‘Disruption’ has been around since time began!

‘Disruption’ is a popular buzzword today. Enter ‘sector disruption’ into Google and you will get 43,800,000 results. Digital disruption and technology driven disruption feature strongly. But disruption has been a fact of life ever since time began. It is a natural process that is part of evolution and favours the best fit in the prevailing time and space. And it goes way beyond digitalisation and technological advances.

Historical disruptions

The invention of the steam engine, the generation of electricity, the first light bulb, the first telegraph system, the first radio, and the first television sets are all examples of technological developments and inventions that changed the way we did things. But we also had several world wars that created major disruptions to societies and economies. We have also always had ‘terrorists’  who have disrupted people’s lives and the way they live and do business. They have been around ever since mankind has been on the planet. In other words, disruption of various types has shaped the world we live and do business in for centuries.

More than the obvious

Currently the big ‘disruption’ focus is on digitalisation and technological advances that are changing the way we do many things. However, not all of those things are necessarily essential or useful or better, as pointed out in a recent article titled, “How many robotic intelligent assistants does it take to replace an alarm clock?” For sure both are driving changes in many traditional sectors which some businesses lead and embrace and others struggle to adapt to. We recently featured one such development in the traditional steel products and services sales and marketing area. But there are a number of other disruptors out there that are of equal, if not greater, importance. Here are several examples of major disruptive trends that we need to consider in our strategic planning.

The ageing population disruptor

The majority of countries in the world - including China, India, Bangladesh and The Philippines – have rapidly ageing populations, in a large part due to the post-war Baby Boomer cohort moving into the 50 – 70 year age group. If you check out the average age of professionals such as nurses, engineers and many other skilled groups, you will find that in many countries it is now over 50. There are growing concerns about what is going to happen when this large cohort retires as the relative numbers in later generations are considerably smaller and yet the demands for products and services – including specialist types – from the Baby Boomers as they enter retirement is likely to increase. Some of the potential disruption is being ameliorated by raising retirement ages e.g. in Germany to 70 years of age. But this demographic shift is going to have a big impact in many countries, if not the entire world.

The environmental disruptor

Climate change, contaminated sites, plastic pollution, nuclear waste stockpiles, deforestation and land degradation are all disruptors. The recent scandal in China regarding 500 students falling ill at a school built on a seriously contaminated old industrial site is just one example of many. Climate change is already impacting and affecting businesses and societies. For example, the tea industry in Assam in India has been suffering from reduced yields and lower quality due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns and is creating major concerns. Plastic is entering the food chain in many different ways and is already a disruptive factor that we will have to deal with more seriously in future years.

The resource disruptor

Many resources are coming under pressure. Water is a classic example where shortages are affecting agriculture (e.g. in California) and industrial activities (e.g. Coca Cola in India). The huge global demand for palm oil as a resource has resulted in the devastation of large areas of peatland and natural forest cover in Indonesia and associated burn-offs haveaffected the health and well-being of millions throughout the region. Global fish stocks are reaching a tipping point for many species and the future of many businesses in this sector is bleak unless a more sustainable way of managing world fish stocks is adopted.

The customer disruptor

Customers can be perhaps the biggest disruptor because their perceptions and decisions affect the outcomes for every business. And yet customers are rarely ranked as a high priority risk area by the majority of businesses. Large corporations, such as Kodak and Borders, have collapsed because they failed to understand the changing ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ of their customers. Changing demographics, lifestyles and concerns/attitudes will continue to pose real challenges for businesses and, for those businesses which don’t understand changes in their ‘wants’ and ‘needs’, disruption will become a stark reality.

So what?

‘Disruption’ is nothing new. It has been around ‘forever’. It is a big part of a natural evolutionary process. And it embraces far more than digitalisation and technological advances. In fact disruption is simply a driving force shaping the constantly changing risk/opportunity scenarios that every business needs to consider in its strategic planning processes in order to not become ‘disrupted’ in future years!