There’s No Denying Disruption

Denial is a stage that hits us almost immediately when we’re faced with loss, surprise, or the imposition of a new idea. For a whole series of reasons, we’re just not wired to enjoy disruptive change.

There’s No Denying Disruption

Here’s a question you’ve probably never thought about: What do disruptive technologies and grief have in common?

Lots, when you start to think about it. It’s impossible to predict how they’ll progress and where they’ll take you, and the immediate and most obvious response to both is denial.

Denial is a stage that hits us almost immediately when we’re faced with loss, surprise, or the imposition of a new idea. For a whole series of reasons, we’re just not wired to enjoy disruptive change.

But when change happens, we have to move forward. In a world of technology-led innovation, we don’t have any choice; we can’t run away and deny it’s happening.

Yet before we can move forward, we need to recognise and understand the denial so we can get through it without inviting destruction.

History Doesn’t Favour Denial

Think back to the era of mainframe computers. Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s former chairman and CEO, famously claimed he thought there was a world market for “maybe five computers.” Computers had been invented for a specific purpose, and Watson couldn’t conceive of the billions of alternative uses these massively expensive logic machines could one day fulfill.

He was in denial.

In more recent times, the iPhone pressed reset on what it meant to own a computer, phone, portable music player, and camera. One device could rule them all!

Unfortunately, Nokia didn’t see it coming, and Microsoft’s former CEO, Steve Ballmer, famously wallowed in denial: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

Also in denial.

I could go on about our collective reactions to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, and even geeky stuff like XML, Web services, and RSS.

Detractors, or “change denialists,” love to say, “Nope, that’ll never work.” The typical response to the early stages of a disruptive technology’s birth is to simply deny its potential and carry on as normal.

Augmented Disruption

This denial response is obvious with a new, shiny disruption that matters: augmented reality.

I’m not talking about those clunky VR headsets you’ve seen on Mark Zuckerberg’s head. Smartphone-based augmented reality apps and services are lighting up the world, particularly in the Asia Pacific region where smartphones are ubiquitous. Research and Markets predicts the global augmented reality market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 79.6% in 2015 to 2020, and Asia will be the fastest-growing region.

Why? Well, check out this clever vision of our hyper-reality future from Keiichi Matsuda.

Freaking out yet? Come on, be honest, what was your reaction?

If you’re in marketing, there’s a good chance your eyes are wide open. Imagine the marketing and branding opportunities! Think about how this will improve customer experience!

Others will hit the denial wall. Not going to happen. I won’t be using that thing.

Clearly, social and ethical issues need to be to sorted out when we imagine this future, particularly in early-adopter nations including Japan and Australia. But will our instant objections or denial stop this innovation juggernaut? Nope. Did denial stop any of the other game-changers I mentioned earlier? Nope.

Embracing Change

Here’s the thing: Just because something’s new, it’s not instantly bad. Or if it does seem bad, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed.

Entrepreneurs, developers, and engineers are hard-wired to solve problems. Granted, they’re also incentivised by venture-capital backing, but problem-solving is typically the highest order priority. In their minds, your objections are valid, but they’re also just problems to be solved.

I picked up some valuable advice when I was working as a technology journalist in San Francisco many years ago. A colleague was an avowed futurist and lived by a clever saying that stuck in my head: “If it’s going to be true in the future, it’s true now.”

Years later, I’ve only truly caught up with his thinking. If you want to make peace with game-changing shifts in technology, denial is not the end game. The healthiest, most pragmatic response you can have to change is to embrace it as a present-day reality. It might not be quick or easy, but the parallel to grief recovery is fascinating. We journey from denial and shock, through various stages of anger and bargaining, to acceptance and hope.

Early adopters love this sort of thinking, and the late majority think it’s nuts. But like it or not, the future has a way of catching up with us one way or another.

So try this one: If you can imagine being happy about disruption in the future, try making it a reality now.