When Henry Ford asked what people wanted, they say a faster horse.

It is difficult to predict the future especially where disruptive innovation is concerned.

There is an interesting, often repeated story, among technology geeks about the difficulty of getting forecasts about disruption right.

In 1980, McKinsey & Company was commissioned by AT&T [whose Bell Labs had invented cellular telephony] to forecast cell phone penetration in the U.S. by 2000.

The consultant’s prediction, 900,000 subscribers, was less than 1% of the actual figure, 109 Million.

Based on this legendary mistake, AT&T decided there was not much future to these toys.

A decade later, to rejoin the cellular market, AT&T had to acquire McCaw Cellular for $12.6 Billion.

By 2011, the number of subscribers worldwide had surpassed 5 Billion and cellular communication had become an unprecedented technological revolution.”

Fast-forward today, and let’s see what forecasts say about energy.

Currently, the forecasts from leading energy analysts and think tanks on Electric vehicle adoption shows about 30% adoption in 2040.

Clean energy guru Tony Seba believes things will work out different. 

He predicts that all new cars will be electric by 2030. In addition, all new cars will be, at minimum, semi autonomous by 2030. And, finally, all new energy will be solar by 2030.

It is very hard for us to predict the future because we are wired to think about improvements linearly, we are linear thinkers in a world that has gone exponential.

But, technology growth is never linear and generally occurs due to a combination of technological innovations that combine to make new things possible.

The current artificial intelligence wave was not made possible by deep learning algorithms alone. Instead, it took parallel computing and the ability to process big data that made deep learning algorithms effective.

Energy guru Tony Seba calls this: Technology convergence.” Convergence happens when a group of technologies come together to make new things possible. 

This is why technology adoption follows “S curves,”  they don’t occur linearly.

To illustrate this, this was 5th Avenue in New York City in 1900. There is one car in the photo.

In 1913, it was hard to spot the horse.


The challenge with today’s rate of change is that it is exponential [2,4,8,16,32…] and we are still thinking in linear terms [2,3,4,5,6…]

What does this mean?

Here is an example,

If you take 30 linear steps from where you are now, you will be 30 steps away from where you started.

If you take 30 exponential steps from where you are now, you will have turned around the world 26 times.


As Peter Diamandis say: “Our brains needs an upgrade, it’s been long.”

My belief is that we will see the adoption of electric vehicles and solar accelerate in the next decade.

Autonomous vehicles will follow closely.

It is an exciting time as it will actually enable us to make significant progress to our climate change goals as a global community.

It is a decade that will be similar to prior periods of technology upheaval.

For the longest time, the big oil cartel and coal powers will all seem to dominate.

Until they won’t.

It is time to upgrade our brains.


2 thoughts on “Disruptive Innovation: Horses, cars, and the disruptive decade

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