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Solving for 'x'

Daniel Siders joins Wolff Olins as (what we’re calling) Visiting Technologist. This is Daniel’s first guest post.

I wouldn’t call myself a technologist.

While my work involves developing and exploring technology at a higher level than most, it is fundamentally strategic and analytical. I ask the same questions about a new piece of technology as I do a brand: How are people using it now, Who will start using it in the future and in what ways? and most importantly, What unique possibilities exist because of and for this technology?

The answers to those questions, to the degree that they can be answered, inform discussions about how best to leverage the technology itself and its effects on marketplaces and society (ideally before anyone else does).

What does the future look like?

We’re in the early days of the information revolution, a period of cultural and technological changes with repercussions on a similar scale to the industrial revolution. It’s premature to speculate on the total scope (or sequence which is often more significant) of changes to come, but here’s a few things I see right now:

There are definitely some early leaders in the race to connect consumers with technology. What’s less clear is whether there is a maximum possible extent to their power, and if so what those limits are. Most significant technologies started out in the control of one organization and were later democratized. That process has rarely been smooth or easy for industry or consumers. It’s hard to imagine the rules will be different for information technology. Google and Facebook count their users in the billions. Whenever a company starts thinking about the day that every human on earth will be a user, I start looking for the tools that will replace them.

Entropy usually prevails given time.

Given how fast the world is changing and how many other brands want to participate in these spaces, it seems like the time is ripe for a massive wave of decentralization to hit everything from internet services to traditionally regulated fields like telecommunications and banking.

A variety of forces are lowering or eliminating barriers to entry in nearly every field. Simultaneously dominant players in most markets exercise unprecedented levels of control and influence. This period is marked by both an incredible rate of change and the phenomenal power of network effects. The combination of the two will leave many established companies with an undeserved sense of confidence until they have already been replaced.

What keeps me up.

Everyone is trying desperately to hold onto the power they have over others - governments, religious extremists, brands. What strikes me most is that this struggle seems to come not from lust for power, but the desire to remain relevant. The world changes and we change with it or fall by the wayside. There’s a cycle in human society and in nature — we contribute throughout our lives until we ourselves become obsolete and then someone else takes over. That cycle hasn’t changed, but it does seem to be speeding up. Technology makes the world change faster, perhaps faster than many of us can adapt. If brands are as slow to change as people their untimely demises could either fuel a revolutionary period of innovation or plunge the world into chaos. This is what keeps me up at night — the dual possibility of tremendous innovation and multi-generation stagnation from monopolies, and the inability to determine which we’re experiencing until after the fact.

I can’t imagine a more exciting time to shape strategy for the world’s best brands.

When I first met the Wolff Olins management I was impressed by the possibility to affect change through WO’s relationships with brands. So often I encounter a possibility for radical growth in a market but can’t reach key influencers or convince leadership to dive in soon enough to take advantage of the situation. I’m excited for the opportunity to help speed up that process and make sure possibilities are presented with more weight to the right people.