I’ve been uncomfortable with the phrase, "disruptive technology," ever since it erupted on business radar in the late 1990s.
It was coined to cover a significant, legitimate body of research. Yet the choice of words seemed to validate a standing skepticism about and resistance to anything new. I suppose every innovator is a newcomer and must cut teeth on rawhide, but if we’re using words like disruptive, it’s no wonder the world has one eyebrow raised permanently toward the technology sector.
Listen to the people who are mainstreaming technology into business: Esther Dyson, John Chambers, John Doerr, Stratton Sclavos, Jonathan Schwartz, John Hennessy . The only thing being displaced — and rightfully so — are legacy systems that have outlived their original investment. What’s actually happening is evolution. Of process, of productivity, of human interaction. The Internet is ushering in a new phase of maturity, and its potential to contribute is beyond vast.
Retail stores haven’t vanished from the landscape. There are movie theaters. Kids go to school. People write letters. We have wonderful new tools that can help solve the problems of tired merchandising, salacious themes, low math scores, empty content marked by bad grammar: use the Web to test merchandise, look at movie trailers, research projects, read great blogs. A higher standard of productivity and performance is within the grasp of the retailers and the producers and the teachers and the writers. Because technology is generating access and expanding reach, not preserving infrastructure for the sake of protecting power.
On the flip side: some of the tech wizards still need to assimilate. Their cocoon was far from the mainstream, so when they get a pulpit, they lose perspective. They need not sacrifice conviction to gain a foothold. They just need to adjust. The purpose of technology is not to feed the geek inside but to fuel the enterprise — and the system — outside.