upon us. And I’m beginning to read hints that some big changes — changes we have been waiting for — are just about upon us. Solar power is now close to fulfilling its promise. The Tesla (and its work on batteries) is about to be truly breathtaking. The list can go on and on…
Here’s your lesson: no matter how good your product or service is, it has to be better tomorrow than it is today. And, pretty soon. And not just a little bit better, but big-leaps-forward better.
Because while we are sleeping, someone somewhere is on the verge of putting you out of business.