Disruptive…or just disinterested?

Disruptive…or just disinterested?

What a world of wonder we live in! Just as our ageing relatives might have marveled at cheap flights, the internet, smart phones and big screen TVs, we could think that we are lucky enough to come across real and disruptive new technology that turns markets upside down, every day of our lives.

Or at least, we could if it were true.

Once upon a time, Silicone Valley was stuffed full of 20 year olds with floppy hair, speaking in code just as easily as we mere mortals speak in words. The web was used for some incredible new purposes, real inventions, every minute of every day. That was in ancient history of course, about 2 years ago.

It was the same with product development way back then.

Disruptive companies were introducing disruptive products that had a disruptive effect on people’s expectations and habits. The whole period was…well, disruptive, really. And it was incredibly exciting.

When the world’s most valuable brand was about to introduce a new phone, you could rely on it to do something cutting edge and truly unique. Talk to you, for example, or translate a menu from Mandarin to English in the blink of an eye.

Today? You might get the same thing in a plastic case $20 cheaper, but no better – in fact, if reports are to be believed, actually worse with a software ‘update’ that won’t boot or fails in some other way.

A lot of disruptive technology and product development has gone on in the world of digital telephony and data transfer and what used to happen, is what we have grown to expect. Does it deliver now? 4G? Great for watching football on the station platform, but a bit average at making ‘phone calls, apparently.

And what about the manufacturers? Remember when every new Nokia had some incredible new product attribute? Bits slid out, screens got bigger, aerials disappeared, slimmer, lighter, better every month. Nokia’s gone now. More ancient history, about 3 months.

It’s the same with Siemens, Alcatel, Ericsson, Blackberry – the true innovators of the ‘on the move office’ – all gone or under the hammer. Less competition equals less need to innovate, less need to stun with a product or service that leaps years, not days, into your future expectation.

Beyond ‘phones, disruptive products go back to the Sony brand, with ground-breaking, life changing products like the Walkman and the introduction of mp3. What else have Sony introduced since to make us think that we can’t live life without one?

What’s going on? Why won’t my new iPad mini (exactly the same as the regular sized one but smaller, e.g., still with a screen you can’t see outdoors) project a movie from an internal projector onto a wall with a picture a metre across?

Come to that, why can’t I fold it up and put it into my shirt pocket? I’m not asking for a flying car or a jetpack, but the ability to design exciting and truly disruptive products has never been at a higher point, yet we still get ‘innovation’ such as a 10 year-old fingerprint recognition system on a ‘just launched state of the art’ ‘phone only made available last week.

Why does the ‘innovation’ of wearable tech mean that the lump on your wrist still has to be blue-toothed to the phone in your pocket? Put it all onto my wrist, I don’t want yet another bit of kit to lose/break/drop in the bath. OK, I’m being unkind to Nymi, a bracelet that allows users to unlock a range of devices –smartphone, computer or even their front door – using their unique heart patterns, but even this is just another access point to something that has been around for a while.

Medical Science apart, ‘disruptive’ has come to mean digital innovation and the displacement of something that used to be more difficult to do, or not possible to do at all. Visionaries see developments in their business space – digital or not – that can only be achieved through genuinely disruptive and unique development, that’s why you will shortly be able to go into space with Virgin. Yet there’s a world of other businesses and sectors still doing the same thing they have done for years and expecting – miraculously – to see an improvement in their bottom lines. Why should they?

I’m asking questions, but really I know the answer.

The 20-something code-heads that asked similar questions and made the answers happen are now in ‘corporates’, running the biggest brands and businesses in the world. Shareholder dividends come first. A cash mountain, in balance sheet terms, is a better ‘investor buy’ than a vague promise to develop something earth-shaking next year.

The new 20-something innovators are only having ideas that seem like they will ‘monetise’ at some point – usually by being bought by someone else – and that will make them billionaires before they’re 30.

And everyone else with the need and willingness to innovate needs to prove a bank-safe strong business case before getting the go-ahead from accountants or investors. Everyone in business, deep down, knows that reward is directly proportionate to risk and yet is increasingly averse, possibly as a result of the global financial crisis.

So, money –and the unwillingness to spend it – turns out to be the enemy of disruptive products and services. Empirically, of course, it was having disruptive ideas that made the companies concerned the money to start with, but the irony will be lost on them and their accountants.

On the web, even the last true bastion of free speech and concentrated democratic power is going for an IPO. Once Twitter heads that way, will it be more concerned about shareholder value than the power to disrupt peoples’ lives?

Who knows.

If there is a lesson in all of this, it is that the power to disrupt a market or product sector gets you noticed, leads a trend and makes you money. There is no room for run-of-the-mill anymore, in any sector, with any product. Sit in that space and you battle it out on price and distribution availability, which is hard work.

So remember how much you wanted an iPad, or one of the bright green or orange Macs that looked like they had landed from another planet. Develop your own equivalent in your market. Think big and the impossible. That’s how we replaced gas with electricity for lighting and without that jump, nothing that we now rely on as a ‘technological breakthrough’ could have happened. Tell the accountants that you’ll be better off in the end. Cross your fingers.

And let’s get back to being excited again!

It’s about innovative thinking, technology and forward planning. At LAW Creative we can help you to plan a forward strategy to positive customer engagement and greater profitability. …even if we can’t actually invent a brand new mobile phone! Can we?!!