The Sigmoid curve is a mathematical concept which has been widely used to model the natural life cycle of many things, from biological organisms to markets. Known also as the ’S’ curve (as it resembles a stretched out S lying on its side) it visually represents life’s three critical phases: learning, growth and decline and acts as a metaphor for the rise and fall of everything. It’s a powerful mechanism for looking at the bigger picture.
The 20th century was the paradigm of the industrial age, dominated by manufacturing engineering. Car firms revolutionised business far beyond their own industry boundaries, first with Ford’s assembly line in the 1920s and then Toyota’s production system in the 1980s. These also helped previously weak nations like Japan emerge into world players and cemented the 20th century as America’s. Ford’s S curve was founded in the world of scientific management and economies of scale; Toyota’s in leveraging new computing power to deliver mass customisation along the same basic production lines. And it was computerisation that ushered the modern ‘age of information’ in the 21st century. Information today dominates organisations, nations and the global economy the way capital unilaterally did yesterday. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, argues that “capital is losing its status as the most important factor of production … it is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate - therefore by human talents.” Does this signal the emergence of another ’S’ curve?
People are now more inter-connected than at any point previously in human history, at essentially zero cost. Barriers of geography and poverty to achieving a fully-connected world are now surmountable. Knowledge (applying information wisely) is being let loose and no individual, organisation or state can own it. Knowledge is a social construct emerging from the interplay of human interaction - this new currency only grows by spending it. Attempts to hoard it (to make profit) or restrict it (to offer protection) will relegate those to the slow lane of the 20th century paradigm while the 21st century inhabitants race by in the open knowledge fast lane.
The changes for organisations will be far-reaching as more knowledge now rests outside their four walls than can possibly be contained within them. Don Tapscott points out our new paradigm is now being driven by collaboration, transparency, sharing and empowerment - from the seminal story of Goldcorp finding $3billion of gold after publishing its data on the internet to IBM investing $1billion in Linux which generated helped generate double that in annual returns and helped save their business during challenging times. As organisations become naked in the global glare of open knowledge it’s more important than ever to be surfing the right part of the Sigmoid curve. Is it time to make the leap to the new curve for you?
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