(Very early) this morning Paul and I attended a breakfast debate at the RAC Club on the impact of technology on business, which particularly focused on the manufacturing sector.
The debate was moderated by Simon Jack, from R4’s Today programme, who was flanked by two forward looking big hitters, David Rowan, editor of the UK’s WIRED magazine and Paul Markillie, innovation editor at The Economist.
While 3D printing dominated much of the debate (sometimes too much in my opinion) there were some very interesting topics covered particularly around the impact of a technologically driven economy on the jobs market (what was dubbed ‘jobs lite’) as well as emerging peer-peer models which have the potential to disrupt many traditional industries such as banking.
A number of warnings for businesses preparing for the future were clearly articulated too:
- With technology helping to smash traditional barriers to entry, there is no reason why the factories in Shenzhen can’t come up with the same ideas as California (as well as manufacture them) – the West can’t be too arrogant
- The threat of peer-peer business models, which cut out the expensive middle man, are a huge challenge for some industries who must get better at connecting people
- Large businesses must be prepared to compete against ‘bedroom’ businesses with low overheads and high margins. 7 out of the 100 top e-books bought on Kindle are from non professionally published authors, for example
As the debate focussed on the removal of barriers to entry, however, there was an assumption that everyone of us is a closet entrepreneur. Are we all really eager to ditch ‘formal’ employment and set up shop in our bedrooms with a 3D printer? While entrepreneurship is certainly rife in many parts of the UK and the world, it would be easy to underestimate the social impact that disruption to some ‘traditional’ industries could have across the world.
Also with all this extra time and money being saved through technology it does beg the question: what are people going to do with themselves?
Maybe, in fact, that is where the real opportunity lies…