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The Problem, Really, is This Thing Called 'Disruption' (wired.com) 106

New submitter mirandakatz writes: The word "disruption" is everywhere in tech -- and it's getting founders in trouble. Just look at what happened with Bodega last week: Had the startup not professed to be disrupting the mom-and-pop shops on every corner, it might not have landed itself in such hot water. At Backchannel, veteran Silicon Valley communications whiz Karen Wickre makes the case against "disruption," pointing out that many of today's biggest companies got their starts without claiming to completely upend an existing industry. She writes: "What if Sergey and Larry had touted Google, in 1998, as 'an unprecedented platform for disrupting global advertising?' Do you think Jeff Bezos claimed that Amazon.com was upending global retail? Netflix? Within a few months of its 1997 launch, it did not foresee the actual paradigm shift of media streaming."
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The Problem, Really, is This Thing Called 'Disruption'

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  • Maybe then, out from under the technological oppression of Silicon Valley, the tech industry can move forward.
    So yeah, the only disruption was two idiots claiming they just invented the vending machine/automat.
  • Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @11:32AM (#55244561)
    "I'm going to put a bunch of people out of business and create a new way to do business in this vertical" is not a way to endear yourself to people in this day and age. Walmart, Amazon, Google, etc didn't get to where they are by telling people they're going to rape and pillage entire industries. They got their by hiding that fact until their momentum couldn't be stopped.
    • by shuz ( 706678 )

      I disagree. If you go before investors you want to make the best case possible. There are plenty of investors out there that would gladly give you their money if you can make a good case for completely raping and pillaging an industry in a legal way. The real trick then is hiding the fact that you have a disruptive business idea from the competition until it is too late. For example Amazon. Yes, they are known for their "catalog sales", an idea that has been around for ever. Anyone remember Sears? What Amaz

      • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bobbutts ( 927504 ) <bobbutts@gmail.com> on Friday September 22, 2017 @12:04PM (#55244839)
        I find the advantage of Amazon to be convenience and selection. Price is a secondary concern. I want it now, but driving for 15 mins each way and messing around in a store doesn't qualify as "now".
        • by taustin ( 171655 )

          Instant gratification isn't fast enough.

          • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 22, 2017 @12:36PM (#55245087)

            instant gratification in a brick and mortar store does not include the fact that they don't carry my size in clothes or enough of a selection of the items that I am looking for. For example, I cannot get the programming books that I am looking for in a Barnes and Noble. They cannot keep up with the changes in the industry.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              "They cannot keep up with the changes in the industry."

              Actually, they can. They just don't want to.

              • No, the problem is that they can't afford to. If Barnes and Noble kept all the book on all the new stuff in Development all the time 99% of those books would not get bought, the stores would be 5 times larger, so the rent (and staffing costs) would go up and all of this for a very small group of niche consumers. And since the consumers are spread over 60 cities this whole setup has to be replicated. They would go bankrupt. Besides, if you ask Barnes and Noble to order you a book they would gladly do so (I

            • instant gratification in a brick and mortar store does not include the fact that they don't carry my size in clothes

              And nothing online fixes that. In fact, it's become an excuse for stores to carry fewer sizes in-store. Trying on different sizes across a 2-3 day return shipping delay is way beyond "not instant gratification."

        • by bigpat ( 158134 )

          I find the advantage of Amazon to be convenience and selection. Price is a secondary concern. I want it now, but driving for 15 mins each way and messing around in a store doesn't qualify as "now".

          I think he was talking about how Amazon got its start... online books. Amazon used to be just an online book store that had cheaper prices and cheap shipping if you didn't mind waiting a week to 10 days because they negotiated lower prices in exchange for lower quality shipping. Talk about taking a niche market and using it to build out... which was the intent from the beginning not just to sell books for less than the competition. Now they have everything and you can have it either same day or a week l

          • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @03:29PM (#55246403) Homepage

            I think he was talking about how Amazon got its start... online books. Amazon used to be just an online book store that had cheaper prices and cheap shipping if you didn't mind waiting a week to 10 days because they negotiated lower prices in exchange for lower quality shipping. Talk about taking a niche market and using it to build out...

