Your career is going to be disrupted. I guarantee it. Office automation is expected to make 40% of the current workforce obsolete by 2020. 3D printing is anticipated to eliminate 320 manufacturing jobs; further impacting the millions of truck drivers replaced by autonomous vehicles. We are now living in an era of endless innovation where technology continues accelerating exponentially while businesses struggle to adapt arithmetically. And for all of you who feel secure in a large multinational corporation, consider this: of the original largest Fortune 500 companies named in 1955 only 57 are still on the list. Yet, for those who see every obstacle in life as an opportunity in disguise, now is the greatest time in history to be a tech entrepreneur.
The self-made billionaire in his twenties, an unheard-of possibility a decade ago, now happens with regular frequency. The startup with little funding and a small staff, displaces hundred-year-old companies with billions in revenues virtually overnight. The consultant, with no background in technology, makes millions of dollars from teaching a course online. The Arab Spring which peacefully overthrew long-standing governments in Bahrain, Tunisia and Yemen, is able to successfully force rulers from power without weapons or international support. What did all of these disruptions have in common? They were led by people who understood how to leverage their talents and the advancements in mobile, social, and communications technology to find opportunities for disruption.
With six billion consumers now just a click away on a smartphone, today’s entrepreneurs can reinvent themselves and the world faster with less capital than ever before. Today, there are 50 times more people on the Internet than in the year 2000 and they are connected at speeds 180 times faster. Entrepreneurs no longer need to own the technological infrastructure to reach the always-on consumer. The same cloud and big data used by international oligopolies is now universally available to those wanting to plot their own destinies at a fraction of the cost off a decade ago. Risk capital, which was once controlled by large banks and private equity firms, is aggregated directly by crowdfunding and micro-lending sites. In 2015, crowdfunding sites will deploy twice as much funds as venture capital firms and for a fraction of the equity. Bitcoin and blockchain technology now empowers ideas and capital to flow seamlessly across borders and trade barriers. Disruption isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to what happens to you.
With so much innovation, startup founders and existing corporations can no longer survive by just adding new features or marketing product extensions. In today’s business climate, incremental innovation is like walking on quicksand – it will keep you busy, but you won’t get very far. To thrive, all businesses must focus on the art of self-disruption. Rather than wait for the competition to steal your business, every founder and employee needs to be willing to cannibalize their existing revenue streams in order to create new ones. All disruption starts with introspection. Instead of focusing the traditional planning cycles where companies benchmark their businesses against existing competitors, teams need to be developed to foster internal change and disruption. Self-disruption is akin to undergoing major surgery, but you are the one holding the scalpel. Apple and Google continue to expand and dominate new industries because they strive to create a culture of risk taking, self-disruption and experimentation. Would anyone have predicted ten years ago that either of these companies would be going into the auto industry? Does anyone today doubt that they will be successful?
A half a millennia ago, Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli said that entrepreneurs are “simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage. Today’s 2.3 billion millennials have a choice: Disrupt yourself or let others disrupt you.
There is no middle ground.