- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

When everything pushes forward, disruptive innovation may also entail going backwards

A short piece in The Guardian announces quietly that Mercedes Benz is replacing some robots with humans. [1] Not the other way around. The Technology masters have decided that some tasks are ‘too complex for robots’ and are better carried out by humans. Later in the piece the author gives us a sort of after thought in the last lines after: it’s not only Mercedes Benz, Toyota and others have been gone into this reverse mode for a while.

Going beyond the clever headline ‘Human replaces robots’ is easier to understand the logic. In their case, the techno masters are not talking about total replacement but the replacement of the big isolated do-it-all robot by smaller robots that can act at a human command. Literally it says: ‘Car makers switch to smaller and safer robots working alongside humans for greater flexibility’

I find these news fascinating and deserving a full page of the newspaper, instead of the ones about how a particular journalist with no particular credentials pontificates about the merit of something which she obviously does not understand, whoch leaves me at her last paragraphs with two expressions, often heard loudly by my family at the other side of the room: Really? Seriously?

Going forward into a particular innovation direction can certainly side-line or totally supress an ancestor. This is true for the fax machine, for example, a piece of equipment that I keep in the museum corner of my office, and which had prompted in the past my teenagers to say things such as ‘but where is the keypad?’ or ‘what is the point?’.

Nobody expects to go back and communicate via telegraph either, or use those ‘portable telephones’ the size of a shoebox with a black thing sticking out. But it would be equally naïve to think that everything forward always uses the same pattern.

There are a few marktwainian ‘deaths largely exaggerated’ here. And one of particular delight to me is the book, the physical book, which sales are actually going up.

Human may become a disruptive innovation for robots. Physical books may be disruptive innovation for the digital and e-stuff-to-be-read epidemic.Fface to face conversations is already serious disruptive innovation for social media and screen to screen. A letter, a physical letter, OMG, the most disruptive of all.

‘Reverse disruptive innovation’ may be an interesting territory, after all.