How to explain blockchain in plain English

How to explain blockchain in plain English

Arm yourself with definitions that will help you explain blockchain to others. One expert compares it to a school lunch trade

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June 26, 2018
Reinvention Imperative

Moreover, as you move to a point where you are actively considering a project or needing to make a convincing case for a blockchain investment to others in the company, brevity may lose some of its virtue.

Maryanne Morrow, a regular on the blockchain speaking circuit and CEO and founder of a fintech blockchain startup, 9thGear.io, notes that, say, a dictionary definition of blockchain – yes, it’s in the dictionary – might be a fine start, but it’s incomplete, especially in terms of explaining its business potential. 

“Blockchain is a digital, always accurate, distributed ledger that allows for secure transactions without a central trusted third party,” Morrow says. Its characteristics, though, are the substance beneath the hype, and why she thinks blockchain will have a huge impact for decades to come. In Morrow’s terms, blockchain is:

  • Immutable: Once agreed [upon], transactions cannot be changed.

  • Encrypted: Increases security of transaction.

  • Pseudonymous: Only the information necessary for a transaction is shared.

  • Decentralized: Enhances security as information resides across every node in the blockchain.

  • Consensus-based: Validation of a transaction requires acceptance by majority of the blockchain’s nodes.

  • Time-stamped: Ensures that transactions cannot be double counted

  • Resilient: Information resides in multiple nodes [which] ensures it is not lost in the event of a technical issue in one or several nodes.


The big-dollar question, then: Should more CIOs be kicking the tires on blockchain in their businesses? To begin to answer that question, you must think about blockchain in business – rather than technical – terms.

Think about whether blockchain's unique characteristics provide business value.

“In deciding whether to use blockchain, it is helpful to think about whether [its] unique characteristics provide business value,” says Red Hat’s Haff. “For example, if an industry has no system of trusted middlemen – or if existing middlemen are expensive or otherwise add friction – blockchain might be a good fit.”

Read also: How to tell when moving to blockchain is a bad idea

Stay tuned: In an upcoming post, we’ll examine that question in more depth, including a closer look at some of the real and potential applications of blockchain in various organizations and industries.

[ Want to give your team a sense of urgency? Get our new resource: Fast Start Guide: Creating a sense of urgency, with John Kotter. ]

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One comment

"Blockchain is an

"Blockchain is an unchangeable, distributed way to store records of events."

No, no, no! A blockchain can be change if an entity controls 51% of the blockchain. They are only secure if there are a lot of miners competing to add the next block. Blockchains controlled by a single company can be changed just like any other database.

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