On the first in our series of blogs covering the theme of 'going digital' we have a brief look at the history of disruption, where it's going next and why you should care.
“When a transformational technology appears, an explosion of energy can occur, as the existing ways of operating are disrupted by those who have mastered the new technology.”
In the beginning, there were gas lights, then Edison said "let there be (electric) light"! And lamplighters were out of a job. Then there were horses and carriages before Henry Ford said "let there be mass produced cars". And horse & carriage drivers were out of a job. Then there were advanced telephone networks, and switchboard operators were out of a job. Followed by fax. And couriers were out of a job. Then manufacturing robots, and factory workers were out of their jobs.
Although it's a somewhat patchy timeline which barely scratches the surface, we're sure you get the picture. (You can also head here for a richer overview).
The list of people and entities succumbing to this technologically induced ‘creative destruction’ is long and broad. Furthermore, the increasing pace means that list is now growing exponentially. Witness the recent and swift demise of bookstores, video rental services, TV (as we know it) and vast swathes of print media.
Now? Now we face a potent combination of technology (microprocessors), networks (the internet) and software (which is already eating the World). On some level, this combination is set to disrupt everyone (who hasn’t already been affected). What’s more, the pace of these advances and associated disruption is accelerating, as evidenced by entire countries skipping a technology ‘generation’ (such as the African nations moving straight to smartphones or wireless internet). This confluence means the impact will be magnified.
Yet, despite all the evidence of how history rhymes, there still exists large elements of individual complacency (denial?) about the probability of personal disruption in the near future. With even incredibly talented and accomplished business leaders failing to see disruption heading their way. Some of these examples are even a part of business lore - Nokia, Blockbuster, and Kodak for example (who famously failed to see the potential for digital cameras, despite inventing them).
On the one hand, this isn’t surprising as just about every past innovation, while taking away jobs, has in turn contributed to the creation of new (often more) jobs. The nature of the employment might have changed, but the businesses and their people continued in some capacity - so all was well.
“fears of machines pushing people out of the job market are, of course, nothing new, and in the past such fears proved to be unfounded."
However, the harm from such complacency may now be exacerbated due to a generally limited understanding of the true potential of the newest forms of software - artificial intelligence (AI - explanation) and machine learning (ML - explanation). It’s not widely known, for instance, that the best chess player on the planet is an AI program. And that it taught itself chess in four hours. Four hours! Or that Facebook engineers built negotiating bots that decided to make up their own language to negotiate in, presumably because English was too inefficient. Or that Tesla cars recently passed 1 Billion autonomously driven miles. Cars. Already driving themselves!
Where were heading
If these are still the ‘early’ decades in this space, what’s next? The reality of innovation now applies not just to the business, but also to the individual. And, as the old saying goes, this time it’s different.
“In the past, machines competed with humans mainly in manual skills. Now they are beginning to compete with us in cognitive skills. And we don’t know of any third kind of skill—beyond the manual and the cognitive—in which humans will always have an edge"
It’s no wonder the likes of Forbes are calling it ‘The Great Rewrite’. Although it’s unlikely to remain even as a single, anticipated, change.
“Rather, it will be a cascade of ever bigger disruptions. Old jobs will disappear and new jobs will emerge, but the new jobs will also rapidly change and vanish. People will need to retrain and reinvent themselves not just once, but many times.”
Are you still in denial about being in reach of this technology? About being ‘rewritten’? Look around, it’s already happening, everywhere. Here’s an incredibly brief list of who this technology & software combination is coming to disrupt:
- Police & Security services
- Warehouse workers & Cashiers
- Taxi & delivery drivers
- Salespeople & Customer Service
- Doctors & Psychologists 🏥
- Art 🎨
- Music, Film & Television
- Law (automated divorce anyone?) 💼
- Farming 🚜
- Even burger flipping 🍔
Of course, it’s coming for finance too. In a big way. From regulatory compliance to autonomous investment robots to your accounting software and how you manage your business accounts. In short. It’s coming for everyone. And we haven’t even mentioned blockchain yet.
Why should I care?
Forgive me, it may seem all doom and gloom, when it’s not. There are many positive benefits that will be brought about. In general, quality and ease of life will likely improve worldwide. We’ll get faster at doing things, more efficient at using resources and better at looking after our health.
But how to deal with the inevitable turmoil on the way to this hypothesised autonomous utopia? The hint lies in the ‘cascade’ of disruption - it’s a blessing in disguise. Incremental changes are far easier to manage. Keep your eye on the bigger picture, see what will affect your industry, how it will do so, and prepare yourself for it. Adapt ahead of it, even. In time, you’ll have completely transformed from where you started.
And, if you haven’t done so already, it starts with fully embracing ‘going digital’.