Back in January I reported on some of the innovative trends that I saw on my trip to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Nine months on, the evidence of those technologies’ impact is everywhere. I expect these disruptive innovations to be front and center this January, when the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) will host a small group of our members for a directorship-centric tour of CES, along with an exploration of the implications for strategy development and risk oversight.
While January is still four months away, we have been talking about these changes across our education events all year, including at the forthcoming Global Board Leaders’ Summit.
Here are a few examples of the how these trends are manifesting.
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology continues its march into the mainstream. Autonomous vehicles give us one window into how AI is fueling disruption and industry change. Self-driving cars have the potential to save thousands of lives. That mission is part of what inspired Sebastian Thrun to found X, Google’s semi-secret moonshot laboratory, to focus on the technology. Self-driving cars’ potential to disintermediate is largely unanticipated by most business outside of the automotive manufacturing and services industry.
At our August Master Class, Travelocity.com founder Terry B. Jones laid out a landscape of compelling examples of disruptions that will be caused by self-driving vehicles. “People say, well, the technology’s going to disrupt insurance and surely it will,” Jones said. “But it’s also going to disrupt hospitals. The number one reason people go to the emergency room is car wrecks. We’re not going to have car wrecks anymore. It’s going to disrupt hotels. You’ll just stay in the car and sleep while it drives. It’s going to disrupt police—we won’t need traffic tickets.”
Extend Jones’ last point about a decrease in traffic tickets to red light cameras and then consider that in 2015, municipalities collected more than $6 billion in revenue from speeding tickets alone. Self-driving cars could bankrupt whole cities that do not have the foresight to create new revenue sources.
Finally, remember the Mercedes self-driving delivery van complete with roof-mounted drones we talked about from CES this year? Turns out, when it comes to dinner, the aircraft are optional: last month Domino’s Pizza and Ford Motor Co. announced a partnership to test pizza delivery via autonomous vehicles.
The increasing level of cooperation between companies across verticals is changing the very nature of industries themselves. The acquisition of Whole Foods Market by Amazon.com has fueled anxiety across industries and driven once unlikely bedfellows to team up, spawning, among other things, a new partnership between Wal-Mart and Google. Part of the urgency behind the Google–Wal-Mart partnership is the dual realization that voice-enabled shopping is the future of retail, and that Amazon now has a significant advantage over both companies in that space. Amazon is forecast to have 70 percent of the voice-enabled speaker market this year.
As noted at CES, the increasing amount of technology in vehicles has effectively transformed cars into giant computer on wheels, forcing companies from Ford to Honda Motor Co. into an identity crisis. When considering the question, “Are we a technology or a car company,” increasingly the answer is “yes.”
At our Master Class in August, Bonny Simi, a director of Red Lion Hotels and the head of ventures for Jet Blue, explained how the airline missed an early opportunity to partner with and invest in a small car ridesharing startup that eight years later has a valuation nearly ten times that of the airline’s market cap. “At the time when the startup approached us, we didn’t think it was relevant to our business because we saw ourselves as an airline,” Simi noted. “We’ve realized we need to think of ourselves as a travel company.”
The next generation of disruption is about more than technology. Don’t underestimate social and demographic shifts in the market, and the power of changing attitudes and norms to create new competition. Younger consumers have different ideas when it comes to everything from privacy to shopping. The rise of companies like Lyft and Airbnb was enabled by mobile technology, but it was also made possible by a generation of younger people who didn’t hold traditional, sometimes negative attitudes about sharing a home, a car, or even a dress, with a stranger.
At last year’s spring Master Class, Peter H. Coors, former chair of the Molson Coors Brewing Co. and chair of MillerCoors, talked about how millennials’ distaste for big brands and an embrace of the small and bespoke was driving sales away from MillerCoors towards smaller, local craft beers. Younger consumers’ preference of supporting local and small businesses presents a threat to larger food and beverage producers.
Younger people are also turning to alternative payment methods. This year at another Master Class session, Jones shared a story about his 20-something, newly married daughter. Since she and her husband had not yet merged their finances, they were sharing money via online payment platforms. When they went into their local branch of a Fortune 500 bank to get a loan, “the loan officer demanded to know who this guy Venmo was that they had been sending so much money to.” The message, especially to more established companies, is that “the way you’ve always done it” isn’t going to win the day moving forward. Don’t overestimate the long-term viability of legacy products and systems.
The complexity of risk will continue to grow exponentially. Acclaimed technology guru Shelly Palmer focused on this concept heavily both at CES and when he addressed our members at the NACD Technology Symposium in Silicon Valley this past July. “The velocity of data is increasing and will always increase, then the value of that data is going to decrease because there’s just too much of it,” Palmer said. “You’re going to have to sort this out in some way.”
To illustrate his point, Palmer then showed a pond half full of lily pads. He asked the audience the following: if the growth doubled every day until day 30, what day was shown on the slide with the pond half full? The answer was day 29. “Human beings do not think exponentially,” Palmer pointed out. “We think in a linear way. The question is, when is it day 29 for any of the things you’re working on? That’s the speed with which technology is coming at you… You don’t need to manage change. You need to be in a mode of continuous improvement and adaptation.”
When you consider the risk side of so much interconnected data, it raises the stakes for everything from privacy to cyber-risk oversight. Companies that don’t have their eye firmly on the ball face consequences with increasingly higher-stakes implications for their business.
Questions to Ask Management
Directors would be wise to begin pressing their management team for briefings on their strategic plans. Below are several questions you could pose at your next board meeting.
- Have we considered how these forces can provide a strategic advantage to us, either by creating new revenue streams or new efficiencies?
- Have we considered the risks to our business, including how we could be disintermediated or how a particular disruptive force might create competition including from unlikely or unforeseen sources?
- How are we thinking about innovation? Are we good at fostering it in house or should we look to outside partnerships to supercharge our efficiencies, products, and capabilities?
- What are we doing internally, including review of compensation and incentive plans, to ensure new ideas get an open and fair hearing and aren’t killed off internally by managers who may not want to upset the status quo?
Are you ready to attend NACD’s CES Experience in January? Register now to be considered for a place in this exclusive tour that will highlight exciting disruptive innovations.