.. we might also have it our office buildings, pipelines, airplanes, and even our sports equipments. These are new, smart materials that will give off warnings when they detect excessive stress. Materials in bridges or airplanes, for instance, could send a signal to a central operator when they detect stress, and that operator could send a return signal for the materials to respond to the stress. Automobile parts could give us a similar warning when they are approaching the point of breakdown.
What is really amazing is that these materials will be designed with sensors built into the molecular structure of material. And, not too far in the future, they will be inexpensive enough to be in products all around us. Ninth on my list are anti-aging and weight-control products. That is something we would like to see. Over the next decade, we will see the development of a host of high-tech weight-control and anti-aging products for all the aging baby boomers.
Unfortunately, no Fountain of Youth is on the horizon. If it was, I would be back in the lab working on it myself. Nevertheless, new products will make aging a little less traumatic. In fact, we think technology will allow us to look forward to active and comfortable retirements well into our 80s. These new products may include: weight-control drugs that use the body’s natural weight-control mechanism, wrinkle creams that actually work foods with enhanced nutrients, and an effective cure for baldness. The final item on my list is not technically a single, specific product. It is more a trend that will change the way we obtain many products, especially computers and major household appliances.
Within the next decade, we will begin to lease these products rather than buy them. Already, some utilities are developing programs that would allow you to lease expensive appliances (like water heaters) that use their respective sources of power. The trend for utilities is that over the next several years they will transform into”comfort companies.” Instead of selling you a furnace, for instance, they well sell you the comfort of maintaining the proper temperature in every room in your house. Those are my predictions. But what may be even more important are the lessons we have learned as we’ve put together the forecasts. Three of those lessons are particularly noteworthy.
They apply to business decisions that leaders in any industry make in this race to the 21st century. The first lesson we learned is that we have to be more aggressive than ever in tracking technology. Technology is growing and spreading around the world faster than zebra muscles in the Great Lakes. Historically, the United States has taken the entrepreneurial lead in developing new technologies. Biotechnology is a good example.
But today, that entrepreneurial spirit is spreading around the global, and hot new technologies are growing everywhere. But here is the problem: That makes our jobs even more challenging, because: one more technology means increased competitive pressure. And two more technology means it will become harder and harder and harder to identify and keep track of the specific developments they can make a real difference for us, or our competitor. I mention that the increased emphasis on time-to-market has been one of the big competitive change in the R & D (Research and Development) over the pass twenty years. We see it every day in the United States.
Just recently, a new toothbrush was developed for Teledyne Waterpik five times faster than any other one of the market. Another example is Battlle company, developed the coating that was the key ingredient for the next-generation interactive globe. These were completely new developments, but the company had to take them from the idea stage to the store shelf in a year or less-and, of course, in time for the Christmas buying reason. Therefore, time-to-market is the key competitive factor. Of course, to get new products out on the market quickly, we have to be able to identify and acquire the key developments in today’s widespread sea of technology.
The second lesson is one that folks in Ames may be as familiar with as we are in Chicago: We’ll go crazy trying to predict ISU-Illinois basketball games. In other words, stick to what you know – and team up with people who know the rest. Companies which have business in technology, especially technology in several key markets, are often comfortable making predictions. We cannot predict who is going to win Olympic medals, but we can forecast how technology will change the Olympic games over the next twenty years. Even thought my dorms sits practically across the street from ISU, and I can see Hilton Coliseum form my room window, there is no was I am going to try to predict what might happen when ISU meets up with Illinois. And with technology and global markets expanding in nearly every conceivable field, industry’s facing a similar challenge.
It’s getting harder ad harder to know everything we need to know about every aspect of our business. Today, for more and more companies, the answer is the alliance. Companies are focusing their internal efforts on their own core competencies, and they are developing alliances with other organizations to bring in technology related to their business. Through these partnerships, they are gaining access to new technologies and world-class scientist and engineers – and at the same time reducing costs. Over the next ten to fifteen years, we are going to see business going one step further. This movement toward more technology alliances and partnerships is really just a transition. Basically, we are going to see the emergence of the virtual company and the total R & D alliance.
A company might maintain a vice president of technology to manage a network of R & D alliances with supplies, universities, and R & D organizations. Maybe it would have a staff of its own scientists and engineers housed right in one or more of those other organizations. This type of setup could be the ultimate way for a company to focus its sources on its core business and still be able to access the latest technology at the least cost. That brings me to the third and final lesson about the race to the 21st century. So far, I’ve mentioned scanning for technology and building alliances. The third point refers to making technology matter. As I mentioned above, technology alone is not the fuel that can give us the lead in this race we are all in.
There were many amazing technologies that did not make our top-ten list. They were fascinating to dream about. But that does not mean they would lead to valuable products. And it gets even more complex, because many of these technologies will merge and open up vast new areas for growth. For instance, when we cross biotechnology and advanced electronic, that opens up a whole new field of biologically based electronics.
Will we be growing organic computer chips? Many, if not most, of tomorrow’s top products will come from this merging of two or more technologies. Mastering this vast web of technology will be a necessary step in winning the race to the 21st century and beyond. But it won’t be sufficient. The companies that will win that race are the companies that will be able to anticipate market forces and acquire incorporate the right technology into their business. We need to combine a savvy understanding of market forces with a through knowledge of available and potential technology. That combination will be the fuel that powers us to develop the hottest products of tomorrow. Innovative thinking, powered by advanced technology, fueled by consumer demand, driven by responsibility and common sense will allow us taking the lead on preserving the environment and keeping customer priorities front and center.
But taking that type of initiative to link technology to the marketplace we can use technology to do more than just improve efficient. Our goal should be to capture and use technology to gain value-and grab a competitive edge. The story with Teledyne WaterPik’s SenSonic toothbrush I mentioned earlier is one of the best recent examples of a company using that combination of market awareness and technology initiative to grab a competitive edge. They are using technology and market awareness to provide their customers with a more valuable product. And that is how they are working to win the race to the 21st century. I have made a lot of predictions about technology and about this race that we are all in.
But still, there is really only one prediction that I can guarantee. It is that market and technology forces will continue to transform industry, and we will all have to keep up with them if we want to succeed. We will all have to be futurists. Each business will have to develop its own forecast of leading technology and market trends that will impact the company in the decade ahead. And, they will have to continually monitor and revise that forecast and their own technology strategies.
Technology alone will not secure our success. But focusing on the future with on eye on the marketplace and the other on technology trends- that is what will put us in the fast lane to the 21st century.