            But even at the beginning, price wasn't the only factor. The other factor was selection. Amazon was cheaper than the local bookstore but you also didn't have to drive there only to find out that the specific book you wanted wasn't there. Amazon has always been about the "long tail". Brick and mortar cannot compete with the long tail of online sales. Walmart realizes this too which is why they have practically become a seasonal store and now start clearancing swimsuits in July. They know that the even though July/August are prime swimming months, the majority of swimsuit sales are already done by then so they need to move out the swimsuits and start moving in something else with high volume. Walmart has decided that it is better to sell a bunch of stuff in bulk during peak season than it is to try to compete with the long tail.

        • Driving for 15-30 minutes and grabbing what I'm looking for is certainly faster than ordering from Amazon. The problem is, I'm likely to drive 15-30 minutes, look in the store for another 30, since they've reorganized their stuff 3 times since I was there last week, and either I can't find it or they're sold out, or they stopped carrying it. Then I go back home and order the damn stuff from Amazon. Eventually I just skip the frustrating part.

        • Selection is key for me as well. I often find myself buying tools and gadgets online because my local Home Depot or Best Buy only carry a limited selection of what I'm looking for. I've often wasted an hour looking for something at Home Depot only to go home empty handed and ordering on Amazon anyways. I don't mind paying 5-10% more on Amazon if I can get exactly what I want; not to mention saving myself the hour that it would take to drive to the store, find what I want, pay at the cash, then drive back
    • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @12:32PM (#55245065)

      People love the idea of disruption when it rapes and pillages monopolistic industries that deserve to be disrupted. Yellow Cabs, yes. Corner convenience stores, not so much.

      • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @02:21PM (#55245859) Homepage Journal

        Anything that I spend my own money on, I want disrupted as much as possible. The more I go to convenience stores, the more I'd like 'em disrupted.

        Just don't touch the industries where my paychecks come from.

        And don't point out that everything is related so that if you disrupt my convenience store you'll eventually, however indirectly, end up disrupting my paychecks. Shh. I don't wanna hear it.

        Adapting to change is for other people!

        • What was clueless about Bodega was not realizing that convenience store operators gather a lot of specific knowledge about the shopping habits of people in the close vicinity that can be used for finely scaled marketing. A human convenience operator knows to stock the odd brand of microwaveable tostadas that Martín buys every Wednesday after he works late. He knows that the families in the apartment buildiong across the street like to throw spontaneous pool parties. His fund of customer information is

      • People love the idea of disruption when it rapes and pillages monopolistic industries that deserve to be disrupted. Yellow Cabs, yes.

        But they need to be covered under the same rules that the to-be-disrupted companies are.. (e.g. taxi limitations, medallions, etc..)

        I'm not a taxi person btw.

        • But what about when the rules themselves aren't good. Medallions are particularly awful. They don't do anything to regulate bad or criminal behavior; they're just an artificial limitation on supply.

          • I agree with you in general. The rules should just be changed then. You shouldnâ(TM)t just let some company come in and provide basically the same service WITHOUT having the same restrictions that the existing companies have.

            I think the medallion system is weird too, but instantly obsoleting something someone spent $1 million for sucks.

      • People love the idea of disruption when it rapes and pillages monopolistic industries that deserve to be disrupted. Yellow Cabs, yes. Corner convenience stores, not so much.

        Well, cabbies don't love the idea of disrupting Yellow Cabs that much. They've been pretty vocal about it in a lot of places.

    • out of business. I think the trouble is they're doing it in one of two ways: a. The "Sharing Economy" way where you bypass minimum wage laws and shift your costs to desperate employees or b. the AI way where you automate everything.
  • by swan5566 ( 1771176 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @11:32AM (#55244565)
    Top-left corner.
    • If you could disrupt the cloud with a new outside-the-box AI resulting in a paradigm shift...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If you could disrupt the cloud with a new outside-the-box AI resulting in a paradigm shift...

        ... you could then leverage your synergies to take advantage of existing supply-chain infrastructures to maximise the fiduciary return to investors while minimising the required capital expenditures, and engage with the resulting media coverage to ensure a broad awareness of your disruptive technology without incurring additional marketing costs allowing you to accelerate mindshare and market penetration.

