The Disruption Fallacy
It may engender a whole new stream of book reviewing, but I doubt it, because people are more interested in writing self-published books than in reading them. And if old media is so passé, why do they care so much about what we think?
We’ve been speaking a lot about the idea of "disruption" in the office recently. Of course, being urbane designers whose job it is to solve problems, we often regard the concept as nothing more than a buzzword surrounding or obfuscating a difficult truth: The world moved beyond the capabilities of a particular business model.
But it’s also within our bailiwick to look at the issue of disruption with empathy for both sides and to try to help our clients, whichever side of the disruption line they fall on.
The above quote from Sutton identifies one of the unspoken problems of disruption culture. Survivorship bias pushes us to look at the industries which were damaged by new competition. The newspaper industry is an obvious example. People never paid for news directly. The news was subsidised by the classified ads. Craigslist started and the classified ads dried up.
Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group recently gave a talk at General Assembly in Melbourne about his time at Lonely Planet and how they failed to preempt Trip Advisor et al.
That put a really interesting spin on the concept of disruption. Is it the act of the new business models pushing out older forms, or is it failure on the part of the older forms to react with appropriate innovation when the landscape shifts?
We never really hear about the start-ups that failed because the industries they were trying to undermine acted quickly and well to reinforce their position.
And then, in this quote from Sutton, we see an interesting in-between stage. Self-publishing is easy and many people do it. There are parts of that industry where self-publishing succeeds, to an extent. Science fiction and fantasy audiences are much more willing to take risks on reading and discover new authors. Children’s books, however, require an element of authority behind them to recommend them and let parents know they are making a wise investment for their children’s education and entertainment.
If we look at the microscopic level we see disruption or thwarting, depending on the victor. But if pull out to a more macroscopic level we observe business as an ecosystem, producing wins and losses all over the place. We see evolution as it should be: Businesses succeed or fail based on how well they can live in a changing environment.
There will always be something new coming around the corner. A business in stasis is never going to survive, but a business in panic is only slightly better off. Sometimes what a business needs is a third party to show what’s really important and its value as the environment changes.
That’s where we come in as designers. Our job is often to be the calming influence, to stop the panic and to develop strategies for showing value to customers, shareholders, staff or anyone else who might need a refreshing vision of the part your business plays in what’s important to them.
To paraphrase Yoda: There is no disruption, only do or do not.
To paraphrase Sigourney Weaver: There is no disruption, only Zuul.
This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog