Thomas Edison: Master of Disruptive Technologies

Disruptive technologies radically alter the economy, society and even governmental/cultural relations within nations. They also bring incredible economic growth, job creation, and paradigm shifts in the workplace. We hear educators talk about the 21st century skills they need to teach students. Clearly things are changing, and fast.

The McKinsey Global Institute projects what technologies are likely to cause disruptive change. Some of the technologies identified by McKinsey include advances in telecommunications, renewable energy systems, 3D printing, cloud computing, robotics, and special materials. McKinsey projects by 2025, disruptive technologies could account for annual world economic growth of somewhere between $14 trillion and $33 trillion. Put this into perspective…the global economy is now about $60 trillion. Disruptive technologies might add as much as 50% to the global economy in just 12 years.

As these technologies rattle through the economy, they tear some old industries down, creating new ones. Job change/new job skills are required; old business models get replaced; and lots of local dislocations happen initially. Look at how Apple disrupted the old models of telecommunication with their smart phone. In just a few years your smart phone has become your personal communication portal to the world. You can communicate, shop, learn, enjoy leisure activities, store and enjoy music, find your way around the planet, control things remotely and a whole host of other things. If you can think about it, someone is probably working on an “App” for it. The old central office phone service (and its jobs) is disappearing, and something very new, and capable of vast opportunities, is taking its place. Many folks no longer have hard-wired telephone service. The wireless phone is now merged with the Internet-itself only a phenomena since about 1996.

Look at what you can shop for through your phone-and think how that has radically changed the old bricks and mortar concept of stores. Think about the gasoline this has saved as you shop from wherever you are. Our smart phones are energy conservation tools……who would have envisioned this ten years ago. Yes, people have been put out of work because their stores have become centralized warehouses that mail order products purchased through cyberspace. Thomas Edison greatly improved Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone back in the late 1870s, making it much more practical. Think about what change the telephone brought to an 1870s business economy that ran on written letters. Imagine how old Tom would marvel at how the phone today has merged with computers and telecommunication/wireless technology.

Thomas Edison: Master of Disruptive TechnologiesIn many ways, Edison launched us on this disruptive technology path when he took the world by storm with multiple message telegraph lines, an improved telephone, stock tickers, the electric light bulb and electric utility system, the phonograph, movies, and the whole process of commercial R&D labs where raw ideas could be rapidly prototyped and brought to market. Just think what electric light meant for people the world over: Loss of whale oil and kerosene fuel oil lighting markets/industries-but people could now enjoy 16 hour days instead of 8; no longer needed to have open flames in homes for lighting using manufactured gas or other combustible gases-fires and suffocation deaths were reduced; street lights made the night much better illuminated, spurring business, night school, commerce, and leisure activities.

Edison’s disruptive technologies changed our standards of living, helped spur the development of emerging countries and gave us all a better life. It has been estimated today those technologies he worked on and perfected now account for one-fourth of the jobs in the world, which translates to 750 million jobs! By the way, Edison is right there in your smart phone. Recorded sound, motion pictures-two of his big inventions are there. When your phone gets tired, you recharge it via his electric utility industry system. Send a text message and realize what his work with telegraphy must have been like for that is basically what a text is without the Morse code. Technology gets upgraded, changed, merged and expanded. Like us, it evolves. Disruptive technologies are the big bumps that come along in the road of progress. Today’s disruptive inventors and entrepreneurs all share a common vision like Edison, something that is viscerally tied to our individual freedom—make the world a better place.

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison – Man of the Millennium – said … “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Time® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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