Entrepreneurs, both new and established, will find the author’s TBD philosophy useful in planning ahead for emerging disruptive technologies
Entrepreneurs, both new and established, will find the author’s TBD philosophy useful in planning ahead for emerging disruptive technologies

Whether it is advertising or business development, dozens of good books on these topics are released every single year. You can read all of them and try to work out the theory behind a successful business, but it isn’t much use unless the book offers something that can be put into practice without hassle. This is exactly what Paul Armstrong — who runs the technology advisory Here/Forth — sets out to do in his book Disruptive Technologies: Understand, Evaluate, Respond.

The book’s topic, and the way it is laid out, ensures that the reader gets more than mere words. It actually enables entrepreneurs to plan decades ahead and helps them in deciding on the next logical step for their business. Planning has always been the key to having a successful start-up (or even a well-established company) that fulfils its grand potential. In recent years, though, it has become increasingly difficult to plan ahead owing to emerging disruptive technologies — innovations that create new markets and value networks, disrupting those already in existence and displacing established leading firms, products and alliances. As the author puts it eloquently throughout the book, you can plan for things you expect, but what about technology, or trends, that hit your company out of the left field? It is to tackle these complete technological unknowns that Armstrong strives to prepare entrepreneurs.

My first brush with real entrepreneurship came in the form of discussions with two of my friends about their start-up, PriceOye.pk, which is a mobile-focused price comparison website. Adnan and Awais don’t have a big team in place yet, but owing to the success they have seen in a fairly short period of time, they already face a number of the challenges discussed in Disruptive Technologies.

As technology evolves at exponential speed, the challenge is to ensure companies survive and adapt instead of becoming obsolete

The potential to be affected by new and disruptive technologies increases manifold when your company is directly dealing with gadgets and tech, as PriceOye does. In the next five to 10 years, artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to revolutionise the field of price comparison. It is never too early to brainstorm and think of ways that can turn AI into an ally rather than the killer of your business. While PriceOye’s algorithm is already pretty good at pitting, say, a Nokia phone against a QMobile phone, the AI behind this is still in its infancy. According to Armstrong, AI is almost sure to disrupt major tech-related fields — such as price comparison — in the coming decade. This is why reading the book frequently reminded me of my friends’ start-up, the challenges it faces today and those it will likely face in years to come.

The world of business is full of problems and not enough solutions. If you are an entrepreneur, though, no matter how unpredictable or difficult the future seems right now, Armstrong has devised a solution for most problems based on his insightful ‘TBD’ philosophy.

TBD stands for technology, behaviour and data. Simply put, TBD is an almost foolproof system that enables entrepreneurs to fully evaluate an idea or investment in new technology. The author has outlined a complete step-by-step system that lets entrepreneurs perform TBD analyses, but while everything is systematic, TBD is more than just a bunch of formulae or stats. It factors in the human element of an organisation and helps improve a team’s morale along the way. The best part is that at the end of a TBD analysis, what emerges isn’t just an abstract or impractical nugget of information; one is likely to get a concrete answer such as “We should invest $6,000 on researching 3D printers for the next five months.”

While one can implement TBD and the team exercises outlined in the book to decisions that don’t deal with disruptive technology, the book’s primary focus is on helping a company survive for the next five years and beyond. For this purpose, it would be utter folly to think that technology such as AI and blockchain (that allows digital information to be distributed but not copied) will continue being irrelevant for any field. The writer certainly thinks that there are at least five technologies (and possibly many more) that will disrupt several, if not all, industries in the next decade.

Disruptive Technologies is an amazingly useful book; it does not invite much criticism. The only thing one could hold against it is scalability. Some of the exercises in the book seem to be targeted at corporations or relatively large companies. If you are a start-up and don’t have a large staff, it might not be feasible to follow Disruptive Technologies to the letter. In the author’s defence, however, Armstrong mostly works with large companies such as Coca-Cola and Forbes, so it makes sense that he has written from this particular perspective. The core ideas discussed, though, are as valid for a one-person start-up as they are for a multinational company.

And even if you aren’t running a company of your own, disruptive technologies will surely have an impact on our lives in the near future. Learning about future-proofing and improving your workplace is a major employability factor, which is what makes Disruptive Technologies a must-read for most of us.

The reviewer is an IT project manager

Disruptive Technologies: Understand,
Evaluate, Respond
By Paul Armstrong
Kogan Page, UK
ISBN: 978-0749477288
216pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 27th, 2017

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