THE BLOG

You Can't Stop Disruption - But You Can Learn From It

16/11/2016 17:35
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As someone who has worked in London their whole life, I love the city's black cabs. London has the best taxis in the world. Given how complicated our street system is here, I'm endlessly surprised, and impressed, by how quickly a cab driver can get me from A to B - often using back streets that I didn't even know existed.

But if, like me, you also use black cabs, you might know one of cabbies' favourite topics: Uber. The "ridesharing" app - as it calls itself - has empowered millions of people across the world to enter the taxi industry. And in London it has not only connected these drivers with customers, but it also tells them the best route to the destination. In generations past, this intimate understanding of London's streets - called 'The Knowledge' - could take many years to learn. Now, Uber drivers can know where they're going from day one.

Uber is only one example of technology disrupting traditional industries, and challenging established business models. In much the same way, Airbnb is disrupting the hospitality and hotel sector; Skype has changed the telecoms sector forever, and Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter continue to challenge the communications and media sectors. And these are just the brands you can easily name. There are countless thousands of others out there predicting the future of consumer need and creating exciting new businesses that fulfill these new desires.

Of course, for many people, disruption is exciting, especially for the ambitious and future-facing entrepreneurs, who are usually in their twenties or thirties, who are leading these companies. But it would be wrong to forget that for many working people, this same disruption has led to despair and sadness. This world of disruption threatens many businesses and millions of people's jobs; it's changing our expectations and it's revolutionising the way we live our lives.

The launch of Uber, and other ridesharing apps, in London, for example, has led to more competition for the city's iconic taxi drivers - and because these new drivers have not had to invest years of their time in learning The Knowledge or buying the famous Hackney carriage, they are able to undercut black cabbies. It jeopardises their income streams and puts at risk their jobs. That is why so many cab drivers feel so passionately about the subject.

But take it from someone in the music business, we must all accept that disruption is something we cannot stop. My business was one of the very first industries to experience the enormous scale and speed of change that can be caused by technology - and believe me, it was terrifying. But as I learnt quite quickly, you just cannot resist the march of digital however hard you try.

Let's look at a few examples of what happens if you try and resist. The emergence of the digital camera killed off film and took with it Kodak and Polaroid who were looking the other way. It also took countless small film-processing companies with it, and it nearly killed high-street chain Jessops too. Streaming TV and Video-on-Demand killed off Blockbuster Video; and the surge in online shopping killed Woolworths and more recently contributed to the demise of BHS.

Turning back to music, before the advent of streaming, and in the age of the CD, music was remarkably profitable. The digital disruption caused seismic shockwaves in the sector. Almost overnight people began freely downloading and putting the music on CDs for sharing. The bottom fell out of the industry seemingly from one day to the next. Thousands of people's jobs were put at risk - or lost - and record stores, such as the HMV Group, faced collapse.

The music industry is now recovering, but there were some incredibly difficult years of soul searching when we had to find new models and rediscover our competitive advantage.

If I've learnt anything about disruption it's that you can't stop it - but you can learn from it. All big technology changes create new opportunities, and create new doors that you never knew existed. You just have to accept that and be open to it. Change, no matter how unsettling, can be turned round to your advantage and can be used to create new businesses that employ new workers, giving them hope for the future.

So next time you get in a London cab, and hear all the complaints about Uber, remember that the London cab industry is not the first to be radically disrupted by technology - and it won't be the last. It is better to invest your energy in accepting that it's your customers that are driving the change, and so you must change too.

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