Listening to the first episode of the Exponential Wisdom podcast, I heard an absolutely astounding prediction.
In the next decade, we’ll see a 1,000X (AKA 100,000%) increase in information, an important measure of change. The hosts, Peter Diamandis and Dan Sullivan, went on to predict that the same would happen in the subsequent decade, and in the one after that … the very definition of “exponential.”
Oh, by the way, Diamandis also predicted that “every company, every product, every service – every single one – will become disrupted, will become obsolete.”
What would thousand-fold (10 years), million-fold (20 years) or billion-fold (30 years) change actually look like? How do you get your brain around that? It’s an important question because if you can conceptualize this, you can better position your business and yourself to prosper.
When you think forward, 30 years seems like an almost infinitely long time. To get perspective, look backwards instead. Remember dearly departed Prince’s song “(Party Like It’s) 1999?” Don’t worry, that song is not 30 years old. No, last September it turned 35! Ouch. Take a short break to listen to it and contemplate the passage of more than one-third of a century.
I wondered, if Diamandis is right, the 10X-per-decade growth in information / change must already be happening. I should be able to find evidence of it. So, I went looking.
Guess what. I found some dazzling examples.
In 2015, AT&T held an Analyst Conference to report on financial results, investment plans and the like. At the conference, they presented a graph of AT&T’s wireless data traffic growth from 2007 to 2014 (eight years, a tad shy of a decade). And there it is. The graph bends progressively upwards, slowly at first and then faster and faster and faster. In the last year, the height increases by more than half again, for a total of … (drum roll please) … 100,000%.
Consider the other changes due to the iPhone (and Android). A child born on the day that the first iPhone was sold is just 10 years old today. And yet during that period, Blackberry, which was dominating the smartphone business saw its market share go from north of 50% to literally zero. Yes, Blackberry exited the smartphone business in September 2016. If that can happen to a company so popular that they’re called “crackberry” …
On a different front, I’m pretty sure you could have asked every single employee at Yellow Cab, from a driver to the CEO, “Are you worried that Apple’s new iPhone will drive you into bankruptcy?” The question would have seemed nonsensical. And yet all around the country, Yellow Cabs are going into bankruptcy, while Uber and Lyft are valued in the tens of billions of dollars. And those are just two of the 2,000,000 new apps that helped drive 1,000X change in the past decade.
Every company will become disrupted. Diamandis advises, “You either are going to disrupt yourself or someone else will.”
You’re thinking that the iPhone is a black swan event. Au contraire. Here’s a completely different example that illustrates even faster change.
On April 14, 2003, a day that the rest of us were probably hustling to complete our tax returns, scientists announced that they had completed sequencing 99% of the human genome, at an accuracy of 99.99%, at a cost of $2.7 billion. What’s happened to the cost of DNA sequencing since then? For Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a personal sequencing kit so that I could trace my ancestral originations (awesome) and discover my genetic disease propensities (oh, yay).
You’re thinking that my sister-in-law is Warren Buffett. Unfortunately, she’s not. Instead, over 1.5 decades, the cost of DNA sequencing has changed by a factor of 38,599,000. Today, you can get it done for just $69.95.
Look back 10 years and I bet you can find dozens of similar examples. Indeed, we can start to understand what 1,000X change looks like having just lived through it. And we can also appreciate how fast 10 years (or thanks to Prince, 35 years) happens. So now we can better contemplate the next 10 years using … drum roll again … “Dave’s Implications Exercise.”
Get a smart team together to brainstorm, maybe on a Friday afternoon, maybe with some wine or beer.
Step 1: Pick a scenario, such as “energy cost goes to zero,” or “autonomous vehicles become pervasive,” or “image recognition gets 1,000X better/faster/cheaper,” or “video screens get so cheap and thin that they can be part of product packaging or wallpaper,” or “computers achieve consciousness,” or “labor cost goes to zero (robots),” or “the unemployment rate goes to almost 100%,” any other scenario of interest to you.
Step 2: Enumerate the implications of that scenario. There are typically dozens or hundreds of implications. For example, if energy cost goes to zero, desalination becomes economically affordable. Population growth in the teeth of a long-term drought in the western U.S. becomes a non-issue.
Step 3: List the resulting opportunities and decide which ones you want to pursue. I predict that the market for desalination systems is going to be huge!
We’ve been through 1,000X change on countless dimensions during the past decade. That gives us a 0.1% understanding of what the next decade will be like, so at least we’ve got our toehold. Every business will be disrupted. Disrupt yourself or someone else will.