• Cloudway Partners

Cutting Ice




Technology dies at its zenith. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it is true. I often find myself counseling customers who are struggling with legacy technology to "stop cutting ice."

Before refrigerators were common household appliances (as recently as the 1950's in the US, 1960's in Europe), the only method for refrigerating food was to use an "ice-box." An icebox was simply that, a box with a compartment for ice and some shelves to store food. They were the precursors to today's refrigerators. A house might have a stand-alone box as shown below, or a larger one built into the house. The first house I lived in in Chicago was built in 1881, and you can still see the floorboards where the icebox used to be. A block of ice would be delivered to your home and placed inside the icebox, where it would keep food cold for about a week till the ice melted and a new block was put in its place. There was an entire industry around the cutting and transportation of ice. After all, everyone needed to eat, so everyone had an icebox, and therefore everyone needed ice.


As refrigerators came into vogue after World War II, the ice industry saw a threat in this new technology. Their answer was to develop faster, more efficient ways of cutting ice and delivering it to homes. Their efforts were unsuccessful, however, and today no home depends on an icebox to refrigerate its food. A modern-day example is the Palm Pilot. It was a revolutionary gadget in its day, the harbinger of the handheld trend, along with Blackberry. The last stand-alone Palm Pilot made (without a phone) was the T|X. It was a marvel of technology, with Bluetooth, WiFi, email, and a host of other features. and it (along with the traditional Blackberry) died soon after the iPhone came into vogue.

The moral of this story is to remind us that just because a technology is cool and innovative, and even functional, doesn't mean that it will stay this way, and maybe not even for very long. And the likely replacement technology will not likely come from the current industry. They just aren't wired to think that way. Comfort is the nemesis of innovation. So when I tell customers to stop cutting ice, I am telling them to think of new, unexpected ways to be innovative, from new and non-traditional sources, and not rely on making old technology or processes go faster and be better. It just won't work.


For those of you who like science fiction, another example is the iconic transporter from Star Trek. I can guarantee you that if one is ever invented, it won't be by Boeing or Airbus. And soon after its invention, those companies will cease to exist, as will commercial aviation (American, United and Delta will not be the companies "transporting" you around the planet). There will still be general aviation, as people like to fly, just as people still ride horses, but for recreation, not as a mode of transportation.

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