Deliberate Disruption

Last weekend Box CEO Aaron Levie tweeted

“Disruption is the art of identifying which parts of the past are no longer relevant to the future, and exploiting that delta at all costs.”

To which I responded :

“deliberate disruption is extraordinarily rare. So rare that I think you can capitalize on it but never plan for it

I’ve been asking myself this question since. Can disruption ever really be deliberate?

The question conjures up images of team meetings where Dilbert’s pointed haired boss declares, “nobody leaves this room until we innovate!”

It occurs to me that in order to be deliberate, disruption must be an objective not just an outcome. This is a mistake.

Truly disruptive technology sets out to solve a problem first. Disruption is a possible but not guaranteed outcome of innovation introduced into a landscape. That landscape is made up of evolving technology, existing competition, and fluid user expectations all of which can be exploited or encountered as obstacles depending on conditions.

The disruption is a function of the problems the competition face in response to what you are doing. Competitors can easily fall into the trap of thinking that imitating the turmoil with existing portfolios rather than finding new ways to solve problems is the same thing.  It isn’t.

Genuine disruption solves new problems in a landscape, solves old problems in new ways and/or significantly alters cost, value and accessibility to those solutions. It is in the areas of cost and accessibility where we have the ability to interrogate the landscape and potentially predict the degree of disruption introduced. This is that part that can be deliberate.

Cloud and mobile in recent years have provided a method for disruption by making possible the migration of traditionally on/prem problem sets to off/prem. Reseting cost models for both producers and consumers of services and forcing the redefinition of well established roles and funding models.

When those services are not re-imagined in the cloud context and simply ported from old delivery models, there is plenty of turmoil for vendors but they are most likely victims  – not instigators of the disruption.

The challenge for buyers and vendors alike is to understand what combination of forces make up the disruptors and which companies or products are merely caught in the vortex. It is not always easy to tell. Even new businesses can get caught up into a pattern of generating turmoil and lose sight of the real objective.

Solve problems for real people.

That is what we must do at all cost – and occasionally it will be disruptive.

2 thoughts on “Deliberate Disruption

  1. It is absolutely possible to be disruptive on purpose, but to do so, you must understand what causes it. The original theory outlined by Christensen does not do this — it merely describes the phenomenon and the recurring patterns by which it can be recognized.

    >>”to be deliberate, disruption must be an objective not just an outcome. This is a mistake.”<<

    This opinion, which is essentially the thesis of the whole article, makes no sense.

    One of the necessary conditions for disruption to occur is uniquely addressing something that people need done and attach high value to, which you less formally describe as solving problems for real people. By itself, however, this does not predict or cause disruption.

    However, if I'm going to solve a problem that needs solving, the method that is most likely to prove successful is one that targets disruption, and unless I'm successful (i.e. I'm able to deliver a profitable solution to market and sustain it over time), there's no point, and it is arguably harmful to customers to buy a solution that I won't be around to support. So the question is, why wouldn't you adopt a product and market strategy and business model that maximized the probability of disruption since that's not only what's best for you, but what's best for customers?

    Historically, being disruptive on purpose was a hit and miss proposition, and most of the time, it happened by accident. However, that's because we didn't understand what it was, nor its causal factors. Today that's no longer true, and just as we can learn logistics and finance and marketing, we can also learn how to innovate disruptively.

    There is a new book which you may wish to read called "Disruption by Design", which outlines the principles and methods in great detail.

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: