5G is about to change the world. All over again. And where innovation happens, disruption is never far behind. The difficult, or even impossible, part is understanding what that disruption might look like. There is plenty of talk about Al, VR, loT and all the rest, but the real story is about the economic and social impact of lightning-fast, always-on connectivity. And that means we need to make imagination part of our strategic toolset.
5G is here and the predictions are flying everywhere. The end of fibre broadband, the rise of artificial intelligence, roads full of autonomous vehicles, systems groaning under the weight of data. There are as many different opinions as there are pundits.
There is substance to all of them, of course, but right now it’s impossible to understand the true implications of a wireless revolution on this scale. As The Innovator’s Dilemma told us all those years ago, real disruption is something that cannot be predicted.
We’ve been well and truly spoiled by innovation for a long time. There have been genuine breakthroughs, like smartphones and social media, but there has also been plenty of hype about inventions that turned out to be little more than slight evolutions of existing ideas.
The biggest risk in this ocean of real or apparent newness is complacency. When you know there’ll be something new again tomorrow, you might react too late to the innovations that really count.
We can see it in the industries that have suffered most from digital disruption. Hotel companies, newspapers, retailers and the other high-profile victims of nimble innovators could all have disrupted themselves if they’d understood the digital threats they faced.
This is the critical insight to apply to 5G. We all need to bring imagination into our strategic thinking and be prepared for almost anything. Better still, we need to invent that “anything” before someone else does.
One example is Lenovo’s Project Limitless. Developed in partnership with Qualcomm, it’s the world’s first 5G PC, due for launch in 2020. It could mean an end to mobile tethering and the hunt for wireless hotspots, with all their attendant security risks. With Windows 10 on board, you’ll simply open it up and be connected to everything you need, with speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G.
But that is just the technical aspect. It’s much faster and designed for an always-on world, but you might say it’s still just the digital evolution of an existing idea.
What matters is the impact on our imaginations that the speed and connectivity will have. The “Limitless” in the name reflects the fact that 5G takes away a layer of instinctive limitation. We’ll be able to work so freely with technology that we’ll barely notice the technology itself. And right now, who knows how that will translate into the way we live and work?
Today’s young generation is already using technology to create global communities, in which traditional models of leadership are replaced simply by a shared understanding of the collective purpose. They use apps to share information and arrange gatherings. In effect, they’re using technology to bring a global collective consciousness into the material world.
Debates about leaderless businesses have been around for a while, but they’ve been conducted by people who have grown up in a hierarchical world. Perhaps 5G will be the catalyst that allows the new generation of entrepreneurs to build completely different types of organization at scale, without any reference to established principles. After all, it is not in the nature of young people to look back.
When you consider how the first iterations of business mobility have changed the workplace, with remote and flexible working, it’s easy to see that another rethinking of business models, driven by 5G, is highly likely. And new business models in turn mean new kinds of economy, driving corresponding shifts in social values and structures.
Far-fetched? They said that about telephones, not so long ago.