How can one bring a high impact, large scale, and novel change to society?

When bringing something new to the mass market (new type of product, method/tool to solve problems, ideology, art style, etc), the process can often be segmented into 3 stages:

  1. Proof of concept
  • often crude but bold and novel
  • a proof of concept
  • usually very expensive
  • adapted by a tiny fraction
  1. Refinement
  • more refinement, major incremental changes
  • not always but sometimes large error correction
  • still expensive but more affordable in terms of the value/cost ratio
  • adapted by early adapters/enthusiasts
  1. Mass adaptation
  • mass production/global marketing/adaptation
  • (relatively) inexpensive
  • adapted by a large number of people into general workflows


Here are some 3 examples. The examples cases are not exhaustive and were simplified for this posting.

Example 1: Tesla

1. Proof of concept: Roadster
Roadster showed the world that an electrical car can be fun and that going electric has more benefits than simply saving gas and preserving the environment. However, the car was highly impractical and expensive.

2. Refinement: Model S and Model X
Model S (~$100k) outsells Mercedes-Benz S Class in some markets and is often reviewed as "the best car" tested. Compared to the early Roadster, Model S/X can be and intended to be used as an everyday car.

3. Mass adaptation: Model 3
In 2016, the average new car price was approximately $34k. Tesla Model 3 starting price would be ~$35k (though some analysts suggest that a typical Model 3 configuration would be around ~$50k; ~$40k ish with federal and state tax credits). Model 3 aims to bring many novel features from Model S/X to a wider market.

Example 2: Apple

(in the context of personal computing)
1. Proof of concept: Apple 1
showed some viability/tractability of designing, assembling, and marketing personal computer. a "hobbyist" and "artisanal" product, hand made. No graphical user interface.

2. Refinement: Macintosh
refined personal computer with graphical user interface (GUI), early/primitive plug-and-play-esque expansion/networking capability. ~$2500 (~$5800 in 2016).

3. Mass adaptation: "i"Devices (iMac, iBook, iPhone, iPad)
The variety of "i"Devices, particularly and recently iPhone and iPad, made computing truly personal and shaped how the industry approach personal computing.

Example 3: Satyagraha

1. Proof of concept: Indian Opinion (1906)
Gandhi first introduced the term Satyagraha in 1906 in his publication/newspaper titled Indian Opinion.

2. Refinement: Indian independence movement (1915-1947)
Civil-disobediecne, non-violent resistance, and other factors of Satyagraha were implemented in the Indian independence movement.

3. Mass adaptation: Mandela, MLK (1950~)
Decades later around the globe, Mandel, MLK, and others adapted Gandhi's Satyagraha into civil rights movements.

Example 4: Democracy

(a grossly simplified version)
1. Proof of concept: Greek and Roman (~500 BC)
earliest concepts and elements of democracy, though both the extent of participation and legal/political infrastructures were limited.

2. Refinement: revolutions in United Kingdom, France, and the United States (mostly 18th~19th century)
The architecture of modern government and legal structures. Early modern implementations party system. The participation was mostly limited to white and wealthy males.

3. Mass adaptation: post-World War II and still on going
Various civil rights and suffrage movements opened the doors to the traditionally disenfranchised, opening a new era of (at least legally and theoretically) universal democracy in most of the developed nations around the world. We still have some progress to make.

Example 5: Lightsheet Microscopy

1. Proof of concept: "ultramicroscope" and the fist modern lightsheet
Zsigmondy and Siedentopf (1902) of Zeiss, Stelzer (2004)
the original "ultramicroscope" and a modern implementation.

2. Refinement: solving shadowing issue and producing thinner, wider, and faster lightsheet
Huisken and Stainier (2007): multidirectional selective plane illumination
Keller and Stelzer (2008): DSLM (digital scanned lightsheet) for quantitative (volumetric) in vivo imaging

3. Mass adaptation: research application and commercial product
Some early research applications of lightsheet microscopy:
Keller...Stelzer (2008): developmental biology
Ahrens...Keller (2013): functional whole-brain imaging of zebrafish
Tomer...Deisseroth (2014): high resolution and high speed structural imaging (CLARITY-cleared tissue optimized microscope)

Mainstream commercial products:
Leica TCS SP 8 DLS and Zeiss Z.1