I’m sure by now you must have heard the latest “buzzword” to arrive on the digital marketing landscape, “disruption.”
Suddenly, everything has become disruptive. Creative disruption. Tactical disruption. Positive disruption. Disruptive innovation. The list continues growing and businesses are lining up in droves, staking their claims to being the “new” disruptive force in this industry or the next.
As with most fashions, by the time something becomes trendy, it usually indicates the end for the trend itself. However, in this case I am seeing “disruption” and the general use of the word in different settings continuing to profligate.
And quite honestly, I’m the left with the lingering question…why?
I remember as a child in grade school, my teacher referred to me as a “disruptive force” in her classroom on more than one occasion. She did not mean it in the positive sense either, quite the contrary. She told me I was disruptive force because, I was more interested in trying to entertain the other students with my antics and shenanigans than I was in learning. I was the class clown. A distraction to my classmates. A disruptive force.
That’s my excuse. What’s yours?
So are businesses who focus on disrupting the current way business is done trying to garner attention too?
If so, for whom? Themselves? Their industry? Attention from the media?
Or can a legitimate business case be made for the limited use of disruption as a force for good, a positive agent for change in our ever-evolving technology-driven landscape?
Could it be that these businesses have actually figured out a way, through the use of social media and various other means to not only disrupt, but perhaps completely obliterate the current and former ways of doing business?
And if this is indeed the case, when is it a good thing? Something altruistic?
I tend to error on the side of a healthy but fair skepticism, often channeling my inner Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend!”
My simple answer? It depends.
I know, terribly apathetic but true. So let’s dig a little deeper.
The definition of disruption, from the Latin word “to break apart” is threefold…
- To throw into confusion or disorder
- To interrupt or impede the progress, movement or procedure of
- To break or burst; to rupture
Interesting to note, all three meanings happen to illicit very negative connotations.
So when I see, read and hear the continually growing drumbeat of the “disruption” converts being increasingly bandied about somewhere out on the horizon of the corporate landscape, I’m once again left asking myself why?
Why would a word with such negative implications be gaining increasing popularity as a favorite boardroom “buzzword?”
Do these businesses really intend to create confusion? Disorder? To impede or interrupt progress?
Those hardly sound like winning business strategies to me? Do they to you?
Why not simply replace the word disruption with anarchist, revolutionist, or obstructionist?
I become increasingly concerned, whenever business openly embraces a lexicon they themselves cannot fully explain. Can you blame me?
Remember Eric Jackson’s classic 2012 Forbes article, “89 business cliche’s that will get any MBA promoted?”
I have an MBA and sadly it hasn’t worked for me. Anyone a member of the “rowing crew” around here?
However, I continue to remain hopeful that all my prodigious vocabulary of meaningless, but all too important and extremely intelligent sounding business terminology will indeed one day lead to a HUGE promotion, making my student loans somewhat more tolerable.
Remind me, when does my deferment period end…?
I was recently interviewing with the “Chief Administrative Officer” for a developer of assisted living facilities and was taken aback when she proudly proclaimed to me from across the table, the current CEO’s main strategic and tactical goal for the organization was to be as “disruptive” as possible to the entire healthcare industry.
So, I asked her why? She quickly responded, because he feels the industry needs it, to be shaken up a bit. You know…change is a good thing. Evolution!
I sat quietly thinking to myself or revolution? Which is better? I am not quite sure.
I carefully worded my follow up, “and why does he feel this way?”
Her eyes narrowing ever so slightly and suddenly I knew the interview was “officially over,” having ventured into the “you are no longer a viable candidate for consideration” mode.
“Our CEO is a subject matter expert, with over 30 years of experience in the industry. He has contributed more data and information than any other leader in this area. Including 3 books, multiple speaking engagements”…the defense and credibility drivel droning on for minutes…
I quickly told her “thank you” for both her time and consideration, promptly leaving and never looking back.
Who knows whether that particular organization’s tactical decision to be a disruptive force in their industry will work or not?
Most likely, we will never know for sure, but I do know, they weren’t able to provide me with the “why” behind their disruptive decision either.
My point is like all other business cliche’s we’re hit with day after day, there has to be some substance, credibility and weight behind their use…otherwise they are simply words with no real meaning.
There was an article bolstering this premise published on LinkedIn just the other day by Bernard Marr, “Stop Using These 30 Phrases At Work!
Regardless, of the rationale for it’s use, one thing remains constant it WILL never end. The perpetual flow of new business jargon continues unabated, flooding the marketplace of ideas seemingly un-stanched.
Today’s flashy catch phrase will be but tomorrow’s “throw away” into a time capsule marking where we’ve been, not where we’re going.
Armed with this information, is ALL this just an exercise in futility? Just one giant effort to make an individual appear and sound like they know what in the Hell they’re talking about?
As my father used to eloquently quip, “if you think you’re the smartest person in the room, my guess, you’re most likely the dumbest too.”
There is no doubt some forms of disruption can indeed be a good thing, when employed properly and for the right reasons.
However, disruption by its very nature can also be a force for evil.
A tool often employed by criminals, anarchists, revolutionaries, obstructionists, militias, despot, tyrannical and corrupt governments often times in a blatant effort to manufacture a desired outcome not in the best interest of society or the greater good of humanity. Not to mention, disruption often leads to significant distractions, wasting resources, taking attention and focus away from solving real problems.
In Simon Sinek’s 2009 book, “Start With Why” he clearly delineates how truly great leader’s inspire others to “take action.” Inspiration MUST come from a profound, deeply held belief, a that belief starts with one’s own ability to answer the question, “why” before the “what.”
I highly recommend listening to Simon’s TED Talk and reading his amazing book for anyone who desires a better understanding of the power behind the “why” and how it contributes a greater sense of purpose in both your personal and professional endeavors.
So back to my conference room conversation, when I asked the administrative officer why she felt the CEO wanted to be a disruptive force, her response was quite simply, “he felt the industry needs it…to be shaken up a bit.”
Does that argument sound compelling to you? Does it inspire you, making you want to follow that particular leader? To work for that organization? To believe in their cause?
We still don’t know the answer to that last question? What is their cause, besides a commitment to being disruptive?
If the CEO and his CAO can no more clearly articulate the “why” beyond their current “go to market rationale” of being the most disruptive force in the marketplace, how can they possibly expect anyone to want to follow them?
The short answer is they can’t. And very few will. But this is not unusual.
Sadly, we are experiencing a tremendous void in leadership and problem solving skills across all industries and I see no signs of that changing anytime soon.
So what are we left with? Corporate platitudes? A few catchy phrases containing words that cannot be adequately defined as viable tactical or strategic business initiatives to begin with?
Trends come and go, so do the words that go with them…remember “just in time?” Or “net/net?” How about “creative destruction?” Or “let’s square the circle?” Perhaps you prefer “at the end of the day” or “it’s a one off?” How about “it’s scalable?” From a “30,000-foot level” or “next steps, low hanging fruit or value-add?”
This list is unending…
None of it matters, if you don’t have the leadership coupled with the clear tactical understanding of “why” you are employing any particular strategy in the first place, it’s all just window dressing.
Any organization must know “who they are” and the reason behind “why they exist.” Without this simple, yet profound understanding, now matter how cool and trendy any particular strategy may appear to be, it will ultimately fall flat, leading to failure.
Why not start with first learning your “why,” before wading into the waters of disruption?