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The Next Really, Really, Really, Big Thing

2010 November 14
by Greg Satell

Everybody should be excited about the next big thing.  And why not?  It’s very, extremely big.  Even bigger than anything that came before.  No, really, it’s that freakin’ HUGE.

If you don’t want to get left behind, you’ve got to hop on this right away.  Of course, you will need to be fast and smart and work late nights, but it will be worth it.  You can’t go halfway on a thing like this.  It’s all or nothing, baby!

I’m here to tell you what this big thing is.  But first, let’s take a quick look at past big things so that we can see why this one is so much bigger.

A Short History of Big Things

We live in interesting times.  Conventional wisdom says that it takes about 20 years for new technology to take its full effect.  These days, innovation cycles are much shorter, so we’re getting new stuff before we really know what to do with the old.

Many economists believe that these time lags account for the productivity paradox (i.e. it’s notoriously difficult to measure what we really get out of all this new stuff).  So it is always hard to see the next big thing until it’s already really big and you’ve missed out.

Nevertheless, there are always pundits and gurus to point the way.  Unfortunately, they are usually only partly right, which makes the history of big things somewhat muddled:

Digital Media: Sometime back in the 90’s, an extremely confident young man appeared on the TV show, 60 Minutes, and announced that he was going to put their company (CBS) out of business.

I don’t remember what actually happened to the guy, but last year CBS earned about a billion dollars in operating profit (Yahoo made about a tenth as much).  60 minutes, of course, is still on the air and still gets huge ratings.

E-Commerce: During the dot-com boom, many pointed out that a lot of the web revenues were driven by advertising (which, for some reason, is supposed to be a bad business).  However, selling things over the web was infinitely more promising.

Of course, many of those e-commerce start-ups failed, some did okay and some did extremely well.  Today, is enormously successful, but really not in Wal-Mart’s league.  I was at the mall the other day and it seemed pretty crowded.

Search: After the crash in 2000, Search emerged as the new, new thing.  Google has made a bundle on this one (and some regional players, like Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China, have also done well).  Yahoo and Microsoft… not so much.

Social Media: This is the most recent big thing (and, of course, has a big movie to prove it). Facebook has 500 million members, but profits remain elusive.  Others, such as MySpace, Friendster and Digg… well, we’ll see.

Big Things That Last

Of course, the biggest things get so big that they last for a very long time.  Jim Collins profiled a bunch of them in his book Built to Last.  He studied firms like Hewlett Packard, Sony and General Electric and found that much of what we hear about really big things is  untrue.

For instance, they often don’t start with very good ideas.  In fact, sometimes they begin with lousy ones (apparently Sony’s first product was a rice cooker).  Nor do they tend to have charismatic, visionary leaders.  What they do have is a lot of talented people who work as a team.

It seems to me, this is where a lot of technology driven companies go wrong.  We glamorize the vision and forget that it is people who actually make it happen.  Moreover, because our globalized, digitized world is so complex, these people have very diverse skills and perspectives and need to operate in an uncertain environment.

Getting really smart, driven people to work together well is the truly BIG thing.

Winning the Talent War

A while back, I wrote a post about how to win the war for talent, and I made the point that talent isn’t something you acquire, it’s something you build.  I think it’s worth summarizing the main points here:

In-House Training: While third party training can sometimes be helpful, having an in-house training program is much more valuable.  Companies like GE and McDonald’s have put enormous resources into training campuses, but even small companies can build good programs with a little effort and focus.

An often overlooked benefit of in-house training is the trainers themselves, who are usually mid and senior level employees.  They get to refresh basic concepts in their own minds while they teach more junior people.  This also helps the old guard get invested in the next generation.

Perhaps most importantly, training helps to bring people together who would ordinarily not meet and improves connectivity throughout the company.

Focus On Intrinsic Motivation: Most people want to do a good job.  Of course, money is important, but the best people want to achieve things and to be recognized for doing so.  Often, time and effort wasted on designing elaborate compensation schemes could be better spent on getting people recognized for true accomplishments.

A senior executive taking a minute or two to stop and recognize a job well done can often mean more than a monetary reward.  That doesn’t mean that people don’t need to be paid what they’re worth, but anybody can sign a check.  Paying big salaries is not, and will never be, a long term competitive advantage.

