Ready for the future? Combining science and technology with policy and regulation and a few other ingredients is the only way to reach true change according to one new book. Continue Reading

Ready for the future? Combining science and technology with policy and regulation and a few other ingredients is the only way to reach true change according to one new book.

Image: Getty/DKosig

Technology is the single biggest force that leads to market disruption, according to Trond Arne Undheim, Ph.D., futurist and author of “Future Tech: How to Capture Value from Disruptive Industry Trends.”

Undheim should know. He is the former director of an MIT startup exchange. In his latest book, which published on March 30, he examines the results of disruption, and points out how a combination of four forces: technology, policy, business models and social dynamics, are what lead to industry disruption. Once someone understands these forces, they can predict what will happen in the future. 

True change is only possible from the collaboration of science and technology, policy and regulation, new business models, or sharing economy and social dynamics, he said.

“Future Tech was written out of the realization that despite massive evidence to the contrary, the common understanding is that technology drives society when it is more of an interplay, especially for succeeding with innovation long term,” Undheim said. “It was part of my strategy to get the maximum out of learning from failure.” He cited his previous work, “Disruption Games: How to Thrive on Serial Failure,” where he pointed out that failing slowly and painfully is the best path to deep wisdom.

His most recent book, he said, “is a lighter take on the subject, drilling in on very basic, but fundamental forces of change in our contemporary world. I’m deeply engaged in understanding the future but in order to do that well, you have to have a framework in place. Otherwise, you end up just inductively looking at any random signal out there, thinking it is more than a fad or trend.”

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He describes his seven years at MIT, where he taught at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, as a 24/7 learning machine. In his newest book, Undheim explained where he believes disruptive forces will come from: “The next decade will be dominated by platform technologies such as AI, blockchain, robotics, synthetic biology and
3D printing


Undheim’s discovery of the four forces, “became the backbone of my work to try to structure the world’s information. Four is a simple enough concept that everyone can remember. Underlying each is a set of key dimensions, which I cover in the book. The point is to move beyond simply considering one force—technology. My work in government—as well as in standardization, which is important both to government and business—has sensitized me to the role that regulation plays in facilitating innovation. My work at MIT Sloan School of Management convinced me that business models no longer are a theoretical exercise carried out by management school professors; it literally makes or breaks businesses overnight. Finally, social dynamics is the correction that people provide on anything that is shiny. ‘Does it work for me? Will I share it with my peer group? Will I create a social movement to support or fight it?’ Society, ultimately, is a constellation made possible by social dynamics, meaning individuals acting in consort, forming teams, groups, networks and societies.”

As an example of the four forces at work, Undheim said, “AI is enabling analytics on epidemiological patterns, drug discovery, advanced tracking of the supply chain and more, algorithms of some form will eventually facilitate nearly every human decision,” and added, “but perhaps not replace it.” 

Blockchain empowers “the next generation of peer-to-peer economic exchange in myriad fields, allowing this activity to occur without a middleman, thus encouraging the kind of distributed activity we need to foster in a post-centralized model where humans need to spread out to avoid contagion.” Despite the fact that blockchain is generally considered a financial solution, Undheim said it “is more akin to an exchange principle” and could empower human interactions and provide some sort of trackable ledger. 

In the time of a pandemic, it’s particularly relevant that, “synthetic biology enables a much more efficient way to produce vaccines in the future and potentially could speed up clinical trials,” he said, and noted that “3D printing is enabling distributed production and consumption of manufactured items without going through a vulnerable, physical supply chain, even printing metals and now wood. Imagine what this might mean for sustainability if you can print physical goods using all kinds of recycled material, including organic.”

Undheim concluded: “The goal with all of my work is not only to help executives and policy makers better understand change but also to profit from it and make the world a better place,” 

He’s looking toward the big picture: “I’m always going for magnitudes of impact, not just incremental improvements. We don’t have much time. I reckon we have about 500 years left on this planet, if we are lucky. This is the subject of a book I’m hopefully coming out with in 2022.”

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