        In other w

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Netflix? Within a few months of its 1997 launch, it did not foresee the actual paradigm shift of media streaming.

    I'm pretty sure it did. I know they were just shipping DVDs at the time, but the name is Netflix, not DVDflix. That's what they were going for.

    • AFAIK, for every country in the world except the U.S.A., Netflix is only streaming.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      You ordered DVD's over the (Inter)net from Netflix, Amazon or CinemaNow, rather than going to the Blockbuster chain, renting a video and posting it back. Thus saving on late return fines.

      https://yro.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]
      https://slashdot.org/story/06/... [slashdot.org]
      https://news.slashdot.org/stor... [slashdot.org]
      https://slashdot.org/story/13/... [slashdot.org]

      Video-On-Demand was a concept anticipated in the mid-1990's. At some point, download speeds would match and exceed video compression streaming rates for data on a server. Cable companies offere

      • Yes, but the message you replied to is right. Unless he's lying and trying to rewrite history, Reed named it Netflix precisely because he knew they would be streaming eventually. This has been covered in many interviews with him.

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          I believe him. It was a prediction back then. It was going to be cheaper to stream data across the Internet from cached memory on a server than it was going to be to deliver and store on a PC from disk.

    • +1. When the company was founded, they knew DVDs-by-mail was just a stopgap until broadband speeds enabled streaming.
  • and easily blinded by their greed.

    What is happening in SV and elsewhere is the same thing that happened last decade on Wall Street and the other stock markets. Electronic & algorithmic trading showed that you could cheat your way to millions, if not billions, and little would be done to reign it in. Those who owned the markets (which why do we allow for stock markets to be privately owned? that makes no sense!) still got their slice and those you were doing the trading for got theirs. Regulators are st

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      They try to find where the gaps exist and exploit them without thinking of what that does to everyone involved.

      At the Black Caucus Town Hall meeting last night, one of our delegates talked about criminal justice reform. They were proud of having passed new laws that assigned bail based on things like flight risk and the danger a person posed to a community, reducing the amount of mass-incarceration.

      They were also quite proud of having worked out the legal language such that they'd prevented a complete collapse of the bail bondsman industry. In other words: they made sure to put black people under enough financ

      • So, to recap:

        So, to recap: even though we think you're not a danger and not a flight risk, we're still going to make sure to transfer some of your money to that rich guy's pocket so he can continue getting rich off poor people and be happier ... So "at the expense of the many"? That "expense" is that the many have a greater standard-of-living--it's the difference between the US and a poor third-world country like Chile.

        • You glued together two different-context statements. The "at the expense of many" comment refers to the "expense" of bail bondsmen loosing their jobs, if you want to put those things together that way.

          Holding up dying industries just means we invest labor into keeping something around that is going away because nobody's buying it anymore. You know, like cassette tapes, or coal.

  • by captaindomon ( 870655 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @11:39AM (#55244625)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] This is a great example of the problem of requiring "disruption".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The "disruption" being talked about in the summary is that of external disruption, where a newcomer comes in with a radically different approach and renders the incumbents irrelevant.

    It's a shame that it didn't focus more on self-disruption. Note that self-disruption is different from internal disruption. Internal disruption is when a company sees that it will be disrupted in the near future, and becomes the one that disrupts itself preemptively. Microsoft's Azure platform, and especially its adoption of Li

    • Point to one well known and respected person in the industry who was a Linux advocate, but has switched. Go ahead .... we are waiting ...
      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        Why would that even be relevant? Why would it be a Linux advocate that have switched and made that public? How do you define respected? How do you define advocate (someone that have recommended something, someone with a fanatical devotion to something)?