Best Practice Programs: One way for people to shine is to have regular meetings where they can present successful initiatives to their peers.  This also helps increase connectivity and gets good ideas spread throughout the company.

Another approach is to build an in house social network where people can share ideas and rate each others work (there are plenty of applications similar to slideshare that can be adapted easily and cheaply to a company intranet).

Coaches and Mentors: Getting regular feedback is essential for development.  We’re generally pretty bad judges of our own efforts.  Some companies have formal mentoring programs that are quite successful.  However, what is most important is a realization throughout the company that senior people are responsible for helping to develop junior ones.

Firing Nasty People: A long time ago, I decided that I didn’t want to work with nasty people, so I started firing them regardless of competency.  I’ve been amazed at what a positive effect it had and have never looked back.  Nasty people invariably destroy more than they create.

A Community of Purpose: Most of all, people need to believe in what they do; that their work has a purpose and makes a positive impact.  Nothing motivates better than a common cause that people value above themselves.

So the next big thing is really not much different than the previous ones.  There will be an interesting idea that has real value and most of the companies who jump on it will screw it up and lose a lot of money.

The difference, of course, will be made by the people who are working to solve everyday problems, how they are developed and how they treat each other.

If you wanna win a horse race, ya gotta have the horses.

– Greg

Update: I had a number of responses regarding my “Fire Nasty People” rule. For those who are interested, I’ve laid out the case for it here.

62 Responses leave one →
  1. Mirek Kowalski permalink
    November 14, 2010

    Next brilliant piece Greg. I fully agree that to have a great team, which should be a combination of talented people and a mentor who teach and lead them is the key!
    Once I had a pleasure to built with such a team classified portal, which used to be the biggest in Poland.

  2. November 14, 2010

    Dzieki Mirek! Jak milo ciebie widziec znovu!

    I remember what ever happened to it?

    – Grzes

  3. November 14, 2010

    Really interesting take on “big things!”

    The point that it’s really the talented people working together that makes things work really grounds me in the value of having good people on a team. I think that is something that I implicitly acknowledged, but something that I need to explicitly focus on more.

    The idea of the intrinsic reward system also sticks out to me. I’ve found that when I’m giving compliments, it sometimes seems like if I get too many they lose their value. However, reflecting on receiving compliments, that’s never a thought that goes through my mind. When it comes to encouragement, it’s best to spam it!

    Thanks for the interesting read!

  4. Mirek Kowalski permalink
    November 14, 2010

    Even if I’m not commenting to often, I’m reading your posts regularly.
    As concerning, it’s still on the market, but not so strong like 3 years ago, when the owner of publishing group who owns decided to launch national title Polska The Times on the base of regional titles and concentrate his efforts on this project instead of and other internet projects like… 🙁

  5. Balt Leenman permalink
    November 14, 2010

    Great article Greg!
    Thanks for sharing this. I just started reading Daniel Pink’s “Drive” this afternoon, and recognize Manu simularities.
    Carrot&stick are out
    Autonomy, mastery and purpose are key, in this new ‘age of knowledge workers’

  6. November 14, 2010

    Thx. I’m glad you liked it.

    btw. There is nothing wrong with compliments as long as they are genuine. They only lose their value when they are given out lightly. When every kid gets a prize, there aren’t really any winners.

    – Greg

  7. November 14, 2010

    Thx for the update. Is it Polska Presse that owns it? Sorry, I’m not keeping up with the Polish market as well as I once was.

    – Greg

  8. November 14, 2010


    I hadn’t heard of Daniel Pink (living overseas I’m a bit out of it), but I checked it out and it looks good. I just put it on my Amazon list.


    – Greg

  9. November 14, 2010

    Very interesting article but could you elaborate on “Nasty people”? Everybody is a bit nasty, so what makes the difference in the workplace?

  10. November 14, 2010


    Good point. I guess nasty is a bit like pornography, you know it when you see it.

    I guess the real issue is when nasty becomes a problem. When someone’s personality quirks become disruptive, meaning that it begins to affect the work of others, you really need to do something about it, regardless of that person’s competency.

    Over and above the direct consequences, there are ripple effects as well. People see that kind of behavior as not only permissible, but as a badge of honor (e.g. if you’re good enough, you can act however you want and therefore nastiness in itself become seen as a sign of professional status).

    While many take nastiness as just a fact of life in a large scale business, that’s a cop-out. I didn’t tolerate it when I was running a fair sized company (about 800 people) and now that I work inside of a large global network (ZenithOptimedia), I’m happy to say that I’ve found people to be uniformly helpful and friendly and, generally speaking, the higher up the food chain the more I’ve found that to be true.

    That’s not to say that all large companies are friendly places, but I’ve found that the ones that are tend to be higher performing organizations.

    – Greg

  11. November 15, 2010

    Great post, Greg, as usual. Another view for Pierre- nasty doesn’t have to be “in your face”. It’s often a self-serving, manipulative side that you don’t get to see until you’ve seen someone be scapegoated by them, or been speared by them yourself. A common response becomes avoidance- consciously or not, they are someone you try to work around, and they can quickly hurt a team.

  12. November 15, 2010

    Thanks, Bill. Excellent point about duplicity often going right alongside nastiness.

    – Greg

  13. Barb_arian permalink
    November 16, 2010

    I swear as I was reading this, all I could hear was Andy Rooney reciting every word.

  14. Luis permalink
    November 16, 2010

    Well thank you for this very nice reading.

    I personally know a couple of people that I should email a link to this page right away 😉

    But no, I’m not against you and nor to this website in a way I want to restrict external links and inbound traffic.

    The thing is that in my humble opinion, this kind of assumptions need to be in the human being before they read these kind of pointer’s.
    If a person is literaly not interested on other’s opinion’s or on their subordinates, will never, ever understand these basic and fundamental rules you’re talking here.

    Thank’s for the good reading.


  15. Peter permalink
    November 16, 2010

    Excellent post – and I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about the nasties.

    Every place I have ever worked (in 39 years that’s quite a few – and the list includes academic as well as government establishments, and in two countries/cultures) the nasty individuals caused no end of disruption yet for some reason were frequently rewarded by senior management.

    In one or two industry cases senior execs freely admitted that they thought the nasty folks might have found a way to improve the bottom line, and they didn’t really care how that was achieved. In every single case, the experiment was an abject failure and the company suffered seriously as a result. These are not Mom and Pop stores – we’re talking Fortune 100 and 500.

    I expect better from execs in these environments – at the very least a better-than-average ability to think things through and see the consequence of such a laissez-faire policy. Apparently I’m mistaken.

  16. Bob Suruncle permalink
    November 16, 2010

    What if the really nasty people are the middle and upper managers running the company? You know the guys who lay off the talent because it makes them look incompetent? The grand standers who take credit for other people’s work? The back stabbers who instead of working, spend 6 hours a day spreading lies and rumors and taking two hour lunches? They hire in their friends and only keep people who don’t make waves – dispute being barely competent. You said great companies are founded by talent and hard work. I’ll bet you a million dollars the low level highly talented guy who is nasty is tired of being screwed while you promote your idiot brother-in-law. A lot of companies are starting to deal with moral issues. Good to see you fire them like a neanderthal.

    The higher up the food chain you move, the further away you get from the people who do 90% work that sells 90% of the product. And of course, who would be nasty if they were making $200K a year and socializing in the industry for “work”.

  17. Christian Sciberras permalink
    November 16, 2010

    “Big things” are better described as “big fads”. Perhaps the largest of which is social media.

    OK, I don’t live under a rock, I do have a couple of profiles here and there…but I don’t tweet each time I’m using the WC, for the matter.

  18. November 16, 2010


    That’s a big compliment! He’s one of my all time favorites.

    – Greg

  19. November 16, 2010

    Thanks, Luis! I agree that it all begins with respecting those around you.

    – Greg

  20. November 16, 2010


    It’s a shame that you’ve had that experience, which I admit is all too common. I feel very lucky that my present experience in a large corporation is quite the opposite.

    – Greg

  21. November 16, 2010


    I agree. Lower level nasty people are rarely a problem. The rule applies primarily to mid and senior level.

