The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932, and took eight years to build.
In 1926, you could see the large pillars on either side of the harbour, from which the famous steel arches would start to appear a few years later. By the end of 1928, the entry roads were clearly visible leading up to these pillars, but other than that there was no ‘bridge’ (yet), and ships and ferries could pass by through the opening as they had done for decades. [In fact, if you look at the photo above, you can see exactly that in 1930 and 1931.]
By 1931 most of the arch had been completed, and the future bridge could be imagined. A year later, in March 1932, the bridge was officially opened by the then Premier of NSW, Jack Lang.
In a film clip of the event, you can hear the cheers of the onlookers and the commentator saying “Can you hear those boats? Can you hear those sirens? What a great day this is…”
Not so merry for the ferry
Many Sydneysiders know the saying ‘Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care‘. This slogan was coined by the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company in the 1920s to promote its ferries on the Manly run. Without a bridge, a ferry was the only way to get from one side of the harbour to the other.
Yet, once the bridge construction had been agreed on, and building commenced, you could literally see the thing being built above you and across the 1km+ span of the harbour.
Before the bridge was opened in March 1932, ferries took 30 million passengers a year. After, ferry patronage plummeted to 13 million.
I tell this story to remind all industries that disruption to their mainstay business is often dramatic, yet can be foreseen. But in this case, the disruption was clearly visible to the ferry companies as the bridge was literally being built above their heads!
Often disruption is not that visible. It’s slow and inexorable, eating away at your business like white ants under your floorboards. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. Putting one’s head in the sand does not protect you from its inevitability.
You may as well assume disruption is the norm. The more safe you feel, the more worried you should be. Check for white ants. Do your research. Think.
The good news is that you may have time on your side. Sydney’s harbour bridge took 9 years to build. Google took about that time to really take hold and make an impact on local advertising revenues. Same with Facebook.
It may have been that one day you looked around and suddenly Facebook and Google was all pervasive, but they took years ‘pushing the flywheel’ before they were so impregnable.
So, what are you doing in your business, in your industry, to prepare for your inevitable disruption? How are you positioning yourself so you can take advantage of the changes that are coming? Are you researching the possibilities of AI, bots, drones, AR, VR or the blockchain? All these, and more, are visible right now and making their creeping impacts.
Don’t be the ferryman, ignoring the inevitable while the seed of your destruction is being built around you. Get on a trend, because the trend is your friend.