Disrupting the 'Disruptive'
Every buzzword lives the high life. And, almost always, gallops towards an ignominious end. But there are some that are stuck in a transition chasm, wailing to make it to either side and failing to do so.
Disruptive has had the displeasure of doing this.
While trying to coin an intellectual-engaging-inventive name for a major national initiative, the boss bellowed – use something on the lines of ‘disruptive’. Intellectual-engaging-inventive swiveled down in languid ashes. Reminisce puffed up and déjà vu dazed me. Stifled, I thought to myself, wasn’t the D-word a phenomenon of the overtly-used-and-abused archives? Should it not have transitioned to the other side two years back when TIME asked for banishment?
“Silicon Valley types may be changing sleepy industries, but this word is more worn out than start-up names that sound and look like six-year-olds came up with them. You just might strangle the next disruptor you meet with his hoodie drawstrings,” read a blurb from TIME.
Surfacing nonchalantly in the midst of grandiloquent talks at world economic forums and investment seminars and most conspicuously at TED talks, Silicon Valley’s favourite buzzword leaves little room for imagination, making it all that easy for the lazy writer community. However much you detest it, you know that you could use somebody, someone like disruptive.
Clayton Christensen is the man to be blamed. A Harvard Business School professor, Clayton’s 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma, is where this term of art – ‘disruptive innovation’ – made its trailblazing, starry debut and took the linguistic, industrial and cringe-it-on world by an unabated, cyclonic storm.
The professor’s intentions were noble. He had one question – why do companies fail? The ‘innovator’s dilemma’ is that ‘doing the right thing is the wrong thing.’ While Christensen clearly defined the term, “A disruptive innovation is a technologically simple innovation in the form of a product, service, or business model that takes root in a tier of the market that is unattractive to the established leaders in an industry”, we relentlessly live in blissful oblivion, interchangeably juggling disruptive and cool and innovative and the likes.
‘Disruptive innovation’ and ‘disruptive technology’ hardly ever discriminate and grace the pages of Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Huff Post alike.
Then there are books – Big Bang Disruption, Disrupt! Think Epic, Be Epic. Also your kid can now graduate as a big, bad disruptor. Hail ‘degree in disruption’ at University of Southern California. HBO’s silicon valley’s recreation of TechCrunch Disrupt is impeccable but would we not choke on the D-word?
Did you say disruptive? The novel ideation of smartphones, e-mail, GPS, microchips – yes. Uber, iTunes, AirBnB, Facebook, Snapchat – yes, yes. Closer home, Flipkart, PayTM, Zomato, Book My Show. Most of the others – there but not there, not really. Dangerous dose of ‘disrupt’ already? Handicapped jargon does need desperate saving.
The list of pretentious disruptive start-ups is also not a myth. It’s actually ubiquitous. A company that produces something better than its counterparts is NOT disruptive. All start-ups are NOT disruptive. Innovation is almost always NOT disruptive.
What is veiled behind thick drapes is honest, groundbreaking disruption – simple products, low margins, zoomed in targets, alternatives to traditional patterns. Lack-lustrously lost in transition. This is the cause of this insufferable disease in the absence of a potent antidote. Like they say, if everything is disruptive, nothing is.
Disruption is good, only when it actually is that. Languorous obsession with cringe-worthy buzzwords (feminism, bae, literally also walk this walk of shame) isn’t. There needs to be clear distinction between the D-word and the I-word for the betterment of all industries feeding on the rampant misuse. Amidst this chaotic debauchery, it is only apropos to ask – will the real disruptor please stand up?
PS: I used ‘disrupt’ and its allies only 27 times here, meticulously spacing them all out in these 700 odd words. Or so I think. Happy disrupting. 28, it is!