    – Greg

  22. Sollabee permalink
    November 16, 2010

    How do you fire nasty people if you are only a peer, and not someone who is in a position of authority? What if not everyone knows just how nasty this person is, except a few, non-powerful individual?

    Firing Nasty People: A long time ago, I decided that I didn’t want to work with nasty people, so I started firing them regardless of competency. I’ve been amazed at what a positive effect it had and have never looked back. Nasty people invariably destroy more than they create.

  23. November 16, 2010

    I agree. Tweeting from the WC is not compulsory:-)

    – Greg

  24. November 16, 2010

    Loved the article, this kind of stuff is why I got into Human Resources. The lack of this stuff in any of the companies I worked for is why I am now back at university doing a masters in another field.

    I think your choice of the word ‘nasty’ is very apt. It covers the spectrum of people who ruin workplaces for others really well. Rude, inconsiderate, greedy, self serving etc. etc.



  25. chash360 permalink
    November 16, 2010

    Have you read the HP Way?, sure sounds like it. Several of your points are almost direct quotes. Teamwork, making a positive contribution, recognizing good performers. Commitment to the Employees, Business, Customers, and Communities they operate in, not just Wall Street. Of course the founders there did have a great vision, though I am worried that Wall Street greed has taking over since, time will tell if they continue to honor those founding principles. Garage to Global, they did not get there by thrashing their talent, they created it from within. Look at all the big tech names that started out working there.

  26. November 16, 2010


    Obviously you can’t fire anybody unless you are in a position of authority. Also, in my experience, senior management know when these people exist, they just don’t consider it important. They should.

    – Greg

  27. November 16, 2010

    Thanks Gav. Best of luck on your second career!

    – Greg

  28. November 16, 2010


    No I haven’t, but I should. It’s one of those classics that I just never got around to. Thanks for reminding me.

    – Greg

  29. Tomas permalink
    November 16, 2010

    I think the problem is not if someone is nasty. The problem has been and will continue to be is fear.
    We are animals that have evolved and one of our basic decision base feeling is fear.
    Because of this we like to have people to protect us such a boss. This leads to hierarchical organizations and classes.
    Disentralization requires trust and this requieres not having fear.
    If companies will be build as a set of groups helping and cooperating with eachother and continuously showing their value everyone will be happier.
    Then been nasty at the top becomes meaningless because there us not top,
    Having a group that it is nasty will cause the anger of all other groups since the system is not hierarchical the problem will be dealt with prontly.
    Having groups also give them more of a culture which can then allow for mentoring.

    I guess my point is that having a nasty boss or higher up is a symptom of not having the right organization structure in place. The fact that we don’t deal with the company structure as an evolutive process just like most other things is a pit scarry.

  30. November 16, 2010


    It’s an interesting point. I’m not sure fear is always a bad thing, but it’s a question of what people are afraid of. Often fear in organizations has nothing to do with performance and that, in my opinion, is where things go awry.

    – Greg

  31. Kurt permalink
    November 16, 2010

    Is technology accelerating? Really?

    In 1935 you could make long distance phone calls, talk by radio, travel comfortably by air. By 1950 we has jet airplanes and TV. Yes the picture is clearer this year, the call is cheaper, and the planes fall out of the sky somewhat less often. Pretty much the only thing new since 1950 is computers. In 1935 doctors knew that smoking caused lung cancer, but they couldn’t cure cancer. Today, nothing has changed there, except the doctors can squeeze about six more months of misery and insurance payments out of you before you die. In 1935, the most important innovation in public health was washing your hands, and it still is. I’m living in a 100 year old house that’s indistinguishable from a brand new one except its built with better materials. Many buildings in my city are older than that, and still functioning as designed. In 1945, there were ballistic missiles. In 1969 all that had changed was the size, not so much a fundamental change. And they were designed using slide rules, and not your fancy schmancy computers. Maybe ion propulsion will be a big change in 50 more years.

    I think really big things come along once in a generation. That’s why the pundits are wrong so often. They think too small. Is the rise of digital media more significant that the rise of rock-stars that happened 20 years before and made it relevant? Or was the innovation analog recording in the 19th century, and digital is just a convenience.

