Editor's note: This article was excerpted from Yoram Solomon's book, "Bowling with a Crystal Ball: How to predict technology trends, create disruptive implementations and navigate them through industry"
I have for quite some time believed that fast-moving technology trends are moving at a constant rate and are more predictable than generally believed. A few years ago, I became determined to find out why.
My book, Bowling with a Crystal Ball provides an in-depth view of my research. This article summarizes the core ideas.
I am a great follower of Clayton Christensen's work on disruptive technologies, and that has guided me in my pursuit to understand the impact of those technologies on consumer markets, and specifically the $1.3 trillion electronic product market.
It was not until I sat through a lecture by Michael Raynor, Christensen's co-author of The Innovator's Solution, that I realized how my perspective is different.
Figure 1: Where to look for disruptions
Christensen (The Innovator's Dilemma, The Innovator's Solution, Seeing What's Next) takes a market (Market A), once disrupted or created by a technology (Technology 1), and looks for the next technology (Technology 2) that will disrupt it next by adding a new dimension of value, and therefore will look for the new disruption at Point X.
My perspective focuses on the technologies themselves, which have disrupted and will disrupt markets, and follows them to the point of disrupting another market. As the investment in those technologies continues, regardless of the fact that the improvements in those technologies offer no real value-add to the markets they serve, they look for other markets to disrupt.
I follow the technologies, and not the markets they disrupt. I look for the next market (Market B) vulnerable to disruption by the same technology (Technology 1) that disrupted Market A. I will look for new disruptions at Point Y.
There is no right and wrong here. Both disruptions will occur. A new technology will disrupt Market A, while the "old" technology will go on to disrupt Market B.
I proved my theory through interviews of the key innovators in different high-tech industriesthose technologies do progress at a constant rate, and there is a reason for that!
I gained an interesting insight through this research. The initial investment in those technologies, be it the semiconductors or the hard disk drives, was fueled by the electronics product market.
However, those technologies, or markets, then took on a life of their own and went on to disrupt those same markets that gave birth to them. Those technologies then went on to disrupt other markets.
Market disruptions create opportunities. The $1.3 trillion electronic product market is a hotbed for them. Some can reach billions of dollars, and some "only" hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the key underlying technologies that enable the growth of the electronic products market is the semiconductor component market, a $250 billion market by itself.
The concepts set forth in Bowling with a Crystal Ball will help you identify opportunities, big and small, that are close to your line of business, enabling your company or business unit to experience the type of growth possible only when discontinuities are involved.
Is it enough? I have been involved in many industry activities, ranging from participating in standard creation, to billion-dollar company alliances, without which none of those opportunities could turn into revenue and profits.
Three components are necessary to succeed: the ability to predict the key technological trends, the ability to find the opportunities for those technologies to disrupt markets, and finally the actions you need to take to turn those opportunities into success stories.
Predicting the future
On April 19, 1965, Electronics magazine published a four-page article, written by the director of the Fairchild semiconductor research and development laboratories.
The article, "Cramming more components onto integrated circuits," was subtitled "With unit cost falling as the number of components per circuit rises, by 1975 economics may dictate squeezing as many as 65,000 components on a single silicon chip."
This article would turn out to be one of the most visionary technology papers ever written. Dr. Gordon E. Moore, the author, left Fairchild in 1968 with Bob Noyce to create the largest semiconductor company in the world today, Intel. In the decades that followed, adherents referred to the futuristic view presented in that article as "Moore's law."
I was born in the same year, 1965, and was three months old when Electronics published this article. Of course, at the time, I was not as aware of the importance of that article as I am today. I was busy with other things, more existential and primitive.
As I am writing this book in 2006, a 12-inch silicon wafer, manufactured with a 90-nanometer CMOS process, can hold 25.7 billion logical gates and a single 25mm2 integrated circuit chip can hold more than three million logical gates.
Today, Moore's predictions seem utterly remote and conservative, but back in 1965, Moore's paper was one of the most visionary ever written.
We need to understand the background for Moore's article. It was only seven years earlier, in 1958, when Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments invented the first integrated circuit. That crude-looking device earned Kilby the Noble Prize in Physics in 2000.
In his article, Moore writes, "[A]t present, it [minimum cost] is reached when 50 components are used per circuit." Then he goes on to project that in 1970, the minimum cost would be achieved with 1,000 components, and in 1975, that minimum would be 65,000.
He was being somewhat held back by his own imagination when he stated, "I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer."
Can we really predict the future? The answer is no. And, yes. Nobody (well, at least nobody I know) can predict the future accurately. However, you will be surprised how close to reality you can really get if you ask the right questions, and more importantlyif you do not let a limited imagination be an obstacle.