When disruption disrupts itself

A visitor stands in front of QR-codes information panels.  Image: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/these-scientists-have-predicted-which-jobs-will-be-human-only-in-2035

A visitor stands in front of QR-codes information panels. Image: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Every year various major business consulting firms or some such influencers issue a list of emerging jobs or jobs that will be future professions. Many are quite entertaining, for instance; Simplicity Expert, Robot Counsellor, Head Monster, Locationists, Privacy Manager and so on.

In most cases they are not taken too seriously. Some curiosity is shown probably due to the strangeness of the titles (Brain Quants, Extinction Revivalists and Big Data Wrangler come to mind). But most people don’t discuss these predictions in any great detail. At best a very small group of business managers may actually take a moment to think about them and understand that knowing what is coming around the corner is a good strategy.

The whole thing gets more interesting when we pay closer attention to the rate of disruption we hear about all the time, and at times feel. Some of those ‘future professions’ will end up being a reality. In some cases they may be called exactly as predicted but in others the title may be different (urban agriculturalist, chief resilience officer and similar). But many predictions never eventuate. However, what does not happen may be just as important as what does. So, why are many of these ‘future professions’ not realised?

One interesting angle is the way the disruption process works. Like most things, disruption generally has a lifespan. If a disruption does not mature into a viable service/product it simply fails. The learning from this can be, and often is, salvaged and recycled at some other time; often in an unrelated area. Disruption has become a buzzword, not only in a commercial business sense but also in a social, cultural and government sense. Rates of disruption can be expressed in two ways; the amount of disruption that actually works, and the amount of disruption that never gets off the ground. Two very different but almost equally important things. And here is why.

We mostly hear about disruptions that lead to a service/product of some kind. Uber and Airbnb are well observed examples. Now, every business consulting firm on the market is offering ‘uberisation’ processes to their clients who are keen to get onto the scoreboard of innovative businesses. That is because innovation is partially seen as an antidote to disruption. It is worth noting also that some innovation experts such as Harvard’s Clayton Christensen question the idea that Uber, for example, actually merits the status of a disruptor. But what we do not know a lot about are the numbers of failed disruptions. Disruption attempts fail a lot but like most failures we prefer to forget them. At what cost though?

Looking again at the jobs of the future, I wonder to what extent they are indicators of successful or failed disruptions. Perhaps those great sounding future jobs may never be realised; not because of the failure of the prediction per se, but because of the simple fact that there are often competing disruptions in an environment. In other words, one disruption may revoke another disruption. Think what would have happened with Uber if self-driving cars came earlier. The latter disruption in the business of car making would disrupt the current disruption in the taxi industry.

The history of business is an interesting field as it reveals that for any great innovation there are countless other ideas that never materialise. Every disruption has had to fight it out with other disruptions.

And this is where collaboration can play perhaps a still not fully understood role; collaborating to disrupt as a way of minimising the cost of the disruption process and lowering the odds of failure.

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