Why is it so hard to do something new?
Anyone who has tried to introduce a genuinely new idea knows how difficult it is. Counterparties default, it’s hard to obtain funding, and in much of the world, it’s hard to start a new business.
People are skeptical of something different. When Alexander Graham Bell’s brought his newfangled telephone to the President of Western Union, he dismissed it as “practically worthless.” In 1995 Newsweek printed an article that predicted internet-based commerce would be impractical. Why would anyone want to buy stuff over the web? People Today, it’s repeatedly said that “all the easy inventions have been discovered.”
But they only look easy in hindsight. Once you’ve mastered a skill or a process, it seems simple. Piano players can’t imagine not being able to sit down at the keys and generate music. Folks raised on ice skates feel that skating backwards is as natural as walking forwards. In hindsight, it’s obvious that communism’s internal contradictions and systemic corruption would lead to its collapse from within.
But these things are only obvious when we look backwards. The future is indeterminate. This is why it’s so important to diversify our investments. We don’t know where the next new idea will come from. It could be an industrial product; it could be technological; it could be a cure for cancer or a new way to clean teeth. All we know is that once a new concept is here, it will appear “obvious” to those who understand it. To the rest of us, it will seem like magic.
Oscar Wilde wrote that reasonable people adapt themselves to the world; unreasonable ones persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Progress depends on unreasonable people. It’s not the critic who counts; it’s unreasonable, cranky, stubborn innovators who take us to “undreamed shores.”
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA