Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Both/And Principal

The ability to accurately anticipate the future provides organizations and individuals with a major competitive advantage. In the mid-1980s, I began to notice that top executives, managers, business publications, and the popular press were all making the same false assumptions about the future of technological change. Every time a new product category was introduced, they assumed that the older category would quickly vanish. Notice I said product category. The reason I use that term is because individual products do come and go, based on decisions made by management in each company. For example, in the late-'80s, many futurists made the mistake of predicting that by the late-1990s, our offices would be paperless. As of 2006, we are still waiting! I have developed a series of guiding principles based on my research that have helped me to avoid such mistakes. One of the most powerful I call the Both/And Principle.

Both/And thinking is a powerful corrective to either/or thinking, meaning that the future will be either one way or the other. Both/And recognizes the folly of assuming that the new will totally supplant the old. Both/And recognizes that they can be integrated. The hottest breakthrough technologies tend to coexist and integrate to create new value with their predecessors rather than completely co-opting them. Why? The old tech has its own unique profile of functional strengths.

A key success strategy is to integrate the old and the new based on the strengths of each. The important point here is that in a Both/And world there isn'’t the horrendous pressure to place all or nothing bets on emerging technology. By all means, keep looking into the visible future and acting on what you see. To see the future-– and to profit from it- think Both/And.