A DECADE OF DISRUPTION: TEN STORIES OF CHANGE ACROSS TEN YEARS
A mere decade ago, the world was very different. In ten years this world has been transformed, particularly by the impact technological change has had on communications, politics and business.
In 2007 The Caffeine Partnership was born. We wanted to help leaders in a different way to traditional consultancies; to help them grow, fast. We wanted to help impatient senior teams work out things quickly, but at that time we could not have foreseen how necessary that would become. In the decade since we started we have seen a total metamorphosis in the business world, mainly driven by a technological explosion. It has made the roles of the leaders we work with more exciting – and significantly more challenging.
Let’s look at what happened in 2007. It was a noteworthy year in many ways. That was also the year when the phrase ‘credit crunch’ became common parlance. This term was first used in the 1960s but 2007 was the year it took hold. The start of the financial crisis which manifested first as a liquidity crisis, is technically dated from August 9, 2007, when BNP Paribas terminated withdrawals from three hedge funds citing ‘a complete evaporation of liquidity’. Massive bailouts of financial institutions and other palliative monetary and fiscal policies followed, attempting to prevent a possible collapse of the world financial system. The crisis was nonetheless followed by a global economic downturn, the Great Recession. May you live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes.
It was also the year when the tech disruption of business really kickstarted.
Here are ten transformations that started in 2007.
In 2007 only birds tweeted. A micro-blogging company called Twitter spun off from a bigger startup and started to scale globally. Now it is the mouthpiece and amplifier for a variety of political persuasions, discussions about biscuits and TV shows, a source of humour and a source of news with 500 million tweets being sent every day. Saudi Arabia has the highest number of internet users who are active on Twitter. Another micro-blogging platform Tumblr was also founded in 2007 – a company acquired by Yahoo in 2013 for $1.1bn.
In 2007 your choices for where to stay on a holiday were likely to be renting a house, staying in a hotel or motel or staying with a friend. The idea of staying in someone else’s house was likely to be limited to a bed and breakfast by the sea. In 2007 Airbnb was founded. The following year the founders handcrafted bespoke cereal boxes to get the business of the ground. A decade on, this phenomenal business is now valued at $31bn, disrupting the hotel and travel industry and promising a sense of belonging wherever we want to be.
In 2007 the way in which we worked changed dramatically thanks to the forgetfulness of Drew Houston. Dropbox was founded in 2007. This file hosting service that allows users to send videos, transfer documents and keep photos safe online was founded by MIT students Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi after Houston kept forgetting his USB flash drive while working on assignments at college. The company has taken off globally and now is looking to an IPO, already surpassing a $1bn run rate with a staggering 500 million users. It’s helped millions of people work efficiently and remotely (myself included).
In 2007 our relationship with music was totally different. Spotify didn’t yet exist. Founded in 2008 the company now has 140 million active users. It is still not yet a profitable company and faces numerous challenges in a highly-competitive environment, but it’s a truly revolutionary organisation which transformed the music industry and our interaction with artists beyond all recognition.
In 2007 the first real wearable and health-tech device hit the wrists of the world. The award-winning Fitbit was founded on May 1 by James Park (CEO) and Eric Friedman (CTO). Its IPO in 2015 was filed for $358 million. After Fitbit’s stocks fell more than 50% in 2016, CEO James Park announced in October that the company was undergoing a major transformation from what he called a ‘consumer electronics company’ to a ‘digital healthcare company’. We will see how the company survives and thrives in the next ten years.
In 2007 Google launched Android, an open standards alternative platform to Apple’s iOS; this was just after they had bought YouTube (at the end of 2006). 1/3 of the world now are users of YouTube.
In 2007 Amazon released the Kindle. The e-book revolution began. Now Audible, an e-book App, threatens to make Kindle redundant.
In 2007 IBM began building ‘Watson’ the first cognitive computer, combining machine learning and artificial intelligence . Most well-known for winning ‘Jeopardy’ in 2011, IBM’s World of Watson convention in October 2016, introduced new AI services for marketing, order fulfillment, supply chain management, workplace collaboration, and human resources (including recruiting and hiring). It already had offerings for health, education, financial services, and the “internet of things”. It’s now working on a smart assistant for cars through GM’s OnStar programme.
In 2007 Facebook had just moved beyond being a campus-only offer. Its global scaling started 26 September, 2007. There are now more Facebook users in the world than there were people alive on the entire planet 100 years ago.
And last but not least…
In 2007 we spent our days looking at things differently; things were about to change dramatically. In 2007 mobile ownership and usage was common but most of the phones were ‘dumb’. 2007 saw the launch of one of the most disruptive pieces of technology in 100 years; the iPhone. Steve Job’s launch announcement on this is a textbook example of public speaking at its best – a simple message built with drama and crafted in a memorable and impactful way. Time rightly dubbed it its innovation of the year; it’s clearly the innovation of the decade, arguably of the century. The ubiquity of the iPhone has brought computing, media consumption, dating, shopping, connecting into our hands with ease. It has helped disrupt a number of industries – making Uber, Instagram, Tindr and Twitter what they are today, decimating the published newspaper world and the camera market amongst others, making the IPod and MP3 players dated and delisted, altering the way in which we communicate at work and at home.
So, now let’s look forward. What do we see on the horizon? Another decade of exponential disruption ahead (political disruption permitting), this time moving even faster as tech stacks on tech, people learn, people move faster and the demands of investors, shareholders and consumers drive a greater acceleration everywhere.
Make sure you have on board people who understand that and can operate at speed. Make that a filter for those you work with; comfort with acceleration as well as ambiguity is essential in your key people and your key partners.
I’ll give the last word to Bill Gates. In 2007 he was the world’s richest man. Since then he has given millions of his money away to fantastic causes but ten years later is still worth $86bn, rich enough to give everyone in the world £10 each at Christmas. ‘We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.’