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Future Leader Insight: Could A Cheap Plastic Film Disrupt A Multi-Billion Dollar Industry?

Yes, it is December, but I want to transport you back to the hot of our most recent summer.

If you have ever lived in a house without air conditioning, you know the drill.

The sun cooks the house all day long.

At bedtime the bedroom’s temperature is at least in the 70s.

You turn on the fan, you get the cool packs, you strip off the sheets, but nothing can get you quite cool enough to allow for restful sleep.

You sweat simply laying in bed.

As the hot days drag on you feign anger (which is actually jealousy) at your neighbors whose air conditioning units are cooling their homes to a comfortable sleeping temperature.

Those bastards!

The non-air conditioned may have the last laugh, though, as there may be relief in the not too distant future.

And the source of that relief should be of particular interest to future leaders, but not for obvious reasons.

Read this article: Cheap Plastic Film Cools Whatever It Touches Up To 10º C

Now, read it again through the lens of the future leader.

There is insight buried within.

First, let’s understand what this article is about.

Researchers have created a plastic film that when laid over objects can cool them down by up to 10° Celsius (that is 50° Fahrenheit!)

The plastic film has no moving parts and can be produced for $0.25 to $0.50 per square meter which is relatively cheap.

Now consider what most of us need to be cooled – our homes and our workplaces.

The product of choice for that cooling is a typical air conditioning unit.

The federal government says that, “air conditioners cost U.S. homeowners more than $29 billion each year…”

They also note that 75 percent of all homes in the U.S. have air conditioners and that these systems are releasing approximately 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year.

Air conditioning is a big deal in the United States and around the world.

And, it may be another line of business due for major disruption as the force of technology continues its relentless march forward.

The thing to understand about this seemingly innocuous article about a cool (literally) new material is not its physical properties, but its potential effect on the wider business landscape.

Think about it.

If there is a way to take this material and use it on buildings, then there may be a new way to cool the building while saving a huge amount of money. Seems like it could be an attractive opportunity to the people responsible for paying the electricity bill.

It is also attractive to accounts payable. Servicing air conditioners is a huge expense. The technicians who drive around fixing problematic air conditioning units would not necessarily be needed in the same quantity over time if a number of new spaces were able to cool off naturally by something that has no moving parts. The fewer invoices the better, right?

What is important for future leaders to understand is that as technology rapidly improves in the coming years, there will be intense pressure on future leaders to continually redefine what the work is, and how it gets done.

My book Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future goes into depth on this topic.

If you are a leader in the air conditioning vertical, you should be preparing now for how this potentially disruptive technology may change your business. To dismiss the product as too early and therefore not a threat (or an opportunity) would be naive.

Preparing now for potentially disruptive technology is not only a concept only for air conditioning companies. Rather, it is a requirement for future leaders in every organization. Being able to discern early and quickly what technology has the potential to disrupt your business – for better or for worse – is critical.

You start to resolve this problem by boosting your understanding of what is going on out in the world.

Are you reading widely and keeping up with technological advancements?

Are you thinking about what technology is already out there that could enhance, or degrade, your business?

Are you thinking about the symbolism of new technologies like this plastic film?

Air conditioning companies shouldn’t be the only ones looking at this article with a raised eyebrow.

Maybe you make computer servers. What if this plastic film could be used as an alternative way to cool the machines?

Maybe you make those shades that go in the windshield of cars. What if you could integrate this plastic film so your customers could return to a cool car in the heat of summer?

Maybe you make refrigeration units. What if you could use this material to help customers get the same benefit of freezing their contents but for less money?

Maybe you make clothing. What if you could use this material to create clothing that cools people off who want to be out in the heat of a mid summer day?

The point is that there may be many applications for any new technology.

The point is also that technology is advancing fast, and future leaders need to be ready, willing, and able to take advantage. If you are unready, unwilling, and unable, your organization will be left behind.

The insight from this article is that technology improvements aren’t only about computers and mobile phones, rather these improvements are wide ranging. As future leaders we need to keep our eyes on the horizon of all technological advancement to have the best shot at preparing our organizations for the future.

by Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan is the Head Coach at Sandcastle Company, a Seattle-based leadership training organization. His first book, Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future [link], is now available. Jonathan regularly writes and speaks about The New Leader Way, leadership resilience, and the future of work. He has years of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, a master's degree from Seattle University, and professional coach training from the University of Miami.

Filed under: Future Leader

Published on December 1, 2017

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