How to disrupt any business, by knowing nothing about it

By David Joland

In the old days, back before the internet, experience was everything. We would look at CVs before employing anyone and consider how suitable they were for our advertised position, based solely on their ability to have done exactly the same task for a previous employer. The longer the list of jobs in which they’d made no noticeable change, the more experience they had, the more desirable they became.

Then – all of a sudden – children started coding websites in their bedroom. None of them had any previous experience – other than playing kiss chase and collecting Power Ranger cards – but we wanted to employ them.

And if they did happen to have previous experience, it counted against them.

These were the Techies – but by the time they were old enough to go on the pay role, the next breed had turned up – the Disrupters; a term I had only seen previously peppered across my school reports, and apparently not a good thing. Now we’d love to employ the Disrupter – but they’re too busy ruining our businesses so we can’t afford employees anymore anyway.

So how did these Disrupters learn enough about our businesses to know how to disrupt them? Actually – they didn’t. What they knew all along was that any business which relies on a process (and what business doesn’t?) can be short-cut or approached from a new angle.

The detail isn’t in what the business is, but how it operates, and despite us all thinking our industry sectors have unique quirks and eccentricities, they’re only there because we let them in, and the Disrupters are now removing them.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it shouldn’t really take a decade to design a car and launch it but, while General Motors, Ford and the entire motor industry are still crafting the next generation of models in plasticine, Tesla has rocked up, designed, built, and redefined the car, giving Elon a long enough tea-break to go off and design a rocket.

It takes two years for our London cabbies to learn ‘the knowledge’, during which time they learn the ancient art of reciting how to navigate from Fulham to County Hall while balancing a pencil on their top lip. But by the time they’ve crossed the Thames, Uber’s popped up and taken all the passengers anyway. And none of the drivers needs to bother learning any routes because they’ve got Waze, and as long as they’re competent enough to follow the little blue arrow, you’ll get to places they can’t even pronounce let alone locate.

Alongside the long list of other high-profile disrupters – from Amazon to Airbnb – disrupters are busy working their magic on other industries, and all businesses, whatever their size. The greatest attribute they have is their total lack of knowledge of these industries’ nuances.

Knowing too much about an industry is likely to fill you with doubt about the disruption opportunities it presents. The chairman of Ford, or Kev the Cabbie would have given you a long list of reasons why their industries were safe. Just last week, I was at a breakfast with Alex Cruz, chairman and CEO of British Airways, who’s also sleepwalking his company into oblivion.

He was asked whether he views Elon Musk’s vision of flying by rocket from London to Sydney in four hours as a threat to the future of BA and other airlines.“No” he said. “For the foreseeable future, we’ll be flying in metal tubes,” as he disappeared to find a black cab.

My guess is Elon Musk knows as much about running an airline as he does about changing a head-gasket. Nothing. And that’s why you should sell your shares in airlines immediately.

So, in summary, anyone can be a Disrupter – and any sector can be disrupted. You just need to know the SDP (Standard Disruption Process):

  1. Pick an industry. Any industry, as long as you know nothing about it.
  2. Look at how it operates. (The processes, flow, customer journey)*
  3. Shake your head in wonderment*
  4. Shortcut it
  5. Wait three months and list for a minimum of two billion.

*Optional. (Can be disrupted).

David Joland is a novelist and businessman. His debut novel, The Biggest Idea in the World, is available from Amazon, priced at £8.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an e-book