Excuse the Quentin Tarantino nature of this book. Most films, like books, have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. Tarantino has often played around with that conventional order, the authors observe, a good 80 pages into this book. Indeed, he has, sometimes to exhilarating effect (I’m thinking the first time I saw Pulp Fiction and was completely floored when John Travolta’s hitman character randomly bit the dust, only to be resurrected for the movie’s big pay off). But in recent years his rambling nature has been more maddening than awesome (I’m thinking the sometimes brilliantly executed, sometimes irritatingly over-long and self-indulgent likes of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained).
So, is iDisrupted good Tarantino or bad Tarantino? I’d say more the former than latter. Maybe not Pulp Fiction, but certainly Reservoir Dogs. It’s pitched as an attempt to kickstart an enormously important debate with as wide an audience as possible. Taking Moore’s Law as their inspiration, that computers double in speed every 18 to 24 months, the authors extend it to apply to technology in a broader context and reference rapid changes in genetics, 3D printing, AI and nanotechnology. If these crucial technologies are in acceleration mode, it’s a case of what industries will not be affected rather than what industries will be?
Retail, for instance. “The High Street of the 2030s will see the 21st century equivalent of the local blacksmith; it is just that these 21st century blacksmiths won’t be heavily muscled craftsmen working in the heat of a furnace; instead they will be 3D printing experts, with specialist skills in the design of clothes,shoes, fashion accessories, or spare parts for cars, or products for DIY;’ write Straw and Baxter. “The High Street of 2030 will see the return of cottage industries, as bespoke design takes over from mass consumer similarity. Urban legend has it that Henry Ford famously said: “You can have any colour you like as long as it is black;’illustrating how in assembly production, specialisation was key; the more identical copies of the original design that can be made, the cheaper they could become. In a mass customisation economy, you will be able to have any shape, size or colour you like, as long as you are prepared to pay for it:’ Some will read that and think, wowser, that’s exciting. Some will wonder if their business is long for this world.Disruptive technology may provide a feast for many. It could even provide a helping of fine living for most of us. But some will lose out. Some will be left asking:“What happened to my company, my investment, my job?” It doesn’t, however,have to be bad news, the authors argue. If we play it right, the result of the technological innovations that are afoot will be a kind of economic utopia. Poverty will be ended, we will live longer etc etc. Tech does not have to replace us; it can enhance us. But we first need to understand what is happening, why it is happening,and both the dangers and opportunities associated with it. Then we can adapt and embrace it.
If, like a Tarantino movie, the book sometimes feels a little shapeless, that’s understandable. There’s a lot of stuff going on within its pages and technological disruption doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a conventional narrative structure. While there is no shortage of books right now covering tech, startups and disruption,overall I would recommend iDisrupted. It has a good handle on what’s happening in the world of technology and its impact on business and the world in general. All of which is exciting and challenging in equal measure, something which really comes through here.