In his classic essay collection Profiles of the Future, Arthur C. Clarke identified two kinds of what he termed “hazards of prophecy”: failures of imagination, and failures of nerve. Today, nearly a fifth of the way into the twenty-first century, it’s striking how many engineering organizations—and how many technology analyst firms seeking to advise them—seem to suffer from both maladies. Far too many have failed to escape from, and evolve beyond, business models and modes of thinking created to serve the needs and opportunities of the 1970s, or even before.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Systems 2020 is one of many carrot-and-stick initiatives launched by various stakeholders to coax manufacturers out of practices and habits rooted in, essentially, 1950s-era product architectures and their engineering requirements. Today’s and tomorrow’s smart, connected, self-aware and situationally aware products, managed by ultra-sophisticated onboard mechatronic systems of systems, differ from earlier-generation mechanical devices governed by primitive electromechanical (if that) control systems almost as much as relativity and quantum mechanics departed from the classical physics of Newton and Maxwell.
So too the commentariat
In like manner, technology analyst firms today divide sharply in two: those that exercise engineering-grade care to anchor their practice in the bedrock of sustained, diligent, discerning research into engineers’ firsthand experiences with the technologies under investigation, versus the many content to be little more than elaborate echo chambers for technology vendors’ marketing communications.
It would be comic, if it wasn’t sad, watching the second group position its work product as research, analysis, “strategy” or even “thought leadership.” When reality is, given their scant interaction with users, such firms essentially publish reports that parrot back to their vendor clients what they just heard the vendors tell them.
That’s not research, much less analysis. It’s not even journalism.
Small wonder it takes an army of salespeople to badger, beat and drive clients into that hall of mirrors and house of cards. Julia Child’s memorable word for purveyors of such flimflam was the “flimsies.” Continue reading