One of the tech industry’s favorite words is ‘disruption‘. You hear it all the time. Company X is disrupting some industry. Or Company Y has been disrupted and because of that, is on the brink of going bust.
On the surface, the concept of disruption seems fairly straightforward: young companies, many propelled by new technologies, enter markets and make a huge impact, often sending larger, entrenched players into a tailspin.
The tech industry, and tech media in particular, love this concept of disruption and many in the industry shout ‘disruption‘ with great pleasure. And that’s not surprising. The concept of disruption promotes the virtues of entrepreneurship (which to be sure are real) and plays on the very powerful David versus Goliath world view. But that doesn’t mean that disruption isn’t overblown. It is.
The problem with ‘disruption‘, as it’s commonly spoken of, is not so much the concept itself but the significance it’s given. The reality is that disruption isn’t some special phenomenon; it’s called ‘change’ and it’s the natural state of the business universe. Although industries evolve at different rates, all industries, in some way or another, are in a constant state of change. That change always benefits some players over others, and sometimes the larger players get the short end of the stick.
When many in the tech industry speak of disruption, they speak as if change isn’t constant. As if, absent the internet, the print publishing or music industries, for instance, wouldn’t have changed. It’s the business version of classical mechanics: an industry will continue to operate in the same fashion unless disturbed. The problem, obviously, is that disturbances are the rule, not the exception. New technologies are a given, consumer habits evolve, the economy changes, regulations are injected into the marketplace, companies create economies of scale that didn’t exist before, etc. etc. etc. Knowing all this, celebrating disruption is sort of like expressing surprise when the sun rises tomorrow. Needless to say, it would be far more surprising if the sun didn’t rise tomorrow.
Unfortunately, the tech industry’s love affair with ‘disruption‘ often masks an inconvenient truth: those doing the ‘disrupting‘ aren’t always profiting from their efforts. Record labels, for instance, certainly don’t deserve the market they once had, but a lot of the most disruptive online music startups over the past decade haven’t exactly done so well themselves. But that hasn’t stopped plenty from celebrating the ‘demise‘ of the former while ignoring the trials of the latter.
At the end of the day, the tech industry, and the entrepreneurs who help it thrive, shouldn’t be so focused on ‘disruption‘. The world around us is always changing, and that change is occurring at any given moment in a particular industry isn’t worth focusing on. What is worth focusing on: finding a way to benefit and profit from that change.