Is The Digital Era Over?

I had a discussion last week that focused on a post-digital world. It was an open question about the state of digital and the related transformation journey. Although the digital maturity of organizations is not where I envisioned it – and Covid-19 underscored the point – digital should be a foundational piece of a bigger story. The continued digital discussion ignores the bigger contributions of science and the boardroom conversations around purpose and innovation. A recent article goes one step further in declaring that the digital era is over, and we are in a New Era of Innovation. In it, Greg Satell makes the exact argument I made above.

The fact is that we’re on the brink of a new era of innovation and, while digital technology will be an enabling factor, it will no longer be center stage. The future will not be written in the digital language of ones and zeroes, but in that of atoms, molecules, genes and proteins.

Greg Satell

Science deserves as much attention as technology enjoys. The coming biological revolution is multi-dimensional, impacting our well-being in profound ways by shaping the world of atoms versus bits. Mr. Satell supports that argument by referencing how the Human Genome Project drove advancement in genetic sequencing that far outpaced what has happened in the digital arena. CRISPR has similarly launched a new era of synthetic biology, where we can reprogram genetic material in cells, while the revolution in materials sciences allows us to do the same with materials. The article describes materials science as a quiet revolution with a newfound ability to create advanced materials that transform our ability to create and build everything from more efficient solar panels to lighter, stronger, and more environmentally friendly building materials.

The point is not to downplay the role of digital and the importance of the foundation. Instead, it is to highlight the bigger story. Technological advancement has worked hand and hand with science in a synergistic relationship that has accelerated the path of both. Science-driven advancements are likely to transform society at a level that most transformation discussions miss. We are not dealing with Ordinary Disruption but a point in time that only occurs every 50 to 100 years.

Scientists are working on programming microorganisms to create new carbon-neutral biofuels and biodegradable plastics. It may very well revolutionize agriculture and help feed the world.

Greg Satell

While technology firms dominate the list of most valuable companies, Mr. Satell states that information and communication as a sector only makes up for 6% of GDP in advanced countries. Said another way, we still live in a physical world made of atoms. While a biological and materials revolution is on the horizon, most still focus on the digital revolution in front of them. It’s been this way throughout history, as early signs appear but are ignored. In the past, decades separated the early storytellers from the realization of their stories. This time, expect an accelerated realization of the stories emerging today.

Innovation therefore means more than digital. In a world where our capacity to solve meaningful problems is enhanced by the synergistic relationship between science and technology, innovation leads to a further advancement of human development. That is where leaders and storytellers around the world are increasingly focused. Is the digital era over? No. Is it moving over to make room for a bigger societal story? Yes.

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