The History of Invention Leading up to CRM31 Jul 2015
Is CRM one of the most important technological innovations of all time? You might think I’m biased for even suggesting it, but bear with me, I promise I’m not just putting it out there for shock value.
We can look back throughout history and see that there are technological innovations that genuinely changed how people interacted with their environment and lived their lives. The way I see it, these items fall into one of two camps: Communication or Efficiency.
Some of our greatest inventions have been developed to improve our ability to communicate with each other, while others have sought to give individual people the power the do the work of many — efficiency in a word. These two goals have driven us to create technology that has revolutionised our world.
Animal Domestication (8500 BCE)
Ok, it’s not exactly an ‘invention’, but this achievement in human imagination allowed a handful of people to cultivate enough land to feed hundreds. This ensured a more efficient way of producing food that freed up at least a portion of the labour force to start doing other things, like finding a better way of storing all that extra food.1
Writing (3000 BCE)
By preserving the words and thoughts of individual people, it became possible to build upon what came before, rather than spending all your energy on remembering — it allowed for the preservation of ideas to ensure they were communicated to the future. 2
The Ancient and Classical World
Then we’ve got a huge period of time when there were innumerable innovations in farming, metal-work, art and weaponry. Each helped to build on the previous two inventions – increased efficiency in food production and greater dissemination of ideas. Taken singularly, each is a minor improvement, but taken as a whole, they made it possible for Western Civilisation to grow from small farming communities to complex nation states.
Then there are some great leaps…
Although initially used for curiosities and clocks (to achieve important goals, it must be said), when the interlocking gear was applied to food production, it revolutionised the industry. Mark Denny’s research shows that3 although we have waterwheels being used to grind flour as early as the 1st century BCE, the introduction of interlocking gears sometime before 500 CE allowed for a more consistent output with lower power.
The fact that slower streams could be used suddenly opened up this technology to people in just about any environment (well, as long as there was a stream). Once again, you have an invention that allows for an increase in efficiency, this time it is one that builds on two ancient ideas (millstones and interlocking gears) to revolutionise an industry.
The key benefit to the printing press is that it made knowledge more accessible and easier to spread. Instead of taking a single individual months to copy a book, you could churn out a copy a day (or more as they became more efficient). Alongside the printing press came the cultural idea that big ideas didn’t have to be printed in ‘academic’ languages like Latin or Greek, they could be written in England, French, and Germany – languages that let the average person read something more than just their business accounts, they could read and engage with these big ideas. Communication with the big thinkers of the past and present was available to everyone.4
Steam Power/Combustion Engine
The use of steam power, and later the internal combustion engine, drove the Industrial Revolution. Both technologies, like the introduction of animal domestication before them, were responsible for a massive increase in output for a variety of industries. They were also responsible for driving a huge cultural shift in the way we interacted with the world and each other.
They also mark a real change in the speed of technological innovation. Instead of waiting for hundreds of years for the next big advancement, the combustion engine especially was modified and used in new, exciting ways that pushed innovations in a variety of fields – just think, the engines that are in a 747 Jumbo Jet and a lawnmower both have their roots in that first combustion engine. Both, you could argue, are tools designed for making us more efficient, but are truly worlds apart.
The telephone was not the first time people attempted instantaneous global communication, but unlike the telegraph, people didn’t need to know a special alphabet and they could (eventually) be installed in an ordinary office or home. This opened up the world to communication in a way that had never been seen before. With just a few simple numbers, you could have a conversation with someone half a world away. People could share ideas, ask questions, conduct business, or just plain gossip — globalisation had truly begun.
The invention of the computer and later the microchip represent yet another change in efficiency. This time, however, we weren’t trying to produce more crops or build something faster, we wanted to free our own brains from doing a hundred little tasks or calculations. By starting to hand over the time-consuming and tedious calculations, we freed up our brains to do other things. In the same way the domestication of farm animals freed up some members of the community to do other things, the computer gave our brains the time to think bigger and more complicated ideas.
Surprisingly, I don’t have a lot to say about the importance of the invention of the Internet. That’s not because it isn’t a wonder (because it so clearly is), but because it, in some ways, repeats the goals and achievements of both the printing press and the telephone. It’s global communication in the same vein as the telephone, but has also made a similar cultural impact as the printing press – it allowed for democratisation of knowledge and information. Anyone with internet access can speak to anyone else and can access information about anything they wanted. The Internet opened up the world and made it accessible to all…
I admit, the invention of CRM systems, even Cloud-Based CRM, isn’t as big an invention as the internal combustion engine or the printing press. But it represents a sort of end goal of a lot of these technologies.
CRM gives people the ability to easily communicate with each other via email, as well as engage with past events by reviewing notes from a phone call or seeing the history on a HelpDesk ticket. It also gives a single person the ability to streamline the way they work by giving them the tools to organise their time, centralise all the administration that comes with running a business, and easily report on all of it. By making a single person a more efficient worker, it frees up them and their colleagues to make those advances that just aren’t possible when all your time is taken up with tedium.
When you look at CRM software, what you are seeing is the culmination of the two goals I mentioned at the start. It is both a tool that helps us communicate more effectively and work more efficiently.
1. Diamond, J. (2002). Evolution, consequences and future of plant and animal domestication. Nature, 418(6898), 700-707. doi:10.1038/nature01019
2. Britishmuseum.org,. (2015). British Museum – Historic writing. Retrieved 20 July 2015, from http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/themes/writing/historic_writing.aspx
3. Denny, M. (2007). Ingenium. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 4. Eisenstein, E. (1994). The printing press as an agent of change. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Although I originally hail from northern California, as soon as I arrived in Yorkshire I knew it was the place for me! At OpenCRM, I started out in the Business Development team, and then moved into compliance and Q&A because I love telling people what to do…ok, that’s not the real reason, but it makes for a good bio one-liner. When I’m not in the office, you can usually find me tramping through the dales, crafting, gardening, or with my nose in a book.