Steve Wozniak: Companies Need a Chief Disruption Officer

October 29, 2015

Contributor: Susan Moore

The great things in life you have to think of yourself, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told delegates at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on the Gold Coast, Australia.

Sharing his views on how organizations should tackle disruption, Apple co-founder and chief scientist at Fusion-IO Steve Wozniak said leaders need to look further ahead. “Entire industries are disrupted or shaken, but never right away,” he observed. “You have to notice change coming.” He cited Blackberry and Nokia as formerly leading companies that were disrupted by other brands.

“Companies that really care about this have a chief disruption officer,” said Mr. Wozniak. “Someone to look out for what is coming, for what might disrupt your own business.” While Mr. Wozniak is known as a passionate advocate for engineers, he said engineers adding cool new features to a product “doesn’t make the world a better place.”

A company needs someone with a clear vision, like Elon Musk, who wanted a car that suited his own life and founded Tesla, the first successful car start up in the U.S. since 1927. “The great things in life you have to think of yourself,” said Mr. Wozniak. “Someone who loves the product has to drive the business, someone who wants it for themselves and is excited about it.” So what is Mr. Wozniak excited about?

Auto-driving Cars

One of the biggest technologies of the future is the self-driving car, which will dramatically change not just the automotive industry but the world. There will be fewer accidents. The insurance industry will shrink. However, it’s going to take a long time for people to trust it. "In 20 years, no human drivers will be allowed except for young kids at Disneyland," said Mr. Wozniak.

Drone Deliveries

It has to happen, Mr. Wozniak said, as drones get better and better. Once seeing and sensing technologies like those in auto-driving cars are incorporated into drones, it will make sense for many products to be delivered this way. Mr. Wozniak said he loved the thought of ordering a pizza late at night and having it delivered to his doorstep in 15 minutes by a drone.

Human-Centric Design

“I just want to speak and get answers,” said Mr. Wozniak. “I get upset when human beings program things that don’t work the way you expect them to.” Tools like Apple’s Siri represent a huge step forward in human centric design.

Battery Technology

While there have only been two major advancements in the past – the advent of nickel–metal hydride and lithium ion batteries – watch this space for innovations to come. On the flip side, what technology scares Mr. Wozniak? “I’m very much on the side of privacy,” said Mr. Wozniak. As a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil rights organization for digital equipment in the U.S., he sees monitoring technology that spies on individuals through such things as face recognition and keystroke logging as a big concern.

“What technology permits should not interfere with what a human is,” he said. He also sees cybersecurity as one of the most important technology issues today. “It comes out at almost every conference I am at,” said Mr. Wozniak, expressing concern about data breaches affecting people and companies.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Mr. Wozniak is passionate about education, particularly early school years, and said he taught fifth graders at a Californian school for eight years in secret. “It’s less important what you teach than the feeling you give to kids, the motivation you give them. In school we often limit people's passion and don’t accommodate it. Many kids give up and stop thinking education is important. We need to make classes fun,” he said.

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