Blockchain technology has generated buzz in the technology and financial services industries, but short of sponsoring a Pokemon Go stop, it will take awhile before main street feels the impact of any solutions. If you are not familiar with blockchain, this article published by McKinsey featuring an interview with Don Tapscott is a good overview and features some of the lofty expectations. A few of my favorite high bar setting quotes in this interview are:
"... revolutionize the world economy"
"... the biggest innovation in computer science"
Marc Andreessen, famed Netscape co-founder and venture capitalist, authored a 2014 article that I recommend reading, which had another memorable quote, “the consequences of this breakthrough are hard to overstate". Well Marc, people took your challenge seriously and are trying their best to overstate the consequences. Balancing out the hype discussion are the folks at Coin Desk with an interesting piece on “Peak Blockchain Hype”.
How do you navigate around the hype and actually get your business to take the first step?
The problem with hype is that it has an unusual way of having people react and form opinions before they are fully educated. Let’s imagine you are not in technology or financial services, where this discussion is a lot easier, and believe Blockchain technologies could have a meaningful impact on your business. How do you approach your business and technology partners without receiving skeptical snarks or blank stares of confusion? Or worse, your colleagues have heard of Bitcoin, but because they have no personal need for a crypto currency, and may even associate it with shadowy black market activity or currency speculation, they are starting with negative perceptions.
Tip #1: Don’t mention Bitcoin.
The use cases for blockchain in many industries will not center around cyber currency. Look to educate others on smart contracts, digital identity and records management, and asset exchanges. In reality, Bitcoin’s platform may still be used, or you may choose another platform, like Ethereum, but that is an implementation detail and best to focus on the business need first.
Tip #2: Align your solution to a strategic goal of the company.
Did the CEO just announce that she is looking to reduce $200M from operating costs by next fiscal year? Or did she outline a vision for 50% of your revenue to come through digital channels? Give your business partners examples of how a blockchain solution can enable those goals. For example, smart contracts could be a great way to reduce operational costs and open up your business to a new customer base.
Tip #3: Look for lurking disruptors.
Like those adorable Pokemon creatures, startups can be lured out of the wild by industries that produce healthy margins and have low customer satisfaction. With over $1B in venture capital funding fueling blockchain, there may be a startup looking to dis-intermediate your company from its customers. If this doesn’t peak your business leader’s curiosity, it may be time to start networking for self-preservations sake.
If your business partners are interested at this point, my advice would be to start with envisioning workshops and planning sessions, and then quickly shift into building proof of concepts on a thin slice of use cases. If you believe the hype, then strap in for a long term view and focus on capability building first. Avoid placing too many of your eggs in early solution incubation jars. Your initial ideas may not get past the proof of concept stage, but like our Pokemon friends, your ideas will power up and evolve, and the capability that your company builds will enable delivery of future solutions at increased velocities.