202. The opportunity is NOW

business strategy career strategy entrepreneurship innovation investing tech trends May 08, 2024

There is a gap between when a technology gets invented, and its wide adaption.

In this gap, is exactly where the best opportunities lie.

Listen to this episode to learn why we are in the time of opportunity, and how to make the most of it.

You will learn:

  • What the path that electricity took from invention to adaption can teach us about digital transformation today
  • Why companies still have terrible chatbots, while ChatGPT was the most popular app of all time
  • Three steps to make the most of today's opportunity 

Podcast episodes mentioned in this episode:


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Episode Transcript

Hello smart people!

How are you today?

I’ve been getting around on real and virtual stages lately, so there are now new listeners to this podcast. If you are new, welcome! I am so glad that you’ve joined us.

On this podcast, my aim is to help smart, ambitious non-technical people succeed professionally in the Digital Age. So if you have an idea for a tech business, but you’re not a developer, you’re in the right place. The same goes for if you’re a lawyer, and you want to work with tech clients, or if you work in a major corporate going through digital transformation.

And, to help you, I have lovingly made a free course on the top 5 tech concepts that all business leaders need to know. I recently watched the first couple of lessons, and I thought - this is brilliant! Why am I not charging for this?

I was clearly overtaken by a spirit of extreme generosity when I made the course, and it’s there now, so I’m not going to take it down.

Anyway, in the course, you get a free video lesson every day for 5 days, and it focusses on a tech innovation concept. And, in the videos, I also show you graphs and visual aids, so the concepts really sink in.

I know that it can be easy to forget what you learn on a podcast, because right now, you’re probably doing other things, like driving or typing up. But when you’re doing a video course, and get to listen and to see what you’re learning on slides, it is much easier.

To get it, go to techfornontechies.co/freecourse or just check out the link in the show notes.

And now, let’s begin today’s lesson.

And, to start with, I have a question for you.

Have you ever been to Cairo in Egypt? I went there for a business school classmate’s wedding and it was epic.

The food was amazing, the Egyptians are sexy and they can really dance! So, my first recommendation for you today is to find some Egyptians and get invited to their parties.

When I was in Cairo with my friends, we went to the Pyramids of Giza, which were built over 4,000 years ago and they are still standing. It’s quite mind boggling to see something that old and that famous in real life, just standing there, in the desert.

Whenever I am in a historical monument, I am always in awe of what our forebears managed to build without electricity.

Scientists are still debating how Ancient Egyptians moved massive stone slabs up to 137m. (For context, that is higher than the statue of liberty and the Eiffel Tower). Human ingenuity and brute strength overcame the elements.

Today, if you’re listening, you probably don’t rely on brute strength that much.

You rely on electricity and you take it for granted. You expect it to work when you switch on your coffee machine, plug in your phone and use your wifi.

Now, remember the time when you had a power cut. Did you feel in control?

When it happened to me, literally nothing worked, and I was utterly helpless. I just waited, like a damsel in distress, until the electricity company rescued me.

Today, electricity is a system solution: the technology powers our entire system, and everything depends on it.

But, my dear smart listener, it was not ever thus. Let’s see what had to happen for us to take electricity for granted today.

Michael Faraday invented the electric motor in 1821, but electricity wasn’t widely adapted until the 1920s.

It took a century for this technology to go from being a smart invention to being an integral part of our lives.

One hundred years is a long time.

That century between invention and adaption is called the Middle Times. The people who coined that term have actually been guests on this podcast: Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb.

Their episodes are:

128. Business reality doesn’t match AI hype (yet) https://www.techfornontechies.co/blog/business-reality-doesnt-match-ai-hype-yet

155. How generative AI is changing business and the economy https://www.techfornontechies.co/blog/how-generative-ai-is-changing-business-and-the-economy

And I have linked them in the show notes.

Now let’s relate this concept of the Middle Times to what’s happening in our lives today.

Well, today, we are living in the Middle Times of AI and digital transformation.

For example, AI is known to have great potential, but it is far from wide adaption. And yes, I know that ChatGPT was the most downloaded app of all time, but how many people do you know who could use AI to make their lives easier, but they don’t? I know plenty!

And how many times have you been forced to use a customer service chatbot, that was so useless, that you wanted to rip your hair out?

See my point. On the one hand, we have great potential, but on the other, we have terrible customer experiences and lots of unnecessary waste.

This dichotomy defines the Middle Times, and it is actually a good thing. This is the bit when investors especially make loadsa money.

To go from invention to adaption, a technology needs to move through 3 phases: point solutions, applications solutions and systems solutions.

You can learn more about what this means in the two podcast interviews I mentioned already.

