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Four disruptive technologies to cash in on before it’s too late

light bulb innovation technologyImagine if back in the summer of 1998 you learned that two guys named Sergey and Larry were launching a company named Google, and that they were hiring.

Or what if in July 2008 a buddy told you that he was pretty certain that Apple’s new App Store was onto something worth following? (There are almost 700,000 apps in the store today.)

Disruptive technologies may unsettle industry leaders, but they are a potential pot of gold for individuals who shift their careers to leverage these powerful new forces.

If you don’t believe such forces can change everything, ask the former leaders of Egypt and Libya. I’d like to suggest that when it comes to your career, it’s just as important for you to understand these forces as it would have been for Hosni Mubarak.

Here are four especially powerful disruptive forces you might want to track, along with some ideas about how you might profit from them.

social network graphSocial influence is the result not only of social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, but also of people being linked 24/7 to other people and being able to share information anywhere and anytime.

It literally inserts a crowd of friends, experts and strangers between you and any company. You’re no longer alone, outgunned or hopelessly ill informed. Social influence shifts the balance of power from companies to customers.

How can you profit from this?

You could start a new service that leverages the power of Social influence with regards to a particular, narrow interest of yours. Like standup paddle boards. Or knitting.

You could further empower customers, or make it easier for people to share highly detailed information about very specific topics.

If you work for a company, you can help shift its strategy from one of obscuring the truth to one of highlighting the truth, no matter whether it is flattering or not.

Ask yourself, “How can I benefit from the growing power of groups of individuals?”

Digital sensors include a growing assortment of wireless devices that sense changes in the environment around them. They include everything from cameras and microphones to accelerometers and proximity sensors. They are being embedded everywhere: cars, appliances, clothes, walls, bridges, the oceans, your garden, in the skies, in space, and even in human bodies.

Sensors will be linked to events (a truck pulls into your driveway) and ideas (climate change). They will transform dumb objects into smart ones (your refrigerator orders more milk from the grocery store).

Attach a sensor to your back door, and you can tell your door to text you every time it opens. Add a little logic (“if the back door opens between 2:30 and 2:45 on a week day, text me to say my son is home”) and you create a smart object.

Attach a sensor to 1,000 back doors and you have a nice little business. Sensors will spawn thousands of new businesses, and even more services that no one thought of until 2012, or beyond.

Ask yourself, “What can I make smarter, by using sensors?”

Pervasive memory is the data that gets generated every time we interact through a digital device.

It expands with each new sensor, smartphone, tablet, computer and digital interaction. When you use digital devices, you create a memory in numerous databases.

This information creates countless opportunities for companies to offer new services, for community groups to help local residents, and for researchers to better understand our world.

Ask yourself, “How can I benefit from information about what actually happened?”

google earthquakes scientific data usgs pervasive memoryUntil Pervasive Memory, people had to rely on gut instincts and vague anecdotal information, but now we can access highly specific information. For example, Google Earthquakes uses search data to identify earthquake occurrences faster than seismic monitoring stations.

But pervasive memory also creates mind-boggling opportunities for abuse. The traditional ways most companies sell their goods – by “targeting” prospects – not only won’t work in this environment, but they also will most likely be illegal. At work, you need to be extremely careful not to accidentally use such data in a way that makes headlines in the worst possible way.

All of these forces and more lead us to the emergence of the physical Web, which will be the original Web expanded to include not just computers but almost everything and everyone on the planet.

It will link people, things, ideas and events. It’s the natural next step in the evolution from computers to laptops to mobile phones to smartphones to… smart everything.

Many smartphones already allow you to send a reminder to yourself at a particular location. My son uses this function to remind himself to record a particular soccer game when his school bus arrives at the edge of our driveway.

When you find a lovely spot in the woods, you’ll bookmark it. Even better, you’ll leave virtual notes “on” a nearby tree, asking subsequent visitors to snap a photo (which will be automatically emailed to you.)

If you like, your phone may stop you on the street and introduce you to your soulmate, or to a potential technology co-founder.

At a party, you’ll be able to see the interests of other people before you approach them. The possibilities are endless.

Ask yourself, “How can I create opportunities by linking something that hasn’t yet been linked?”

Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and coauthor Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.