Colin Cherry in “The Telephone System: Creator of Mobility and Social Change” makes the point that the full impact of an invention is very difficult to predict (emphasis added).
Inventions themselves are not revolutions; neither are they the cause of revolutions. Their powers for change lie in the hands of those who have the imagination and insight to see that the new invention has offered them new liberties of action, that old constraints have been removed, that their political will, or their sheer greed, are no longer frustrated, and that they can act in new ways. New social behavior patterns and new social institutions are created which in turn become the commonplace experience of future generations.
Such realization does not come easily, quickly, or even “naturally,” for the new invention can first be seen by society only in terms of the liberties of action it currently possesses. We say society is “not ready,” meaning that it is bound by its present customs and habits to think only in terms of its existing institutions. Realization of new liberties, and creation of new institutions means social change, new thought, and new feelings. The invention alters the society, and eventually is used in ways that were at first quite unthinkable.
I think that we are now at a transition point in our use of web applications: the larger challenge for software entrepreneurs is not inventing a new technology, but determining how to apply the last two decades (Tim Berners-Lee had the first webserver working in 1990, SLAC had one in 1991) of invention to business problems in new ways, many that would have been unthinkable earlier.
This is what customer development helps entrepreneurs to understand: how to apply inventions to problems that customers will pay them to solve.
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