Digital Age: Technology and Innovation are Survival Kits of the 21st Century

Delivered by Gareth Chang at the Cogswell College Commencement Ceremony May 15, 2010

Gareth Chang

President Haskell, fellow trustees, teachers, students, parents and guests, congratulations to you all for achieving the very important academic study milestone of obtaining a college degree. The education that you have received will prepare you well to take on the Global challenges of the 21st Century. This generation – that is your generation – has untold possibilities and choices, not just in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East and the Poles, but the planets of our solar system and beyond.

The opportunities those possibilities and choices represent will be available to us all – and you are the generation that will help to drive it forward . . . . . and to reap the benefits.

Today my topic is “The Digital Age: Technology and Innovation, Survival Kit of the 21st Century.” I will be sharing with you my many years of learning, working and teaching – from launching rockets and satellites, building airplanes, setting up broadcasting networks around the world and to producing 3D animation.

At the beginning of the last century, we did not have the internet or cell phones – but we did have networks of telegraphs and telephones for communications around the world . . . . . thanks to the invention of Morse code and microphone.

We did not have superhighways or 747’s – but we did have trains and steamships . . . thanks to the creation of propulsion by steam.

We did not have television – but we did have motion pictures . . . thanks to the invention of cathode tube and other related technologies.

We did not have web portals – but we had newspapers . . . thanks to the invention of paper and the printing press.

We did not have computers – but we had the abacus and mechanical calculators.

Ladies and gentlemen, technology has been with us since the beginning of our civilization, and we are constantly creating, applying, integrating and evolving it to serve our needs.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, we have landed and walked on the moon, we have sent probes to distant stars in our galaxy, we can fly to all corners of the world within 12-13 hours, and we can soon even enjoy the space walk sensation on a commercial space ship.

We can watch hundreds of channels of news, drama, sports, movies, documentary films, from different countries of the world on TV, or in front of our computers, or even on our cell phones. The world is truly connected via cables, satellites, fiber optics and wireless devices – that is, we – the human race – have finally achieved total global connectivity!

We can make voice or video calls to anyone on this planet with no cost or very little cost; and access information from all corners of the globe in any language, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! This global reach has revolutionized every aspect of our lives forever, thanks to technologies and investments made in multitude areas of discipline and business enabling platforms.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the digital age!

From a macro perspective, the digital age has accelerated the concept of a “flat world” whereby connecting people and commerce have become more important than national boundaries. Thus it has ushered in a new paradigm shift in the economic model – the digital economy. That is, no longer will labor and capital dominate our economic thinking. Traditional advantages built on economies of scale, proprietary technology and monopoly position will not hold out much longer. Companies will be forced to compete on the basis of what they know, as opposed to what they own.

While there is a pressing need for companies to embrace technologies and create new business models to cope with changes, knowledge will be the basis of individual and corporate success in the 21st century. The new era’s refrain will be “knowledge sharing.” Perhaps the single biggest challenge for all of us will be how best to harness our intellectual capital for competitive advantage. This will require all of us and our businesses to change, to become more flexible . . . . . to become centers of innovation and entrepreneurship.

With digital economy, the time has come to rethink the “supply and demand” business strategy. Instead, companies should try to understand and shift to “customer Value” and “shareholder value.” Companies should look at where the value is moving in their respective businesses. The value may be driven by technology, deregulations and of course, global markets and services. One has to remember that value is constantly changing in the digital world. The challenge is to constantly build a forward-thinking business strategy that allows innovation to take the lead. Nike, Apple, Google, Facebook, My Space, Twitter, Soda Head are great examples.

To succeed in the digital age, business must no longer focus mainly on assets and products, but on people and customers. The greatest management challenge will be to sustain constant innovation . . . . the key to leading, rather than just keeping pace and be left behind.

To win in the digital economy, companies and creative people must embrace new technologies, new changes and new business models and rise to the challenge of thinking differently.

That is . . . another way to look at technology and innovation in the digital age is to think about technology being the hardware of innovation, but creativity is the software. As happens so often, software development lags the hardware development, primarily because there are not enough creative people around. And to each one of you, Cogswell’s unique education in digital media will certainly go a long ways in enhancing your ability to innovate, thus creating new ideas for the world. Just remember, if you can achieve an 11% utilization of your brain, you will be smarter than Albert Einstein!

The fact is we are living in an age of innovation so dynamic, that what we will actually achieve in the next 90 years’ time will almost certainly exceed anything that even a George Lucas, a Steven Spielberg or a James Cameron can fantasize about today.

Innovation is about possibilities. Keep an open mind and look for fresh ideas, expand the knowledge base and seek solutions from all disciplines and all cultures – that is, think globally and act locally in its truest sense.

In the digital age, diversity of thought and diversity of lifestyle will far outweigh the diversities that have loomed so large in the past – that is race, religion, culture, heritage or even language. Whether you prefer kabuki to Shakespeare, or Chinese Peking Opera and Hindi pop music to classical delights by the three tenors, or auctioning your original Apple Computer on eBay and Alibaba, your individual preferences will be amply met. They will be met any day of the week, at any time of the day, whether you are in Delhi, Shanghai or the San Francisco Bay area. A multiplicity of choice will be available to us all, in every segment of our lives. And the business opportunities those choices represent will equally be available to each one of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, the digital world of the 21st century will give us a multiplicity of CHOICES . . . in every segment of our lives . . . . from the minute we wake up until we go to bed . . . . around the world . . . . around the clock.

Some of you may already have ideas for a startup company and will be looking for venture investors. So let me share a story with you.

There was a successful venture capitalist whose business is growing so fast that he needed to hire a personal assistant. To test the first applicant’s knowledge, he asked a question: “What’s two and two?” “Two and two is four,” said the job hunter. “Good answer,” said the venture capitalist, “I’ll let you know if you get the job.” The second applicant got the same question, “What is two and two?” This must be a trick question the guy thought to himself so he answered, “Two and two is 22.” Hmmmm, interesting,” said the venture capitalist. “I’ll let you know.” The third applicant came in and the boss asked her, “What’s two and two?” “Whatever you can make of it!” she responded. “Congratulations,” said the venture capitalist, “You have the job.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the way it is now in our fast-moving, global, digital economy.

Again, congratulations! May the force be with you.

About the Commencement Speaker:

Mr. Chang is the Chairman and Managing Partner of GC3 & Associates International LLC, a private investment and consulting company. He has over 30 years experience in developing high-tech and media businesses in the U.S. and internationally. He is currently the founding Chairman of D5 Studio which focuses on production and distribution of 3D animation, TV dramas and feature films for international markets. He is also the Chairman of Netstar Group Holding Company, a private equity funded network integration enterprise located in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, as well as Chairman/CEO of Towona Media Holding Company, a mobile TV enterprise headquartered in Beijing. Read more.

May 15, 2010