• The Ven Of Disruption

    by  • August 9, 2011 • Disruptive technologies

    We tend to view disruptions singularly.  For example, we look at the tragedy of 9/11 as a singular socially and culturally disruptive event that changed the direction of the United States and the world. But yet there were technology disruptions that were necessary to allowing that to happen.

    When it comes to how we interact and listen to music, the release of the first iPod in 2001 is considered by many to be a singular technologically disruptive event. But there were additional technology disruptions like the cassette tape and social disruptions like people listening to their Walkman everywhere. The problem with a myopic perspective is that misses all of the direct and indirect events that contributed to that disruptive event happening.

    I was sitting in a coffeehouse recently and overheard a business conversation between three gentlemen – it was hard not to because they spoke so loud. Their discussion was around what would come next after Facebook when it came to digital marketing. The questions they seemed to be focused on were – What would that next application be? How would business leaders use it? How could they tap into it? How would it bring value to their business?  As they discussed these questions, various technologies and applications like Twitter, Four Square, Google+, and others were intermixed into the conversation.

    But they were only having one-third of the conversation they needed to have. They didn’t discuss what organizational changes like the upcoming FINRA guidance for financial services firms on using social media or the social/cultural changes of the millennial generation moving into the workforce might impact the technology selections.

    Pretty much all of the disruptions can be bucketed into three areas – technological, social/cultural, and organizational, what I call the Ven of Disruption, and looks like this.

    I look at these categories as:

    • Technological disruptions are either new technologies, improvements to an existing technology, or using a current technology in a new and different way that are unexpected by the market. Often these disruptions are missed or ignored by existing companies because they don’t recognize the potential impact or they are seen as underdeveloped or lacking a disruptive quality.
    • Social/cultural disruptions are disruptions or alterations in the social and cultural fabric or traditions of a community or market. These are often slowly developing but can sometimes spring into existence. These are often ignored as belonging to the next generation or lacking relevance to a particular company.
    • Organizational disruptions are shifts in the nature of an organization, its structure, strategies or processes.These can be changes in market, mission, strategy, or workforce. These are often the most commonly looked at under the header of change management, but the tangential impacts are often missed.

    Though any type of disruption might be classified primarily into one of these three categories, none of these exist totally separate from the others as the above diagram illustrates. Each of these categories interact with the other two around any particular disruption and business leaders to to be able to recognize and appropriately react across all three categories. Each disruption is similar to when you watch the rain falling on a still lake. Each raindrop creates a concentric circle that radiates outward and interacts with other concentric circles from other raindrops. Like those raindrops, each technological disruption is also going to have multiple social/cultural and organizational impacts, and likely additional technological impacts which all lead to more disruptions.

    Going back to the iPod example, the iPod was a technological disruption in how people stored and listened to their music. But it was also led to social and cultural disruptions – now almost everywhere you go you see people with white earbuds hanging down. It was also led to organizational disruptions – for example the iPod can function as an effective external hard drive and because of that iPods have been banned from locations where secret and confidential electronic information is stored.

    How many business leaders where able to look at the iPod and picture a whole new form of commerce that would pop up around digital music, videos, and eventually applications? Not to many. How many business leaders where also able to look at the same iPod and see the potential security threat it posed? Not too many saw that disruption either. How many saw the corresponding impacts that these disruptions would have across numerous markets, technologies, and culturally? Even fewer.

    Bottom Line: No disruption is a singular event and business leaders cannot be myopic in how it is they look and prepare for disruptions. Business leaders need to be able to scan for, spot, and prepare for emerging disruptions across all three categories and the impact that they will have in other categories.

    Question: How do you scan and prepare for disruption? Are there additional categories of disruption that leaders should be thinking about?