The two guys sitting next to me on the plane disrupted my peace and quiet by chattering away like old friends. I couldn’t open up my laptop until we “reached a comfortable cruising altitude of 10,000 feet” so I was stuck listening to them even though I really didn’t want to. Turns out the first guy was creating new video technology application and the second guy had been in the video rental and installation business for 30 years so they had a lot to talk about. Basically their conversational ping-pong went something like this:
Guy One: “We’re going to readjust the framitz on the whosie-whatser which will double our resolution. That will allow the gesungie to process twice as much data in half the time.”
Guy Two: “That’ll never work. I used to own 200 framiwitzers. We tried it every different way but it was a complete waste of time.”
Guy One: “Sure but that was because your framiwitzers were analog. Now that they’re digital we can push the compression of the schmutzer until they re-sync.”
Guy Two: “No way. Schmutzers are specifically designed to slow down the render rate. We tried to increase the compression but it never worked.”
Mercifully that was about the moment that I heard the little bell ding over the PA and was able to open my laptop and crank up some Led Zeppelin.
When I disrupted the music and pulled my headphones off a few hours later to go the bathroom the two of them were still at it. Guy One was explaining some new technological advancement he was testing and Guy Two was insisting that it he’d already tried it and that it would never work.
It finally dawned on me that Guy One was not from the video industry. Unlike his more experienced seatmate, he came to the business with fresh views and fresh ideas. He was bright-eyed and bushytailed and full of excitement about all the possibilities. On the other hand, Guy Two was an industry lifer who had seen and heard it all. He knew everything there was to know about each idea and knew for certain that none of it would ever work.
Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who created Facebook and disrupted social media forever, did not come from the college yearbook business or the communication business. Elon Musk, the brains behind Tesla, did not come from the auto industry. Pierre Omidyar, Ebay’s originator, did not come from the auction business.
Need more? Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, the designers of Airbnb, the online room rental service that as of spring 2014 booked more room nights than Hilton Hotels, had 10 million guests and 550,000 properties listed worldwide and a $10B valuation —making it worth more than industry players Wyndham and Hyatt, did not come from the hotel business. They were just two guys who wanted to rent out their San Francisco loft in order to help cover their rent.
Do you notice a pattern here?
These disintermediators of the communications, automotive, auction, and hotel businesses did not come from the businesses they ultimately disrupted. Instead they used their knowledge of the Internet and programming, combined with a belief that there had to be another way to accomplish what they set out to do to zig when everyone else zagged.
Thanks to the ubiquitousness of the Internet and digital technology, we are seeing businesses disrupted where we never thought possible. Remember classified ads? CraigsList put an end to them. CDs and DVD? iTunes and Netflix drove them into the ground. Maps? MapQuest. Circuit City? Amazon. Pay phones? Cell phones.
The trend that shows no sign of abating is not just the elimination of legacy business models but that the slashing will continue to be done by people who come from outside the industries that they disrupt. Technology is ubiquitous, good ideas can come from anywhere, and those outside the industry don’t know what can’t be done because they’ve never done it before.
Back to my flight and the argument between Guy One and Guy Two? It’s still going on. Guy Two is disrupted toast. He just doesn’t know it yet.