Werner Heisenberg, the legendary physicist, once said, “…the Universe isn’t stranger than you think; it’s stranger than you can think.” In some ways, you could say the same thing about where digital is heading. We sometimes take for granted how much digital has changed our lives; but we’re still in relatively early days compared to how digital will reshape our lives in the years to come. If a decade ago someone had told you that you’d carry a 6-inch slab of glass and aluminum with you that you’d look at dozens of times per day and that would keep you connected with every breaking piece of news — whether you wanted it to or not — you’d have assumed you were talking with a crazy person.
Fast forward even a year or two from that mental image and consider your reaction when you first heard about Twitter. C’mon, be honest. You probably thought — as I did — that no one could possibly care what anyone had had for lunch that day. Today, we’re questioning its role in deciding our presidential election. Now that’s crazy, right?
Well, brace yourself. It’s going to get a whole lot crazier. Here’s why…
You see, the Internet is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it’s about to get.
Have you tried to buy an old smartphone lately? Not the latest phone, mind you. An old one. Like the 8 year-old iPhone 3GS or its rough contemporary Samsung Nexus S. They’re selling for about twenty to twenty-five bucks on eBay. That’s a device with a color touch screen, a couple of cameras (one shooting relatively high resolution 3-5 megapixel photos), 512MB of memory, 16GB storage, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, near-field communications, gyroscope, accelerometer, light sensor, digital compass, microphone, proximity sensor, and, of course, Internet access.
Now, my point isn’t to get you to go buy a vintage phone. It’s to consider that if the whole phone can be had for less than $30, how little must each of those individual components cost today? Everything you touch, see, and interact with — as well as the vast majority of objects behind the scenes — are starting to connect to the larger world around them. They can see, hear, sense, and feel what’s happening. And they can share that to the cloud where data scientists and, increasingly, artificial intelligences can assess and assign meaning to the mountains of data these sensors spit out. Some of these analyses are fed back to source, moving the intelligence from the cloud back to the “edge,” and enabling those devices — at least in limited circumstances — to “think” for themselves.
In other words, every single object in your world is about to get a whole lot smarter.
Shipping containers can now tell logistics folks exactly where in world they are. Your local UPS driver does the same with the packages on her truck; soon, the package will do that for her automatically. Pharmaceutical companies have begun testing “pills” that transmit data to doctors after patients swallow them to better diagnose symptoms without invasive surgery. Farmers rely on GPS-enabled combines and tractors not just to make the most efficient use of their land, but to have the machines essentially run themselves. Don’t worry, a human being still sits in the cab — for now.
These aren’t science fiction scenarios. These exist today, in pilots and production volumes alike. Yes, in some cases they’re just getting started. But remain conscious of the fact that some of these “green shoots” will rapidly turn into a thriving forest.
What can you do to get ready? Here are a few ideas:
- Apply Agile or Lean practices to your business. In a rapidly-changing environment, the best response isn’t necessarily to get in front of those changes, but instead to learn to quickly respond. The principles behind Agile, Lean, Scrum and other IT development methodologies also work for digital marketers and strategists and can help you adapt more easily as the marketplace shifts. Take some time to see how you can introduce these principles and practices within your business to address customer needs more effectively and efficiently.
- Observe how your customers react to the changing marketplace. Speaking of customers, pay close attention to where their needs and expecations shift as technology becomes ever more present in their lives. Look for opportunities to improve your products, services, and customer experience in-step with your customers. It’s more important that you’re able to address their needs when they’re ready than to be on top of every single change that comes down the pike.
- Remember, not everything will change overnight. Now, I don’t mean to undermine my overall thesis here. We’re going to see amazing changes. But lots of things will stay the same too. People can only accommodate so much change at once, so don’t feel like you have to chase every shiny object. You absolutely must seek opportunities — and address threats — where and when they exist for your business. But it’s OK to let others collect the scars from jumping on every cutting edge advancement.
- Keep learning. Of course, the only way to keep up with the changes is to keep listening and learning and sharing with your colleagues and community. Obviously, I’m pretty confident Biznology plays a role there. That’s a good first step. Continue to check out the resources available to you that will help you keep growing so you can create better experiences for your customers now and in the future — whatever that future holds.
So, yes, the future is coming. And, it’s likely to be stranger than you can think, at least today. But if you work to keep growing, keep listening and keep learning, over time you’ll learn to think… stranger. Until whatever you think becomes the new normal — just like mobile phones and Twitter and countless other innovations we’ve experienced over the last couple decades are now — and doesn’t seem strange in the least.
Professor Heisenberg would be proud.