The “vital few” drive all progress. Repeat it over and over again. It’s true in sports, entertainment, science, business, and anything else you can think of.
Please think about it in terms of corporations today. There are very few that can lay claim to trillion dollar valuations, which is the point. Apple and Amazon show us why it’s the point.
Consider what’s increasingly ubiquitous in the typical home: cylindrical devices that we can talk to, ask questions of, and that quite simply do so much for us. When we want to know the weather, Amazon’s Alexa reports it to us. If we want to know the name of the actor who played Captain Stubing on The Love Boat, Alexa will tell us. Eager to thank the Amazon delivery person who dropped your package off at 4 am? Alexa will handle it.
The reality for so many of us is that we can’t live without Alexa, and the copycat models that followed from other companies. Where it gets interesting is that for the overwhelming majority of our lives, we all did live without Alexa. We had no idea what we were living without, only for Amazon to lead us to an all-new way of living. At great risk.
If you doubt the risk part, ask yourself if you were “demanding” Alexa before Amazon created the Echo. See the above paragraph if you’re confused. Amazon risked billions on a hunch that users would not be able to live without what they’d long lived without. The hunch proved valid, but then as Jeff Bezos has long acknowledged, most hunches don’t pan out.
Which is why we should be so grateful when speculations about the future prove true. The simple truth is that Amazon’s successes like the Echo pay for all manner of other leaps into the unknown. So does Amazon’s valuation. That investors have put the company in rare company means Amazon can take big swings meant to lead all manner of new consumer needs. And it’s not just Amazon.
As readers are increasingly aware, Apple is releasing $3,499 headsets. Apple seems to be speculating that the future will be defined in some ways by migration outside of our existing environs. Is that even a good description of what Apple has spent billions on? It’s hard to say, and it is because Apple intends to take us somewhere we’ve never been, and once again that we’ve never asked for. The future Apple is trying to invent is realistically indescribable precisely because it’s novel.
How does Apple pay for this monumental leap that could easily flop? Through past successes. As readers can hopefully deduce, the iPhone has and will continue to fund all manner of experiments in search of what’s ahead. So will Prime, the Echo, and Amazon’s greatest leap of all: introducing us to online shopping. Were you asking for that when the 1990s dawned?
It all speaks to the extraordinary value of business dominance, and the “vital few” that begins this piece. The vital become that way by discovering consumer needs at enormous risk, and that vanishingly few expect them to discover. The reward for the rarest of rare businesses is one more or many chances to continue to lead us, not to mention that the success of the vital few exists as a lure for investment in dreamers intent on replacing at the top the businesses we presently can’t live without.
Yes, the success of companies like Amazon and Apple ensures a great deal more investment meant to improve on what’s already essential. Vital few doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.