You may remember my post from a few months ago, about the King's Toaster. I related a funny story that made the rounds on an early Internet discussion board in the 1990s, about a powerful king and his two advisors. The king asked the advisors how they would add a computer to a toaster.
The first advisor, an engineer, provided a fairly straightforward design that read a darkness knob "from snow white to coal black," then set a timer as the program turned on the toaster. The engineer advised the king to "Come back next week, and I'll show you a working prototype."
The second advisor, a computer scientist, theorized that the toaster was today just a toaster, but soon would be a "breakfast food cooker that can also cook sausage, fry bacon, and make scrambled eggs. A toaster that only makes toast will soon be obsolete." The design became increasingly complex the longer the advisor thought about the problem, requiring the same technology as a high-end desktop computer … so the king had the second advisor tossed into the moat, and they all lived happily ever after.
That may be a silly story, and we all laughed 20 years ago. But I point you to two "breakfast food cookers" that you can find today in stores:
The Back·to·Basics Egg 'N Muffin 4-Slice Toaster/2 Egg Cooker has four slots that let you toast your bread, English muffins, bagels or croissants at the same time you steam-poach an egg or warm up precooked meat.
But that's not enough for the king's second advisor. I ask you, what good is a breakfast food cooker that can only make toast and eggs if it doesn't also provide a hot beverage? The king's advisor will tell you that the Back·to·Basics device will soon become useless!
The Sunpentown 3-in-1 Breakfast Maker improves on that design, combining a toaster oven, a coffeemaker and a frying pan. Finally, you can brew a fresh cup of coffee, toast a croissant and fry up an egg—all at once! The king's people will rejoice at their deliverance from breakfast drudgery!
(Incidentally, the Sunpentown is cheaper.)
In the 1990s we laughed at the King's Toaster story as just a silly joke that made it around the message boards of the time—like cat videos on YouTube today. But now the market has shifted, such that you can find not one but two of these breakfast food cookers. Despite being an odd idea 20 years ago, the market is now receptive to this innovation, enough so that multiple manufacturers are competing in this space.
The toaster story is a great example of how innovation happens in almost any product category. The technology that we rely on today will look quite different in only 10 years. In 20 or 30 years, we may no longer recognize that technology. I don't believe that we can satisfy ourselves with incremental progress. Instead, look for what we should be doing. We always need to look forward to what is coming, to what's next. With IT at a higher ed institution, ask yourself: "Are we simply supporting the campus of today, or preparing our students and faculty for the world of tomorrow?