The title of this post, is the title of a presentation I have been giving at our Symposiums in the US and Japan. Next week I will deliver it in Barcelona ( session link here ). It’s a position. It’s one I have taken several years to become confident of. I now believe that in due course, every single industry will be deeply digitally disrupted and new mastery will be required. Today’s leading incumbents might change enough to remain in charge, but sometimes they will lose to new entrants coming in from unusual directions. Many boards have read Clayton Christensen, but it’s still very difficult for big public companies to overcome the innovator’s dilemma in practice.
Often the changes taking place will fail to follow previous template patterns and so business leaders will misread and ignore them until they become perilous. In that regard, digital disruption is rather like a retrovirus – it keeps mutating and changing shape. So, just because you have understood how to deal with the way e-commerce dis-intermediates, doesn’t mean you know how to cope with the effects of crowd-funding that social has enabled.
Most importantly, the physical technologies: 3D printing, the wireless and sensor enabled ‘internet of things’ and intelligent robotics – now put all the physical industries in play. It is not just the information and service industries anymore. We all saw and understood how music and news could be disrupted. These were inherently ‘bit’ industries (as Nicholas Negroponte pointed out a long time ago). Now the ‘atom’ industries are all set to be deeply revolutionized – with unpredictable consequences.
For me, the tipping point example was the e-book. Amazon had already taken a big chunk of control over the book industry by 2006 by revolutionizing its distribution with e-commerce. The second step was to revolutionize ‘book’ ( deliberate grammar ). The very concept of book – what it is, how it works, the rights over it, the function of it, the price of it – the “who gets paid what” of it – all those things are changed. An e-book has fewer “pages”, it’s average price has more to do with what Amazon and Apple think it should be – than your favorite 150 year old publishing company. When you die – it won’t be passed down to your relatives – but if you lose it, it can magically reappear in your hands and remember what page you were on. This kind of profound change to products and services themselves is the new digital revolution that lies ahead of us.
Now we have confirmatory examples – it’s happening to cars and its even happening to tobacco. Every time, it looks different, like a retrovirus. For example I just mentioned tobacco. What do you think about “electronic cigarettes” - are they part of the ‘digital’ revolution or is that something else? Well, they contain a micro-controller and they recharge via USB. Some already have limited wireless capabilities – so you decide.
There will be no exceptions. Every product and every service will be revolutionized over the coming decade. So much so, that old core competencies will be gutted and replaced. But don’t ask me to predict what will happen to your industry – you have to invent that. There’s no pre-packaged business application software this time. But there has never been a better time for those who understand what technology is capable of and have the creativity to exploit it.
If a cigarette can be digitally substituted then almost ANYTHING can.
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