To Block or Not to Block? That is Your New Question
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | October 2019
On March 7, 1876, the number 174,465 changed our lives forever. For it was on this date that the U.S. Patent Office issued Patent 174,468 to Alexander Graham Bell covering "the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically…" In other words, Bell patented what became known as the telephone. Only three days later, on March 10, Bell uttered his famous words, "Mr. Watson. Come here. I want to see you." into a liquid transmitter. Watson, who was in an adjoining room, heard Bell's summons clearly.
The telephone was more than an invention by an unbelievably creative mind. It was a disruptor. And there is a distinct difference between an invention and a disruptor. Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen agrees. In fact, in a Forbes article he says that a disruptor uproots and changes how we think, behave, do business, learn, and go about our day-to-day…[and]…displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile." So impactful was Bell's invention that, at the conclusion of his funeral, "every phone on the continent of North America was silenced in honor of the man who had given to mankind the means for direct communication at a distance." Wow! Now that is a disruptor.
Each of us can probably list inventions that, to us, disrupted how humans do things. Wheel. Compass. Calendar. Clock. Refrigerator. Electric bulb. Airplane. But, to me, the most disruptive inventions are those that change how we communicate with each other. For as one of my favorite professor's always said, Communication is shared meaning.
Cavemen had their photo-writing. The concept of a true written language is thought to have been developed in ancient Mesopotamia around 3400-3300 BC. And although Johannes Gutenberg gets the credit for inventing the printing press, its genesis is considered to have originated in China since the oldest known printed text is a Buddhist book from Dunhuang, China, circa 868 A.D. Then there is Bell's telephone, and the myriad of scientist, programmers, engineers, and visionary thinkers that gave us the Information Highway – i.e. the Internet.
So, what does this brief history lesson have to do with your hotel? A lot. Because there is a disruptive "new sheriff in town" and its name is Blockchain.
Blockchain is one of those business terms that many of us are increasingly hearing, but many of us are still not sure what it is and what it can do for our hotel. Probably its most recognized application is Bitcoin, which we basically know as a digital or virtual form of currency - also called cryptocurrency - that enables instant payment. But how many guests pay their bill with Bitcoin? What about your suppliers? What about your payroll? It just isn't in the lodging wheelhouse yet. It probably will be in the future, but the question is how quickly.