Being disruptive is a powerful way to conduct business. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates insisted that computers belonged not just in business offices but in the homes of regular joes, and built businesses around a need that had not fully manifested itself. Twitter disrupted the social media space by bringing to market a medium for short, frequent, and publicly visible updates in a world where blogs and MySpace ruled. Uber and Lyft had the audacity to enable an army of private vehicles where previously the establishment of Yellow Cab and its contemporaries were king. History has shown that disrupting an industry will bring attention – and not always the positive kind – but can be incredibly effective in getting you on the map.
The best type of disruption is that which brings about a better mousetrap or a new and valuable widget. It solves a problem better and differently than other offerings in the same space. Occasionally, productive disruption identifies entirely new markets.
Conversely, the worst kind of disruption is that which exists simply for the sake of disruption. It’s only momentarily interesting; a flash in the pan. It’s a Milli Vanilli. It’s all noise and lacks real substance. Negative disruption is the reason some of us remember the Cue Cat.
Remember Legend Airlines? They promised first-class accommodations in every seat and every flight, with prices comparable to coach on other airlines. It was a magnificent promise for air travelers, but ultimately was not sustainable as a business model. It was disruptive, but in the end it lacked the resources to fight the substantial anti-disruption powers in play.
Negative disruption – and attempts at it – are rarely in short supply. It’s the voice screaming that things are broken, that “the establishment” has won without proposing a better way to do things. It’s the software solution that sounds appealing for about 30 seconds, until you realize there’s no substance behind the buzz. More often than not, negative disruption is a solution desperately searching for a problem.
Disruption works – sometimes. It requires a compelling value proposition, just like any new and shiny thing. More importantly, to be successfully disruptive, the story be interesting enough to make the target audience stop in its collective tracks and pay attention. And of course, the disruption must be able to deliver on its promise.