Riding the Wave of Disruption

This year’s SXSW felt like a step change. Yes, there’s still an air of desperation as startups seek to be the next big thing. But, interestingly, it seems the next big thing is going to be influenced by a number of existing and emerging trends and technologies and yet-to-be identified disruptive waves. We need to accept that, while we all started to suffer from disruption fatigue in the wake of innovation, and transformation before it, disruption is still a challenge for all brands.

Businesses can’t expect to achieve results by doing things in the same way. We need to workshop solutions as a team; collaborate with mixed skills and experiences; involve people from different industries and cultures to achieve unexpected, but exciting results.

Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies—the crowd-powered incubator bringing Elon Musk’s electric-propulsion rail system to life—demonstrated this by demystifying his company’s Crowd Storming model. Ahlborn started his SXSW session with a quote from William Pollard that resonated really strongly with me:

Without change there is no innovation, creativity or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.

Hyperloop is a crowd-powered incubator. Its engineers work a minimum of 10 hours a week in return for stock options. The incubator has attracted engineers from a broad spectrum of sectors, organizations and locations, including CERN scientists, rock stars and engineers from global tech companies.

Hyperloop AR Window SXSWAR Window inside Elon Musk’s high-speed transportation concept, being developed by Hyperloop Tech. Photo by Damian Ferrar.

Hyperloop is also a brilliant example of a business challenging an industry that has seen little disruption since the introduction of Maglev in the 1930s and no railways in the world are profitable. What is fascinating is that the idea is not a new one. In fact, the first patent for vacuum tube transportation was submitted in 1904 by American engineer Robert Goddard. Unfortunately, this and subsequent initiatives failed to materialize.

Many thought that Hyperloop would also fail. But Elon Musk’s incredible entrepreneurial spirit has pushed it further than any previous attempts. And the Hyperloop Crowd Storming model will fuel a five-mile prototype to be completed by the end of 2018. Building work starts this month in Quay Valley, a Californian model town for the future. As Ahlborn said, Hyperloop is not a company, it’s a movement—a growing, global movement of 520 people from 21 countries.

Regina Dugan SXSWRegina Dugan,VP Engineering for Advanced Technology & Projects, Google. Photo by Damian Ferrar.

Hyperloop energized us to think about For What Can Be. Google’s Regina Dugan encouraged us to Make Epic Sh*t. Dr. Regina Dugan, VP Engineering for Advanced Technology & Projects, showcased Project’s Soli (gestural interaction), Jaquard (conductive yarn), Ara (smartphone with interchangeable hardware), and the new Spotlight Stories (mobile first content) in her SXSW session, demonstrating that, with a culture of innovation and collaboration, you can bring transformative solutions to market with speed and effectiveness. You can shift things from being seemingly impossible to improbable to real. By looking at challenges through different lenses, you can indeed make epic sh*t to fuel change.

Today’s corporations enjoy an average tenure of just 15 years on the S&P 500 index, compared to 75 years in 1937, as Deloitte’s John Hagle pointed out. So in a world where human life is extending, corporate life is dramatically reducing. To stay vital, businesses need to identify the most significant disruption opportunity—a chance to shift audience mindsets—as well as the optimum time to catalyze change. Too early and you might not get the traction; too late and you’ve missed the boat. This will more than likely mean identifying opportunities to make your current business redundant: transforming the edges to become the new core rather than trying to change everything in one go.

Kevin Kelly SXSWKevin Kelley, Executive Editor, WIRED. Photo by Damian Ferrar.

Embrace the excitement and energy of this year’s SXSW. Understand, challenge, and change the status quo. Implement with humility and optimism and you can play a significant role in shifting the future from science fiction to science fact. WIRED’s executive editor, Kevin Kelly, pointed out that the future is difficult to believe, and we need to believe in the impossible more often. Add that to the fact that the greatest products of the next 20 years have not been invented yet. Kelly’s advice? Take X and add AI.

Your move? Disrupt or be disrupted. Choose one.

Executive Director, Brand Experience