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Those who are plugged in know that technology is a swift changing animal—a shapeshifter always in flux, moving forward at a terabit-fast pace. Keeping up with every new buzz and innovation is undoubtedly whiplash-inducing. But look away and you’ll be left behind. Are you going to be a mere spectator or will you drive innovation in your company?
Well, Hello There! The Third Internet Wave is Here
The development of the Internet can be broken down into three waves.
- The first wave, in the 1980s and 90s, was about building the Internet’s fixed line infrastructure and foundational technologies and getting people connected. By the new millennium, about a billion users were connected to the fixed Internet via primarily their PCs.
- In the 2000s, we had the second wave, which is characterized by entrepreneurial companies building services on those first wave platforms, leading to the emergence of second wave companies like Google and Facebook, powering the social media revolution and the growing app economy. During the second wave, there was also a transition to mobile software like Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS which allowed large numbers of devices to easily communicate with each other; ultimately, 20 billion people to the Internet via their mobile devices.
- Right now, the Internet of Things (IoT), which connects the Internet to everyday things and devices, is emerging as the third wave in the development of Internet.
As Steve Case, the co-founder and former CEO and Chairman of AOL, explains: where the first wave was about building the Internet and the second wave was about building on the Internet, the third wave is about integrating the Internet throughout.
Funny name, serious opportunity: So what exactly is the Internet of Things?
Good question! Even though the term “Internet of Things” has been thrown around for over 15 years, the term is still not particularly well-defined or well-understood. Definitions and interpretations still vary widely and the IoT is shrouded in complexities and disagreements abound about what exactly should be classified under the umbrella of the “Internet of Things”. Since we are just sticking to the basics here, an easy definition is connecting a device with an on/off switch to the Internet. The Online Oxford Dictionary also gives a nice, concise definition: “The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.” Popular examples of “things” that are part of the IoT umbrella are the Apple Watch, wearable fitness tracker Fitbit and the Nest thermostat which allows users to control their home’s temperature from their Internet-connected mobile devices.
25 Billion Reasons You Need to Pay Attention
The analysts at Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020. Moreover, Gartner projects that the total economic value-add (the combined benefits business will obtain from the sale and use of IoT technology) will be $1.9 trillion dollars in 2020, benefiting a wide range of industries, such as , healthcare, retail and transportation. 
The first two waves of the Internet catalyzed significant changes to the economy; the IoT third wave will do the same, establishing new winners and leaving the lagging losers behind based on a company’s ability to a connected world.
Yet these big numbers are just projections and skeptics are a plenty, after all, in the collective scheme of things, we are still in the embryonic stages of adoption of the IoT. Why a healthy level of skepticism can be important and a built-in impulsivity control in the innovation process, fear will result only in squashing innovation. As discussed in Robert’s Rules of Innovation, a book on how to be innovative that provides readers with a 10-step corporate survival guide program
of the ten imperatives, “No Risk… No Innovation” is arguably one of the most important. According to the book, without risk there can be no innovation. The willingness to take risk—given the cost of failure—can wither. Fear of failure can kill innovation.
We are at the precipice of a monumental change and entering a new era of connectivity. IoT will likely be a transformational trend well into the next decade. Your companies’ ability to adapt, innovate and thrive in this ambitious new time will determine who tomorrow’s winners and laggards will be. Innovate or die.
For more detailed guidelines and tips of the trade on how to promote innovation in your company, refer to Robert’s Rules of Innovation. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for the forthcoming Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (available December 8, 2015). You can also check out innovation workshops and online webinars through the Innovation as a System™ Seminar Series.