The 77% threshold

When the gas car was first introduced, it couldn’t compete with horses. After all, we’d had thousands of years to optimize our systems around horseback, and this new technology was still nascent. Roads were rare, gas stations were scarce and the cars themselves were unreliable.

The same thing happened again when electric cars made a comeback a hundred years later. At first, they had limited range, limited space, low acceleration and charging was a hassle.

When a new technology arrives, it is almost always at a systemic disadvantage. If we wait until the new thing is better than the old thing, we’re taking a big risk.

That’s because we have competitors who will spend the time to learn the new tech, and more importantly, build systems around it. They will gain customers you may have trouble getting back. They have a head start that can last a generation.

Herbie Hancock started experimenting with electronic instruments a decade before many of his peers. That enabled him to create not one but two of the most successful jazz singles of all time.

If the local landscaping contractor sneers at electric weed whackers and leaf blowers because they’re not quite as cost-effective in the short run, they’ll probably lose some customers, and won’t develop what they need to know when the technology and systems catch up. And the new systems will catch up.

The same goes for media companies that are defending a model of expensive content that’s ad-supported, refusing to consider that it might not last. How much longer will Vogue matter?

When there’s an iterative cycle of new technology, the systems can’t help but improve, and the tech is likely to as well.

When a new tech or system is 50% as effective as the old one, it’s our job to learn it and understand it.

And when it hits 77%, we ought to consider creating a new division, a new product line or a new approach that adopts it.

By the time it catches up, we’re either part of it or we’re too late.