Innovation is unavoidable.
It’s the evolutionary advantage that made us humans so successful; “survival of the fittest”. But this can leave one wondering if there’s room for both innovation and tradition.
Our universe is increasingly tech-oriented. Everyone’s doing it; applying for jobs on LinkedIn using their iPhone, whilst buying door knobs on Amazon and selling their flat on Facebook. Technology has come to enhance the lives of most of the developed world but what does this mean for new businesses and SMEs who are in favour of the more time-honoured approach?
What is traditionalist industry and how has it been disrupted?
Well, in basic terms it can be defined as any business which is serviced, or produces, via traditional methods. The list is large, but examples could include: craft-working, manufacturing, housing, locomotion, food and beverage, hospitality, farming, and so on.
Britain has had an illustrious industrial history – a shining beacon during the Industrial Revolution – but increasing automation (hugely disruptive) quickly changed the face of the production line. Disruptive tech crept in and turned many human workers into robots – not literally, of course – and in doing so, reduced costs and increased productivity.
By comparison, the evolution of personal tech happened so quickly it made the transformation of manufacture look like a tortoise race.
We’d barely blinked before the internet, computers and mobile phones had moulded themselves to our palms – a constant source of information, communication and entertainment that almost 3.5 billion people across the globe enjoy today. 88% of the world’s population now own some kind of mobile device and over 40% of those own a smartphone – arguably one of the biggest disruptive technologies to come out of this century.
Disruptive innovation seeks to take existing business methods and “create businesses, products and services that are better – less expensive and more creative, useful and impactful – and scalable”, as summarised by Forbes.
So it’s little wonder that, in today’s high-speed, high-performance society, there’s a nervousness about what this means for established practices and new traditionalist enterprises.
Who are the key Disruptors of our time?
Startups are, by their nature, industry featherweights, but they are capable of delivering devastating blows when it comes to innovation; I’m going with the Airbnbs, Ubers, and Kickstarters.
It’s the online, low cost to consumer, self-serve-friendly option that these types of businesses offer which has irreversibly shaken up each of their respective sectors. Why use middlemen or pay over the odds for something you could arrange yourself, in a completely hassle-free way?
And Kickstarter – a very relevant mention – comes along and gives new/small businesses and individuals the ability to pitch their company or project to a whole public – vastly increasing opportunity for engagement and investment. Pretty cool.
Does tradition still have a place?
We all know that consumers have no time these days and, as we’ve just highlighted, disruptive technologies gain favour through taking the chore out of things.
That said, things are looking up for those whose business doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel.
The UK recently seems to have become re-enamoured with the concept of craftsmanship and this bodes well for startups who wish to take a more traditional approach to their work.
Take the food and beverage sector, for example.
How often do we hear the term “craft”, “artisan” or “organic”, in reference to the things we consume these days? With increasing cynicism about processing and origin, there’s a real appetite for the hand-made – driven by a better informed consumer – and it doesn’t stop there.
Jewellery, homewares, furniture-making, ceramics and many more traditional craft industries are enjoying a turn in the limelight off the back of the artisan movement and thanks, in large, to e-commerce sites such as Etsy, made.com and Folksy.
With around 12,000 small-scale craft businesses in the UK, and growing, it seems that traditionalism may be making a comeback in this digital age, and it can receive a leg-up from innovative e-commerce.
Annie Warburton, the Crafts Council’s creative programme director, notes that the return to traditional making techniques has, in part, been a reaction to the new virtuality of our world but it has also flourished because of the affordability of technology. Thank you disruptive tech.
Abi Simmons, small business owner and maker of children’s home accessories heralds digital as a driving force behind the hand-made movement: “Up until recently craft-making was really stuck in the 70s idea of corn dollies and fetes but Folksy has really moved it forwards. Most of my sales now are pushed through Instagram and sold through Folksy”.
So there is room for a collab between tech and tradition.
The world turns faster these days and disruption will continue to happen so startups need to think of the ways that they can gain advantage from integrating tech into their model. There doesn’t need to be a revolutionary concept to ensure success – though congratulations are in order for those who can and do truly innovate.
It’s about allowing technology to enhance business. Even if this is as simple as opening an Instagram/Facebook/Twitter account to spread the word. Hard to imagine that this wasn’t even a possibility just a short time ago, so it would be shame not to make the most of it.
“Retailers that offer a more seamless and integrated experience between their physical and online stores – taking the so-called omnichannel approach – have better, but mixed, results”
All ‘Opinion’ pieces are the opinions of the author, not Quick Formations.