Dan Khabie is the CEO of Digitaria and has been selected as one of LinkedIn’s Influencers. He recently participated in a series in which Influencers picked big ideas that will shape 2014. Continue to read his insight into the year ahead.
Because I’m the CEO of a successful digital company, people often ask me what I think the next “Big Idea” for popular or business technology is going to be.
It’s a fun question, but one that’s almost impossible to answer. Sometimes, in the spirit of the moment, I’ll offer my opinion about a specific company or tool; other times I’ll tell them I’m not sure, but mention a recent type of technology that interests me personally. But the one thing I always tell them is that no matter what it is, chances are it’s probably something already here that’s just not broken into the mainstream yet — and that perhaps they’re already using something interesting or worthwhile they should tell me about, because maybe they’ve beaten me to it!
That’s the thing about predicting the “Big Idea” for the year to come. For some people, for some early adopters, that big idea has already hit the market – it’s just percolating on the back burner of the greater society. It’s waiting for an inflection point, whether that’s a major influencer, an event that provides a catalyst, or some kind of greater societal shift that moves the zeitgeist and the idea along with it.
So, for me, that’s the thing that you need to be able to predict: What’s going to cause what kind of inflection point for what kind of product?
Let me offer you a couple paradoxical examples of what I mean. On one end of the spectrum is Amazon’s new drone delivery system. It’s an idea that’s here now, and caused much buzz (pun intended) for Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. It’s also an idea that’s not going to happen for at least five years, which even Bezos acknowledges, or even longer, or maybe ever. But it was an idea that captivated the media and the country for a couple days, timed exceptionally well on 60 Minutes the night before Cyber Monday. But it won’t be one of the big ideas of 2014. Or 2019.
On the other end of the spectrum, let me tout my own company for a second, because it helps me make my point. Digitaria was the first company to use Cloud Computing for clients, way back in 2008, helping Hasbro and YouTube deliver hugely popular contests and concerts; we tried like hell to trumpet our success to every marketing and digital trade publication we could, proclaiming the cloud was going to be a huge development for digital agencies and their clients. No one cared. We got zero press. The Big Idea was here, but nobody saw it or understood it.
This situation was explained quite well by Geoffrey Moore in his 1990s book “Crossing the Chasm” (a little Amazon link love there for you and your drones, Jeff B.), which is basically “the bible for bringing cutting-edge products to progressively larger markets.” Moore points out that almost all game-changing products are in the market for a while before they actually change the game, and that marketing them properly is as important as the product itself.
And in some ways it’s tougher to call in our industry, because we’re surrounded by early adopters. I, for example, had the first iPhone when it came out. My mom, on the other hand, still doesn’t have one.
So while I’d like to say there’s going to be some big technological product that breaks through in 2014, I’m not sure there will be, despite all the cool stuff that’s bubbling just below the mainstream. According to a recent report from our parent company, JWT, in fact, the mainstream is getting pretty sick of technology and the increasingly rapid pace of change. They may take a year off, unless they simply can’t.
One technology bubbling on the edge of mass conversion is Bitcoin, which is increasingly in the news and serves an interesting purpose. It had a setback last week after China badmouthed it, but I suspect it’s here to stay. That said, it probably needs a couple more years and maybe an economic crash to really gain acceptance.
Another idea that’s become popular on the coasts but still has a long way to go to mass acceptance is e-hailing car service company Uber. If you saw their financials, which were recently leaked, they’re staggering. Uber has the potential to completely reinvent the hired car/driver market, and it’s barely cracked mainstream America. Not only that, Uber’s got plans far beyond its current overt business model. They could be a powerhouse.
Finally, there is increasing interest in technology that supports home automation, wearable tech and the ever-popular “Internet of Things”: Near-Field Communications and its similar peer, Bluetooth Low Energy. Both fuel smart home technology, and will likely reach mainstream convergence in the near-ish future. But I think that future is still a few years off.
So who knows? But like I always ask the people who ask me, because maybe they know better: What idea do YOU know about that is on the verge of breaking big?