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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Exponential Technologies...face into them or face extinction?

exponential technologies

This week a fellow alumnus from January’s Executive Programme at Singularity University shared an article. It was about a ground-breaking operation in India where doctors rebuilt part of a woman’s spine with a vertebra that had been made using a 3D printer. The 32 year old woman, suffering from spinal tuberculosis, would now be able to walk again. The operation was truly life changing for her.

The piece rekindled many memories from my own week at Singularity University, based on the NASA campus at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley, and reinforced for me just how significant these exponential technologies are likely to be over the next decade. For example:

  • The cost of DNA sequencing the full genome in 1999 was around $2.7 billion and it took around 13 years. Now it costs around $1000 and takes a matter of hours. The impact? Cancer can be detected pre-stage 1 through RNA detection in blood tests.
  • The cost of a photo-voltaic (PV) cell in 1977 was in the region of $76.67. In 2016 it is about $0.03. If 0.3% of the earth’s land mass were covered with PV cells, this would power the world’s energy needs in 2030.
  • The amount of capital invested in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in 2012 was $589 million. In four years this had increased almost 10 times to $5016 million. Using 3D modelling AI can predict heart failure with 80% accuracy – cardiologists are about 60% accurate.
  • 35% of the engine of a Cessna light aircraft is 3D printed. There is a 3D printer on the International Space Station which can print tools for astronauts to use.
  • Virtual Reality tools have been used with burn victims to affect change in the neural pathways and reduce pain.

And so it goes on. Undoubtedly we are on the brink of a digital revolution of the size and scale similar to the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and this will have significant consequences. The World Employment and Social Outlook report suggested that 47% of all jobs are vulnerable to technological change in the next 20 years – which fundamentally changes the world of work in which we operate today. Change is coming at an alarming rate, particularly if the curve is exponential.

From an organisational perspective there are also consequences. In the 1920s, the average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 was 67 years – today it is around 15 years. To remain relevant and indeed profitable, is going to require a different philosophy, skillset and approach compared to what has been used in the past.

Leaders will therefore need to re-orientate their main focus, looking outside of their businesses rather than inside them when thinking about how to deal with this technological tsunami that is coming. It will require them to scan horizons, to seek out and identify technologies that will transform their own organisations and to look out for technologies that may disrupt their traditional business models. Those who do adapt stand a good chance of surviving and even thriving – but those who do not face a very challenging future indeed.

To read the latest research from the School for CEOs and what 67 Chairmen, CEOs and HR Directors thought about the challenges of organisational leadership in the next 10 years, click here

This article was written by David Sole, Co-founder of School for CEOs.  

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