The word “disruption” has become so PC that it is effectively losing its meaning. The term is being so overused that it is hard to take those who go on about it seriously anymore.
Disruption- When something is removed from or added to the current order or mix, resulting in a new and unforeseen situation or opportunity. This, by its nature, is a rare and serious occurrence. Looking at it another way:
Donald Rumsfeld laid out three levels of information available to us today, in business or politics:
1. Known knowns- We know all the information about something or someone, with no gaps or assumptions;
2. Known unknowns: We know that there are gaps in our knowledge, and we usually know where the gaps are;
3. Unknown unknowns- This is the Black Swan that nobody expected or saw coming.
To qualify to be “disruptive,” the result or action, when known, should be from the last category.
The concept of the Black Swan implies the presence of a difference maker among a world of White Swans.
But then what happens when everyone uses the term “disruption” or “disrupted” daily, and the term gets separated from its actions, becoming only meaningless words? The term loses its meaning when it is so widely used, in so many places and by so many people.
When a bank sponsors a poll of the C-Suite about disruption and asks the disrupted whether they think they will be disrupted, or disrupt, and whether either is a good thing, the concept has been so diluted as to have lost its original value; if you have to talk about it and study it before you do it, you probably are not disruptive. But you may be disrupted.
IN this case, the Black Swan becomes indistinguishable from the other swans, they having done the PC thing and dyed their feathers black.
The name may be marginalized by all the discussion, but the idea of disruptive change is not new. In fact, it goes back through evolution to our very beginnings as erect beings and before. What we can tell from evolution, and as Darwin tells us, the being that appears with a different and better trait, or who acquires some knowledge or ability that makes it superior, such as the use of fire, tools, technology, etc. is disruptive.
So the word disruption or disruptive itself is not the point. And those who use it or overuse it cannot take satisfaction from their indulgence in the term. Only those who find that fire when nobody else has really ARE disruptive-and they probably don’t care what you call what they are doing.
It turns out that the current use of the word is new (and now PC), but the concept is not. The idea of someone doing something that disturbs the current order, and, when it is successful whether through popular acclaim or results, is as old as history.
Let’s go back a little bit in time and see what disruption looked like in our recent history. Late 1960’s, the established world order is disrupted by the Vietnam War. That was the Black Swan for our society. The Unknown Unknown was the level of involvement, the tens of thousands of deaths, and it had a disruptive effect on society. Its effect on the fashion world was a pivot (another PC word) in the way young people dressed. From preppy perma press to bell bottoms and halter tops. Who was the disruptor who marketed the first pair of bell bottoms?
Today’s disruption is NOT caused by Amazon, Zara or any other of the category killers. It IS caused by the evolution of technology which enabled the disruption. So, in the end of the day, the incredible evolution of technology caused the Amazon phenomenon, not the other way around.
This is no different than Homo Sapiens learning to use fire or tools. It is today’s evolution story. The human race continues to evolve, and technology is the enabling tool.
So we should not be annoyed or distracted by the fact that anyone with a mouth or pen is free to use the word “disruptive” even if it is just talk. Let’s look at today’s evolutionary actions and where they are headed. That and only that will enrich us, or at least save us.
For example, given Amazon’s information database, the danger to its competitors is no longer disruption-it is domination. And, as Steve Dennis said on Forbes.com, the buzzword ecommerce has lost its meaning when separated from all other commerce, and has merged into the singular concept of-commerce.
When something occurs that truly changes the status quo, everybody who failed to be on the front end of that change wants to talk about it—as if, by using the PC word, such as disruptive, their failure to be the first one with the new tool or the first to use it is forgotten or forgiven.
So what is the moral of this story? Simply that words will come and go, but what really counts is the action. If you don’t want to be part of the crowd who is talking about something they didn’t have the vision to do and who is figuring out how to catch up, be the first with the tool. OR, take the appropriate actions to get in front of the evolution. Talking can’t do that.
Finally, disruption is really just evolution. Enabled by some force or development that has evolved, the disruptors are the carpe diem actors who seize the opportunity to lead the pack in our next step of evolution.
Where are you on the evolutionary scale? As in Darwin’s work, those who fail to evolve, or do so too late, are headed for extinction.