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What’s The Big Idea?

That was a rhetorical question. ‘Big ideas’ are the drivers of progress, visions of needs that don’t yet exist and the nursery of new markets. Big ideas are the embodiment of the American Dream.

Truly big ideas transform society. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, described such ideas as seeing that which is “invisible today and ubiquitous tomorrow.” When Bezos saw that the Internet was growing at an unbelievable annual rate of 2300%, he knew it presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Bezos also realized that he didn’t have the time to follow traditional growth strategies so he threw out the books. His plan was to “get big fast,” banking on future revenues and not immediate profits. It was a radically new concept, and it meant convincing investors to accept a bold new paradigm: his company “must be valuated not on past performance, but on a vague but compelling promise of a radically different online future, where all the rules have been broken.”

When others were just awakening to the prospects of that future, Amazon.com had already seized enormous market share. As Bezos predicted, the Internet mushroomed into a market with seemingly unlimited potential and the dot.com race was on.

In the beginning there were plenty of other big ideas and seemingly endless capital poured to fund them. Investors threw caution to the winds for a chance to hit it big. Even after the bubble burst the dream persisted.

The effect on the younger generations was profound. Technology was advancing at a torrid pace and a new breed of entrepreneurs set out to get big fast on the next big thing. But the Internet was maturing and a “radically different online future” had already arrived, at least in terms of a traditional market.

New big ideas transformed the market. Wealth was no longer sought through the exchange of goods and productive services but through ever more creative ways to promote other more traditional enterprises. Facebook and Twitter exemplify the trend.

While that has created untold wealth for a fortunate few, that wealth has been diverted from badly needed productive alternatives. It’s a far cry from the future Bezos had imagined.

Little is to be gained for society by the pursuit of illusory wealth. Ultimately it is progress that must pay the bill. The next truly big idea won’t come from playing by the now established rules of the Internet or any other market. It will be a vision of a market that does not yet exist where the rules have yet to be written.

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