In their overview blog post from Techon­o­my 2012, Sarah Eve­lyn Har­vey and Adri­enne Burke describe it as “a con­fer­ence about how the expo­nen­tial pace of tech­nol­o­gy process makes pos­si­ble a new world. We are gath­er­ing a diverse group of expert voic­es for a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary dia­logue about cre­at­ing a bet­ter future. Today is the sec­ond day of the three-day event, and top­ics include the geo-engi­neer­ing, Chi­na and Africa as new fron­tiers, U.S. com­pet­i­tive­ness, and robots!” Since I couldn’t be there, I have been track­ing it online.

Success? Failure?One fas­ci­nat­ing pan­el dis­cus­sion was about “Who’s Vul­ner­a­ble Among the Internet’s ‘Fan­tas­tic Four’? Techon­o­my Pan­elists Say It’s Apple And Face­book.” Antho­ny Ha did a short but cogent sum­ma­tion of the event, and the “vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties” of Apple and Face­book was some­thing to think about. What was said? Accord­ing to what I read on the blog: Apple could be tak­en down by los­ing its tech­no­log­i­cal or its trendi­ness edge. Then, too, it could find itself with too many bricks on its back, mean­ing that all their store­fronts could prove to be dead­weight in a world mov­ing more and more to e-sales.

On Face­book, one key con­cern is how lit­tle is known of the think­ing of its founder, Mark Zucker­berg, because of his rel­a­tive obscu­ri­ty for such a promi­nent play­er in the tech­no space. Beyond that, the com­pa­ny was pinged for hav­ing too high a cost struc­ture and for being slow out of the gate in mon­e­tiz­ing mobile trans­ac­tions. There were also com­ments that the “big four” could be assault­ed by a new com­pa­ny, per­haps one using “a new tech­nol­o­gy that isn’t yet eco­nom­ic”.

How does one think about such mus­ings? From my research, four points are worth not­ing:

  • Find­ing your next is a chal­lenge even for the biggest and most suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies — and per­haps more so as the chal­lenge of con­tin­ued growth on a large base is daunt­ing.
  • Today’s advan­tages (such as Apple’s retail stores) can become tomorrow’s lia­bil­i­ties and “sens­ing” when to shift orga­ni­za­tion­al pri­or­i­ties is crit­i­cal. A sub­tle dimen­sion of find­ing your next is the abil­i­ty to know when to redi­rect invest­ment from wan­ing assets class­es (like retail).
  • Fore­sens­ing is about iden­ti­fy­ing pos­si­ble pro­duc­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties for the future and not about iden­ti­fy­ing sure things. The mantra “fail often, fail fast, and fail cheap­ly” holds true when it comes to nextsens­ing.
  • Your upend­ing may not come from a big and known com­peti­tor. Thus, con­stant­ly observ­ing — espe­cial­ly on the periph­ery — can help you get an “ear­ly sense of things” before oth­ers. It is not a ques­tion of whether a new com­peti­tor will emerge but, rather, when and from where. The big­ger you are, the far­ther you have to fall. As one of the com­ments post­ed on the blog (by Michael Long) notes, “Apple? Maybe, but are we for­get­ting just how quick­ly the world switched from Alta Vista’s search engine to Google? One day AV was — quite lit­er­al­ly — at the top of the heap. Google knocked them off in less than a year. All you need is a major dis­rup­tion in search, one that gives quan­ti­ta­tive­ly bet­ter results, and a new search engine is just a click away. And with it go Google’s ad rev­enues. Boom.”

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