Dev Patnaik of Jump has his own answer to the [innovation] why-now question. He contends that advances in technology over the past three decades have gradually forced management to reconceive its role in the corporation, shifting its focus from processing data to something more esoteric. “My dad was a midlevel manager for I.B.M.,” Patnaik explains, “and I remember him in the ’70s, sitting there with plastic 3M transparencies, by hand, with marker, to make presentations. For years, the good manager was one who had data at their fingertips. What’s our sales in Peoria? ‘It’s actually 47 percent above last year.’ People say, ‘Oh, he’s a good manager.’ ” By the early ’90s, though, companies like Microsoft and SAP were selling software that digitized this task. The days when a manager at, say, the Gap could earn a bow just for knowing how many sweaters to ship to Seattle were over. “When that happens, what is the role of the manager?” Patnaik asks. “Suddenly it’s about something else. Suddenly it’s about leadership, creativity, vision. Those are the differentiating things, right?” Patnaik draws an analogy to painting, which for centuries was all about rendering reality as accurately as possible, until a new technology — photography — showed up, throwing all those brush-wielding artists into crisis. “Then painters said: ‘Well, wait, you can tell what is but you can’t tell me my impression of what is. Here’s how it looks to me, like Seurat. Or the Cubists who said, ‘You can’t capture what is going on from multiple angles.’ ” Technology forced painters to re-evaluate, which transformed their work. Something similar has happened in corporate America. As Patnaik puts it, “We’re in the abstract-expressionist era of management.”
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