We are moving faster than we ever have before, but slower than we ever will again. This quote is inspired by various writers and experts who are trying to explain our tech – centric future. When it comes to disruption, we are living in a world where you will either be a disruptor or be disrupted. There is very little in between.

MERRIAM-WEBSTER DEFINES THE TERM DISRUPT AS, “TO INTERRUPT THE NORMAL COURSE.” In the context of technology, we’re seeing new inventions and innovations that are changing the world around us every single day. As humans, we’re actually pretty good at adapting to this newness. Let’s take a look back at the first iPhone.

This slick pocket-sized gadget launched in January 2007. Within a little more than a decade, it’s hard to imagine our lives without smart devices just like this. If you think about the ever-changing format of these devices, we’ve seen significant changes in just a few years, but probably haven’t thought much about this evolution.

Apple’s original iPhone had a 3.5-inch display. The iPhone X, one of the company’s newest models, has a screen that measures 5.8 inches. Have our hands gotten bigger to manage this almost two-fold increase? Nope, but we keep lining up to be the first to get Apple’s latest and greatest products. That’s because they didn’t just invent a new category of smart phones, they propelled us into the post-PC era. The processor on the iPhone X is almost 5x faster than the original. Today you can start, manage, and build a business on your phone (no need to be tethered to a computer). This technology is the diving board into the mobile revolution. It actually changed our habits and made us live, work, and play differently. In other words, it interrupted the normal course of our lives. If we take a glimpse into the future, we’re already seeing tech innovation at the heart of the most successful companies on the planet. On the 2007 Fortune 500 list, Apple was the richest with $46B in profits, despite an almost 8 percent drop in sales.

However, over the next decade, they could be in for some more serious competition. We’re now at a point in time where the barriers to entry to create a world-changing business are more narrower than ever. Today, it’s possible for a few creative entrepreneurs in a coffee shop to build something that scares even the most experienced industry executives. Need to quickly launch an online store that reaches millions? Look no further than Shopify. Want to raise money before building a prototype? Just give Kickstarter a try. Curious about how to get an instant audience of tribe-like consumers? Connect with a mega-influencer on Instagram.


This is where things get complicated. Leaders – whether solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, or executives – often have the tools to adapt and disrupt, but they stumble along the way when trying to execute, paralyzed by uncertainty. Thankfully, there are some simple steps to break this cycle, especially with a growing number of high-profile businesses that can provide us with a blueprint for disruption.


Many companies, big and small, continue to post regularly on social media – without seeing any significant engagement (the key to a successful digital marketing strategy). Many companies, big and small, continue to create products and put them on shelves year after year without any increase in sales. Many companies, big and small, continue to hire more team members, without measuring existing employees’ work capacity to see if they can motivate internally. All of these problems can be solved with data. Today we live and work in a world where you can measure pretty much anything imaginable. Take one look at Netflix to see a perfect example of a company that is always changing, adapting, and disturbing – not based on the whim of its founder – but on data. Here’s just a couple of examples reinforcing this fact from Inside Big Data, “Big data helps Netflix decide which programs will be of interest to you and the recommendation system actually influences 80% of the content we watch on Netflix. The company even gave away a $1 million prize in 2009 to the group who came up with the best algorithm for predicting how customers would like a movie based on previous ratings. The algorithms help Netflix save $1 billion a year in value from customer retention.” This new data economy is quickly changing the face of business, meaning that you might want to consider a data specialist on staff to analyze your company’s work. It’s also no surprise that these positions are in high demand, especially considering that, according to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, “90% of the world’s data has been created in the last 2years.”


Buying a mattress used to be a pretty undesirable process. First, you had to go into a mattress store to test out a wide range of product. Then you had to order the product and wait days or weeks for it to arrive at your house. Plus, when it arrived, you need two people on hand to carry the bulky item into your bedroom of choice. Enter Endy. Like many new mattress start-up businesses, Endy takes all those pain points away. First of all, you don’t need to go into a store to buy a mattress. Instead, you simply order your size preference from the company’s website and a few days later the item arrives at your door. However, it’s packed into an easy-to-carry box that is manageable for one person. When you unroll the product from its packaging, it magically expands to its full size. If you don’t like it within the first 100 days, the company will come pick it back up with a full refund. This makes Endy an ideal business to study, a business that solved a decades-old problem and is BIG DATA HELPS NETFLIX DECIDE WHICH PROGRAMS WILL BE OF INTEREST TO YOU AND THE RECOMMENDATION SYSTEM ACTUALLY INFLUENCES 80% OF THE CONTENT WE WATCH ON NETFLIX… ALGORITHMS HELP NETFLIX SAVE $1 BILLION A YEAR IN VALUE FROM CUSTOMER RETENTION DISRUPTION MAGAZINE | SEPTEMBER 2018 | 11 now one of the leading start-ups in its class. According to Retail Insider, “the company is seeing rapid year-over-year growth of 300%, resulting both from expansive marketing efforts as well as consistently high ratings among purchasers. Growth has been so rapid that the company is announcing that it is opening a distribution centre in Western Canada to keep up with the demand.”