        You see as you have stated the above you can just say "nope, they weren't a true advocate" or "nope, not a respected person" or even "they were true advocates and they are respected but they haven't put it on the official record that they have switched". In o

        • Ah ... but you are simply trying to divert everyone's attention from the fact that you can't even point to someone about whom we might have such an argument. My request is very reasonable. The claim is that ... everyone is running from Linux in droves! Surely you can point to someone who would at least support that claim on a minimally anecdotal level? I didn't think so.
  • It seems like it's after the fact that most success stories that were disruptive were defined as having been that. Now people are looking at the industry and saying 'This is ripe for disruption', but does that mean you have the right plan to do it, or do you start with a small goal that eventually becomes disruptive. Cart/horse/etc. I don't know, but it seems like most didn't plan on that, or did they just not say it? I guess you'd have to ask them.
  • There are technologies which are truly disruptive. However, other than ways to spooge ads and siphon data, there has been little to nothing that has been actually truly changing how people work day to day. The biggest change that happened recently with regards to actual workflow was tablets killing netbooks on the low end. Otherwise, what we are doing in 2017 is almost identical to what we are doing in 2010.

    The problem is that truly disruptive technologies will get either bought out or just stomped out o

    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      The nearly-complete list of disruptive technologies:
      1. Plow
      2. Wheel
      3. Metal casting
      4. Steam engine
      5. Flight
      6. Radio
      7. Personal computers
      8. Global digital networks

      Dear marketing, you bullshit app is not disrupting anything but our ability to get work done.
      • Fire, indoor plumbing and refrigeration don't make the cut?
        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          Other things that didn't make it:
          1. Germ theory
          2. Vaccines
          3. Antibiotics

        • by epine ( 68316 )

          Fire, indoor plumbing and refrigeration don't make the cut?

          I usually lump "fire" under exodigestion: the use of the external environment to predigest food, enabling disproportionate enlargement of the glucose-glutton human brain compared to the gut.

          This category also includes fermentation and milling and other early "processed" foods obtained through the clever use of sticks (ultimately, pointy sticks) and rocks (ultimately, sharp rocks). One of the uses of food is to maintain body temperature, so fire get

          • by epine ( 68316 )

            Added phrase:

            I would also be reluctant to leave off trade and mechanization (e.g. the cotton gin) and mass production (beginning with the pyramids) from even the shortest list.

            The purpose of this, aside from the humorous time travel, is to highlight that mass production is at root a social technology and was largely inherent in the invention of the city right from the get go.

            What differentiated modern mass production was people becoming entirely captive to their specialization, such that even finding a seco

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @11:52AM (#55244745) Homepage

    That's how Netflix took down Blockbuster. They kept their huge profits secret till they went public. By that time it was too late for Blockbuster video rental store (Yes, they really did have a store that rented movies.)

    Now, everyone tries to brag in order to get money. It's self defeating. If you are truly a disruptive technology, you should be working your ass to keep that secret. Claim you expect to get 20% of the market, not 80%.

    • How do you do that? You keep your business secret, you don't get any customers. You also want to tell your investors that you expect to get as much of the market as possible, or they won't invest.

      Here's a better idea: Don't disrupt things that people like.
      • You make your business public, you keep the disruption secret.

        In Netflix case, they kept their incredibly huge profits secret. Everyone knew what they did, but they thought it was barely profitable, Netflix was founded in 1997, 20 years ago. By 2000, Blockbuster offered them a whopping $50 million for it. Sounds like a lot, for a 3 year old company.

        Two years later they went public, getting more than $80 million. And they kept founder shares, allowing them to retain control. No one that is considering

  • by enjar ( 249223 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @11:53AM (#55244763) Homepage
    Reed Hastings has been quoted on a number of occasions saying exactly that. "There's a reason we didn't call the company 'DVD-by-Mail.com.'" They also nearly screwed it up entirely with the whole "Qwickster" debacle, which Hastings also discussed. There's also more than a little cherry picking going on here. Picking a few "winners" and then extrapolating that because they didn't seek "disruption" as part of their business plan makes this kind of a puff piece. Not to mention the egregious use of other stupid buzzwords like "paradigm shift" in the description. I'd also like to believe the reason the Bodega folks got in hot water what that it was pretty easy to see that they were going down the Jucero path by over-engineering and hyping what amounts a vending machine -- a technology that's been with us a really long time, and that can already do pretty much everything they were promising. Source for dvd-by-mail: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/1... [cnbc.com] Source of Qwickster debacle: http://deadline.com/2014/05/re... [deadline.com]
  • Zoo animals know better than to shit where they eat.

    These guys could learn a lesson or two from the monkey cage.

