Managing Fast Change The Power Tools of the Next Economy

The exponential progress in technology undeniably influences every aspect of business, the economy, and society. Accelerated change is the daily reality we face — and events are speeding up. These convergent technologies are exponentially increasing in months, not years or decades. Consider that Internet traffic doubles every six months; wireless capacity doubles every nine months; optical capacity doubles every twelve months; storage doubles every fifteen months; and chip performance (per Moore's Law) doubles every eighteen months.

Will we as a nation be ready to adapt to this pace of change? Will we as a nation be ready to be a global leader in a world where radical technological, social, and economic change occurs overnight, not over a century as in the past? There are vast social policy questions and challenges we have yet to ponder, yet to debate, and yet to understand.

Trying to manage fast and complex change is always a messy business for organizations and people, and even more so for nations. Large systemic change most often happens around a crisis like war or the identification of a potential threat or opportunity. Planned change can backfire. So can policy that attempts to predict the future rather than allow the market economy and free enterprise to rule. Yet there is a role for raising awareness and better directing science policy and private sector coordination that must reflect the changing times.

One would argue that the need to bridge the gap between policy and the fast-changing global market economy may be critically important to the nation's future prosperity and global leadership. A more directed technology policy that is both in sync with the marketplace and capable of rapid responsive change — enabling all sectors of society — would be the preferred direction for the future.

There have been instances where a planned change process was beneficial for the nation such with government management of telecommunications giant ATT as a regulated monopoly. Some innovations are too valuable not to promote in the public's interest. Certainly, supply has driven demand often, such as with the telegraph, train routes, and the telephone. Even the Internet, though never considered by its inventors as the power tool it is today, was built ahead of demand. Enlightened public policymakers understood the immense value of these technologies to shape the economic opportunity of a nation. There are some today who argue with merit for turning the next generation of the Internet, broadband, into a utility so that all Americans can gain access and enhance their productivity.

We are again at this crossroads. The convergence of these critical technologies, nano, bio, info, and cogno, may cause deeper disruptions sooner then any prior technologies. We may not have generations or decades to foster national collaboration. We may have a brief period, perhaps a few years, to raise awareness and committed actions at the national scale before serious global competitive challenges arise.

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