Moore’s law… and beyond

Earlier this year, the world (or maybe rather a few tech-savvy geeks like me) celebrated the 50th birthday of Moore’s Law.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that transistor density (and thus the performance) of microprocessors would double each 2 years. Take for example today’s iPhone 6, which is 3.5 times faster than the iPhone 1 while its price is 30% less than the first generation 7 years ago. Moore’s Law has been used as a stable basis for forecasting technology evolution in the ICT industry for the past 5 decades.

Reading a few articles about this special anniversary reminded me of a conference presentation I gave (also) many years ago, in which I explored the thin line between “nice to have” and “need to have” technology.

Starting with a picture of Moore’s Law, and with the help of two other famous industry laws, a bit of visual thinking, a healthy dose of abstraction and some creative chartsmithing, I developed the following storyline…

moore_curve

Note that, although “doubling each 2 years” suggests a parabola-shaped curve, Moore’s growth function is almost always represented a straight line ― complemented by an exponential scale on the Y-axis.

Several years after Gordon Moore’s famous observation, another ICT pioneer, 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe, stated that the value of a network grows as the square of the number of network nodes (or devices, or applications, or users, …) while the costs follow a more or less linear function. Take for example a wireless network: if you have only 2 subscribers with a mobile phone, they’re only able to make calls to each other. If you have millions of subscribers however…

metcalfe_curve

Metcalfe’s Law is about network growth, customer acquisition, and value creation, rather than about technology evolution. The combination of Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws explains the rise of information technology and the growth of the Internet as we know it today.

As the next step in my presentation flow, I introduced my audience to the technology adoption lifecycle, and more specifically to the “chasm theory” that was developed by another Mr Moore. In his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers,” management consultant Geoffrey A. Moore talks about the gap between the take up of new technology by early enthusiasts and the mainstream market.

adoption_curve

And finally, in an unprecedented apotheosis, by combining the three preceding charts and by ― I have to admit ― visually cheating with axes, scales, and representations I came to the observation that the chasm is actually the point where the transition from a technology driven business to a value driven business needs to take place ― and if this doesn’t happen, that any new product or technology introduction is doomed to fail.

combined_curve

That’s a nice conclusion, which ― just like Moore’s Law ― still holds today, isn’t it?

You may view my original presentation on SlideShare. Please note that the deck dates from 2002, and that the market, my company, and the technology and product related content obviously have evolved since then.

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Wise men say

For the past decades I have worked and presented in the very fast-moving telecommunications environment (not only FMCG is moving fast…), which is driven by technology innovation and the need for more speed, capacity and bandwidth. A world where you have to deal with audiences of highly skilled engineers, that often get carried away by jargon, acronyms and the nitty-gritty details.

So, how do you open or broaden a high-tech conversation? Sometimes it helps to use a quote. Here are a few ones I have used to catch the attention of (or provoke or challenge) the people in the room.

Moore’s law is probably the best known “forward-looking statement” in the history of computing hardware. Around 1965, Intel founder Gordon Moore made the observation that there is a continual increase in the density of electronic equipment (“doubling each 18 months”). Although originally formulated for the number of components in integrated circuits, the prediction has turned out to be applicable to processor speed, hard disk capacity, network bandwidth, and other ICT domains too, and –which is most remarkable– it is still holding true after more than 4 decades!

This is why I often quote Gordon Moore to set the tone for debates about product evolution. As Moore’s law is telling us that the increase in capacity and performance (combined with the decrease in size and cost per unit) is a given fact, we should not worry too much about the availability of enabling technology for future products, but rather focus on how we are going to create value from it.

About 2 years ago, I discovered this fruity statement on Twitter. It’s a great quote about the changing end-user devices offering, and the complexity it brings to service providers and application developers. I have used it several times to shift the conversation from “creating complexity” to “dealing with opportunities”.

Here’s another one. In 1977, the year the Apple II was introduced, DEC founder Ken Olsen predicted that computers would never make it to our living room. Today’s reality is that most of us have at least one (and often more than one) personal computer, laptop or tablet on hand and that personal computing has become a multi-trillion euro market.

I am using Ken Olsen’s quote to tell my audience that there is no crystal ball and that even the brightest people sometimes hit the ball wrong. A good lesson on modesty, as well as an excellent way to lead people into a (sometimes very productive) “what-if…” exercise.

If you got inspired by the sayings of these wise (and less wise) men, then give it a try and add an appropriate quote to your presentation. It may help you to lead your techy audience into a broader conversation about “how can we work together to shape the future” and lift the dialogue above technology features, product details, network architectures and solution roadmaps.

More tips & tricks on the use of quotes in your speech can be found in a recent Six Minutes article by Andrew Dlugan.