Why futurist Ben Hammersley urges us not to be gleeful about digital disruption

He may be a renowned technologist, but on the subject of digital disruption Ben Hammersley remains resolutely human.

Speaking to The Drum at DigitasLBi’s UK NewFront event, the journalist and broadcaster said that the kind of Silicon Valley disruption that the marketing industry has become fascinated by in recent years “hides an enormous amount of misery”.

“Many disruptive things are socially disastrous. Now we’ve spent 20 years doing this we have to start to think about disruption not as unalloyed good,” Hammersley said.

The Wired contributing editor pointed to Kodak, which was put out of business by digital photography and the smartphone revolution, as an example of the real impact disruption can have. “Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. Kodak was the only employer in Rochester, the whole city went bankrupt.

“[Disruption] is entertaining, in a grim way. It’s exciting, in a grim way. But I wouldn’t be gleeful about disruption anymore. Because an awful lot of it encourages huge amounts of inequality, huge amounts of personal suffering, huge amounts of pain and so on. And so yeah, we’re going to see a lot more of it – but that’s not necessarily a good thing.”

In our video interview, which you can see above, Hammersley shared his views on the reasons businesses get disrupted and why “internal innovation is never rewarded”.

In fact, he said, innovation is "almost always discouraged because everybody is too busy trying to keep the ship moving in a straight line to worry about inventing a helicopter".

"Most organisations will reject innovation. Maybe not immediately, but over the medium term they get rid of it as fast as they can because it’s a challenge and a threat to the organisation itself – to the very social structure of the company. So the question isn’t so much how do we get innovation but what are the forces that are holding things still?"

The Drum will be posting more videos on the theme of transformation from Digitas LBi’s UK New Front throughout this week. Watch yesterday's interview with Jimmy’s Iced Coffee founder Jim Cregan on telling an authentic brand story on social media.

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