If everything is disruptive, nothing is groundbreaking



You know already that I have a special bond with Harvard: my study path brought me there in the past and I still jealously cherish the memories of that academic environment and of its East-Coast culture. The story I’m about to tell you relates indeed to this prestigious university: in the main roles we have two professors challenging each other, just like in fencing, first on local pages, then on the biggest mainstream newspapers, in a querelle that appears to me quite topical.

The discussion revolves around the word ‘disruption’, the heart of the economic theory developed by professor Clayton Christensen in 1997: back then with ‘disruptive innovation’ we defined the introduction on the market of a low-end product which, over time, would manage to overtake the incumbent, namely the market leader. Today ‘disruption’ is an extremely trendy word in the hi-tech entrepreneurial field, often abused, and after all if everything is disruptive, nothing is really groundbreaking. The original meaning of this word has been lost, nevertheless the term now perfectly adapts to the Internet world and to its ‘hotbed of innovation’ nature. A comeback of this almost-obliterated word was predictable.

But let’s leave theoretical disquisitions to Harvard professors. It doesn’t matter whether PCs were better than IBM’s big machines, what really matters is that the Gates and the Jobs were the ones that, before everyone else, were able to understand the new market, and to satisfy its needs. Sometimes when disruptive products are born, they already have high quality standards, sometimes there’s not even a market for them on the Internet, you just have to create it. Christensen’s teachings – although with a little critique and a theoretical update – are still valid: a ‘support’ innovation is not enough, especially in today’s fast-paced market. Better to be disruptive, but let’s be it for real.