It’s the tech innovator’s dream to catch the break of a wave at the perfect moment. To be the one who not only sees a monumental change coming before anyone else spots it, but who also has the team in place to utilise that wave’s energy and propel your business (and your tech) into the future.
At #LEAP22, tech entrepreneur Steven Bartlett (Founder of Social Chain) described the wave, the inevitability, the arrival of a technological change that coincides so seamlessly with social change that there’s just no way of stopping it. But how do you recognize those moments?
Listen to the naysayers
“What typically has happened in my life,” Bartlett said, “is you notice something is happening based on first principles, in truth, before other people do. And always when we have these emerging trillion dollar industries…there is clear evidence that change is happening. But convention is the kind of arguing force that says ‘that’s not how it’s supposed to be done.’”
It’s happening right now with blockchain. High-profile critics include global economist Nouriel Roubini, who labelled crypto as “the mother or father of all scams and bubbles” during a US congressional hearing in 2018. And Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics, tweeted that crypto’s only serious uses are “tax evasion and illegal transactions.”
This perspective is echoed in the day-to-day conversations about blockchain and cryptocurrencies — there’s more fear and misunderstanding than there is excitement about the world-changing potential of this technology. Bartlett’s ‘arguing force of convention’ is strong with this one.
And yet, Bartlett urges us to appreciate the purveyors of convention who tell us these new ideas are ridiculous. “In fact,” he added, “having people argue with [a technology’s] inevitability and calling it a scam or a fad, for me is a greater indicator that it’s inevitable.”
“I remember going and meeting MTV, and telling them about social media, and I remember them quite literally laughing at us. But that didn’t seem to shake our conviction because we knew that we could get anything in our country to become the number one trending topic in about 20 minutes using social media. We knew that we could get an app to get a million downloads in a 24 hour period using social media. And we knew there was no other way to do that.”
More than that: embrace the criticism
Instead of being frustrated by the people who say your plan is pointless or impossible, and instead of completely ignoring the naysayers and doing it anyway, you can take confidence from them. You can do it because of them. You can welcome the conventional critics who tell you that your new way isn’t the right way — because the history of social change, as well as the history of technology, tells us that all important shifts are met with serious resistance (and dismissal) to start with.
When writing went mainstream some seven and a half thousand years ago, Socrates opposed it because he thought the ability to write things down on paper would destroy people’s capacity to remember anything. (now neurobiologists are concerned that the internet might be doing the same thing, by the way).
Fast forward to 1983 and Motorola introduced cellphones in the US — costing $4k (about $10k in today’s money) and standing at two feet tall, they were dismissed as useless toys for rich people. And now in 2022 you’re probably reading this on your smartphone, because the global smartphone penetration rate was estimated to have hit 78% in 2020, according to Statista.
All of that to say: when change is inevitable, a lot of people think it isn’t. So if you’re involved in developing a heavily-criticised technology, you could well be involved in something huge.
Disruption is one thing, but what are you creating?
In spite of global scepticism, there’s increasing evidence that blockchain — and the future technologies that are developed in response to it — will have an important impact on our world. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, professors Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani described it as a ‘foundational technology’.
“The potential impact of blockchain,” they wrote, “is not different to the impact of the alphabet, laying the foundations for ordinary man to communicate (and transact) freely, and without intermediaries.”
We hear new tech described as ‘disruptive’ all the time, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. But when you get down to it, all technology is disrupting something. The people who recognize the inevitability of a new wave aren’t focused on what they’re disrupting and leaving behind in the dust, but on what they’re creating and making space for in the future.