Some time ago I pointed out that, paradoxically, the dynamism of the digital world could be a factor of inertia in businesses. This is materialized through different behaviors.
– Since it changes all the time, it doesn’t matter if we miss this train, we’ll take the next one.
– More “fear marketing”. We are led to believe that a tsunami is coming on to sell us something and, in the end, we realize that the tsunami was just a wavelet and didn’t change much.
And we can’t prove them wrong.
Visionaries always have good ideas, but they often have them too early.
A few months ago I attended the “Digital Pioners” dinner in Paris. A nice meal or some of the big names on the Internet before 2000, those who experienced the 1st bubble, told how they set up their startup at the time and how for some of them, the beautiful dream had ended badly. There was, in their stories, a form of constant: they had all understood the potential of the Internet but had overestimated its impact in the short to medium term even if the long term proved them right. For example, inventing an online wallet was a great idea. For example Paypal is a real success. But in 1996 when e-commerce did not exist and would take more than 10 years to finally take off, it was doomed to failure.
And so we can cite a host of examples of products or services that have failed because they arrived too early. Surely those who launched them can have regrets by seeing, today, similar things meet a great success because they were launched 5 to 10 years later, once the market matured. We will never know, however, if by evangelizing the market they themselves did not create the conditions for the success of 2nd or 3rd wave entrepreneurs while digging their own graves.
Which reminds me of that quote from Bill Gates:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.
The short-term impact of the Internet was overestimated in the 1990s. I still remember the post-bubble period in 2001 when I heard recruiters saying to me “but the internet is over, the bubble has burst, we have to move on”. We know what happened to it…
Then we overestimated the value of e-commerce. Then of mobile. Then the impact of the new generations on the organization. I think we’re also having too much fears or expectations about data and artificial intelligence. Why? I would like to mention two reasons that are not exhaustive but are sufficient to explain this.
It is not the visionary who makes the market but the maturity of the customer
– There are visionaries, people who feel the power of things long before others and who surf the wave from the moment it is born. But until the market understands, until their vision is shared by a critical mass of customers, until the planets are aligned, it doesn’t take off. It is difficult to have a vision, to see a project in a dream and to sit on your dream and say to yourself that it is too early. It’s human.
– And then there’s what I call fear or emergency marketing. Its purpose may be to accelerate market awareness or create a market faster than the reality of needs and practices would do. But by force it is counterproductive: by force of not stopping selling a “next big thing” that does not arrive or does not arrive within the announced deadlines, you end up no longer being audible.
However, the Internet, mobile and e-commerce, to name but a few, have radically transformed the world over the past 10-15 years. As professionals in the field, as informed observers, we keep telling ourselves “another thing that doesn’t take off”, “another thing that has been oversold”. But the reality is that when you take the time to look back, the magnitude of the changes that have occurred makes you dizzy. They simply didn’t intervene when we were waiting for them, we lost interest in the subject, we looked elsewhere, but one day we realized that it finally happened. Not because a few visionaries have hammered something but because the customers, the society, have taken the time to appropriate it at their own pace and to make the long journey from disbelief to a felt and expressed need.
I was saying that we were too obsessed with AI and Data insofar as in the short term we will certainly be disappointed by what we will do with it. But over a 10-year horizon, the change will certainly be much more significant than the most optimistic people imagine today.
In the same way, let’s stop being in denial, the digital transformation of businesses has not taken place. We talk less about it, tomorrow we won’t talk about it at all and look elsewhere. But in a few years’ time, we will realize that organizations no longer have anything to do in terms of business models, tools, operating methods, organization and management with what they were at the beginning of the decade.
Change is always slower than expected but always stronger.
That’s the second part of Bill Gates’ sentence. “We underestimate the change over the next 10 years.” Scalded, companies no longer give in to emergency marketing and wait. They finally understood that over two years nothing changes. But this makes them fall into a wait-and-see attitude and, 7 or 10 years later, they are at the wall because not only has change finally arrived, but its scale is even greater than expected. But as it happened slowly, no one saw anything coming until it hit the wall.
The fact that things never happen as quickly as expected should not be an easy argument for deciding not to act. Because they always end up coming and stronger than we expected.
A lesson that, unfortunately, I don’t think companies are ready to understand any time soon.