This year’s CES conference in Las Vegas was the usual chaos of missed busses and absurd crowds. None of the many new gadgets yet make attending the show more humane and orderly (though I don’t know how any of us did it in the pre-smartphone days). But the Wall Street Journal notes that more “non-tech” companies than ever were at the show, displaying their wares or just figuring out how their wares are likely to be changed or better marketed by tech.
We at Techonomy hosted a dinner with health giant Johnson & Johnson about how tech is transforming that industry, and those attending included execs from Coca-Cola, GE, and Hyundai. We attended another one where Ford explained how it was incorporating Amazon’s Alexa voice interface into its vehicles. Tech is so pervasive that it’s a mistake for any company to disregard the many ways it’s changing how consumers behave and how it is creating new tools that alter every industry. I moderated a SuperSession on Artificial Intelligence that included an executive from healthcare’s Philips.
But another thing we at Techonomy believe passionately is that the winners in the evolving digital and technologized economy will be those leaders who think most broadly. That’s a big reason why our conferences are so multidisciplinary and wide-ranging. And I haven’t seen a better recent argument for this approach than this short profile of Elon Musk, one of whose unique virtues is his broad curiosity about many disciplines. The article includes this savory sentence: “Learning across multiple fields provides an information advantage (and therefore an innovation advantage) because most people focus on just one field… Each new field we learn that is unfamiliar to others in our field gives us the ability to make combinations that they can’t.” That’s a lesson the supposedly “non-tech” companies have learned and that leads them to troop to Las Vegas for a class in the future.