Take a moment to visualize these things:
- Record player
- Brick and mortar retailers
- Wealth Management Firms
- Encyclopedia Brittanica
- Public Libraries
Now allow your mind to journey through the transformation and evolution of these items and entities.
There have been major improvements and for the most part, the 25-plus volume set of Encyclopedia Brittanica is a thing of the past. In 2010 they published their fifteenth edition since their original 1768 publishing. You can now pay for an online subscription for roughly $6 per month.
Hard cover and soft cover paper books are still holding on while e-readers and tablets have gobbled up a large portion of the market share providing consumers with access to millions of books without having to worry about shelf space. Traditionalists didn’t see that coming, even though Star Trek and Twilight Zone warned us. Speaking of these shows, didn’t they tell us we would be using our watches to communicate, not just tell time? Wonder if Steve Jobs and his team were reminiscing one day and said, “heck yeah let’s create a watch that we can use as a phone, track our health, listen to music, text, and more…oh yeah, and tell time” and then voila–the Apple Watch.
Brick and Mortar Retailers
Brick and mortar book stores didn’t see the threat of technology, and by the time they realized what was taking place they weren’t in the position to counter-balance the attack. We’ve watched small, mid-size, and large retailers close their doors because they could no longer compete with the power of the Internet.
Even with some public libraries closing in cities throughout the US, we still find a solid number still standing with their doors open. We also find new libraries opening, providing access to local neighborhoods. Public libraries are having to be innovative and find ways to blend technology into their brick and mortar establishment in a way that does not feel contrived or forced, but rather complementary. We will have to see if they can maintain this healthy relationship for the next 20 years and beyond.
Let’s go back to the watch one more time. The watch has evolved from a pocket watch to a timepiece worn on the wrist, both just telling the wearer the time. We thought were were big stuff when our watch had extra dial features like a stopwatch or tracking the depth of water for diving. We really thought we were doing something if our watch also allowed us to display a different time zone. While traditionalists love the wind up features of a classic watch, there’s another group who love digital watches. Still, it does not seem as though the classic timepiece will be dying anytime within the next 50 years.
Telephone, Radio, Record Player, and Computer
Now let’s consider some other things from the list like the telephone, radio, record player, and computer. Record players are making a comeback thanks to millennials who have been inspired by vinyl records (that they probably ran across in their parents or grandparents collection), so now we are seeing standalone record players as well as dual, 3-in-1, and 4-in-1 players. The dual usually combines the player with radio or cd capabilities. The 3-in-1 has the player, cd, and radio, or the player, cd, and cassette. The 4-in-1 can combine all four of those or instead of having the radio option it may have a USB-port option. The manufacturers have done a great job of bringing back the classic looks from pre-1970s.
Speaking of the radio, how many of us actually have a plug-in radio in our homes anymore? That we actually use? Imagine the critics who doubted the radio’s presence and ability to draw in listeners. We still have radios in our car even though there are hundreds of radio stations going out of business because listenership has plummeted over the last 5-10 years due to the rise of internet radio providers such as Sirius-XM (once two competing companies, now merged), and Pandora, Apple Music, and now Spotify.
Before the invention of the telephone you had to write letters, make a long journey, or use the telegraph service from Western Union and other providers (thanks to technology) to communicate with someone else. Look at how much the telephone has evolved and look at how technology has removed our handcuffs from a wired phone to a mobile one. But even that statement should make you laugh, because have we not just found ourselves handcuffed to our mobile devices instead, and in many cases worse off than before they were invented?
Think about it, unless you have a basic phone with no texting and internet capabilities (like a flip phone) you are basically handcuffed to a mini computer. You are attached to a device that sends you emails, texts, pictures, phone calls and notifications. It gives you access to the Internet, apps, and a camera to take selfies or photos of family, friends, food, pets, and places that you visit. Some of you even sleep with your phone next to your head or under your pillow. You’re hooked. Most of us are. Who really saw this coming besides Star Wars, Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and the techies who designed and brought to market the cell phone?
