Businesses should embrace change or prepare to fail

Canadian businesses must be prepared to embrace innovation and changes in technology – or run the risk of becoming obsolete.

That was the focus of keynote speaker Peter Diamandis‘ talk on Monday at the Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery conference. Diamandis, founder and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, addressed about 2,400 people at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, telling business owners, academics and students in high tech that when it comes to solving the world’s problems, innovators can look at disruptive technology as either a source of stress, or as an opportunity.

Case in point? Just look at computers, Diamandis argued.

“In 2010, an average computer that all of us have at home … was calculating at 10 to the 11th cycles per second, a 100 billion calculations per second,” he said. “In 2023, just a decade from now, the average thousand-dollar computer … can now calculate 10 to the 16th cycles per second, which is just a number unless you talk to a neurophysiologist who will tell you that’s the rate that the brain does pattern recognition. That’s the rate at which your visual and auditory cortex understands what you hear and what you see.”

“So what happens when the average computer is thinking as fast as the human mind?”

Taking the stage after Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, Diamandis gave the example of former photography giant Kodak, which made its name in cameras and chemical processes. He argued the company was slow to embrace digital photography, leading to its bankruptcy declaration in January 2012. In stark contrast, a few months after that, Facebook Inc. bought popular photo-sharing app Instagram Inc. for a cool $1 billion. Instagram hit the 100 million active user mark in February 2013.

Instagram was at the forefront of something that Kodak couldn’t accept – that technology was shifting. Kodak was an example of linear tech, while Instagram is a prime example of what Diamandis calls exponential tech. He added that if businesses want to take advantage of all that innovation has to offer, they need to:

1. Embrace exponential technologies

Diamandis named cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and 3D printing as disruptive technologies that will shake up business as we know it.

For example, IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, has the ability to mine and read data sets much faster than any human could hope to do. Famous for winning a showdown on popular quiz show Jeopardy against the game’s two greatest champions, IBM announced last week it’d be rolling out Watson as a call centre solution for customer service delivery.

And when it comes to 3D printing, the sky is the limit, Diamandis said. It’ll only be a matter of time before we’re all using 3D printing to make not only consumer goods like our clothing and our kids’ toys, but anything we want with plastic, glass and even human cells.

Any company that is currently part of a supply chain or that transports goods has to be prepared for this wave of innovation, Diamandis said.

2. Crowdsource

The players who stand to gain the most from disruptive technology tend to be entrepreneurs, Diamandis said, while people who run billion-dollar companies are right to be a little more wary.

With so much change coming our way, entrepreneurs need to be ready to ask for the funding to kickstart their ideas and put them into motion. He pointed to his own brainchild, the X Prize Foundation, as a way of offering incentives to entrepreneurs to solve a problem.

The first X Prize was $10 million, awarded in 2004 to the first team of engineers who could build a reusable, manned spacecraft. And although Diamandis didn’t have the money when he first announced the prize in 1996, he was confident it would all come together.

Today’s entrepreneurs need to connect to a community of other entrepreneurs, he said during a Q&A session following his talk. That will help them look out for possibilities and also keep up with news of fast-moving changes in the high-tech industry.

3. Be prepared for abundance

Although many believe the world is growing worse and worse economically, Diamandis said there’s a lot of cause to be optimistic about the future.

Say what you want about the economic crisis in Europe, but there is really an abundance of resources if we tap into them properly, Diamandis said. He pointed to one of his own projects, Planetary Resources, which is aiming to mine near Earth asteroids.

“We’re on the brink of wholesale change in everything we’re doing,” Diamandis said. “Not 50 years from now. This decade.”

Featuring more than 400 exhibitors, this is the OCE Discovery conference’s eighth year in session. It continues through Tuesday.

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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