Let’s talk typewriters.
Twenty-seven years ago, you had a typewriter. Doesn’t matter if you were a business or just a person who wrote stuff, you had a typewriter. How else were you going to fill out forms, write the Great American Novel, send a letter to the editor or communicate with your friends and family? You could handwrite, but that was for savages.
If you asked a typewriter salesman in 1987 to estimate his future earnings, it would not be a cliff with a typewriter-shaped hole at the bottom, but that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Computers were here, and iPads were coming. Now, all typewriters are antiques. Not some. All.
Now. Let’s talk car salesmen.
Tesla is an electric car manufacturer, the brainchild of Elon Musk, who helped invent PayPal and is now taking over NASA’s role in space exploration via SpaceX. This is a company with a vision for the future. It wants to sell cars direct to customers, not through car dealerships. And that is making car dealerships, with salesmen who have become synonymous with shady dealings, very nervous.
Disruption is a word we like to use a lot like a laser beam, focusing on the inefficiencies in the market and eliminating them. But in fact, disruption is a wave crashing over an industry, because once you start to disrupt, it’s a cascading event. Computers disrupt typewriters, then writers, then newspapers, then publishing, and then finally the entire concept of the written word itself. 140-character posts would have been considered laughable ten years ago; now that’s how we get our news.
Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” It’s tough not to feel for the car salesmen who have survived through embargoes and recessions and peak oil. Their jobs depend on them not understanding that it is easier, simpler, safer and cheaper to buy a car with a point and a click. Heck, even the words “point” and “click” are out of date. A tap. A voice command.
We are all guilty of this. We want to believe in a future that is measurably like the past, but the truth is that we are all blinded by the screens we have today. Step outside today, and look around. You may not know how the next disruption wave will affect your work, but it’s coming. Build an ark.