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The role of technology: showing the truth


By Scott Bradner


From time to time Fortune magazine tells us who is important in the business world. They did it again in the November 27th edition.  It is done as a series of photographs taken especially for Fortune so I'm not sure if list membership was limited to just those who agree to be photographed but the mix of folk is interesting and maybe indicative of the areas that impact business (at least in the minds of the Fortune editors).


The section of the magazine is called "The Power Portfolio: 30 more people who shaped the face of business in 2006."  The black and white pictures were taken by Albert Watson and are printed on special paper stock.  If you like portrait photography you need to take a look at these pictures.  They are very posed, very stark and very insightful -- mostly body shots on an all-white background.  Only two people show real smiles (Bill Gates and Archer Daniels Midland CEO Patricia Woertz), Melinda Gates has a hint of a smile but the rest of the folks range from serious to mean.  A few are downright scary (Henry Kravis from KKR and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for example) and some weird (US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. and former US Vice President Al Gore, for example).


But I'm not bringing this set of pictures up just to praise Watson's photography but also to reflect on who Fortune thinks impacted business in 2006 and to see how important Fortune thinks these Internet and information technology things are.


It is interesting to note that Bill Gates is not included because he has anything to do with technology but because he. along with his wife Melinda and Warren Buffett (shown as a group in the first photo in the portfolio) established the world's largest philanthropy.  I'm not sure how the Fortune editors picked the sequence of photos but the next photo is of Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  The note under the picture of Jobs focuses on his media moves (selling Pixar, joining Disney's board and selling movies over iTunes rather than anything to do with technology per se).  There are a number of other representatives of the Internet world (e.g., AMD CEO Hector Ruiz, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, YouTube founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, Hewellt Packard CEO Mark Hurd, and MySpace founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson) but all of these folk are at least as well know for their deft business moves as they are for anything technical.  The rest of the folks (only 4 of the 30 are women) are investors, bankers, retailers, manufactures and one set of cops (Enron prosecutors John Hueston, Sean Berkowitz and Kathy Ruemmler).


So from this (rather limited) sample, I'd say that Fortune considers technology to be mostly a given (no Cisco CEO John Chambers for example) and not an important shaper of business these days.  That makes sense to me.  Apple makes great hardware and software but its mostly great not because it some unique technology but because of the attention to human factors (e.g., ease of use).


That does not mean that technology will not continue to evolve and improve but does remind us that using well-established technology in innovative ways (e.g., YouTube and MySpace) is a better road to success than making a better chip.  My biggest takeaway -- don't have Albert Watson take my picture if I have anything to hide.


disclaimer:  Harvard, as an institution,  does not review photo spreads so the above must be my review.