My wife gently chides me about my shiny $3 Temu handheld food slicer. Instead of slicing the long strip as I feed it, the scallion flops under the blade. My Kickstarter gTar stares at me as merely a shiny home ornament. Unplayed since it has to be paired with an iPhone 4. Shiny drones line my bookshelf.. Each one a different reminder of why I’ve not charged them up for a spin in months.
Hi, I am Chao and I have Shiny, New Object Syndrome. Moreover, I am unreconstructed and unrepentant. In fact, if you love gadgets as much as I do, I am here to tell you to lean into it for fun and profit.
If you are a Chief Technology Officer at a big corporation and are charged to keep abreast and to predict the latest trajectories of your industry, what do you do? Do you subscribe to Gartner's Magic Quadrants or Forrester Waves? Do you hire a high-priced McKinsey anal-yst to arrive at your firm's unique Capability Maturity Model? Or do you simply mimic techno-jargon that has everybody pretending to understand?
When I think about Gibson's insight that "the future is already here - it's just not evenly distributed", my first thought is: where do I go? Of course, I’d want to be in the future!
The answer I found is to be constantly learning and trying new stuff, especially at the forefront of technology and business models. And perhaps even more important is to be "doing" or experiencing in the future, rather than just thinking about it. And hence using gadgets and getting a visceral feel of what they're good for and what they're awful at or what still needs to be improved.
When I first signed up for Twitter, “I had a burrito for lunch” was an interesting tweet. I was assigned ID 37,703 back when Twitter still incremented ids sequentially. Flash forward just over a decade later, and I came across a Twitter bot called @ThreadReaderApp.
Though the bot had only been out for a few months, I could instantly see its potential. My curiosity led me down a path to meeting the creator and ultimately buying the bot from him. Looking back and being analytical, I could go about how the bot made tweets easier to read, or that it had a great viral loop or that users wanted a way to share and archive longer form threads of tweets. But at the moment when I committed to taking over the service, it was pure intuition. And I believe that intuition came from years of being a native Twitter user.
My intuition grew each time I felt the pain of not being able to retrieve that tweet that I found “oh so true” just earlier in the day. Or wanting to find more gems from a particular Follow I discovered only to be mired in a swamp of noisy retweets and context-free replies. Back in 2007, News feeds, Like buttons and Followers were all shiny new objects, even if they seem as commonplace as books or radios today.
This visceral glimpse into the future reminds me of Stuart Kauffman’s idea of the Adjacent Possible. Teleportation and time travel seem far-fetched and improbable because we are unable to visualize a through-line between current science and technology and that vision. Conversely, there are a million scenarios we can conceive once we actually, say, befriend an AI, ride a self-driving car or kayak in VR. Best of all, from an entrepreneur’s perspective, these futures are vast blue oceans, unfettered by competition and without established incumbents.
Innovation is messy. To understand technology, you have to live it and experience how the sausage is made. So, the next time you are attracted to a shiny new thing, indulge your geeky side and dive in, you never know what riches await.
Thanks tofor helpful feedback (and of course for introducing me to Twitter)
A few ChatGPT screenshots to show how this sausage was made:
This was such a fun read Chao! I loved the imagery of your literal shiny objects piling up in your home. Knowing you, the takeaway makes so much sense, I really do believe it's this love of tinkering with the newest thing that has also lent itself to a good eye for what's up and coming. Great piece!