The computer was never originally designed for consumer use and the early pioneers thought that even if the computer was scaled for the consumer market the amount of sales would be too minuscule to even consider counting. Wow weren’t they wrong?!? Just like the PC industry doubted and dismissed Apple’s entry into computers. Now look at Apple–desk tops, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, Apple Watch, iPod, ear pieces, head sets, and more. What is interesting is that the PC industry almost made the same mistake as the pre-PC enterprise and mainframe computer industry who doubted the capability, scalability, and growth potential of PCs. It seems to always happen when you think you have cornered the market, a disruptive force comes in and knocks you off of your pedestal.
Banks are having to fast track their embrace of technology through apps, modified ATM machines, high-tech bank cards, and online banking options. With more and more bank branches closing down because customers have opted for the convenience of online banking, these financial institutions have to either think quick and adapt, or get left behind and be forced to close their doors. We can already see how some of the majors are embracing the tech change.
Wealth Management Firms
Wealth Management firms are about to learn a hard lesson while they hold on to their traditional views of how best to serve the needs of clients. While many of us appreciate the interaction with our designated wealth manager, many more could care less about building a relationship with an individual from the company that manages our assets. With the development of various online platforms, consumers are learning how to manage their finances, spending, investments, and more on their computer or mobile device—and guess what? It costs them a fraction of what their wealth manager gets for helping you with your diversified portfolio.
Firms will need to move quickly to embrace change and the development of mobile apps that will allow users to save, invest, and manage their money—while at the same time enhancing the client experience from meeting one-on-one with your private wealth manager. If they sleep on the technology and arrogantly assume that they won’t lose business to these tech firms, they will pay dearly for this oversight.
Don’t say it’s not possible. Don’t say it won’t happen soon.
Did Georgians see it coming when electric company, Georgia Power, made the decision to shut down all of their customer centers throughout the state, and opt instead to have current and prospective customers make payments online or through third-party retailers? This transformative move requires that all customer service requests would be handled online and through phone calls into their call center. They switched over and fully embraced technology. It definitely has been a shock to the system for local Georgia residents who either never heard the pending news or didn’t believe it would happen so soon, or at all. Georgia Power clearly saw the writing on the wall and realized that they could save money and accomplish more by switching operations over to a digital framework.
A few times now in this article there has been mention of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Twilight Zone. Recently Disney announced that it has inked a deal with current Star Wars director to roll out a trilogy of the series. The company has also announced that it is going to attempt to compete with Netflix, who is currently doing a remarkable job (along with competitor Hulu) to lure cable and satellite customers over to online television and movie streaming. Disney thinks that it has what it takes to compete in the sports broadcasting service, promoting their online version of ESPN beginning early next year. Then in 2019 they expect to offer all new content that they release solely on their streaming service and not on Netflix, which would mean that the Star Wars trilogy series would be offered through Disney’s service and excluded from Netflix. It will be interesting to see this battle unfold. At least Disney is trying to fight back and remain not just relevant but an industry leader. Blockbuster Video never thought Netflix would force them out of business. Now look at them.
Hotels will need to have some brainstorming sessions to consider how to handle the emergence and growth of providers such as Airbnb, who serves as an alternative to hotels and their ever-growing list of fees. Even owners of condos and houses are working with realtors and property management companies to rent out their vacation properties and sometimes even their main residence during times of the year when they are not home, traveling, etc. For those of us who like the comforts and privacy of home, it’s a no-brainer when you see all of the space and features that you can get from renting a private residence instead of staying at a hotel–especially when you compare the daily and weekly rates. You may not get room service at the condo or house, but you also don’t have to deal with the nuances and inconveniences that come from staying at a hotel–yes, even the five-star ones.
The shock hits us more often nowadays as we hear about more and more retailers closing their doors because they can no longer compete with disruptors such as Amazon and Wal-Mart (that is now in direct competition with Amazon for online grocery and retail sales). PayLess shoes has been closing stores, as has Sears, Macy’s, and more. Sears and Macy’s are said to be restructuring in order to provide an online sales experience but some consumers and critics wonder if they will have what it takes to reinvent themselves and maintain customer loyalty. We will have to wait and see.
There are a few major lessons to be learned from all of these examples shared. Here are three lessons:
- Never ever ever stop looking into the future for what may come, great visionaries are always looking at the big picture of possibilities and innovation.
- Never become so comfortable that you ignorantly (and arrogantly) convince yourself that your product, service, company cannot be blotted out and replaced.
- Change is always right around the corner, when you reach it, embrace it.
Now we will wait to see what disruptive innovation is heading our way next!