The trouble is that by the time it’s obvious, in terms of ideas and opportunities, it’s usually too late. The winners are already entrenched.
The reef metaphor is a good one, but usually you have to be early on the reef to reserve your spot. Only the big creatures, sharks and all, can cruise in late and get traction.
Coral reefs are ecosystems. Creatures and more creatures develop. Technology is too. We’ve seen technology worlds develop around personal computers, the Web, mobile phones, and lots of others.
One of the smartest people I know, a technology wizard, tipped me off to Robert Scoble’s The Google Reef post last week. That post linked to David Winer’s 2007 Twitter as coral reef post. Way before the rest of us caught on, he saw Twitter coming. Here’s his reef description:
Scattered throughout tropical seas are coral reefs that started when a ship sank and sea creatures made it their home. Then the predators of those creatures started hanging out, and their predators, all the way up the food chain. Eventually, if the ocean climate was right, a coral reef would appear, much larger than the wrecked ship that started it all.
Does it have to be a sinking ship? Reefs develop on their own too, right? I could try to stretch the idea to say personal computers developed over the wrecks of their bigger predecessors, and the Web over the wrecks of the early bulletin boards; but that’s pressing the metaphor too far. What Scoble was talking about was the development of markets around Google.
You have to see it early to win with it. We see here Dave Winer caught on to Twitter earlier than most of us. But then he also caught on to outliners, scripting, and some other things earlier than most of us. Some think of him as the original blogger, and he was there as an early RSS pioneer too. I first met him in the early 1980s, as the man behind the More outliner (and ThinkTank, and others).
Notice the timing: Twitter about three years ago. I think it does us all very little good to be onto some of these trends (Twitter, mobile apps, ebook readers, tablet computers and all) now. Now it’s obvious. If you want to really win, figure out what’s going to be big in 2013 or 2014.
And don’t guess wrong, because that can be expensive. We all assume first in the market is a great advantage, but not when it means you’re there too early. Maybe tablet computers are going to be big when Apple gets there, but they’ve disappointed most of the entrepreneurs who started earlier with them.
And good luck with that.