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The Crashing Bowling Pin Theory

The Crashing Bowling Pin Theory

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Published by T M Copeland
An essay proposing a means of quickly analyzing the health of business associates given the technological restructuring of commerce.
An essay proposing a means of quickly analyzing the health of business associates given the technological restructuring of commerce.

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Published by: T M Copeland on Dec 08, 2009
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12/07/2009

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In the brave new world of information technology and everything it touches everyone isscrambling and clamoring for solid ground. Providers, users, dreamers, victims and roadkill are all pretty much in the same boat when it comes to seeing which way thisunnatural entity will lash out next.The entire commercial world seems like so many lawn bowling pins erect and inert whilea berserk hose from which water rushes at full force swings in wild abandon. The end of the hose whips first this way then that way in no discernable pattern and smashing intoone pin then another, sending each flying, the pin so launched then occasionally crashinginto one or more other pins and taking them down as well.In this model of the way in which the impacts of technology are moving through theeconomy it often seems no commercial activity is immune from the force of the hose. Italso seems that there is no real rhyme or reason to the motion of the hose. It seems oneindustry or business not dependent upon the changes of technology at all, can be leveled by the changes wrought on some supplier industry or critical customer.The saying "You can't tell who is skinny dipping until the tide goes out," is a sayingwidely attributed to Warren Buffet. He meant, of course, until economic hard times fallupon us, you can never really know who is on a solid financial footing and who isn't.When things get really tough in a broadly based financial recession like the one we're innow, it could also be said, "You can't even tell if you're skinny dipping until the tide goesout 'cause the failure of one of your business associates may well have snatched your  britches while you weren't paying attention."The impacts of the crashing bowling pin theory of technology are similar in effect. Your little company may not be so directly impacted by rapid technical change but some business relationship(s) on which your financial health and wellbeing is dependent may be critically affected.Like a recession that is broadly based, massive, structural changes in the way societycommunicates and organizes itself can result in significant, even devastating, indirecteffects on the way business is conducted. In such environments, just as understanding therelative financial wherewithal of those with whom you have a business relationship can be critical in times of broadly based recession, understanding the information,communication and organizational requirements of those business entities can becritically important in times of structural technological change.Of course, for most of us it is near to impossible to understand the informational,communicational and organizational requirements of our own little universe. Taking onthe burden for understanding those things about all our business relationship entities wellenough to understand how they will be affected and how we might ourselves be indirectlyaffected isn't reasonable.Most of us have been raised to believe that all business activities fall under one of threecategories: we either market, we produce or we administer. Frequently we do a bit of all
 
three, as the borders between these categories are blurred. I am not sure any of this haschanged to the point of no longer being valid. However, as far as both external andinternal use of the massive structural changes in technology have evolved and arecontinuing to evolve, the old tripartite view of business activity may no longer work.The primary structural changes occurring involve access to information and means of communication. These structural changes are so pervasive and ubiquitous they demandchanges in organization and activities in all three of the old activity categories. How youmarket, how you produce and how you administer are all affected, directly and/or indirectly by this structural change.So, the sky is falling, so what? Pointing out the obvious is very satisfying to the pointer  but not so helpful to the pointee.I am blissfully unaware of any shorthand analytical tools available to the pointees of theland but I do think there are a couple of things to look for when trying to assess thelethality of individual rocks within the avalanche. The new technology avalancheconsists of, roughly speaking, four different functional areas. These are: gatekeepers,communicators, content providers and distributors. The lines of demarcation between andamong these four are not terribly distinct. Indeed, there are vast swaths of technologicalterritory that could as easily be defined any one of four ways and assigned accordingly.Further, the relationships between and among the three are not arrayed along two or,even, three-dimensional lines. As inter-related and interlocked as each is with the all, itmay well be some surrealistic four dimensional model is required to properly illustrateany graphical relationship.Since this is beginning to give me a headache, it is perfectly OK for you to give up.On the other hand, it could be useful to simply define these things in terms of what eachcould contain. The gatekeeper function is the relay between access to the information bythe user of the information. Whatever this relay is, it stands between the user and thesource of the information. Search engines are gatekeepers, of course. So are old-linecompanies like newspapers and publishers and television networks. Colleges anduniversities are also gatekeepers. That each of these illustrations are also distributors,communicators and content providers just serves to illustrate the multi-dimensional factor mentioned in the paragraph above.Search engines are more the gatekeeper and less the other three. The same is notnecessarily true for colleges and universities though their gatekeeper role is more crucialto their current, ongoing societal value than they may recognize. Newspapers are beingreduced to an almost exclusive content provider role but are stuck with vestiges of their traditional gatekeeper and distribution role long after they lost any competitive advantagein those areas. Publishers, on the other hand, still have a crucial gatekeeper role to play but now only to the extent they can refine and define the specific market for specificworks. Any book or game or other publishable product having a mass-market audiencedoesn't need a general publisher to reach its target. Publishers have to work to meld the

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