If you're just thinking about disruption... You're already too late.

Tesla Fuelling Stations

Posted on 29 May 2017 by Jim Wilkes

As an observer of people and a student of culture, I’m always curious about why people are so surprised when things change. A Stanford scholar wrote a nice piece the other day suggesting electric vehicles would take over in less than 10 years. He went on to say the car industry would be changed forever, and his go-to example for missing an obvious disruptive change was Kodak. And of course, as we all now know, those guys missed the arrival and relevance of digital photography completely. When the inevitable change became embedded, it disrupted every part of the traditional film development business. No more dropping off photos. Disruption complete. Job done.

Another highly disruptive and rapidly emerging technology is artificial intelligence. AI is seeping through the cracks everywhere you look. It not only designs, it builds and paints your car as well as teaches your car’s drive train to recognize your driving style too. Look out car salesman, look out mechanics, look out oil barons. And now it thinks it can drive your car better than you can as well. Move over, AI wants to be driver. AI has big dreams.
‘A’ also stands for aspirational. Baker & Hostetler, one of America’s largest law firms, recently announced the appointment of Ross, the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney. Ross will be handling the firm’s bankruptcy practice, which at the moment employs 50 lawyers. Ross is said to be an intelligent attorney with a diligent approach to his work. Ross also minimizes the time it takes to provide advice by narrowing down results from a thousand to only the most highly relevant answers quickly and without moaning. He then presents his answers in casual, understandable language. In his spare time, he likes to keep up-to-date with developments in the legal system, specifically those that may affect your cases. Nice, good on you Ross, welcome onboard.

The Internet of Things (IOT) is really hotting up delivering on its disruptive promise too. It’s now well beyond transitioning corporate brochures into websites and helping us look up tricky stuff. IOT is enabling disruptive businesses like Uber and Amazon to gain traction and thrive. Everything from drones to smart kitchen appliances are being impacted by AI innovation.

It’s pretty obvious then, at least to anyone paying attention, that disruption is now part of our landscape. It is also painfully obvious that the first thing that needs to change in response to disruption is the way we think. Ironically, changing the way we think isn’t something we are very good at. Most traditional thinkers mirror the actions of the Titanic Captain and live to go down with their ship. We human beings simply don’t like change and unfortunately, in these days of peak disruption, this is a major design flaw. The smart operators who understand disruption recognise this flaw and use their ability to adapt faster as a competitive advantage.

The point I’m trying to make is times have changed. What worked for us when we were living in caves does not work as well in the environment we’ve now created for ourselves.

Survival of the fittest isn’t going to be the fastest, or the strongest, or even the smartest. It may well come down to those who can embrace disruption and those who cannot.

Disruptive change isn’t always a surprise either. For example, feeding our motor vehicle addiction with fossil fuels is going to stop, soon. Tesla is here, electric trucks are here and electric aircraft are on the drawing board. These are not figments of the imagination anymore, they’re real. Artificial intelligence will shortly compete for over half the jobs people compete for today. That’s fact, not fiction. If your current role involves a repetitive task, you’re in the firing line. Can I suggest seeing Ross’s colleague in HR.

Another under-the-radar disruptive technology is Onguard Seismic Systems. To begin with many established industry professionals thought it was an interesting curiosity. They didn’t see that the new approach to protecting wine tanks was the beginning of a wine tank design revolution. Even now, some people simply don’t get it. They cling to the safety of the familiar with so much vested interest it becomes counter-productive.

Innovators and disrupters like Will Lomax of Onguard Group of course, take advantage of this. They can see old technology failing and they use innovation to do something about fixing problems for their customers. This can be very disruptive to out-of-date technology and thinking. Using the caveman analogy again, some of us are destined to be hunters, and some of us are destined to be hunted. Where you sit on the spectrum comes down to the way you think. Understanding disruption is a lot like understanding the African savannah. Springboks instinctively know that big animals with big teeth are not far away. To combat this challenge, they have evolved acute hearing and the ability to run fast. Human beings are still evolving and we’re surprisingly inept at handling change. The lesson is simple. Find your inner Springbok.