Let’s explore the “Disruptors” of the last seventy years from 1950 to present day.

Whilst the 1850’s came out of the industrial revolution (the biggest change to society since the invention of the printing press), the 1950’s came out of WWII (the biggest global conflict of all time).

Transportation has changed dramatically – but not in terms of disruptive innovations. We still use the modes of transport originally introduced in the late 19th Century – Trains & Ships, with their early 20th Century cousins the automobile & the airplane.

What has changed is how efficient we have made them & how much faster they are!

  • Trains that travel at speeds of over 300km an hour, using electricity for their propulsion. Diesel counterparts capable of speeds over 200km per hour
  • Container ships that cross the world in a few weeks with a length of just under 400 metres & a capacity of more than 18,000 20ft containers. Passenger ships that sail the world with more than 5,000 passengers aboard
  • Passenger airplanes carrying over 800 people at a time from one continent to the next in under 12 hours. Cargo planes capable of carrying more than 550 tonnes of cargo
  • Passenger motor vehicles travelling at average speeds that would be mind boggling to 19th Century inhabitants – with each family owning at least one vehicle
  • Motor coaches & buses transporting groups of people intercity, nationally & internationally quickly & cheaply
  • Space travel has gone from being the stuff of science fiction to everyday event & is, shortly, predicted to become a reality for the average person in the street.

The speed, efficiency & low cost of all of these has transformed transportation to the point where global travel is almost as commonplace as travelling from one town to the next & moving goods has become fast & cheap.

Communication still uses the radio & wired telephony from the 19th Century but has added Television, satellite & wireless mediums to the mix. Again, speed, efficiency & distribution have been improved exponentially.

It now costs no more to call someone across the other side of the globe than it does to call someone the other side of your city – & you can do it whilst you walk around your neighbourhood!

Thanks to the mobile phone revolution, most western societies have populations that are connected to each other 24/7. People think nothing of watching a sporting event live, occurring on the other side of the planet, from the comfort of their lounge room.

Our ability to communicate news & information has advanced to the point where we measure the currency of news & information in terms of seconds not minutes, hours, days or weeks as in the last century.

In terms of infrastructure, our biggest changes are still taking place. The deployment of satellites to enable global communication has really only become commonplace in the last 20 years. We are moving from a reliance on “Dirty” energy (coal, oil, nuclear) to “Clean” energy (solar, wind, hydro).

By far, our biggest infrastructure disruptor has been the development of the computer &, with it, the establishment of the internet. This is still very much a work in progress & we certainly haven’t seen the last of the “Disruptive” forces this will involve. However, already it has spawned:

  • Email – heralding the end of postal communication (but not freight delivery)
  • Knowledge transfer (such as Google & community intranets)
  • Knowledge storage & retrieval (the “Cloud” is just starting to gain traction)
  • The Internet Of Things or “IOT” – where multiple types of devices from washing machines, to air conditioners, to cars and more (basically anything with a microprocessor) can “Connect” to share data & function
  • Entertainment – music & video streaming (the end of the video library business model & the traditional music industry distribution model with the movie industry having to rethink its structure drastically)

Health & science industries have advanced exponentially thanks to this streamlining of information technology & communication. Again, this is a work in progress but expect massive changes in things like:

  • Hospitals – size, function & cost
  • Doctors – radical change in function with the introduction of medical robots & diagnostics technology
  • Pharmaceuticals – as nano technologies & gene therapy become commonplace our reliance on “Medicines” will alter dramatically.

The internet has also made the restriction on the distribution of knowledge & information redundant. It is almost impossible to “Keep secret” or restrict information like was possible in the 20th Century. The ability of individuals to disseminate & distribute information to the world as a whole is now quite straightforward.

You only have to see the impact that an individual like Julian Assange & his Wikileaks organisation has had on western governments (in particular the USA & UK) to get an idea of where this sort of activity could lead.

Some well established & currently accepted tenets will need to be re-evaluated – & quickly! Things like:

  • Copyright
  • Patents
  • Intellectual property
  • Licencing
  • Etc

These were all established in an unconnected world. A world where communication & transportation /distribution costs were high & inefficient.

Some cases in point:

  • When music & video can be distributed electronically, why will consumers want to pay similar prices to a time when these had physical distribution requirements?
  • Similarly with the publishing world – if a novel or publication can be downloaded & read shouldn’t it be cheaper than a physical version?
  • Why pay high taxi charges when an Uber is so much cheaper & more convenient?
  • Why bother to go to a retailer & experience poor service when you can transact online?
  • Why pay thousands of dollars for a University degree when the information it delivers is accessible online?
  • Why spend three to four years securing a technical degree when half of what you learn is obsolete by the time you graduate?

Certainly the disruptions that shaped the 19th Century were dramatic & had massive impacts on society. However, the impacts of the disruptive elements took longer to be felt than is the case in the 21st Century.

