Paradigm Shifts: On the Verge

paradigm shift

We recently listened to an interview with futurist Joel Barker, who is accredited as the person to first use the term “paradigm shift” to apply to business and culture rather than science and technology alone. He discovered that the concept of paradigms, which at that time was sequestered within scientific discourse, could explain revolutionary change in all areas of human endeavor. In Barker’s view of the paradigm shift, he contends the future is something you create, not something that simply happens to you. In his seminars and video programs, Barker teaches how to create your own future by finding your next innovation. Through stories and examples, he reveals how to bring your ideas with the ideas of others together as you meet at the Verge.

Being at the verge is, for Barker, when the old connects with the new. Innovation at the verge is when two or more elements that are very different from one another are joined to create a single idea that solves problems the separate elements couldn’t. Example: the fork lift that is also a weighing scale for Fed Ex. It is the combination of a forklift and a scale—two very different elements that, when combined, make Fed Ex more productive. How do we apply this to the business model and the Internet? In today’s changing global online market, savvy brands will apply the tried-and-true methods of yesterday’s marketing with new, innovative, not-yet-proven ideas from those who live, breathe, and eat the Internet 24/7. Examples include viral marketing techniques, the use of pop culture images in ads and on websites, and applying marketing to the latest croppings of technology—such as embedding ads in video games or reaching niche markets through micro-blogging (Twitter) applications. Have these methods been tested two years ago? A year ago? No, because they did not exist; being on the verge is to take these new channels and use techniques of the past and come up with a whole (and holistic) new way of interacting with consumers.

Here are Barker’s Top 5 paradigm shifts for 2009 that he feels will have a major impact on the corporate, business, political, personal, and social world:

#1 – Buckypaper: super strong and super light
Florida State University researchers have developed a new kind of material made out of carbon nanotubes that promises to be 10 times lighter than steel of the same thickness and potentially 500 times stronger! Nanotubes have been manufactured for years, but this is the first time someone has assembled them into a sheet.

Each tube is 50,000 times smaller than a human hair but extremely strong. Buckpaper is made like paper except, instead of wood fibers, it is made up of layers of nanofibers. Of course, we are just at the beginning, but, just like computer chips, once we figure out how to make it, it will improve dramatically.

Think of the impact of a material made out of a highly abundant material–carbon that is so light and strong. Airplanes, bridges, buildings, cars–all will be stronger and lighter. For cars and planes, it means much less fuel needed to go from point A to point B. For buildings, it means cheaper foundations, or much taller buildings. And safer, lighter, longer-lasting bridges. Just when we were worrying about the cost of iron ore, along comes Buckypaper which could make steel, if not obsolete, used a lot less than it is now.

#2 – Nanopaper
In Sweden, another kind of “paper” has been invented. Using a very old material, cellulose extracted from wood, Swedish researcher, Lars Berglund have changed conventional paper into a much stronger material. He has figured out a way to make celluose nanofibers and then use a standard paper making process to make paper out of these fibers. The result is paper stronger than cast iron and almost as strong a structural steel.

Here, again, we see a common, easy to grow material, provide new and important qualities of strength simply by finding a new way to process the material. The concept of a “paper house” stronger than steel is very interesting.

#3 – Pollution Eating Concrete
An Italian company has invented a concrete that takes pollution out of the air. It is self-cleaning so it always looks white. But more than that, it neutralizes air pollutants thus improving the quality of the air nearby. In the United States its first use will be near schools to reduce the effects of pollutants.

#4 – Electricity in the right places improves engine mileage!
Research done at Temple University confirms that an electric field generated near the fuel injectors of a diesel engine can improve mileage by as much as 20%. It looks like it should work for standard gasoline engines as well. That means a 20% decrease in fuel consumption across the boards for all internal combustion engines. No comment on whether old engines could be retrofited, but, from the research, it sounds possible.

#5 – Algae to Oil–a gusher
A Texas company claims it can grow algae at such volumes that they can produce 100,000 gallons of “algae oil” per acre per year. This compares to corn which yields only 200 gallons of ethanol per year. The secret is a vertical system that allows a 3 dimensional growing space for the algae and a closed-loop system that keeps contaniments out and re-uses water with more than 90% efficiency. Given the numbers, one-tenth of New Mexico could supply all the land necessary to provide 100% of the United States’ transportation fuel needs, assuming all vehicles can burn diesel fuel.

The really impressive thing about this company is that they are not seeking public funding and have many venture capitalists waiting to help. This is a project that could change the face of the earth because it takes carbon out of the air (via the algae) to create the lipids in the algae that are then converted to bio-diesel. And anywhere there are moderate temperatures and good access to sunlight, you can have a “factory.”

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We can all be futurists. The team at Ninthlink is, ever day, seeking out, researching, and identifying the trends that will encompass tomorrow’s world in business, online, at home, and in life.

Do you have ideas and notions about future trends? Send your thoughts in the comments box.

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