Petreley's theorem: The best way to increase your chance for success is to use a "gestalt perception" of the industry to ascertain its direction, and then move your company in that direction or invest in other companies moving in that directionAccording to my gestalt, the computer industry is experiencing a convergence of corporate and consumer markets. At some point in the indeterminate but inevitable future, corporate appliances (and that means anything from a digital camera to a productivity desktop) will compare to similar consumer appliances the way an office telephone compares to a home telephone.
The corporate device may have more features than the consumer equivalent. For example, the digital camera that corporations buy and use may be optimised for teleconferencing. But you will plug both the corporate and consumer device into the same network. They will talk to each other seamlessly without one device having to know anything about the manufacturer of the other device, what chips the other unit contains, or what software it runs.
You will use similar corporate and home appliances basically the same way, too. Again, your office phone may look very different from the phone at home. But in both cases you forward calls, you hold calls, you call someone, you talk, and, if the other party is lucky, you occasionally listen.
The degree of interoperability among devices will be determined by the subset or superset of features that they support, not by the levels of compatibility - just as some of today's pagers display e-mail, others short text messages, others just phone numbers, but all are ignorant of the device that sends these messages.
So what the heck is a gestalt, and where did this one come from? A gestalt is what you get when you absorb varying and often seemingly unrelated tidbits of information and then take a leap beyond the pattern that emerges. The important point is this - no individual bits of information or any combination can adequately describe the final conclusion. The gestalt is by definition greater than the whole.
In other words, you can't get a gestalt perception of the industry the way most research organisations and analysts approach the problem - by studying trends, details, or statistics surrounding a single product, principle, or event. If you disagree, let me point you to the reams of predictions that flopped because the research groups or analysts only looked at what seemed like the obvious factors.
For example, I'm sure there was a tremendous amount of interest in Windows NT 3.1 before it shipped. Combined with the market penetration and sheer power of Microsoft, how could analysts predict anything except the immediate and overwhelming success of Windows NT? But NT 3.1 sold like Barry Manilow tapes at a heavy metal rock concert.
The problem was that there were two types of forces at work - the Microsoft-related factors and all the other non-Microsoft tangential market dynamics shaping the future.
The analysts focused on the former and missed the latter because it's too hard to quantify. Making predictions based on these market dynamics is like predicting behaviour on chaos theory.
Some biblical scholars are of the opinion that God uses prophecy not so much to give people a glimpse into the future, but to declare his sovereignty over human events and say "I told you so" after the fact.
Unfortunately, the gestalt perception of the industry is something like that. All you can do is record the signs, view them from a more abstract position, and hope you're interpreting the results properly. It is only after history begins to unfold that you can ever be sure.
Nicholas Petreley is editor in chief of NC World (www.ncworldmag.com). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.