In defense of 'disruption': A response to David Sable

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Disruption may be an overused buzzword, but it still has meaning, writes a senior media strategist at Teeming Media.

"Yes, we're disrupting digital media, but most importantly we're making the world a better place through constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility.'' - Javeed, "Silicon Valley," season 1.

David Sable, CEO of Y&R, and a wise man in media, gets it mostly right with a good and sometimes humorous riff on how over-use of "disruption" could render the word meaningless.

Some "disruptive" technologies are really just evolutionary. Sable cites Amazon Prime’s fast delivery service as something pizza restaurants have done for decades. Amazon’s mission of making goods available mimics the Sears mission from the 1800s, he says.

Yet Amazon, of all companies, is a huge disruptor, causing economic upheaval in multiple industries and shifts in daily behaviors.

I suppose you could argue that the airplane was simply a new form of transport. People, after all, traveled vast distances by train and boat before. The airplane simply improved on the speed.

Yes, not everything is a disruptor. A new toothbrush is just that. If you build a better mousetrap, people will catch more mice.

But while most changes are incremental progressions along a continuum, some are orders of magnitude bigger than what’s come before.

Before search engines, people could look stuff up. We had the postal service before email.

As with email, many tipping points are sparked by non-commercial initiatives. Email rests on an open source standard. The very practice of open-sourcing code bases has launched transcendent waves that have changed how we think, do and communicate.

Not everyone has the language sensitivity of David, an experienced tech-talking exec whom I admire. Like many other words—"genius" and "unique" come to mind—"disruption" may have seen its day.

Incremental commercial changes in the tech sphere are often wrongly trumpeted, as the show "Silicon Valley" shows. Tech entrepreneurs can be a parody of themselves.

Nuance and specificity can be seen as weakness, while grandiose claims may grab attention (make your political comment here).

By all means, don’t believe the hype. Do challenge orthodoxy. Skepticism has its place. But so does optimism and the ability to marvel at the sweeping changes technology has wrought. Some things do change the world.

I have a feeling that David might even agree.

 

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