Whilst we have not had as many fundamental shifts as our 19th Century counterparts, ours have impacts that are felt almost immediately & it is this speed, along with the breadth of the disruptors coming into play, that provides us with the reason behind the perception that we are facing the greatest levels of change ever felt in recorded history.

And, if you thought that the changes we have recently experienced are dramatic, the immediate future (the next 5-7 years) is likely to be even more so! Here’s a few areas for you to consider:

  • Financial Institutions
    Banks & other financial institutions (including insurance companies) are in for a torrid time. These organisations are gigantic & would appear to be “Immune” to digital disruption – but are they?We are already seeing small salvos aimed at their outer walls – like Paypal & other online payment processors, Bitcoin & other block-chain based instruments, Crowdfunding through online platforms like Kickstarter & Indigogo. With the depth of feeling against established financial institutions in modern society, it isn’t going to take much to erode or even destroy their pre-eminent position when viable alternatives are surfacing around us.

    Let’s face it, the principle of a bank is that we deposit our money in there for safety & to be able to access it when needed. The banks then lend that money to individuals (for personal & home loans) & businesses (in the form of overdrafts & business loans) – but it is our money that fuels this. And let’s not even think about all the fees they charge us to access OUR money (especially ATM fees!)!

    If you could store your money safely elsewhere (eg; bitcoin), secure loans from crowdfunding (eg; Kickstarter) & pay bills through your Smartphone – why would you use a bank?

    Five years from now that question will not seem so abstract.

  • Television Networks
    For decades the TV networks (including cable) have been in control of what we see & when. Their operational model has been based on securing advertising revenue through forcing viewers to watch ads. Everyone was prepared to do that (albeit complaining about the “Interruptions”) as there really wasn’t a lot of choice.The internet has changed all of that. Instead of TV station programmers deciding what you can watch, we can now decide for ourselves – thanks to platforms like Youtube & online streaming services, people can now decide their own programming choices – mostly without the ad interruptions.

    Unless TV networks find another model on which to base their business they are going to lose their audiences, followed by their advertisers & then their business will just vanish!

  • Movie Theatres
    Everyone loves going to the movies – it’s an entertainment experience & there’s nothing like that “Big screen” impact – or is there?Home theatre technology is now so good that the “Big screen” experience is no longer so unique. Combine this with the price gouging that cinemas engage in (drinks & confectionary costing double or triple their retail prices & admission ticket pricing that raises everyone’s eyebrows).

    The end of cinemas as we know it was predicted when radio first became popular, then when TV was introduced (& especially when it was upgraded to colour), & lastly when video players came onto the market. None of those predictions eventuated – but the industry has taken some pretty big hits.

    The internet’s digital entertainment revolution combined with superior home theatre technologies could well be that final nail – unless the industry re-invents itself.

  • Transportation
    Traffic congestion has been the bane of every major city dweller for decades. Are we about to see a massive shift in that situation with the rise of services like Uber, Tap n Go (car hire by the hour) & the like? Or will transport “Apps” & self driving vehicles cause the shift? Who knows!But one thing is for sure, the ways we have been used to getting around with are about to change quite dramatically.
  • Retailing
    We are constantly being told that traditional retail is dying as more & more people make the shift to online purchasing. You only have to look at the rise & rise of Amazon to recognise that people want what they want, when they want it (& at a competitive price). They do not want a retailer to dictate terms.What does this mean for shopping centres? What does it mean for small localized retail businesses?
  • Globalisation
    One of our most significant challenges is the shift from “Regional” economies & interests to that of a “Global” perspective. We are fast reaching a tipping point where the interests of one nation or another become less relevant than that of the global interest.Whilst the internet has laid the foundation for this globalisation to move forward, through improving communication & knowledge transference, our “Social” history & upbringing will prove to be a stubborn barrier in this regard.

    And our respective governments are likely to be the biggest obstacle. You only have to see their respective reactions to taxation to understand that their vested interests work against a “Global” market. It’s a complex issue but the political war being waged as to who gets what slice of taxes on goods bought by a citizen of one country from a business in another is a classic example of how government doesn’t understand what the internet is doing to make the world a global village – or maybe they do & they don’t like what they see.

    But that topic is one that we will need to discuss in another article!

Regardless of the business you work in or own, regardless of the industry, regardless of its location, the digital revolution is well and truly underway &, unless you seriously rethink your business model & value proposition & constantly re-align those with your customer needs & wants, you are likely to become a victim of the revolution – when you could have, so easily, benefited from it.

Just ask anyone that has worked in the travel industry or operated a record store or managed a video library what their experience has been – most are still trying to figure out what went wrong.

If you would like to explore the complete timeline of disruptive technologies from 1850 that this article is based on, you can find it at: http://adventuresofadigitalnomad.com/timeline-of-disruptive-technologies-in-the-21st-century/

Dennis is a “Digital Nomad” with an MBA in Marketing Management & has been involved in the online environment for over 15 years. He helps local businesses develop sustainable online marketing programs by applying a strategic focus to laser target what a business needs to be doing & when. He can be contacted at www.communicationcommando.com

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