The clothes washing machine disrupted modern life. The automobile disrupted cities. In 2009, Apple disrupted the mobile phone market. In 2009, Blackberry stock traded near $140. It trades around $7 today. In that time, AAPL went from $12 to $100. Tesla is disrupting the auto industry — in North America, the Model S outsold Mercedes, BMW and Audi in that price category in 2015. Amazon.com disrupted big box retail stores — remember Circuit City?
Regardless of how you voted this year, I think we can all agree that in 2016, Donald Trump disrupted politics and the Republican party.
Some of us know market disruptors when we see them. But the majority of us fail to see what’s coming — and that especially goes for people entrenched in circles of group think.
When disruption happens, the old rules no longer apply and the status quo is upended. This is why the so-called experts are so often wrong on predicting the future. In the case of technological disruption — of which I am usually biased in favor — the activities that sustain our society and human life become more efficient. Everyone has to adapt to a new reality — and that reality is defined by the market disruptor.
I started talking with Wall Street clients about a Donald Trump presidency in summer 2015, when the GOP field was still full of contender nominees. It’s not that I was particularly more prescient or intelligent than my esteemed colleagues, it’s just that I grew up as a member of the white working class and have spent portions of my life on the Jersey shore, Alabama, and Minnesota, as well as having lived in Chicago, Washington, D.C., London and Seattle.
Also, you can take this political truism to the bank: People vote for the candidate who makes them feel the best about themselves. We are all narcissists looking for the most favorable mirror. Once you get that fact down, it’s just a numbers game.
A new thought occurred to me recently: When you’re in the midst of it, disruption and adaptation sometimes looks like death. This past summer, the media was convinced that the Republican party was toast — Democrats would surely sweep the presidency and the Senate and erode the Republican lead in the house. But the opposite happened. Republicans won the presidency, both houses of Congress, and expanded state governorships. But that Republican party will be a different one going forward than it was in the past, with a shifted set of priorities and policies.
That a rebirth looks like death in the midst of it also throws off the experts, pointing and laughing from the outside. I can’t name a disruptive technology that wasn’t scoffed at initially.
Adapt or die. That’s the thematic lesson of 2016, and maybe for all time.