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Better an Idealist than a Laggard...

To determine which new technologies merit the investment of time and money, we utilise a 2x2 matrix to assess the attitudes of optimists and cynics with regard to technological advancements. We offer reasonable approaches to distinguishing between short-lived trends and genuine breakthroughs, and argue that it is preferable to embrace new technologies like an Idealist, as opposed to a Laggard.

The 2x2 matrix, first proposed by Bruce Henderson and Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s, has become a go-to tool for MBA students and strategy consultants. It is a simple analytical framework, plotting permutations of options along two axes.

I want to use this format to say something about optimists and cynics, fads and technological breakthroughs.

LinkedIn (as with all social media) is a vast ocean of self-promotion and hyperbole. I don’t pretend that this account is entirely immune from those vices. Hyperbole is particularly prevalent in tech. I think that there are two main reasons for this:

1)     Many of us can remember the widespread adoption of the internet which was genuinely ground-breaking and changed everything. We are now chasing that hit.

2)     Tech can be difficult to understand so it is possible to over-hype it by hiding behind a cloak of nonsense.

And so to the 2x2…

Our x-axis goes from ‘Tech Fad’ to ‘Paradigm Shifting’ (I use the term colloquially and far more broadly rather than in the strict Kuhnian sense). History is the best judge of whether a technology is a fad or a game-changer. The internet was clearly paradigm shifting. The Sinclair C5 less so.

Our y-axis goes from ‘Pessimist’ to ‘Optimist’. Pessimists are sceptical and disinclined to invest time or money into new technologies . Optimists are early adopters who will take risks and experiment.

In our top-left hand quadrant we have Idealists. They tend to look at the world with an overly optimistic and naive viewpoint. They embrace every tech fad. They don’t just view the world through rose-tinted glasses - they view the Metaverse through rose-tinted Google Glasses. Idealists waste time and effort on tech that is going nowhere.

In the bottom-left hand quadrant we have the ‘Prudent’. Prudent people are suitably sceptical about the latest technology fads and do not spend time and resources trying to use them.

In the top-right hand corner we have ‘Trailblazers’. Trailblazers embrace paradigm shifting tech and are quick to adopt it into their day-to-day working practices. They take advances like electricity or the internet and are quick to see their commercial potential.

In the bottom-right hand corner we have ‘Laggards’. Laggards are slow to adapt to game changing technology. They get left behind and are out-competed by the Trailblazers.

Two assumptions can be made: 

It is better to be Prudent than Idealist.

It is better to be Trailblazing than Lagging.

If you can reliably tell if a new technology is ground-breaking or just a fad then you can adjust your level of optimism/pessimism accordingly.

How can you do this? There isn’t a simple one sentence answer to this, but here are some sensible approaches:

1)     Analyse the technology’s use cases to determine if it solves a real problem or if it is just a novelty.

2)     Examine if there is real market demand for the technology.

3)     Ask industry experts for their opinion on the new technology.

4)     Compare the new technology with existing solutions and see how it stacks up.

5)     Try out the new technology yourself to get a first-hand experience of it.

6)     Understand as far as you possibly can how the new technology works.

5 and 6 are by far the most important of these.

When I was looking at blockchain I watched all of Austin Griffith’s Eth.Build videos and learnt some basic Solidity. I read Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin paper. It seemed to me that blockchain was intellectually fascinating but low on practical use cases.

When I was looking at the internet of things I bought myself an Arduino and learnt (very) basic electronic engineering. My investigations suggested to me that the internet of things was going to be hugely transformative in areas like agriculture and manufacturing. 

If you are interested in whether large language models are a fad or groundbreaking, start using one. AutogenAI will give you a complementary Test and Play Session so you can try out our Language Engines for yourself.

When Rupert Murdoch invested in Theranos he obviously didn’t try out the tech to see if it worked or not. If he had done, he’d have seen that it didn’t.

What if you really can’t tell how good a technology is?

Here I suggest that in the context of evaluating new technologies, it is better to be an optimist than a pessimist. An optimist might sometimes be an Idealist and waste time and effort on tech that is not going anywhere. But occasionally being Idealist is much better than being a Laggard when faced with a technology that will change the world. Google might look a bit silly for Google Glasses but Alphabet remains one of the biggest and most successful companies of all time. Blockbuster went from revenues of $6bn to bankruptcy as it failed to embrace video streaming.

In conclusion, it is important to do your due diligence and research when it comes to evaluating new technologies. It can be a costly mistake to invest in bad technology but it is an existential mistake to let groundbreaking innovations pass you by.