Things That Change and Things That Stay the Same (Or The Technological Event Horizon)

This Jeff Bezos quote has done the rounds for a while and for good reason (Bill Gurley and Collab Fund). It's equal parts obvious and contrarian. It has been in the back of my mind for a while and I think I finally understood why.


“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.”  - Jeff Bezos

For me understanding what doesn't change is almost half the equation. The other half is understanding where these things that don't change happen: the technological event horizon. OK yes that is super jargon but hear me out. It seems as though there are values that don't change and outcomes that don't change. We can look at this using personal transportation as an example:

  • Outcome that doesn't change: getting from point A to point B.
  • Value that doesn't change: getting there the cheapest, quickest, safest
  • Where it happened: walking, horse, horse carriage, electric street car, car, taxi, uber, AV

Personal entertainment offers another example: 

  • Outcome that doesn't change: personal entertainment
  • Value that doesn't change: choice, value, quality, ease of access
  • Where it happened: book, nickelodeon, cinema, radio, TV, internet

In both cases the value doesn't change, the outcome doesn't change but where these things happen, the technological event horizon does change. Even Jeff Bezos knows this. Amazon was built on people wanting wide selection at low prices enabled by (the thing that has changed:) the internet.