In 2009, two women started an online service that many doubted would succeed. Rent the Runway lets customers find dresses from more than 250 designers, borrow any of these dresses for up to 8 days (which includes getting a back-up size), and the return process is free. Whether you need to go to a wedding or a special event, this means you’re saving hundreds of dollars even though you’re still getting to wear a pricey designer outfit. While a few companies play in this space, what’s unique about Rent the Runway is its community in the digital world. They have more than 9 million members who have actively rented dresses, but also shared reviews and photos to make the process easier for the next woman “in line.” As the company explains on their website, this has led to a disruption in shopping. In fact, 89 percent of their customers say they buy fewer clothes now that they’re using Rent the Runway and 71 percent have discovered a new favourite brand. They even have a new subscription service that offers unlimited rentals for a set price of US$159/month. The beauty of what they offer is also thanks in part to the members who share detailed information about how a dress fits, how it feels, and even photos of how it looks on various body sizes. In short, the members share organic reviews so they can help the community look great.


A recent Unilever study reveals a third of consumers are now buying from brands based on their social and environmental impact (2017). If there is one company leading the way on this front, it’s Patagonia. The outdoor clothing company (was founded?) in 1973 and has been increasingly transparent about how it makes clothing and protects the environment. Their website is more about activism than selling. In fact, one of their most compelling features is The Footprint Chronicles, which features an interactive map outlining the company’s supply chain. It’s here that they share where their clothing is made, the gender mix at these factories, and each organizations commitment to responsible clothing. While you might think that a company with decades of experience is getting stale in terms of its marketing message, it’s quite the opposite. In 2011, they made headlines with national advertisements on Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, with a strong message for consumers.
“Don’t buy this jacket.” Instead, they encouraged people to reduce shopping, repair Patagonia gear, reuse and recycle the company’s clothing. To dig further into their social mission, for anyone who did buy from the company that day, they agreed to give 100 percent of their profits directly to grassroots non-profits protecting the planet. According to Business Insider, since 1985, the company has donated $89M to environmental work. The disruption for social good doesn’t stop. This past summer, Patagonia unveiled a collection of backpacks that are made entirely, 100 percent, of recycled materials. This list of four disruptive companies featurestwo business with decades of experience and two relatively new start-up organizations.
This variety is important. Many established businesses claim it’s hard to disrupt and many new businesses claim it’s hard to disrupt. Nonetheless, there are more and more examples of companies – and even individuals – who have figured out how to inch ahead and come out on top in our complicated economy.

SURE, EVERYONE LIKES TO BE COMFORTABLE. EVERYONE LIKES ROUTINE.The problem is that in a tech-centric society we have to be even faster and smarter about staying relevant or risk being irrelevant. Take voice technology as one example. Comscore research reveals that 50 percent of all online searches in 2020 will be voice searches. For many businesses who rely on people finding them online, this is reason to make changes today. That means readying your website for this new way that people bwill discover you.

If your company is still relying on email and the telephone to manage everyday requests, it’s time to prioritize building a bot.Tech blog Betakit shared this past spring that,”Indeed data included in Stanford University’s research data also found that the share of jobs requiring AI skills in Canada has grown by 1,069 percent since January 2013 — and at a faster growth rate than the UK and US respectively.” Professional disruption requires personal disruption.
We have to become more at ease with experimenting and, maybe even, failing. It will never be your failure that inspires people to judge you, but your failure to bounce back. It’s safe to say that today’s disruptive trend of putting a bed in a box, like Endy is doing, might have seemed like a crazy idea at one point, but it actually worked and it’s disrupting the mattress market (which Zion Market Research says will reach $43B US by 2024.
Moving on from a successful DVD mail rental business was also a leap for Netflix, but they forecast the streaming trend just in time to jump on board. Borrowing used dresses from Rent the Runway was also an experiment and telling people to stop buying their stuff was a bold move for Patagonia. However, if we know that we’ll never see change this slow again, we must all be able to thrive in a world moving faster than we ever had before. This means getting smart about using data, solving everyday problems with innovative ideas, getting better at connecting with customers, and doing good in a world of consumers that is increasingly knowledgeable about where they’re putting their hard-earned money.

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