A few years ago, all the tech gurus talked about amazing new technologies that would disrupt businesses in all industries. One common theme was that these technologies all relied on digital processing power, and the advances being made in computing and communications were behind the explosion of innovation on all fronts.
Looking at internet-of-things, massive data analysis, deep learning and artificial intelligence, all the way through to 3D printing and self-driving cars; even blockchain and the emerging energy internet were all driven by digital disruption. But the disruptive effect on business is often exponentially greater, when these technologies intersect and merge; the combinatorial impact is huge.
Now a more powerful trend is emerging: constant mashups. Combinatorial tech is so obvious, no-one bothers to mention it. Treating technologies as discrete is a self-imposed handicap to innovation. The real disrupters start with a multi-disciplinary vision – anything is possible.
Just as Tesla Autopilot and SpaceX auto-landing rockets both rely on software, sensors and superchips, so too can the robotic production facilities for solar panels and cars also benefit. Specialization is out, mashups are in.
In fact, a great way to innovate is to simply ask those ‘What if?’ questions. “What if we combine MRIs with 3D printing? Could we make a copy of your kidney, while it’s still in your body?”
Seeing beyond the obvious, and dreaming up new mashups – that’s the name of the disruptive innovation game.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
In his extensive 2009 book, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves, leading scientific theorist W. Brian Arthur introduced the idea of combinatorial evolution. Very simply, each of our technologies is a system, assembled from earlier technologies. For example, the GPS and navigation system we take for granted in smartphones combines the earlier technologies of satellites, computing chips, radio receivers, transmitters and atomic clocks into a single, infinitely more valuable technology. Interestingly, the value of a new technology lies not just in what it does, but also in what further technologies it will lead to — every new technology becomes a building block for future technologies, ad infinitum.
In a simpler pre-industrial world, we had fewer things to combine. Today we have a seemingly infinite number of technologies to work with. Our technologies are now deep and complex, with many nested levels, creating an exponential number of possible combinations.
– from The Rise of Conscious Combinatorial Technology by Michael Haupt