The 1997 Apple commercial above has been forever embedded into both the history books and boardrooms all over the world as a mantra for innovation, progress and challenging the status quo.
Those quotes by Steve Jobs, however validated and inspirational they may be, have proven difficult to live up to in the recession/post recession climate. Many of the ‘misfits’ , across many fields, have acquiesced to the status quo because of these still uncertain times. The down sides to the digital age coupled with the last few years of Lean Logic, Big Data and the quantification of progress have caused many to remain silent for fear of becoming yet another casualty.
Also a result of the economic tumult, those who perceivably have the most to lose by upsetting the apple cart have entrenched themselves even deeper into the status quo. Call them the ‘experts’ for lack of better term, have circled the wagons of almost every field from business to education to politics and have pushed back or scared off the misfits. Further, the general public has had its senses dulled both by the uncertainty and the information overload of a digital world.
So what has been the net effect of all this? Predictable stagnation in most fields for the first half of the decade. Political gridlock, anemic organizations, cookie-cutter systems in place throughout education, business, & politics have all become part of the ‘new normal’. There has been much lip service paid to new buzz words like, “disruptive innovation” and “game changer” and there are in fact glimpses here and there, but much will depend on the misfits getting back into the game in the remainder of the decade.
It may sound contrary to say, but the experts are a necessary part of this process. They create the current state on which progress is made. They provide the agreed baseline, the counter weight, the status quo to be disrupted. You cannot have disruption all the time and the status quo provides a platform on which progress must stand. History has demonstrated, however, that really disruptive progress happens only when some misfit like a Steve Jobs comes along and doesn’t just tip the apple cart but kicks the wheels off of it. Here are a few other, lesser known, disrupters to the status quo from the last century;
In the early 1870’s Heinrich Schliemann excavated and discovered what is today considered to be the ruins of the city of Troy from Homer’s Iliad. He subsequently went on to discover the ruins of Mycenae and evidence of the pre-classic period cultures. His discoveries were refuted by experts and he was vilified for being an amateur and an opportunist. The fact remains that much of the creation of the formal science of archeology is owed to his and other amateur efforts in the late 19th century.
In 1904 Ida Tarbell published, The History of Standard Oil and subsequently many other pieces of what became known as investigative journalism. She and a band of ‘muckraker’, as termed by Theodore Roosevelt, would challenge corporate monopolies and the status quo of machine politics in the early 20th century United States. In an age when mass communication was sparse, the muckrakers brought the issues into the light for the all people.
VIKINGS IN AMERICA
In the 1960’s Helge Ingstad turned the accepted history of North America on its head when he discovered archeological evidence of viking settlements on the coast of Newfoundland dating 500 years before Columbus. Again, prior to that discovery many experts insisted that the idea was preposterous and mere myth.
By the 1980’s many had written off Harley Davidson as failing motorcycle company. Through Ken Schmidt and others who refused to accept status quo, they developed a transformational strategy that significantly contradicted the marketing norms of the times. In a 2011 speech, Schmidt summarized their strategy in his signature quote;
“Figure out what everyone else is doing and do something different.”
Despite the turn around at Harley, many businesses today refute this idea and cling to the ‘more of the same’ philosophy.
In THE SIXTH EXTINCTION an unnatural history, author Elizabeth Kolbert cites the example of Walter and Luis Alvarez. In 1980 the Alvarezes proposed that the massive dinosaur extinction of 65 million years ago was caused by a massive asteroid impact. Today, both the world-wide “K-T Boundary” and the massive crater off the Yucatan Peninsula are generally accepted geological evidence proving their theory. Back in the 80’s, however, many in the academic and scientific elite considered they theory to be blasphemous.
There are some innovations that are beginning to upset the status quo of this decade. Digital manufacturing and 3D printing has grown a massive following and there are those that believe it could create the next industrial revolution. But that’s not enough….everything from renewable energy to global politics could use some shake up. Hopefully there are misfits across the globe and a range of fields that will read this as a call to get back into the fight. The future of the 21st century needs you.