Creative Destruction and the Fight For Your Eyes

“You know what it is?  You’re always attracted to someone who doesn’t want you, right?  Well, here you have somebody who not only doesn’t want you, doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, wants your destruction! That’s a turn-on.” – Curb Your Enthusiasm


Behold, the chainsaw of Creative Destruction. This one will take care of those pesky optometrists!

There were vast periods of human history where . . . absolutely nothing happened.  If they had a newspaper, it would be blank for decades at a time.  Our Neanderthal (many of us) and other cave-dwelling hominids (all of us) ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years with little or no innovation, and that innovation that did show up was not all that exciting.  My bet is that most of them were fairly stupid, and it took generations of stupid people not having kids until humans were smart enough (and eloquent enough) to make an attempt at civilization.

Even with that first civilization, things changed only very slowly.  A thousand years of Egyptian dynasties (the pharaohs ruled Egypt for three thousand years) could pass and no one invented Cool Whip®.  You an Egyptian forward in time a thousand years and the only thing that had changed was that the music the kids listened to these days was too loud and just plain awful.  To put how very stagnant these civilizations were in perspective:  Jesus is closer in time to the people living today than He was to the time of the construction of the pyramids.  This statement will be true for another FIVE HUNDRED YEARS.

The Egyptian empire lasted a really long time, and since nothing changed, like a televised baseball game, it seemed even longer.  But then?  The Romans began to change the world, with a much shorter period of dominance.  And things keep changing faster, and faster.  More perspective:  an 85 year old has lived through 37% of the history of the United States.  An Egyptian 85 year old would have lived through less than 3% of the total length of the 3000+ year span of the pharaohs.

But scientific progress undid the pharaohs in what economist Joseph Schumpeter would call “Creative Destruction.”  Schumpeter originally derived Creative Destruction from his readings of Marx (Karl, not Groucho).  Creative Destruction is predicated on technological innovation coupled with entrepreneurial spirit in an effort to make money by disrupting previous economic structures and replacing them with new, more efficient structures.  An example:  Live performers were replaced by records.  That were (briefly) replaced by 8-Tracks.  That were replaced by cassettes.  That were replaced by compact discs.  That were replaced by .mp3 files.  That were replaced by . . . streaming music.  Each innovation replaced and (mostly) eradicated the previous iteration, making music more easily and reliably available.  Unless you have our mobile phone service:  streaming doesn’t work so well, since our wireless phone provider uses a series of wire coat hangers where we live to broadcast signal.

On Friday (LINK) I wrote about the coming Optopocalypse™.  This is another example of Creative Destruction in action.  Records destroyed local bands – you could hear better at home anytime than the local talent.  mp3’s destroyed record companies.  And 75%+ of optometrists will be looking for work soon enough because technology will have made most of what they do irrelevant.  And, outside of their families, the “Destruction” part of Creative Destruction results in greater value to all of society – more people will be able to see, since there’s hardly anyone that won’t be able to afford the low cost of the EyeQue®.

Another example is Zenni Optical (LINK).  I got great glasses from them (via my new prescription from EyeQue™).  I was testing out that prescription, and wanted to get some glasses.  I put my order in, and was even allowed to pay via Amazon, so they didn’t get credit card information.  I ordered my glasses on a Thursday, and got them the following Saturday (nine days later).  They were perfect in every way!  I then put in a new order for three more pairs.  Total cost, including express shipping?  About $200 for the three pairs, with the best lenses they offered, plus extra slip on sunglass attachments (and bifocals).

I ordered them on Saturday, and tracked progress.  By Sunday they were complete.

Here’s the shipping:

Origin Scan
10/25/2017 9:49 P.M.
Order Processed: Ready for UPS

Shanghai, CN
10/25/2017 11:16 P.M.
Departure Scan
Arrival Scan

Anchorage, AK, US
10/25/2017 3:26 P.M.
Brokerage released the package. It will be processed through a clearing agency before final release to UPS.

Anchorage, AK, US
10/25/2017 4:46 P.M.

Departure Scan
10/26/2017 2:54 A.M.

Arrival Scan
Louisville, KY, US
10/26/2017 5:32 A.M.
Departure Scan

10/26/2017 5:51 A.M.

The glasses hit my hands about 2pm that day.  And, just like the first order, they were perfect.

If you look, it appears the package goes back in time a bit, but remember about the whole date-line thing.  Regardless, I’ll go with the story that my glasses came from the future.

Well, they did come from China.  Express, for $18.

This is certainly a great way to add value, and it (by definition) changes the price that many people will pay for glasses.  It’s Creative Destruction on a grand scale – Zenni will make billions.  But it cuts off another revenue stream that will add to the Optopocalypse™.  If you look online, optometrists are out in droves complaining about both EyeQue™ and Zenni®, some of which take the form of reviews that I think are less than honest.

And the optometrists are also fighting by trying to make innovation illegal – at least innovation that hurts their profit margin and their monopoly over information about your eyes.  They typically will call the bill a “patient protection act” or something similar, so it makes it sound like it’s really for the benefit of the patient.  I’m picking on optometry not because they’re unusual – they’re much the same as everyone else who is facing having their entire life and livelihood replaced by a disruptive app or Silicon Valley startup.

These regulations and laws actually end up hurting the economy – they make it more likely that companies like Zenni manufacture outside of the United States and not subject to US or state law rather than creating an eyeglass factory in . . . Kentucky, or Illinois.  I’m not unsympathetic to the 55 year old optometrist – and I don’t have a good answer for what he should do.  Becoming a roustabout in North Dakota in the oilfield is probably not a reasonable answer.  In times past, however, people displaced by technology and Creative Destruction have found new things to do.

Maybe they could ascend to that highest throne of prestige and power.

Blogging, anyone?

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom – How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.