Tech Track: Tech innovation verges on Alice in Wonderland
By Kelvin Kemm
A while ago in the evening I went flying in a helicopter. It was a beautiful evening with still clear air.
We flew with the doors open and the view was fantastic. It was not my first helicopter flight, but before we took off as I stood on the runway looking at the large helicopter, I thought to myself: “How can those four skinny lightweight rotor blades lift that helicopter?”
I am a scientist so I know the maths and physics of how it really works, but just looking with a layman’s perspective so to speak, it seemed impossible that the helicopter should fly.
There are many other such wonders in our modern world. When I watch a large passenger jet like a Boeing or Airbus take off it looks as if it should not fly. The body is huge and the wings seem too small. If the wave of a magic wand could bring the Wright brothers back for a few minutes to see such a large aircraft they would never believe that the aircraft would fly. Imagine convincing the Wright brothers that you can get dinner on board, and watch a movie.
People these days just accept that the modern technological wonders are reasonable. They accept without question and without marvelling at why or how these things work at all. For example think of cell phones. When cell phones first came out people were amazed that you could sit in a car and talk while the car moved.
Now people just expect to be able to stand under their favourite tree and to make a phone call to anywhere in the world. To the average person it just feels reasonable. Think of the World Wide Web and the internet. It is mind boggling that one can type something like; “elephant migration” into the Google search engine and in under a second have tens of thousands of articles to look at.
Consider GPS, how can a few satellites way up in space direct my car to one specific house, and it does not cost me a million rand. What is even more amazing is that these few satellites are directing millions of vehicles all over the world at the same time.
South Africa has a telecommunications cable that runs from the KwaZulu-Natal coast and runs 17000km under the ocean through the Red Sea, and comes out in London. It is a fibre optic cable. That means that it is a thin glass tube not much larger than a human hair, and a laser beam is passed through this cable carrying telephone conversations, thousands of them. Mind blowing.
Only a few years ago people would never have believed that cell phones were possible, or GPS or fibre optic cables and the list goes on. But now such technological advances are just accepted as reasonable. Only five or ten years ago many of these technologies were in the realm of science fiction and magic.
Scientific advance continues, so that means that in five and ten year’s time we will have everyday technologies that in this day and age seem like science fiction and magic.
It is, therefore, very dangerous to predict too far into the future with any certainty.
This is why companies need to carry out scenario planning. Scenario planning is a case of looking into the future and trying to project the extremes of what may happen so that one can guide the company on a growth path. A standard future projection, which is what most companies do, is known as the default scenario. It is also known that the default scenario is always wrong. So most companies plan on a future projection which is wrong the day they start.
The future will have so many unexpected turns, combined with technology advances which now appear to be like magic. It is scary, and companies really need to stay awake to not be caught out. It is quite difficult to do a mind-stretching exercise in which you have to force yourself to imagine a future in which business prospects exist, which now look more like an Alice in Wonderland story. But that future date is only just around the corner.
Dr Kelvin Kemm is a nuclear physicist and is chief executive of Stratek Business Strategy Consultants, a project management company [email protected]