In my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, I consider disruption: the negative kind caused by natural disasters like last week’s Hurricane Sandy and the positive kind embraced by the business world, technology companies in particular.
Good news: Access to this column is unrestricted (but of course you’ll still want to subscribe – just $19.95 a year!). Here’s an excerpt:
Historically, “disruption” has been a pejorative term: a disruptive pupil would be sent to the principal’s office; stock-market disruptions may cause widespread panic. The word, which comes from Latin disrumpere, literally means “breaking apart”; dictionary synonyms include “disorder,” “confusion,” and “tumult.”
Then, in 1995, a Harvard Business School professor, Clayton M. Christensen, published an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave.” A disruptive technology, Christensen wrote, was cheap, simple, and convenient; it threatened established (“sustaining”) companies that were focused on creating high-quality products. That article, and Christensen’s 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma, caught the attention of executives like Intel’s Andy Grove and Apple’s Steve Jobs, who saw in “disruptive innovation” both a threat and an opportunity to create new markets at the low end. “Everyone talks about disruption now,” the technology writer George Gilder told Larissa MacFarquhar for a May 2012 profile of Christensen in the New Yorker. “Clayton inserted that word in the mind of every C.E.O. in technology.”
Blog-only bonus! A few of the ways in which “disrupt” is disrupting out all over:
- The trademarked slogan of Havoc Energy Drink is “Disrupt the Ordinary.”
- Cellular Bioengineering, Inc., “a Hawaii-based accelerator of disruptive technologies with biomedical applications,” strives to “Invent. Disrupt. Inspire.”