Looking Back

Dr. Steven Shepard

When I first became an instructor for the AMP leadership curriculum at USC back in 1993, my job was to deliver a single half-day program on wireless technologies. Let me be clear: This was a technical presentation, and included such things as how Code-Division Multiple Access worked, how Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum differed from Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum, what frequencies CDMA operated in vs. those that GSM occupied, and what the technical differences were among GEO, MEO, and LEO satellite arrays. And the best part? The audience, made up largely of telecom executives, actually cared.

Over the years, my presentation focus shifted. I delivered a half-day program about multimedia, before anyone really knew what that was; I gave programs on the industry phenomenon known as convergence, in the great days leading up to the collapse of the mighty (yet ephemeral) telecom bubble; and I taught a program about the Internet—an introduction to that mysterious world that no one had yet come to understand. At the time there were precisely four commercial Web sites in existence on the planet; I remember how the executives would gather around me and my little Mac PowerBook and watch in awe as I dialed into the Internet using my blazingly-fast 56 Kbps modem and filled my screen with a Web site. Magic.

It’s easy to laugh at ourselves when we think about those simpler times, but in reality, how are they any different than the times we find ourselves in today? We are no more insightful about the future impact of quantum computing, natural language processing, robotics, artificial intelligence, various alternative realities, analytics, and Internet of Things than we were in the 90s about the World Wide Web. So, my challenge to everyone in or around the technology domain is to take a step back, think about those heady days of yore, and now think forward. It’s a leadership thing: We know where we are; where could we be? What is the new status quo? As Alan Kay of Apple once observed, ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’ I think we owe it to future generations to start inventing. Now.