Scaling Disruption

On my flight over to Helsinki a day ago, I read the December issue of the Harvard Business Review.  Several articles focused on disruption and I want to spend a minute sharing my thoughts on the topic.

Disruption is a fickle influence on business and while we often talk about about disruptive change being binary – you are either being disrupted or you aren’t – the truth is much more discriminating. Disruption has a strong time component and most disruption plays out over long periods of time.  In fact, it is often the function of time that dictates if disruption will in fact shift the competitive landscape.

The key to disruption materializing – moving from a simple nuance to a true disruptive force that changes how business is down and how organizations compete – is to what degree the given disruption scales.

Tomorrow I’m speaking on the disruptive force of digital. Perhaps no single force has been as disruptive as digital has to so many different sectors of the economy.  A big reason behind this is the ability of it to scale. Digital by it’s very definition scales infinitely. It is also worth noting that digital has taken a significant amount of time to become fully disruptive. Time allows truly disruptive forces to build momentum.  In the case of digital, it first gained traction in the music sector.  In fact, the first real digital device outside of computers was the launch of the CD player at the 1981 CES. After successfully disrupting the music industry, digital moved onto other, more difficult, sectors of the economy. Print. Imaging. Video.  Each one succeedingly challenging, but time had allowed digital to gain enough momentum (and prove that it could be disruptive) that it was able to be disruptive in these subsequent sectors of the economy.

As the Internet took hold in late 1990s and early 200os it simply allowed digital to scale more fully and consequently become more disruptive.