Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Eight new trends—or examples of well-known trends of evolution?

Consultants write articles for a lot of reasons. Two leading reasons are: (1) A genuine desire to share their research with the world (2) Show how smart they are, to get people interested in hiring them.

Since I am a consultant writing an article, it would be ungracious to attribute selfish motives to the most recent article on trends of evolution in the IT world to the McKinsey researchers. As a very large, successful consulting company, McKinsey has access to a lot of research just from studying their own clients, and those of us in more limited environments can take advantage of their work. (ref.1) Let’s compare the McKinsey trends to those in TRIZ—even though different TRIZ authors use different labels, this should be pretty easy—and see if there are new trends emerging. (ref. 2 & 3)

They have identified 8 technology-enabled trends in 3 areas of business activity:
A. Managing Relationships
1. Distributing co-creation—both distributing it throughout the supplier/customer value chain and to outsiders. Sounds a lot like recognizing that “somebody, someplace, has solved your problem—creativity is modifying that solution to apply in your circumstances.” And it sounds a lot like using elements of the supersystem (as in the System Operator) to solve the problem.
2. Using consumers as innovator—special case of (1)
3. Tapping into the world of talent (using networks of freelancers)—special case of (1)
4. Extracting more value from interactions—business innovations such as “outsourcing” of clerical tasks can provide much more value by providing statistical analysis of the work done by the clerks and by providing management of the work. Likewise, outsourced engineering drafting work is rapidly being upgraded to improving the configuration management of the drawings and improving the designs in the drawings.

B. Managing Capital and Assets
5. Expanding the frontiers of automation (specifically for information)—this gets very close to the ideal final result of information handling. First, the customer gets her own information, reducing the cost of customer service, improving speed, and improving satisfaction. At a more advanced level, the information itself controls the entire system (such as RFID information controlling inventory management systems.) Both required large investments to start, with an unknown payoff.
6. Unbundling production from delivery—direct application of the TRIZ “Segmentation” trend. Examples include everything from Amazon’s providing software and logistics services to the sale of fractional ownership of real estate or jet aircraft.
C. Leveraging Information New Ways
7. Putting more science into management—use the available information in ways that were not anticipated when the information was generated. Sounds quite a bit like the “Uneven development of parts” pattern from the classical patterns of evolution? As well as taking advantage of all the resources in the system, once the resources are recognized.
8. Making businesses from information—more use of resources. Google and other search systems (best fare from India to Alaska, best price for a new coat…) are early examples. I saw a great example recently: instead of paying several hundred thousand dollars to install traffic sensing devices (to post the time delays on a highway, so people could plan alternate routes and reduce air pollution), an entrepreneur realized that the busy-ness of cell phone towers, and the rate of change of access to the towers, is an excellent measure of how fast the cars are moving on the nearby highways, and he could access that date very inexpensively. The cell phone company now has a new business—selling data about the state of the tower—and the city has what it needs at lower cost. “Meta-data” is the buzzword to watch for.

My conclusion: No new trends, but good new examples for those of us who need to practice identifying trends. Readers comments are WELCOME!

J. Manyika, R. Roberts, K. Sprague, “Eight business technology trends to watch” McKinsey Quarterly, December 2007
B. Zlotin, A. Zusman, Directed Evolution. 2001. and
D. Mann, Hands On Systematic Innovation. 2007, Hands On Systematic Innovation for Management, 2007.

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