Sponsored by Oregon Business

Age of disruption

| Print |  Email
Articles - January 2014
Monday, December 09, 2013

Cool, crappy or of-the-earth

Driverless cars, 3-D printers, government geek squads — it all smacks of cool sci-fi futurism. And yet the game-changing nature of today’s innovations is not always easy to discern. Many disruptive products or companies rarely impress on first glance, agrees Thomas Thurston. Another man of his times, Thurston is CEO of Growth Science, a firm that deploys big data-driven algorithms to predict the success of a given innovation.

“Look at Urban Airship,” he says, referring to Portland’s wunderkind push-button startup. “It’s all dressed up in sex appeal, but push-button is a cheap and crappy way to get ads. I admiringly say ‘cheap and crappy.’ Those are the ones that expand and take over the market.” With a post-IPO value of $29 million, Twitter is another example. “Talk about lame — 140 character notes. It’s not even email.”

Tech innovations today are notable for infiltrating companies outside the technology space, Thurston and others argue. With its startup incubator and FuelBand technology, for example, Nike is no longer a shoe company but a “digital sport company integrating software and hardware into product development,” observes Greater Portland Inc’s Robbins. Understanding this new business model will be key to capturing future job growth, he says.

The next tech tsunami, the “Internet of things,” will continue the flattening of the world. By 2016, people will be surrounded by thousands of sensors embedded in everyday objects — think wearable computing, smart cars, connected homes. Networked objects will change lives and drive a $30 billion market that so far lacks a dominant player, Solur observes. “Intel and Microsoft ruled the world of PCs; ARM-based processors with OIS and Android are dominating mobile.” But there is no operating system leader in the wearables space.

Solur peers at the New Relic audience. “The little money you have kept aside — you know what to do with it.”

Talk to enough people about disruption circa 2014 and a pattern amid the chaos emerges: New technologies are liquifying industry and government, opening up new business opportunities. Simultaneously, skyrocketing global demand for food, water and energy is putting a premium on decidedly old-fashioned assets. “They are not making farmland anymore,” Equilibrium Capital’s Dave Chen tells me. “So he who owns farmland will have a very good asset for a long period of time.”

Chen says the most interesting disruptions occurring today are occurring in the "rerouting of value flows" in the natural resource and sustainability sectors. He cites a landmark 10-year U.S. Forest Service contract signed last spring awarding hundreds of thousands of acres of restoration work in the Malheur National Forest. The contract, which enabled the Malheur Lumber Company, the last remaining mill in Grant County, to stay open, moves away from traditional timber contracts to place a monetary value on restoration, such as reducing wildfire threats and improving habitat — while also providing jobs.

Another example is a water-trading credit scheme championed by local environmental groups such as the Freshwater Trust, in which polluters buy and trade “credits” embodied in restoration projects instead of investing in higher-cost pollution control technologies. “It has the potential to rewrite how conservation is done in the waterways of the United States,” Chen says. “That’s not hyperbole.”

Without exception, everyone I interviewed for this story spoke in hyperbolic terms. It’s enough to make one play devil’s advocate. Do we really live in an age of disruption? After all, the history of the world is the history of disruption — and disruptive technology: the wheel, the railroad, the telephone. As for end-of-the-world rhetoric around depletion of resources, doesn’t every generation think of itself as the apocalyptic generation? When I was a child, I went to bed every night terrified of nuclear war. Imagine living in Japan, or Dresden, during WWII.

But if hyperbolic thinking is part of the human condition, every generation puts its own stamp on the process. And as we adapt to the next disruptive phase, three distinguishing characteristics are worth noting. First, the United States is no longer immune to the unpredictable and often destabilizing economic and environmental forces we are accustomed to observing in other parts of the world. Second, technology has accelerated incidences of disruption. And third, the tech entrepreneur is now considered the driver of both social and business model innovation. Perhaps more than government or the citizen activist, the startup has come to represent the change we want to see in the world.

Ours is an era in which everyone imagines herself a transformer — or feels the pressure to transform. This past October, Portland-based Mercy Corps hired Google’s former senior engineering director, Ann Mei Chang, for the newly created position of chief innovation officer. One of a small number of tech executives moving into the international aid arena, Chang embodies the cultural zeitgeist. “We’re interested,” she says, “in things that are game changing.”

 



 

More Articles

Everything old is new again: How the EEOC is reinventing itself

Contributed Blogs
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
BY TAMSEN LEACHMAN | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

It is important to understand the EEOC’s priorities, and ensure that your leadership understands the shifting expectations of regulators and the heightened standards to which you (and they) may be held.


Read more...

10 quotes explaining crisis at Port of Portland

The Latest
Friday, February 20, 2015
022015 port portland OBM-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The ongoing labor disputes at the Port of Portland came to a head two weeks ago when Hanjin, the container port's largest client, notified its customers it would be ending its direct route to Oregon.


Read more...

Get on the bus!

April 2015
Thursday, March 19, 2015
BY APRIL STREETER

How the private sector can ride the next transit revolution.


Read more...

Beyond Bodegas

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Five years in the making, the Portland Mercado — the city’s first Latino public market — will celebrate its grand opening April 11. A $3.5 million public-private partnership spearheaded by Hacienda CDC, the market will house 15 to 20 businesses in the food, retail and service sectors. It has some big-name funders, including the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and JPMorgan Chase. The project goals are equally ambitious: to improve cross-cultural understanding, alleviate poverty and spur community economic development. 


Read more...

ZoomCare rolls out new on-demand health clinics

News
Monday, March 02, 2015
zoomcarethumbBY KIM MOORE |  OB RESEARCH EDITOR

Portland-based healthcare provider ZoomCare said it plans to “remake American healthcare” by expanding its on-demand urgent care model to emergency, surgery, dental and primary care, among others.


Read more...

Photos from the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon awards celebration

The Latest
Friday, February 27, 2015
IMG 9975cneditPHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Images from the 2015 celebration of Oregon's great workplaces.


Read more...

Uncertainty about convention center hotel could cost Portland an NBA All-Star Game

The Latest
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
463545460BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

NBA commissioner: "I would love to end up having an All-Star Game in Portland. It's really just a function of ensuring that we can fit in town."


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS