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The Broken and Disruptable: Evidence of Industries Vulnerable to (or, more accurately Needing) Disruption

A narrative of personal disruption, leading to evidence of industries that desperately need to be disrupted.

The Broken . . .

Broken and disrupted: this is going to cost me....

Broken and disrupted: this is going to cost me....

A few weeks ago I managed to break my foot by doing nothing more extraordinary than walking on it. I wish the story was more exciting, but I can't imagine a more dull and uninteresting way to break a foot.

There I was, packing for a business trip to Toronto when I stepped towards my suitcase and heard a loud, sharp crack, like a good-sized branch breaking, and next I knew I was on the floor in a lot of pain.

. . . and Now Disrupted

So, we went to emergency, spent about 4 or 5 hours to have a nurse practitioner confirm after looking at x-rays -- "Yup. You broke it", and then bring me a pair of crutches and a goofy looking styrofoam shoe, with instructions to see a foot doctor in the next two days. And, for all their trouble, they sent me a bill for over $2,000. You'd think that after wasting that much time, I could get more than an envelope with two pieces of film, medical supplies worth less than $20, and confirmation of something that I already knew for 2 grand.

Now, don't you wish your product or service had demand that was so inelastic that you could charge virtually anything for doing almost nothing?

Alert: Healthcare Industry Ripe for Disruption

So, I got home around 2:30am, and still had to finish packing to get to the airport first thing in the morning. You see, it wasn't just that it was too late to call anyone and postpone the trip, but it was an important strategy meeting, and people were coming from Ireland, so it would have been very costly and aggravating for everyone to cancel. Anyway, it gave me an excuse to do what I thought was the right thing.

On to Toronto

I'm going to skip the gory details of traveling with a broken foot that isn't in a proper cast yet. Suffice it to say that I suffered incredibly miserable service from an assortment of airlines (not just to Toronto, but in a subsequent trip to Portugal as well). It was a real eye-opener about how poorly people with a handicap are treated.

Alert: Airline Industry Ripe for Disruption

I'm quite fortunate that in a few weeks, I'll be back to normal -- for many this is a permanent way of life. I had no idea how frequently the needs of people with handicaps are either simply ignored, overlooked and disregarded, or, that there's a seamy underside that looks to take advantage of people who need help. Not sure who needs to be disrupted to fix this, but we could all use a wake-up call.

So, in Toronto I learned to use the crutches, and narrowly avoided a face-plant on freshly cleaned marble floors thanks to the strong arms of two guys that were walking with me. Strangely, although marble is one of the most deceptive and slippery surfaces when wet, the cleaning staff apparently didn't see the need to put out signs warning that the floors were freshly mopped. Hmmmm.

Basically, Toronto was a dry run for what it would be like flying to Portugal the following week to do a keynote address at the International Marketing Congress. I survived with the sponge slipper for a couple of days, and didn't break anything else, so we'd have to say that was a successful trip.

Oh yes, the meetings were good too.

And then Portugal

As soon as I got home from Toronto, we got to a doctor and had the foot looked at. Surprisingly, he too confirmed that the foot was broken and charged me an additional $360 for that information. No wonder healthcare costs are rising so quickly -- there is no common sense and no adequate set of controls to ensure against running up the meter, duplication of services, overcharging, etc

Sorry, there's no room for this under the seat in front of me.

Sorry, there's no room for this under the seat in front of me.

He wanted to put me in a full cast right away, but when he heard that I needed to travel to Portugal, he shook his head (I think in disgust and disbelief -- obviously he thought it was a mistake and that I should simply accept my fate and be immobilized for 6 weeks right then and there) and offered a temporary Air-Cast, which for all the world looks like a Robocop appendage.  See picture: it looks a lot like the walking cast that many are issued when they get a sprain or need extra support after getting out of a plaster cast, but it's got more tech.

Oh yes, and another $250 in the meter for that.

Neat contraption, in that it allowed me to deflate the airbags inside and/or loosen the straps as my foot and leg swelled on the plane. They advised me that if I didn't do this, there was a good chance my leg would need amputation by the time I got to the other side, and that was the reason not to put a proper cast on at that time.

When all was said and done, we'd spent another half an hour, and another approximately $800 for almost nothing. Who needs the mafia when we can simply visit a doctor?

Alert: Healthcare Industry Seriously Needs Disruption

The Air-Cast did make me a little more mobile, and certainly protected my foot better than the sponge slipper, but it was truly a hulking and inconvenient thing to have to wear.

Of course, the whole point of this story was to get to Portugal. It was my first trip there, and despite the foot, it was an immensely enjoyable visit. The people were great, the food was great, the wine even better, the seaside was great, my hotel was nice, the culture was very comfortable, my hosts were gracious and welcoming. 

In fact, the only downside was the whole airport experience. Have I mentioned that the air travel industry needs some disruption? Although not so much on the cost-saving low end -- that need is already over-served, and the corners being cut are apparent everywhere. Oh well, a future post.

Disruption Point

Appropriately enough, the conference title was The Disruption Point, and my keynote put forward the thought that Disruptive Innovation doesn't happen without Disruptive Marketing, using some case studies and graphed results from The Disruption Group's disruption scorecard tool.

As I was delivering my talk, I had an out-of-body sort of experience (I promise, it wasn't the Vicodin) when it occurred to me how ironic/appropriate it was that I was delivering a talk about innovation, marketing and disruption while I was disrupted in a wheelchair.

I'm sure it's been done before, but I don't think I've ever seen a keynote address delivered from a wheelchair. I'm guessing it happens somewhat frequently at conferences for the disabled. I suspect many speakers who had broken a foot 10 days earlier would have cancelled, but I had put a great deal of thought and effort into this and wanted to see how the audience reacted. I also wanted to go to Portugal, so the location definitely benefited the organizers.

What was especially interesting for me was to get a European view of disruption and innovation. The growing strength and especially the single market opportunity for the EU seems to have spawned a new spirit, willingness to take chances, ambition to grow, recognition of opportunities at home and around the world.

In short, European capitalism seems to have new life and there is some great energy over there, and desire to learn and try new things. In contrast, the US seems to be a little bit on the ropes right now by way of comparison.

I think we are weary of the Iraq war, the falling dollar and rising prices, especially for oil, fighting terrorism, dealing with airport hassles, the hangover from all the corporate fraud and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, the failing mortgage market and the toll it is taking on banks and homeowners, encroachment on freedoms that we have always taken for granted in the name of "enhanced security'" (an oxymoron if ever there was one).

Basically, virtually everything is in the dumps at the same time.  We need a good recession and some political and economic housecleaning to clear out the fog and get back on track.

But, I digress.

One of the more interesting people that I met was Francois Laurent, president of the French National Marketing Association. He is a crusty guy with a train of thought at least equal to the controversy I cause, as you might discern from his blog and upcoming book title "Marketing is Dead". Here's what Francois had to say about the conference (automatic translation to English version here).

My presentation was well-received and despite the disruption, the trip to Portugal was very worthwhile.

Home of Disruption

So now I'm safely home, have a full cast on my foot, and am already chafing to get rid of it. It's certainly no fun trying to do anything from visiting the restroom, to going up and down stairs, to getting dressed, to bathing, to going out anywhere. 

As I wrote in a recent email, I can't believe that we can send miniature cameras inside someone's heart and do robotic surgery controlled by a doctor 1,000 miles away, yet when it comes to healing a broken bone, we still have this archaic and inconvenient 150 year old technology to fix things. I could have arthroscopic knee surgery, or laser eye surgery, and be back to 100% in a few days, but break a bone, and your life will be disrupted for at least 6-8 weeks.

Consider me broken and disrupted.