September 14, 2012
Burgum: Organizations that don’t adapt to new technology will be ‘run over’ by it
To watch video of Doug Burgum’s speech, including a question-and-answer session with the audience, please click here: www.youtube.com/watch.
Ever since the wheel was invented, humankind has eyed technology with a mixture of wonder and fear.
To illustrate that point during The Chamber’s State of Technology event in Fargo last week, entrepreneur/philanthropist/Kilbourne Group founder Doug Burgum shared the story of ill-fated Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell. In 1707, Shovell unwittingly led a fleet of British Naval ships into the treacherously rocky Scilly Islands, resulting in the death of 2,000 sailors.
The disaster, one of the worst in British Naval history, made the scientific community desperate to find a way to correctly determine longitude. Self-taught clockmaker John Harrison believed the real answer was to be able to precisely keep time at sea, even though the top scientific minds of the time argued the real solution was astronomy. But it wasn’t until 1773, nearly 40 years after Harrison invented his first accurate sea clock, that the Royal Society finally deigned to give him the prestigious Longitude Prize.
Today, new technologies are introduced and adopted at a much faster clip. Burgum attributes this to Moore’s Law, which estimates that computer chip power will double every 18 months, at half the cost.
“That’s why we can end up having smartphone devices today that have more computing power, more reach and more bandwidth than the university supercomputers did back in the time when I was in school,” said Burgum, who shot a few photos of the crowd with his smartphone during his presentation to emphasize the immediacy and sophistication of modern photography.
North Dakota itself is perfectly poised to become what many community leaders have called “the second Silicon Valley.”
“We have such a great opportunity,” Burgum told the filled-to-capacity main ballroom at the Fargo Holiday Inn. “We have a state with a surplus. We have enlightened leadership. We do not have massive socioeconomic problems that are dragging us down. We can actually look to the future, we can invest in the future, we can do things for other people. If you’re in California or Illinois, you’re not having this conversation because you are talking about your state actually being bankrupt.”
Burgum talked about how technology will continue to change the way we learn, work and live. At the same time, he cautioned against people being too entrenched in yesterday’s thinking to adapt.
“Just as we often have today, we have new technologies that are not being embraced by institutions or industries, or even the adults in a room,” Burgum said. “If you’re not challenging every assumption for which your life is built on, you’re not curious enough about how the future is going to impact you and how technology is going to change the way things have been done for centuries.”
The way we learn
For decades, the traditional education model has been to build schools in neighborhoods as they grew, then to devote considerable time and resources to shepherding budgets, appropriations, personnel, schedules and physical infrastructure.
But that is changing.
Technology has democratized education, by making it possible for anyone, anywhere, to learn anything at any time. And the information available is no longer just a disorganized snarl of questionable facts; gifted instructors have created concise, structured, highly effective curriculums online.
Examples of popular online courses include the Coursera, Udacity and TED-Ed, some of which are designed by brilliant professors at top universities, Burgum says.
These virtual classes could become serious competition to the traditional university education, Burgum says. In the future, more students may bypass the traditional route to opt for online certification or to even take courses directly from the companies where they’d like to work.
Burgum predicts yet another seachange in education. Historically, students were conditioned to sit quietly while a teacher lectured, then were sent home at night with homework, which they were cautioned to do without talking to or “cheating”off others.
As a result, some adults haven’t learned how to collaborate in the workforce, even though businesses benefit from teamwork and a free exchange of ideas, he says.
As learning styles and teaching tools change, Burgum says more teachers have shifted their educational models from that of the all-knowing “sage on the stage” to the mentoring “guide on the side.” More students will be encouraged to work together during the school day to problem-solve and learn from each other.
The way we work
In the 1980s, Burgum recalls one of the most hotly debated issues among Great Plains team members was whether or not to spend $180,000 on a phone switch that allowed up to 24 lines to be used at once.
Today, he adds, “no one’s out buying a $180,000 piece of equipment just to manage a few phone calls. The cost of starting a business for the next generation of entrepreneurs has plummeted.”
Affordable, powerful tools, like Amazon’s hosting services or free apps, allow startups to do business for a fraction of what was once required. Industries like retail have been shaped most dramatically by technology, Burgum says. At the same time, the largest, most bureaucratic and most heavily regulated industries have been much slower to change.
An organization’s ability to change can be delayed by its size and resistance to change. “But in the end,” Burgum says, “economics is like water flowing downhill. It will erode the old way and make way for the new way.”
Technology also has changed the way workers themselves work. Wireless technology has untethered the modern American worker from an 8- to 5-existence inside a cubicle.
In return, the modern American worker no longer expects to stay in the same cubicle for his entire career. It’s estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the population consists of contingency workers, freelancers who pay their bills by contracting with multiple businesses.
Some estimates predict that the number of contingent workers could climb to as high as 40 percent by 2020. “It’s more and more people having multiple, multiple experiences and jobs,”Burgum says.
This trend of self-employed, highly mobile workers also changes our physical surroundings. Concepts like collaborative workspace, which allow small startups and freelancers to lease space together, or LiquidSpace, which allows traveling workers to book space at some other company’s underused venue, are examples of that.
The way we live
Just as people will have to rethink their assumptions on how we learn and work, so will they eventually rethink how we live.
Burgum is a vocal proponent of the eco-friendly benefits, fiscal responsibility and youth-centric appeal of strong urban cores. “There’s powerful economics in density,” he says. “If a city winds up having higher degrees of density, there are less roads you have to build like the $3,000 a foot it costs to build a road out to (a school on the edge of the town), and then that has to be maintained in perpetuity.”
He spoke about the short-sighted approach of locating housing developments and commercial properties on the outskirts of town because the land is cheaper. “When someone pays a few special assessments through your city to do a development, at the end of the development, they turn it over and you get to take care of the streets and roads forever,” he says. “That’s why cities like Stockton, Calif., went bankrupt. They’ve been living off the developer fees from expansion and they don’ have enough money to take care of the infrastructure needs and when the expansion stops, it’s like a Ponzi scheme and the city collapses.”
Vigorous downtown areas not only make fiscal sense, they also attract a young, vibrant demographic.
“If we’re going to get that next generation, that 18- to 30-year-old person to move here, we have to have a vibrant metro area, and a vibrant metro area does not equal new strip malls,” Burgum said. “It means a walkable downtown where people can go to bars, restaurants, nightlife, live, work, play, in an area that feels urban and where they can collide with other people their own age.”