Embracing disruption

The idea of disruption excites some people and terrifies others, but according to an article by US-based business consultant, Greg Satell in the Harvard Business Review, it is time to stop arguing about whether disruption is good or bad for incumbent businesses.

Satell argues that successful disruption does not merely destroy; it creates a paradigm shift in mental models. He says it is essential that the mindset of “good” and “bad” with regards to innovation and disruption be changed.

Citing a book by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen titled The Innovator’s Dilemma, Satell states: “His research showed that once-successful firms often failed not because they lacked competence or conscientiousness, but because they were operating according to a defective model.

Satell explains that since ancient times, from Aristotle to Ptolemy, leading all the way up to the present day, we have built working models to explain how the world works and we act on those models to solve problems.

However, as time progresses, we inevitably find that even the most successful models are incomplete.  “When an anomaly first appears it is usually treated as a ‘special case’ and is worked around.  However, at some point, we realise that the old theory is fundamentally flawed and that we need to shift paradigms.”

Therefore, disruption should be viewed as a means to create successful new models, which often include elements of the old ones. Citing Christensen again, he points out that there comes a time in which the practices derived from established mental models fall short. 

This means that businesses that fail are often not the feckless bumblers they’re made out to be. Rather,  by diligently following the precepts of incomplete models taught in business schools, they fall prey to assumptions that do not apply.

This, he says, is why there can be both disruptors that set out to destroy, and disruptors that aim to create. Successful disruptors might break old models, but they build better ones that benefit us all, which is why we embrace them.

The full article can be read here.