    Mechanical engines were a big thing. Radio, telephony, and telegraphy were (pretty much the same big thing). Washing machines and refrigerators and electric stoves were a big thing (because they liberated half the population). Cars were. Nuclear power was a big thing. The internet is probably a big thing.

    Man on the moon was not a big thing. It didn’t lead anywhere. Medicine isn’t a big thing; not since germ theory, anesthetic gases and penicillin anyway, because we still die of the same short list of things. Bio-tech? Maybe, maybe not. Your web site? Your business model? Definitely not. Been there. Done that.

  32. November 16, 2010

    Good food for thought, Kurt.

    – Greg

  33. November 16, 2010

    Hi Greg

    I looked for a contact point on your site but couldn’t find one, so I’m using this comment reply to let you know that my Gmail account has been receiving a whole stack of blank emails from what appears to be “”. The header source for the email is:

    Received: by with SMTP id o5cs183501aga;
    Mon, 15 Nov 2010 21:04:26 -0800 (PST)
    Received: by with SMTP id g13mr1574861ybe.9.1289883865917;
    Mon, 15 Nov 2010 21:04:25 -0800 (PST)
    Received: from ( [])
    by with SMTP id d1si10332990ybi.40.2010.;
    Mon, 15 Nov 2010 21:04:25 -0800 (PST)
    Received-SPF: neutral ( is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of client-ip=;
    Authentication-Results:; spf=neutral ( is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of
    Received: (qmail 13780 invoked by uid 0); 16 Nov 2010 05:04:25 -0000
    Received: from unknown (HELO (
    by with SMTP; 16 Nov 2010 05:04:25 -0000
    Received: from localhost ([]
    by with esmtp (Exim 4.69)
    (envelope-from )
    id 1PIDiS-0008UK-VN
    for; Mon, 15 Nov 2010 22:04:25 -0700
    X-PHP-Script: for
    Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2010 05:04:24 +0000
    X-Priority: 3
    X-Mailer: PHPMailer ( [version 2.0.4]
    MIME-Version: 1.0
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=”UTF-8″
    X-Identified-User: {} {sentby:program running on server}

    Gmail is redirecting them all into the Spam folder so it’s not really a major issue, but I thought I’d just check with you before making a report to, in case you have an errant script running that might be the source (note the entries for PHP-Script and Identified-User). There have been about 15 or so thus far, and they don’t appear to be carrying any kind of payload.

    I’d hazard a guess that they may be triggered by replies to your post, and each of them should say something like “X has replied with a comment on the post you’re subscribed to”, so they may be a technical issue for Bluehost rather than you.

    There’s no need to publish this communication, of course – it’s not a true comment per se.

    Please let me know if I can be of any help.

    Kind regards,


  34. November 16, 2010

    The next biggest thing is for Jesus to come back and save us all

  35. Patrick Heng permalink
    November 16, 2010

    Cheers, Greg! Love the part about firing nasty people!

  36. November 16, 2010

    Why do you hate rice cookers? What’s wrong with delicious perfectly cooked rice? I loved my rice cooker. Dang ole ex wife got it. I sure miss that rice cooker. You’re just a hater, that’s what you are… 😉

  37. November 16, 2010

    You know I really like these comments. They even make feel somewhat smug – nice smug that is!
    We work in publishing and events – conferences, exhibitions etc and this industry is all of a mither about digital this and digital that. In fact only last year I attended a conference that stated ‘the business model is broken – and we don’t know how to fix it’, now this conference was addressed by the best media brains in the industry – worldwide and we left the conference looking for a bus to jump under. Now just a year later those same brains are saying – ‘hey actually we now know how to make money out of the new technology at least in part’. So it’s not all bad. However, what they are really saying is that they now realise that technology doesn’t drive the market – except maybe for the odd over paid evangelistic consultant who makes a good living at pushing the technology and his/her own cause; the driver is the market and what is now said is that the technology is merely a delivery channel for the same old message and content that was being peddled the year before.
    At the same time I read many a feed on discussion groups where ‘bright’ young things go on and on about the latest wiz bangs in media. The latest preachers talk about virtual events; that is where you don’t bother going to an exhibition because you are far too busy, so you look into your monitor and walk around a virtual exhibition as an avatar. You get teleported to the virtual offices of an exhibitor where a virtual CEO lectures to you – doh! I really need this like a hole in the head. If I want a supplier company to talk to me direct but they point me to a ‘virtual space’ then I won’t do business with them.
    My message is use technology to solve your problems and improve your offering; don’t look at technology and say ‘hey this is fun, now what can we do with it?’ In other words be market driven not product driven and keep a level head. You make money out of a market not out of a technology and you use technology to help you service the market ,not the other way round.

