Is there a better instance of “speed of change” than that just when you are instancing something as a prime example of future change, you next read of it as history? We keep reminding ourselves that change is running at faster rates than we imagined, or than we experienced in childhood or at other times. My usual counter to this has been to point out how slowly things happen. Between announcement and implementation whole decades seem to yawn, so that when the signalled change does take place, we experience something like dejas vu. Yet I do share the “speed of change” experience myself, and last week, just as I was writing about the automation of aspects of building design and construction, I started to tell a friend, standing on my soapbox as a former farming person, about the developments one could forecast in agriculture. “And so”, I recall ending my peroration,” it is plain to see that the tractor is a robot waiting to happen…”

Well, he was kind enough to wait an hour or so before sending me the article about research at John Deere, and while looking at that I came across Jaybridge Robotics ( and their work with Kinze to create Kinze Autonomy, the driverless tractor. This development is capable of performing a complete harvesting workflow in a geo-location-based systems environment which was launched in Iowa on July 29th. My friend kindly wrote “Your prediction was History – but remind me why I needed to know…” And there lies the problem: we need to know how our users are likely to adapt to change at the same time that they make that decision. In an information market where corporate planning times have diminished from a standard five years when I entered work, to a budget plus a forecast it is becoming peculiarly hard to negotiate the hair-pin bends of market change while keeping an eye on the horizon. I even have one colleague who does two six month budgets a year and still complains how hard it is to cope with changing circumstances.

Last Friday, Sonoma issued their interim results. How often have you read a media company boss like Harri-Pekka Kaukonen, President and CEO, say things like this:

“Learning’s solid performance continued in the second quarter whereas
structural changes accelerated in consumer media.
Advertising markets in Sanoma’s main operating countries continued to be
depressed. The likelihood of clearly improving market conditions in the second
half of the year is estimated to be low. In addition, circulation sales
continue to be under pressure, impacting our sales and profitability”


For the past five years we could have produced automated statements to this effect for every media player throughout Europe and North America. And while I am sure that the wise folk at Sanoma have new strategies to roll out in due course, I find it deeply disturbing that much of the consumer print media marketplace seems to have been sleepwalking for the last five years, and for the five years before that when structural change began. So do we really have a ten year reaction time to fundamental change? Lets move forward quickly to James Dolan, CEO of Cablevision, the fifth largest cable player in the US, as quoted this morning by the Wall Street Journal ( “The Future of Cable might not include TV”). Now here is someone who can imagine the impact of structural change when he senses it. In the wars between programme makers, internet distributors and video channels like Netflix he seems determined to be prepared, even if he is not a television player in the future. Allocating capital expenditures of $1.1 billion last year to upgrading his network, he is determined to work as a broadband distributor, offering higher speeds, greater outdoor wifi access and cloud-based storage allowing users the ability to record up to ten items at the same time. He notes that his kids (he has six boys from 6 to 26) use Netflix on Cablevision Broadband. One of his investors remarks” Jim has a multi-generational view, a longer term view”. Some people see change, and are able to think about the unthinkable.

Sometimes the best way to envision the future is to watch other people betting on it. This is why the start-up markets are so interesting, to me at least, and why watching the drift of interest in venture capital-backed plays can be so useful. I have to believe that setting up VC-style growth greenhouses makes sense (as Macmillan Education and Science, and a number of others have grasped). I noted that some now believe that the tech development impetus in Europe has moved from London to Berlin (, but where it is does not really matter. We all have to go there and see what is happening. In the UK there is a traditional gap between university science park developments and tech development zones like London’s Shoreditch, so I was pleased to see Elsevier sponsoring the Global University Venturing Summit ( which takes place in October this year. If you want to smell the future, get into meetings like this, stop thinking about what has changed and start thinking about what will.


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