Lesson from the Gold Rush

I spent last Saturday touring San Francisco in an open-top tourist bus. It was quite a bit of fun I must say. How often do you get to be a tourist close to home?

I learnt quite a bit about the history of San Francisco and the California Gold Rush. Apparently, less than 2% of the people who came looking for gold actually found any.

Interestingly, though, there were a few people that made quite a bit of money during the gold rush and they weren’t looking for gold! Levi Strauss and Sam Brannan, are two great examples. Both made a lot of money off providing supplies to the those looking to strike rich.

It’s a useful lesson in life. If you want to succeed, you may want to look for a very strong trend or market behavior and figure out how to attach yourself to it. You don’t need to be part of that market, even supporting or supplying that market can help you. This is true if you are thinking of your own career, or a company you want to start.

For example, consider the Internet of Things (IoT). So many different things are happening there, it’s crazy. It is very clear that IoT will be big, but it’s not clear which of the “things” will be big. Or which of the companies building the “things” will be big (other than Google-owned Nest, maybe).

However, it’s clear that IoT will present new challenges in big data, security and communication infrastructures. Therefore, if you want to benefit off IoT, you can focus on these three challenges and still be successful thanks to the aggressive growth of IoT. This way, you don’t need to bet on a specific “thing”, or product, but rather on a major trend that is clearly important and massive in size. Cisco is doing this.

So, take a few minutes to stop and think – are you currently doing something that is part of a major trend? One that can propel you to success? If not, are you sure you are doing the right thing?

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