What Steve Jobs can teach us about how to be a disrupter (and not the disrupted)

| March 4, 2016

Disrupting the status quo in business is hard, so you must believe that you’re on the right track and are doing it for the right reasons. Car Next Door’s CEO Will Davies shares how a big idea gave birth to a disruptive impulse.

Love him or loathe him, Steve Jobs did some serious disrupting in his time – and he had some great quotes about it. Like this one:

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again … shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”

We founded Car Next Door to improve what we see as a crazily inefficient system. We are not accepting the status quo. We have seen how things are, and we don’t want to just live with it. For anyone with a big idea, this is where the ‘disruptive’ impulse is born.

We saw that there is massive overproduction and excessive ownership of cars in Australia (and most other countries). They sit around for 95 per cent of the time doing nothing, but still imposing a heavy cost on their owners and our communities. Parked cars occupy up to 30 per cent of the land in our cities. And because they’re ubiquitous, people drive too much and walk, ride and catch public transport too little.  People live in their ‘I own everything I use, I share nothing’ microcosm. We can see it’s not sustainable, it’s not healthy and it’s not much fun.

By creating the scaffolding that lets people share the use of privately-owned cars – the insurance, the payment systems, the key exchange, and the communications – Car Next Door is poking at the norms that have built up around car ownership and personal transport. And something is starting to happen. Our community of people who share their cars with each other is over 13,000 thousand strong, and growing fast. It’s exciting to be making such a positive difference to something that is crying out for change.

But Car Next Door is itself a human enterprise. It’s made up of imperfect humans doing our best and creating new norms and dogmas that we live by as we grow the company. These are most likely faulty too. We recognise that it’s up to us to constantly be challenging the new norms that we’re creating. That’s why, if a customer tells us that we’re not getting it right, we go with it. We take it on board, even when it’s uncomfortable, because we might learn how to make it a bit better. We take the ‘poke’ as a little gift from someone who takes enough interest about our success to bother complaining. Most people don’t care what happens to us.

Back to the Steve Jobs’ quote: there are two aspects to it that I think will resonate for anyone who’s involved in disrupting the status quo – or trying to.

Firstly: Know that what you are doing is hard, so you need to believe that you’re on the right track, solving a big, important problem and doing it for all the right reasons.

Secondly: It indirectly tells us that we are also not perfect, and we need to be open and flexible ourselves. We need to continually be challenging our assumptions and changing, lest we become the ones who end up being at the receiving end of a new, disruptive change.



  1. Max Thomas

    Max Thomas

    March 11, 2016 at 12:02 am

    What drives things next door?

    I wondered from an early age why things had to be the way they were. I thought: where is that written in stone? Much later I took on the role of introducing environmental management systems (EMS) to semi-government organisations. The impetus for this came not from an upwelling of environmental awareness within those organisations, but from remote bureaucratic directives. So things had to appear to change so they could stay the same. To ride a groundswell of change and influence its direction from a position of popularity is a very different thing from swimming against the tide. It's when people see that progress involves real change that resistance kicks in. I think I made a difference but it very nearly ruined my health. In retirement on a couple of hectares, I see that we all end up with our own gear sitting in the shed most of the time. I tried grazing a few animals and hiring contractors to cut the grass. But you run out of feed or can't get the contractor because the same things happen to everyone else at the same time. We really ought to be sharing, but what happens if Joe's tractor dies while I'm using it? His place is too rough for my mower and, anyway, he doesn't look after his own equipment very well so it's easier and safer to 'live within the walls'. Good on you Will, it would be interesting to read how you have tackled the causes of underlying resistance. Where there's a Will… but no doubt you've heard that a thousand times.