Product Marty Cagan

Technology-Powered Disruption

Most people by now have read Marc Andreessen’s Why Software Is Eating The World.   This was written back in 2011, and I’ve been watching his predictions play out in companies all around the world.  While my focus is primarily on technology-powered software products, services and devices, I’m also very interested to find other industries where the techniques of modern product are used to disrupt their spaces.

If you have not yet directly experienced a Tesla, you should absolutely find a way to do at least a test drive.  Truly exceptional tech product work, disrupting a very difficult and entrenched industry in so many respects.  Of all the amazing technology achievements of the past decades, I personally find this one the most impressive.  You can learn more in the recent Elon Musk biography.

Similarly, if you admire the work of Pixar, you should read the book Creativity, Inc. to understand how this amazing company created a culture and the techniques from the best technology companies to consistently create exceptional animated feature films, blending creative talent with technology in the best sense, and in the process disrupting a stagnant industry.  I find especially encouraging how Pixar’s leadership later brought those same techniques and culture to the buried talent at Disney Animation, which lead to their turnaround.  If anyone doubts the power of true leadership and culture, or if you believe that a company that has lost it’s product mojo is not capable of finding it again, this is one of my favorite examples.

Yet another industry that is similarly long overdue for major disruption is medicine.  Of course, in some respects we have seen remarkable progress here, in particular in the treatment of specific diseases, but in terms of general medicine it can seem like a hopeless quagmire of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, malpractice lawyers, food lobbies, and government intervention.  While these institutional issues persist, there is a new branch of medicine which has applied the techniques of technology-powered product, especially data science, personalization, and the principles of rapid test and learn behind discovery, to work to disrupt the health-care industry.  One of the pioneering doctors in this space is Silicon Valley’s own Dr. Mike Nichols, and he recently released a new book Quantitative Medicine: A Definitive Guide to Getting Well, Staying Well, Avoiding Disease and Slowing Aging.  This book represents his life’s work in the multi-disciplinary, and inter-related, areas of medicine and lifestyle choices involving nutrition, exercise, sleep and the role of spirituality or meditation.  If Google, Facebook, Amazon, (or Tesla or Pixar) were to tackle the problem of general health the way they tackle other hard problems, I believe they’d take a similar approach.

For the past few years I’ve been part of a cohort of people testing out the quantitative medicine techniques, so I’ve been experiencing it first-hand.  I am happy the book is out because it’s been exhausting trying to explain the methods to everyone that’s been asking.  I do think this is an important book for people to read, for their own health and longevity.

Whether it’s transportation, entertainment, health care, or any other industry, I fully expect we’ll see new companies and teams emerge that apply the techniques of technology-powered products to disrupt their industries.  And of course we’ll continue to see many long-entrenched players pretend this isn’t happening, or spend their energies trying to protect what they have built in the past through litigation and lobbying rather than innovation.