HBR’s Insights from the Year in Tech 2021: A book review by Bob Morris

The Year in Tech 2021: The Insights You Need from Harvard Business Review (HBR Insights Series)
Various Contributors in Collaboration with HBR Editors
Harvard Business Review Press (October 2021)

Which high technologies will probably be most disruptive? How best to respond to each?

Business leaders will encounter major challenges in months and years to come, especially when competing n a global marketplace that is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall. The challenges are even more daunting, given the disruptive impact of digital technologies that include these:

The disruptive technologies include artificial intelligence (AI); sensors and the Internet of Things (IOT); autonomous machines — robots, cobots, drones, and self-driving vehicles; distributed leaders and blockchains; virtual, augmented, and mixed reality; and connecting everything and everyone: 5G networks and satellite constellations. I view the disruption they continue to cause as both creative destruction (as Joseph Schumpeter characterizes it) and creative construction (as Michael Schrage suggests in his book, Recommendation Engines).

The Year in Tech 2021 is one of the first volumes in a relatively new series, the HBR Insights Series, which extends the scope and depth of articles originally published in HBR. If you were to purchase the eleven in this volume separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $100. Amazon now sells a paperbound edition containing all of them as an anthology for only $22.95.  That’s not a bargain, that’s a steal.

In the Introduction, “Embracing the Chaos of life, Work, and Markets,” David Weinberger observes, “Disruption continues to be an accurate description of the way we move forward these days., for the Internet has disrupted not only our old ways of doing things, but even our idea of how progress works…But one concern comes up over and over: how to maintain our humanity as the digital environment increasingly wires itself into our nervouse systems…These concerns about maintaining our human values arise because we recognize that while we build machines for our purposes, and we ultimately control them[at least for now], our relationship with them is far more complex.” Each of the eleven articles in this collection addresses “one aspect of an intertwined whole that is bigger than we  can imagine and that is both frightening and immensely hopeful.”

For example:

o Voice assistants will transform the way customers shop so Kane Simms explains how and why “companies need to assess how to market and sell their products and services accordingly.” (Pages 3-13)

o Augmented reality is not necessarily a great investment for every retailer so Darrell Rigby, Mickey Vu, and Asit Goel suggest four questions that must be answered “in order to determine whether or not AR’s potential ROI is sufficient to the given situation.” (15-22)

o On-the-job learning has long depended on mentorship, with experts coaching apprentices. But this model is now threatened by sophisticated analytics, AI, and robotics in many areas of the workplace culture. Matt Beane explains “how to prevent separating trainees from experts when these one-on-one learning opportunities occur. Establish and nourish what I view as a “triage” of knowledge exchange, one that combines the benefits of one-on-one human interaction with digital efficiency. (47-69)

o What separates an article that goes viral from others that don’t depends on a single moment: a person deciding whether or not to click the share button. Jacob L.H. Jones, Matthew Gillespie, and Kelsey Libert explain how and why effective use of biometrics to predict a viral marketing campaign “would be akin to discovering the hold grail of marketing research.” (83-91)

o Young people are retreating from public social platforms and gravitating toward more intimate digital “campfires.” Sara Wilson examines three types “and each requires a different approach to reach participants.”  (105-117).

Had you read the articles in this volume when it was published a year ago, you would have been much better prepared to cope with the high tech challenges in 2021. More to the point, if you read those articles now, you will be even better prepared for the challenges that await in 2022. That is why I urge you to read both the 2021 and 2022 editions.




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