Why do some technologies perpetually getting touted as the "next big thing" fail to ever make a dent in the marketplace? Perhaps part of the answer is that often they're not nearly as disruptive as their advocates make them out to be. To help think about this question, Vinnie Marchandani
points to an interesting mental exercise proposed by Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee which he calls the "flip test"
Let's say the world has only e-books, then someone introduces this technology called 'paper.' It's cheap, portable, lasts essentially forever, and requires no batteries. You can't write over it once it's been written on, but you buy more very cheaply. Wouldn't that technology come to dominate the market?
Thinking about it that way, it's really not that surprising that e-books have yet to take off
, despite all of the hype surrounding them
. If you didn't know which one came first, paper might look revolutionary and disruptive. Similar tests could probably be constructed for other next big things, like videophones
or even alternative fuels ("Imagine a world where we recharge our cars and only get 6 hours of drive time, and then someone invents petroleum-based gasoline..."). This kind of test isn't meant to answer these questions, or end all discussions, but it's worthy to think about when evaluating the prospects of a new technology.