Innovation Without Contact

Market View

John D. Sanders, Ph.D.,

"Innovation Without Contact"

At a recent training course for economic development professionals, an exciting session focused on the influences of the "Information Superhighway" and "Internet" upon site location of technology businesses in the future. The presenters and the attendees all mused about the current and upcoming technological changes in methods of communicating and effecting business activities. One person compared these changes to the introduction of the telephone in business; and, I don't disagree.

One can hypothesize about E-Mail, file transfer, data interchange, conferencing, and international messaging. However, the "yet-to-be-comprehended" processes are the most exciting to speculate on. What about design concepts with engineers "around the table" in remote locations all over the world, all working with the same graphics on the screen and simultaneously making changes and suggestions? What about color animations and picture enhancements that interact with a group of investigators concerning potential effects from a new chemical formula or friction reduction through surface smoothing?

Another course session dealt with the changing influence on site selection of "quality of life"- for example, the company locates near the ocean because the CEO likes to sail. Or, as education is done more from interactive computing and remote studies, will the regional clustering of technology companies be diffused- and how much will the need for the strong universities for continuing education be reduced?

And- specifically for technology transfer professionals- what about this concept of "technology transfer is a 'contact sport'?" If people are going to live where they want to and be able to communicate much more efficiently from remote locations, how are we gong to get the "contact" to be able to transfer technology? When I think of contact sport, I visualize a football type of connection. I also think of laboratory partners, visiting research fellows, facilities sharing and equipment utilization. There are the myriad of meetings, conferences, expos, and seminars that have provided the "contact." Finally, we have magazines, newsletters, and directories that allow readers to envision results-oriented actions.

Changes- you bet. They're coming, and fast. The measure of inquiry on the Internet is a "hit." The numbers being quoted for hits are almost staggering, and we're just getting started. How are we going to create "contacts" from "hits"? The only way to respond to enormous numbers of hits is to depersonalize and computerize the reactions. Thus, we're in danger of again losing the personal contact.

I conclude that types and volume of business activities and creative efforts done through the information superhighways of the future will explode far beyond anything we can imagine today. Every facet of our lives will be affected. However, I also believe that the human contact will become ever more valuable when it does occur. Maybe then, information superhighway hits will turn our "contact sport" of technology transfer into "collision events".

For excellent contact activity right now, let me suggest that you participate with regional councils of the Association of Technology Business Councils. They are ideal resources for involvement with 6,000 results-oriented entrepreneurial technology companies. The list of Councils is in the regular ATBC Update to Industry featured quarterly in Technology Transfer Business magazine. That magazine also is following these evolving issues of economic development (and the information superhighway) catalyzed through technology transfer.

For additional information on the ATBC and its regional business councils, or Technology Transfer Business magazine, call John Sanders at 703-848-2800, ext. 151.

prepared for the March, 1995 Issue of the Federal Laboratory Consortium NewsLink