Bloomberg Businessweek's Top 85 Disruptive Ideas in the Last 85 Years

Some of you may have seen this already so it's a bit old but I just ran across it and found it interesting. It may have been at the end of 2014, but whenever it was, for its 85th anniversary, Bloomberg Businessweek published its top 85 disruptive ideas.

Note that this is just the top ideas over the life of the magazine (i.e. last 85 years) so it isn't a list of  the best ideas of all time. Furthermore, the magazine, and hence the list, is US-centric so many ideas that had a bigger impact on the world are missing. Businessweek was also famous for being a business magazine that was more focused on cultural issues, science and technology, and various other topics usually not covered in serious business magazines. There is also lots of recency bias--I wouldn't list Google,, and Al Qaeda so high up on the list. It's also debatable how some items that may have profound impact in the future but haven't produced any major impact presently should be rated (a good example is DNA sequencing, which is ranked at #25, but might have a bigger impact than most of the top 25).

What I like about this list is how it includes all sorts of diverse topics, ranging from business to politics to social science. It has some unusual cultural items that most others wouldn't rank in any of the their lists. It is more thought-provoking than the usual top list. This means that lots of people will disagree with the rankings. For instance, the basketball shoe, Air Jordan by Nike is listed at #45, whereas, say, the development of Black-Scholes formula for pricing derivatives is at #60. I, as well as many others, will rank the formula higher (since the massive derivatives industry would not have grown so big and companies wouldn't have become as reliant if it weren't for the quantification and pricing of such securities).

An eclectic list for sure. If you have time to kill, scroll through the list. I have listed the top 25 with my brief comments in square brackets.

Bloomberg Businessweek Top 85 Most Disruptive Ideas over the Last 85 Years

1. The Jet Engine 1958 Pan Am inaugurates daily Boeing 707 service across the Atlantic. [Definitely a major invention that brought the world closer together. I would put this lower since it is just the jet engine and doesn't refer to the invention of flight which happened earlier.]

2. Microchips 1947 Researchers at Bell Labs invent the transistor, the critical first step toward development of the microchip [I would probably put this as #2. My #1 would be the Internet but it isn't listed as such.]

3. Green Revolution 1965 Disease-resistant wheat seeds developed by Norman Borlaug are intro­duced in India and Pakistan. [Huge impact that is often ignored and not understood by many]

4. Wal-Mart 1962 Sam Walton opens the first Walmart store. Read the story 5. [Probably belongs near the top. Walmart revolutionized American retailing and pioneered the newly invented "big box" store concept.]

5 TV 1934 Philo Farnsworth stages the first public demonstration of an all-electronic television system at Philadelphia’s ­Franklin Institute. [No comment. A major impact on society.]

6. Google 1998 Larry Page and Sergey Brin develop a search engine that ranks Web pages based on how many other pages link to them. [Overrated; maybe would belong high on the list in another 20 years if Google can maintain its dominance.]

7. Junk Bonds 1989 Kohlberg Kravis Roberts uses junk bonds to finance its $26 billion hostile takeover of RJR Nabisco. [Major impact on Wall Street finance, particularly capital structure of corporations. However, should be ranked lower than some of the ones listed further below like credit cards and securization (Ginne Mae 1970).]

8. The Manhattan Project 1941 Franklin Roosevelt approves the creation of a secret program aimed at developing an atomic bomb. [Hard to rank this given how it didn't impact the world in a continuous manner, but it played a big political role in the mid to late 20th century.]

9. The Pill 1960 Enovid is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the first oral contraceptive. [Big impact on social behaviour.]

10. Apple 1976 The Apple I computer goes on sale for a retail price of $666.66. [Should be ranked lower.]

11.  Al-Qaeda  1988 Al-Qaeda is formed in Peshawar, Pakistan. [Overrated and should be further down the list.]

12 Global Warming -- 1988 James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, introduces the idea of “global warming” to the public at a Senate hearing in Washington. [Verdict is still out and it will only be obvious in a few decades.]

13 Venture Capital 1946 Georges Frederic Doriot establishes the first institutional private equity ­investment firm, American Research and Development, to invest in businesses run by World War II veterans. [Should be further down the list. It was an important development but limited in scope.]

14 The Cubicle 1968 Design firm Herman Miller introduces the Action Office II workspace. [Probably should be higher up if you look at cultural impact on corporate life]

15 GPS 1983 President Reagan signs an executive order allowing ­civilian use of the Pentagon’s Global Positioning System. [Important development]

16 Shipping Container 1956 The first container ship, the SS Ideal-X, carries 58 containers from Port Newark, N.J., to the Port of Houston. [Should be in the top 10 or maybe even top 5. The modern global trade system and intermodal transportation would be far less effective without this invention.]

17 Fixed-Rate Mortgage 1933 The Home Owners’ Loan Corp. introduces a 15-year, self-amortizing home loan. [Probably had a bigger impact on the economy than many other finance or economics items listed here]

18 McDonald's 1954 After visiting the McDonald brothers at their restaurant in San Bernardino, Ray Kroc signs on to be McDonald’s first franchising agent, launching the world’s biggest fast-food empire. [Revolutionary development that altered the notion of a restaurant and dining out, especially if you look at in combination with later developments such as the drive-thru.]

19 Credit 1950 Frank McNamara, the founder of Diners Club Card, charges dinner at Major’s Cabin Grill in New York—the first transaction made with a credit card. [Hard to imagine that credit cards started out as restaurant cards]

20 1994 Jeff Bezos founds an online bookstore in his suburban Seattle garage. [Amazon could turn into a major development but right now, it doesn't deserve to be this high up the list.]

21 Refrigeration 1930 DuPont manufactures Freon, sparking the adoption of residential and commercial refrigeration. [Had a big impact, not just on residential food storage and preparation, but also in transportation of goods, especially meats, across countries]

22 One-Child Policy 1979 After a decade of promoting family planning, the Communist Party of China, under the new leadership of Deng Xiaoping, introduces compulsory limits on childbearing. [Disastrous, although some might argue short-term beneficial, policy that might end up being one of the worst government mistakes in human history.]

23 HTML 1993 The first version of Hypertext Markup Language is released, effectively creating the Web. [HTML in and of itself is hard to rate and probably doesn't rank this high. But if you look at Internet in general, I think it should be #1 on this list.]

24 Perestroika 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev eases government controls on industry and allows workers’ cooperatives to set up private businesses. [Hugh impact on the world. Probably should be in top 5 or top 3. Led to the collapse of USSR, reunification of East and West Germany, independence for Eastern and Central Europe, opening up of China, etc]

25. DNA Sequencing 2000 The human genome is decoded for the first time. [Has had little impact so far but might impact the world more than anything else on this list. Who knows what the potential is but any progress on "science-fiction" concepts like cloning, genetic disease elimination, genetic reengineering, age longevity, and so forth, will have dramatic impact on humanity.]


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