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Futurist keynote, Oxford: The Future of Disruption, University of Oxford


The pace of disruption is accelerating, and many argue that today is the slowest we will ever move again. In this presentation I discuss the why the pace of disruption accelerating, and the reason why it’s going to switch gears and get even faster, and I shine a light on how it’s already impacting every industry on Earth.


Firstly thanks to the team for inviting me back again to the prestigious University of Oxford to talk about and discuss disruption and disintermediation in today’s and tomorrow’s world, the grounds of New College never fail to impress, and I always find it humbling to talk about the future in a place, that ostensibly, is one of the key contributors helping to create it.

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Throughout the day, huddled in a centuries old classroom on the third floor, the audience and I discussed disintermediation and its impact on every industry, from energy and FMCG to insurance. It was interesting to see that, with the exception of FMCG, everyone felt the incumbents, not the disintermediators, were going to be the ones to win out in the long run.


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In one way this is probably due to the fact that nowadays more incumbents are switching on to the fact that the status quo is increasingly under threat, whether it be from entrepreneurs, technology, or both, and that their industries could be transformed almost overnight. As a consequence, and something I’m seeing, because as you’ll see from the video I’m the one standing in the middle of the fire, they’re investing more in horizon scanning and spending more time at the fringes trying to decode the future and decode disruption so they aren’t caught out. After all, you can only be affected by disruption if you either don’t see it coming in the first place, hence the term, or, alternatively if you see it and then don’t take action to negate its impact.

That said though, I know for a fact that if we ran the same exercise in one of London’s accelerators, or Station F in Paris where I’m headed to next week to discuss sustainable futures, that it would be the disintermediators wiping the floor with the incumbents all the way to the stock exchange. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere about bias… but I’ll leave that to the psychologists.

While disruption, like innovation before it, is quickly becoming the word “du jour” the word disintermediation, which originally found press fame in 2015 and 2016 now seems to be occupying far fewer column inches, so it was interesting to thrust it back into the spot light in such luminary surroundings. For example, being geeky if you search Google for disintermediation only 472,000 results come back compared to 115,000,000 for disruption and if you’re interested innovation comes in with just a paltry 2,180,000,000 results.


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Do we have a winner?

Over the course of the day the teams came to the conclusion that, with the right insights, technology and execution everything can be disintermediated – whether it’s Ethereum trying to disintermediate the credit card companies, supermarkets disintermediating the high street grocers decades ago or renewables disintermediating the nuclear power industry, and a million things besides. We also came to the conclusion there is no single magic formula that drives or fuels disintermediation, there are many.

Moving onto disruption there was a consensus that the rate of disruption is accelerating and it’s becoming cheaper, faster and more viral over time, however, as my presentation then went on to show there are reasons why that’s the case, and, arguably, we haven’t seen anything yet – the rise of creative and innovative machines that can build, operate a scale Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAO’s) at near zero cost is becoming a reality at the same time that industries are being hit by not one, not ten, but hundreds of exponential technologies, from AI, Blockchain, Machine Vision and Robotics to Gene Editing, Nanotechnology, Renewables and many more besides. If there’s one thing to be said for the future it’s going to be complicated, disruptive and seats of your pants stuff.

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