call is from the Chief Media Correspondent of a national newspaper. He
more often berates me - about the surfeit of jazz on the BBC's music
channel, for instance. (Others, like my friend John Dankworth, deplore the lack of it).
"You've been selected to give the next
annual lecture at the Royal Society of Arts - what will it be about?".
thirty years ago.
I had no idea what it would be about ... I had no idea I'd been chosen, but I
was quite accustomed to learning of developments in my life in this way.
Two officials - rather formal in dress and manner - came to my office later
that morning and presented the invitation. I refrained from suggesting
that coordination with their Press Office might benefit from a little
fine-tuning, and said "Why me?" "We usually have professors who are
brilliant at explaining complex things ... what has been discovered ...
the past. This year we want to focus on the future."
It was televised - I've just had a look at the tape.
On the wrong side of the cameras my
performances always seemed uneasy ... and the production was
unimaginative ... but I think you would agree that the forecasts I made were bulls-eyes. "What
- in one word - will be the most significant development in the next 20
years?" "Miniaturisation. Surprisingly, shrinkage will enable us to do completely new things."
Among the several nice results of these blogs -
for me - are the emails of praise - from kind folk who have not only found my
stories interesting but enjoy the way I write them. Fan letters, I
suppose. Like the old days. I mention this now because several of
you have noticed that I repeatedly do what I've just done there - force myself
to distil into a few words what I want to say. If I've had some
success as a strategist it is because I use the word 'focus' rather a lot ...
I may set off on a journey unsure of my route, but if I'm unsure of my
destination I don't set off.
"Surprisingly, shrinkage will enable us to do
completely new things."
(I think Twitter will be the ultimate winner of
the social-sites competition. Why? Because it's limit of 140
characters per message enforces focus.)
At the Royal Society of Arts, as the audience were signing-in, every fifth
person was given a small package. During the lecture I asked them
to unwrap the unit it contained, then press its green button and read whatever
the tiny screen displayed. As they did so a wave of amusement,
then applause, swelled round the audience. What they saw was merely a
greeting ... but personalised - it addressed each recipient by name.
Wireless communication was not new, of
course - but the ability to communicate with an individual receiver was
sensational. Mobile phones were possible!
[I could have called this Blog "Things 2" ... although
'shrinkage' is the thread it is 'things' that provide the evidence. I'll
include a limited amount of techy detail - for those (like me) who are
interested - but my intention, as always, is to make the human aspects
At the lecture we
then considered a typical management problem. Six conflicting factors were
displayed on a big screen. Underneath it was a matrix. I pointed
to each factor in turn and asked for a decision from someone in the audience.
As each decision was implemented the effect of it rippled through the other
factors. I suggested that this management tool - the immediate answering
of "What if ..." questions - was the first conclusive evidence that
computers would bring unique capabilities ... and that
this power would become
available to us individually now that computers were being miniaturised.
same year I was given a new program called "Visicalc". The 'spreadsheet'
Tandy Radio Shack TRS80
corner of my garage lies an old holdall ... I have just unzipped it, dusted
off the cobwebs, and extracted this ...
... the personal computer on which I ran Visicalc thirty years ago.
standards its storage capacity and processing power are pathetic. But a
spreadsheet needed little of either. Just a little patience while the
audio tape loaded the application each time you wanted to use it!
memory was quite impressive at the time. The camera with which I took its portrait just now
has a memory the size of a postage-stamp ... which holds one million times more!
(Computer programmes were not covered by
copyright ... so the Harvard student Dan Bricklin, who created Visicalc,
gained little from his ingenuity ... a deterrent to progress which I later
used to good effect in the successful campaign to change the law.)
'netbook' on which I'm creating this blog is smaller ...
like my camera, its storage capacity and its processing power are greater by a
factor with many zeros! And it is part of our wireless network that
links it to the internet, to the pc and printer in my den, to the laptop in
the lounge where I send & receive dozens of emails daily, and to Ann's laptop
in her study.
It can do
all this from my den or from the summerhouse at the far end of the garden (where I'm happy to
be on this midsummer day).
its facilities are integrated - no longer 'add-ons'. For example with one click my
wife and I can converse - visually as well as aurally - if we wish. (She
does all this all day without recharging its battery.