I’ll never forget the day that I first encountered the Internet. It was 1989 when a friend who worked in aerospace showed it to me — and I immediately ignored it.

I wasn’t alone. Almost everyone missed the true impact it would have on the world. I originally told this story in my first book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change and went on to explain how this encounter had precipitated the three market forces that had changed everything.

These three market forces were:

  • The consumerization of IT — how consumer technologies changed the expectations and perceptions of technology consumers
  • The criticality of IT — how technology moved from a back-office focus to powering every business process, every customer interaction and virtually every element of the customer experience
  • The competition for IT — how with the rise of cloud technologies, IT’s consumers now had the option to go around IT and purchase IT services directly

Today, these three forces (and others) are rolled together under the banner of digital transformation and then boiled down to two primary impacts: the transformation of business models and the primacy of the customer. While there are a large number of factors that led to this point and many secondary disruptive aftershocks, it is hard to not identify the rise of the Internet as the ultimate disruptive source.

Like me, many industry leaders and industry-leading technology companies completely missed the significance of the rise of the Internet, even as it gained steam. Some were able to turn it around and get back in the game. But for many more, the rise of the Internet, and their failure to adapt, only rendered them irrelevant.

The question that matters today, however, is not the disruptive impact of the Internet, but rather, what similar massive disruption is coming next and how can you prepare for it?

Is Blockchain the Next Massive Disruptive Force?

Despite Jason Bloomberg’s recent Forbes article explaining why many skeptics think that blockchain is overhyped, there is a very real chance that blockchain is, in fact, the next major disruptive force — having a business and societal impact on par with the Internet’s.

The reality is that it is the job of industry observers (including us, at Intellyx) to be skeptics and hype killers (when we’re not creating it!). As a result, a chorus of skepticism preceded every significant disruption from the Internet to the iPhone.

While I agree that it may be too early to anoint blockchain as the next big thing — for all of the reasons that Jason pointed out — the fact remains that once everyone figures out that something is the next big thing, you’re already behind the curve.

The reason that I (and many other industry observers) think that blockchain has the potential to be the next Internet-level disruptive force is its very far-reaching implications. Much like the Internet before it — and unlike almost any other emerging technology — blockchain has the potential to fundamentally alter most of the operational underpinnings of our society.

Blockchain’s ability to enable peer-to-peer transactions — financial or otherwise — that are simultaneously secure, indelible and almost instant has the potential to disrupt massive segments of society that are built around these kinds of interactions, including healthcare, financial services, real estate and almost anything that requires a transaction between two or more parties.

And like the early days of the Internet, it is hard to imagine the full impact, the myriad use cases, and entirely new business models that will eventually emerge as result of blockchain’s adoption. But that is mostly a reflection of our lack of imagination, perspective, and foresight — not of the potential impact of the technology.

Recording artist Imogen Heap recently penned a Harvard Business Review article that did a fantastic job of taking blockchain from an abstract concept to a real-life potential use case — and explained its real-world impact and benefit to all those who participate in bringing a piece of music to the market. Notwithstanding the challenges that Jason shared, as you extrapolate these potential use cases across the spectrum of business and society, it is hard not to see the possibility of blockchain to be a massively disruptive force.

Disruptive forces like these, however, are a bit like waves forming off-shore. As any surfer will tell you, some waves pick up steam and continue to grow over time until they crash onto the beach with a thunderous roar. While other waves look promising, but fizzle into nothingness without having any impact whatsoever.

So the question isn’t whether or not blockchain is the next big disruption. The real question is, “If blockchain is the next massive disruptive force, what impact will it have on you and your organization and what are you going to do about it?”

The Uncertainty Capability: The Secret to Preparing for the Next Disruption

Answering this question is important on both a personal and organizational level — and regardless of whether you are a technology company or an enterprise. The reason is that the critical capability is not the identification of the next disruptive force, but rather the ability to rapidly adapt to whatever disruption may come.

The reason that many industry leaders missed the significance of the Internet is that we are all subject to something called the “curse of knowledge.” Coined by a Stanford graduate student, it simply means that once we know something to be true, it becomes very difficult to both imagine that anybody else doesn’t know this truth and to break free of the box that the knowledge creates around us.

The current incarnations of Internet-fueled technologies have become our new reality. We understand how it works, we have made plans for the future based on that understanding and are therefore naturally hesitant to accept anything that may challenge that preconception. It is the curse of knowledge in action.

This inherent bias is why the ‘what to do about it’ question is so important. If answered honestly, it forces us to step outside of that box, accept the uncertainty of the future and break the curse. Done continuously, it builds a broader capability: the ability to deal with uncertainty.

The Intellyx Take

As industry observers, it is our job to help you imagine future possibilities — and to try to pop the balloons full of over-hyped frothiness. That is because we understand that both stagnation and wanton chasing of every “next great thing” are of equal evilness.

The dirty little secret, however, is that we are as unable to predict the future as you. None of us really knows what will happen next. The future is made up of an incredibly complex mixture of technologies, possibilities, and events that come together in ways that no one can truly predict.

The answer, therefore, is not to attempt to predict the future. But instead, to prepare for an uncertain future by building organizational capabilities that allow you to anticipate and rapidly pivot, respond and react to any change that the market may throw at you.

There is, however, one prediction that I can make with confidence: there will be another massive disruption — and your ability to cope with the uncertainty it brings will dictate your future.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: sagriffin305.

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