TIDE in Model Railroading

TIDE and global changeCabForwardâ„  has been discussing, for the past several months, how technology has evolved to such a point that it has made it possible for home-based entrepreneurs to implement digital transformational innovations that cause massive disruption of entire industries. Low cost components, developed initially for other uses, fast-track cloud research, outsourcing via the internet, and the development of super-smart smartphone apps are combining to create countless revolutions that will create disruptive alternatives to incumbent products and services.

Although I’ve been studying and writing about TIDE . . . Technology, Innovation, Disruption and Entrepreneurship . . . for some time now, the reality of it all became so glaringly clear to me recently as I began poking around in something I thought I knew pretty well. Was I surprised! When my children were young, I did what a lot of dads do, I bought them a train set that came with some track. We had a lot of fun playing with that, adding toy cars that would have to drive fast to get across the track before the train got there, and added figures and buildings to make it more realistic. But, as usually happens, the interest waned over time, and the train got boxed up and stored. I don’t even know where or when it disappeared.

Toy Freight Train_smlSeveral years later, when my children were teens, I had occasion to meet a fellow father who was a model railroader. We began chatting, and he invited me over to see his basement layout. I really didn’t know what to expect, but when I saw it, I was fascinated. It filled up a whole room, with multiple rail lines and multiple trains, decorated with trees, buildings, streets, figures of people, and a painted backdrop that made it all seem quite realistic. Well, I got hooked. I eventually became a scratch modeler, creating brass locomotives, freight and passenger cars, structures and scenery from kits, or components purchased through the mail or hobby shops. The big learning curve, of course, was electrical wiring. Figuring out how to switch power on and off to isolate portions of track so that more than one locomotive could be operated simultaneously was always a challenge.

So, now that I have young grandchildren, the topic of a model railroad came up in discussion, and I thought I would do a little research and see what the state of modeling is like today. What I found surprised me. The hobby has evolved way beyond what we wished for back then. Technology caught up, making innovation after innovation possible. No longer do tracks have to be electrically insulated! Multiple locomotives can run on the same track, individually controlled by digital commands sent to it through the track or, in some systems, infrared signals. Control of the locomotives no longer requires a throttle to control voltage on the track, as the digital command signals can be sent through an app installed on your smartphone! That app also allows the operator to control lights, bells, horns and whistles, and many other accessories installed on the railroad.

Even though we have talked about industries that have been, are currently, or will in the future be disrupted by TIDE, it is an eye opener when it hits so close to home. And, it is affecting more and more folks in every walk of life.

Technology – The hobby has converted from analog switches, controls, and hundreds of feet of electrical wiring, to digital signals and wireless control, which adds more time for enjoying the hobby with friends and family. This, by the way, is the fastest growing hobby today, and can involve the entire family.

Model Railroading, Toronto, CanadaInnovation – New enhancements and advances are happening on a rapidly escalating basis because people from all walks of life, and every profession, enjoy the hobby, and innovate ways to make it easier and more fun.

Disruption – Technology advances and Innovation from all aspects of the hobby are rapidly disrupting the way things were always done, and moving every aspect of the hobby into an entirely new era. New, more capable, equipment. New, more sophisticated operating techniques. New, more flexible ways of getting more members of the family involved. Out with the old, in with the new!

Entrepreneurship – The advances made in the first three categories have opened the field for hobbyists to turn their passion into businesses. 3-D printers have made it possible to turn that perfect scale building you designed into a product lots of hobbyists want for their railroad layout. Build it, package it, list it on an online retailer’s website, and you have an instant business! Who knows how far it might go?

And, this concept of TIDE is evident in so many aspects of our culture today.

Aging USPS TruckHave you seen a U.S. Postal Service vehicle out making deliveries on a Sunday, or holiday? They are no longer talking about dropping Saturday home delivery to reduce operating costs. The pressure of the Internet and competing home delivery services have disrupted the postal service to the point they are taking extreme measures in what many are calling a last ditch effort to stay relevant.

Increasingly “smart” phone apps are affecting the home security monitoring companies, who are struggling to maintain their grip on a waning market. Innovators are packaging inexpensive off the shelf home security systems that can be controlled by a mobile device. No contracts. No monthly fees. No live monitoring needed.

Banks are now deploying check deposit apps that let you simply snap a photo of the front and back of the check and deposit it digitally from wherever you happen to be. ATM functionality is being whittled down to mere cash transactions. The handwritten check is becoming a thing of the past as smartphones make it easy to make payments through a variety of apps.

Business communication, which moved away from mail to email, is beginning to shift away from email to text messaging and group collaboration through apps that give team members the flexibility to participate from their remote location as more and more companies adopt the virtual team concept. These apps record and save all interactions between team members, giving the user a historical archive to refer to when needed.

We could go on and on, of course, but I just received a text message that a delivery service dropped a package for me at the front door a couple of minutes ago, and a restaurant I frequent just texted me to say that they have a two-for-one-plus-free-soft drinks lunch special today from 11:00-2:00. Oh, drat! Someone just outbid me in the last few seconds of an online auction!

Digital transformation just keeps coming . . . like the TIDE.

Read more:
Technology and its role in TIDE
Innovation and its role in TIDE
Disruption and its role in TIDE
Entrepreneurship in TIDE
TIDE: Waves of Disruption
Navigating the TIDE Continuum