Unless it’s a misperception on my part, I feel like I’ve been hearing the word “disruption” less often lately, and I think I know why.
When the business community talks about disruption, it can often refer to one of three groups. There are the disruptors — the dazzling startups who enter established industries and either knock out key players or put them at risk of extinction. The latter are the disrupted, of course, which is the second group. Then there are those who disrupt themselves before they can be disrupted, and who somehow live alongside the disruptors or perhaps outlast them. Needless to say, there is a huge industry of analysts, consultants and yes, media outlets like B2BNN, who spend much of their time trying to appeal to that third group, which tend to have the largest budgets and an actual sense of urgency.
Over the past year, however, I feel like some of the sheen that made the disruptors so attractive has started to fade. There have been the major data security and regulatory hurdles that have plagued Facebook, for example, and the toxic corporate cultures at firms such as Uber. Then there are the companies that seem to struggle for longterm growth, like Twitter and many younger media brands like Buzzfeed and Vice. Suddenly it may not seem like more traditional firms need to do anything to avoid disruption other than waiting things out, like some Adam Smith-style market self-correction.
I tend to think much of what we’ve seen take place within the disruptors this year is more like a reflection of their maturation and the inevitable tradeoffs that come with reaching a certain size and scale. It doesn’t mean that “normal” corporate enterprises are any safer. There are still technologies — from cloud computing to AI and blockchain — that could still steal market share, talent and more if organizations leave their potential to the disruptors.
Meanwhile, it may be that more firms are ready to self-disrupt, but are simply leaving it closer to the wire than many outside observers would like. The rise of innovation labs, chief innovation officers, hackathons and so on that we covered earlier this year are almost prerequisites for understanding disruptive forces and turning them to your own competitive advantage. If nothing else, there is a lot of marketing from incumbent companies — from banks and insurance firms to even governments — that now speak in the language of disruption, whether it’s flinging around terms like “blockchain” or phrases like “the future of work.”
Maybe the groups aren’t so clearly defined as we think. Maybe the disruptors are only a few scandals or problems away from being disrupted themselves. Perhaps the disrupted don’t disappear but wake up to the warning signs, and begin to self-disrupt until they start to look like disruptors, too. It could be we’ll one day look back at all this talk of disruption and realize it was really a time when companies simply realized nothing lasts forever, and that in terms of processes or even business model, there’s no reason they ever should.