If you work in business or read business press you have undoubtedly seen the term, disruptive technologies.
These new technologies so dramatically disrupt the status quo that they transform their entire sector. Examples include; UBER’s disruption of the limo business, smart phones of landline companies, and on-line banking the ways in which we exchange money.
From a language perspective, the term disruptive implies a kind of negative interruption. In general conversation, when we refer to something being disruptive, we are rarely pleased. We think, that person or thing disrupted my totally acceptable way of being. We rarely consider that the disruption may have saved us from mediocrity born of the consistent repetition of the status quo. Consumers more often celebrate this disruption and therefore rarely call it so. They celebrate while businesses squawk. We consumers so often benefit from the business owner’s struggle to survive.
This is not to say all change is positive. Automated customer service can drive the sanest person mad and increased trade and production has taken an indisputable toll on the environment. But much technology has only disrupted pain and discomfort. Knee replacements allow seniors to play tennis into their nineties and shoe advancements allow runners to float on cushy but supportive Nike creations.
How we think about change impacts our ability to respond.
But why talk about a business concept in a conflict blog? This new term highlights the ways in which we conceptualize change. How we think about change impacts the way we respond. Embedded in this new term is a sense of fear and concern and understandably so for those companies who will have to adapt to survive. Many do. Netflix successfully shifted from a DVD business to an on-line streaming success. They did this not because they saw streaming as disruptive, but more likely because they see it as an opportunity.
Successful business owners and true adapters have a better chance of making the leap if they ask themselves, “Where is the new opportunity?” rather than “How is this disruption ruining my business?”
Old school versus new school
If you ask a bad question, you get a poor answer. The term “disruptive technology” seems like it was born of the stereotypical “grumpy old person,” inside all of us. The part of us resistant to change and evolution…and of being pushed out by the younger and fresher. Clearly the thousands of youngsters creating and seeing to profit these changes do not consider it disruptive. They consider it progress!
But then hasn’t this always been the way of things? New generations “disrupt” the cultures, norms, and habitus of the world in which they find themselves? Today’s “grumpy old folks” once transformed civil rights, women’s rights and much more. Today, those massive disruptors now find themselves disrupted.
The natural way of things
We actually hope each generation will leap far beyond the accomplishments of the preceding, finding solutions where we found none. When we grumble about disruption, do we show our age?
Perhaps in these moments we could adopt Monopoly’s new strategy. They have taken their famous older gentleman and taught him how to ski using his canes as poles. To stay relevant the ‘old chap must learn to ski. To not be overtaken by “disruptive technology” we could try to strapping on some skis and sliding down the digital mountain with the youngsters.
Of course, we shall not abandon our well-earned wisdom; we will ski with eyes wide open and watch out for derelicts.
Disruptive for whom?
If skiing seems to extreme, than perhaps as least thinking a bit before berating advances. True, a paraplegic may find a fully operational bodysuit disruptive to a life confined to a wheelchair, but I doubt she would mind the interruption. After a few months in the new suit, she may even ask for a pair of skis.