"In the light of all the things that will change, one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves today is: ‘OK, what’s not going to change in 10 years?"

It’s all about disruption

The circular economy is all about disruption, and using new technology to change the way we act, produce and consume. But many still see disruptive technologies as a threat rather an opportunity. The key to embracing disruption is to develop your “technological intuition” and understanding possibilities long before they become a reality, says Märtha Rehnberg, a partner and co-founder of tech advocacy firm DareDisrupt.

Invest Today So We Don’t Get Surprised Later

Rehnberg will be one of the keynote speakers at TECHNIA’s PLM Innovation Forum in October, where she will discuss the topic “Disruptive Technologies – what they are and why they matter to the Circular Economy.” One of her main messages is that the digital nature of disruption means they have a different pace of development compared to traditional models.

“Older technologies penetrate the market in a linear fashion; digital technology often penetrates markets exponentially,” she says.

“When something is exponential it moves really slow in the beginning and then suddenly it takes off, and that’s when we get surprised. The most important basic rule when it comes to disruptive technologies is to invest today so we don’t get surprised later.”

The Technology Moves so Fast, We Have to Keep up the Track

That’s a lesson that Rehnberg herself had to learn the hard way. While working for Danish shipping giant Maersk, she pioneered a ground-breaking project to introduce 3D printing of certain parts onboard vessels. But when she pitched her investment strategy for the company board, she discovered a problem. “The technology had moved so fast and I had only linear assumptions in my analysis. I had looked at the past five years and then I projected that linearly into the future, the way I learned in business school.

When I came to the board, there was suddenly new technology that was 100 times faster. There was one open-source project for metal 3D printing that cost $1,500 and I had an estimate of a million dollars. That’s when I realised that we’re not studying these technologies, and we need to,” Rehnberg said. Since then, Rehnberg has been an advocate of strategic disruption and developing technological applications that are environmentally sustainable. Her efforts and public speaking engagements have earned her recognition as a ‘Leader of Tomorrow’ by the St Gallen Symposium for three consecutive years.

Technological Intuition is About Looking for the Ripple Effect

Rehnberg also urges people to look at the “ripple effects” of new technology, and understanding what new possibilities they create in different sectors. Digital photography, for instance, may have caused Kodak to go bankrupt – but it also paved the way for self-driving cars and new surveillance methods that are changing society as we know it.

“Technological intuition is about looking for the ripple effects and looking at how new technology creates new markets that weren’t there before, and it can even change who we are as humans,” she says.

And that’s where the Circular Economy comes in as a Huge Opportunity Space for Disruptive Technologies

At the PLM Innovation Forum, Rehnberg will go over several examples of new technology that enable a circular economy, including a nationwide 3D printing lab in Denmark that she helped write the vision for. Because while disruptive technologies will affect all industries, Rehnberg strongly believes they should have one thing in common.

“In the light of all the things that will change, one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves today is: ‘OK, what’s not going to change in 10 years?’ And one of the areas that won’t have changed is our focus on the environment and climate change. And that’s where the circular economy comes in as a huge opportunity space for disruptive technologies,” she says.

Text: Mattias Karén, EdWork