It may be easy in the twenty-first century to look back at the early days of steam, internal combustion and electricity, and wonder how people and business harnessed the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s.

At the time, however, views on these major changes were very mixed. From revolution to romanticism, technology has been the catalyst for profound changes in how we viewed and lived life during the period.

Of course, technological progress did not stop with the Industrial Revolution. In fact the pace of change for human society has continued to accelerate, with better education and more effective use of technology for collaboration and ongoing innovation.

Change keeps on changing

For investors, appreciating how the world is changing is important in choosing which business endeavours will win and which will struggle. The pace of change makes these predictions a very difficult task. For example, investing in a nascent Nokia would have been the trade of the century – that is, up until Steve Jobs released the first iPhone.

If technological change is something we can rely on, that constant in itself presents an opportunity. Identifying exactly what the opportunities are, however, is a little more difficult. This is where asymmetry comes in.

Asymmetry is an important thematic tool in translating a global framework into individual investments. Most easily understood as probability, asymmetry looks for opportunities that provide upside with limited downside. Simply put, an asymmetric investment opportunity will not generate symmetric expected returns.

When we reflect on how technology is enabling businesses nowadays, we can evolve that thinking to look at which industries will be impacted and decide which offer an asymmetric outlook. In the information age, one of the corporate challenges that has become increasingly apparent, for example, is the rise of corporate complexity.

Technology changes people

In IBM’s 2012 Global Chief Executive Officer Study of more than 1700 chief executives in 64 countries, a dominant view emerged of technology being the primary agent of change for businesses over at least the next three to five years.

The need for better analytics to turn structured and unstructured data into actionable insights, and tools to facilitate collaboration and innovation on a massive scale, are examples of the way technology is changing the way we do business.

As importantly, technology is also changing the relationship between customers, employees and companies. For example, through social media interaction, businesses can anticipate preferences, forecast more accurately and even interact directly with customers to check satisfaction and perceptions of value. The richness and complexity of relationships is deepening for businesses right across their value chains.

Through the asymmetric window

Seen through the lens of a thematic investor, the rise of corporate complexity represents a number of opportunities. The obvious low-hanging fruit is the strong and sustained demand for leading information technology companies that provide the tools for businesses to compete effectively and manage complexity in their organisations. This asymmetric demand environment will, over time, be reflected in the share prices of the companies that can best leverage this long-term trend, companies such as IBM and Oracle.