Technology was once a separate industry centered in Silicon Valley, but in the last decade, especially as mobile phones and cloud computing have changed both consumer and corporate computing trends, technology has become a central element that influences every business. That bleed of technology into all types of businesses and the how general business concerns affected the maturing technology industry were the macro themes of this year’s Brainstorm Tech conference this week in Aspen, Colorado.
Everything moves faster: The influence of technology could be felt everywhere as leaders from Andrew N. Liveris, the CEO of Dow Chemical, to the heads of design firms explained that their companies simply have to move faster. Liveris told a story Wednesday about waiting three months to even get a response from Dow Chemical when he was a customer years ago, Now he is producing products for Under Armour’s latest sneakers in three weeks. The design executive explained to me in a bar that he once tried to develop ten- and five-year plans for his business, but because of rapid changes in technology he now sees 18-month plans as practical. Everything else as a waste of time.
Tech may be ready to address its diversity problems: As the technology industry matures and social media offers more people a voice, it appears that the industry may be ready to address its woeful record on hiring women, minorities, and maybe even address class divisions. Substantive discussions were had. Apple’s head of HR gave a sneak peek of Apple’s forthcoming diversity report, while Ari and Rahm Emanuel chided Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky’s onstage for not asking either of them about their children after grilling YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki about her kids during an earlier interview.
In a roundtable discussion on finding new talent, Laura Mather, CEO of Unitive, pointed out that 4% of computer science graduates are African-American, but companies are only hiring 2% of them. She asked why half of those graduates are missing from the industry’s new hires. In that same session, General Assembly CEO Jake Schwartz said he felt that an even bigger diversity issue was that companies were not hiring staff that came from different class backgrounds.
TV is still relevant: Despite media attention on new ad platforms and Facebook’s video ambitions, TV isn’t dead yet. When an audience member asked the Emanuel brothers where each would place his ads if he were announcing a national campaign or a new movie, Rahm Emanual, the mayor of Chicago said TV would be part of his strategy. Ari Emanuel, the co-CEO of WME|IMG, said that when it comes to a nationwide broadcast platform nothing beats television. A roundtable discussion on the television industry yielded some surprising stats— George Kliavkoff of Hearst Ventures said that people are paying more and more in total for TV content.
Americans spend, on average, four hours a day watching TV. #FortuneTech
— Andrew Nusca (@editorialiste) July 13, 2015
No one wants to say there’s a bubble: Are we in a bubble or aren’t we? There was much discussion at the show but no consensus. However, reality is settling in, as several investors including Silver Lake’s Egon Durban noted that valuations were incredibly high and others pointed out that an inevitable shakeout will ensue. Reid Hoffman, a partner at Greylock, explained how the winners will look undervalued after the dust settles, but we can’t tell who those firms will be. Of course, that describes the private investment model in a nutshell, so anyone shocked by those predictions probably shouldn’t be in Aspen.
Education is on everyone’s minds: John Doerr called it the billion idea no one is investing in. Rahm Emanuel touted his efforts at making it more available to Chicago’s students and when asked about philanthropic efforts most executives onstage named a charity or two that dealt with broadening access to or improving education. Cynics might label this concern as a need to ensure a pipeline of qualified workers, which is certainly on executives’ minds as well, but most people in the technology industry value education for the sake of education and view what is happening in some public school systems as almost criminal.
Bitcoin, the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and how we’re using data all came up as well, but almost all of those conversations focused on these technologies as tools tying back to one of these core themes. I’ll also add that next year we should probably get some more regulators onstage, because worries about the influence of Washington and its interest in tech permeated many of the conversations as well.
Growing up is tough.
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