The Next Big Thing

By Jonathan Spira on 15 August 2008
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Headline writers love to proclaim The Next Big Thing, something I talked about in a column almost eight years ago.

At the time, I commented on TSTBTNBTBNWs (Things Supposed to Be the Next Big Thing but Never Were).  A few items on this list included artificial intelligence and push technology (such as PointCast).

Truly great ideas in business that weren’t proclaimed The Next Big Thing when they arrived on the scene include the telegraph, the telephone, the typewriter, the punch card tabulator, the electronic computer, the photocopier, the personal computer, the laser printer, and the Internet.

These ideas have all had a substantive, long-lasting, and transformational impact on work.  They made their appearance on the scene quietly but carried a big stick.

Possible great ideas that could be TNBT include the mobile phone (and derivative smartphones), the laptop computer, Wi-Fi, SaaS, and social computing.

Things that people perceive to be great ideas, but aren’t, include the smartphone (yes, it is sometimes a great idea from a business perspective, but from a work-life balance perspective the smartphone may yet prove to be quite the opposite), calling anything “Web 2.0,” touchscreen technology, and the paperless office.

Public radio used to have a program called “The Next Big Thing” but it’s no longer on the air.  I wouldn’t worry too much about this, though.  As I promised back in 2001, The Next Big Thing is just around the corner.

Here’s an idea that turns out to be a really bad idea: battery backup for alarm clocks in hotel rooms.  To begin with, hotels seem to make really poor choices in choosing in-room clocks.  If one can’t quickly ascertain that the alarm is indeed off and not set by the previous guest for three in the morning, the only choice is to unplug the thing.  Last night, that’s exactly what I did in a brand new hotel in Monterey and, since they are only two months old and don’t have their sea legs, I’ll spare them the embarrassment of being mentioned here by name.  Yet the clock went off at 3 a.m. regardless.  Why?  The darned thing has a battery backup.  Since this is a five-star property, the GM has assured me that housekeeping will check all clocks when preparing rooms for incoming guests.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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