I just finished writing a book on blockchain adoption journey in companies. As part of the research I talked to many leaders involved with the projects in early adopter companies. As I talked to team members actively working on blockchain projects to understand the challenges they have faced, bitcoin unexpectedly showed up more than I thought. After reading this article you will appreciate one thing that should be addressed at the very beginning.
Blockchain is not bitcoin.
Relationship of blockchain and bitcoin
Blockchain got introduced to the world with the introduction of bitcoin. But they are not one and the same thing. Blockchain is the underlying technology that enables Bitcoin. Since its introduction, Bitcoin has also been the most visible of blockchain use cases as a form of cryptocurrency. With the introduction of smart contracts, blockchain technology’s utility has moved beyond the confines of cryptocurrencies and into the realm of value addition in other processes.
I consistently notice that people often mistake blockchain for Bitcoin. When I gave the first two chapters of this book to my friend, Glenn—to ask for his feedback—he said, “Oh, I did not realize Bitcoin could do all that?” after reading the excerpts. This is even despite the fact that I did not mention the world Bitcoin once in any of those chapters.
Furthermore, as I learned more about blockchain, I reached a point where I was looking to define a financial engine to power my blockchain business. I wanted to join a mastermind group that could act as an advisory system and a support group to stay on track. After a few web searches, I decided to approach a company that would bring together a group of people in cohorts to start mastermind groups.
To their credit, they were very meticulous in their approach to forming a group. The first part of their process included filling out a questionnaire, followed by an interview. One question was to link a web page describing my company’s services. I gave my blog as the link. As the interview started, the first thing the lady tentatively asked me was, “So you do something with Bitcoin?”
At the time, I found it funny because, on my blog, there is not one single mention of the word “bitcoin.” Instead, it is all plastered with the term blockchain. The title of the blog was “The Blockchain Stream of Consciousness.” And yet, she had registered Bitcoin in her mind.
What does this mean for companies
As I am talking to more and more people, it is clear that projects centered around blockchain technology face headwinds of perception. Blockchain and Bitcoin are tightly intertwined in general perception. And by extension, blockchain has to fight Bitcoin’s tainted connections with nefarious activities like money laundering, funding of terrorist activities, the dark web, Silk Road, etc.
As the early enthusiasts of blockchain start conversations with folks in their companies, it is necessary to manage this association and perception about a blockchain project. Be prepared to answer the question: “Isn’t blockchain the same as Bitcoin?”
The case of city of Dublin, OH
“One barrier is perception. When you use the term blockchain, people hear cryptocurrency. They hear bitcoin, and they don’t hear blockchain," explained Doug McCollough.
Doug is the CIO of Dublin, Ohio, and is currently leading the charge for the city to integrate emerging technologies into its daily operations. Dublin is a small community of around fifty thousand people in the northwest corner of Ohio. It is a technocentric city that has embraced using technology to advance its economic development interests. And from there, they have embraced the idea of being a leader and innovator in smart cities.
Doug is very aware of the possibilities of digital disruption to the government. He tries to keep his city ahead of the curve by embracing emerging technologies in city operations. But nobody sees disruption coming. Most of the time, the prevalent narrative is of the status quo with incremental changes.
One example of government disruption is how people now trust map services in deciding whether or not to travel on the road. If your GPS and mapping service says a road is open, you think it is open. However, somebody might have removed a sign that city officials put up. If mapping services advise people to undertake actions according to themselves—that is a disruption.
Cities are moving onward in their journey to become smart cities and rely on data-driven decisions. Software companies, not the government, pioneer all the technology that is going into making connected vehicles. And when software companies get better at directing people’s traffic and keeping them safer, governments are no longer doing it. The government is no longer the primary safety partner in citizen’s lives—that is a disruption.
“We tend to look at cities and say, ‘Stay in your lane, plow the snow, mow the grass, fix the potholes, cut my taxes, and I’ll be happy.’ We don’t think about all of the various services and things that a city does and has been doing. If cities do not innovate, then we are going to be disrupted just like any other business. . . . We are candidates for innovation just like anybody else. I do believe that there’s going to be a new distributed data environment. Just as the web changed everything, blockchain and distributed data environment are going to change everything,” explains Doug. For Dublin, that has been a driver for pursuing the blockchain-based digital identity project—to prepare for possible disruption by the technology.
Besides the challenge of association with Bitcoin, using the word blockchain starts distracting people on other fronts too. They start associating the project with the flavor of the day and associating it with following the hype. The conversation strays away from looking at the merits of the project deliverables. That also starts coming in the way of the funding available for these innovative projects. We just started calling it “Digital Identity” and not so much blockchain because it distracts people,” says Doug.
It is important to appreciate this misunderstanding exists and how it will effect your project. This will prepare blockchain pioneers like you to have the right upfront conversations as they build a business case for your blockchain project. Most leaders do not give it due attention but it is actually very important to manage perceptions. Managing such perceptions makes it easier to secure funding for your project.
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