Disruption in Business and Life

Milwaukee Art MuseumEverywhere I turn, I read about disruption. What used to be the stuff of the Harvard Business Review is now commonplace on the pages of the New York Times.
Disruptive innovation. Disruption in business hurting established business practices, creating billion dollar tech company valuations, disruption causing explosive changes in the way people think, communicate, purchase goods, purchase non-tangibles, the advent of social media, etc, etc.

Disruption is all the rage if you’re doing it. Business schools want to teach it, but they don’t really know how. Because disruptive technology comes from innovation, and innovation comes from looking at established practices and turning them on their heads. Business schools study it, dissect; they don’t actually do it. Disruption comes from seeing what’s possible when no one else is looking, or before anyone else even thinks to look.

So what is disruption, in essence? Is it simply genius applied with venture capital financing? Probably, sometimes. And why is it so threatening?

Is it like pornography? We cannot define it, but we know it when we see it?
Probably, sometimes.

I’d like to suggest a new definition: disruption thrives in a world where complacency has stood down, where complacency has no place. Disruption is what happens when an average company that’s making 8% profit hires a consulting firm to tell them to implement changes they’ve considered for years. Disruption is the young woman who steals your husband because you’re both bored and neither of you know what to do about it. Disruption is what the competition does when you think that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future. Disruption is the inability to consider that the bubble you live in won’t last forever. Disruption is the inability to consider the What If’s of life.

Medicine, like most fields, is filled with complacency. Why else would physicians—individuals who see the natural history of disease and its terrible consequences—be opposed to universal health insurance? Who doesn’t want people to have medical care?

It seems to me that complacency, and the arrogance it entails, ruins everything…in the home, in the workplace, in marriages, and in large corporations. Disruptive innovation is the buzzword in business circles – but all it really means is not letting your life become dominated by smugness. Instead, when you create an environment that fosters change, that allows for growth, that looks forward and seeks out new trends and nurtures them and fits them to your own personal use instead of fearing them, you stay ahead of the game. Marriages fall apart when the kids leave because kids keep parents young. Disruptive innovation is the theme behind half the movies we enjoy – where the youngsters have ideas that solve problems, make music, hack into databases, and so on. Take a lesson and disrupt your own life: it’s how we’ll survive and thrive in middle age and beyond.