The Cambrian Explosion, starting ~ 580 million years ago, was the most critical phase in the evolution of life on Earth. It was an era of explosive growth when countless new variations of phyla including plants, animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes came into existence. Before this most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells, occasionally organized into colonies.
Over the following 70 or 80 million years the rate of evolution accelerated dramatically, as defined in terms of the total origination and extinction rate of species, and the diversity of life began to resemble today’s. Most scientists agree the Cambrian Explosion occurred due to environmental, developmental and ecological changes. Respected Scientist, Stephen J. Gould represented this explosion as an initial filling of the “ecological barrel” of niches for multicellular organisms, and any and every experiment found a space. And most importantly, Cambrian and post-Cambrian life-forms displayed an amazing ability to adapt to dramatic and sudden changes in environmental conditions, leading to better survivability and species longevity.
What’s key here is that the stars aligned in order to create the right environment for this explosion of life with all its diversity and beauty.
The Unification of the Physical and Virtual Worlds
The 1980s, 1990s and through mid-2000’s could be considered the pre-Cambrian era of business computing, analogous to the world of single celled life-forms i.e. individual, mostly disconnected bits of information. Trillions of pieces of information came into existence, across a multiplicity of software, operating systems, and hardware, but without the environmental conditions necessary for the evolution and emergence of more complex and adaptive forms.
However, something magical was happening under the surface. Environmental conditions necessary for the emergence of complex applications were maturing and accelerating in the form of bandwidth and network infrastructure (i.e. the skeletal system, the circulatory system – arteries, capillaries and veins, and the nervous system), the ubiquitous world-wide-web (www – the epidermis), powerful input/output devices (to interact with the world) and adaptive applications (to makes sense of the world) – all driven by specialized hardware and machine intelligence (i.e. organs, muscles etc. ), and finally the integration of human intelligence (i.e. social connections, user generated content, social networks, and derived knowledge – the Brain) into the analysis, routing and application of information.
Furthermore the physical world and the virtual world are continuing to merge together, with each driving innovation in the other at a breakneck pace. An excellent exemplar of this process in action in depicted in the video TED discussion from Chris Anderson called How YouTube is driving innovation. Another amazing example of this convergence are the hacking projects using Microsoft’s Kinect device. These can be seen at the following links 1) DaVinci from Razorfish goes with xBox Kinect 2) 3D drawing using OpenKinect on OS X.
Integration of Human Intelligence is Creating the Intelligent Web
Additionally, humans are playing an ever increasing role in the curation of the information flowing through the WWW while simultaneously assembling increasingly complex and adaptive systems capable of solving increasingly difficult problems.
In essence, the Cambrian era of information technology is upon us and like the Cambrian explosion, information driven application constructs, curated by humans, are expanding rapidly to fill every applications niche in the Consumer world. Exemplar companies built around these constructs these include Facebook, Groupon, Instagr.am, WordPress, Blogger and Planet Source Code. These applications, in turn have already led to an explosion of innovation and diversity in the human “consumer” world.
Transition from Consumer to the Enterprise
The explosion of applications and business models in the Consumer sphere has spread rapidly into the enterprise sphere in spite of Corporate IT’s attempts to block this spread. Beneficial E2.0 mutations of these complex consumer applications are growing virally across all types of organizations. These E2.0 applications are establishing the scaffolding and infrastructure for the rapid and constant creation and exchange of information, knowledge and social connections and will become embedded in the enterprise DNA over the next 2-5 years. This, in turn, will enable enterprises to become very agile and adaptable.
As a result of this adaptability and agility we should expect to see an explosion of innovation across the private and public sectors. As organizations discover new and novel ways to mix and match their customer and business partner relationships with their internal resources in terms of people, products, machines, and processes, they will use this new found flexibility to create even more valuable products and services.
The Crowd Participates and Creates
Interestingly, we’re already starting to see this happen. Fortune 100 companies like Autodesk, Mercedes Benz, and General Electric have strong and open leadership in place that is actively encouraging employees and customers to co-create new products and services as well as improve existing ones. Similar to Gould’s assessment of the Cambrian era, these organizations are creating the environmental conditions (i.e. funding, tools, strategy, people and supporting leadership) to catalyze the accelerated evolution and integration of E2.0 application constructs in order to foster super-fast innovation and rapid business growth.
These E2.0 Social Business solutions are available for everyone. In fact the agents for the rapid spread of the consumer technologies are people (who are both consumers and
employees). They have already established a strong beachhead for E2.0 types of technologies across thousands of organizations
What CEOs Should Do
Once Social Business solutions start to thrive, the information, transparency and knowledge enabled by and disseminated through them will be unstoppable. There will be no turning back.
This imminent explosion of ideas, information and knowledge will require human and machine filters in order to sift through the data to provide proper context, ensure the best ideas are surfaced, and that the appropriate people are notified to act on them.
Intelligent, adaptive information and activity streams with deep and rich analytics will become the norm, enabling organizations and people to take advantage of the volume and not be buried by it.
This explosion of ideas and information is right around the corner. Smart organizations are taking the first step and exploring how today’s social business technologies can enable them to improve their operational and financial performance.
We’re a social species; we inspire each other when we work together towards common goals. But we need social platforms in the enterprise that allow everyone access to knowledge and enable frictionless collaboration. In fact, according to Anderson the more people working and creating together the better.
Corporate leaders need to sponsor and develop a strategy for deployment of these breakthrough social business platforms, then step back and let the people in the organization achieve almost magical results with them.
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