I say this after days of walking the hallways and chatting up numerous entrepreneurs and VCs at this year's SXSWi Conference (the interactive portion of South By Southwest, aka The-Closest-Thing-The-Tech-Community-Has-To-Woodstock) in search of someone pursuing, or at least believing in, a Big Idea. Instead, what I found was that it has somehow become more fashionable/lucrative/fundable to create incremental changes (even to clone Groupon or Foursquare), than to try to completely break the mold and change the dominant paradigm in any field. I was hoping to see something different, something truly original and breathtaking, but all that I could see was shades of the same.
And based on other reviews of the event, I am not alone in this disenchantment with the current state of our entrepreneurial culture. Todd Wasserman has an interesting Op-Ed piece on Mashable, in which he proclaims:
"But we’re not just having an off year. We’re at a new, more boring stage in the [social media innovation] development cycle."One very smart entrepreneur told me over drinks at SXSW that this year's Big Ideas are "The Internet and Social Networking", mocking the very premise of my inquiry, and thereby proving what I suspected all along: That we have all grown cynical of Big Ideas.
And there is some merit to this cynicism. Big Idea inventions like the Laser, Electricity, Automobile, Ultrasound, Steam Engine, Printing Press, and the Internet happen so rarely and require such a confluence of serendipity, good fortune and resources that in an environment where you can relatively easily launch and grow a company by making an incremental improvement over something already in existence (if not outright copying), then why should you bother? In fact, isn't all innovation an improvement on prior innovations anyway, and that progress is a series of baby steps? For instance, wasn't the can opener invented 50 years after the birth of the metal can itself?
True, but still I hope I am wrong about the death of Big Ideas and that there is still someone, somewhere out there pursuing something that would have quantum leap implications for humanity, even if it is a metal can waiting for a can opener. If you know of some projects along those lines, please do comment below!