TELLING DOWNSIDE TO THE BURGEONING ART OF DISRUPTION
IT’S a term that has been tediously shoved down our throats for the past few years like a mantra – disruption.
Like “innovator” or “agile” it often accompanies descriptions of new tech start-ups shaking up the traditional system, but has also become a sort of shorthand for ignoring the rules.
This, we’ve been encouraged to think, is something we should be grateful for – lifting us out of our ignorant ways – rather than what it often is: a cheat.
Disruption is nothing new. It has always been a feature of business growth and of society’s evolution. We just didn’t call it that.
We knew it by other less dramatic terms, like change, best practice or improvement.
The repackaging of the word “disruption” as something new and radical is akin to the recent attempt by a café to dress Vegemite on toast up as some kind of al la carte offering.
Hans Christian Anderson nailed it back in 1837: The Emperor’s New Clothes.
It is nothing more than what university professors might describe as a Post-Modern deconstruction of what occurs in the business world everywhere and always has.
When you can get away with it.
Because the main benefit for the businesses reaping huge profits on the back of the ideology of “disruption” has been to bypass the usual rules.
The disruptors of the world, from Uber to the firms responsible for all those discarded bicycles in your street, have used loopholes to bamboozle authorities into accepting a system of reduced or vanquished standards.
So while the poor Luddites of our taxi industry, constrained by regulations designed to both ensure public safety and keep the taxman happy, are having the values of their business slashed and their livelihoods diminished, Uber merrily undercuts the market to drive out the opposition.
Despite grabbing a lion’s share of the world taxi business by “disrupting” traditional services with lower fares and untrained “citizen” drivers, studies show Uber X drivers earn half the statutory minimum wage. And for a company that has never been in profit (it lost $4.5 billion last year) you can bet fares will rise once it has no one left to compete with.
In less than 25 years Amazon, the e-commerce juggernaut, has made its founder Jeff Bezos $112 billion and the world’s richest person.
It is a new arrival here, but in America, where the company made $5.6 billion last year, it paid no tax at all.
Tuesday night’s Budget foreshadowed a raft of new measures to stop companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple from shifting profits offshore and shirking paying tax here.
With barely a complaint from a public mesmerised by shiny offerings these companies have raided the retail landscape like plundering Vikings.
I’m all for progress and not for maintaining institutions that don’t work, but I’m also pretty sure when the smoke clears we are going to find we are paying the same and getting less, and a few shrewd companies have made a mint.