  38. November 16, 2010


    Thanks for alerting me. This post has generated a ton of traffic, so maybe that’s why. I’ll contact blue host and see if they can solve it.

    Thanks for alerting me.

    If anybody else has a problem, please let me know.

    – Greg

  39. November 16, 2010

    Thx! Working with nice people is much more pleasant (and more productive!)

    – Greg

  40. November 16, 2010


    Sorry to give offense. I’m a big fan of rice and have nothing against rice cookers. However, Sony did go on to bigger and more exciting things, like this one:


    – Greg

  41. November 16, 2010


    Good advice. Although I always looked at conferences as mostly a good opportunity for drinking ( a side effect of too much time spent in Eastern Europe:-). Usually, there are one or two good presentations per conference, the rest of the time is better spent at the bar!

    – Greg

  42. November 16, 2010


    Well you can’t do that at a virtual event!! Real has something going for it!


  43. November 16, 2010


  44. November 16, 2010

    One thing off your list is hiring people who will be trained. Twice we’ve hired junior people with the aim to training them but they weren’t interested in being shown how to do things. They already knew it all and it hurt their ego to have someone show them how things should be done.

    Yes, they were bad hires but be sure you are hiring teachable people. You can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

  45. November 16, 2010

    The REAL Next Really, Really Really BIG Thing:
    Re: “Best Practice Programs:” Google, hands down.

    *Google Offers Staff Engineer $3.5 Million To Turn Down Facebook Offer*

    Wonder who might be taking longer than normal lunch breaks ‘off-campus’ to throw a resume against the wall to see what might stick at FB?

  46. Anonymous permalink
    November 16, 2010

    I have a few problems with the “generic nasty people” category: groups can and do create “scaepgoats,” and “lock people, perceptually, into negative roles,” if they don’t conform, or if they challenge the dominant ethos, culture, or even “brainwashed religion” promulgated by the pipe dreams of the company, or the “cultic” aspects of a company.

    How do you distinguish a “nasty person” from someone who is, for reasons they believe increase the value of their share-holding in the company long-term, challenging the kinds of “reality distortion fields” that often mask unsound technical planning, venture-capital fueled hype that requires “star wars” business plans … etc. ?

    And how does a technical employee in a big company deal with the fact that his or her boss is busy “shining on” senior management by telling them what they want to hear while not performing their basic duties; especially when, if you go to senior management, “over the boss’ head,” their attitude will be “shoot the messenger” who’s telling us “the emperor has no clothes.”

    The larger companies I’ve had experience in, like Adobe, were in fact conglomerations of feudal warring tribes, as in medieval Italian city-states, busy competing for resources, and often attacking and undercutting each other. Quiet, competent, detail-oriented managers were often replaced by physically large aggressive males who were intimidating, shot-from-the-hip, and focused on promoting their own careers first of all.

    thanks, former veteran of: IDD, Claris, Cricket, AutoDesk, Adobe, WildTangent, etc.

  47. November 16, 2010


    That’s an excellent point. I have found that the two best qualities to look for in new hires are curiosity and temperament. As G.H. Hardy said, “For any serious purpose, intelligence is a relatively minor gift.”

    – Greg

  48. November 16, 2010


    It does seem that FB could make some good money auctioning off offers:-)

    – Greg

  49. November 16, 2010

    It’s a good point. I guess just like any other management exercise, you have to rely on your judgment. There is no easy formula.

    – Greg

  50. Frustrated Team Member permalink
    November 16, 2010

    “And how does a technical employee in a big company deal with the fact that his or her boss is busy “shining on” senior management…?”

    I would also like to know how to go about this, especially in regard to a boss not doing anything about a “nasty” employee who makes every other team member’s job take at least three times longer to complete and creates a hostile work environment for those that play by the rules.

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