This is a guest blog post from Jospeh Puopolo and was published yesterday on his blog.
I really enjoyed the post by Michael Karnjanaprakorn last week titled “Stop Building Apps and Start Disrupting industries”. I think his point is well considered and very indicative of our industry right now. Peter Theil alluded to this during Tech Crunch Disrupt last year when he talked about the lack of people tackling huge issues in Silicon Valley, because it is just easier to create another social gaming app.
So if we agree with Michael’s premise that we need to start disrupting industries, the question becomes how to do it. I do have to say it is harder to disrupt industry now than it was when the initial web boom occurred. The knee-jerk reaction was to put everything onto the web to “make things easier”. In some cases, industries were indeed transformed, but others it fizzled out. For example, how many of you do your grocery shopping online?
History has repeated itself again, but now the knee-jerk reaction du jour is to turn everything into an app. While it may be the au courant thing to do, does it really improve the process or deliver a better user experience, does it push the discussion forward?
One of the initial jobs I took in the tech space was process re-engineering. I would examine internal processes for a company then look for waste inefficiency, unnecessary redundancy or anything else that didn’t make any sense. It was my job to turn those processes, good or bad, into process flow diagrams where I would proceed to tear them apart. After I tore them apart, since I was the junior member at the time, I would talk to my senior colleague and try to find a way to present to the management of that company in a constructive manner that they had a process mess.
When I would ultimately present my findings to management teams, I would get a series of winces and pained faces. In one particular case, a manager stood up during the meeting and said “We have been doing this for 10 years and we ain’t going to change now”. Typically what would happen is then they would ask me to present my solution for fixing their problem. Sometimes our solutions were implemented; sometimes they went back to business as usual. In each instance I thought, what if another company was to implement these changes, how would they compete?
Going back to Michael’s article I couldn’t help but agree but also ponder what next? So let me take this opportunity to post a potential toolkit for disrupting industry for good, leveraging my humble beginnings in process engineering.
Here are a few ways anyone can go out about determining whether they could potentially disrupt an industry or even something simpler – a process.
1) What annoys you – It is very likely that anything that annoys you is likely to annoy someone else. Did you have a bad experience when using a particular service from an entrenched service/product? I used to walk around a company in an unstructured fashion and just ask them what bugged them. The stories I would get from people would be priceless. I felt like I was in Office Space sometimes. Ironically, I did carry around an Initech mug. Only one person over the years actually got the joke though. Start trolling around message boards and the internet. Where are people complaining about? Could you develop something on some level that addresses those concerns? If so, what? This may give you an insight into an area for disruption.
2) When an industry makes a lot of money but doesn’t really provide commensurate value – Begin to look at established companies with entrenched business models that haven’t really fundamentally changed the way the operate their business. Diagnose their value change. How do they take raw materials or ideas to market, and what are all of those entities that touch that business. Ask yourself, if I was to take this piece of the value chain in the industry, how would I fundamentally provide a cheaper/better solution and then what would the value be if I was to do so.
3) An industry that produces a physical good …. So what? – One of the biggest knocks on the tech industry is that because it is information fuelled it doesn’t touch things in the physical world to the same extent that it does information based services. I would argue that this is a false assumption. Information can touch physical goods, it just requires more thought. Challenge yourself to change the way people approach the physical world and approach it using technology. Don’t just use displacement as a key tool, but also consider augmentation. Remember that it is sometimes easier to make minute changes in the way we do something rather than wholesale changes. If it accomplishes the same feat then why re-invent the wheel? Just augment what is broken.
4) What do you do every day? – Think about how you live your life. Where do you invest your money on a day to day basis? Is it food? Is it entertainment? Is it physical goods or information? I think sometimes people give this esoteric view of a potential solution or product without considering what they consume on a regular basis and whether there is a demand for it. Think of your life as a process and how you could re-engineer it to be better. More importantly, how can you offer everyone else a solution that helps them do it for themselves.
As the pace of innovation pushes higher and higher, the pace for disruption will inevitably rise. Even though new platforms and technologies arise, we need to get away from the concept of “just another app”. Apps are cheap and plentiful, but the ones we should be striving towards should change the way we live. Am I saying we can’t have fun? Definitely not, but perhaps there is more to life than flinging a bird towards a pig using a slingshot, unless someone was using that as a premise to disrupt the pork industry.