Ripples to Waves – Navigating the Sea of Technological Disruption

Even if you don’t personally work in an industry going through a technological disruption at this very moment– be aware! One is coming, and it won’t ask twice before entering your ecosystem and flipping your comfort zone on its head. What am I referring to?

AirBnB – Disrupting the hospitality industry…
Uber & Lyft – Disrupting the taxi and transportation industry…
Purple – Disrupting the mattress industry… (come again?)
Coursera – Disrupting the education industry…

The list keeps going, and new disruptors are entering the market every day. Entire sectors are being disrupted by new technology. Additive manufacturing (3D Printers) are completely altering the landscape of the lifeblood of America, the manufacturing industry. The image of the “dirty factory” is disappearing. Shop floor workers with dirt and metal shavings under their fingernails are slated to be replaced by autonomous robots and vehicles, 3D printers and lasers, and augmented reality systems that can put you on the shop floor to manage your inventory, even when you are sitting at home. The factory worker transforms into the technology manager, keeping the flow of connected “things” at work.

This was apparent during my last visit to IMTS, the massive manufacturing event held in Chicago. While the shift in focus was mind-blowing to many, some are already living it. Sections of exhibitor space dedicated to robots that could replace multiple human workers, and attendees watched in amazement as these intelligent machines detached and reattached various arm extensions, adapting to the task at hand. Depending on the role of the person watching, the spectrum of reaction ran from sheer awe to personal concern, and with understandable reason. The factory worker of the future is expected to understand technology and the basics in directing an intelligent robot. Coding experience could fast become a requirement for many who are employed on America’s factory floors.

A recent study estimates that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created over the next decade, and 2 million of them will go unfulfilled or will be filled by an under-qualified candidate. To the industry serving as the backbone of America, this is incredibly concerning.

But all is not lost.

What the manufacturing industry, and all other industries need, are open-minded leaders. Open-minded leaders that attract and encourage their employees to embrace the changing horizon, because it is here whether they like it or not. The Internet of Things, push for mobility, and unlimited data at our fingertips all point toward a bright and unimaginable future. The barrier to entry to disrupt and forever-change a multi-billion dollar industry left alone for decades is almost nothing. Anyone with a passion and a reasonable understanding of technology and where they want something to go, can change the world.

Just look at Upwork. With minimal investment and physical resources, they are quickly altering the global employment landscape and how we “get things done” as we know it. This type of forward-thinking has far reaching benefits, and democratizes industries once controlled by large and powerful conglomerates who were seen as untouchable. Each of these disruptors (called Exponential Organizations by some) have created platforms that flip traditional thinking or systems or business sectors upside down, most of the time to the great benefit of the average consumer.

The worst thing a traditional and long-standing corporate juggernaut can do is dig their heels in, and push “business as usual”. This thinking led to the demise of Kodak. Resisting change and refusing to understand the way technology is re-shaping our lives will quickly lead to bankruptcy and displacement. These industry revolutionaries are rethinking the way value is created and consumed by the public, and are taking advantage of emerging technologies to scale with minimal resources and time. This trend will only continue, and soon disruption will become too common to be referred to as disruption anymore. The global economy and job sector will adapt to these changes, and those that accept, understand, and are willing to learn, will keep pace with the transformations.

Whether you are a disruptor, or someone who is along for the ride, accepting the reality of this universal shift in how our lives interact with technology and business is a must. Once you do that, the possibilities are endless, and you will see the future is not something to be fearful of, but something to embrace as it unravels. We might not know where the water is taking us, but if we ride the wave one thing is for certain, the experience will be exciting.

Keep on disrupting!