The Sixth Wave; How to succeed in a resource-limited world
by James Bradfield Moody and Biance Nogrady
Publisher: Vintage Books Australia (2010)
Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*
Many of us can see that resources won't be as freely available, or as easy to consume, in the future as they are now. For that prediction to be useful we also need to see how to position ourselves and our businesses to succeed in that new environment. This book makes the vision clearer and gives some thoughtful insights on creating opportunity, wealth and competitive advantage as the next 'sixth' wave of innovation comes crashing down.
The book is logically constructed and outlines both the development of economic wave theory and the five successive waves of technological and economic development from the time of the industrial revolution until the current day. Starting with the wave of water-powered industry, followed by successive waves of steam power and mechanisation, steel and electrification, oil and mass production, computing and communication and presaging the wave of resource restriction and waste minimisation the book provides a long term context for corporate behaviours and decisions.
There are cogent examples of technologies and successful business models that have successfully exploited each of the modern era waves. Many of the more current examples are from entrepreneurial start up businesses that could disappear but that, if the premise of the book is correct and we are heading for resource constraints, could prove to be 'game changers' for entire industries. These are potent thought-starters for the reader and give indications of both potential new businesses and ways for existing businesses to adapt and survive.
Those are the observations. Then there are the predictions; the move towards selling services rather than products (e.g. transport rather than cars), the pricing of externalities, redesigned institutions, and the marginalisation of physical or geopolitical boundaries as a constraint on trade and technology transfer. The single large prediction, that we are on the cusp of a new wave, is borne out by the observation that new waves develop following a period of economic turmoil and depression (GFC and 'the great recession' sound familiar to anyone?).
The nature of the waves is described in clear and sufficient detail from the initial emergence of disruptive technologies, through the gradual dominance of technological standards (such as Microsoft in the information technology wave) and the rich rewards for the backers of the successful technologies (dot.com millionaires), to the market frenzy where every 'me too' company receives backing (overheating), to the eventual saturation and inevitable crash followed by a harsh period of readjustment as workforce skills migrate to the new requirements. The speed of the waves (measured from peak to peak or trough to trough) appears to be increasing.
This is not a book for fatalists and doomsayers. The implications of the theory expounded in the book are that innovation and optimism are most appropriate when all appears most hopeless. For that alone it is a good read. In addition to the feel good factor the book offers practical insights into new ways of thinking about new types of problem in an interconnected and global world where possibility becomes practice at the speed of thought.
Very highly recommended and a definite jolt out of everyday thinking.
* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of "Presenting to Boards", "Dilemmas, Dilemmas: practical case studies for company directors'", "The Director's Dilemma", "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.
Julie Garland McLellan to judge 2011 Global eBook Awards