In his book Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams wrote, “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
This means that most executives making innovation decisions have to be careful of being overly cautious with emerging technologies. In his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen has a similar warning to large incumbent organizations. While the incumbent has the luxury of a huge customer base, new entrants find niches away from the incumbent customer to build their new product. These new entry companies do not require the large revenues of the incumbent and thus have more time to focus and innovate before they scale, seemingly out of nowhere.
Again, looking at the same Gartner Hype Cycle, we see that some of today’s most successful internet companies were around at the start of the hype.
In 1994, Jeff Bezos incorporated Amazon. In May 1997, Amazon went public, raising $54 million with a valuation of $438 million. Google was founded in 1998 by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The IPO in August 2004 gave Google a market capitalization of more than $23 billion. Alibaba, the China-based marketplace was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma. At closing time on the date of its IPO in September 2014, Alibaba’s market value was $231 billion. iTunes was announced in January 2001. In February 2010, it was the largest music vendor globally and the iTunes Store’s revenues in the first quarter of 2011 were nearly $1.4 billion.
This mean that even if you are early in adopting Blockchain, it’s not impossible to make it big. It will probably take time, it will probably require youthful tenacity and the power of your entire organization, but there might be a way.
When innovating, we often want to leverage new technologies; they foreshadow excitement, growth, and opportunity. When new technologies arise, we don’t want to be the ones to miss the boat. Blockchain is one such technology today. It’s up to us to not be skeptical; progress, after all, comes from new developments that might not be neatly packaged. And we shouldn’t be naive because not all new development is progress.
A Dutch version of this article originally appeared in NRC Live.