Disruptive Questions in an Exponential World


I recently finished two-and-a-half days at Singularity University’s Global Summit (not to be confused with our own SIG Global Summit!). It was an incredible, mind-blowing, education-packed few days. Singularity packs their event with high-energy speakers who speak passionately on their area of expertise. I heard presentations on virtual reality, augmented reality, healthcare, leadership, socially responsible business, entrepreneurship, the future of work and so much more. The presentations covered a wide variety of topics, but they all had one thing in common…they all made you think about the possibilities…they all challenged the status quo…and they all embraced the concept that disruptive technologies are changing our world exponentially.

No session covered this better than keynote David Roberts whose core message was that slight variations in key assumptions could have a HUGE impact on our future. In his impassioned, funny and moving presentation Roberts connected the dots on some of the most exponential technologies our world has seen by asking everyone to consider some “what ifs” in life. His enthusiastic presentation and challenging questions inspired me to dig further.

What if…your phone was smarter than you? In 2013, Gartner predicted that by 2017 smart phones would, in fact be smarter than humans. Are they? Artificial intelligence (AI) has certainly progressed to such a point that you might argue that they are. In an article and related research, Gartner presented four phases of cognizant computing:

  • Sync Me – store copies of digital assets and sync them across devices;
  • See Me – know where I am/have been on the web and in the world and align services based on my mood/context;
  • Know Me – understand what I want/need and proactively present it to me; and
  • Be Me – act on my behalf based on learned or explicit rules.

There isn’t a single step listed above that isn’t already available today. They may not always be in ubiquitous use, but rest assured that they are just getting more sophisticated. If you have an Amazon Echo, you can readily see this in action. In one of the breakout sessions at the SU Global Summit, Neil Jacobstein shared that the Amazon Echo (known as “Alexa”) launched in September 2014 with 15 skills. In a year and a half that number grew to 135 and by the end of Q2 2017, it had developed 15,000 skills. Talk about exponential growth! The Internet of Things (IoT) has essentially allowed our smart devices to connect and solve problems. Can’t get home to turn on your oven? If you have a smart oven appliance and an Amazon Echo, you can use the Alexa app to take care of it for you. No need to run home if you have Alexa there to help. Too bad she can’t fold clothes…

What if…machines made more money than people? How might that impact the growth of the GDP? With Blockchain, machine learning could become machine earning. Blockchain may well be the most misunderstood concept floating the globe today, but rest assured that you will need to understand it as it will impact your life. For more on blockchain, read this Outsource article and blog post which discuss it in more detail and make connections to how it can be applied in the world of sourcing and outsourcing.

What if…the education system was all wrong? We spend years in school getting an education yet use only 1-2% of what we learn. Should the focus be on learning things we never use in life or on how to make sure we are happy in life and know how to succeed? What would school look like if that was our focus…and why hasn’t that been the foundation of our school system to date? According to Roberts, it is because the education system is resistant to disruption. Minerva Schools at KGI is one alternative to a traditional brick and mortar school. Their mission, “Nurturing critical wisdom for the sake of the world” focuses all who enter on becoming better global citizens. With that in mind, each student lives in seven different global cities over the course of their four years, allowing them to immerse themselves in cultures around the world in a very tangible way. With an acceptance rate of less than 2%, Minerva is more selective than any Ivy-league school demonstrating that students are clamoring for a different approach to education.

What if…building walls doesn’t keep jobs in or immigrants out? We live in a global economy and although the current U.S. administration’s focus on nationalism aims to keep jobs onshore (and filled by American citizens), doesn’t crowdsourcing tear walls down? Using technologies such as Upwork and Fiverr, where someone lives is frankly, irrelevant. If you can find someone to provide the work you need in the time you want at a cost you determine…do you really care if they are living in Siberia or Seattle? Doesn’t it open a world of possibilities for all of us? If a smart device is more affordable because the parts are produced in lower cost countries, doesn’t that benefit the consumer?

It behooves all of us to start challenging the status quo by exploring the world of “what ifs”…there is no question that technologies today are disrupting our futures exponentially…the only question is how we embrace them. 

Sarah Holliman, Chief Marketing Officer, SIG
Sarah Holliman is the Chief Marketing Officer at SIG and has more than 20 years of experience in the sourcing industry. Prior to joining SIG's leadership team, Sarah was with A.T. Kearney, leading the marketing efforts for the A.T. Kearney Procurement & Analytic Solutions unit. She also spent five years at A.T. Kearney consulting primarily to financial services companies on topics that ranged from strategic planning to procurement cost reduction to back-office operations. Before joining A.T. Kearney, Sarah was in business development at one of the largest commercial banks in the country.
Sarah has held numerous leadership positions on non-profit boards promoting children, women and educational issues, and has specific expertise in membership development, fundraising and strategic development. Sarah has a BA from Furman University and an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA.