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WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us by Tim O'Reilly

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4

THERE ISN’T JUST ONE FUTURE

THE FUTURE SEEMS OBVIOUS IN RETROSPECT. HOW COULD we have missed it?

There are constant reminders in the news. Almost every time there is a terrorist attack or mass shooting, we hear that police and intelligence services received prior warning, that there was someone trying to pierce the fog of bureaucracy to report their fears about the suspect. “Were officials blind and deaf?” we ask ourselves. We forget that before an event occurs, there is a shifting complex of possibilities, any of which might happen. For every potential threat that is reported, hundreds never come to pass.

Once an event occurs, all those possibilities collapse into the one reality that we call the present, and then, in an instant, the past. But even the past, seemingly fixed as it appears, is an illusion constantly updated by new knowledge from the present.

This is as true in technology as it is in national security.

Back in 2000, I received an appeal from Richard Stallman. He was concerned about Amazon’s 1-Click e-commerce patent, and the fact that Amazon had just sued rival Barnes & Noble for adding a similar feature to its site, barnesandnoble.com. Richard urged me, as one of Amazon’s top publishers, to boycott its service. “Have you tried to talk with Jeff?” I asked.

He hadn’t. So I wrote an email to Jeff Bezos (whom at that time I’d never met), asking him to reconsider:

SUBJECT: Amazon 1-Click patent

DATE: Wed, 05 Jan 2000 10:03:59–0800

FROM: Tim O’Reilly

TO: Jeff Bezos

I wanted to give you guys the heads up that I’m getting a lot of pressure from my customers (via my Ask Tim column on our website and direct customer e-mail) to comment publically [sic] on the Amazon 1-Click patent. I was also approached by Richard Stallman to help him publicize his Amazon boycott, and I declined, but I do want to let you know that I agree with his message although not with his methods. I will be forced to make some kind of public comment shortly, and I wanted to let you know what the substance of it will be before it goes out to the world.

First off, I think that you are reaping a harvest of ill-will with the technical community. While I know you are setting your sights on a wider consumer audience, the serious technical community represents the core of your early adopters and many of your best customers, especially in the book market. . . . And I can tell you that those customers are solidly against software patents.

Second (and this is the point most important to me), the web has grown so rapidly because it has been an open platform for experimentation and innovation. It broke us loose from the single-vendor stranglehold that Microsoft has had on much of the software industry, and created a new paradigm with opportunities for countless new players, including Amazon. The technologies that you have used to launch your amazing success would never have become widespread if the early web players, from Tim Berners-Lee on, had acted as you have acted in filing and enforcing this patent. Because, of course, you are not the only one who can play the patent game. And once the web becomes fenced in by competing patents and other attempts to make this glorious open playing field into a proprietary wasteland, the springs of further innovation will dry up. In short, I think you’re pissing in the well.

Patents such as yours are the first step in vitiating the web, in raising the barriers to entry not just for your competitors, but for the technological innovators who might otherwise come up with great new ideas that you could put to use in your own business. It’s a well known technology truism that all of the smart people don’t work for you, and that one of the surest ways to success is to get more ideas and more work out of people outside your own fences. . . .

You’ve gained enormous competitive advantage by making use of technologies that were freely given to the world. If players like yourselves succeed in replacing that gift economy with a dog-eat-dog world in which everyone tries to keep their advances to themselves, and worse, tries to keep others from replicating them, you’ll soon find yourself either spending a larger and larger part of your budget on developing your own technology, or, more likely, you’ll find yourself hostage again to commercial software vendors whose interests may not be aligned with your own.

If you see yourselves primarily as a technology company, you might want to play the Microsoft game of trying to corner the technology market with proprietary APIs, file formats, and patents, but if you see yourself as a great customer service and marketing company, you want other people inventing technology platforms that you can build on. That’s been a key part of your success so far: You’ve been able to take a great open platform, and build vertical applications that provide a fabulous service to your customers. Filing frivolous patents will only retard the growth of the platform.

And that’s a third point: The patent is very unlikely to be upheld in the long run. It’s a classic example of the kind of software patent that would never be granted if the patent office had even the slightest clue about software: A trivial application of cookies. I’d be very surprised if there isn’t a fair amount of prior art even in using cookies in conjunction with saved credit card information. But even if there isn’t, the basic method of saving state information about prior visitors is so fundamental that there’s nothing new in what you did.

Finally, I want to say that I admire you guys tremendously. I speak and write constantly about Amazon as the paradigmatic example of “the next generation of computer applications.” I think that you’re a terrific competitor, delivering a terrific service, and I don’t think you need to use tools like this patent to keep yourselves on top. You can win without it, and I firmly believe that in the long run, it will do you more harm than good.

I realize that having come out so strongly behind this patent, it would be very difficult for you to do an about-face and back off from it. However, I urge you to do so. . . .

As I’ve suggested publically [sic] on more than one occasion, I believe that the companies that have profited most from the web have an obligation to give something back. This is more than a “thank you” to the developers who made your success possible; it’s also an act of self-interest, to keep the innovations coming.

After a few days, Jeff replied with a polite brush-off. At that point, I decided to go public with the issue, and published my email to Jeff along with an open letter that I asked my customers and other interested parties to sign. Within less than two days, I had 10,000 signatures, and a phone call from Jeff.

Jeff argued that the patent was valid, that Barnes & Noble—at the time, the biggest, most predatory force in the bookselling business—was copying every move that Amazon made, and that his legal counterattack was necessary for Amazon’s survival. But he agreed that my arguments had merit, that open innovation was better than patent warfare. Amazon needed to file patents to protect itself, he said, but would constrain itself in the future to using them defensively—that is, in response to a patent lawsuit or threat of lawsuit from some other party.

Then, in a brilliant move of PR jujitsu, Jeff suggested that we go together to Washington, DC, to lobby for patent reform. We did that, and eventually we invested together in a startup, called BountyQuest, that promised to help surface “prior art”—that is, previously available technology that, if known to the patent office, would lead them to deny a patent application or to require that the patent applicant make clear how its application demonstrates an innovation not shown in that prior art. (BountyQuest was itself a great example of prior art for later innovations like Kickstarter, since it was one of the first examples of Internet-enabled “crowdsourcing”—even though the term itself wasn’t introduced till six years later.)

With Jeff’s support, BountyQuest made 1-Click the subject of its first quest for prior art. What happened next surprised me and everyone else who’d assumed that the supposed invention was completely obvious. Despite posting a bounty of $10,000, we were unable to find any previous piece of software that implemented anything as simple as Amazon’s 1-Click Buy button. We did award the bounty for several potentially useful pieces of prior art, but there was no “smoking gun.” The 1-Click patent was actually quite original.

What was going on here? Almost everyone in the computer industry argued that a 1-Click Buy button backed by stored credit card credentials was completely obvious. If so, why had no one done it before?

In our conversation a few days after I published my open letter, Jeff explained to me why he thought 1-Click was original enough to patent. It had nothing to do with the implementation, which he admitted was fairly trivial to duplicate, but with the reframing of the problem. At the time he came up with 1-Click, everyone was locked in to the shopping cart metaphor, because that’s what you do in the real world. You pick up an item and take it to the counter to buy it. On the web, he realized, something very different was possible: All you had to do was point to an article, and it was yours.

Phrased that way, rather than in the convoluted language of the patent, I could see that Amazon was not just cynically abusing the patent system. Jeff was claiming in good faith that he had made a seemingly small but nonetheless significant innovation.

Jeff argued further that you can’t just attribute this patent, as many did, to patent office incompetence. Barnes & Noble had a chance to present prior art in court, he noted, and after a review of all the evidence B&N was able to dig up, the judge granted a preliminary injunction. Jeff felt that this was fairly strong evidence (coupled with the positive press coverage when 1-Click was introduced) that the feature was a genuine innovation.

In short, the invention was obvious only in retrospect. When Amazon launched 1-Click, we rewrote our mental map of the past to make the present state of things seem inevitable. This is the corollary to the power of redrawing the map.

When you draw a new map successfully enough, you change the perception not only of the future but of the past. That thing that seemed unthinkable becomes the fabric of the everyday, and it’s hard to remember that it once was only one of many possibilities.

We’ve seen other, more recent examples of this kind of creative rethinking of what is possible, which then becomes “obvious.” When Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick first conceived of Uber, the notion that you could summon a car on demand was lying latent in the field of possibilities, unexplored. All the capabilities were in place. There were already hundreds of millions of smartphones equipped with sensors able to track the location of both drivers and passengers. And there were even connected taxicabs. But all that the traditional taxi companies did with their connectivity was to put a credit card reader in the back of the taxi, and a small screen for broadcasting content and ads.

In fact, one Internet entrepreneur had thought of Camp and Kalanick’s idea long before they did. Sunil Paul’s patent for System and Method for Determining an Efficient Transportation Route, filed in 2000 and issued in 2002, is eerily prescient. It describes almost perfectly many of the features of modern on-demand ride-hailing systems. But all the pieces of the puzzle weren’t yet on the table to build what Sunil imagined.

“I had this idea that the smartphone would replace cars,” Sunil told me. “You wouldn’t need a car anymore because you could coordinate your transportation through your smartphone.” Early smartphones existed at that time, mostly in Europe, but they were far from ubiquitous. “In 1999, I tried starting a company around it,” Sunil continued. “But after about two months, I concluded it was too early. I didn’t think the technology was ready. There wasn’t that much demand yet.” The company was never formed, but the project name was VCar, for “Virtual Car.”

It’s not entirely clear what Sunil hoped to build. The patent is extraordinarily broad, covering every possible application of positional pickup and routing. It covered not only the Uber use case, but also how a phone could be used to manage fractional car rental services (a category that had already been pioneered by Mobility in Switzerland, founded in 1997, and Zipcar, founded in 1999 by Robin Chase and Antje Danielson in the United States), or to offer subscriber access to cars or even fractional use of cars owned collectively by multiple drivers.

The broad scope of Sunil’s patent highlights that, as science fiction writer Frank Herbert once told me, “Ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s implementation that matters.” The future isn’t just imagined. It is built. Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick created a successful service that implemented the idea and found the market for it.

Even after Uber was launched, though, the rethinking of what was possible was far from over.

Sunil reports that it was Airbnb, which, starting in 2007, allowed people to rent out rooms in their homes, or their entire home when they went away, that inspired him to think about peer-to-peer car sharing and to return to the work that he’d begun in 1999. Getaround, founded in 2009 and incubated in a Singularity University class led by Sunil, began offering the peer-to-peer equivalent to car rental, not to taxi service. It was an updated version of Chase and Danielson’s Zipcar.

In 2007 Logan Green and John Zimmer had founded a peer-to-peer service called Zimride, which was focused on matching drivers and passengers for long intercity rides. In 2012, Sunil’s work inspired them to launch a new service, called Lyft, which offered the first public peer-to-peer ride-sharing service for local pickup not by professional drivers, but by “your friend with a car.” Sunil, late to the party despite being way early, launched Sidecar at about the same time. (It was still in private beta when Lyft launched publicly.) But by the time Sidecar went out to raise money, Uber and Lyft had already built huge venture capital war chests, and Sidecar was unable to compete in a capital-intensive business. It went out of business at the end of 2015.

Uber responded to Lyft with UberX, and the ride-sharing landscape as we know it today was born. Lyft has continued to innovate, with Lyft Line (which Uber matched as UberPool), consistent with Zimmer and Green’s original vision to create a modern version of the peer-to-peer public transportation network similar to the one they’d seen during youthful travels in Zimbabwe, and which had inspired them to create first Zimride and then Lyft.

THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE

Camp and Kalanick also realized a key payment innovation that went even beyond Amazon’s 1-Click shopping: They realized that in a world infused with connected sensors, the very act of consuming a service could trigger payment. An app such as Uber knows when the ride begins and when it ends, calculates the cost in real time, and charges the stored credit card as soon as the ride is over. This innovation has still not entirely been grasped by others who could put it to use.

In 2014, more than five years after the launch of Uber, the Apple Pay announcement demonstrated that even leading-edge companies were still stuck in the old model. The Apple Pay web page gushed: “Gone are the days of searching for your wallet. The wasted moments finding the right card. The swiping and waiting. Now payments happen with a single touch.”

What’s wrong with this picture? It’s describing the digital facsimile of a process that was already on its way to becoming obsolete.

Truly disruptive new services don’t just digitize the familiar. They do away with it.

I never search for my wallet when I take an Uber or Lyft. I never search for my wallet when I buy something from Amazon. I don’t even search for my wallet when buying a song from iTunes—or, for that matter, if I’m buying an iPhone from an Apple Store. In each of these cases, my payment information is simply a stored credential that is already associated with my identity. And that identity is increasingly recognized by means other than an explicit payment process.

In the case of Uber, I summoned the car. The driver already knows my name and my face, and our phones are traveling in tandem. Uber knows what I owe based on GPS. And it charges me automatically. I “pay” simply by reaching my destination and getting out of the car. That is the future of payment, not “hold[ing] your iPhone near the contactless reader with your finger on Touch ID.”

So, in a sense, Apple Pay was payments for everyone who hadn’t caught up with the fact that truly disruptive services had already done away with the old payment model.

Amazon has continued to push forward with the future of payment. In late 2016, the company announced that it is developing convenience stores powered by Amazon Go and “Just Walk Out Shopping.” Simply enable the Amazon Go app, and machine vision and other algorithmic systems keep track of what you take off the shelf, and automatically debit your account.

I had proposed something like this myself in 2009 or so, in a “Web 2.0” brainstorming session with Russ Daniels, chief technology officer for cloud computing strategy at Hewlett-Packard. HP was trying to figure out how to do something distinctive in the cloud computing business. I knew that HP had once owned Verifone, the point-of-sale payment equipment vendor, and that led me to suggest that the future would include smart shopping carts that could do paymentless checkout.

Foursquare had just been launched, and its magical ability to detect where you were and offer a location for “check-in” made me think that it could also be used for “checkout.” A participating merchant could recognize you as a customer, pulling up your stored payment credentials. As for the products you wanted to buy, I was thinking about the possibility of bar code readers in the cart, or possibly sensors that knew the exact location of each product in the store, or identified it by weight when you put it in the cart. Computer vision wasn’t yet at the point where it could reliably work the kind of magic Amazon is now practicing.

Sometimes ideas are in the air, but the technology to make them a reality hasn’t yet arrived.

I’ve had numerous other experiences like that. One of my earliest business ideas, back in 1981, was for an interactive hotel brochure using the new RCA LaserDisc player. It would let you see the rooms in the hotel, and even the view from each room. I penned a proposal with a friend who sold video services to companies, and we pitched it to one of the hotel chains, but it never went anywhere. The idea was too far ahead of its time.

And even when the technology is there, as it was with the early World Wide Web, it’s easy to apply it only in a limited way that is framed by the problem that you are familiar with. This is why the future proceeds in fits and starts, with each inventor using the idea of another as a stepping-stone to move a little further forward.

When I first had the idea that advertising could be the business model for GNN, the first web portal, which we launched in the summer of 1993, my thinking was shaped by the kind of direct-response advertising that I used extensively in my book publishing business. I still remember the copy of Computerworld that lay on my desk at the moment, inspiring the idea. At the time, business publications had the paper equivalent of the web hyperlink that you could follow to get more information. It was called “the bingo card.” Each direct-response ad—for that attractive hotel in the Caribbean, for that new electronic device, or for O’Reilly books—had a number associated with it. In the center of the magazine was a prepaid mailing card with a matrix of numbers, like a massive multiple-choice exam. You filled in the numbers associated with the advertisements you wanted to get more information about, and the advertiser sent you a catalog in the mail, or for an expensive product, perhaps called you directly.

Web hyperlinks, I reasoned, could get rid of all the catalogs and brochures sent through the mail. Every company would one day have its own commercial website to provide information about its products. What is a company’s website but an ad for its brand, its products, and its services? When we first proposed running ads on the World Wide Web, I saw ads as a specialized kind of information product, not as the kind of intrusive media bombardment they became.

When we launched GNN in the summer of 1993, the Internet was still a research network under the oversight of the National Science Foundation. Debates about whether and how to commercialize it were carried out on an online mailing list called com-priv (Commercialization and Privatization). I remember talking informally at a conference with Steve Wolff, at the time the NSF administrator in charge of the Internet, about whether our proposed idea would violate the NSF’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), and I will always treasure his response. “Well, the Internet is supposed to be for research and education. And if anyone is about research and education, you guys are. So go for it.”

Of course, we were still so early in the web that few of our potential customers had websites, so the ads we created were actually listings in our own online catalog, the commercial listings section of GNN. The closest analogue was to a Yellow Pages phone book. Our first web advertiser was our law firm at the time, Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe. Our lawyer, Dan Appelman, whom I’d hired because he was one of the first lawyers to use email, wrote a check for $5,000 (which I considered keeping as a souvenir rather than cashing, but we needed every penny), and in return we produced a web page listing the services of the firm, how to reach them, and so on.

Customers weren’t ready. Advertise? On the Internet? In 1994 we did the first ever survey of Internet users, calling 50,000 people to collect income and demographics. But even so, we didn’t think about advertising as Hotwired, the online version of Wired magazine, introduced it in October 2004. Banner ads summoning people to visit other websites should have been obvious. But they weren’t.

At that time, we were insanely focused on getting people to take the web seriously, to put up their own websites, and to keep up with the flood of new ones that we were listing in GNN’s catalog. We were also trying to get more people to give the Internet a try. Together with Spry, a small software company, we’d just launched a product called Internet in a Box, which was designed to make it easy to get consumers onto the Internet. It included a copy of all the software you needed to get onto the net, with GNN as the easy-to-use front end and with a copy of Ed Krol’s Whole Internet User’s Guide & Catalog as the user manual.

Dale and I also reached out to all the phone companies to get them to provide Internet access with the Global Network Navigator as a front end. It seemed completely obvious to us that the Internet was a great offering for phone companies. They already had connectivity to people’s homes. They already had a billing relationship with the consumer. But they wouldn’t listen. People are comfortable with what they’re doing, and they don’t see the future coming at them.

But even we were blind. We saw the future of direct-response advertising, but not only did we not push further and reimagine display advertising, we didn’t really imagine e-commerce when we launched GNN. The web was still a collection of static pages. The Common Gateway Interface (CGI), Rob McCool’s hack to let the web talk to a back-end database, a key enabling technology for e-commerce, wasn’t released till the end of 1993. eBay and Amazon were founded two years later.

This is not uncommon. Steve Jobs was originally opposed to the idea of third-party apps on the iPhone. Travis Kalanick was for a long time skeptical of the peer-to-peer model. After all, it was illegal for drivers to provide “livery services” without a license. It was Sunil Paul’s efforts to get the California Public Utilities Commission to accept the model that made it thinkable. Lyft jumped on the opportunity. Uber eventually followed.

A more recent demonstration of how old thinking holds back even smart entrepreneurs is how long it took for the Amazon Echo to arrive, given that speech recognition has been a feature of smartphones since the 2011 launch of Apple’s Siri intelligent agent. Yet it was Amazon’s Alexa, not Siri or Google, that brought a seemingly minor change that made all the difference: Alexa was the first smart agent always listening to your commands without the need to first touch a button.

Tony Fadell, one of the creators of the original iPod and the founder and former CEO of Nest, the company bought by Google for $3.4 billion to be the heart of its push into the connected home, gave me a clue when I ribbed him about Amazon stealing a huge march on him. “Can you imagine,” he asked, “what the backlash would have been if Google had put out a connected home device that was always listening to you?” Because of its advertising-based business model, Google’s critics already paint it as a surveillance company and constantly harp on the privacy risks inherent in the amount of data the company collects on its users in the course of delivering its services. An always-listening home device was thus unthinkable. Even though the device is only listening for its command trigger phrase rather than listening to every word, there is no question that this might have posed a risk to Google’s business.

Google had made the vulnerability even worse by using “Google” as the name of its intelligent agent. “Okay, Google . . .” as the trigger phrase reminds the user every time just who is listening. With the Echo, you can ask “Alexa . . .” which is far less likely to remind you that it is Amazon that is potentially listening in on every conversation in your home.

(A caveat: Google did actually go there first with its Moto X phone, which was also always listening for your commands. I found it a remarkable device and was surprised that it didn’t sweep to immediate success. Google didn’t continue the effort with subsequent phones and with its own Google Home system, though, until after the Echo had legitimized the market.)

Jeff Bezos is very good at thinking the unthinkable. Much as he saw in 1998 that it was time to cut through consumer fears about stored credit cards, and that you could create a far better user experience if you pushed the boundaries a little bit, he saw that the time was right for an always-listening intelligent agent in the home.

This is a key lesson for every entrepreneur. Ask yourself: What is unthinkable?

And if, like Tony Fadell, you aren’t ready to push past that boundary of unthinkability because you believe the market isn’t ready, you can still prepare.

Keep waiting for the missing pieces of the puzzle to arrive. Even if you aren’t the one to push that boundary, once someone does it successfully, there’s a huge opportunity for a fast follower. Be ready!

MAGICAL USER EXPERIENCE: SEEING THE PRESENT WITH FRESH EYES

This ability to see the present with fresh eyes is central to the success of the greatest entrepreneurs. Their creativity lies in their ability to understand and apply ways that the world has changed, while everyone else is still following the old map.

