The 21st century didn’t start in the year 2000. It started in 2010, the same way the 20th century began in 1908 with the advent of the automobile. It became the century of highways and freeways, the century of the auto—the American century. Similarly, if you look at what happened a couple of years ago, there were all kinds of crossover points that happened around the same time: more cell phones than landlines, more laptops than desktops, more debit cards than credit cards, more farmed fish than wild fish, more girls in college than boys.
I am dedicated to the belief that if you get the right information to the right place at the right time and in the right context, you can make the world a better place. This is something I call the two-second advantage. In order to achieve that, you need to understand five forces shaping the 21st century.
The first is the massive explosion of data. Look at all the data that was created from the beginning of mankind until a couple of years ago. Since then, ten times as much data has been created. Think about it: ten times as much data just in the last two years then in all of history. The amount of video content that will go up on YouTube today will be far more than all that Hollywood has created since its inception.
The second force is the rise of mobility. It took 100 years for there to be a billion landlines, 10 years for there to be a billion cell phones and just one year for there to be a billion smart cell phones. We live in a time where everyone on the planet will have one of these smart cell phones.
The third is the emergence of platforms—social, cloud and so on. It used to be that if you wanted to reach an audience of millions or tens of millions, you had to be a large corporation. Today, platforms like YouTube, the iPhone app store and Facebook, allow individuals to reach massive global audiences. Just recently a Korean rapper put his song up on YouTube and it became a global phenomenon within days. That’s the third factor to consider … how do you leverage the platforms that are out there?
The fourth is the rise of Asia. A few hundred years ago, India and China were about two-thirds of the world’s economy. Most economists predict that at some point in the next century, we will revert to that same state. That is because anything that can be done in India and China will be done in India and China. Any 21st-century strategy must take that into account.
The fifth and final force is that Math is trumping Science. If the 20th century was the century of Science, I believe the 21st century will be the century of Math. When I say “Math trumping Science,” I mean that you no longer have to know the why of something, you have to know the what. You simply have to know that if A and B happen, then C will happen; you have to find the pattern. For years, AIDS researchers tried to find the secret of how the AIDS virus mutated and they were not able to.  About a year ago, they converted it into a Math problem and put it into a game called Foldit. Within a week, gamers had found the answer – something scientists had not been able to find for years.
Anyone can build their business by understanding and harnessing these five forces and utilizing the two-second advantage. Think outside the box, be passionate, innovative and creative, and you, too, can make the world a better place.
Vivek Ranadivé is CEO of TIBCO Software, one of the sponsors of Techonomy 2012, where he spoke on the session “The Forest for the Trees: The Meanings of Data.” Click here for a complete video archive of Techonomy 2012.