Disruption: Critical to Your Business or Just Another Buzzword?

Do you lie awake at night, wondering when disruption will bring a swift end to your business and industry as you know it? Are you considering disrupting your own business to beat disruption to the punch? Do you even know what disruption is, and whether it’s something you should lie awake wondering about in the first place?

If you’re any of these, you’re not alone because disruption has become one of the trendiest topics in business today. Should you embrace it? Fear it? Channel it? Perhaps understanding it better can help you answer these questions.

Disruption defined

Simply put, disruption is transformative change that obsoletes an established industry in favor of another. For instance, disruption was in play when smartphones replaced Blackberries and when digital imaging replaced film.

If you’re beginning to sense that disruption and technology go hand-in-hand, you’re on to something. While it can happen in any industry, disruption is almost always fueled by a leap in technology or a “better mousetrap.” For example, nearly a century ago, disruption transformed a dirigible-dependent aeronautics industry (think Hindenburg) to one that leveraged the technology of winged flight.

Disruption phases

For disruption to truly transform an industry, a process has to take place. First, a new product comes along that’s almost always universally seen as novel and not threatening to the status quo.

As the new product gains a foothold, the incumbent industry digs in in an effort to fend off the newcomer, ironically sealing its fate. Soon, the new product becomes the incumbent, until a newcomer arrives to start the process again.

For a detailed look at the process, check out Business Insider’s 4 Stages of Disruptive Innovation.

Disruption and your business

Whether you should embrace, challenge or fear disruption depends on a variety of factors. If you sell a commodity product or service, chances are something new won’t come along to supplant it. Milk won’t soon be displaced by milk 2.0.

However, new distribution methods or manufacturing processes can have an impact. Take milk again, for example. Up until the late 1960s and even the early 1970s, the same beverage we now buy at supermarkets was delivered by milkmen in refrigerated trucks. While the product stayed unchanged, a new distribution method disrupted the old one.

Disruption is change

At the end of the business day, disruption is about change and how you manage it. Good business practices dictate keeping your eye on trends that might have an impact. Being open-minded to new ideas and technology will also help you manage disruptive forces that can impact your business. Keep an eye on the past and learn from companies like Blackberry, Polaroid and others.

After all, disruption is neither good nor bad – it’s what you make of it that really matters.

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