Preparing for disruption – risks and benefits


In the past decade, disruption has gone from being an annual or semi-annual event to something that happens weekly – sometimes even daily. That is making it difficult for businesses, professionals and governments alike to keep up – and stay competitive and relevant.

Some see this new age of technological disruption as an opportunity. They eagerly anticipate how new devices and applications can be leveraged to streamline work, solve complex problems and introduce entirely new industries. Others lament the rapid growth of computing power and automation, frightened by the threat it poses to their careers and business models and the effect it will have on legislative issues such as privacy and personal autonomy.

Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum, one thing is certain: if organizations, professionals and legislators do not or cannot anticipate where things are headed, they will be forever caught off guard. By the time they’ve adapted to the most recent change, they will immediately be staring down the barrel of another, and another and another. And this will continue, until they either change their thinking or have been forced out of the market for good.

The case for optimism

The benefits of disruptive technology are pushing the envelope of what is possible, in medicine, social welfare, environmental science and communication, to name a few sectors. Success in the entrepreneurial landscape lies more and more with finding ways to collect and analyze big data, making advancements in artificial intelligence, connecting the world through the internet of things, and upending the world of commerce through blockchain, Bitcoin, fintech and digital commerce.

People and corporations that have embraced this disruption are already emerging as today’s thought and business leaders. Whether you use in-house expertise or access technology solutions through experienced and knowledgeable third parties, it’s time to learn about and start using so-called disruptive technologies to ensure your business stays ahead.

Disruption in the workplace

Recent research indicates the current job market will be significantly altered by disruptive technologies. Positions in imminent danger of being altered and/or phased out completely include those that require a high degree of repetition, manual labour or predictability. Careers of the future will skew heavily toward those that require complex decision-making and are inherently unpredictable.

For example, data-driven aspects of engineering are being transformed by computer algorithms and artificial intelligence. However, there will still be the need for a human brain to interpret, optimize and implement that data for real-world applications. If engineers find a way to proactively integrate emerging technologies into their profession, not only will they make themselves more efficient (in that they can analyze and output data more accurately and in greater volume) but they will, for all intents and purposes, be responsible for reshaping the engineering profession for a new generation.

Other professions, such as veterinarians, still require a high degree of human judgment and intuition to evaluate, diagnose and treat animal illnesses. As technology evolves, so will the profession, so veterinarians still must take disruption into account.

As illustrated in the above two examples, the effects of disruption will be felt differently across industries and positions, and change will occur at varying speeds. The working world will certainly look different than it does today, however. Some roles may be phased out entirely, but they will be replaced by others that emphasize and make use of emerging technology.

Moreover, many jobs – especially those focused on data analysis and data science – will only grow in need and importance. The concern should not be whether people will be out of work, but rather whether people are being prepared now for what the world will demand from them in 10 to 20 years’ time.

Preparing for changes

Like a cold pot of water being slowly brought to a boil, change due to disruption has been a quiet and gradual process over the past several decades. Bit by bit, the manufacturing industry has replaced human assembly-line workers with progressively advanced robotics. Online shopping sites like Amazon have chipped away at bricks-and-mortar retail locations, causing some locations to shutter their doors for good. Even a McDonald’s order can now be placed through a convenient automated computer – eliminating the need for human interaction. It’s only a matter of time before they phase out front-line staff completely.

To understand the direction the market is headed, business leaders and governments must study the behaviours of younger consumers, including their buying habits and the way they leverage technology. This will ultimately dictate the direction the market heads and guide the way for future disruptive innovations. If they tend toward a faster, cheaper, technology-based solution instead of a less convenient and more expensive human-based transaction, it is obvious which will triumph.

Those who understand this will enjoy continued success and growth. Those who do not will follow noted examples like Kodak, Blockbuster and now Sears Canada into obsolescence.

The rise of big data

Just as oil is the dominant commodity in the market today, data will be the most valuable asset of the future. Careers focused on aggregating, analyzing and leveraging data insights will only increase in demand. Companies that are best positioned to make decisions based on big data will dominate the market. Those that are not will feel the full force of disruption.

Amazon offers an excellent case study on using big data and analytics. By studying consumer behaviour in both physical and virtual spaces, the company is constantly adjusting its business model to reflect the explicit and implicit needs and wants of consumers. This enabled Amazon to grow from a small online bookstore to the world’s third-largest retail and distribution outfit in a little more than 20 years.

As a business owner, you likely have a pool of information about your clients and the market you are in that can be used to create more effective strategies throughout your enterprise – from inventory to operations to scheduling. It’s accessing the information and knowing how to use it that will set you apart.

Artificial intelligence

Of all the disruptive technologies on the horizon, artificial intelligence (AI) is demanding perhaps the greatest share of the public’s attention. With the integration of rules-based data analytics, machine learning and deep learning, artificial intelligence is beginning to show signs of becoming smarter than humans.

Or is it? Technically speaking, AI is only as good as the data and human intelligence that help it learn. With that said, the possibility still exists for systems to learn incorrectly or to learn bad behaviours, raising some serious questions.

How will we govern this? What will the consequences be for a system that becomes corrupted? Will the owners of the system be held accountable to maintain its integrity? Will we require sweeping changes to the legal and court system to account for AI? These are decisions that need to be made prior to a mass wide-scale adoption of the technology. And at the rate things are changing, that moment could be closer than anyone predicts.


Human beings are naturally averse to change. As creatures of habit and routine, we crave consistency and predictability. It is this same fear of the unknown that fuels a broad aversion to disruptive technologies and the accelerating rate at which they are impacting our lives.

Yet, to paraphrase Heraclitus some 2,500 years ago, change is the only constant. There is nothing anyone can do to slow it down – it will affect our lives whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared for it or not and whether we participate in it or not. And to quote an old mentor of mine, “when society invents something new, you cannot make it go away, no matter how hard you try, especially if society likes it.”

Choose to embrace technology, innovation and disruption – proactively, optimistically and with open arms. The glass is half full if you are willing to take a drink of the future.

For more information, contact Richard Arthurs, partner and national leader, data and information dynamics, MNP LLP, at 587-702-5978 or

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