When Disruption Is The Only Evolution
The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom — Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Innovation is not a very well understood process. By its very nature, it includes some hits and misses. That is because there is an element of preempting the future. A future, that by today’s standards, is extremely unpredictable. As I witness many companies responding to disruption, I cannot help but notice some common ways to innovate. At the end, the essence of disruption lies in speed to market. In the FinTech world, nobody ever sleeps i.e. startups are extremely busy creating new business models using technology and favorable regulatory climate.
This article examines three common ways in which companies can unleash the startup inside and ends with broader implications for people around the world including my readers.
Identify Mega Trends
Every decade or so, there are certain inescapable mega trends that affect the world. Some of them are irreversible i.e. they can be managed but not prevented. Every innovation must ride the tsunami of these trends to be truly disruptive. Let’s look at three examples.
1. If there is one mission that unites all of Elon Musk’s endeavors, it is saving humanity from itself. While the rest of the world is busy releasing green house gases, Elon wants to combat the existential threat of climate change through electronic cars (Tesla) and solar roofing (Solar City). As countries and companies think about AI, Elon is busy creating a backup plan to combat an evil AI scenario (Neuralink). If the human race runs out of real estate, Elon plans to help colonize Mars through SpaceX
2. The shape of money is changing everyday. What began as a proof of concept in the form of Bitcoin now spans roughly 2,000 cryptographic currencies and growing. Although nobody knows the timeline yet, It seems almost inevitable that these currencies will soon be fungible i.e. can be converted to fiat currencies and vice versa. They are here to stay and in the process, reinvent money and disrupt global money transfers, payment networks and financial services in general.
3. Larry Fink, CEO of Black Rock, wrote an open letter to the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies saying:
“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,”
Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo announced in the company’s 2006 annual report a company wide commitment to a greater social purpose called Performance With Purpose. It is aligned with the United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals and aims to create healthier products for consumers. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever has long been advocating service to society as a company’s ultimate objective.
The message here is clear: innovation, including technological disruption must serve humanity and not vice versa. Businesses, including established companies and startups, need to keep a higher purpose in mind to create long lasting value.
Keep It Simple
The user experience offered by any product or service has to be incredibly simple and without cluttered with possibly very few elements on the screen for the user to understand and play with. Design philosophy has never been more important in creating value.
Personally, three examples spring to mind:
- The classic example that allowed Apple to tower over its competitors is the emphasis on simplicity. With clean iconography, beautiful industrial design and consistent growth in technology, Apple represents an excellent user experience.
- Coinbase, in recent times, is a surprisingly simple App to use. It provides a clean overview of prices, easy to trade menus and a large screen with elegant fonts.
- RobinHood, the stock trading application, is yet another example of a clean, easy to use and intuitive user interface. While it allows access to a large amount of data about the stock in question, it maintains its elegance throughout the experience.
Design has come to occupy as much importance as the technology itself. To ensure wider social acceptability, users may not need to know what’s under the hood of a website, application or service but the way they interact with the interface in question should be as simple as child’s play.
The key to success is both failing fast but scaling fast. Scaling fast builds a moat around the business which buys time. Time is the single most precious resource any business can have.
Most businesses that have scaled rapidly live in a state of paranoia. Andrew Grove, CEO of Intel once famously talked about paranoia in his book ‘Only The Paranoid Survive’. However, today, if you are asleep in one part of the world, someone else is busy disrupting your business or livelihood in a different part of the world.
While that is true, paranoia should always be customer centric. Businesses that don’t evolve with their clients’ lives don’t survive too long. Today, most businesses are a pay as you go platform where monthly subscriptions are the way most users consume products and services. This is a direct outcome of technology driving down the cost of distribution to almost zero.
The Inescapable Conclusion
The conclusion, I have drawn, in the last 5 years of my life is that disruption is the only constant. The process, of picking up the pieces when your plans shatter by colliding with very rapid cycles of changes in the external environment also, has to be continuous.
Every sphere of human life today is undergoing rapid technological disruption. From cryptographic currencies changing the shape of money to quantum computing, Internet of Things and blockchains creating a new internet of everything.
In fact, the very process of creating designer human beings has been accelerated through CRISPR CAS 9 Gene Editing technologies, AI and efforts to embed chips in the human body. It is no longer a theory. A company in Wisconsin — Three Square Market is offering it’s employees an option to embed an RFID chip in their body to make purchases and unlock doors. The company also known as 32 M offers self service micro market solutions for office break rooms. Body hacking is now considered by many people who have already embedded RFID chips in their body as a way to improve it rather than degrade it as portrayed in dystopian versions of futuristic societies.
What such profound and mind boggling disruption means for most people around the world, including you and I, is the following:
1. Education has become a lifelong pursuit. At the World Economic Forum at Davos this year, re-skilling became an obvious solution to technological change.
2. The ability to process vast amounts of information is about to become the difference between growth and atrophy. Thereby, making the habit of reading a most important and indispensable habit.
3. Newer technologies will develop faster than the speed with which we can rein in its unintended consequences. Simple technologies such as creating a smart home or allowing social media to track your every move reduces privacy and opens ports to access your personal experiences.
4. Businesses are becoming platform businesses which in turn are in the process of getting disrupted by the Blockchain which promotes disintermediation and elimination of third parties. The biggest human experiment in a Hegelian pursuit of the one truth.
5. Wisdom, in every discipline, including medicine is now crowdsourced. Crowdsourcing is the process of creating the single largest repository of data on any topic.
As science fiction becomes science, I wonder: “what next?”. Irrespective of the answer to that question, this is an extremely tumultuous time where education and cooperation seem to be the only responses to the only constant.