Many of the key capabilities that enable the magical Uber user experience came “for free” because of the trends that I had described as Web 2.0. As the Internet has become the platform for the development of software above the level of a single device, key data subsystems are on offer from multiple providers.

Location tracking is built into every smartphone. It is trivial for applications to identify where the user is at any moment. Uber didn’t have to develop anything new. What they did have to do was to realize the implications of this capability. Applications like Google Maps and Waze had long provided smartphone-based navigation, including real-time traffic detection and routing optimization; Foursquare had used real-time location capability to allow users to check in to restaurants and bars as a way to coordinate meetups with friends. Uber took the “check-in”—here’s where I am right now—to the next level. While Foursquare tried to persuade users to adopt a new social behavior, Uber used the same capabilities to turbocharge an antiquated application that was just waiting to be brought into the twenty-first century.

Communication had also become a standard part of the developer’s toolkit. Twilio launched in 2008, providing program-callable cloud-based communications. This is the capability that lets you reach your driver by text or phone to adjust your location or to perform last-minute coordination, without providing a phone number that could be used to reach either party directly at a later time. This is an important tool for protecting the privacy of both driver and passenger. By 2010, when Uber launched, this service was widely available.

Payment had also become a commodity. Services like Braintree, Amazon Payments, and Stripe make it routine for any developer to be able to store a credit card number and charge the card whenever a product is purchased or a service is consumed. Uber’s innovation, though, was to radically simplify the purchase experience. Payment without any visible act of payment, as much as the ability to summon the car, is what makes everyone’s first ride with Uber such a WTF? moment.

Understanding that what used to be hard is now free and easy due to the work of others is essential to the leapfrogging progress of technology.

Robin Chase, author of the book Peers Inc, describes how services ranging from Zipcar, which she founded in 1999, to Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb are all platforms for unlocking what she calls “excess capacity” and sharing it with others. They put together ordinary people (“the peers”) and a platform (“the Inc”) to do something neither could do alone.

In the case of Zipcar, whose cars were owned by the company, she says the “excess capacity” was the capacity for self-service: the trust that the customers themselves could be relied upon to return a car clean and full of gas for the next customer. These customers were the peers in her model. The “Inc” was, of course, her company, which provided the cars themselves, but also the reservations platform that kept track of when and where cars were available so that they could be reserved on demand for as little as an hour or two, much smaller increments than a 1990s-era rental car.

The advance of technology has made Zipcar’s advances, remarkable as they were at the time, rather quaint. Where Zipcar required cars to be returned to the same location from which they were rented, newer entrants into the space, like Car2go, use modern location-tracking technology and allow customers to leave the car wherever they like. And taking the “peer” model even further, services like Getaround allow users to put up their personal cars for rental. And while the car must be returned to the original location (more or less), location-tracking technology means that users can simply find a car that is located close to them—the entire city becomes the storage lot for the excess capacity of unused vehicles for rent.

Robin’s notion even extends to the idea that the smartphone revolution itself was an act of unlocking excess capacity. It’s easy to forget that these devices that can now do so much once were used only for making phone calls and sending texts. One can see the progress of the car-sharing industry, for example, as an exercise in realizing just how much more is possible with the untapped capabilities of the sensors in the phone. Where Zipcar and Car2go users were originally sent a special smart card to access the car they’d reserved, Zipcar, Car2go, and Getaround users now do it with their smartphone.

And as I’ve outlined here, the ability of Uber to coordinate driver and passenger, communications, and payment and enable navigation relied on similar realizations of hidden capabilities just waiting to be tapped. Camp and Kalanick’s brilliance was in recognizing these latent capabilities and understanding how to apply them. In an insightful 2013 tweet, box.net CEO Aaron Levie wrote: “Uber is a $3.5 billion lesson in building for how the world *should* work instead of optimizing for how the world *does* work.” Uber is valued at far more than $3.5 billion today, but that only underlines Aaron’s point.

Real breakthroughs come when an entrepreneur doesn’t just use new technology to duplicate what went before or to fine-tune the way the world works now, but to reimagine how it ought to work.

This is the secret power of WTF? technologies. They not only allow for, they reward deep rethinking of the way things work. There are many possible futures. The world as it is is not a given. We can reinvent it.

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