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Mike Lynch on spotting transformative technology

Updated Friday, 15th July 2011

Mike Lynch uses an example from the legal system to explain how to spot the technology that can change your business.

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Matthew Hinton
Mike, how do you spot the technologies that might radically change your business model?

Mike Lynch
Well you’ve asked the sort of key question for a technology entrepreneur, how do you spot the winners?  The answer is a little surprising, which is what you don’t do is look too much at the technology; what you do is you look at people.  And you look at the fundamental needs of people.  So how does society work, how does civilisation work, and then you map that onto the changes and that gives you something.  Now the reason you can't look at the technology alone is that in order to capture these kind of changes, you have to be sufficiently far in advance that it’s not that obvious.  So, a simple example, the legal system since the Romans has been based on the principle of people turning up and doing discovery.

Matthew Hinton
And discovery is...?

Mike Lynch
Well since the Romans there’s been a process called discovery in a legal case, so where two people are having a dispute.  You turn up and you look at all the facts, so the documents around a case, and then a judge can make a decision, and that is the basis of our civil law and civilisation depends on it.  But now that we've moved into the electronic age, and there’s vast amounts of electronic information, but we’re still going to need to have discovery working, therefore you can see that there’s an opportunity there for technology to come in and bridge that gap between the principles of discovery which allow our legal system to work and the modern world.  Our civilisation depends on that.

When there became this explosion of information, you could see that discovery was going to fail, therefore the legal system was going to fail, therefore civilisation was going to fail, that’s not an option, so you realised that that was an area where if you put technology into that problem it would be very, very successful.  And it’s that interplay, another one is to look at human beings, how they need to have social interaction.  Well we no longer grow up in the same village all our lives, we end up having to go to a new city for a job, how do we find friends, that gives you an insight into the whole social media explosion, so it’s always about the people.

Matthew Hinton
What role does education play in that development?

Mike Lynch
In the development of…?

Matthew Hinton
I think it’s spotting new technologies and how they might come along and to make that change.

Mike Lynch
Well, you know, you can't educate someone to spot a new technology change, because by definition it would be obvious and there wouldn’t be competitive advantage in it.  What you do need to do is have a well-rounded education where you understand the basis of human interactions as well as an ability to, on the scientific side, know what might be possible.  So the strange answer to your question is it’s very good to do English literature and it’s very good to do advanced physics - not enough people do both.

Matthew Hinton
Thank you very much.


Mike Lynch was talking to The Open University Business School's Matt Hinton after a recording of The Bottom Line, July 2011

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