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Purging Buzzwords Part 2: Disrupting the Word Disruption

By Adam Stanley,  Global CIO and Chief Digital Officer

Purging overused jargon is a big step we can take to open our minds to the new realities of succeeding in business today.

The problem with business jargon is that it’s not merely annoying, it carries the real potential to block progress. Those nifty little words that we like to throw out to sound smart can also narrow our thinking to the point where we start cramming our strategies and plans into universally-defined small boxes. So, just when we believe we’re thinking “outside of the box,” we’re not!

OK, in the name of creative thinking and staying focused on what matters, like our clients, the time has come to retire some hacked-to-death words. In my first blog, I purged the word “digital.” This time, it’s my pleasure to put “disruption” in the rear-view mirror. Please, by all means, agree, disagree and/or share your own hit-list words.

“Disruptive innovation,” a term coined by Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen in 1997, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.

Don’t we love talking about disruption? Rarely does a day go by when the word doesn’t pop up, and it’s applied to everything, from cool new apps to getting a new dog. There are copious books on the subject that everyone, including me, reference a lot. Christensen and his theories on how disruptive innovation are upending large incumbent companies is a favorite.

Here’s the rub: Disruption makes sense when you’re talking about revolutionary change that takes place over months and years. Christensen defined the difference between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. The sustaining side is what established market leaders do by listening to their customers and creating products that satisfy their “predicted” needs in new and exciting ways.

Disruptive innovators create markets that initially appear too small to attract the interest of larger firms, which are more focused on delivering steady returns and growth to their shareholders. It isn’t easy for them to justify the risk and investment needed to launch a new concept, which ironically gives start-ups a head start at cornering a market.

Major disruptions occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s when we saw new players revolutionize traditional industries. BlackBerry disrupted the mobile telephony market, iPhone disrupted Blackberry and Kodak in digital photography, and so on. The big companies didn’t see it coming.

You could say that Moore’s Law, introduced way back in 1965, gave us the first clue of how fast our world was about to change. Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, observed that it would take a year (later revised to 18 months) for costs to be cut in half and productivity to double, and that this rate of growth would continue for decades. Welcome to the early days of the information age! Today, such changes can double in months let alone years. And, as I discussed in a prior blog, just wait until quantum computing hits the scene. It will be like comparing texting to snail mail. Point being, we’ve been in this “disruptive” bubble since the ‘60s!

So, let’s get over the idea of “disruption.” It’s business-as-usual in the high-tech fast lane, and we need a firm grip. Our job is to know our clients better than ever before; scan emerging markets; watch for new competition; react, not over-react; proactively search for new opportunities; and invest wisely in systems and strategies that are agile enough to withstand the bombardment. It’s the challenge of our times!

For my next blog, I’ll dig into another longer word that’s been choking conversation in the business world for too long: Disintermediation.

Be well. Lead on.

A version of this blog appeared on CIO.com.

Adam Stanley provides strategic and operational direction for Cushman & Wakefield’s client facing and colleague technology systems and infrastructure across all global business lines. Drawing on his more than 20 years of industry experience and as an integral member of the global executive team, Adam is a change agent with proven success driving growth, performance, talent retention and innovation.

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