Getting some perspective on disruption and disrupters

Today's Legal Affairs section of The Australian urged us to learn lessons from the successful law firms that embrace disruption. It is one of many articles across the business and financial media which are full of advice about how to deal with 'disrupters', -  some of which is useful and helpful.

But the underlying message is that somehow the challenges facing many businesses today are special and different and so deserve a special and different (and more threatening) name. The reality is quite different.

Before I established my own business I was a fledgling lawyer. I could see then, as I made my way up the ladder of promotion in the firm that disruption was alive and well. It looked different then and it did not yet have its threatening name, but make no mistake disruption was at play across the professional firms I worked with and the business clients we serviced. For lawyers, moves to end fixed scales of costs and the loosening of rules regarding advertising, for example, threatened their existing and long-standing business model. The swelling tide of immigration changed labour utilisation and business practices  and challenged the social order and institutions that regulated them.

Disruption is an ongoing force of nature and has always been with us. The only difference today is the pace. That is not all bad. In earlier times, some disruptive trends were so subtle and undetectable to the untrained eye that they were overlooked until their impact was fatal.

But all of us in business have always needed to observe and anticipate disruption - structuring our businesses to build in flexibility and an appetite for reinvention to keep us in the market and ensure our businesses endure.

Microeconomics, despite its disappointing and misleading name, is not just economics for the short-sighted and small of stature. If we want to manage and lead a successful business or build our own, future-proofing needs to be a way of life.

The rise of the portfolio career is the perfect example of how successful, well-branded individuals have managed to develop multiple opportunities for their talents - building on the skills they have and adding new skills to their repertoire as the clients and customers that seek them out want to engage differently.

It has been and will always be so.