You need to know about blockchain. Even if you don't have any plans to deploy the technology, you need to understand it. An old man at Starbucks told me so.
Last Saturday I was sitting at one of the communal tables in a Starbucks. It was in Tampa, Fla., though there's nothing special about that fact. I was in a corner spot with a good view of the place when an older fellow sat down across from me with an iced coffee and a paperback book.
I wrote for a while and he read, we each drank our coffees and then we happened to look up at the same time. I complimented him on reading a "real" book printed on paper, he asked me what I was writing and we were off on a conversational journey.
He was reading The Age of Cryptocurrency and told me that it wasn't the first book he's read on cryptocurrencies and the underlying blockchain technology. It wasn't really the book that I found fascinating but the combination of the book and the person. It wasn't a pair you might instantly put together.
Between sips of his iced coffee he told me that he was a retired government employee who was "computer illiterate." Stop for a moment to think about that: someone who descibed themselves as "computer illiterate" was in the process of reading several books to learn about blockchain and its applications.
That combination is why you need to know about blockchain. Because if a retiree in Tampa has heard enough to start reading books you can be sure that the members of your executive committee know enough to start asking where you're using blockchain in your enterprise. And if you're not using blockchain (and have no plans to do so) then you should be prepared to talk about why that's so.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm cautious about the future of any existing cryptocurrency. I suspect that there will eventually be a set of exchangeable cryptocurrencies that take hold in the developing world to take the place of mobile phone operator accounts as surrogate banks, but that won't happen soon and will have limited direct impact on most consumers in the industrialized West. But I think that blockchain is a technology that's going to change a lot of businesses, mostly for the better.
As an example, think about food security in the US. The nation spends enormous sums on tracking food from one point to another in the production and supply chains, with additional money spent on verifying contents and quality. Verifying and tracking these steps are perfect for a distributecd ledger built on the trust of the participants and the chain as a whole.
The concept of a distributed ledger makes sense for many applications, but not for all. And it makes sense for relatively few applications right now. But the date when it makes sense is coming and coming soon.
My advice? Grab a cup of joe, a corner seat at a communal table and the patience to wait for a retiree to tell you how important the technology is going to be. You never know which trends they will help you find.
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