Global travel began in the mid-19th century with transatlantic seafaring. The British industry leader, Cunard, carried immigrants from Europe to the US close to the 20th century. It emerged as the largest Atlantic passenger line, successfully capturing the flourishing North Atlantic travel market. The advent of commercial jets brought a tragic end to the golden era of ocean travel.

While many oceangoing companies dwindled into nothingness, Cunard came up with “luxury vacationing at sea,” giving birth to a new industry — the cruise tourism industry. Earlier, ships were primarily seen as a mode of transport, displacing from point A to B. Transforming them into an ostentatiously recreational entertainment centre was clearly not eliminative in nature. Neither was it disruptive — the twin catchword that has dominated the innovation space. Cruise tourism did not invade, destroy, or displace any existing market or industry. It was created without disruption.

Innovative leaders and industry changers are drilled with the idea that the only way towards innovation and growth is to disrupt their industries — essentially by striking first, beating the competition, and stealing market share. Not surprisingly, nearly all have come to view “disruption” as a synonym for “innovation.”

However, Cunard is a good example of what Pakistan needs — what we may refer to as non-disruptive development, allowing for the formation of new industries, markets, jobs, and profitable growth without harming existing businesses or employees, especially when the country is suffering from diminishing business prospects, and riddled with a saturated job market, both concentrated in a single, financial capital of a city.

The corporate world can create new markets and cement the fact that business does not have to be a destructive, fear-based, win-lose game

It has been done before

Let’s take three cases that have offered an alternative path to market-creating innovation to foster economic growth that enables business and society to thrive together.

Today, most women consider sanitary napkins for granted, but this innovation inadvertently created a non-disruptive, new market that has drastically enhanced the lives of half the world’s population. Women use them each month to deal with the discomfort and messiness of their menstrual cycles.

However, in the days of yore, women used bits of old cloth as sanitary napkins, but these materials were obviously filthy and infectious. Also, when worn, the garment shifted, was uncomfortable, and failed with possible spots and leakage.

We often watch advertisements today featured around girls staying away from school and/or work for several days during their monthly cycles to avoid the embarrassment caused by this. Menstruation was less stigmatised and dreaded with the invention of sanitary napkins, which made it easier for women to work, and girls were able to participate in sports and school activities without fear. Today, the sanitary-napkin industry generates revenues of more than $22 billion a year.

The microfinance industry — an innovation that has truly transformed the lives of poor people by making financial services available to those who may otherwise not be able to avail them from larger banks, as no bank or financial institution was prepared to serve them, rendering them ineligible or unsuitable as borrowers.

By addressing the problem at hand, Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, changed the game for good — microfinance banks (MFB) aided people who had previously been denied access to capital, creating new microbusinesses, jobs, higher standards of living, and, more importantly, hope. Today, global microfinance has become a multibillion-dollar industry with an above 90 per cent loan-repayment rate and immense potential for growth.

Let’s move on to an entirely different industry. Sesame Street teaches numbers, colours, letters, and shapes to preschool children. The kids have fun watching it while learning with its lovable muppets and songs. However, it ensured it did not replace school learning, libraries, or even parents who were reading bedtime stories to their kids.

Instead, it was a birthing of a new industry — preschool edutainment! Of course, non-existent before, it is a multibillion-dollar industry today. One of the most popular children’s television shows, it has won many Emmy Awards and 11 Grammys, with viewers in more than 150 countries and is known to be the longest-running children’s TV show in history.

While all three cases are essentially incongruent, they converge on the element of non-disruptive creation. There are many other examples, such as cybersecurity, men’s cosmeceuticals, environmental consulting, life coaching, and pharmaceuticals.

On the contrary, Amazon vs booksellers and main street retailers and Uber vs taxis are true depictions of disruption, reflecting a clear win-lose situation and imposing painful adjustment costs on society along the way in the form of lost jobs that may not rely on the same skillset and/or knowledge.

The writer is a content lead at an agency. Email: sara.amj@hotmail.co.uk

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 24th, 2023

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