Entrepreneurs are renowned for instigating change. Whenever you embark on establishing an innovative company with the potential for significant impact and wealth creation, you inevitably disrupt the status quo to achieve your goals.
However, understanding how much resistance you’ll encounter when trying to change something is an area that many entrepreneurs overlook. It may not be the quality or the price of your product or service that’s holding up its adoption by the market.
That’s where research on something called “Pace Layers,” pioneered by Steward Brand back in 1999 and later popularized by Paul Saffo, can help us better understand how we should set our expectations for how quickly we might be able to introduce a disruptive product or service into the market.
The pace of change
The foundational idea behind Pace Layers is that some aspects of our society can be changed more rapidly than others. Understanding how your product or service ties into that layer can help you more accurately assess how quickly (or slowly) you can expect to change the status quo.
We can think of these layers as concentric circles, with the layers that change the fastest rippling out to those that change much slower: fashion, commerce, infrastructure, government, culture, and nature.
As we all know, fashion trends change fast–maybe over the course of just a few months. The rise of overnight fads like the pet rock illustrate this. If your product or service offering is linked to fashion trends, it doesn’t have much in the way of barriers to entry. It’s possible you can catch an upward trend and profit enormously. On the flip side, these trends go backward as quickly as they go up, which you need to expect and plan for.
Changes in commerce, such as the shift from brick-and-mortar to more online sales, occur in relatively short periods. While these changes take more time than fashion shifts, more likely measured in years, you can build a business model around these kinds of changes. The key is to embrace the patience required for the changes in commerce to take hold.
Infrastructure can be seen as how things are done. A great example is the evolution of the cell phone, as it has evolved from 3G to 4G and, most recently, 5G. There are a lot of infrastructure changes that go into those shifts, and they take years if not decades. Another good example is the adoption of electric vehicles, which has taken a long time, mostly because access to a charging infrastructure still can’t compete with access to gasoline. EV users have what’s become known as “range anxiety” and don’t want to take long trips because they might run out of juice. We’ll probably get there someday, but it’s been a slow transition.
The government doesn’t do anything fast. So, if a product or service requires regulatory approval, you’re likely looking at decades, at a minimum. Let’s consider another automotive example, the autonomous vehicle. The technology already exists for us to let our cars drive themselves. The data even shows AVs are safer than human-driven vehicles. But the government isn’t ready to give the technology a green light, so it remains in limbo. So, be aware of how long things might take if your business requires government approval before moving forward.
Culture is about long-time traditions. Think about something like the American holiday of Thanksgiving. If there is one cultural icon of the holiday, it’s the turkey–followed maybe be pumpkin pie. Now, if your business model is counting on either of those changing soon, I wish you luck! I have yet to have Tofurkey for Thanksgiving. Because culture changes very slowly, we’re talking decades and even generations before you’ll see any shift.
Nobody should be building a business model around nature changing. It takes hundreds or even thousands of years for living things to evolve and adapt to their environment.
This model aims to help you understand if your business model is tailored correctly to the pace of change in the market you hope to leverage. The key is to use these Pace Layers to set realistic goals and to understand what forces are truly at work when it comes to getting the market to accept your offerings. Ultimately, the speed at which you can grow revenue is controlled by the relevant Pace Layer.