Disrupt or be disrupted

 What are you doing today to learn something new, challenge the status quo and disrupt the industry you're working in?  Photo by Aimee Vogelsang

What are you doing today to learn something new, challenge the status quo and disrupt the industry you're working in? Photo by Aimee Vogelsang

It's the buzzword of 2016 — Disruption.

Recently I was asked to join a panel and speak at an event called 'Disrupt or be Disrupted' and it was a great experience which I'd love to share with you. I've written previously on what I think Designers need to do to stay relevant — today's article shows you a few of the hurdles I needed to jump through my career. Hurdles which forced me to learn new skills, meet new people and try new directions in my career.

    Side note: I commend Greg Branson and Carol McKay from the Design Business Council on setting up a panel of five people which was made of four women and me (I'm a male by the way). I felt proud on a few levels to sit side by side with four intelligent, successful women and have a balanced conversation about our careers and business models.
    
    It's so rare to see an event in our industry which isn't male dominated.
    
    Applause to you Greg and Carol.

At this event I was asked to speak about the disruption I've experienced throughout my career over the last 26 years and the way my business is adapting and disrupting the status quo.

This is a synopsis of the first half of my presentation which focuses on the major hurdles I feel I had to jump throughout my career. Hurdles which caused the largest amount of disruption for me, forcing me to pivot and re-evaluate my skill set and mind set at every turn.

These were critical pivot points that guided me towards new skills, new jobs, new people and at one times a complete epiphany to change the way I did business.

The recession we had to have, 1990-1991

I completed high school in the middle of a recession and a very competitive environment to gain university education. Unemployment was at record lows, and everyone was going to university to study or up-skill. The Federal Treasurer at the time said that it was 'the recession we had to have' — this didn’t fill me with confidence for my career. I got a sense that the road ahead was going to be interesting to say the least. 

Having failed to gain entrance into a design degree, I enrolled into design college and figured that art and design was going to be my staple; after all I could draw like a motherfucker and spending a day with pencil and paper in quiet solitude was (and still is) my idea of bliss.

A key point is that even though I was studying, I ensured I was always employed. I didn’t believe in the ideas of the 'suffering artist' or the 'starving student' — bills needed to be paid and life needed to be lived. I wasn’t going to put the rest of my life on pause, for academia.

Hand-made vs Mouse-made, 1992-1994

With a skill for drawing, sketching and composition; I believed I was well armed to face the industry when in fact, design was now starting to change. We went from bromides, pasteups and illustration to digital compositions and digital proofing pretty much over night. There was a mad rush to keep up with the change and learn new skills.
  
I managed to hold down a few design jobs in this time, small engagements which mostly utilised my illustrations and layout skills.  

This was the first major pivot in my career — things went from hand-made to mouse-made so I spent much time learning new skills, saving for a computer and reading about Aldus Pagemaker and QuarkXpress.

On one occasion I was offered a layout job using Aldus Pagemaker, I said I knew how to use it and could start in three weeks. I bought myself an Aldus Pagemaker 'how to' book and spent the next three weeks immersed in it.

The Internet 1.0, 1994-1999

There it was, after eventually graduating university with a degree in advertising and marketing, this thing called the Internet pops up on my radar. 

I land my first job in a digital agency around this time, and start to ride one of the biggest waves of my career. I look back at my art and design studies, my work as a designer and my studies in advertising and marketing and I'm surprised where I've ended up.  

Yet another pivot towards something new and exciting and I realise quickly that I don’t want to work in the centre. The centre was filled with agencies and businesses doing the standard/status quo. Following not leading. Mainstream free to air, not the more culturally significant, interesting and challenging type of work.

I realised here that I wanted a career that was progressive, working with organisations that are trying new things, exploring new ideas and challenging the status quo. 

These were the most influential years of my career.

Around this time (1999) I read Naomi Klein’s No Logo and I became convinced that this was what I wanted to be doing.

I realise that I want to be in the business of creating good, ethical, responsible and profitable brands that have meaning and relevance in consumers lives. I had no idea how, but it was an epiphany.

Albeit I'm learning new skills every day and being exposed to things I never knew existed. From hand-coding HTML and Actionscript to working on digital brand strategy work for some of Australia's leading organisations. We were considering user experience before it was trendy and prototyping everything from interactive television to the mobile viewing experience for football fans.

It was new, it was pioneering and it was exciting. 

The dot-com boom, 2000

It then all blew up. 

People were made redundant, businesses were acquired whilst others merged. There was an employee population movement so large I was bumping into friends and swapping stories about redundancy packages at least once a week. I realised now that I had to stay on my toes, change was going to sneak up on me and slap me in the face without fear or warning.

September 11, 2001

Some lunatics hijack planes and fly them into building killing innocent people - the events change the way we see our place in the world forever.

I feel the ripple effects of this single event for years following. Businesses and whole industries ebb and flow on the back of a fear of tourism, a change in travel appetites and fear in general.

The Internet 2.0, 2003 — 2008

The mainstream finally realised that the Internet was/is not about technology but about people. User-generated content, the rise of the API (interopability) and Time’s Person of the Year in 2006 (You) all pointed to the fact that clients now (finally) understood that communications had to be about their customers, not themselves.

I start to see a lot of bandwagon jumpers — people who dismissed the Internet in the previous decade, jump on board and embrace things like Web 2.0 and other new ideas.

The GFC, 2008 — 2009

The Global Financial Crisis was yet another recession that was forced upon us and a major hurdle that many had to jump in their careers. This event changed the way we all thought about the role of business. The mainstream started to realise that they could hold big corporates to account.

The internet in our pockets, 2010 — 2012

Around this time we began carrying the Internet in our pockets. I began experimenting with apps and made one which is still going strong [http://photify.com.au].

The rise of good business, 2014+

B Corporations, Social Entrepreneurs and ‘responsible businesses’ were the in thing in recent years. This influenced us greatly in doing more meaningful work (another post for another time) but what I saw here was clients coming to us asking for purpose, meaning and relevance to their customers lives. A different brief to what came before.


If you read through the list of hurdles above carefully, I had no say in any of them — they just happened, but I kept moving, learning and adapting as did many others who worked through these types of events in their careers.

I suggest you do the same. 

Keep learning. Keep moving forward. Keep adapting.

“Failure isn’t fatal. But failure to change might be.”
— John Wooden

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