The Promise of Blockchain Is a World Without Middlemen
IBM’s database model stood unchanged until about 10 years ago, when the blockchain came into this conservative space with a radical new proposition: What if your database worked like a network — a network that’s shared with everybody in the world, where anyone and anything can connect to it?
Blockchain experts call this “decentralization.” Decentralization offers the promise of nearly friction-free cooperation between members of complex networks that can add value to each other by enabling collaboration without central authorities and middle men.
How Blockchain Works
In a world without middle men, things get more efficient in unexpected ways. A 1% transaction fee may not seem like much, but down a 15-step supply chain, it adds up. These kinds of little frictions add just enough drag on the global economy that we’re forced to stick with short supply chains and deals done by the container load, because it’s simply too inefficient to have more links in the supply chain and to work with smaller transactions. The decentralization that blockchain provides would change that, which could have huge possible impacts for economies in the developing world. Any transformation which helps small businesses compete with giants will have major global effects.
Blockchains support the formation of more complex value networks than can otherwise be supported. Normally, transaction costs and other sources of friction associated with having more vendors keeps the number of partners in a value network small. But if locating and locking in partners becomes easier, more comprehensive value networks can become profitable, even for quite small transactions.
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As we outline in “The Internet of Agreements,” our paper for the World Government Summit in Dubai, “the incidental complexity involved in business operations could go down by a very large factor, into a domain where a much more complex, contingent and interwoven business environment will emerge. Such an environment might be as different from today’s business environment as container shipping is superior to packing boats by hand.” (Disclosure: I’m the founder of Hexayurt.Capital, a fund which invests in creating the Internet of Agreements.)
For example, imagine the overhead involved in renting temporary furnishings for a house. Right now, this is not a very common practice (particularly for short stays) because of the overhead involved — insurance of each rented item, dozens of vendors, coordination costs getting everything in and out and so on. But if those transactions came down in cost by 90%, it is easy to imagine sites like AirBnB starting to offer custom furniture options in the spaces people are renting. Add robot delivery trucks to that future, and even short stay homes might have custom furnishing options. Making the kind of logistical complexity that is common to (say) theatre productions or aircraft maintenance accessible for smaller events like weddings is just one area where falling transaction costs open up new kinds of business as complex value networks integrate to offer services that simple value networks cannot.
We’re going to see the potential for a trajectory of radical change in all industries. As a society, we’re experiencing a time of unprecedented technological change. It can feel like an insurmountable challenge for leaders to stay on course in such rapidly changing tides. And yet, with each passing generation, we are acquiring more skill and expertise in navigating a high rate of change, and it is to that expertise that we must now look as the blockchain space unfolds, blossoms, and changes our world.