A Short History of Disruption
The history of humankind is replete with examples of discoveries and innovations that proved to be so transformative, that life was never the same once the permanent change it brought about gained traction. Disruptive technologies come from developments that completely displace a previous technology considered the standard. Disruptive technologies can sometimes transform our lives, but always have the power to radically change markets or even create whole new markets. Over the last one hundred plus years these disruptions have become more frequent and undeniably profound.
Without a doubt the first flights by Orville and Wilbur Wright over the sand dunes of coastal North Carolina in 1903 amounted to one of the most disruptive technological developments of all time. It did not take very long after the Wright brother’s flights for airlines to be established that were not only flying people across country, but around the world as well. These disruptions made the world a significantly smaller place, with anywhere on the planet only hours away instead of the days, weeks or months previously endured by travelers. Not only did the airplane shrink down the relative size of our world, but also it also completely displaced two established industries. Since the advent of manned flight, railroads and ships have been predominantly used to transport only cargo and not people.
Measured against the timeframe of the history of humankind, the development of the microprocessor is a recent event. It was not long ago that the space required for the computing power of today’s laptop was a whole roomful of computer hardware. The microprocessor enabled everyone to have the computing capability that was previously only reserved for large corporations or the government. CPUs, as microprocessors are also known, continue to evolve by getting smaller while gaining in computing power. The ongoing developments with CPUs provide an example of what is called a sustaining innovation. With this disruptive technological advancement the groundwork of the future was truly laid.
This disruption was made possible by the development of the microprocessor as well, but is a separate disruption unto itself. Also, like the airplane, the Internet has served to shrink our world even further from the perspective of shared knowledge and the free flow of information across our planet. The development of the Internet has had wide ranging impact beyond mere communication. The rise of eCommerce has changed the face of business forever. This in turn has caused the demise of some conventional sales methodology, particularly brick and mortar store locations. The best example of this probably is the business powerhouse, Amazon. This is a company with a stated a goal of selling and delivering virtually anything consumers would need or want to buy. Their ongoing success, entirely made possible by the Internet, has probably displaced innumerable businesses of all sizes.
The Internet has also made possible the social media explosion over the last ten years or so, with its own significant influence on our society. The internet continues to grow and evolve in areas unforeseen at its inception in the forms of mobile technology and the interaction between machines themselves, the so called “internet of things” The development of an electronic internet, which connects every corner of the world, may very well be the most dominant disruptive technology of the last century.
These are merely a few examples of importantly disruptive technological developments in relatively recent history, there are others from our past and there will be many more going forward. Each those mentioned has had far reaching repercussions for the travel and hospitality industries. In the next part we will look back at disruption specifically related to hospitality.
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