People are notoriously bad at recognizing important trends in innovation. It's most commonly seen in people dismissing some new technology or service as being unimportant. Over and over again, people seem to think that the world is static and thus, people "won't need" certain technologies in the future. There are statements like Ken Olsen's from DEC claiming that "there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home" (which he has since claimed was taken out of context) or Charlie Chaplin claiming: "The cinema is little more than a fad. It's canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage." Those are both from this excellent list
of failed technology predictions -- including a bank telling Henry Ford that "the horse is here to stay" and that the car is just "a novelty -- a fad," and multiple people arguing that there is no need for the telephone, including the head of the British Post Office, noting (helpfully) "we have plenty of messenger boys." Oh, and "Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." That's from someone who worked as a movie producer for Fox.
There are many more at that link, and I imagine in a few decades or so, the prediction from TechCrunch that "there is no reason for any individual to have a 3D printer in their home"
would fit nicely among those other ones. There's just something about new and disruptive technologies that causes otherwise intelligent people to completely dismiss them. I still chuckle at people who thought that cameraphones were just a fad
because their initial quality wasn't that good.
Technology advances and gets better and better. And a disruptive technology's best trick is that it does something completely new that you couldn't have done before
. And that's the part that seems to trip people up. You don't need 3D printing in your home now, the thinking goes, so it'll never be worth having in your home. Entrepreneur Mark Birch has a really good response to the TechCrunch claim, noting that a lot of people completely miss disruptive trends when they start
It is easy to miss the disruptive trend when it is first happening. Because it is often the nerds that are leading the charge, no one pays it any mind. There certainly is some initial hype, but it usually fades quickly because there is nothing for the mainstream to latch onto. They need to see and touch something and thus it is hard for non-geeks to make the mental leap in how the novel technology could be important for their everyday lives. People are looking for applicability when that does not exist in the early days.
The reality of 3D printing is that it is not for everyone right now. In fact, only the most hardcore techie could really get into it and fork over the $1000 for the setup. Very few people can fathom why one would want a 3D printing in his or her home. But people said the same thing when the first dot matrix printers came on the market. They were clunky and slow and expensive and broke down all the time. Plus, who would want to print stuff at home anyway other than computer nerds? Now practically every home has a color printer capable of producing high-quality photos, greeting cards, spreadsheets, novels, and the kid’s homework.
There are plenty of things to be skeptical about, but never underestimate what the geeks are working on. When you get past the hype cycles of “next big thing” and look deeper, you find that all that tinkering and experimenting is leading to something that is pretty remarkable and world changing. It might be hard to see at first, but with a little imagination and time, those early experiments generally lead to entire new industries and to the next generation of great companies.
I'd take it even further. I'd say that if people aren't missing the trend, then it's not disruptive. What makes disruptive innovation so disruptive is often the very fact that so many people dismiss it and insist that nothing will come of it. It's that dismissiveness that often helps the innovation become so powerful, because it gets better and better while people are so busy writing it off. And then, suddenly, it's ready and the world wants it. And the incumbent players, who dismissed it, all feel taken by surprise.
It's easy to miss disruptive trends when they arrive -- but the long term impact of doing so can be quite disastrous for those about to be disrupted.