Is Jeremy Corbyn a little like disruptive technology?
The Economist made a courageous attempt recently of drawing a parallel between Innovators Dilemma, a theory about disruptive technology and the current political situation in the UK. It was good starting point, but the Economist didn’t fully see the link.
Innovators Dilemma, a theory developed by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, looked at how companies that are atop of their industry for some time, can then fail? And to this end, he focused on the disc drive business, because: “Nowhere in the history of business has there been an industry like disc drives where changes in technology, market structure, global scope, and vertical integration have been so pervasive, rapid and unrelenting.”
The disc drive business went through four major shifts from 14-inch, used in mainframes to eight inch in mini computers, 5¼ inch used in desktops PCs, and 3½ inch in laptops.
What Christensen found was as long as technology was advancing, even if it was advancing very rapidly, the makeup-up of the industry barely changed. The disruption occurred when new technology emerged that was initially inferior to established technology in all key respects, and instead only applied to a new and apparently niche market.
It seems that in almost every case, the leading companies in an industry overlooked this new emergent area, often dismissing it is as not serious, little more than toys, or products for kids.
So, for example, Nokia and RIM, the makers of the Blackberry, dismissed the idea of a touchscreen phone. Blockbusters dismissed the idea of sending DVDs by post and not charging fines for late returns.
Now look at the political climate.
Is it possible that the Tories neglected a niche, but a niche that is becoming more important – namely the younger vote?
A YouGov study shows that 66 per cent of 18-19 year olds voted Labour – 19 per cent Conservative. 62 per cent of 20-24 year olds voted Labour. The turnout was much higher among this age group that it has been for many years.
But maybe it is an age group that has been neglected. The baby boomers have done well in recent years. While the rising cost of living has often eroded into real pay, causing wages after inflation to fall, pensions have gone up with inflation, sometimes by more than inflation.
Surging house prices have largely benefited the baby boomer generation, leaving younger people without access to the so-called bank of Mum and Dad in a near hopeless situation.
Meanwhile, the younger generation have had to grapple with fees for university tuition, while a significant number do not expect to be as well off as their parents in the future.
But there is a wider point. This younger generation is made up mainly of what they call digital natives. Such individuals tend to have a more open, outward way of looking at the world – with less emphasis on the command and control way of doing things. People who have dealt with digital transformation may well be familiar with these issues.
The mindset that leads people to vote for, say, Donald Trump, tends towards a more hierarchical way of looking at the world – even patriarchal.
Up to now, the younger voters have not been important in elections – which is why they were unable to turn the tide in the EU referendum, despite the majority of younger people being pro Remain.
By focusing on this age group, Jeremy Corbyn has targeted a niche and created a brand identity among this age group which is much stronger than the Tory image.
Not all of the older voters get this. A recent article in the Times suggested younger people are not fit to vote – how else can you explain their decision to vote Labour – a paraphrase.
Truth is, the economy has been failing the younger generation for years, creating very low expectations of future earnings, for example.
By paying less attention to this group, it does feel as if the Tories have been the victims of disruption – or at least of innovators dilemma.