Disruptive Technologies – Understand, Evaluate, Respond

Review of Paul Armstrong’s book

Book details

  • Publisher: Kogan Page; 1 edition (May 28, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0749477288
  • ISBN-13: 978-0749477288
  • Price: £19.99 paperback

How can organisations meet the challenge of technological disruption?

Paul Armstrong

Disruptive Technologies offers a very practical approach to taking
the next steps in an increasingly complex technological world. Its
unit of analysis is the organisation – public or private – and it bases
itself around a key model developed by the author over many years.
We are essentially offered a blueprint for meeting the challenges of
technological disruption.

This book isn’t a deep dive into any specific disruptive technology.
Though we are offered snapshots of the headline disruptive
technologies such as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, nanotechnology,
3D Printing, Artificial Intelligence, we are also offered the important
insight of “collision”. These are not discrete technologies; they are in
interaction, in change. And that change is unpredictable. I do feel
there is more scope here to dive deeper into that collision. You can
find plenty written about each specific technology elsewhere, but it is
this collision that will become more interesting and also more critical
in terms of successful adaptation and exploitation of what is
emerging in the tech space. Armstrong convincingly prepares us for
this collision.

The challenge of big data

The author points to the increasing complexity in our world. Big data alone will not necessarily bring benefits
to public and private organisations. The real challenge is one of analysis, presentation and utilisation of that
data in very practical ways.

The author is drawing on decades of practical experience, and therein lies the heart and also the virtue of the
book. We are essentially offered a model, in both a simpler and a more elaborated form. The book’s eleven
chapters are full of insights and offer immediate advice and direction for leaders in the tech space.
Commitment and sign-off is key, Armstrong notes. We have to start taking the millennial generation
seriously, and a culture of openness does not have to mean radical organisation redesign towards new
models such as holocracy. This is a pragmatic book that never becomes idealistic for its own sake. If you
are looking for realisable next steps, you’ll find them well articulated in this book.

A TBD framework

Armstrong’s TDB Framework (Technology, Behaviour, Data) is deceptively simple. It is both a way of seeing
technology and also a practical approach. At the heart of this is the need for ongoing flexibility and a culture
of openness. We cannot wait to adapt – we need to foster flexibility now, if we are to be ready for the
challenges and opportunities in the future. The book is written with a realism I found convincing and
accessible. The model of ‘complex TBD’ is essentially a model of change, very people-focused, rooted in
clear objectives, targeted, investment-focused and ultimately, strategic. It feels involvement-based,
recognising that most organisations are still fairly hierarchical and top down. It won’t sit as easily with those
pursuing more horizontal forms of organisation.

I enjoyed this book and feel it has a valuable place in C-Suite Conversations as well as on the physical or
virtual desk of those entrusted with meeting the challenge of technological disruption in the organisational
setting – the leaders and catalysts of change.

The style of writing is accessible and feels like a conversation with a barefoot thinker and practitioner of
change and business transformation. Tech can be bad for us, but it can also be loaded with possibility and
potential. Yet un-rooted in informed and wise decision-making, it can also be managed badly by the cultural
norms of the business. People can mismanage its potential and its implementation. There are real examples
throughout the book as well as a forthright style of advocacy of what felt to me like a very holistic approach to
meeting the challenge of disruptive technology. A few more depth case examples would deepen and enrich
the book. It isn’t a long book; it has an economy of style that makes it ideal for taking on a business trip.

Relevance to AMED 2020?

Why is this book relevant for AMED members? It offers a highly readable and applied overview of disruptive
technology. It serves as both a primer and a guide for those involved in managing technological change. It is
a prescriptive book, but the prescription is born of wide experience and ultimately takes a dual people and
strategy centred approach. I could certainly see this book on the reading list of education and training
programmes in the fields of business and technology management.

A book loaded with practical advice, this is such a rapidly changing field, so I’d also defend not including

more specific examples as a smart move. What we have here is a resilient approach to encountering
disruptive technology presented in a holistic and effective way that will remain relevant in the challenging
years ahead.

About the reviewer

Paul Levy is a senior researcher at the University of Brighton in the field of Innovation Management, as well
as an associate at Warwick Business School where he teaches Digital Innovation. He is the author of the
books Digital Inferno and The Poetry of Change. You can contact Paul by e-mail at paul@cats3000.net.

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