An Ideas-Based Online Magazine of the Global Network for Advanced Management

Bitcoin and Blockchain: Distributed Trust as Disruption

What has been the impact in your country/region of increasingly popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin? What are the greatest hurdles?

Marc-David L. Seidel

Vancouver is at the forefront of distributed trust technologies such as blockchain. We have built a multidisciplinary cluster called Blockchain@UBC that is quite active. The cluster contains researchers from many disciplinary perspectives including Archival Science, Engineering, Computer Science, Law, Organizational Theory, Management Information Systems, Accounting, Finance, Operations Research, Medicine, and Forestry. These academic researchers are joined by many industry and community partners in the broader British Columbia distributed trust ecosystem including hackers, government ministers, lawyers, investors, and many blockchain project developers and start-ups. This interdisciplinary focus is unique and has grown into one of the world’s largest distributed trust innovation ecosystems. Vancouver, and British Columbia more broadly, has a long history of collaborative organization. The new organizational models of distributed trust are well matched to the local collaborative culture. Perhaps the greatest hurdle is misinformation and FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) being spread about the potential of the technology. This is natural as some very powerful institutions are fundamentally having their power challenged by the possibilities. Vancouver is well-positioned to point the way through this transition.

Can blockchain, the technology underlying Bitcoin, serve other purposes? What are potential applications? How should it be regulated?

This question is in fact a focus of a recent piece I wrote in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Questioning Centralized Organizations in a Time of Distributed Trust.” I explained parts of that article in a recent World Economic Forum piece. In essence, many previous assumptions we take for granted about the role of centralized institutions are being challenged by the development and spread of distributed trust technologies such as blockchain. Many of the established Silicon Valley success stories like Google, Facebook, Uber, and AirBnB can all be replaced by decentralized forms of distributed trust over time. So the organizations that have traditionally in recent years been thought of as “disrupting” established industries all can now be displaced by distributed trust technologies not owned by a central VC-backed for-profit. It is an exciting time ahead as the technology holds the promise to reduce inequality and share power if implemented with such goals in mind.