What Is Isoquantic Shifts?

by Jay Deragon on 10/06/2008

John Sculley, former CEO of Apple, described a new theory of change in 1993, called an “isoquantic shift.” This theory, said Sculley, “refers to a significant technological advancement that dramatically changes the way people do things and completely re-orients people’s concepts of how things are done. For example, the fractional horsepower electric motor was an isoquantic shift from the centralized steam engines that powered many factories during the 19th century.”

Jack Myers says “The introduction of real time audio and video to computer Internet access and the integration of the computer and the television set represent another isoquantic shift. The ability of individuals to interact represents a convergence of the telephone, the computer, the television and high-speed cable and telephone modems, altering the ways in which consumers perceive media.”

“A paradigm shift is merely a restructuring of the patterns that we rely on for our decision-making. Paradigm shifts require changes in traditional behavior because we are required to rethink our assumptions. They reflect a change in how people perceive and react to reality. The transition of audiences from broadcast television to cable TV has been a paradigm shift – a slow change in patternistic behavior. Cable has not radically altered the way advertisers communicate to audiences or the way viewers interact with the medium. Successful managers in the 1980s and 1990s conformed to shifting technological, sociological, and regulatory paradigms. The isoquantic shifts on the
horizon are creating even greater apprehension and anxiety. While change has been continuous, pervasive, and overwhelming, it has rarely been so dramatic that it totally alters the way people do things. The changes we are facing today in business are isoquantic shifts, not simple paradigm shifts.”

Sculley points out that “we have seen an isoquantic shift in the computer industry with the microprocessor. The microprocessor clearly changed the whole concept of what computers were, from a centralized device, to one on every desk, to one you are carrying around with you.” Sculley also envisioned the isoquantic shifts affecting the television industry: “We’re seeing a new isoquantic shift taking place in this decade that is replacing the old analog communications we have known – digital compression communications. That’s a very significant factor for all of us because of the convergence of our respective industries, whether it is computers, communications, or content. They’re all coming together.”

How Fast Are Things Coming Together?

All this social stuff has accelerated change. Change comes from learning new ways of doing old things and creating new things. The power of conversational rivers about anything and everything is accelerating change. The reason is because we are all learning from each other and the idea exchange has been fueled by social technology which has create new markets of conversations never before experienced or envisioned. The conversations are creating new knowledge which fuels innovation.

The business narrative is full of terms like “momentum”, “velocity to market”, “dynamic”, “production” – all of these are time dependent variables.

Wherever one can observe a high rate of change of knowledge among people, there is innovation happening. If the innovation corresponds to your business plan – you are in luck. If it does not, then you need to change your business plan.

The best policy is that which accommodates what people are going to do naturally. Successful companies will align themselves to what people are doing. People will not necessarily align themselves to what companies are doing. The social web is the medium for Isoquantic shifts which is changing how we the people do things and how business gets things done. The change is swift and the more things change the faster things come together.

What say you?

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