But for the purposes of this lesson: the Middle Times is exactly where the best opportunities lie.

Let’s go back to our electricity example.

You wouldn’t want to have been the first factory owner to use electricity, because something would have probably caught fire. When an invention is still young, it is unstable.

Look at the recent issues with generative AI. It keeps hallucinating, which means that it keeps making stuff up. It gave us black founding fathers and when I chatGPT’d myself it completely made up my bio.

When a new technology has just been invented, staking your business on it isn’t a good idea. Or using it for anything super important is still too risky.

You actually see this in a lot of business processes today: something is mostly AI made, but checked by humans. A good example is the Stitch Fix styling algorithm, that I discussed in episode 101. How companies really use AI

I pasted this episode, and the other episodes I mentioned, along with the link to the free course in the show notes for this episode. So go there to get these high quality free learning resources there.

So if you used electricity too early, you were risking death and destruction. On the other extreme, a factory owner using electricity today does not have a competitive advantage, because everyone is using it.

And, investing in electricity companies is generally not going to give you great returns. They are a utility, not a high growth stock.

So where’s the sweet spot?

Well, being the 80th factory owner to ever use electricity would have turned you into an industrial magnate. You could grow a fetching moustache and smoke a cigar in your wood panelled office.

You would probably have streets in Manhattan named after you, as well as your own wing at the Met.

There is a difference between being early and being first. You want to be early, you rarely want to be first.

I always tell my students to think like investors. Smart money investors want to see how early or late an invention is in the adaption curve, to properly understand the opportunity.

And, I know some of you are really deep technical experts, and you are going to say that we are not in the Middle Times for all software. That’s true.

For example, Quantum computing is still really frontier, and it still hasn’t been solved from a technological perspective. So, Quantum isn’t in the Middle Times, it is in the nascent stages.

But, in general, when it comes to AI and digital transformation as a whole, we are in the Middle Times. Some airlines have wifi, others don’t. Some banks use AI to process lending applications, others don’t. You see my point?

From a career point of view, this is a brilliant time to be alive.

Being in The Middle Times is exciting because:

Number 1: If you are feeling left behind, you are definitely not. There is a lot of room for growth, and it’s not going to end tomorrow. So if this is literally the first podcast episode you’ve listened to here, welcome! Start learning now, go back to previous episodes, take the free course and make the most of this Middle Times opportunity.

Number 2: If you’ve learnt something about tech and AI, you’ve got a gift that will keep on giving for the rest of your career. Remember that it took electricity 100 years to go from invention to wide adaption in the US? That’s the kind of time horizon we’er talking about. And, there are still some parts of the world that don’t even have electricity still, so the opportunity is going to last. Just by listening to this podcast, you are making a smart investment in your future.

And number 3! You don’t have to be a technologist to benefit from this rising tide.

And I have some data to prove it!

According to Glassdoor, 54% of people working in tech companies are not technical. Meta, Alphabet and Amazon need lawyers, sales people, procurement leaders and so on. These non-technical professionals need to speak tech, so they understand what the company does and can interact effectively with their tech colleagues, but they are not developers or data scientists themselves.

And, moving away from tech behemoths to the other end of the spectrum, I have more evidence: there are more non-technical founders running unicorns today than ever before, and this is according to research by Cowboy Ventures.

So whether you want to work in a big company, launch a start-up or work with tech clients, the time is now.

And yes, there are market fluctuations, and there have been layoffs at Big Tech companies because they overtired during the pandemic. But I am telling you about the broad long term trend, so you can think strategically about your career.

So, what should you do to make the most of these Middle Times?

Learn something about technology. Taking small steps to learn how apps and algorithms get made, is far easier than you probably think. It certainly does not require you to learn to code. Taking my free course, or going deeper with one of the Tech for Non-Techies trainings is a really good place to start.

Get involved in an actual project. Advising a start-up or helping out at a start-up accelerator is a really good way to learn about how tech products get made, so you mix theory and practice, and widen your network.

Change how you talk about what you do, so you can reposition your professional image for the Digital Age.

And, this is exactly what we help you do at Tech for Non-Techies!
To discuss how our trainings can help you and your colleagues succeed in the Middle Times book a consultation call via the link in the show notes.

Our most popular trainings are on:

  • How to Innovate with Confidence
  • Design Thinking for Business Leaders
  • Building a Tech Venture as a Non-Techie
  • Get Tech Clients! Essential Concepts for Professional Services
  • How to be Seen as a Digital Leader

Happy clients include Bank of Canada, Oxford University and Constellation Brands. That’s pretty good company don’t you think?

And on that note, have a wonderful day and I shall be back in your delightful smart ears next week!



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