Last week I took my daughter to her first Red Sox game. We got there early, explored the ballpark, and enjoyed some Fenway Franks, peanuts and ice cream while we watched the first four innings. We left before the first rain delay of the 2013 season. This game was also a long-term milestone for the team, as it was their first non-sold-out game in ten years.
On the train ride to Boston’s North Station, I used a new payment system provided by the MBTA; mTicket, a mobile app that lets you buy your ticket and activate it when you board. I worried that it wouldn’t work, or that the T conductor had never heard of it, and we’d get tossed from the last car at a low speed. Instead, the app worked perfectly.
On the subway ride to the ballpark, we saw several people reading books on Kindles and other handheld devices. During the game, a lot of people took pictures with their phones, of the game, the players, and each other. I joined in the fun, and we’ve all seen Facebook friends posting pics of themselves at the game. People take mobile pics at rock concerts, too. It harkens back to the (circa 2004) obnoxious use of cell phones while sitting behind home plate.
All of that is disruption.
Innovative Disruption: The New Normal
Innovation has made it possible to disrupt one industry after another, from home delivery of groceries to genetic RNA interference. In the realm of education and training, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, allow countless users to take part in university courses, which may be regular in-person courses or specialized for online learning.
In business, online video and online presentations have become a disruptive tool for sales and marketing, as more video communications tools emerge and more conferences occur online. I remember when we thought videoconferencing was a killer for the airline industry, but in reality online video and presentations have enhanced live events, while the real killer apps aren’t just about communication, but collaboration.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen has led the discussion on disruptive innovation for years. His books have focused on new technologies and mechanisms that have changed companies, industries, and the world. We think of mobile devices and social websites as disruptive innovations, and they are; but it doesn’t have to be technology. Business methods and ideas can also turn the tables on how things are.
What makes a concept disruptive?
It’s important to note that disruptive technologies and ideas are nearly impossible to identify, except to visionaries. This is because they should be characterized not by what they are, but for what they aren’t:
- They are not a reason for change: Brian Solis says that disruption is a catalyst for change, but not the reason. Look at the current content marketing trend, which is considered disruptive, but it emerged partly because of social media, which required a constant flow of new, original, branded and unbranded content. Similarly, tablets like the Apple Newton existed for decades, without a clear purpose, before Apple launched the iPad and changed everything.
- They lack refinement: Often, new technologies have no single organization driving best practices. MySpace and Friendster began as an expanded version of online chat, and only now, with the emergence of the Facebook Timeline and Google Plus, are we beginning to see design dominance in online social platforms. Or are we? Pinterest is driving a completely different look for social sharing, and Facebook’s frequent updates still drive people nuts.
- They lack performance analytics: Views, shares, likes, retweets, leads, opportunities, influence, and engagement…the list goes on. These terms are still fairly new, and it’s unclear which of these communications metrics actually mean much to a company’s bottom line. More importantly, how marketers can best manipulate these numbers remains a mystery, as does how they can readily use these metrics to drive true business impact.
- They lack an audience: A disruptive innovation is usually a simple fix to a product that is meaningful only to a small group of people, the way content management systems began as a better way to store documents and share them with people across internal networks. It mattered only to IT managers. Today, a CMS like WordPress allows any web publisher to share just about anything with the whole world, using customized designs and access levels.
- They lack an application: It’s usually easy to see something emerge, but be unable to imagine a use for it. Look at the iPad, which sold well at the outset but originally stymied people as to its best use. The complaints included “no keyboard”, “too big to be a phone”, and “too underpowered to run desktop applications”. That didn’t matter. Mobile apps and cloud technology combined drove the success of these platforms, and now people can browse, read, search, communicate, and view videos while watching TV, working in retail or healthcare, sitting at the beach, or riding the train.
In online media, whether it is for communications or social sharing, disruption is driving incredible changes in the way we do things. It’s already hard to imagine how we got by without Facebook, and five years from now we’ll wonder how we survived without something some software developer is creating right now.
But disruption still has its holdouts. On the subway ride home, I saw a student reading Clayton Christensen’s book “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”.
Originally published on The KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas Blog.