By Alan Graner
Disruptive innovation is a paradigm shift that changes everything. At the time it may be ignored. It’s certainly unappreciated because nobody foresees the consequences to come.
Around 1750 the world had remained basically unchanged for 10,000 years. Most people lived on farms or in small towns or villages. Since transportation was primitive, most people had to make their own necessities or barter for them. Need yarn? Spin it. Need clothes. Sew them. Need a pitchfork? Make it.
Society was pretty simple. Either you were rich or you were poor. It was the rich and powerful who made the rules. The middle class as such barely existed.
Then in 1769 James Watt patented an improved steam engine. By itself, the engine was little more than a curiosity.
But connect it to a machine and suddenly a single machine could do the work of dozens of people. Goods that were once expensive to purchase could be mass produced cheaply.
Place the steam engine in a locomotive or a ship and you had transportation that hauled goods cheaply over long distances, so people could access to goods they never had before.
Add it to farm machinery and fewer farmers could produce more food, which in turn helped reduce famines, starvation and poor nutrition. Which in turn increased life spans.
New companies and increased trade required a new monetary system, and capitalism replaced barter.
The new machines displaced thousands of workers, who fled to mills and factories looking for work. Towns and cities grew around these companies. Entrepreneurs settled in and became middlemen between producers and buyers, and these middlemen grew into the middle class.
As the power of the middle class grew, they resented governments that catered to the rich and powerful. They demanded government become more responsive to their needs, become more democratic. Today’s political systems in England and America are the result.
The agricultural revolution—itself a disruptive innovation—endured for 10,000 years. The industrial revolution, a result, in part, of the steam engine, destroyed that world in a mere 80 year…and created a new one.
Not even James Watt saw that one coming.
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA marketing communications firm. For a public relations campaign that makes you stick out from the crowd, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.