At a recent meeting of the Association For Manufacturing Technology, Daniel Burrus had some interesting things to say about change and technology. A noted author and consultant, Burrus' main point is that companies should do more than adopt new technology as it comes along. The game today is to use technology in new ways to create customer benefits that haven't existed before.
In his explanation (which is detailed in his book, Technotrends: How To Use Technology To Go Beyond Your Competition), Burrus drops a crafty array of one-liners to help make the case: "Use technology not as originally intended (that's what your competition is doing). Beware of past success (it can be your worst enemy). Find out what the other guy is doing and do something else. Change the way people think."
Pithy and memorable lines all, but as you think more about this argument, isn't it mostly describing what's been happening for a very long time? From the printing press to the electric motor to the computer, each new generation of technology brings new opportunity and renders irrelevant those who fail to perceive the new reality it creates.
Or closer to home, consider numerical control. Once just for exotic applications, hardly anyone foresaw that NC would become the staple of metalworking technology that it is today. The early shops that "got it" captured a competitive advantage for years to come.
But it doesn't matter much whether the idea of seizing technologically enabled opportunities is new or old. The more interesting question is where you are on the competitive curve right now. CNC is no longer a differentiator. CAD/CAM?—like CNC, low cost but high-function systems let just about anybody in the game. Quality?—please, that's a given. Indeed, excellent metalworking process technology will increasingly become the norm, particularly as more knowledge is packed into the computers that control the machines.
Burrus does offer a fascinating thought about the next wave. With the advent of new mediums, the information age is now giving way to the communication age. Technology is making it much easier for us to interact with one another, and particularly with customers. Good companies will use that ability to more thoroughly appreciate customer desires and quickly respond. But the truly inventive companies will use the technology to create value in ways that the customer himself never envisioned.