As technology puts new tools into innovators’ hands, the old boundaries between sectors are breaking down. Amazon has transformed bookselling, branched out into general retail and is now experimenting with delivery by drones. Apple shook up both the music and telecoms industries, and now has designs on our wrists. Six years after it came into existence, Airbnb has more rooms available than IHG or Hilton, the world’s top hotel groups.
Innovation, of course, is as old as time. And there is nothing new about disruptive companies or about the imagination of the people who create them. “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse,” Henry Ford reportedly said before turning the transport industry on its head with mass production of the motor car.
But what feels different about today is the range and number of individuals and companies that are upending business models around the world. Whether it is the plethora of social media that are challenging journalism to reinvent itself; or the advances in technology that have transformed the way we order clothes, the latest film or a taxi; or the increased price efficiency that allows retailers to sell us cheaper goods, the disrupters are everywhere.
Disruption is typically destructive, forcing companies out of business and, often, people out of jobs. But disruption also presents huge opportunities — for consumers, for the disrupters themselves, and for other companies as new techniques such as crowdfunding or big data mining become available to all.