CREATING TECHNOLOGY: FIRST PRINCIPLES
And, of course, another individual's view of the future will and should be different from yours. It cannot be otherwise in a future which is no more than an endlessly changing array of contingent probabilities, destabilized by individual insights.
You and the future are locked in the embrace of an eternal dance.
The mistake is the identification of a field which is vacant, not one which will be vacant in the foreseeable future. It is the difference between apparently vacant and really vacant.
Truly vacant fields are those domains where technology could go and where the market would go, but neither has the wit to imagine the destination. The linear-thinking herd certainly does not, lacking both the vision and the courage.
These are the fields that lay in the middle ground, boarded on one side by the imminently obvious and on the other side by the frontier of human inquiry. The almost obvious offers no advantage. The frontier holds too much risk, where all is in a state of flux and nothing is assured, where an intellectual breakthrough might occur tomorrow or the next century.
But both of these boundaries are vague and forever shifting and the middle ground is a land of shadows. The vacant field appears only in the mind's eye, often disappearing at second glance.
Let the herd prepare for battle on the plains, you will shift the conflict to the hillside, your ground.
Only in a vacant field can you think.
Then when the herd finally arrives, your fortress may be able to resist the inevitable siege.
You survey the landscape from hundreds of perspectives until the vacant field appears.
Greater specialization and even tighter focus can find work undone. But to what purpose? The danger is that the unoccupied space is too small to have market significance. And even if it had significance, the idea planted in that confined square could not grow except into a neighbour's field.
You are, after all, looking for a vacant field, not a garden patch.
And excluded means more than ignored. If you stay within the fences you cannot find the missing domains.
Fortunately, competition is knocking down the fences between specific marketplaces with increasing frequency. But many artificial boundaries still exist.
Unfortunately, the barriers among disciplines, both in the physical and social sciences, and among professions remains strong and arbitrary. And increasing specialization is actually building more fences, winding haphazardly across the countryside. Of course, the result is the creation of more gaps, rather than less. The likelihood of finding a handsome opportunity is therefore increased, if only you are prepared to jump the fences.
If the vacant field is fertile ground and the herd has not yet seen it or even looked for it, then an error of common judgement is likely present. Popular opinion is either ignorant of the opportunity or mistaken about it. If they knew or understood they would be about to take action.
(Remember that vacant fields are not beyond the realm of developed thought and therefore they do not await or need a fundamental advance in human understanding).
Of course, the more profound the ignorance or the more serious the mistakes, the greater is the potential for an innovation of consequence.
Identifying precisely who is ignorant or mistaken makes clear where the opportunity is and who the competitors may or may not be. Identification is the name, title, profession, company and industry. It adds yet another perspective to the landscape (there are never too many different ways to see reality) and suggests further directions to search for opportunity. If Person A or function A is wrong about X, might they also be wrong about Y?
Identifying exactly the nature of the ignorance or mistake helps to define the boundaries of the opportunity and contributes to the verification of the error. Identification includes both the specifics and the category. Is it ignorance about specific facts, an entire subject area or about cross-disciplinary matters? Is the mistake a simple lapse in logic or a complete misunderstanding of the issue?
Identifying the reason for the error is equally useful and often overlooked. The reasons are many: inappropriate education, irrelevant experience, complacency, arrogance, carelessness, fatigue, conventionality, lack of attention, to name a few. Of course, the more systematic and pervasive is the reason for the error, the slower will be the competitive response and the greater the vacant field opportunity.
Instead, the goal must be to develop an idea of scope, an idea that can spread across the field swiftly, put down the thick mesh of interconnecting roots. You want not just a single product sold to single customer; you want a family of products, a product category that can serve many different customers in many wants.
That kind of harvest provides the resources to build an enduring fortress.
Some of the knowledge comes from others, some from libraries and some you create yourself. And a market insight is as much the creation of knowledge as is a hardware design.
Moreover, you guard against merely repeating or elaborating the ideas of others by building your own treasury of knowledge, your own unique, personalized collection of books, images, addresses, sources, letters, articles and every form of memorabilia. You sharpen your creative talent in your daily log or journal.
Built up over time, your treasury provides a depth and diversity of perspective that cannot otherwise be achieved.
Yet in the absence of these principles successful innovation becomes a matter purely of luck - someone at the right place at the right time with the right idea. But it is only the right place because millions of persons are trying every place and failing most places; it is the right time because millions try all the time and fail most times. And it is the right idea only because out of tens of millions of lunatic ideas, an occasional one is appropriate. It is the law of large numbers come to society's rescue.
But most persons see only the successes and not the legions of failures. When they pattern themselves, as they often do, on those who were "random" successes, they duplicate the behaviour that leads most of them to fail.
And, oddly enough, the resulting failures are then ascribed to bad luck, still ignorant of the fact that bad luck was guaranteed.
Of course, part of the reason for this primitive state of affairs is that only recently has the need for innovation become urgent enough to warrant study in its own right. The pace of innovation produced automatically from a mass of random experimentation is no longer adequate to society's needs. And the cost of experiments doomed to fail is a heavy burden on the economy's resources.
The above principles do not assure successful innovation. Uncertainty always remains and any experiment can fail. But a logical, insightful process does improve the likelihood of success. The entrepreneur's critical role is not to play the odds as given, but to intervene to change the odds.
The objective is to create a successful innovation, not by luck, but by design.
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