  • Everyone claims their new business is “disruptive”. Heck, companies now claim small changes in their established systems are disruptive. It’s been overused to the point of meaninglessness.

  • Disruption is a new idiotic buzzword and creating such nonsense is why they invented liberal arts degrees.
  • And when it happens, I always feel like I may be the next big thing in tech. *grin*
  • "Disruption" isn't a thing. It's a lie pushed by con artists to dup venture capitalists out of money.
    In "disrupting" the supply chain, Amazon has pushed millions of Americans out of jobs that had benefits, gave people meaning and paid taxes - all so 1 guy can be fabulously wealthy
    In "disrupting" the online monitization stream, FaceBook has killed thousands of news papers and millions of jobs. Jobs where highly intelligent and educated people like editors and fact checker ensured what was printed and re
  • Professing to do something* is not the same as actually doing it (let alone being even halfway decent at doing it).

    Entities saying they do something often lack in the actually doing it (well enough) part. * = replace with e.g.: Disrupting, Agile, Quality Assurance, No Evil ... and the list goes on and on.

    • This is true...and those buzzwords are often a misnomer for what actually occurs....such terms as Lean Manufacturing, Agile, and Quality Assurance in particular. I have yet to see a company of any size greater than 10 employees be agile at anything, Lean Manufacturing in practice, instead of streamlining intelligently to increase productivity and quality, just means fewer employees, longer hours per employee for as little compensation to those employees as possible, and more automation even if that automati

  • I've lived long enough to see "Disruptive" tech a number of times over. And IMHO to be truly "disruptive", the tech involved must have some unexpected application. I don't see Amazon or Netflix as being disruptive per se (they are disrupting existing paradigms), because they are inertial companies.

    The PC itself was disruptive. The internet (IP) is disruptive. They were disruptive, because it allowed people to do things that were not even considered before. Those two things are the basis for Netflix and Amaz

  • In the 1980s, the term was "paradigm shift" and "vertical integration." In the 1990s, the term was anything to do with the web - "information superhighway", "integrated marketing", "dot com", and "new media."

    Like all marketing and fashion trends, it's just dressing up the same concept in a different way to make it seem fresh and new. You get ahead of the pack by doing stuff others are not yet doing.
  • This paradigm is know as free market. Keynes vs Friedman
  • Is lazy people trying to make money from vapid "NEWS" articles and ads machines.
  • "Disruption" as a concept is pretty buzzwordy, but there's probably something to it in some markets (Netflix and movies, Amazon and retail, etc).

    But I wonder if its starting to get a negative connotation because people are sick of the actual disruption caused by it?

    I kind of wish the technology world would shut the fuck up and sit down for a few years and quit disrupting. Most of their disruptions are just a pain in the ass.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @03:45PM (#55246537) Homepage Journal

    There's no surer way to kill your creativity than to try to be creative.

    Now the goal for any new business is to grow; and if it grows fast enough and large enough, disruption of businesses already in that space is an inevitable side effect. But focusing on disruption itself may be a distraction, what you want to do is focus on execution and finances.

    I'm pretty sure Jeff Bezos wants to control the world -- commercially. He wants to own every way you have of obtaining anything. But while that's been in the cards from day one, what sets Amazon apart is execution.

  • To the tech industry:

    Disruption == Ignore the laws that you don't like, use the ones you.
    Innovation == Partner with startups and pirate their tech or just pirate their tech.

  • by citylivin ( 1250770 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @04:29PM (#55246935)

    The trend has been started by one guy, who wrote management books in the 80s-90s.

    "Replacing "progress" with "innovation" skirts the question of whether a novelty is an improvement: the world may not be getting better and better but our devices are getting newer and newer.

    The word "innovate"--to make new--used to have chiefly negative connotations: it signified excessive novelty, without purpose or end. Edmund Burke called the French Revolution a "revolt of innovation"; Federalists declared themselves to be "enemies to innovation." George Washington, on his deathbed, was said to have uttered these words: "Beware of innovation in politics." Noah Webster warned in his dictionary, in 1828, "It is often dangerous to innovate on the customs of a nation.""

    "Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. Its not more than that. It doesnt explain change. Its not a law of nature. Its an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; its the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, its blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet."

    Aricle link [newyorker.com]

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