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CHAPTER VII - Conclusion

The report from the first Aspen Roundtable on Institutional Innovation, held in 2008, cited the work of Venezuelan economist Carlotta Perez on the nature and impact of technological revolutions. According to Perez,1 over the past two hundred years, there have been five major revolutions—starting with the industrial revolution in the late 18th century and most recently, the information and telecommunications revolution of the late 20th century—each of which has transformed society and helped to create a new, more prosperous economic environment. Although the advent of each new technology brings profound changes, these changes do not happen overnight because existing institutions and social structures are based around previous innovations. It takes time for old organizations to adapt to new opportunities or to disappear, and for new organizations based on these new capabilities to emerge. In fact, a “golden age” in which the full benefits of new technology are fully realized typically doesn’t occur until society goes through a period of “collapse and readjustment.”

Carlota Perez: Technological Revolutions and Financial
Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages

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The continuing focus of the nine Roundtables held since 2008 has been on the ongoing challenge to organizations to respond to the changes of the 21st century economic landscape. While a number of relatively new companies have emerged as “exponential organizations” capable of growing and changing at a rapid pace, many older companies have struggled to adapt to the new environment.

On a fundamental level, the challenge is not simply for organizations to figure out how they can “make use” of new tools and new capabilities, but how they can transform themselves to operate successfully in a “whitewater world.” The good news is that a growing number of organizations have recognized the need to change, and that the tools for facilitating transformative change are becoming available. There are also examples, such as the transformation, under fire, of JSOC, that can serve as inspirational models. But the not-so-good news is that many large, well-established organizations—in both the public and private sectors—have just started on the journey toward a new, more agile model of operating that is based not on scaling efficiency but on scaling continuous learning that is necessary for survival. In the end, making this “big shift” will require strong leadership. It remains an open question as to whether the current generation of leaders can bring their organizations into a new golden age.

1 Carlotta Perez, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages (Edward Elgar, 2002).

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