Sunday, May 15, 2016


In June 1983, I was at a crossroads. I was twenty-four years old and had spent a year working for Pizza Hut. And while I had a good time traveling the country and stuffing myself, the job was starting to get old. That summer I made a pros and cons list. I wrote down various career options — going to an established company, a startup, or a consulting firm — and ticked through the benefits and drawbacks of each possible move. 

First on my list were established tech companies such as Apple and Atari. Marketing positions at these companies would have provided the tech on-ramp I was seeking, but with big companies come internal politics and red tape. There were some pros to those jobs but also a whole lot of cons.
Co-founder and former Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of America Online (AOL)

When considering the possibility of joining a marketing consulting firm in San Francisco, I noted that while it would be fun to work in Silicon Valley, I had three concerns: “stuffy, tough sell, don’t like consulting.” So that was a pass, too. 
Finally, there was CVC, the startup I ended up choosing. I saw a lot upside to going there: an exciting idea, promising technology, a chance to make a big impact in a growing market — and, best of all, the opportunity to work alongside and learn from entrepreneur Bill von Meister. I listed only one downside: “future uncertain.” 
Everything about the CVC job was up in the air, from my future role in the company to the future of the company itself. Of course, you know how the story ends (the company became AOL), but at the time this was a big concern. In a way, though, that uncertainty was as much a pro as it was a con. Sure, an uncertain future meant I could be out on the streets looking for a job in a few months’ time. But it also meant a chance to make my own destiny. A chance, as it turned out, to play a role in making the Internet a part of everyday life.
I’m often reminded of the famous newspaper ad Ernest Shackleton is said to have placed before his 1914 attempt to explore Antarctica: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” That’s the beauty of entrepreneurship, and that’s what drew me to CVC. 
The bottom line is that when I was twenty-four, I had no idea where my own “hazardous journey” would lead me. I didn’t know whether my stock options would even be worth the paper they were printed on. All I knew was that in the uncertainty lay immense challenges — and enormous opportunities. There was a boundless electronic frontier to explore, an online Antarctica filled with peril and possibility. And I knew that I needed to be a part of charting that uncertain future. 
When I think about what the world will look like thirty years from now and try to anticipate what problems we need to solve — to say nothing of the problems we face now — I see another uncertain future. But I also believe that, as in my case, this uncertainty isn’t a disadvantage. Once again, we’ve got a pro masquerading as a con. Once again, we have the opportunity — and, I believe, the obligation — to set a new course. Now we just have to think about what all of us — entrepreneurs, business leaders, government officials, everyday Americans with good ideas — can and must do to make sure we arrive there. 
Ride the wave
The Third Wave of the Internet is coming, the moment when the Internet transforms from something we interact with to something that interacts with everything around us. It will mean the rise of the Internet of Everything, where everything we do will be enabled by an Internet connection, much in the way it’s already enabled by electricity. 
This process will lead to the transformation of some of the industries that are vital to our daily lives, which will make the barriers to success higher, and the need to form partnerships much more central, as a way of building credibility, opening doors, and getting past industry gatekeepers. One such partner will likely be the government, which has an interest in regulating the industries most affected by the Third Wave.
Don’t confuse your views of government with the role of government, which can be either an impediment to progress or a driver of it, and which cannot be ignored. Much Third Wave innovation will come from impact entrepreneuring focused on building “profit plus purpose” companies that have a measurable impact on the world. And this innovation will be geographically dispersed, as the rest of the country (and the world) rises up to complement the innovation now occurring largely in a few places, such as Silicon Valley. The challenges in the Third Wave will be vexing, and as Thomas Edison reminds us, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” But if we rally together, and execute with precision, we can remain the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial nation.
So that’s my thesis, in a nutshell. Think of it as the CliffsNotes — or BuzzFeed — guide to the Third Wave. One more parting thought before I go. 

A message to corporate America 
To corporate leaders, it’s time to develop a perpetual sense of paranoia and curiosity. It’s time to both fear the future and seize its promise, to restlessly drive to master it, no matter what it holds. Regardless of where you and your company stand at the end of today, you can always wake up tomorrow to find that things have changed drastically. You jeopardize your position if you don’t strive to anticipate how it will change. 

Keep your finger on the pulse of technology, and consider what its beat might mean for your business. Take stock of trends. Resist the temptation to dismiss up-and-coming technologies. 
Empower your team to ask questions and, where no answers exist, to create new ones. Give them the space to innovate and experiment. Take more “shots on goal.” Allow more crazy ideas to bubble up, because the very best ideas often sound ridiculous when first proposed. Surely, executives at Marriott and Hilton would have thought that the idea of renting an air mattress or a room in an apartment was insane. But in 2015, seven years after starting, Airbnb was valued at $25 billion, making it worth more than either of the hospitality powerhouses, both of which have been around for more than half a century. And it’s not just about relative valuations: it’s also about sudden shifts in market dynamics. As Senator Marco Rubio has pointed out, Airbnb is now the largest hospitality provider, yet they don’t own a single hotel. Similarly, Uber is the largest transportation company, though they don’t own a single vehicle. And neither company existed a decade ago. 
Remember that disruption has broadened. Your competitors won’t just emerge from the low end of your industry. Increasingly, they’ll come from other industries, too. Apple wasn’t in the music business, nor was Google in the mobile phone business — until suddenly they were. So build a network in and around your company — and look for the opportunity in every direction.
The future belongs to those who endeavor to create it. That’s why we go into business — because we have a vision for the future that we want to see through. So don’t let temporary successes permanently blind your future ambitions.
You have the resources — human, capital, otherwise — to take on ambitious projects. And so you must decide — is it better to use those recourse to resist change or to drive it? 
And remember this: In the Third Wave, partnerships will become more important. You’ll have more opportunities in the next decade than you did in the past decade. So don’t just play defense, play offense. Don’t just defend, attack. But don’t go it alone. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” 

This post has been adapted and excerpted from Steve Case’s new book, “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future,” on sale now from Simon & Schuster. This article is from LINKED IN.

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